NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children

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One of the most influential books about children ever published, NurtureShock offers a revolutionary new perspective on children that upends a library's worth of conventional wisdom. With impeccable storytelling and razor-sharp analysis, the authors demonstrate that many of modern society's strategies for nurturing children are in fact backfiring--because key twists in the science have been overlooked. Nothing like a parenting manual, NurtureShock gets to the core of how we ...
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One of the most influential books about children ever published, NurtureShock offers a revolutionary new perspective on children that upends a library's worth of conventional wisdom. With impeccable storytelling and razor-sharp analysis, the authors demonstrate that many of modern society's strategies for nurturing children are in fact backfiring--because key twists in the science have been overlooked. Nothing like a parenting manual, NurtureShock gets to the core of how we grow, learn and live.

Released in hardcover in September 2009, NurtureShock remained on the New York Times best seller list for three months, and was one of Amazon's best selling books for 2009. The book has become a worldwide phenomenon with editions published around the world - in fifteen languages, to date.

In addition to Bronson and Merryman's writings on praise -- first made famous in New York magazine -- there are nine more equally groundbreaking chapters. Among the topics covered:

Why the most brutal person in a child's life is often a sibling, and how a single aspect of their preschool-aged play can determine their relationship as adults.

When is it too soon - or too late - to teach a child about race? Children in diverse schools are less likely to have a cross-racial friendship, not more - so is school diversity backfiring?

Millions of families are fighting to get their kids into private schools and advanced programs as early as possible. But schools are missing the best kids, 73% of the time - the new neuroscience explains why.

Why are kids - even those from the best of homes - still aggressive and cruel? The answer is found in a rethinking of parental conflict, discipline, television's unexpected influence, and social dominance.

Parents are desperate to jump-start infants' language skills. Recently, scientists have discovered a series of natural techniques that are astonishing in their efficacy - it's not baby videos, sign language, or even the richness of language exposure. It's nothing you've heard before.

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  • Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman
    Po Bronson & Ashley Merryman  

Editorial Reviews
"Irresistible... [NurtureShock] will make you a better mom or dad without you even knowing it."
<b>Susan Dominus</b> - New York Times
"Adds insight to irresistible nonfiction subject matter... destined to turn up in conversations among working parents."
From the Publisher
"Blinding... Brilliant."

-- Washington Post

Compelling... Captivating... Explains cutting-edge research to the lay readership... It's riveting."

-- San Francisco Chronicle

"A highly readable Malcolm Gladwell-esque look at the social science of child rearing."

-- 'XX Factor,'

"A.V. Club
"The least touchy-feely [parenting book] ever... hard to put down and easy to take seriously."
Good Morning America
"The Freakonomics of child rearing... a fantastic read... a wake-up call for parents."
"The most important book I've read this year... If you only read one thing I review, please make it this."
"Some of the most groundbreaking research on children conducted in years... will knock your socks off."
Financial Times
"Engaging.... revelatory... A funny, clever, sensible book. Every parent should read it."
Publishers Weekly
The central premise of this book by Bronson (What Should I Do with My Life?) and Merryman, a Washington Post journalist, is that many of modern society's most popular strategies for raising children are in fact backfiring because key points in the science of child development and behavior have been overlooked. Two errant assumptions are responsible for current distorted child-rearing habits, dysfunctional school programs and wrongheaded social policies: first, things work in children the same way they work in adults and, second, positive traits necessarily oppose and ward off negative behavior. These myths, and others, are addressed in 10 provocative chapters that cover such issues as the inverse power of praise (effort counts more than results); why insufficient sleep adversely affects kids' capacity to learn; why white parents don't talk about race; why kids lie; that evaluation methods for “giftedness” and accompanying programs don't work; why siblings really fight (to get closer). Grownups who trust in “old-fashioned” common-sense child-rearing—the definitely un-PC variety, with no negotiation or parent-child equality—will have less patience for this book than those who fear they lack innate parenting instincts. The chatty reportage and plentiful anecdotes belie the thorough research backing up numerous cited case studies, experts' findings and examination of successful progressive programs at work in schools. (Sept.)
Kirkus Reviews
A provocative collection of essays popularizing recent research that challenges conventional wisdom about raising children. An award-winning article, "How Not to Talk to Your Kids," which advised parents that telling children they are smart is counterproductive, prompted journalists Bronson (Why Do I Love These People?: Honest and Amazing Stories of Real Families, 2005, etc.) and Merryman to dig further into the science of child development. Here they ably explore a range of subjects of interest to parents: adolescents' sleep needs and the effects of sleep deprivation, children's attitudes toward skin color and race, why children lie, the dangers of using a single intelligence test at an early age to determine giftedness, how interactions with other children affect relationships with siblings, the positive effects of marital conflict, how self-control can be taught, the effects of different types of TV programs on children's behavior and the development of language in young children. Their findings are often surprising. For example, in schools with greater racial diversity, the odds that a child will have a friend of a different race decrease; listening to "baby DVDs" does not increase an infant's rate of word acquisition; children with inconsistent and permissive fathers are nearly as aggressive in school as children of distant and disengaged fathers. Bronson and Merryman call attention to what they see as two basic errors in thinking about children. The first is the fallacy of similar effect-the assumption that what is true for adults is also true for children. The second-the fallacy of the good/bad dichotomy-is the assumption that a trait or factor is either good or bad, when in factit may be both (e.g., skill at lying may be a sign of intelligence, and empathy may become a tool of aggression.) The authors also provide helpful notes for each chapter and an extensive bibliography. A skilled, accessible presentation of scientific research in layman's language.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780446504133
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • Publication date: 1/5/2011
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 57,574
  • Product dimensions: 5.25 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Po Bronson
Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman's New York Magazine articles on the science of children won the magazine journalism award from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, as well as the Clarion Award from the Association for Women in Communications. Their articles for Time Magazine won the award for outstanding journalism from the Council on Contemporary Families. Bronson has authored five books, including the #1 New York Times bestseller What Should I Do With My Life?


Po Bronson is the rare writer that makes no claims to having an extraordinary or controversial history. On his web site, he states, "I'm a regular guy. I don't have much of a particularly unusual story." While some may assume such a description might not be the makings of a person with any stories worth telling, it actually provides the perfect background for a writer such as Bronson. He has made it his mission to relate the stories of his fellow everyday people, and with books such as What Should I Do With My Life? and Why Do I Love These People?, he has proved that ordinary people can lead extraordinary lives.

A prolific writer with a talent well-suited for a variety of genres, Bronson started out dabbling in screenplays, op-eds, TV and radio scripts, performance monologues, and literary reviews, and his first two books were satirical novels. Bombardiers (1995) was a sort of Catch 22 set in the bond-trading business; The First $20 Million Is Always the Hardest: A Silicon Valley Novel, Vol. 4 (1997) a tale about the West Coast tech boom of the late 1990's. With his third book, The Nudist on the Late Shift: And Other Tales of Silicon Valley, he turned his focus away from fiction and toward the true stories of the tech-heads he encountered while working as a writer in Silicon Valley. Hailed by The Village Voice Literary Supplement upon its publication as "the most complete and empathetic portrait of the Valley so far," the breakout bestseller established Bronson as the first author to truly capture the spirit of the high-tech heyday.

In writing What Should I Do With My Life? (2003), Bronson posed that very question to a variety of regular folks all around the globe. The result: a rich and fascinating compendium of inspirational, witty, and insightful personal stories about finding one's direction, vocational and otherwise. The book was a tremendous success, and Bronson had clearly found his niche. Why Do I Love These People? followed in late 2005. This time around, Bronson questioned a multitude of people about illness, resolving familial conflicts, infidelity, prejudice, money problems, abuse, death, and other provocative issues, once again illustrating that one need not be a celebrity to lead a life worth reading about. Among others, Bronson encounters a Southern Baptist in the Ozarks who tracks down the teenage son he had abandoned at birth, a woman who fought for her life and the life of her children while trapped underwater in a Texas river, and a Turkish Muslim who wed a U.S. naval officer -- a union resulting in death threats from her own father.

Bronson characterizes his recent books as "social documentaries," but he doesn't rule out returning to the other genres he's loved. He does, however, credit his recent work with one important feature: "I used to write novels, and maybe I will again one day," he told in an audio interview, "but I have found that writing these social documentaries is good for me as a person."

Good To Know

Some fun factoids gleaned from our interview with Bronson:

"Well, when I look upon what I've written to the below questions, there's a lot on how I became a writer, but not much on how I came to write the books I have been doing the last six years. I write social documentaries, in which I tell the life stories of ordinary people. I used to write novels, and maybe I will again one day. But I have found that writing these social documentaries is good for me as a person; they make me a better person. I put myself in a position where I need to listen and learn from other people I interview. And even if the books were not successes, I would be a better person just for doing so much listening."

"Okay, I realize now that's now what you were really asking. It sounds like you want personal details -- you want to know me through my lists: my lists of books, films, music, restaurants I eat at, hobbies I enjoy. I'm not sure that's the best way to know the soul of a person, because it kind of suggests that who we are = what we consume. However, I'll answer, by all means. Here we go:

  • What I drive: Toyota Sienna minivan
  • Where I buy clothes: Banana Republic, Mexx, and thrift stores
  • Cell phone brand: Treo 650
  • Kids: Two. My son is 4, my daughter 1
  • Dog: golden retriever, 84 pounds
  • What I cooked for dinner last night: Pork tenderloin in a mustard crème sauce
  • What I'm cooking for dinner tonight: Nachos
  • Where I exercise: in my basement, on the elliptical machine
  • Favorite TV show: House. But I am a huge fan of football, basketball, and baseball. So actually my favorite TV show is Sportscenter
  • I play soccer in the Liga de Latina in San Francisco. I will play until I die
  • Favorite Cities: London, Hong Kong, Paris, Ronda, Verona
  • Parents: Still alive
  • Grandparents: one left. My grandmother. But I knew them all, and had lots of time with all of them
  • Favorite Beach: Todos Santos, Mexico
  • Why a name like "Po": Why not?"
  • Read More Show Less
      1. Hometown:
        San Francisco, California
      1. Date of Birth:
        March 14, 1964
      2. Place of Birth:
        Seattle, Washington
      1. Education:
        B.A., Stanford University, 1986; M.F.A., San Francisco State University, 1995

    Customer Reviews

    Average Rating 4.5
    ( 112 )
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    See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 113 Customer Reviews
    • Posted May 15, 2010

      It wasn't the name of the book that caught my attention. It was in fact a reference to the book by another that made me want to own and read it for myself.

      I am a great grandfather. You would think I was past all this. But it was a most exciting read as I saw the books contents being applicable to both my daughter and grand daughter. My grand daughter has said it will help her with the raising of her 9 month old son. So after I read it I gave the book to them to keep for their use. In fact there was so much new information that I bought a second book for my second daughter who is the mother of a 13 year old and a 9 year old. The 13 year old has read the chapter on sleep and I understand made some personal adjustments as a result. This is a very useful and informative read.

      8 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted November 15, 2009

      A must read for today's parents

      Having read many parenting books and sat through oodles of parenting seminars, I found Nurture Shock to be a fantastic read. Addressing many of today's parents' practices with excellent research showing the true outcomes of many of our parenting practices.

      As the mother of ten wonderful children I was so pleased to read the chapter addressing how to praise/encourage our children. We all love our children so much and want to bless them with praise for everything. Let's face it, we want our children to succeed and 'feel' happy, but we're doing them a disservice when our praise is unfounded. As we've known for year, kids are intuitive and they know when we're praising them for 'nothing' in an attempt to build them up. This empty encouragement actually leads to a future of anxiety (perhaps),low self-esteem (perhaps)and worse still, low motivation.

      As Bronson and Merryman point out the pitfalls of false praise, they are quick to show the benefits of praising and encouraging children for their 'effort' not necessarily the outcome. We're to be building our kids up for the they'll continue to be motivated to journey and have the confidence that perfection isn't the reward, trying is.

      This is only on point that I found compelling. If you are a parent, teacher or work with children in any capacity, you must read this book. It will motivate you to better practices in raising your children to live emotionally and academically healthy lives.

      6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted September 9, 2009

      more from this reviewer

      Couldn't Put It Down; Fascinating

      In a world of modern, involved, caring parents, why are so many kids aggressive and cruel? Where is intelligence hidden in the brain, and why does that matter? Why do cross-racial friendships decrease in schools that are more integrated? If 98% of kids think lying is morally wrong, then why do 98% of kids lie? What's the single most important thing that helps infants learn language?

      NurtureShock is a groundbreaking collaboration between award-winning science journalists Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman. They argue that when it comes to children, we've mistaken good intentions for good ideas. With impeccable storytelling and razor-sharp analysis, they demonstrate that many of modern society's strategies for nurturing children are in fact backfiring--because key twists in the science have been overlooked. Nothing like a parenting manual, the authors' work is an insightful exploration of themes and issues that transcend children's (and adults') lives.

      I found this book fascinating. Rather than using the old cliches of parenting, the authors do a survey of the scientific studies that prove what really goes on in children's brains. One example is the self-esteem movement. Bronson and Merryman talk about how the ubitiquous "You're so smart" talk that children are innudated with actually tend to decrease rather than increase their self-esteem. It makes them anxious as if intelligence is just a matter of luck. What truly increases their self-esteem is specific praise for actions that are successful. This would include items such as "You really worked hard on that problem" or "I liked the way you went back and figured out where you went wrong" or "Studying that vocabulary list several nights resulted in you getting a good grade". This kind of specific praise lets the child know that they are, indeed, in control of their performance. It reinforces the feelings that I always had as a kindergarten teacher; children know quickly if praise is earned or just false words.

      The authors talk about other scientific studies that help parents think outside the box on other issues. For example, lack of sleep is far more tied to obesity than watching TV or children raised in a diverse racial environment often do not become more accepting of others unless parents and teachers emphasize that their are differences and that these differences are to be celebrated.

      I found this one of the most useful books I've read lately, and I definately will be sending a copy to my children to help them in raising the grandchildren. This book is recommended for all parents and teachers, or anyone interested in helping children improve their performance and reach their potential.

      4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted November 22, 2010

      Good Intentions may not be Good Ideas

      In NurtureShock, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman examine the psychology of children and adolescents and disprove many accepted generalizations about the behavior and growth from infancy to adulthood. They investigate everything from the power of praise to why kids lie to the science of teenage rebellion. Although they "geeked out" and included a myriad of research they had gathered, this did not make their writing increasingly boring, in fact, it did just the opposite and NurtureShock became an incredibly interesting book that would change our assumptions that good intentions were good ideas. I enjoyed this book because Po and Ashley explained their findings remarkably well and provided examples from the real world. Everyone who works with kids from infancy to teenage years should read this because it offers fantastic advice with astonishing evidence to back it up that will change views on how children should be raised. Overall this was a wonderful book that really made me think and reconsider all of my interactions with people.

      2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted August 30, 2010

      I Also Recommend:

      Eye-Opening Book

      I just finished reading Nurture Shock for my book group (comprised of other mothers) and it is eye-opening. I agree with reviews I have read that some of the chapters left me frustrated about things I feel somewhat helpless to change, but the compelling arguments have definitely motivated me to try. There are actually a few chapters I am going to share w/the staff and other parents of my older son's pre-school/day care program (I think this book should be required reading for all the staff and teachers at the school, which is a really fantastic and progressive school, but I'm sure they get this from parents all the time so I'll have to try to temper my excitement). The chapter I found most relevant for them was about Tools of the Mind, the pre-school and kindergarten curriculum that talks about how pretend play is the way young kids master symbolic representation, which is necessary for all academic coursework. This is one area I'm going to do a little more research about on my own and then talk to the school about implementing. I hope they're open to the idea, because I just can't stop thinking about the difference in results between the kids who were given curriculum and the ones who were not. One of the other really enlightening chapters for me was about teaching diversity to kids - not just having kids in a multiculturally diverse environment, which we do by default, but explicitly talking to kids about how wrong it is to judge people for their skin color. This is something they can easily do in school and we can certainly do at home. I was too afraid to say anything wrong but I realize that not saying anything at all would be worse. Then, there was a chapter about sleep deprivation and how each lost hour of sleep is exponentially damaging to kids, which really hit home for me since we often get our kids too sleep well past bedtime. Anyway, the findings in the book are so relevant and important to children of all ages that I feel compelled to tell everyone I know about it. Plus, it's a real page-turner, not at all like the textbooks we had to read in school!

      2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted May 14, 2010

      Revelatory and Thought-provoking

      I really enjoyed reading this one. I wish I'd had it before I had my son, because I would have loved to find a classroom where the supervised play routine was followed. There was so much to absorb here. The subjects range from why children lie, why they argue with us so much when they're teenagers, why so many still grow up prejudiced, and why popularity isn't such a great thing to aspire to in high school. (Popular kids are very often popular because they are selectively mean. I knew that, but it was gratifying to have it confirmed here.) All in all a great read. I'd recommend it for everyone with a kid and everyone who wonders how are schools and parenting methods are shaping (or failing to shape) our kids.

      2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted October 21, 2009

      more from this reviewer

      I Also Recommend:

      Makes you take hard look at what you're doing as a parent...

      Before I give my review, I have to admit that I'm a biased Po Bronson fan. I've read "What Should I Do with My Life" and "Why Do I Love These People?" and loved them both. That being said, he and his writing partner deliver the goods with solid research and excellent interviews with real parents. I was pleased to know that some of the things I do as a parent are useful strategies that all parents should employ. But I was also pleased that the book allowed me to critically think about other aspects of my parenting and really start to assess how I can change and improve. The chapters on Praise and Lying were the ones I found most useful but all of them were worth reading. I think the book belongs right alongside Dr. Spock, the "What To Expect When Your Expecting" series, etc. I would recommend this book to any parent that is objectively looking for ways to improve their parenting as opposed to those who just want reassurance.

      2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted October 31, 2010

      The most enlightening child development book I've read so far!

      PHENOMENAL! Exquisitely researched. So informative. I feel like I have the correct answers to common parentings myths. Love the chapter on what works to develop your child's language skills. Within a day my six month's old's language became more advanced. Thank you! Thank you!

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted April 12, 2010

      NurtureShock's shockingly interesting research

      I'm not a big fan of parenting books because I usually feel that they are trying to pass off someone's idea of what parenting should be. I'm a believer that if you are pretty mentally healthy and love your kids and try to do the best you can then it's pretty hard to mess them up. However, NurtureShock utilizes REAL scientific study and findings and presents them in a straightforward way that's easy to understand and apply--which I tried immediately, and got results from. This book takes to task many "holy grails" of parenting and helps parents understand how younger minds tick. Highly recommend!

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Posted September 10, 2009

      more from this reviewer

      This will challenge and baffle you

      Most parents raise their children 'by the book,' but a new body of research would suggest that society's strategies for raising kids are indeed backfiring.
      Why is it that children are sleeping in class?
      How can praising children have an adverse effect?
      Why do children lie?
      Why do siblings fight?
      Can self-control be taught?

      These and a multitude of other questions are being addressed in NurtureShock.

      The style of writing for this book is easy to follow and relies heavily on recent research to support the authors' argument. It is straight forward and not a 'dry read'; you don't have to look up anything on Google or on Wikipedia. The concepts and findings are easy to understand and the authors build up what is necessary in order to make their point.

      The authors aren't telling the readers what is the right way to nurture children as that would be an insult to many parents, but rather what the research is telling us about the effects of the different ways parents and teachers are contributing to the children's growth. The book is more about the general findings and how this may be applied to most children.

      This book is far from boring. To many parents, many ideas will challenge you and baffle you. I wouldn't say this book will ultimately change the way kids are being raised as old habits die hard, but you will experience a nurture shock. (

      1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted December 3, 2013

      Book review for an Art Class for Children I felt NurtureShock wa

      Book review for an Art Class for Children
      I felt NurtureShock was definitely a must read. NurtureShock does more than state the obvious about child raising, it enlightens the reader that our impulse about children can completely off track. It opened my eyes to what children learn from different situations. Many parents think they are doing the right thing because that's what they are used to. But in all reality they could actually be doing more harm than good. Parents make decisions based on what they think will help their child but sometimes they can actually be doing the exact opposite. This book shows how children become affected by the smallest things, picking up on unnatural habits and acting upon them as if they were innate.The novel also explains that children really understand more than adult give credit for and its up to the parents to differentiate and decipher for their children. You will find 10 chapters in this book that will go into detail and explain what we might be overlooking as adults when it comes to children. One thing is for sure, children are difficult to raise. This book just gives you another perspective on looking at the normal situations and what can really be happening.

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    • Posted August 2, 2013

      Anyone who has, or works with children should read this book. I

      Anyone who has, or works with children should read this book. It's a well researched, and well written presentation of ideas so sensible, so logical, they should be intuitive. Unfortunately, as the dust jacket observes, too often good intentions take the place of good ideas. Children need us to be caretakers and teachers, not buddies. They are the future, and this book can help you better prepare them to have real success.

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    • Posted July 13, 2013

      Highly recommended for everyone dealing with children.

      Well researched and presented. Underscores individual differences in how children learn and perform at their best.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted April 1, 2013

      I could not put down this book!

      As a parent, this book is a must have. As an educator, it changed my perspective. Highly recommend!

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    • Anonymous

      Posted June 20, 2012


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    • Posted April 25, 2012

      Fascinating book

      When telling my friends about this book, I often said it was the Freakonomics for child-rearing, and it is. The authors take various beliefs and mindsets about how children should be raised and look at the studies on those subjects to debunk or support the beliefs.

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    • Posted February 13, 2012

      more from this reviewer

      Revealing Look and How Kids Work

      Nurture Shock is a book that shows why many modern day parenting strategies for nurturing and raising our children are not working. It covers a multitude of topics, from using praise, to why kids lie, "giftedness," racial interactions, sibling relationships, and even teen rebellion. The information is suitable for a wide range of ages - toddlers through teens.

      Authors, Bronson and Merryman, systematically go through the topics, citing study after study on the scientific reasons of why kids aren't turning out quite the way we'd like. The research is impressive, and it will really make parents stop and rethink some of the things they are doing.

      The study on sleep is especially interesting. It shows how even a half hour loss of sleep can be detrimental to a child. When a few case study schools decided to start their school day later, the effect was huge. Students did much better. Another interesting topic was of a school program called Tools. Students enrolled in the Tools program did exponentially better academically, and caused fewer disruptions. If more educators would read this book, it might change things for the better.

      Nurture Shock is a book that is not only an excellent read for parents, it is an excellent read for educators. I highly recommend it.

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    • Anonymous

      Posted September 14, 2011


      A MUST read for parents!

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    • Posted April 16, 2011

      Good read

      Overall, this book was very thought-provoking. I don't think the authors did a great job discussing Gifted Education or the difference between gifted children and academically talented children. They are different. It's true that academically talented children are better identified later and that gifted kids are NOT necessarily academically talented... but I do not think the authors did a good job of separating them. In fact, it sounded to me like they argued that "smart" kids should be in gifted programs.... but being smart and being gifted are two different things. Honors and AP classes are for the academically talented... giftedness is something different. Most schools around me know this and differentiate the two.

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    • Posted April 14, 2010

      I Also Recommend:

      Great Parenting Book, A must read!

      I found this book very interesting as it really made me think about parenting and I had a lot of "AHA" moments while reading it. It discusses a lot of subjects such as racism that we as parents think that our kids will learn about naturally, when in fact we must guide them so they do not come to the wrong conclusions and understand it is wrong to judge people on the color of their skin, hair and etc. I found the chapter on testing for gifter children interesting also! How can the schools test the children so young, when research has shown that kids intelligence is better tested in 3rd grade. I recommend this book to skeptical parents as I was and ended up loving this book!

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