Solid research on dyslexia offers a bit of optimism Overcoming Dyslexia: A New and Complete Science-Based Program for Overcoming Reading Problems at Any Level, by Sally Shaywitz, M.D., 2003, $25.95

Sally Shaywitz is well known and respected as a leading expert in the field of child development for her rigorous and thorough research on children and adults who struggle with the reading disorder, dyslexia.

In this book, she provides parents and professionals with a window of understanding about the history, brain development, learning challenges, identification and interventions surrounding dyslexia. One of the most appealing features of this book is that it is both based on years of in-depth, solid research-her own and that of others-and written in a way that parents can understand. Shaywitz connects with the reader by discussing dyslexia and its impact on the family-both the children and adults.

She brings the challenges and feelings surrounding dyslexia to life by interweaving the comments and experiences of children and adults affected by this reading challenge. Particularly useful for parents are the discussion of myths and misunderstandings surrounding dyslexia, early and later clues to dyslexia, what to take into account when considering whether to seek an evaluation of a child's reading and detailed guidelines for specific interventions. She also does an excellent job of breaking down the task of reading to help us better understand the steps involved.

Shaywitz believes all children can be taught to read with family support that includes early and proper intervention, which includes the support of skilled reading teachers using programs shown to be effective. To this end, she guides parents in selecting the best educational setting for their child, and makes suggestions for working with teachers. Shaywitz provides extensive information on activities parents can do with their children at home to support reading development. She suggests how to select books to read with children and includes lists of books and resources.

I particularly like her view of the essentials of effective intervention. She suggests not only direct instruction in phonemic awareness and phonics, but also more language experiences including listening to, talking about and telling stories.

Finally, Shaywitz, who understands these children and their struggles with dyslexia, gives parents hope that their children can go on to excel in life. Sharon Syc Erikson Institute for Child Development

An outline for parenting that is not just reactive Proactive Parenting: Guiding Your Child from Two to Four, by the Tufts University's faculty, Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development, Berkley Publishing Group, 2003, $15

As a stay-at-home mom of two young boys, I sometimes feel as if I spend my life just getting us from point A to point B without tears or tantrums. I've heard similar concerns from fellow preschool parents: "All I do is react to what she throws at me every day." It's an exhausting way to parent, which is why Proactive Parenting is so appealing.

The faculty of the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development has come together to write a book that respects children and their parents as individuals with unique temperaments. Instead of trying to change a "slow-to-warm-up" toddler, the authors suggest changing the family's routines or reactions to create a better "parent-child fit."

Their approach to discipline is a mixture of prevention, guidance and control, which stresses that tactics must change to match the circumstance, not the behavior. Instead of a bunch of vague psychological babble, the writers provide real examples with concrete suggestions for approaching challenges. For each topic, there is also a list of further reading for both adults and children.

Some of the book's best chapters deal with the importance for children of play and how parents can support it, from organizing art materials to dealing with violent war play. The authors draw on 75 years of research and hands-on experience to put play into developmental context.

Far from being preachy, their strategy acknowledges the unique challenges parents face in the 21st century, including violent toys, television pop culture, advertising geared toward toddlers and baby lap-tops.

Be warned, however, that this is not a quick read with easy tips for dealing with "mom stress." It's a lifestyle and parenting approach intended for long-term results. Even the writers acknowledge that implementing this technique is not easy.

As the writers tell us: "To guide children takes enormous time, energy and creativity … The proactive approach demands a lot from parents. But it can produce children who are strong in character." Alena Murguia

Just why is watching TV a bad thing for our children? The Plug-In Drug: Television, Computers and Family Life, by Marie Winn, Penguin USA, 2002, $14.

If you have ever felt uneasy about the relationship between your children and your television, then you must not fail to read Marie Winn's The Plug-In Drug. If you have ever blamed yourself for not being firmer and more consistent with the limits you place on your children's use of (choose one or more) video games/GameBoys/computers, this book will help you to understand why the struggle feels like a losing battle.

Revised and updated in this 25th anniversary edition, The Plug-In Drug is a well-written, exhaustively documented, compelling account of the effect that watching screens of any variety has on the development of young children.

The most important tenet of Winn's argument is that it is the experience itself-not the content-of television viewing that inflicts harm on a child's developing mind and personality. It's not what they watch; it's that they are watching at all. And it's not even so much that they are watching; it's what they are not doing instead.

Winn discredits the commonly accepted theory that violence on television has been a prime cause of the skyrocketing rate of violent crime in contemporary society. Television is indeed the culprit, she agrees-not because of what the kids are exposed to, but because of the opportunities they're missing to interact with real people in real-life situations, where developing skills in communication and self-expression can offer alternatives to acting out aggression.

Parents have always sought relief from the rigors of raising young children. There was a time when it was not uncommon to dose the tots with laudanum or gin, just to get a break. Now we think that's unconscionable. And while we don't feel exactly great about letting them veg in front of a video, how on earth will we be able to cook dinner or make a few phone calls if we don't?

Winn understands, and she sympathizes with today's overstressed, multi-tasking parent. She just wants us to understand what our convenience is costing our children, in terms of lowered reading scores, fractured attention spans, reduced creativity, increased anxiety, diminished self-confidence, weakened analytic skills, and impaired autonomy. Not to mention (and she doesn't) that they're all getting fat. Kristin Gehring

Kids Eat Chicago

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