ducate yourself before school starts: books to help you help your child A new school year is a lot like New Year's Day; it offers the chance to wipe the slate clean and make a fresh start, the chance to move ahead in new and productive ways and the chance to work harder and do better than you did the year before. If you've made a new school year "resolution" to help your child succeed in school this fall, you'll need to do some homework. Here are five new books to put in your backpack before the first bell rings.

Michael Gurian's Boys and Girls Learn Differently! explains the biological factors behind male/female learning, what these differences consist of at various developmental stages and most importantly, how this information can be used to build a student's self-esteem and facilitate learning. Gurian points out that there are no hard and fast "gender rules," but that brain-based research indicates certain tendencies. For example, he writes, "Boys tend to be deductive in their conceptualizations . . . girls tend to favor inductive thinking." Gurian outlines what he calls the "ultimate" learning environment for both boys and girls from preschool through high school. He reminds us what it is like to be a sensitive nine-year-old or a turbulent teen and points out that by understanding what our children are going through at different stages in their lives, adults can more effectively help them achieve in school.

Of course, no matter how confident you are in your parenting skills, "letting go" of your child for the first time can be an event faced with trepidation and angst. If you or someone you know needs some comforting advice before the big day, an excellent book for your backpack is Ready, Start, School! Nurturing and Guiding Your Child Through Preschool and Kindergarten by Sandra F. Rief. This practical, "plain-language" handbook addresses topics of critical concern to parents with small children. Chapter titles include such subjects as "Enrolling Your Child in Kindergarten or Waiting Another Year" and "Protecting and Influencing Your Impressionable Young Child." Rief also offers strategies for getting your little one off to a good start in the important areas of reading, writing and math, and advice about what to do if you suspect your child has a developmental delay or disability. If you need a little nurturing of your own as you prepare to launch your child into the academic world, this is a good book to have in your information arsenal.

Motivated Minds: Raising Children to Love Learning, by Deborah Stipek, Ph.

D., and Kathy Seal, focuses on children from babyhood through elementary school, but its underlying principle can be applied to learners of any age. The authors contend that people become self-motivated "when they feel capable and skilled, and confident of becoming more so." They credit hard work and persistence more than intelligence or talent as prerequisites to achieving goals. They find that students who believe intelligence is "fixed" that you have to be "born smart" in order to excel academically or tackle a problem are less likely to be enthusiastic or self-motivated learners than children who believe they can overcome obstacles through their own effort and perseverance. This means allowing kids to learn early on that mistakes are not epitaphs of failure, but a normal and necessary part of learning.

But let's face it: not every child is a happy, self-motivated, eager learner. If you've already tried every motivational technique under the sun to no avail and the approach of a new school year fills you with parental guilt and dread, Empowering Underachievers: How to Guide Failing Kids (8-18) to Personal Excellence is a must read. By "underachiever," authors Peter A. Spevak, Ph.

D., and Maryann Karinch mean a student who has a problem with attitude not ability. Four types of underachievers Distant, Passive, Dependent and Defiant are defined, and methods for understanding, coping with and motivating each type are discussed in separate chapters. Spevak and Karinch encourage parents to be aware of their own attitudes about life and learning. They advocate setting a living example of the motto "life is what you make it." In Guerilla Learning: How to Give Your Kids a Real Education With or Without School, Grace Llewellyn and Amy Silver focus on homeschooling, or education outside the traditional classroom, but they too contend that when adults embrace life with wonder and excitement, the children observing them as role models will be more likely to as well. Guerilla Learning means "taking responsibility for your own education" and supporting your children as they learn to do the same. With your own backpack full of new books to learn from, you'll be ready and able to set the pace. Happy New Year! Linda Stankard has been a public school teacher and a homeschooling parent. She currently teaches at a community college in Tennessee.

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