'Beyond Smart' author explores children's development | Q&A

Islander Linda Morgan
Islander Linda Morgan's new book, 'Beyond Smart,' has been years in the making.
— image credit: Contributed image

Islander and journalist Linda Morgan knows a thing or two about parenting, education and reporting. Morgan has been the education editor at ParentMap magazine for six years. She has raised two of her own children and has three grandchildren.

She has brought it all together in a book, really years in the making, that combines her research and experience into an accessible and succinct primer for parents who want to optimize every facet of their child’s ability to learn and grow into a responsible, successful and gracious adult.

Her book, "Beyond Smart," is based on the still relatively new view that emotional and social development is key in determining how well children do in school and in life.

Morgan, a former writer and editor of the Mercer Island Reporter, said the book sprang from her series of columns about child-rearing for ParentMap.

She had talked with her co-editors about “putting it out there,” essentially pulling together the columns into a pamphlet or publication for parents to use as a reference. But as the process emerged around the table at ParentMap’s offices, the idea began to include how to “round it out” and enrich the format further. The series of columns soon became a book.

Morgan decided to call upon local and national experts to share their insights and expertise on everything from the make-up of the young brain to best practices for encouraging language development or helping kids deal with setbacks.

As a result, the book includes the science behind parenting, whether it be the physiological make-up of a newborn, how to optimize learning differences or how gender influences the way teens communicate.

It is no coincidence, Morgan points out, that many such experts from the Puget Sound region are in the book. “I didn’t have to look far for these sources,” she explained. “The Seattle area is the very epicenter for research and expertise in everything from early learning to neuroscience.”

The book is divided by topic: Within each topic or chapter there are lists of tips, interviews with experts and real life examples of what works. It is a book that offers busy parents something useful no matter where they open the book.

We sat down with Morgan at Starbucks to discover what she hopes readers will find in her book.

Q: This book is really about enriching or optimizing the learning capabilities of your child. Why did you choose to write about this aspect of child-rearing?

A: It’s more important than ever that our kids be able to compete and hold their own in an increasingly complex and evolving world. That means much more than being able to get A’s in school or doing well on standardized tests.

It means learning how to care about other people; learning how to manage social issues such as bullying; being able to cope with different learning styles; and knowing how to face challenges and disappointments.

Kids need to be socially and emotionally ready to learn. And parents need to understand their children — their temperament, their needs, their abilities. They need to be involved with their children at every age and every level. The book’s intention is to offer tools to parents that will help their kids succeed not just in school, but in life.

Q: What makes this book different from other parenting books?

A: Unlike other parenting books, “Beyond Smart” focuses on emotional and social development, as well as academics. It offers concrete tips that help simplify each chapter, along with opinions, answers and suggestions from some of the most highly regarded experts in the fields of child development and education. It draws on the latest research in neuroscience, brain development and early learning.

It is written in a conversational, down-to-earth and accessible style. Because it’s grouped into 10 topics, ranging from very early learning to summer “brain drain,” chapters are organized so that parents can quickly thumb to the relevant page. And hopefully, it’s a good, fun read!

Q: Parenting is stressful enough without hearing that there are new research and findings to think about when wanting to raise your children the right way. Parents always worry they are not doing enough or doing things right. How does this book help with that?

A: There are always new buzzwords such as “reflective parenting” that are often just new ways of saying things that already make sense and that people already do. The approach I have taken in this book is, “Let’s own it. Let’s demystify it,” as most of it is not difficult to understand.

Q: You have had your own children, and now grandchildren, and have worked in a professional capacity as a children’s education reporter for ParentMap. What did you learn from writing this book?

A: I learned that the importance of giving children a great beginning and helping them become socially and emotionally ready for school can’t be overestimated; without this, kids cannot maximize their learning potential.

I also learned that parents play crucial roles in making sure their kids grow into successful learners and successful human beings.

I gathered a tremendous amount of valuable information from the experts who I interviewed — about why it’s not a good idea to overindulge your children; how to help a child who is risk-averse; why parents need to be on “the same page” in parenting philosophies; how to talk to babies so they learn language; and much, much more.

Let’s just say all that knowledge would have been great to have while I was raising my own two kids!

Q: Is there anything of particular interest to Mercer Island parents, who are for the most part highly focused on academic success beyond high school?

A: I am a Mercer Island parent myself, as well as an MIHS grad. I was also an associate editor of the Reporter for 10 years. That means my background, perspective, let’s face it — my approach to life — is heavily intertwined with all things Island.

I think that every chapter in this book is of interest to Island parents. While it’s certainly true that we are focused on academic success beyond high school, we are also very focused on our children’s success in pretty much every domain. We want our children to be well-adjusted. Well-liked. We’d like them to be readers and writers. We’d like to maximize their talents and abilities, without pressuring or overwhelming them. We’d like them to be compassionate and empathetic — and, of course, do well in school and beyond. Our bar is high — but the expectations today for all kids are way up there. I try to address these issues and many others in “Beyond Smart.”

Q: What is next for you?

A: In addition to continuing my work at ParentMap, which includes writing my education column, “Getting School Ready,” I’ll continue discussing education issues on King TV. I’ll also be talking to schools and other groups on education-related topics, here and in other cities. And who knows? Maybe another book. Since the science of learning and child-rearing is always changing, there might be a revised book in the works soon.

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