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[ Contents Vol 7, 1991 ] [ QJER Home ]

Book Reviews


Harrison, J. (1991). Understanding Children: Towards Responsive Relationships. Australian Council for Educational Research, Hawthorn, Victoria.

S. Danby
Division of Education
Griffith University

Understanding Children is intended for parents and early childhood caregivers. It focuses on psychological methods for both guidance of and interaction with infants and young children within the social setting. I found this book very readable and believe that it will be very useful for those child-care workers and parents who may not be seeking a theoretical base.

Each chapter begins with a behavioural objective and concludes with review activities, activities for further learning and recommended readings. The chapters are grouped to cover the author's major topics which form functional sections. While I was impressed by her organisation of the subject overall, I was disappointed by her chapter bibliographies which were brief and repetitive.

The book seeks to show the connections between relationships and behaviour. The emphasis is on Alfred Adler's theory of Independent Psychology, Erikson's psychosocial Theory of Life Cycle and Dreikurs' views, especially those relating to personality development, children's perceptions of lifestyles, and discipline and logical consequences of behaviour.

Harrison emphasises a 'democratic' approach; which for her is manifested through five guiding principles: equality, respect, trust, cooperation and shared responsibility. This appears to be more a practical framework than a theoretical perspective. But regardless, the underlying theories she cites are consistent and useful to actual caregivers. Harrison does an admirable job of cutting down to essentials and resulting practice.

Understanding Children's strengths are the sound strategies Harrison has included for developing effective communication and guidance skills with infants and young children. She defines limit setting and other positive guidance techniques, including encouragement by the caregiver, while supporting the child's self esteem. She builds a picture of a warm, trusting environment where children feel comfortable and secure, and where they are free to explore and develop responsible and independent behaviour within their social settings.

The caregiver who works particularly with infants will find this book a useful source of ideas providing practical advice on how to interact and organise a stimulating environment for the very young child.

Moving from the practical applications, I feel it is necessary to raise some concerns about the book. I take issue with Harrison's discussion of the positive resolution of Erikson's early stages. She discounts the specific conflict crucial to each stage when she writes: "Children develop a predictable sequence of stages where a certain learned behaviour comes before another." (p.10). As maturation forces the next stage, the resolution may not be positive. These conflicts are evident throughout life, although each is dominant in one particular period and events which take place early in life influence later events.

She discusses the importance of the family and caregivers working together in a 'unique' relationship, and the importance of supporting differing values and beliefs systems, but there is some concern that she sees the educator as providing knowledge without truly acknowledging the reciprocal nature of sharing between parent and caregiver.

She makes the management of young children seem simple - perhaps too simple. I feel a concern for the caregiver who implements the principles and strategies outlined, but still encounters the child or relationship that does not respond as predicted. A short disclaimer to comfort the perplexed would sound a discordant but necessary note.

Because the book is intended as a guide for parents and caregivers rather than as a university text, Harrison must be forgiven for the less than rigorous bibliography and the occasional lapse in references. For example, but for a bibliographic mention, she does not credit Dreikurs for his model of discipline or family constellation (birth order) on which her models are clearly based.

Having voiced my concerns, I wish to reiterate that I found the book very enjoyable and informative.

Harrison suggests that this book could be used as a source for planning in-service programs for parents and caregivers. She is justified in this belief and her 'review activities' and 'activities for further learning' provide useful and supporting experiences.

The mix of theory to practical outcomes is appropriate to the audience. The book meets the basic need to know why the advice works. But as this is not meant to provide an overview, the material is best similar to those interested in the child rather than in early childhood.


Paull, Thelma M. (1990) Talk About Problems. Australian Council for Educational Research, Hawthorn, Victoria.

Dale Symons
Marieta Hope
Resource Development Section
Department of Transport

A comical, cartoon character 'Croc' provides the focus for introducing a range of issues confronting young people in today's society.

The book is designed so that the user may turn immediately to the subject area by following a simple index. Each chapter provides information which is not dependent on the previous or subsequent sections. Therefore, the book adopts the form of a reference text.

Croc introduces and clarifies each issue and devotes the chapter to anecdotes, possible problems and some courses of action which could ultimately give rise to solutions. Topics provide children with insights into establishing effective communication skills with others including peers, parents and teachers.

Health, Rights, Money and the Future are also covered in a simple but effective manner.

A chapter devoted to sexuality approaches the problems of changing body images and accepting responsibility for making informed choices when confronted with concerns of a sexual nature. A collection of actual problems as stated by children themselves is included at the end of each chapter and is a worthwhile feature of the book.

With the current emphasis on the development of school-based Human Relationships Education programs, this text would prove to be a worthy addition to a school resource collection. The target audience would largely include children between 10 and 15 years of age.

Large print, variety of fonts, amusing cartoons and an uncluttered layout enhance the appearance and the user friendliness of the text. The book could be used by children in the early high school years for individual study or by teachers in other year levels as a focus for a specific lesson. Hence, all year levels from primary to higher school may benefit from exposure to this text.

The underlying theme is one of talking about problems with others. No-one need feel isolated in society. The text would certainly be of great interest to any teacher keen to foster life skills and problems solving within their classroom .


Hopkins, David (1989). Evaluation for School Development. University Press, Philadelphia.

Neil Cranston
Senior Review Officer
Department of Education
Queensland

In Evaluation for School Development, David Hopkins has provided an excellent volume linking key areas from the evaluation literature and those concerned with school development. The book has wide utility - for those working in schools directly with school review and development projects through to those pursuing formal study in the area.

Sections I and II address the question 'What is evaluation?' and issues related to 'methods of working'. While providing sufficient theoretical detail to satisfy the 'serious' student, the sections do not become bogged down in philosophical debate about the stances one should or should not take in evaluation studies. Practicality and reality drive the writing. The essential link between evaluation and development/ improvement is strongly made and practically illustrated. Hopkins 'Starting Up' (p.42) contains enough real life insights to provide support and confidence for the first timer or for those with limited experience to actually get started and not be frightened off by 'the literature'. Strategies for gathering information are dealt with clearly and, again, with the user in mind.

Section III takes the reader into some specific examples for application of the skills and knowledge gained in the evaluation area. The author's special 'feel' for schools and what teachers may need in terms of support for undertaking evaluation studies is evident in this section. The treatment of performance indicators should help alleviate many concerns that practitioners and others have about their development, use and value.

Section IV reinforces one of the major themes of the book, viz: the link between evaluation and school improvement. This certainly has current relevance for schools in Queensland which are now engaged in a School Development Planning <---> Collaborative School Review cyclical process. Practical suggestions, based on the wide experiences of the author as well as those of others are embedded in the discussions.

'Evaluation for School Development' would be a valuable acquisition for any school requiring support and suggestions for their review/development activities. The writing is clear and concise, with the content practical and experienced based. Hopkins has done much to remove the perceived (by some) mysteries of evaluation and has provided insights into where evaluation can assist in the ongoing development of our schools.

Please cite as: QIER (1991). Book reviews. Queensland Researcher, 7(3), 59-64. http://www.iier.org.au/qjer/qr7/book-rev-7-3.html


[ Contents Vol 7, 1991 ] [ QJER Home ]
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