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Giving Your Preschooler a Head Start on Education

January 20, 1994|MARY LAINE YARBER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Mary Laine Yarber teaches English at Santa Monica High School

When I started preschool in 1966, my parents' main concern was that I not bite anyone. Since then, academic competition has become so fierce that parents have larger worries, such as whether their preschoolers have adequate reading, math and other skills.

Not surprisingly, a growing number of parents are turning to books to learn more about how to give their toddlers a head start on school. I'm frequently asked for recommendations. Here are my six favorites:

* "The Preschool Handbook: Making the Most of Your Child's Education," by Barbara Brenner, tells you everything you need to know about how to choose a preschool and how to utilize its program to its fullest.

Among the topics addressed by the book: the history of preschool philosophies, preschool ages and stages, some reasons for and against preschool, how to build a relationship with the school and teacher, and even how to help your child (and perhaps yourself) through the "separation anxiety" that can strike when kids leave their parents for the first time.

* Parents on the next rung up the schooling ladder will learn lots from "The Kindergarten Survival Handbook: The Before School Checklist and Guide for Parents," by Allana Elovson.

This book tells parents what kids need to know to be ready for kindergarten. Topics include social skills, movement skills, words and letters, body parts and clothing, feelings, money, hygiene, argument resolution and--my favorite--"Understand that in school, children are expected to do what their teachers ask."

The humorously illustrated and interestingly written paperback is available in Spanish under the title, "El Manual de Como Sobrevivir el Jardin de Ninos."

* Equally useful is "Kindergarten--It Isn't What It Used to Be: Getting Your Child Ready for the Positive Experience of Education," by Susan and Mitch Golant. This is one of several books by the Golants that present updated education theory in clear, interesting language.

The book addresses a variety of concerns. Some examples: how to tell whether your child is mature enough to begin kindergarten; how to encourage an early love of books; choosing a kindergarten program and evaluating teachers; helping the child cope with school pressures and social relations, and whether to have your child take certain kinds of tests.

* I have yet to meet a parent who doesn't think his or her child is gifted. The truth is that few children really are. To help figure out if yours is among the exceptional, look into "Your Gifted Child: How to Recognize and Develop the Special Talents in Your Child from Birth to Age Seven," by Joan Franklin Smutny and Kathleen and Stephen Veenker.

In short, the book will teach you to recognize early signs of giftedness in your child and how to nurture it, as well as how to choose good books, school programs and other learning resources.

* Many parents lament the seemingly growing number of bad influences on children, and they wonder how to raise decent kids. You'll find some quick and easy-to-use answers in "If You Have Kids, Then Be a Parent!" by Jill Chapin.

It presents a parenting approach based on "old-fashioned common sense" and "exaggerated re-enforcement." You'll learn how to instill values, self-discipline, good behavior and conscience. The thin volume is plainly written and sparsely illustrated, so it's a quick and clear read.

* Some parents and educators are rethinking the effectiveness of giving grades and other kinds of rewards. The most interesting discussion I've found is Alfie Kohn's "Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A's, Praise, and Other Bribes."

Kohn asserts that "while manipulating people with incentives seems to work in the short run, it is a strategy that ultimately fails and even does lasting harm." The hefty hardcover offers serious and useful, if unsettling, reading. It ends with some practical and apparently successful strategies for teachers, parents, and employers.

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