Friday, November 7, 2008

So Much Makes Sense Now

** Yet another repeat review, this one from May 25, 2005. **

What's Going on in There? : How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life

This tremendous book describes in detail the development of the brain from conception through preschool, and even includes some insights into later years. The first section concentrates on prenatal development. Then Dr. Eliot explains the development of touch, balance and motion, smell, taste, vision, hearing, motor development, social-emotional growth, memory, language, and intelligence (a chapter devoted to each). Two more chapters at the end look at differences in gender (and nature / nurture) and a summary of the book and how it impacts parenting in the final chapter.

I loved the balanced view presented by the author. She explains the known research (and what's still unknown) on the effects of mother's actions, including what she eats and drinks, on the developing baby. I've read pregnancy books (and magazines) that seemed to tell pregnant women every thought in their head and every calorie in their diet should be focused entirely on the baby - which always seemed a little extreme to me. In later chapters, she also supports a balanced view of how parents can use the facts of development presented in the book to raise their children in the best way possible. Her tone in the following excerpt from the last chapter is echoed throughout the book, especially in the little insights we receive about her own children.

There may actually be one or two parents in the world like this [perfect] ... Then again, you have to wonder what children learn from parents whose only focus in life is their offspring. The fact is that children pick up much more than mere cognitive skills from their parents and other caregivers. They also learn how to work, share, love, nurture, juggle, and enjoy life.

The book references studies and articles from peer-reviewed journals like JAMA, New England Journal of Medicine, Child Development, and Science, to name a few. The bibliography is extensive and it was easy to find the reference I wanted whenever I checked the end notes. The index also seemed in-depth, but I didn't get to check it out too much because the book completely fell apart. Yes, you read that correctly; the book fell into pieces. I'd recommend buying it in hardcover or at least getting it from the library in hardcover. (I did call the publisher to complain and they were kind enough to send another copy, but I'm afraid to read it because then it will fall apart as well.) [Note: It's possible they've improved the book's structural integrity sometime in the past three years.]

If you're a parent, a grandparent, an aunt, an uncle, a godparent, a caregiver, or anyone who ever sees or speaks to a child, you should read this book. It's presented in a clear and approachable way for those interested in the details of nerves, axons and neurotransmitters, and for those who are just interested in what to expect of children as they grow.

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