In this chapter I will explore the proposition that the ways in which we think about young children can and do affect the ways in which we provide for their learning and support their development. To put it another way, what we know about children, or think we know, shapes what we do for them in the name of education. I will examine some ways of thinking about children, and children’s learning, taken from recent accounts of early years classrooms (and other settings) and try to show how we might take steps to reorganise and reshape our thoughts, our assumptions and our expectations. Future developments in early years education will, I believe, spring from an enhanced understanding of children and childhood.
One of the most challenging and entertaining books I have ever read about children’s learning is GNYS AT WRK: A Child Learns to Write and Read (Bissex 1980). It is a detailed, vivid, first-hand narrative account of how five-year-old Paul became an accomplished writer and reader; what makes it different is not just its puzzling title (taken from a notice Paul pinned over his work-bench-desk at the age of 5 years 6 months) but its insider’s viewpoint: the author, Glenda L. Bissex, is Paul’s mother. She was also, when the story began, an educator studying for her master’s degree in education. One afternoon, when she was trying to read, Paul wanted to play with her. Frustrated in his attempts to make her put down her book, Paul disappeared for a few minutes, returning with a piece of paper, on which he had printed, with