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The Happiest Preschool

Adult; Other Nonfiction; (Market)

The manual is a groundbreaking roadmap for preschool and kindergarten teachers and has the potential to revolutionize early childhood education. It takes the current trend toward play-based learning and social-emotional development to its logical conclusion, namely, freeing the classroom from inappropriate demands and expectations and inspiring children to follow their interests and retain and expand their curiosity and creativity. It has a section on responding to children's fantasy play, which is not a skill most teachers are taught. It also shows teachers how to partner with children in play and introduce learning opportunities based on each child's interests. There has never been a manual that comprehensively describes and explains virtually every skill an informed preschool or kindergarten teacher needs and illustrates these with real life examples (there are over 270 examples from the Smart Love Preschool in the book!). The Manual describes in detail how teachers can create a classroom culture of caring, cooperation, creativity, learning, and emotional health. Moreover, parents who are in the process of choosing a preschool or kindergarten for their child will use the Manual as a guideline to best practices.
Making the case that the "the most important goal of all education,” especially at the earliest levels, is “to preserve and enhance curiosity and a love of learning,” psychotherapist Pieper (Smart Love) shares a nurturing and positive alternative to the education of what preschool can be. She presents the S.M.A.R.T program, an initiative whose somewhat tricky acronym reveals its empathetic ethos and approach: "Stay positive, Model kindness, Acknowledge and accept feelings, loving Regulation, and Time with.” Through the testimony of teachers and hard-won first-hand knowledge, The Happiest Preschool provides guidance for the nourishment of preschoolers with an inviting, play-based teaching method that focuses on learning through play and authentic experiences in the classroom.

Pieper reports the heartening results that the S.M.A.R.T. program has achieved at the Natalie G. Heineman Smart Love Preschool. The program removes the standard "rules," such as forcing children to clean up or to participate, instead reinforcing the concept of choice and creating an opportunity for children to understand the "natural consequence of playing." Pieper explores the reasoning behind and impact of this approach, noting that children thrive within it and take behavioral cues from the “respectful, happy, calm, and healthy” classroom, even “when frustrations and conflicts arise.” Throughout, Pieper introduces creative ways for teachers to teach young children respect for themselves and others, group and solitary play, and healthy avenues to express their emotions through modeled behavior and gentle guidance.

Perfect for readers who interact or work with young children, The Happiest Preschool is a positive, persuasive resource guide filled with practical advice, big-picture thinking, and helpful scenarios demonstrating how early education teachers and parents can implement the S.M.A.R.T. principles to not only help the students but also to gain valuable experience and practice themselves for calm, productive classrooms for years to come.

Takeaway: Practical guide to inviting, play-based learning for the youngest students.

Comparable Titles: Mitchel Resnick's Lifelong Kindergarten, Allie Ticktin's Play to Progress.

Production grades
Cover: A-
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A

Arnie Duncan, Former US Secy. of Education & CEO of Chicago Public Schools

"The Happiest Preschool: A Manual for Teachers is a strong advocate for high quality preschool, which is what every child needs and deserves as a springboard  for academic success and the development of social-emotional skills and self-confidence. Teachers will learn and benefit from comprehensive topics and specific examples that illustrate how to create an exciting, cooperative, caring, inspiring classroom culture."

Dan Gartrell author of The Power of Guidance

"The Happiest Preschool is so consistently positive that I was smiling as I read every page.  The classroom examples were specific and the photos from the program really helped make the book come alive.  Think my favorite section was “Unnecessary and Inappropriate Rules.”  This section really nails it: guidance that teaches rather than the punishments implicit in rule enforcement.  I also particularly enjoyed the practical material explaining caregiver responses versus personal reactions and on cultivating Partnerships with Parents.  Especially, I thought the material on gender fluidity was perceptively matter-of-fact, needed, and helpful. The Manual paints the picture of a child-responsive early childhood program worth emulating.”

Dan Schwartz, Dean Graduate School of Education Stanford University

"It's a great book!"

David Kirp, University of California-Berkeley; author of The Sandbox Investment

“The Happiest Preschool is the go-to book for teachers eager to turn state-of-the-art ideas about how to create a preschool where children will thrive into on-the-ground reality in their classroom.”

Indie Reader

THE HAPPIEST PRESCHOOL: A Manual for Teachers by Martha Heineman Pieper, Ph.D. and preschool director Kelly
Perez pushes back against the pedagogy that makes preschool a preparation for college application. As they point out:
“Unfortunately, many teachers are thrown into their classrooms with management techniques that ignore their
natural impulse to connect with kids. Often this means you are expected to teach to the test, and are required to keep
children orderly at all times, making you feel like policing and power struggles are just part of everyday experience.”
Aimed mainly at preschool teachers (it can be useful for kindergarten as well), the book uses scores of anecdotes
drawn from real-life teaching experience to rethink how they should interact with their students. Their pedagogical
approach is summed up in the acronym S.M.A.R.T.: Stay Positive, Model Kindness, Acknowledge and Accept Feelings,
Loving Regulation, Time With.
The 276-page book is divided into eight chapters, dealing with everything from classroom management to bullying,
washing hands, and socializing. They promise that the skills taught in the book will help preschool teachers “foster
happy, creative, curious, compassionate, and positively engaged students.”
Even where their approach contradicts the established literature, Pieper’s and Perez’s techniques can be effective. For example, they write, “By the end of the year, your children will have met and often exceeded academic benchmarks,
but through ways that come naturally, and not with worksheets, drilling, testing, formal learning of any kind, or
directed play. Parents report with delight that Smart Love students go on to later grades as competent, eager learners.”

The SMART love paradigm also involves having older children teach younger ones (an approach that historically
accords with cultural norms for most societies) and keeping the parents involved. By extension, THE HAPPIEST
PRESCHOOL: A Manual for Teachers is based on both common sense about children as well as hands-on experience in teaching them. Authors Martha Heineman Pieper and Kelly Perez take as their premise a pedagogy where children
learn by imitation, with teachers being the models for imparting social skills and academic learning through fun and
trust. In the end, this book is an invaluable guide to teachers and parents alike—and hopefully policy-makers as well.

Martha Heineman Pieper and Kelly Perez provide useful guidance in THE HAPPIEST PRESCHOOL: A Manual for
Teachers, which values making a connection with preschool students and developing their social skills over focusing on
exam scores.
~Kevin Baldeosingh for IndieReader

Leslie Koplow, Bank Street Center for Emotionally Responsive Practice

"Early childhood teachers will find this very helpful! It will be a powerful resource for teachers looking for guidance and insight."

Online Book Club

he Happiest Preschool by Martha Heineman Pieper, Ph.D. and Kelly Perez is a guidebook on a new perspective on engaging preschool pupils in learning. This approach is based on understanding why children always behave the way they do and addressing solely this reason using a positive and care-giving motive.

The book proves to be an educative guide for all teachers handling preschool and kindergarten children, as well as parents, to help the pupils learn in a way that they would learn naturally without having to be forced through those non-age-appropriate rules and tactics. The book is divided into 8 chapters, exposing and addressing many concepts of child psychology as well as the practical application of tactics in handling children under each concept. First, the book discusses "Social-Emotional Learning: The Smart Love Way. Under this concept, the book explains ways to handle the seemingly complicated feelings of children, such as anger, upset, fear, missing loved ones, and sadness.

I concur with the concept that educators should encourage children to express all their emotions openly. The book provides tangible examples of how teachers can address emotions arising in preschool students. In instances where teachers may struggle to comprehend certain emotions, they seek guidance from Director Perez or Dr. Pieper. For instance, if a child unexpectedly experiences sadness and expresses it by hitting a classmate, I would approach and communicate with the student with care, aiming to assist them in overcoming the distress underlying their unhappiness. This is opposed to giving punishment or tagging the student badly, as seen in the traditional way of handling pupils. This book would help teachers, parents, and guardians to distinguish between self-care motives and personal motives when cautioning children when they do something out of childishness. Hence, I recommend the book to all preschool and kindergarten teachers. The book advises that teachers should correct children with positive and self-care motives and should not make a child look bad to other children. I agree and believe in the workability and authenticity of all the tactics given to counter all forms of child antisocial behavior. I felt lucky to have chosen this book, and I cannot love it less.

All in all, the book is professionally edited and written with the utmost simplicity and clarity. There is nothing for me to point out as a flaw in this book. All concepts taught are explained with live scenarios about the best tactics a teacher or staff member has used that bring a healthy result at the end. Hence, I'll be rating the book 5 out of 5 stars.

NPR Interview on "Here and Now" about The Happiest Preschool

A psychotherapist is advocating for preschools to take a different approach to supporting young children to benefit their emotional well-being. Martha Heineman Pieper suggests some of the traditional ways toddlers are being taught to cope in classrooms is not age-appropriate.

She joins Here & Now’s Deepa Fernandes to talk about solutions from her new book “The Happiest Preschool: How to Create a Classroom Culture of Caring, Cooperation, Creativity, Learning and Emotional Health.”