Tuesday, August 25, 2009

My recent reading list

I've been asked what I was reading while I was nursing babies and everyone else was down at the beach. I'm afraid by telling you, I will also be revealing exactly how compulsive I actually am. I tend to get interested in something and am not satisfied until I have either completely mastered it (the board game Othello, for instance) or until I've read everything I can get my hands on. Recently my obsession has been child development and here's what I've read in the past week or two:

The House of Make-Believe: Play and the Developing Imagination by Dorothy and Jerome Singer

Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv

Hothouse Kids: The Dilemma of the Gifted Child by Alissa Quart

The Power of Play: How Spontaneous, Imaginative Activities Lead to Happier, Healthier Children by David Elkind

and I'm currently halfway through:

Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans are more Confident, Assertive, Entitled -- and more Miserable then Ever Before by Jean Twenge

There were also several mysteries thrown in there for fun. But since I read mysteries the way some people eat candy, (enjoyable while I'm reading but no substance) they're hardly worth mentioning.

There were some interesting themes and parallels between all of these books. Together they make a pretty convincing argument that children do not need a lot of organized activities; that lots of free time for unstructured, imaginative play is far healthier. Studies indicate that imaginative play (and the ability to do so) leads to children who are better at thinking ahead, calmer, more flexible, better able to get along with others, and better at dealing with difficult situations. (Most of the studies are listed and described in The House of Make-Believe, which was interesting, but pretty jargon-y and a bit of a slog.)

What they had to say about "gifted-ness" was also interesting. (I've done other reading on this subject and those books fall into line here as well.) I think (in my humble opinion) that a lot of the labelling of giftedness and gifted education is a bit of a sham. There seems to be a great difference between encouraging and expecting students to work up to their potential and gifted programs that treat the child as 'special'. Being treated as special is not good for anyone, and often leads to disappointments in adulthood. How can one live up to all that specialness? Plus, so many people are being labelled as 'gifted', really how special can it be? It was interesting to read about the childhoods of accomplished adults...those that we think of as the 'biggies': the Brontes, Goethe, T. Roosevelt, to name a few. They all describe the long, imaginary games and stories that were part of their childhood; a childhood which encompassed large spans of unstructured time. I know I'm stepping on a few toes here. But, frankly, my own experience with gifted programs wasn't so hot, and having seen it from the inside makes me leery of the whole thing. I asked my mother to pull me out, not because I couldn't handle the level of work, but because I was asked one too many times if I found it difficult to get along with others because I was smarter than they were. Really.

But, anyway, back to my reading list. The only problem with reading so voraciously on one topic is that I have no one to discuss the books I've read with. This is when taking a class would be helpful, if only to have people to discuss things with. (I don't really want to have to write papers...besides, I have a blog.) I've given up on trying to get others around me to keep up with me. J. will just have to continue to suffer as I have one-sided discussions at him.


Mrs. Deem said...

I love this~

Stevens Family said...

Good stuff! Very interesting. Thanks for sharing. I know we have seen a big increase in Autumn's imaginative play in the past few months. Very cute :)

Ann said...

You have hit on so many keys. I have often said that gifted children are left out the most in our school systems for the same reasons you mention. Not only do these kids feel different or special it often leads to boredom, acting out and fear of failure. It can also lead to teachers using the solution of more work or independent work alone. Looking at percentages, children who are scoring at the 97th or above are as different from the norm as those scoring at the 3rd percentile or below--with educational needs just as different. Thanks for sharing your insight and some new books to put on my list (the ones for non-gifted without all the jargon).

And yes, our kids do not have enough free time and have been so entertained by "life" they are losing their ability to use their imaginations.

Thanks for the reminder!

mrsbroccoliguy said...

Totally agree on giving our kids more unstruction - and outside - time. That's definitely my favorite part of summer, just letting my kids play, without feeling that we are in a hurry to go anywhere or do anything.

Re: Gifted kids... My daughter says she hates the term "gifted" and instead perfers "neurotically smart" (her words, I swear). Unfortunately, in her case it has been a struggle at times to find kids who are her intellectual peers and she does have trouble clicking with the kids in her classes. (though her problem is not with "getting along" because she's just quiet and not at all a trouble-maker)

Anyway, those books sound good ... which would you recommend if I were to pick only one? :-)

mrsbroccoliguy said...

Ack, that's UNSTRUCTURED ... sorry, my brain isn't working so well today...

thecurryseven said...

I think I could go for the term 'neurotically smart'! I like it. If I had to pick one, it would be the one by David Elkind, though if you're really interested in giftedness, Hothouse Children would run a close second.


PhoWises said...

Thanks for the cliff notes. the only nonfiction books I've ever been able to finish are "Confessions of a Slacker Mom" and "Mitten Strings for God." Or was it FROM God? They both agreed lots of down time is goo. I am so totally not into the overscheduled child. Maybe because I don't like to be an overscheduled adult!

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