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Book Reviews

I'm an avid reader. Before I started Nature and Nurture, I worked at a small college and one of my jobs was reviewing Early Childhood Education textbooks. I loved that part of the job. As a parent and as an educator, I have a read a lot of books about child development. Here, I have reviewed some of the common books making the rounds in parenting circles. These are just my own opinions on the books. If you find the reviews helpful, great. If not, that's OK too. There are many ways to be a good parent. 

Parenting Preschoolers

Einstein Never Used Flashcards by Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, PhD, Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, and Diane Eyer ««««

Your baby can’t read? Good. Your baby shouldn’t be reading. Your baby should be read to.

This book dispels the myth that faster is better. Childhood does not need to be rushed. There is no reason to pressure and cajole your children into hitting cognitive milestones early. Put away the flashcards, step away from the Baby Einstein dvds, and have fun with your children. This book is excellent for two reasons. First, it takes the pressure off. It talks about the amazing learning opportunities in every day experiences. A walk around the neighborhood can be a chance to explore, observe bugs, collect leaves, etc. Baking up some cookies can be a way to learn about counting, measurements, consistency and viscosity, heat, etc. Building with blocks can teach about friction, balance, and gravity. A plethora of learning experiences in the everyday moments. Second, this book takes a look at the research and shows how and why flashcards and worksheets are not successful methods of learning, but rather memorization.  It discusses how contextual and interactive learning, otherwise known as PLAY prepares children for success, both academically and socially.

          Let’s bring play back to childhood.


Loving Your Child is Not Enough by Nancy Samalin ««««

OK, admittedly, the title is not great. It doesn’t evoke warm fuzzy feelings about parenting. But other than that, this is a great book. The most important thing it does is, it teaches parents how to listen to their children. I know, that’s probably not what you are looking for. “I listen. I need to get my child to listen,” you might (rightly) say. However, listening to your children isn’t just about hearing the words they say. It is about looking at their whole presentation: words, body language, behavior, etc and using that information to recognize and meet their needs. In doing so, you will actually prevent many discipline problems before they can begin. Your child isn’t acting up just to be annoying. Is your child hungry, tired, scared, insecure? If so, you need to treat the cause, not the symptom.

The next important thing this book does is, it teaches you how to talk so that your child will listen. Not just listen, but act accordingly. To you, “Don’t run in the house” means, obviously, walk. To a child, that is not so clear. Learning how to keep your messages brief and clear is important. This book shows you how to talk to your child so that your child feels understood and respected. Don’t we all behave better with people that understand and respect us?

This book is most helpful for parents of children capable of expressing themselves. But even if your child is still at the point and grunt stage of verbal development, this book will get you going down the right path.


 The Out of Sync Child Has Fun by Carol Kranowitz ««««

Just to be clear, this is not a review of The Out of Sync Child. The Out of Sync Child Has Fun is the immeasurably more useful companion piece to the original book. It is a compilation of activities and exercises to do with children who have Sensory Processing Disorder. The activities are organized by sense, include step by step instructions, and suggest variations so you can customize to your child’s needs. Many of the activities in this book would be useful for children without SPD, especially when cooped up inside on rainy days. Some activities are submitted by OTs, some by parents. This is a good book for parents who already understand what SPD is, and just want some ideas to implement at home.  


Positive Discipline A to Z by Jane Nelsen ««««

Jane Nelsen has a series of positive discipline books. Each has a slightly different focus and she works with a variety of co-authors. This book in particular is great for busy parents who don’t have the time or inclination to read an entire book. A to Z can be used as a quick reference for a variety of common discipline issues. It’s practical approach and solution-focused style make it an easy read. No weighty jargon. No overly flowery prose. Just simple, useful ways to approach discipline. Keep it on your bookshelf and use as needed. Later, when your children are keeping themselves occupied, you can read one of her other books and discover all the great reasoning behind the various tools outlined in this book.

 

Calm and Compassionate Children by Susan Usha Dermond ««« and 1/2

In a world of bigger, better, faster, this book reminds you to slow down and make conscious decisions about what kind of parent you want to be. A lot of the advice is stuff that I naturally do anyway, like limit tv and other electronic entertainment, encourage creative play and play with a purpose. It reminds readers of the importance of simple things like conversations at the dinner table, family game nights, and nature walks. As the name would suggest, this book is, at times, a little flowery and fuzzy. But hey, we all need flowers and warm fuzzies, right?

However throughout the book, the author demonstrated a certain disdain for public education and by extension, parents that choose public education or have no choice in the matter. As a big supporter of public education, and a realist who recognizes that private school is not always an option, nor indeed always a better option, I found this attitude extremely off-putting. If you can look past this attitude, the book really does have lots of useful information on raising your child to be both calm and compassionate.

          It seems so many parenting books are concerned with things like achievement and                  measurable results so it was refreshing to see a book focusing on letting your child be a           child. It highlights the learning opportunities in every day moments and focuses on                  building positive character traits like generosity and empathy.


Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka««« and 1/2

This is actually a good guide for anyone whose child is spirited, energetic, or a little “off.” The reason it didn’t get four stars is that sometimes it seems the author is making excuses for out of control behavior. Many behaviors that she talks about as being defining quirks of spirited children really are just misbehaviors that need to be channeled into more appropriate outlets. Aside from that though, it is a good book. Many of the behaviors described could be symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorder though I believe this book was first written before SPD was an accepted diagnosis. The book is not exclusive to SPD though. The children described in this book simply march to the beat of their own drummer. That’s a good thing. We, as a society, need kids like that but we, as parents, need tools to raise children like that without pulling our hair out. The book finds a nice balance between celebrating spirit and creating reasonable boundaries. It teaches parents to work with their children, rather than against them.

 

Love and Logic by Foster Cline and Jim Fay «««

Disclaimer: This book starts out with a lot of Christian references, particularly in the introduction, and every chapter begins with a Bible verse. Some people find that helpful, some find it off-putting so I wanted to mention it. This review is not an endorsement of any particular religion or belief system.

The premise of this book is that children need to learn the logical consequences of their actions. For example, if a child throws a kicking screaming fit, no one wants to be in the same room with the child. This is a good book for parents that want to use positive, not punitive, discipline techniques but are not thrilled about having long touchy-feely talks about every little issue. No touchy feely talks or lectures here. None. Which is why I only gave it three stars. Occasionally, you need some touchy-feely talks with your child. Some of the tips are overly idealistic, and it relies heavily on a form of time out. I’m not a huge fan of time out because it does not actively teach the child better, more appropriate ways to behave. But time out the way this book approaches it, as in time alone to calm down, can be beneficial for children and parents alike.

Overall a pretty good book. Most of the tools work best with school age children.

 

Playful Parenting by Lawrence Cohen ««

People may disagree with me on this review. That’s allowed. I know parents who absolutely swear by this book. They LOVED it. I thought it was fine. Yes, the author gives many suggestions of how you can use play to eliminate power struggles, solve problems, and bond with your child. That’s great. I am actually a huge fan of play therapy. However…  Not everything can be played away. And even things that can be played away maybe shouldn’t be. The author advocated ignoring some behaviors that personally I’d nip in the bud such as name calling. I am all for self-expression and honesty but name calling is disrespectful and serves no real purpose. It is not something I personally would ignore or play around with. My main complaint about this book is that it doesn’t do enough, or really anything, to help parents when play isn’t enough or isn’t appropriate. Some parenting issues really need to be dealt with head on. The author gave no suggestions or parenting advice other than play. Play is great. We need more play time in childhood. We really do. But parents need more tools than that. If, like me, you read a lot of child development and parenting books, add this one to the pile. But if you are looking for ONE book to read, this isn’t it.