Excerpted from Practical Wisdom for Parents by Nancy Schulman and Ellen Birnbaum. Copyright © 2007 by Nancy Schulman. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Q: After near sixty years of cumulative experience in education, what made you decide to write this book now?
A: We have been holding parent meetings for the past ten years to talk about the lives of children in school and their development. At these meetings parents share their concerns with us about raising young children. Over time we saw many reoccurring themes that emerged from these meetings. Parents seemed to need and benefit from practical advice from us and from each other. They were confused by all the conflicting expert opinions about raising children and were reluctant to trust their instincts. We encouraged them to rely on their own judgment and used stories and experiences from our many years of observing hundreds of children at school as well as our own children to help parents understand what young children need. Unlike psychologists and pediatricians, our hands on experiences resonated with a unique perspective which parents could use. Over the years many parents suggested that we should write a book. One actually convinced us to do it.
Q: You're both parents and have been through the preschool years with your own kids. How did that experience change you as educators?
A: We were certainly more sensitive to the frustrations and challenges parents face. We know that during the preschool years it is essential that schools work closely with parents and are responsive to their needs as well as the needs of their children.
Q: You break the book into two sections: School and Home. Why did you make this separation?
A: When we started writing, we began with “school” which is our expertise. As this stage in a family’s life, home and school are interrelated and the expectations of one must be reflected in the other in order for children to thrive and feel confident. We did not make two separate sections initially but as we worked we saw that the chapters were clearly defined in those ways. Many of the topics in both sections support each other.
Q: PRACTICAL WISDOM FOR PARENTS contains many anecdotes of children you've come in contact with over the years, as well as stories from their home lives. How important is communication between parents and the teachers?
A: Communication between parents and teachers is essential for preschool age children. Everything that happens at home affects a child at school and vice versa. The more open the communication, the more able teachers are to support a child's growth and development. The more a parent understands about their child’s school experience, the better they are to support their child at home. We love working with this age group because this connection between home and school can make the greatest difference in the life of a child.
Q: PRACTICAL WISDOM FOR PARENTS stresses the importance of play in this phase of a child's life. Why is play so important?
A: For children, play isn't secondary to other activities, it is essential. Play is their work, a way of exploring and understanding the world. When children play, they get to test new skills, strengthen muscles and increase their resilience. They learn to get along with others and see other points of view. Play allows children to build competency and the confidence to take risks. And of course, it’s fun!
Q: What are the dangers of over-scheduling a preschool-aged child?
A: Children who are over-scheduled tend to be stressed, anxious, and susceptible to feelings of low self esteem. In school these children may seem tired or have difficulty focusing and holding on to basic information. They may be preoccupied and distracted because they are thinking about what comes next. They lack initiative and seek adult direction in order to figure out what to do. They may say they are bored but really mean, "I don't know what to do." They can be more fragile and less resilient.
Q: The preschooler's day, as described in PRACTICAL WISDOM FOR PARENTS, revolves around routine. Why is this the case? Don't children like to be surprised by their daily activities?
A: Children do not know how to tell time. Therefore, they count on routines to help them anticipate what comes next and are comforted by the repetition and familiarity of a predictable schedule. While they enjoy doing new things and no one should feel they must be a slave to a rigid schedule, children feel secure when routines are clearly established. Routines also help parents avoid conflicts over issues such as bedtime and getting ready for school.
Q: When should parents start to think about preschool for their children?
A: Most children are ready to begin school by age three and we think this is an ideal time to begin. Many schools have classes for two year olds and children who have enough language to express their needs and are comfortable being with adults other than their parents may be ready to begin at this age.
Q: What are the biggest mistakes parents make in preparing their children for preschool?
A: In their excitement about this new milestone in their children's lives, parents often talk too soon and say too much about going to school. Children have no frame of reference for understanding what it means to go to school and become anxious unnecessarily.
Q: How should a preschool help ease the transition from preschool to kindergarten?
A: Preschools help ready a child for kindergarten by supporting children's independence and social and emotional growth. Children who are ready for kindergarten have learned in their preschool experience to comfortably separate from their parents, perform age appropriate self help skills, communicate their needs and thoughts to others, wait their turn and listen in a group, tolerate some frustration, cooperate and resolve conflicts with their peers, follow a teacher's directions and are confident about trying new things and mastering new skills.
Q: How long have the two of you known each other?
A: We met 26 years ago in the lobby of the Manhattan apartment building where we both live. We were both pregnant at the time with our sons who were born a month apart from each other. We became friends as our sons played together. Nancy was teaching and working as admissions director at the Horace Mann School and Ellen was a teacher at the 92nd Street Y Nursery School. Seventeen years ago Nancy became director of the Nursery School and ten years later, after teaching for 15 years, Ellen became Associate Director.
Q: How did you handle the co-writing process?
A: Since we live in the same building, we did our writing during our summers, weekends and vacations in Nancy's apartment. Our elevator operator, Max, got used to Ellen coming down each morning in her slippers with her coffee cup. We wrote every word collaboratively. We would outline a broad chapter idea, then simultaneously think, talk and type as we went. Our years of shared professional experience and personal history all blended together effortlessly. Nancy's husband would watch us work on weekends and was baffled by this form of communication. Towards the end of the writing of the book, the elevator man commented to Ellen, "I know this is going to be a great book." When Ellen asked why, he said, "You two seemed to have so much fun writing it!"
Q: What was the best part of writing PRACTICAL WISDOM FOR PARENTS?
A: The best part of writing this was being able to put down what we really believe is in the best interest of young children and parents. To help give practical suggestions based on everything we know and have learned from our experiences as educators and parents. It was fun for us to go back in time to relive this time with our own children.
Q: What is the one thing you hope parents learn from PRACTICAL WISDOM FOR PARENTS?
A:We hope parents will learn that they can and will (as we did) make many mistakes along the way but they should trust their instincts. There are two things you must do as a parent—love your children unconditionally for who they are and set limits for them.
From the Hardcover edition.