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A Child's WorkA Child's Work

The Importance of Fantasy Play

Vivian Gussin Paley

Narrated by Beth Richmond

Available from Audible

audio sample

Sample on YouTube:

Book published by University of Chicago Press

The buzz word in education today is accountability. But the federal mandate of "no child left behind" has come to mean curriculums driven by preparation for standardized tests and quantifiable learning results. Even for very young children, unstructured creative time in the classroom is waning as teachers and administrators are under growing pressures to measure school readiness through rote learning and increased homework. In her new book, Vivian Gussin Paley decries this rapid disappearance of creative time and makes the case for the critical role of fantasy play in the psychological, intellectual, and social development of young children.

A Child's Work goes inside classrooms around the globe to explore the stunningly original language of children in their role-playing and storytelling. Drawing from their own words, Paley examines how this natural mode of learning allows children to construct meaning in their worlds, meaning that carries through into their adult lives. Proof that play is the work of children, this compelling and enchanting book will inspire and instruct teachers and parents as well as point to a fundamental misdirection in today's educational programs and strategies.

Vivian Gussin Paley , a kindergarten and nursery school teacher for thirty-seven years, primarily at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, has received numerous awards and accolades, including a MacArthur Award and most recently the John Dewey Society's Outstanding Achievement Award. She is the author of eleven books, three of which are published by the University of Chicago Press.

Beth Richmond (narrator) has narrated dozens of audiobooks for major companies.


“This irresistible book is Vivian Gussin Paley at her very best.... Paley's defence of fantasy play is fuelled by urgency and a passionate interest in children and everything they do.... [A Child's Work also includes] story after powerful story from Paley's magnificent anthology of the imagination, all collected from 'natural born storytellers who create their own dramatic literature.' The case she makes is convincing because, in generous moves of self-analysis, she shows us her own learning, her own coming to understand. ”

Times Education Supplement

“America's children have in Vivian Gussin Paley an extraordinarily knowing and thoughtful observer - indeed, a resourceful teacher who has so much to tell us about how our country's young people live, learn, grow, in mind, heart and spirit. Here is a book brimming with brave wisdom that will help us parents and teachers understand how our sons and daughters, our students come to terms with life through their minds' activity. ”

—Robert Coles author of The Moral Intelligence of Children

“[A] richly detailed reminder of the enormously important role of imaginary play ... Paley does children a great service by reminding us of the enormous value of fantasy play.”

San Francisco Chronicle Book Review


1. Young Children

2. The Language of Play

3. Charlotte and Cinderella

4. The First Rungs of the Ladder

5. The Invention of Theater

6. Looking for Peter Rabbit

7. Frogs, Kittens, and Bad Guys

8. Before There Was School, There Were Stories

9. Big A and Little a

10. Anxious Families, Philosophical Children

11. The Art of Conversation

12. Who Owns the Subject?

13. Simon's Story

14. Proving What We Know

15. The Subject Was a Puzzle Piece

16. Tom and Jerry

17. Pretenses and Perceptions

18. What If?

19. Franklin in the Blocks

20. Musical Chairs

21. A Letter from England

All titles are published by:
University Press Audiobooks
an imprint of Redwood Audiobooks

University Press Audiobooks