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Bad Guys Don't Have Birthdays: Fantasy Play at Four

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Bad guys are not allowed to have birthdays, pick blueberries, or disturb the baby. So say the four-year-olds who announce life's risks and dangers as they play out the school year in Vivian Paley's classroom. Their play is filled with warnings. They invent chaos in order to show that everything is under control. They portray fear to prove that it can be conquered. No theme Bad guys are not allowed to have birthdays, pick blueberries, or disturb the baby. So say the four-year-olds who announce life's risks and dangers as they play out the school year in Vivian Paley's classroom. Their play is filled with warnings. They invent chaos in order to show that everything is under control. They portray fear to prove that it can be conquered. No theme is too large or too small for their intense scrutiny. Fantasy play is their ever dependable pathway to knowledge and certainty. " It . . . takes a special teacher to value the young child's communications sufficiently, enter into a meaningful dialogue with the youngster, and thereby stimulate more productivity without overwhelming the child with her own ideas. Vivian Paley is such a teacher."—Maria W. Piers, in the American Journal of Education "[Mrs. Paley's books] should be required reading wherever children are growing. Mrs. Paley does not presume to understand preschool children, or to theorize. Her strength lies equally in knowing that she does not know and in trying to learn. When she cannot help children—because she can neither anticipate nor follow their thinking—she strives not to hinder them. She avoids the arrogance of adult to small child; of teacher to student; or writer to reader."—Penelope Leach, author of Your Baby & Child in the New York Times Book Review "[Paley's] stories and interpretation argue for a new type of early childhood education . . . a form of teaching that builds upon the considerable knowledge children already have and grapple with daily in fantasy play."—Alex Raskin, Los Angeles Times Book Review "Through the 'intuitive language' of fantasy play, Paley believes, children express their deepest concerns. They act out different roles and invent imaginative scenarios to better understand the real world. Fantasy play helps them cope with uncomfortable feelings. . . . In fantasy, any device may be used to draw safe boundaries."—Ruth J. Moss, Psychology Today


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Bad guys are not allowed to have birthdays, pick blueberries, or disturb the baby. So say the four-year-olds who announce life's risks and dangers as they play out the school year in Vivian Paley's classroom. Their play is filled with warnings. They invent chaos in order to show that everything is under control. They portray fear to prove that it can be conquered. No theme Bad guys are not allowed to have birthdays, pick blueberries, or disturb the baby. So say the four-year-olds who announce life's risks and dangers as they play out the school year in Vivian Paley's classroom. Their play is filled with warnings. They invent chaos in order to show that everything is under control. They portray fear to prove that it can be conquered. No theme is too large or too small for their intense scrutiny. Fantasy play is their ever dependable pathway to knowledge and certainty. " It . . . takes a special teacher to value the young child's communications sufficiently, enter into a meaningful dialogue with the youngster, and thereby stimulate more productivity without overwhelming the child with her own ideas. Vivian Paley is such a teacher."—Maria W. Piers, in the American Journal of Education "[Mrs. Paley's books] should be required reading wherever children are growing. Mrs. Paley does not presume to understand preschool children, or to theorize. Her strength lies equally in knowing that she does not know and in trying to learn. When she cannot help children—because she can neither anticipate nor follow their thinking—she strives not to hinder them. She avoids the arrogance of adult to small child; of teacher to student; or writer to reader."—Penelope Leach, author of Your Baby & Child in the New York Times Book Review "[Paley's] stories and interpretation argue for a new type of early childhood education . . . a form of teaching that builds upon the considerable knowledge children already have and grapple with daily in fantasy play."—Alex Raskin, Los Angeles Times Book Review "Through the 'intuitive language' of fantasy play, Paley believes, children express their deepest concerns. They act out different roles and invent imaginative scenarios to better understand the real world. Fantasy play helps them cope with uncomfortable feelings. . . . In fantasy, any device may be used to draw safe boundaries."—Ruth J. Moss, Psychology Today

30 review for Bad Guys Don't Have Birthdays: Fantasy Play at Four

  1. 5 out of 5

    Massanutten Regional Library

    Jamie, Central patron, August 2020, 4 stars: Very informative look into children's play ages 3 to 4. Jamie, Central patron, August 2020, 4 stars: Very informative look into children's play ages 3 to 4.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kristen

    When I made an offhand comment to the director of my son's preschool about how I hate the superhero / weapon play that is going on right now in our life, she told me that it is not only normal but important. When I recovered from my shock and asked why on earth it was important, she recommended that I read this book. I will say that this book helped to normalize some of the "bad guy" "shoot-em-up" play that I see. I loved the style of it -- the author, a teacher, transcribed conversations that he When I made an offhand comment to the director of my son's preschool about how I hate the superhero / weapon play that is going on right now in our life, she told me that it is not only normal but important. When I recovered from my shock and asked why on earth it was important, she recommended that I read this book. I will say that this book helped to normalize some of the "bad guy" "shoot-em-up" play that I see. I loved the style of it -- the author, a teacher, transcribed conversations that her 3 and 4 year old students had during the course of their play over several months. And she interspersed her own interpretation and commentary about what she was hearing and observing. The three recurring themes in her class that year (chosen by students through their fantasy play) were bad guys, birthdays, and babies and the incorporation of these 3 themes played different roles in their play. I often squelch talk of "bad guys" especially when kids are telling another kid that s/he is a "bad guy." But after reading this book I can see that, unless kids are upset by their assigned (or chosen) role, they should be allowed to play out their ideas. They are using these concepts to grapple with fears and frustrations in their real life. And their interpretation of what they are doing is much different than the way adults see their actions. I only gave the book 3 stars because, while I thought the format was effective and I enjoyed reading it, I felt like it excluded too much of the tears and heartache that I feel come along with this kind of play. However, I just started reading another book by Vivian Paley called You Can't Say You Can't Play and I feel like the two books together might paint a clearer picture of the kind of play that can simultaneously help kids work through their issues while also hurting feelings and making others feel left out. Maybe then I'll have some answers about the limits I want to set for our house.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Sue

    Mostly a written transcript of events and conversations in Paley's classroom. A quick and easy read, an accurate portrayal of children's play and dialogue at age 4 (though I was a bit disturbed by the persistence of death and violence in their play, even though it's normal - just a little more intense than what I'm used to from my son and his friends.) Mostly a written transcript of events and conversations in Paley's classroom. A quick and easy read, an accurate portrayal of children's play and dialogue at age 4 (though I was a bit disturbed by the persistence of death and violence in their play, even though it's normal - just a little more intense than what I'm used to from my son and his friends.)

  4. 4 out of 5

    Jeremy Hornik

    Such a spectacular book, in such a short little piece. This book is essentially the recorded play and stories of a class of four-year-olds, but the author (and their teacher) manages to get at something important about myth, power, and the need to reenact stories. I have three or four more of these. I'm going to space them out. Such a spectacular book, in such a short little piece. This book is essentially the recorded play and stories of a class of four-year-olds, but the author (and their teacher) manages to get at something important about myth, power, and the need to reenact stories. I have three or four more of these. I'm going to space them out.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jamie

    Classic Paley. Always insightful, humorous, and helpful. Illustrates how important play is for children, and also the important role of mothers and of stories.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    Excellent. Paley does a wonderful job at really listening to children and making their thought processes visible.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sue Lyle

    A wonderful insight into the four year old preoccupation with imagination and fantasy from a fantastic teacher..

  8. 4 out of 5

    Red

  9. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

  10. 4 out of 5

    Linda

  11. 4 out of 5

    Anne

  12. 5 out of 5

    Mary Ellen Wessels

  13. 5 out of 5

    Tracey Dunn

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jacqueline

  15. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

  16. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie Nutter

  17. 4 out of 5

    Joy

  18. 4 out of 5

    Christine Giglio

  19. 4 out of 5

    Heidi

  20. 5 out of 5

    Rustina Sharpe

  21. 5 out of 5

    Alyssa Biliski

  22. 4 out of 5

    Angela

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jordan

  24. 4 out of 5

    Rachel Singh

  25. 4 out of 5

    Lindsay

  26. 5 out of 5

    Theresa

  27. 4 out of 5

    Lauren Mangold

  28. 4 out of 5

    Katy

  29. 5 out of 5

    Caitlin

  30. 4 out of 5

    Tugce Arda Tuncdemir

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