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The Classrooms All Young Children Need

Lessons in Teaching from Vivian Paley

Teacher and author Vivian Paley is highly regarded by parents, educators, and other professionals for her original insights into such seemingly everyday issues as play, story, gender, and how young children think. In The Classrooms All Young Children Need, Patricia M. Cooper takes a synoptic view of Paley’s many books and articles, charting the evolution of Paley’s thinking while revealing the seminal characteristics of her teaching philosophy. This careful analysis leads Cooper to identify a pedagogical model organized around two complementary principles: a curriculum that promotes play and imagination, and the idea of classrooms as fair places where young children of every color, ability, and disposition are welcome.

With timely attention paid to debates about the reduction in time for play in the early childhood classroom, the role of race in education, and No Child Left Behind, The Classrooms All Young Children Need will be embraced by anyone tasked with teaching our youngest pupils.


“A book focusing on how Vivian Paley’s pedagogical approach has informed her practice as a teacher is long overdue and sorely needed. Now we have Cooper’s book, which is a real pleasure to read and will benefit a wide range of readers, especially educators dissatisfied with the current overemphasis on teaching young children specific academic skills.”

Ageliki Nicolopoulou, Lehigh University

“In her unique book Patricia Cooper casts a clear interpretive light, at once theoretical and practical, on the work of Vivian Paley, master teacher and writer. This is not primarily a ‘how-to’ book, although readers do learn how-tos; it is more importantly a focus on how to think about what matters to young children within their classroom communities. We learn much about how and why Paley engages children in telling their stories, playing, and expressing through words and actions how they come to understand their worlds. In short, this is a beautifully constructed and written work for teachers, teacher educators, and those interested in early childhood education. In tandem with Paley’s books, the author offers elaborated and thought-provoking signposts toward an unscripted curriculum open to all young children.”

Celia Genishi, Teachers College, Columbia University

"Still actively writing, Vivian Paley has an impressive legacy, and Cooper captures it in this book. . . . This thought-provoking volume can be used in teacher education classes to stimulate important discussions about teaching."

Young Children

“Cooper . . . analyzes Paley’s work with balance and insight. Cooper makes valid and useful connections among Paley, Vygotsky, Dewey, and Erikson. After reading this book, readers will go back to Paley’s work with a greater appreciation of what she offers."


Table of Contents


Prologue: An “N of 1”  

Introduction: Why Interpret the Clear? 

Part One          Curricular Matters: A Pedagogy of Meaning

Chapter One    Early Literacy, Play, and a Teaching Philosophy           

Chapter Two    Fantasy Play and Young Children’s Search for Meaning           

Chapter Three  Storytelling and Story Acting: Meaning Extended          

Part Two          Relational Matters: A Pedagogy of Fairness      

Chapter Four    Teaching as a Moral Act, Classrooms as Democratic Spaces   

Chapter Five    Race, Pedagogy, and the Search for Fairness   

Chapter Six      Fairness Extended: Superheroes, Helicopters, and the Unchosen          

Epilogue: The Classrooms Young Children Need—an “N of Many”      

Appendix A: Guide to Implementation of Paley’s Storytelling Curriculum           

Appendix B: Sample Stories    

Appendix C: Sample Transcript of Child Dictation        

Appendix D: Becoming a Teacher of Stories    





AERA Division K: Exemplary Research in Teaching and Teacher Education

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