Saturday, June 30, 2012

Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs

by Ellen Galinsky

The author, a long-time author and researcher on parenting and child development, outlines seven skills that are necessary for children (and adults) to be engaged learners and critical thinkers.  They are: (1) focus and self-control; (2) perspective taking – being flexible and reflecting about others’ feelings; (3) communicating; (4) making connections between things learned; (5) critical thinking – learning what sources of information to trust; (6) taking on challenges – overcoming stress factors; and (7) self-directed learning.  With a plethora of interesting studies on infant attention, language development, memory, parent connections, object sense, and so on, Galinsky shows how the developing brain has the potential to grasp these complex concepts.  Each chapter also has a list of suggestions parents and teachers can apply to help their children along: be the guide, not the arbiter of pretend play; teach deep ideas and explore them, not a shallow overview of a subject; give kids a degree of control over the things that scare them; let kids’ passions guide them through stress and challenges; let children remember by teaching what they’ve learned; make a point of talking about others’ feelings aloud; focus on quality and attitude and open questions rather than the quantity of books or ideas; etc.

It’s written in an easy, approachable style, with not too much of the repetition that this kind of book often has.  I enjoyed reading about the studies, though many of them (such as those that deal with language acquisition or object sense in infants) are not really applicable to my work.  There’s definitely value in these pages, but I have the same complaint (it’s not even a criticism, really, since this is an inherent quality of the genre) about this that I do with nearly every other parenting or self-help book I read: the great majority of the advice given is so basic, so common-sense and obvious, that I wonder who exactly needs it.  Obviously, there are low-income, low-education families out there who might need to be told such nuggets as, “Create an environment at home where reading is important,” or “Create a bond of trust with your child,” or “Select computer games that promote paying attention” – but are those families really reading this book?  Who is it that selects this book and reads it with purpose, and yet also needs to be told to “Talk about shapes, numbers, and quantities with your kids”?  Perhaps many people do; I find that depressing.

three stars

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