NJC: First of all, I have to convey not only my own gratitude, but the gratitude I’ve heard from so many others, for the production of this book. It is really an amazing resource! Thank you for your years of devotion to not only this work, but your overarching work of supporting children and families.
EG: When you write a book, you spend hours alone—late at night, early in the morning—reading or writing at the computer. Because I thought that this research and my views of how it fit together to tell an untold story MUST be shared with families and professionals, I felt this book had to be written. Never did I expect to get responses like yours, so I can’t thank you enough.
NJC: I loved every chapter! It wasn’t an overwhelming read, yet it was also so rich with information that I feel like I could turn around and start again already! I personally appreciate this book’s emphasis on the whole child. It was refreshing to find social skills, language skills, cognitive skills, etc. all interwoven so beautifully. Thank you so much for sharing this incredible book with all of us!
EG: Thank you! The research is complex so it was imperative to me that it be shared in a way that maintains the integrity of the studies yet makes others want to explore them. I am busy like all of you so I wanted this to be compelling, easy to read in short takes, and even fun—something I would want to read and read again. Every day I would review what I had written the day before and re-edit/re-edit/re-edit so that I would want to read it. I would do that before I ever allowed myself to write a new word or sentence.
It is sad that we sometimes lose the whole child. When that is threatened in our own lives—a teacher or a doctor so someone else who only sees one side of our child—it is well worth fighting against. So thank you for all you do to promote the whole child!
NJC: A huge “Thank You” as well for offering to answer some of our questions about your work. What a privilege!
EG: It is a privilege for me to be able to communicate with all of you. Your blogs about the book were fascinating and insightful. I felt as if we were having a conversation as I read what you wrote.
NJC: Thank you! I wondered if you would first talk about your vision for this book, as you began it. I’ve heard you say that you wanted to inspire parents, not guilt them, and I think you did a wonderful job of that. Can you talk a little more about that as well as some of your other intentions and hopes for this book’s influence?
EG: I didn’t start out to write a book. I began with the idea of doing a study on Youth & Learning. When I found far too many young people from different backgrounds turned off by learning (in contrast to very young children who are driven to learn), I postponed the study on Youth & Learning and began a journey to answer the following questions:
- How do children learn best?
- What makes them stay motivated and engaged in learning, to see themselves as learners, and to be ongoing, life-long learners, and
- What can be done to rekindle that motivation if it has been dulled?
In other words, what can we do to keep the fire in children’s eyes burning brightly?
My first plan was to make a documentary on the best science on children’s learning. After a few months out, interviewing researchers and working with a production company, New Screen Concepts, to film their experiments in action—it seemed more than a documentary. In our minds, it became a series.
Midway into this journey—at least four to five years—of looking at research across disciplines, I could see there are a series of skills that emerge in children. I could also see from longitudinal research that if we promote these skills, it could make a critical life difference—it could help children thrive now and in the future! All of these skills involve what scientists call executive functions of the brain.
With that aha, I knew that I HAD to write a book. When I need to write a book, I begin to hear sentences in my mind, again and again.
But that was a dilemma for a number of reasons. First, it is hard to share research in words. Second, even though there are lessons from the research, I didn’t want these lessons to become difficult to-dos, like another rock in our knapsack of life that we carry on our backs.
And then there was my feeling about the way many parenting books do guilt us. Some books that I had read in college and graduate school and had loved before I had my own children, felt different after my children were born. I remember literally throwing one book into the fire because it was such a guilt-trip book. Who needs that? We want to be inspired, not blamed. We are (unfortunately) far too fast to blame ourselves without needing anyone else to do it.
So like all of my books, I tried to make this a book that would, and rightly so, be hopeful and helpful. My now grown daughter was the best guide, helping ensure that I did my best to do just that.
NJC: As I read about these seven essential skills, I found some overlap between these skills and academic areas. For example, critical thinking ties in very much with the scientific process and communicating relates to much of the language arts. They aren’t the same, but they have a lot in common. Can you explain a little about the relationship between these skills and the academic content and skills traditionally promoted in our schools? Are there gaps in focusing only on either a skills-only or content-only perspective?
EG: In our culture, we have an either/or perspective. Think of most of the arguments we have—should learning focus on content OR skills? Or is it social-emotional OR cognitive learning? In fact, all of these go together.
Re the content OR skills debate, children need BOTH content AND life skills. The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child based at Harvard University recently wrote:
“In practice, these skills support the process (i.e., the how) of learning— focusing, remembering, planning—that enable children to effectively and efficiently master the content (i.e., the what) of learning—reading, writing, computation.”
The presentation of the skills with content was intentional. However, I do want to make it clear that the skill of Communicating involves more than language arts and Critical Thinking involves more than science and math. I could have written about Critical Thinking, for instance, focusing on language arts.
We are very content focused in education right now. I feel strongly that we won’t turn around the slippage that has been happening in education (we are 21st among industrialized countries in high school graduation rates; we have an unacceptably high achievement gap between the haves and have nots) unless we focus on both content and life skills as well as promote learning that keeps the fire burning in children’s eyes.
Learn more about how to keep that fire burning by continuing on to Part 2 HERE.