Harvard Educational Review
  1. Continuity in Children’s Worlds

    Choices and Consequences for Early Childhood Settings

    Melissa M. Jozwiak, Betsy J. Cahill, and Rachel Theilheimer

    New York: Teachers College Press, 2016. 176 pp. $33.95 (paper).

    Jozwiak, Cahill, and Theilheimer’s new book, Continuity in Children’s Worlds: Choices and Consequences for Early Childhood Settings, is the latest in Teachers College Press’s Early Childhood Education series, complementing additional titles that emphasize, for example, taking a whole child approach to early childhood education, inclusion in early childhood settings, and creating learner-centered classrooms. However, this new volume, framed as “a book of stories” (p. 1) provides a complex take on the affordances and limitations of continuity, coherence, and consistency for young children and their preschools. Organized into six chapters, each of which includes at least three subchapters, the book seeks to explore both continuity as well as discontinuity in children’s lives from birth to age eight. The authors consider the complex role of continuity particularly during transitions, such as “home to school, classroom to classroom, school to school” (p. 1), and also the roles of continuity and discontinuity in the lived experiences of early childhood teachers.

    The authors define continuity as “a connection, a flow between two things” (p. 2) and discontinuity as “a break, separation, or lack of connection” (p. 2). They frame continuity as something that is needed and valued not only by young children who tend to crave predictable routines but also by parents, teachers, and early childhood caregivers, who also need to see links between their beliefs and the practices of the early childhood setting. Interestingly, however, both the authors and the individuals profiled in the many stories do not consistently place discontinuity in direct contrast to continuity, since they aim to show that there is sometimes a positive place for discontinuity in early childhood settings. As the authors state, “Consistency and predictability can help a classroom run smoothly. Yet flexibility and adaptation to individual circumstances enables programs to fit children and families instead of the other way around” (p. 6). When discontinuity leads to “flexibility and adaptation,” they argue, it can lead to beneficial change and can mean embracing diversity and meeting different children’s needs in different ways.

    The key way that the authors show the power of continuity and discontinuity is through their use of short vignettes. The authors collected these stories “over the course of several years” (p. 1) from teachers, early childhood caregivers, and parents from across the United States. From the outset the authors are clear about the limitations of these stories, that they “are often a partial recounting that cannot tell us all we want to know about an event or answer all of our questions” (p. 1). Yet, they fail to note how and when these stories were collected. The reader has no sense of whether these were systematically gathered from a representative group, whether they were amassed from a survey, or whether they arose organically from the authors’ collective experience in the field. A full reporting of the methodology used to gather data to inform this book is not necessary, but further information about whose voices are included (and therefore who has been excluded) might have been both interesting and useful for the curious reader. However, despite this, the vignettes effectively illustrate the points the authors make in each section of the book.

    The first chapter of Continuity in Children’s Worlds provides an introduction to the core concepts of the book by defining continuity and discontinuity, providing a rationale for the use of stories, and by introducing the reader to the origins of this thinking and research that went into this book. Jozwiak, Cahill, and Theilheimer tell the tale of investigating teacher perceptions of the looping practiced at one university laboratory preschool. Teachers worked in two-person teams in each preschool classroom, with one of the two teachers moving with the students to the next classroom the following year, thus providing the children with some continuity in the teaching team from one year to the next. At the end of the second year with the same group of students, that teacher would then return to the original classroom, and the other teacher would follow the new crop of students as they progressed to the next grade. In this way, teachers at the preschool had a new teaching partner each year and developed expertise in more than one age group. The authors note that this practice was put in place in response to research on best practices of toddler care but that the lived experience of being a looping teacher was much more complicated, since successful teaching teams were sometimes broken up from year to year, and some teachers felt more comfortable with one age group and not the other. This experience of asking teachers about the continuity and discontinuity and finding answers that complicated the prevailing narratives in the research about the benefits of practices that promote continuity sparked the authors to continue collecting stories about the topic, seeking to “generate new ways to think about continuity” (p. 7).

    In subsequent chapters, the book covers continuity in preschool and other early childhood settings (Chapter 2: “Continuity of Care: Where the World of Early Childhood Is”), as children move from their homes to their schools (Chapter 3: “Continuity Between Home and School: What They Prefer”), within entire systems (“Chapter 4: “Continuity in Systems: Figuring It All Out”), and for teachers (Chapter 5: Continuity and Professional Identity: Putting on My Teacher Hat”). These chapters round out the world of young children by focusing on each of the contexts and groups that they are likely to encounter. For example, in the chapter on home-school connections, one story tells of a practitioner working with a teen parent who, over time, began mimicking the practitioner’s language and ways of doing things rather than harshly (and sometimes physically) rebuking her child, as had been her habit. The authors use this example to show how both the parent and the teacher learned from one another: the parent learned new strategies for disciplining and interacting with her child, and the teacher learned “about the meanings behind [the parent’s] choices and . . . behaviors” (p. 51). In this way, the practitioner and the parent were able to provide a consistent approach to working with the child. But, the authors point out, this growth would not have been possible without the initial discontinuity of the two strategies. In other words, rather than promoting continuity between the parent and the practitioner by having the practitioner match her habits and language to the parent’s, the fact that they differed—that there was discontinuity—created an opportunity for learning on both sides.

    In the final chapter (Chapter 6: “Conclusion: If Everything’s Perfect, Nobody Grows”), the authors offer themes of continuity and discontinuity and implications for practice. They suggest that building continuity builds community, supports
    coherence between systems, creates structure, and, together with discontinuity, allows for change. Another theme that they draw from the stories in the book is the role that diversity plays in thinking about both continuity and discontinuity: “Diversity enriches any endeavor with multiple perspective, but it also introduces discontinuity” (p. 123), which, the authors are quick to reiterate, isn’t necessarily a negative phenomenon. Finally, the authors provide suggestions for applying the themes of continuity and discontinuity within one’s own practice. While these suggestions are undoubtedly useful, they will come as no surprise to many early childhood practitioners. In all, this book, through illustrative stories, offers a gentle, yet complex discussion of the positive and negative effects of continuity and discontinuity for young children and the people who work with them.

    While this book does not necessarily break new ground for practitioners or researchers, it does provide an interesting investigation into a phenomenon that is likely considered binary and without nuance by many due to the prevailing research on the importance of continuity. Yet, perhaps what the book does best is call on researchers to be more responsive to the realities of early childhood settings, the needs of diverse families, and the well-being of teachers and other practitioners and to ask practitioners to think beyond “developmentally appropriate practice” and to be flexible in the solutions that work best for themselves, the children they serve, and their communities.
    e. b. o’donnell
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    Book Notes

    Continuity in Children’s Worlds
    Melissa M. Jozwiak, Betsy J. Cahill, and Rachel Theilheimer

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