Yesterday I had the rare pleasure of interviewing a true leader in the field of parenting and education. Ellen Galinsky has dedicated her life to issues around early childhood education, childcare and parenting. Currently President and Co-Founder of Families and Work Institute, she was on the faculty of of Bank Street College of Education in New York for twenty-five years, and has written more than forty books and reports on child development. She has also been a frequent advisor to the White House on these topics.
But it’s her new book, Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs (HarperStudio: April 2010), which breaks new ground, as Galinsky takes the work of over seventy-five researchers into early childhood development and presents their findings in ways that parents can put to use immediately.
I reviewed her book here in April, but was thrilled to have the opportunity to speak to her directly.
What is the most important understanding that you want parents to take from your book?
I would hope that parents can join me and so many others who care about keeping the love of learning alive in their children. So often when I give presentations, I get asked, “How can we get away from the ‘Hold your #2 pencil and keep still’ model of education?” We are turning off that inborn passion to learn that all children have. We need to keep the love of learning alive!
I also hope that we promote all of these seven skills in our children, for now and for the future. I wanted to make the book as user-friendly as possible; parents can go straight to my practical suggestions and get started right away.
How did you come up with seven essential life skills?
Everything about this book was a huge challenge. I read about a thousand articles and you know, reading research articles is very intense, so that’s a lot of reading! I didn’t start out planning to write a book. At first I thought this was going to be a TV show where I would bring what researchers have learned directly to parents, so that they could use it.
To come up with these life skills, I interviewed three groups of people: first I asked students, “What skills do you think you need to have?” Next I interviewed some of our most successful men and women about the keys to their success. Finally, I spoke to managers at top companies about what they saw as important, and what gaps they were encountering.
It really took eight years of working on this to bring it all together.
I love your structure for each chapter: research, anecdotes, little quizzes, practical suggestions. How did that come about?
The structure evolved as I wrote the book. I start each chapter with something the readers can do, like a question or a quiz, since we all like to focus on ourselves! I also wanted to make the researchers into real people, telling their stories. And those stories are also available on video.
How refreshing to find a parenting book that does not require parents to run out and buy the latest gadget!
Absolutely! No expensive purchase, and no guilt trip. Most parenting books seem to focus on telling parents where they’ve made mistakes, or on making them fret about where they might go wrong. My book helps parents understand children’s development in new ways with hundreds of how-to suggestions, and the ideas are free!
What has surprised you most in writing this book?
I got to look at research across many different disciplines, and the biggest surprise was that there were common themes across all of them. There is so much coming together in the new ideas about learning from many perspectives.
What is the one essential skill that you consider most important?
There isn’t one that more important than the others. We want children to thrive emotionally, cognitively, and socially. These are all pieces of a puzzle that fit together, and all depend on each other; if you don’t make connections, for example, then you can’t communicate. All seven essential life skills are equally important.
You can read more from Galinsky in Lisa Belkin’s New York Times blog.
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