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The Magic Coat provides a unique and accessible resource book that encourages parents and educators to adopt a holistic understanding of young children’s social and emotional development. Particularly appealing to the reader is that Di Wilcox’s approach towards creating calm, confident and caring kids can be implemented across all childhood contexts. The approach invites play-based learning, respects diversity, and promotes inclusivity. It tunes in to children’s interests, accommodates teachable moments, and addresses the ‘in-the-moment’ relevant issues while entwining elements of fun, creativity and imagination.
Research into what constitutes quality support for young children’s social and emotional development emphasises the importance of responding to children according to their individual strengths and needs; also recognising similarities and differences in their life world experiences. The story construct of a ‘magical coat’ both assists the adult to engage and extend the narrative of making the world a better place through love, happiness and kindness; while also providing the child with a protective coat (metaphorically speaking) that reassures and instils confidence as they explore their own emotions and responsiveness to others.
The publication of this resource is extremely timely amid growing concerns towards children’s well-being given families’ busy 21 st century life styles, and the increasing expectations of what constitutes early childhood education. Noteworthy, is that children’s well-being is cited as one of the most significant indicators of quality for educational settings whether at home, school or in the community. Definitions related to children’s wellbeing include reference to children feeling at ease, being spontaneous and free of emotional tensions, expressing inner rest and relaxation, showing vitality and self-confidence, and being in touch with their feelings and emotions – all crucial to good mental health (Ebbeck, 2016; Declercq et al. 2011). Laevers (2005), who has written extensively and drawn attention to the value of focusing on well-being and involvement of children in early childhood education, concludes that measuring well-being and involvement focuses on the real competencies that matter in life. How we think, feel and act when facing life’s situations impacts on our potential to cope with the stresses of life, build healthy relationships, work productively and participate fully in society (United Nations, 2014).
Embracing a child-centred approach to deliver the message that mental health matters Wilcox skillfully designs a series of animated characters – ‘friends’ (that live inside the pockets of the imaginary coat) to introduce children to the language of emotions, to enable them to understand and express feelings. Informal conversations about the characters’ special qualities can also be used reinforce the value of relationships and learn how to set protective physical and emotional boundaries. Importantly, there is a message of optimism; that each child is strong, resourceful and competent who can transform the world to be a better place though their deepening understanding of the interdependence of humanity for learning and wellbeing.
I highly recommend the Magic Coat to all parents and educators as an invaluable resource that can be used time and time again. It is also an excellent resource that early childhood pre-service teachers should also include in their collection of professional development documents.
Director of Early Childhood Education at Murdoch University