Living Stories

Nontraditional College Students in Early Childhood Education

by Susan Bernheimer (Author)
©2019 Textbook XVI, 136 Pages
Series: Childhood Studies, Volume 9


In Living Stories: Nontraditional College Students in Early Childhood Education, Susan Bernheimer takes the reader into her journey with a group of nontraditional college students. Bernheimer’s struggle to find a meaningful approach to teaching the students about early childhood development and care is infused with the insights and wisdom that come from listening to, and valuing, the remarkable stories of her students’ lives. This book offers a powerful new road map for early childhood teacher preparation through a relational pedagogy that honors students’ life experiences and that leads to deep reflection and learning. The approach is embedded in students’ strengths and knowledge and is successfully inclusive of an increasingly diverse student demographic. Bernheimer provides an inclusive model of education that builds upon the strengths of all students.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for Living Stories
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Foreword (Jacquelyn Green)
  • Introduction
  • Chapter One. A World in Flux
  • Chapter Two. Inside the Cultural Divide
  • Reflection on Life Stories
  • Chapter Three. Gateway to New Realities
  • Chapter Four. Vision of Hope
  • Chapter Five. Journey Into Higher Education
  • Chapter Six. Shifting Priorities for Classroom Teaching
  • Chapter Seven. Hear My Voice
  • Chapter Eight. Challenges of a Relational Pedagogy
  • Chapter Nine. Stepping Into the Future
  • Index
  • Series Index

← viii | ix →


It is often said that it “takes a village to raise a child.” This certainly was true for me as an author. It was only with the loving support of many people that I was able to write this book. At the center of this circle of support were the nontraditional students from communities of poverty who filled my college classrooms. They taught me a piece of wisdom that I will never forget, “Pay attention, open your heart, don’t give up—even in the face of seemingly impossible struggles.” Thank you for the journey we took together which revolutionized my life as an instructor.

Writing can be a lonely journey. I am deeply grateful to the many friends who have stood by me, and supported my work over the years. They have remained patient and loving, while gently urging me to “take a break from my writing.” In particular, Jacqueline Green and Betty (Elizabeth) Jones directly worked with me on this book, making sure I stayed on topic, and challenging me to create a book that would truly be worth reading. Doris Lora edited every chapter, giving me valuable feedback, always making sure it was well-written. My wonderful daughter-in-law, Jackie, designed the book cover as well as ← ix | x → formatting this book, often giving up precious time for other work and naps, while still being a great mother to Hannah (who has been busy being a 14 month old toddler).

I have had the great fortune to be part of the extraordinary field of early childhood education. It is made up of professionals who have gained the wisdom that can only come with the humility of knowing you are working with lives that will become our future. My students and colleagues over the years have had this humbling awareness that urges us to never stop our exploration for deeper truths.

This book could not have been written without the support of the editors at Peter Lang Publishing, Inc. I am grateful they recognized the valuable insights for educators today that came out of my work with a group of nontraditional students 24 years ago. In particular, I want to thank Gaile Connella and Patricia Mulrane for making sure this book gets out to the public.

Last, but certainly not least, I want to thank my family. David and Adina, my adult children, are now two of my closest friends. Jackie, my daughter-in-law, has added her love and friendship to our precious family circle. Liam and Hannah, my two grandchildren, may not be grown, but they are certainly my good friends. I was fortunate to be raised by loving parents, Leonard and Bea. My brother Ben has been a wonderful companion. My sister, Judy, who passed on last year, brought her love and joy of living as a precious gift to my life.

Most of all, I want to thank all of you who are taking the time to read this book. You are welcome to contact me at the following email address: sbern21@gmail.com or susanbernheimer.com.

← x | xi →


I, as a child psychiatrist, and Dr. Bernheimer, as an educator, share the same passion. We are both advocates for children’s well-being and optimal development. For children being cared for in early childhood programs, this will depend upon their teachers. How are we going to prepare teachers to truly connect with the children and their parents in our rapidly changing, complicated and very diverse world? It is Dr. Bernheimer’s ability to critically address this question that drew me to this book. By weaving together theory, research, and personal stories, she presents a new way of conceptualizing the role of the instructor and by extension modeling an inclusive and relational approach to education that teachers can bring into their work with children and parents.

The human person has an inborn desire to communicate. It is this desire that Dr. Bernheimer so eloquently employs in her approach to preparing future teachers. It is clear from her words and her students’ words that developing a caring, empathic, and non-judgmental learning community is essential to becoming an effective early childhood educator today. ← xi | xii →

Dr. Bernheimer’s shift to a relational pedagogy is teaching these critically important skills for building a nurturing learning environment. In her classrooms, the ability to communicate across all differences becomes as important as learning the standard facts. This is what children need in their educational experience. It is through classroom dialogue and shared stories that teachers can learn to bring this kind of communication to young children.

This book brings to life how transformation occurs from a personally meaningful education. It is remarkable to see how this group of nontraditional students, who have faced so much pain in their lives, develop into confident and dedicated learners. Through their experience of a humane and empowering education, they will be able to bring these same qualities to their work with children.

The world is very different from the childhood of Dr. Bernheimer and me. The world has been changed forever with the advent of the computer. The relational pedagogy, using a storytelling paradigm, could easily be extended to all students of child development: psychiatrists, psychologists, teachers, nurses, in fact any group of people who interface continually with the public. Employing the guidelines explained in the book, we may be able to heal some of the societal ills for young children who will grow up to be leaders of tomorrow. This book offers hope. It expands developmental theory to include all, especially the nontraditional, and shows us that the reality of human development is not a straight line. Resilience, strength and confidence grow as one has the opportunity to speak one’s truth.


XVI, 136
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (November)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2019. XVI, 136 pp.

Biographical notes

Susan Bernheimer (Author)

Susan Bernheimer is an educator, researcher, and trainer on contemporary issues in early childhood education and formerly a member of the human development faculty at Pacific Oaks College in Pasadena, California, from 2001–2015. She taught early childhood teacher preparation to impoverished college students for over ten years. Bernheimer received her doctorate from Claremont Graduate University. She is the author of New Possibilities for Early Childhood Education: Stories from Our Nontraditional Students (Peter Lang, 2003) and Voices of Early Childhood Educators (Peter Lang, 2016).


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154 pages