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Educating Toddlers to Teachers: Learning to See and Influence the School and Peer Cultures of Classrooms

reviewed by Deb Moberly - September 21, 2012

coverTitle: Educating Toddlers to Teachers: Learning to See and Influence the School and Peer Cultures of Classrooms
Author(s): David Fernie, Samara Madrid, & Rebecca Kanter
Publisher: Hampton Press,
ISBN: 1612890334, Pages: 296, Year: 2011
Search for book at Amazon.com

Nine ethnographic studies featured in this book examine various aspects of peer and school cultures and their co-existence and intersection in the context of the classrooms of toddler age through university students.  From prolonged engagement in the classrooms, researchers give detailed descriptions and analysis of the context, observations, interviews and transcriptions that provide us with childrens and teachers voices. The chapters in this volume offer opportunities to view children from their strengths, interests and rights. The material provides the reader with instructional strategies to enhance student learning. In some studies, the researcher is the teacher, and in others a researcher lives with the students and teacher in the classroom.  Each study is followed by commentary by an expert in that area.  

As Fernie, Madrid & Kantor write, children are viewed from Corsaros (1985) definition of peer culture where children have &common activities, routines, artifacts, values, concerns and attitudes (p. 171).  The peer culture definition is then applied to the context of the classroom and school culture.  This book follows the collaboration and writing of Early Childhood Classroom Processes (Kantor & Fernie, 2003) in which an early childhood classroom culture was described through examining classroom group discussions, friendships and characteristics of power and voice.

Several of the studies are implemented in a university laboratory preschool where the teachers have visited and studied the schools of Reggio Emilia, Italy.  As such, the teachers use observation and transcriptions to facilitate a Reggio-inspired curriculum and environment.  A surprising study is offered by Michele Sanderson, a teacher-researcher of toddlers.  She documents how toddlers form a caring and empathetic peer culture.  Through a toddler interest in poking play dough with sticks, other materials are added.  When boys wanted to play rough and tumble, the teachers negotiate with children where and when such play would occur.  Rules were written, and through the expertise of the teachers, the peer and school cultures successfully intersected.  Teachers trusted childrens voices and respected their interests; children developed language, self-regulation and friendships.

A study in a laboratory preschool by Jeanne Galbrith looked at superhero play.  Anyone who has spent time with preschoolers recognizes children that age have a special spark for superheroes.  Rather than the usual teacher response of squelching the play, Galbrith found a way to adapt the school culture to facilitate superhero play and have a positive impact in the classroom.  Such play led to childrens expression of care of others. Within the social play, children who were leaders showed characteristics to be able to keep the play going, or had special knowledge of or artifacts of superheroes.  Reifels commentary asks readers if our views of gender, or commercialized play might, in turn, influence our decisions or the negotiation of superhero play and the school culture.  Interestingly, Reifel cites research about violent play such as tornadoes and fires leading children to exhibit nurturing and caring, such as they did during superhero play.

Aaron Neimark, a kindergarten teacher/researcher examines the use of humor of children in peer interactions and how school culture (the teacher) might adapt facilitating an optimum learning environment.  In the commentary, Hatch draws attention to our age of accountability and academics that generates many constraints that kindergarten teachers experience in public schools. These constraints greatly impact the expectations of simple learning opportunities such as circle time.

Zeynap Inans study seems to answer Hatchs dilemma by exploring how a Reggio-inspired preschools emergent science curriculum met, and often exceeded, state standards.  The studys perspective of peer and adapted school culture enables the reader to see how such a curriculum might actually be implemented.

Another study offers the reader opportunities to examine how students who are ELL may or may not be a part of the peer culture and how teachers might adapt the school culture to engage all children.  Clear documentation and descriptions provide examples of how a non-English- speaking child moves easily into play situations because of his knowledge of joining play and interacting with children.

As a teacher-researcher, Eirich examines how she and her first- and second-grade students use classroom meetings to negotiate the school culture.  The students decide where to meet, who shares, and other important concepts with the school culture routine. Eirich is able to facilitate the peer culture and the advanced goals of the school culture.  Through recorded and transcribed classroom meetings, she describes many examples of the intersection of peer/school cultures and the enhancement of literacy development, active citizenship and democracy.  Krechevsky writes the commentary and points out that the teacher might share such documentation with the children to get their perspective during and after the learning process.

Yasar, who implemented an exceptional study examining peer/school cultures with a teacher educator and a cohort of pre-service teachers, enrolled in a Critical Reading in the Content Fields class.  An aspect of the study that might be explored further is Yasars role changing from an observer to a participant in the cohort, to a co-teacher educator with the class. Yasar provides detailed descriptions of the teacher educators instructional strategies and reflections as well as students interactions in the classroom and on WebCT postings.  The teacher educators goals were for students to experience drama strategies to promote multicultural awareness, an integrated curriculum and issues of reading in context.  She used a story of Sharbat, an Afghani woman whose picture was on the cover of the National Geographic magazine in 1985.  However, the teacher educator did not begin with the story but brought in a Burka and asked students to close their eyes and touch the soft material.  Then she had a student wear the Burka. Yasar examines the peer and school cultures intersection that produced tension, discomfort, and resistance among students.  The course sessions are described in detail giving the reader an interesting lens into the cohort peer culture, resistance and instructional strategies in a university classroom.

This book provides us with a rich view of the intricacies of peer cultures by age of peers, formation of peer culture and thriving student interactions.  The school cultures influence varies by context, purpose and teachers experiences and goals.  The editors have used a provocative format by each studys description, followed by a commentary that causes the reader to ask questions and experience a sophisticated level of reflection. Since ethnographic research is described throughout the book, the reader explores in-depth the results of the methodology.  At times, it leaves the reader wanting more information on analysis, but provides a context for the methodologys use.

For these reasons, this book should appeal to university instructors and pre-service teachers, graduate students and teacher/researchers.   Its detailed descriptions of peer and school cultures will benefit all teachers and provide opportunities for reflection on their classroom, children and instruction.


Corsaro, W.  (1985). Friendship and peer culture in the early years.  Norwood, NJ:  Ablex.

Kantor, R. and Fernie, D. (2003). Early childhood classroom processes. New York: Hampton Press.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: September 21, 2012
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16876, Date Accessed: 10/27/2021 9:36:20 AM

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About the Author
  • Deb Moberly
    Children 1st
    E-mail Author
    DR. DEB MOBERLY is the President/Founder of Children 1st (www.children1st.us), a St. Louis-based consulting firm providing professional development, evaluations and recommendations for early childhood programs and supportive services for families.
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