Storying Learning in Early Childhood

When Children Lead Participatory Curriculum Design, Implementation, and Assessment

by Elizabeth Quintero (Author)
©2015 Textbook 169 Pages
Series: Rethinking Childhood, Volume 54


Storying Learning in Early Childhood documents philosophical, research, and critical questions about notions of childrens’ experiences and learning potential that heavily influence the profession. Critically created, child-centered curriculum and assessment collaborations focus on contexts of homes, schools, and communities. This book brings into focus policy issues, economic issues, and political realities that affect us all as we engage in curriculum and assessment. Patterns of findings under the foci of critical, responsive curriculum and authentic assessment for all children have illustrated new questions, provoked new trajectories of informants, and reiterated connections to dynamic issues in early childhood internationally. The work involved in curriculum and assessment points to international discussions about what is «quality» in early care and education and who has the power to decide. These international dynamics highlight the inevitable connections among programs for young children, policies, and politics. Further consideration regarding multiple histories, strengths, and needs of young children also illustrate little-discussed refugees and migrating people around the world – and their children – who are growing and experiencing life wherever they are living in a variety of situations with or without support.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Chapter 1. Introduction: What Is and What Could Be…
  • Chapter 2. Curriculum in Early Childhood: A Complicated Conversation Among University Teacher Education Students
  • Chapter 3. Complicated Conversations: What We’re Learning About Integrated Curriculum
  • Chapter 4. Assessment in Early Childhood: Storying Learning
  • Chapter 5. Early Childhood Issues: An Understatement
  • Chapter 6. What Are Childcare Markets and How Are Measures of Quality Related to Funding?
  • Chapter 7. Through the Lens of Migrant Families
  • Chapter 8. What Could Be…
  • Series index

· 1 ·


While it is encouraging that, in the United States and internationally, early care and education is becoming a frequent topic of conversation in policy and political discussions, we still have a long way to go. There is a vast lack of knowledge about the intricacies of early care and education in most arenas, and not much agreement on how to carry out the complex job of actual implementation. How may I paint a picture of the realities of our current world in early childhood studies in 2015? There is evidence that shows:

  • (1)  a dramatic lack of learner-centered curricula that is experientially, culturally, and linguistically responsive, or that considers the meaning-making participation of children with peers, adults, things, and places;
  • (2)  inappropriate standardized assessment;
  • (3)  inadequate teacher preparation and access to professional study in the field; and
  • (4)  nonexistent measures to ensure equity and funding for the youngest of learners. (Iorio & Adler, 2013; Quintero, 2010; Steinberg & Kincheloe, 2009) ← 1 | 2 →

And why does this matter? There are many reasons we should tune in to these realities. Probably the best two reasons that most readers will agree with are that we can do better, and that children are depending on us to do so.

The research described in this book documents a combination of philosophy, research, and critical questions about notions of child development that still heavily influence the profession, and examples of the learning potential of all children through their human relationships and their experiences. Through an ongoing 5-year qualitative study, we focused on the contexts of homes, schools, and communities, and critically created child-centered curriculum, and assessment collaborations. Families, children, and their teachers contributed unending support and a treasure trove of ideas. And this work that crosses boundaries of home, school, and community brought into focus policy issues, economic issues, and political realities that affect us all as we engage in curriculum and assessment. We have barriers and opportunities.

And of course, this qualitative study found both expected and unexpected connections among complicated issues about early care and education that have been raised for years. One intention of presenting the findings here is to fuel our ongoing conversations. The work here offers some specific examples of the possibilities that can be realized when children, families, and early childhood professionals collaborate, take risks, and support each other and participate.

Meet Melina

An early childhood studies student teacher that had worked as an early childhood teacher for a number of years related a story and raised some questions about the potential of children, and the curriculum and the assessment that could really support all children. She explained,

I will name the child whose story I tell Melina;1 she came to our center not too long ago. She is 4 years of age and is very social and enjoys having conversations with me. Melina is always willing to participate in many of the activities available in the classroom. In our classroom we have been talking about families and what families do at work. I had finished reading a book about families and Melina invited me to play with her. She and I were playing with geometric shapes at the manipulatives table. I found several “house-shaped” manipulatives and I lined them up, then around the houses ← 2 | 3 → I placed some green triangle shaped-manipulatives. The following conversation occurred between us:

Melina:Teacher Angie, what are you doing?
Me:I’m building a house and around the house I have planted several tall trees.
Melina:That looks like my house in Mexico. I have lots of trees around my house in Mexico (she looks at my design and smiles).
Me:Melina, I see you have a building, too; tell me about your structure. (She has a line of 6 triangles and between she has inserted hexagons, then around them she placed some blue trapezoids.)
Melina:These are cows (she points to the triangles) and they are inside their house (pointing to the hexagons). These here are horses (she points to the trapezoids) and they are running everywhere.
Me:Ah…I see. Do they live in Mexico?
Melina:Yes! They live with my grandpa. My grandpa goes to the cows’ houses and he gets the milk (she points out to the triangles). Look teacher, these are the cows, and my grandpa milks them like this (she holds her hands out in front of her and pretends to milk the cow). He goes to the cows’ houses and gets the milk. (She points to the trapezoids.) These are the horses my grandpa has. He has lots of horses.
Me:Ohh…Do the horses have houses, too?
Melina:No! Teacher Angie, the horses like to run. He has lots and lots of horses. (Quintero, 2014, pp. 8–9)

The student teacher notes, “With Melina’s story I can see that she has a vivid image of her hometown, her grandpa’s ranch, and she is able to recreate her images through objects to tell her story” (Quintero, 2014). In our university class, we discussed all the “knowledge” and “skills” that this 4-year-old shows in an integrated, child-initiated activity. And we all asked, how can early childhood curricula provide opportunities for this type of learning, and how can early childhood assessments document this child’s participation and potential?

Yoshikawa and colleagues (2013) compiled current research relating to the evidence base for quality early childhood programs for all children. Yet, it is still important to ask, how was it decided what “evidence” would be included in this “evidence base” (Dahlberg, Moss, & Pence, 2013)? And even with the expansive list of collaborators on this research compilation, is their collective view of “quality” meaningful for, and reflective of, families in our communities across the country and the world (Dahlberg et al., 2013)? ← 3 | 4 →

Recent public discussions buzz with excitement about recent neuroscientific research drawing a connection between the foundations of brain architecture as it supports lifelong learning potential being established in children’s early years. For example, Yoshikawa et al. (2013) report,

Early experiences in the home, in other care settings, and in communities interact with genes to shape the developing nature and quality of the brain’s architecture. The growth and then environmentally based pruning of neuronal systems in the first years support a range of early skills, including cognitive (early language, literacy, math), social (theory of mind, empathy, prosocial), persistence, attention, and self-regulation and executive function skills (the voluntary control of attention and behavior). Later skills—in schooling and employment—build cumulatively upon these early skills. (p. 3)

Yet, some scholars in the field (to be discussed in Chapter 5) are seriously questioning the casual way many claims such as these are being used in our discussions and policy rationales. Furthermore, these skills and dispositions in their complexities, in the culturally layered and politically influenced societies, raise even more questions about which knowledge is valued in which contexts. Every day in our work with young children and families, the issues of strengths and needs of children and their families, and the diversity of contexts, demand that we continually question our definitions of what counts as “evidence” as we attempt to improve services. An additional brief excerpt from a case study dramatically illustrates this reality.

A Story of Juan, Environments, and Supportive Parents and Teachers

Mia, a site supervisor with many years teaching experience at a state-funded preschool program, told me the story of a boy we will call Juan. He was registered by his mother for this program in the large urban area in south central California in early September. He was 4 years old when he started school, and initially seemed happy to be there. However, his behavior, beginning with the first day and continuing for at least 3 weeks, was problematic in that he literally ran to a child or a group of children involved in play or work with materials, stayed less than 2 minutes, and then ran to a different group. He ran and ran, and no amount of gentle guidance about school routines and appropriate behaviors helped. The only time he seemed to settle in to doing anything with calm or interest was during outside playtime. In desperation, Mia took one set of materials from one of the indoor learning centers outside, ← 4 | 5 → and invited him to come outside with her to play. He did. He focused, talked with her as they played, and was a different child from the one who raced around the room indoors. So, the following day, the teachers put materials from several centers outside and gave all children the option to do the activities outdoors or indoors. This not only initiated a change in Juan’s behaviors, it also began to change how the other children interacted with him. He began to make friends.

After a couple of weeks of this routine, the teachers began to bring back indoors the center activities, gradually—one each day. After a few weeks of this “change” back to an indoor classroom, Juan began to interact with his friends and teachers inside the classroom in meaningful ways.

At a home visit with his family in October, Mia learned some clues about the mystery of the child’s initial interactions. She arrived at the home, and was greeted by the family. She found herself in a small, below-ground-level studio apartment with one small window (1′ x 1′) high on the bathroom wall. The mother apologized for the small space and explained that she and her husband and two children lived there with two other families. It was clear that when at home, Juan had no opportunity to look outdoors, or play outdoors, and only a few feet of space to play indoors (Quintero, 2014).

Context and evidence here are very different from what is often considered in discussions about developmental “milestones” guidelines and “ages and stages” timelines, yet the data are actually quite hopeful. The child himself negotiated his participation; the teachers were creative and took risks to support him and his family. This reveals a context of daily living that is more common (sadly) than we want to admit. The teachers’ creative and authentically responsive ways to assess what may have been useful for the child, risk-taking to change their curriculum, and then investigating the child’s living situation, certainly affected the way he was able to begin to participate fully in the early childhood program.


ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2016 (February)
education childcare K-2 childhood
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 169 pp.

Biographical notes

Elizabeth Quintero (Author)

Elizabeth P. Quintero, teacher (pre-K – grade 2) and university teacher educator, earned her EdD in early childhood and bilingual education from New Mexico State University. Her passion is participatory work with families in multilingual communities. She is Professor and Coordinator of Early Childhood Studies at California State University Channel Islands. Her publications include Storying: A Path to Our Future: Artful Thinking, Learning, Teaching, and Research (with Mary Kay Rummel, Peter Lang, 2014) and Critical Literacy in Early Childhood Education: Artful Story and the Integrated Curriculum (Peter Lang, 2009).


Title: Storying Learning in Early Childhood
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179 pages