How to Raise a Brighter Child
a book by Joan Beck
(our site's book review)
Having assayed the latest research in sociology, psychology, neurology, neurophysiology, pediatrics, education and biology, she sums up the latest knowledge very competently:
“We have greatly underestimated what children under age six can and should be learning. . . . It is possible, by changing our methods of child-rearing, to raise the level of intelligence of all children, and to have happier, more enthusiastic youngsters as a result.” She tries to get the reader to apply what has been learned over the last half century to both early child development and early learning. The ramifications of the research for “ . . . early learning simply means using new knowledge about what your youngster’s brain needs during the crucial first years of life so that his mental development will come nearer to reaching its potential and your child will be brighter and happier for it.”
In essence, kids need to adventure/explore/experiment, make their own choices within the restricted-for-safety environment, and learn who they are through their interaction with the world. Most current childcare environments prevent or over-restrict too much in this area. [MC lifestyles are the epitome of what she says we should strive for, based upon the best research. See Why Register for an MC?.] She says exploring is just as primary a need as food.
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Like every other intelligent child development expert, she warns against either authoritarian or permissive environments, opting for democratic/authoritative ones instead. Logical and natural consequences are advocated. Choices are the key here.
Dr. Burton White, head of the Harvard Preschool Project, says that the “ . . . most effective mothers do not devote the bulk of their day to rearing of their children. Most of them are far too buy to do so; Many of them, in fact, have part-time jobs. What they . . . do . . . is to perform excellently the jobs of designer and consultant. They design a physical world, mainly in the home, that is beautifully suited to nurturing the burgeoning curiosity of one- to three-year-olds. . . . The child is encouraged in the vast majority of his explorations. Although she is not involved directly in his activities, she is within earshot. When the child confronts an interesting or difficult situation, he goes to her and usually, but now always, is responded to by his mother with help or shared enthusiasm plus, occasionally, an interesting, naturally related idea.”
The task of parents and later schools is to provide opportunities for learning and to permit the child to learn by himself. She cites Montessori as a good example of an environment structured to do just that. She cites research that shows that good, warm, early home environments will increase intelligence levels permanently. Kids born extra smart will not turn out smart if their early environment is not supportive. And as to the myth that gifted children are messed up emotionally and/or socially, she cites studies that show that “as a group, bright youngsters are better adjusted emotionally than average children. They have fewer emotional problems and are better able to cope with the ones they do have. They are more emotionally stable and more emotionally mature than classmates of the same age.