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3 Books on the Importance of Early Education

3 Books on the Importance of Early Education
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Across the country, school reformers are pushing for the expansion of publicly funded early education. In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio, who won the Democratic mayoral primary on Sept. 12, ran on a platform in 2013 centered on the expansion of prekindergarten education to all 4-year-olds; now, in a proposal he is calling “3-K for All,” he plans to reach 3-year-olds, as well. The science is clear: Quality early education has long-term benefits. Still, not everyone is on the same page about what young learners really need. Below, one writer examines the landscape of prekindergarten education across the country, another instructs adults on how to understand young children, and a third will be a resource for parents in the process of selecting a school for their child.

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THE MOST IMPORTANT YEAR
Pre-Kindergarten and the Future of Our Children
By Suzanne Bouffard
272 pp. Avery/Penguin. (2017)

In this review of the state of early education, Bouffard looks at the issue from a historical and practical angle. She visits programs in Boston, New Jersey and Washington to explore what effective models and strategies are currently being employed in classrooms and what can be learned from them. She also speaks to parents about finding the right schools for their children, with varying degrees of success. In Boston, for instance, she highlights a mother hoping her child will win a lottery to attend Eliot K-8 Innovation School, a premier school with only 32 coveted seats in its pre-K program, called K1. Her interviews with educators and administrators give insight into the landscape of the pre-K debate and support her call for universal pre-K.

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THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING LITTLE
What Young Children Really Need From Grownups
By Erika Christakis
400 pp. Viking. (2016)

This book’s writer is a former preschool teacher, but she entered the field later in life, which she believes gives her a unique vantage point for viewing early education within the context of child development and social influence. She argues that adults have forgotten what it’s like to be children and, therefore, have been misguided in their approach to giving children what they need, “adultifying” them and their surroundings. In this book, she expresses agreement with the widely accepted argument that toddlers need free play, and adds that we have conflated learning with schooling, ignoring the ways in which children learn outside of a classroom. Her new ideas, analysis and methods serve to guide and support teachers, policy makers and parents in understanding the inner lives of children to stimulate their learning and “help young children be young children.”

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THE GOOD SCHOOL
How Smart Parents Get Their Kids the Education They Deserve
By Peg Tyre
256 pp. Henry Holt & Company. (2011)

Tyre’s book will be useful to parents trying to pick the right preschool for their child. Rather than rely on test scores and other quantitative data, she suggests observing the relationship teachers have with their students and making sure they devote as much time to free play periods as they do to direct instruction. The experience of the teacher matters: First-year teachers can be ineffective, she says, and it behooves parents to ensure that the instructors will be well-supported and mentored throughout the day as they learn to teach. At the preschool level, class size is important and can make a difference in a child’s learning, though after the third grade it has less impact. Tyre writes that parents should look beyond the colorful finger paintings on the wall and her book gives them the tools to make an educated choice.



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