I recently joined Mother Talk, which is a blogging book review group...well...actually, click on their name because I think they can do a better job explaining themselves than I can do in one sentence...
Regardless, for my first review (and I'm not sure how often I'll actually have a book to review), I read Rae Pica's A Running Start: How Play, Physical Activity and Free Time Create a Successful Child. I really liked this book, but I also need to admit that we are a Dan Zanes sort of family. We're a put-on-music-
and-have-a-dance-party-while-we-all-make-dinner-together sort of family. We're a sustainable living, turn off the television, let's all run around in the park in our favourite costumes sort of family. Though this wasn't where we began. When we first started trying to conceive, we obtained a set of Baby Einstein DVDs, believing that this was the only way to produce the uber-children we knew we'd have. We thought they'd be in preschool by two--not only for the art projects and climbing toys, but because I didn't have faith in myself to be able to teach a two-year-old how to read (because I planned on having my children reading by two so they could be in Harvard by six. We needed those four years to perfect their essay writing skills).
And along the long wait, things changed. Ideas changed. And now they closely mirror what Rae Pica suggests in her book. Turn off the television. Kids learn through play. You don't need to enroll your children in classes in order for your children to learn. And there is more than one path to brilliance. That, yes, Baby Einstein may have a place, but so does lying on the grass and staring up at the clouds, trying to imagine them moving to music.
I think what I loved most about this book is the concrete advice she gives on how to execute some of her ideas. She doesn't simply tell parents to play cooperative games with their child, she gives specifics: "sit facing your child and begin by making a face, which she imitates. She then makes a face for you to imitate." And this game comes tucked into a list of four cooperative games that teach children the skills they need before they're ready to participate in team sports such as soccer or basketball.
She warns against coaches who don't teach age-appropriate skills (and gives you a checklist of questions to ask and things to look for in a coach). She encourages parents to not over-schedule children and to be their advocate in the school system. And most important, she teaches parents when to play with their child and when to step back and allow them the space to run free with their imagination. It's a pretty powerful set of tools presented in the book.
I think when you wait a long time for your child, you can become anxious and wonder if you're doing everything "right." And I think books like Rae Pica's are important because they remind you that your child will turn out okay in the end if you fulfill not only their basic needs: food, shelter, comfort, but also their in-born childhood needs such as space to play and time to run. It's freeing as a parent to let go of that anxiety, put down the Baby Einstein DVDs, and just allow your child to take a nature walk for an hour. And to believe that the hands-on experience of wonder will bring you to the same place down the line as intensive science classes for toddlers or French lessons at age three.
I just like the idea of someone telling me that it's okay that we haven't exposed them to television or enrolled them in preschool. At the end of the day, we're drawn to the books that match our parenting philosophy.