Sunday, September 18, 2011

BOOK LIST: "Baby School" Teaching Guides

I was inspired by a discussion on the Well-Trained Mind message boards to finally put together my "baby school" book list, i.e. the pedagogical guides I'm using to learn about teaching my toddler at home.

Note: None of these are the actual "living books" that I use with Jackson, these are just guides to how to read with, play with, sing with and therefore ambiently educate my kiddo.

Note 2: I totally overdid it when my son was little. I started reading him The Little Red Lighthouse and the Great Gray Bridge when he was three days old and burst into hysterical tears because of the hormones. (My husband was all "Hey, bonus points for reading to the newborn baby, but maybe shouldn't you sleep instead?") Anyway, in retrospect, all the books were right--the reading and signing doesn't really penetrate their baby brains and/or elicit a response until they're 6-9 months old at the earliest, but it totally kept me entertained, it's another way to pay attention to your kids besides the basic attachment parenting practices, and it was a good habit to get into, so it was worth it.


Bright From the Start: The Simple, Science-Backed Way to Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind from Birth to Age Three by Jill Stamm: Really interesting book by a child development expert who raised two very different daughters: One was born four months premature and has multiple disabilities, the other grew up to be a neurologist. Stamm's personal story not only very touching, it's tremendously illustrative of her points about how all children learn. Stamm talks about the brain development that happens from birth to age three and recommends a variety of Montessori-inspired activities to build on skills like attention span, pattern recognition, problem solving, etc. 

The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease: As far as I'm concerned, this is the Bible. Chapter two of my Read-Aloud Handbook read-along/re-read/review is coming shortly!

Raising Confident Readers: How to Teach Your Child to Read and Write--from Baby to Age 7 by J. Richard Gentry: Never would have found this in a million years but it was recommended in Larry Sanger's Baby Reading essay, so I picked it up, and I quite like it! There's a slight overemphasis on memorization, but overall it's tremendously detailed guide to building reading, writing and spelling skills in little ones, and there are a number of ideas and suggestions I haven't seen other places. 

Teaching Montessori in the Home: The Pre-School Years by Elizabeth Hainstock: A classic of the genre, I have the first version and I find it incredibly comforting in that circa the early 1980s she says there's no doubt that mothers can provide early childhood education at home. She also provides a very accessible section full of activities (with supply lists and instructions) to do with the littles at various ages. I mention the accessible part because sometimes Montessori is a little intimidating!

Gymboree's Toddler Play & Gymboree's Baby Play by Wendy S. Masi: I haven't even read Baby Play, but I love Toddler Play so much I can recommend the "prequel" without reservation. Big shiny pictures, good game ideas, suggested songs, fingerplays, rhymes and so on, plus the usual informative nonsense about why/how kicking a ball improves your toddlers "gross motor skills." I strongly recommend these two in place of the yucky Slow and Steady, Get Me Ready book recommended by The Well-Trained Mind authors. These books are a great deal more readable and you're much more likely to actually get some of this stuff done because you'll be more inspired and you won't feel so overwhelmed!


Books to Build On by E.D. Hirsch: This is the Core Knowledge/"What Your Xth Grader Needs to Know" guy, and while I think most of those books are pretty useless, this book list by subject is very valuable. Akin to the quality recommendations found in the Well-Trained Mind.

Baby Sign Language by Monta Z. Briant: A great introduction to the whys and wheretofores of using gestural language for two-way communication with babies before they can speak clearly, plus lots of "first signs" that you can teach yourself while waiting for the baby to become sentient. (Phase two is the Baby Signing Time and Signing Time DVDs.)

Partial recommendation: Small Beginnings: First Steps to Prepare Your Toddler for Lifelong Learning by Barbara Curtis, which reminds me a little of Bright from the Start, minus the neurology, plus fundamentalist Christianity to the point of being almost metaphysical in its approach to child-rearing. That aside, there's a list of age-appropriate chores at the back of the book that's totally worth the cost of admission. It starts at 18 months and goes up to the teenage years. Montessori's thing was figuring out how to provide the underprivileged children in her care with the advantages they were missing by not having a good home life, and one of her techniques was adding back the kind of empowering chores a good mother would put her children to work doing. Montessori called it "practical life." So anyway, Small Beginnings is written by a former Montessori teacher, and she has some good Montessori-style activities, plus, the great "practical life" chore list. It's not my favorite, but I have to admit it did make an impact on me. robably a library book check-out rather than a purchase...


Sitting on my bedside table in the "preschooling" pile are: Why Johnny Can't Read by Rudolph Flesch and The ABCs and All Their Tricks by M. Bishop, because I don't really understand phonics myself, The Preschoolers' Busy Book by Trish Kuffner and First Art: Art Experiences for Toddlers and Twos by MaryAnn Kohl, which appears to have some great, developmentally appropriate art projects and a lot of really well-explained recipes for paint, "playclay" and other goop kids like.

Do you have any favorite toddler/preschooler activity guides or education textbooks? Share in the comments, because I like my bedside table to be groaning with books-to-be-read at all times! (Let's just say I'm not one of those anti-clutter people, LOL.)


  1. For art, I really like Young at Art: Teaching Toddlers Self-Expression, Problem-Solving Skills, and an Appreciation for Art by Susan Striker.

  2. Awesome, thank you so much for the suggestion; I'll order it from the library today!