Review of Practical Wisdom For Parents: Demystifying The Preschool Years
Practical Wisdom For Parents:
Demystifying The Preschool Years
By Nancy Schulman and Ellen Birnbaum
Alfred A. Knopf Publishers, New York. August 2007. 336 pp
Here’s the perfect back-to-school book that will relieve those churning stomach butterflies that strike most parents of pre-schoolers as they are about to send off their cherished children to the daunting world of “school.”
I know that I could certainly have used this reassuring, clearly written and accessible volume 20 years ago, when my anxieties surrounding my son’s entry to nursery school at our synagogue definitely outweighed his.
The authors are, respectively, the director and associate director of the 92nd Street Y nursery. They are mothers, too, and clearly understand what keeps parents awake at night.
Organized into two sections—one dealing with school, the other concerned with home—the book tackles such topics as dealing with a new sibling, sleeping problems, socializing, play dates, even manners, in a calm, warm tone that makes the reader feel as if she’s gotten advice from the ideal grandmother (i.e., someone who’s been there, and done that, but isn’t emotionally invested in what you do).
The authors explain the typical pre-school curriculum, from story time and block play to the importance of snack and sharing, how children learn to follow directions, play as part of a group, and take responsibility. They point out practical ways that parents can become more involved in the school classroom, as well as meaningful ways to express thanks to a beloved teacher. And the authors also include useful reading lists that parents can use to work through such issues as making friends, starting school, or struggling with bedtime or the arrival of a new baby.
What’s most helpful is their steady refrain giving parents permission to relax.
From their experience at the 92nd Street Y, Schulman and Birnbaum have witnessed first-hand the scary escalation of parental expectations, with pressure steadily increasing to have one’s child attend the “right” pre-school, to smooth the path for the “right” school, “right” after-school activities, and of course, the ultimate brass ring, a spot at an Ivy League college.
As they write, “But by seeking to give their children a ‘head start’ over others, many parents take on the role of managing children’s busy schedules rather than actually spending time with them.”(p. 5) Further, “In the rush to the finish line, many parents forget to place enough importance on childhood’s simple pleasures—playing alone or with others, spending time with a parent doing something fun, or creating special family traditions.” (p. 7)
Amen. I still remember how both my children, as much as they enjoyed summer camp or some of their activities, clearly preferred the quiet time at home when they could play piano, read books, make up stories, or relax in the back yard with the family dogs. Those are the memories that linger, long past the dance classes or Little League games or ceramics lessons.
Schulman and Birnbaum have written a terrific book that every parent of a pre-schooler should have by his or her bedside or tote bag as a helpful talisman to negotiate these wonderful, too-short years with our children.#