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Friday, July 30, 2010

Beyond Smart

by Linda Morgan
150 pages

*** About the Book ***
Beyond Smart: Boosting Your Child's Social, Emotional, and Academic Potential
According to the pitch I received from the author, “[t]his book gives parents practical and realistic tools to help them maximize all aspects of their child's education experience, from academics to social and emotional learning, beginning from birth.”

*** Why I Read It ***

Kiddo isn’t a big fan of school and he is a somewhat reluctant reader (although he’s improved greatly this summer!) so I’m always looking for ideas on how to give him the best school experience possible. That’s what I hoped to get from this book and that’s why I agreed to review it.

*** My Thoughts ***

I have to be honest here and say that I did not completely finish this book. I am clearly not the target audience for this book and I found myself skimming many of the chapters. The ones that I found very helpful were the final sections, and by then I was a bit frustrated with the book and ready to be done with it.

First let’s talk about the good things. In chapters titled Advocating for Your Child, Math, Science, and More, and Learning to Love Writing and Public Speaking, the author shares a variety of tips and suggestions for giving your child the best school experience possible. For me, this was the best, most useful, part of the book. I’ll be able to use many of these with Kiddo and I can see that I’ll have to reread these chapters in the future when I need ideas.

I also really appreciated the recommended reading list for children in the back of the book. It is always good to have suggestions on books that might capture Kiddo’s attention and there are a few good ones on that list.

That said, I had some issues with other parts of the book.

As I mentioned before, I don’t feel that I was the target audience for the book. It felt to me like the book was meant for new parents or for those who are really struggling with some basic parenting challenges. The author’s goal is “to provide an easily accessible source of information for parents” that includes the latest advances in neuroscience and educational studies. This may be true, but most of the information included in the book seems like simple common sense to me.

The structure of the book really works to drive home the message of each chapter so that the reader simply can’t miss the main points. Within each chapter the major points are reiterated in three different formats: paragraph form, expert interviews, and bullet points. I felt like I could read just the bullet points for each chapter and understand what I needed to know. If you were using this book as a reference guide then this would be very helpful but for me it was much too repetitious to read straight through. It might be very helpful to struggling parents though.

In addition to the structure of the book, I also had issues with some of the content. To keep it short, I’ll talk about just two points.

In the chapter Emotional Readiness Counts the author discusses the need for “unconditional care” of a child by a parent:
That care must be unconditional. We need to love kids for who they are not what they do. They should know they still mean the world to us even when they mess up or fall short. […] That basic principle helps to explain why punishements (like “time out,” which is experienced as a form of love withdrawl) and rewards (including verbal rewards – “Good job!”) prove to be so counterproductive. These are techniques of conditional parenting, not unconditional.
My issue with this is two-fold. First, I don’t see how putting a child in time out demonstrates conditional care. Disciplining a child, teaching him to be respectful of people and things, in my mind clearly demonstrates unconditional care for that child. But regardless of the philosophy behind the author’s statement (and I think that there are many valid parenting styles), what would be helpful here – especially since this book is meant as a reference guide – is a follow-up statement explaining specifically how parents should show unconditional care when the need for discipline arises. Unfortunately that advice is not found anywhere in this chapter or in any of the chapters I read in full. Also, in a later chapter (Advocating For Your Child) parents are instructed to praise their children when they do well with their homework, yet here verbal rewards are called “counterproductive” … this left me a bit confused.

Another issue I had was in the chapter Solving School Dilemmas. If the child is having problems with school work the author suggests the following:
… [C]ome up with solutions – as many as you can. This might mean making sure homework comes home and goes back to class […]. It might be buying a second set of textbooks, because your child keeps leaving hers at her desk., or simply having your child moved to a different location.
In my mind, part of being a parent is encouraging and supporting your child in whatever way you can. Another part of being a parent is allowing your child to make mistakes and to suffer the consequences of those mistakes in the hope that he will learn something from them. I don’t understand how buying a new set of school books to keep at home will help your child learn to be responsible. Yes, he may do better in school because he’s getting his homework done, but as a parent you’ve just spent $50+ on books (that the school already gave you for free!) and shown your child that you will bail him out of whatever he gets into. Your child has not learned to be responsible, nor has he learned to bring his books home. For me, success in school does not automatically override other important life lessons.

In summary ...

As I read I kept thinking that this is the kind of book you give to a teen mom to help her be a better parent.  There is some excellent info in here (and some not-so-excellent info as well) but it was simply too repetitious for me. 

*** Your Thoughts ***

This review is MUCH wordier that I usually go for but I had a lot to say about this book.  If you've made it this far, please share your thoughts on this book and other parenting books in the comments.  Which book do you go to for help? Which book did you find completely frustrating or contradictory to your parenting style?  Or simply share a parenting tip that has worked wonders for you!

1 comment:

Alyce said...

I'll definitely pass on this one. The only time I spent reading parenting books was when my boys were babies. They were so different even as babies that they needed different things then. My first was over sensitive to stimulation, so walking the floor with him made him even more upset when he was tired. It took us a couple of weeks to discover this. Our second son was more relaxed and snuggly, but he had to eat on a strict schedule or would get an upset stomach. I ended up using bits and pieces of different books, and trial and error to find out what was right for them.

As far as older kids and discipline, it's much the same thing - we learn as we go and the kids are so different that the same things don't always work for both of them. I agree with you about letting kids learn from their mistakes, and we use time outs with good results in our house (also taking away privileges like television/computer if they disobey).

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