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The Family Firm: A Data-Driven Guide to Better Decision Making in the Early School Years

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From the bestselling author of CRIBSHEET and EXPECTING BETTER, the next step in data driven parenting from economist Emily Oster In The Family Firm, Brown professor of economics and mom of two Emily Oster offers a classic business school framework for data-driven parents to think more deliberately about the key issues of the elementary years: school, health, extracurricular From the bestselling author of CRIBSHEET and EXPECTING BETTER, the next step in data driven parenting from economist Emily Oster In The Family Firm, Brown professor of economics and mom of two Emily Oster offers a classic business school framework for data-driven parents to think more deliberately about the key issues of the elementary years: school, health, extracurricular activities, and more. Unlike the hourly challenges of infant parenting, the big questions in this age come up less frequently. But we live with the consequences of our decisions for much longer. What's the right kind of school and at what age should a particular kid start? How do you encourage a healthy diet? Should kids play a sport and how seriously? How do you think smartly about encouraging children's independence? Along with these bigger questions, Oster investigates how to navigate the complexity of day-to-day family logistics. Making these decisions is less about finding the specific answer and more about taking the right approach. Parents of this age are often still working in baby mode, which is to say, under stress and on the fly. That is a classic management problem, and Oster takes a page from her time as a business school professor at the University of Chicago to show us that thoughtful business process can help smooth out tough family decisions. The Family Firm is a smart and winning guide to how to think clearly--and with less ambient stress--about the key decisions of the elementary school years. We all know parenting is a full-time job, so maybe it's time we start treating it like one.


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From the bestselling author of CRIBSHEET and EXPECTING BETTER, the next step in data driven parenting from economist Emily Oster In The Family Firm, Brown professor of economics and mom of two Emily Oster offers a classic business school framework for data-driven parents to think more deliberately about the key issues of the elementary years: school, health, extracurricular From the bestselling author of CRIBSHEET and EXPECTING BETTER, the next step in data driven parenting from economist Emily Oster In The Family Firm, Brown professor of economics and mom of two Emily Oster offers a classic business school framework for data-driven parents to think more deliberately about the key issues of the elementary years: school, health, extracurricular activities, and more. Unlike the hourly challenges of infant parenting, the big questions in this age come up less frequently. But we live with the consequences of our decisions for much longer. What's the right kind of school and at what age should a particular kid start? How do you encourage a healthy diet? Should kids play a sport and how seriously? How do you think smartly about encouraging children's independence? Along with these bigger questions, Oster investigates how to navigate the complexity of day-to-day family logistics. Making these decisions is less about finding the specific answer and more about taking the right approach. Parents of this age are often still working in baby mode, which is to say, under stress and on the fly. That is a classic management problem, and Oster takes a page from her time as a business school professor at the University of Chicago to show us that thoughtful business process can help smooth out tough family decisions. The Family Firm is a smart and winning guide to how to think clearly--and with less ambient stress--about the key decisions of the elementary school years. We all know parenting is a full-time job, so maybe it's time we start treating it like one.

30 review for The Family Firm: A Data-Driven Guide to Better Decision Making in the Early School Years

  1. 4 out of 5

    Janet

    If I took notes on this book, am I the right demographic for this book? Probably yes. However I haven’t read her previous books (my kids were too old for their advice at the time) and I thought some of her Covid analysis was just so-so, so I went into this open-minded but not like, overeager. The biggest takeaway from the book is that there isn’t a lot of data out there that will tell you there is One True Way to do something as a parent of elementary age kids/tweens. So for better or worse, a l If I took notes on this book, am I the right demographic for this book? Probably yes. However I haven’t read her previous books (my kids were too old for their advice at the time) and I thought some of her Covid analysis was just so-so, so I went into this open-minded but not like, overeager. The biggest takeaway from the book is that there isn’t a lot of data out there that will tell you there is One True Way to do something as a parent of elementary age kids/tweens. So for better or worse, a lot of the conclusions were roughly: Some kids report a benefit from X. Other kids can be harmed by X. The evidence is sparse / weak / out of date / irrelevant. So use your brain and think through what works for your family based on what you care about. P.S. Use Google Docs to be organized. On the list of things that *did* feel relevant to me (again, you might pull out different pieces for you; we aren’t currently thinking about red-shirting our kindergartener or switching to a private or charter school): * Sleep is important. (This is one of the most clear cut things.) Screens before bed can impact sleep. * Picky eating can be helped by exposure (repeated, no pressure). * Involved parenting is good, but independence is good too. Over-involvement can lead to later anxiety. But a happy home life can be a buffer against negative peer experiences that come up. * Extracurriculars like sports, lessons, or camps are mostly good if the kid enjoys them and when it increases their sense of belonging. * Data on screen time is quite outdated so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ (okay, she doesn't really stop there, but you have to set limits based on your family preferences and opportunity costs. Even kids need time to "stare at the wall.") * You don’t need your kid to be thinking about college or being super good at a sport when they are in elementary school; seriously the data just doesn’t support it. * COVID made a lot of families go into hyperdrive for decision making, analyzing, adapting, and being organized. We all just got a major crash course in a lot of what she talks about in the book.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    Emily Oster feels like the “smart friend” who will do all your research for you and then help you make really important parenting decisions while also not making you feel like you are completely dumb/ incompetent. While I probably won’t be holding family meetings with prepared agendas any time soon (not that I judge it - I love a good agenda), I thoroughly enjoyed The Family Firm! Though it is chock full of facts, numbers, and studies, the tone is conversational, and the information is easy to d Emily Oster feels like the “smart friend” who will do all your research for you and then help you make really important parenting decisions while also not making you feel like you are completely dumb/ incompetent. While I probably won’t be holding family meetings with prepared agendas any time soon (not that I judge it - I love a good agenda), I thoroughly enjoyed The Family Firm! Though it is chock full of facts, numbers, and studies, the tone is conversational, and the information is easy to digest. As an economist and a mom, Oster talked me through many of the questions I’m already asking about raising school-age kids (How much screen time is too much? Should my kids play an instrument? Do travel sports make sense for a ten year old? Is six too young for sleep away camp?) and many I hadn’t really thought about yet (When should I let my kids have social media accounts and/or a cell phone? Should I intervene if my kid is being bullied? How will I know if a school/sport/activity isn’t the right fit for a kid? Etc.) with logic *and* compassion. She doesn’t make the decisions for you, but she does give you the information you need to consider and a framework for making good choices for your unique family. (Also, as a bonus, Jeff really appreciates data and facts, so this book was a great catalyst for good, productive conversation between us!) I don’t read a ton of parenting books these days, but this was one VERY relevant to my life, and I can see myself going back to its pages again and again over the next 5 or 6 years. If you have a 3 - 13 year old, this book is for you!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Candice W.

    Couldn’t finish. Turns out I don’t sweat parenting decisions on a level that warrants a bunch of data and b-school paradigms.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Kara

    My kid just turned five, and I feel like I’m at the perfect time for this one. We’re making lots of decisions right now (which school? should we redshirt him for Kindergarten? should we start him in extra-curricular activities?), and this book provides a framework for making these decisions and also offers up summaries of existing research. The framework isn’t for everyone, but as the person at work responsible for strategy and project management to execute that strategy, ooooh, I thought this w My kid just turned five, and I feel like I’m at the perfect time for this one. We’re making lots of decisions right now (which school? should we redshirt him for Kindergarten? should we start him in extra-curricular activities?), and this book provides a framework for making these decisions and also offers up summaries of existing research. The framework isn’t for everyone, but as the person at work responsible for strategy and project management to execute that strategy, ooooh, I thought this was so much fun. Emily Oster is able to distill research into its salient points in a straightforward, fun way. If I knew her in real life, I’d want to be her friend (I might not be academic enough for her to be my friend, but that’s a different story).

  5. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    Possibly my favorite of the Emily Oster parenting books. Don't get me wrong, I liked the others, but I always thought they were a little too limited. Yes, give us the metastudy low-down and explain the limitations on what "research says" about parenting, but I don't need a chapter on vaccinating children; I'm on board with that. There are other things I want you to spend your time on. In The Family Firm Oster provides a business (or honestly, social science) framework for family decision making Possibly my favorite of the Emily Oster parenting books. Don't get me wrong, I liked the others, but I always thought they were a little too limited. Yes, give us the metastudy low-down and explain the limitations on what "research says" about parenting, but I don't need a chapter on vaccinating children; I'm on board with that. There are other things I want you to spend your time on. In The Family Firm Oster provides a business (or honestly, social science) framework for family decision making. It's like teaching us to Go Fish. She says the decision process takes four steps: 1- Frame the question. This one takes the most conceptual effort. Her example is getting your kid a cell phone, but what even does that mean? Is it about the kid being able to call you after school? Accessing social media? Use the internet? Step one is figure out what, exactly, is the problem you are trying to solve. 2- Find the best research. This doesn't have to look like Google Scholar. It could, And in fact if I could take off a half star it would be because she doesn't teach us the tips of what studies are more and less reliable. But research can be things like "Does access to social media increase depression?" and "Will using a phone all the time cut into my kid's sleep?" as well as things like "What kind of phones are an option? Dumb phone? Gabb? Would an Apple Watch work?," "Can we afford to buy a phone? And how much is a data package?" and "Do, in fact, all of their friends have one?" This step is the longest. 3- Final decision Make one decision with your kid(s) and all caregivers. Make it clear and explicit. If the final decision is "Yes, you can have a smartphone, but you need to hand it over to me an hour before bed ,so you don't stay up all night," then everyone in the household should know that is the rule. 4- Follow up Set a time, either explicitly or contextually, when you will revisit the decision. If the family finances change, you might have to revisit whether the phone is still within the budget. If you decided, "Not yet" on a smartphone, when will you revisit to see if it's time? In a year? After your kid gets their Eagle? That's mostly it. She helps you on your way by providing a big, fatty middle section with--you guessed it--metastudy summaries on topics like media use, sleep, school choice, and extra-curricular activities. She's careful to say that this doesn't mean there's a right answer for you and your family, but that these topics frequently play into family decisions. I wish all of her books had had an element like this, because it's not just in school years that you need to start thinking about "what's best for my family." One kid may thrive on preschool and one may need a nanny. And, as she points out in Cribsheet , the decision of who should and how much to work depends on a lot of personal preference factors. The worksheets in the back are a good step in developing your own family rules and culture. In fact, I'm probably going to be discussing them in Family Home Evening sometime soon--it's nice for us worksheet types to think through not just our big-picture family mission, but also the smaller principles and priorities that guide our family.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    I was really excited for this book because I am familiar with the author and I love both research and parenting, especially researching anything parenting related.. Since I feel compelled to read any and every new book that focuses on both, this book was naturally on my radar. Overall, it was an enjoyable book. I didn't love it as much as I expected though. For being data driven, I felt there were many parts that were heavily dependent on her opinion and unconscious bias. Statistics can always b I was really excited for this book because I am familiar with the author and I love both research and parenting, especially researching anything parenting related.. Since I feel compelled to read any and every new book that focuses on both, this book was naturally on my radar. Overall, it was an enjoyable book. I didn't love it as much as I expected though. For being data driven, I felt there were many parts that were heavily dependent on her opinion and unconscious bias. Statistics can always be spun to what you want them to say, so I found that some of her conclusions were based on specific studies that she had decided to use and not indicative of what is valid for another. I get it, parenting style is highly subjective and what works for one does not always work for another. She has a lot of side commentary throughout and sometimes I found it entertaining and other times I found it kind of grating or overdone. Also, I'm very much a Type A, plan everything to the minute, type of person, but some the interactions she relays in the story just make her family seem so stiff and unrelatable. Perhaps she was really trying to play up how she runs her home like a firm, but it just came off cold to me. Perhaps the most disappointing thing was that I learned nothing new in this book. Most conclusions pointed to the obvious while a few were just based on her personal conclusions via her research. The book was fine, but I don't feel like it is worth the hype. For the good, a number of the things she discusses are interesting, but just pretty obvious. So this book may appeal more to those who are novices in the parenting book arena. The writing itself was good and read well. I would lean more toward 3- 3 1/2 stars, but maybe a 4 star for the mentioned demographic, so rounding up to 4.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Moira Burke

    Unlike “Expecting Better,” there’s little causal data on parental decision-making about older kids: how many after school activities to engage in, whether to enter first grade late, how much screen time is okay. Even the observational studies are typically small and inconclusive. However, the survey of relevant data is still useful as a parent, and in most cases the answer is a reassuring “it probably doesn’t matter much.” I hadn’t been expecting the B-school toolbox chapter at the beginning — w Unlike “Expecting Better,” there’s little causal data on parental decision-making about older kids: how many after school activities to engage in, whether to enter first grade late, how much screen time is okay. Even the observational studies are typically small and inconclusive. However, the survey of relevant data is still useful as a parent, and in most cases the answer is a reassuring “it probably doesn’t matter much.” I hadn’t been expecting the B-school toolbox chapter at the beginning — writing a family mission statement, developing a process for fact-finding, discussion, and follow-up. Reading that section was stressful, making me feel like there was yet another thing I’d need to coordinate, but Oster makes a good case for its psychological usefulness and future time-saving.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Lily Pan

    Probably could have been an article. She suggestions a good approach (system) for making decisions if the reader feels overwhelmed and doesn’t have one already. None of the references to data were that interesting and everything is super nuanced that this book has a narrower audience than her previous ones. 2.5 stars but giving it 3 as I can see how it’s helpful to others.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Joe Kessler

    So far Cribsheet is still my favorite data-driven parenting title by economist Emily Oster, but this latest one is a solid self-help book for household organizing and thorny decision-making about raising kids particularly in the five-to-twelve-year-old range. As always, the author offers valuable scientific findings on the arena of dilemmas facing modern parents, from nutrition to screentime to homework to extracurricular activities. The good news is that these studies can be reassuring; the bad So far Cribsheet is still my favorite data-driven parenting title by economist Emily Oster, but this latest one is a solid self-help book for household organizing and thorny decision-making about raising kids particularly in the five-to-twelve-year-old range. As always, the author offers valuable scientific findings on the arena of dilemmas facing modern parents, from nutrition to screentime to homework to extracurricular activities. The good news is that these studies can be reassuring; the bad news is that they are often inconclusive, with Oster quick to point out that correlation doesn't imply causation. (Are children who sit down for family dinners each night healthier on average because of that communal experience, or because families who are able to reliably make the joint evening meal happen tend to differ in other ways from those who can't?) There's a lot of such vacillating in these pages, along with an unfortunate reliance on problematic rough measures like IQ, BMI, and standardized test scores without necessarily unpacking their known limitations. The occasional insights are legitimately great, though, and I especially like the idea of pre-planning with your partner -- if you have one -- to discuss priorities and maybe even craft a business-like mission statement for the house in advance of working through a problem together. Figuring out the big picture ahead of time so that smaller choices in the moment become easier if not essentially automatic strikes me as a really smart framework to adopt. But overall, this text probably could have been a lot shorter, as I'm not sure we need to be told on topic after topic that the experts simply don't know the best approach. Find me on Patreon | Goodreads | Blog | Twitter

  10. 4 out of 5

    Talia

    This book, like Emily Oster's other books, tackles various parenting decisions while looking at the data from the valid studies that are available. Oster takes this age group a step further by introducing the concept that parenting decisions should be made "business-style" by using good data and balancing what's good for the family/child as a whole. Now, Emily Oster is NOT educated in child development nor education (I saw her described elsewhere as "parenting guru"?); her specialty is economics This book, like Emily Oster's other books, tackles various parenting decisions while looking at the data from the valid studies that are available. Oster takes this age group a step further by introducing the concept that parenting decisions should be made "business-style" by using good data and balancing what's good for the family/child as a whole. Now, Emily Oster is NOT educated in child development nor education (I saw her described elsewhere as "parenting guru"?); her specialty is economics, as well as analyzing data and determining what child/parenting studies as valid or "good" as opposed to news sites spouting off one half-truth from a poorly run study. I, for one, enjoyed the book. There were a few conclusions that I had already knew about, and a few conclusions that made me go "really? Huh." For many of these parenting choices, it comes down to "whatever works the best for your family"...did you really need a whole book for that? I look forward to her book on teens when it comes out in a few more years (this is happening, right?) Emily Oster also narrates her own audiobook, which was a nice surprise, as her humor really comes through this way; I actually laughed out loud a few times!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Marya

    Despite the title, the book is much less data driven that Oster's other works. Here, she tries to provide a parenting decision model instead of specific data. I've heard it said many times that we should just treat X (non profits, the government, etc.) like a business and if we did, X would be run so much more efficiently. I've never heard anyone apply that adage to parenting. Until now! I'm not saying it's the best fit, but neither does Oster. Rather, she shows her readers how some of these bus Despite the title, the book is much less data driven that Oster's other works. Here, she tries to provide a parenting decision model instead of specific data. I've heard it said many times that we should just treat X (non profits, the government, etc.) like a business and if we did, X would be run so much more efficiently. I've never heard anyone apply that adage to parenting. Until now! I'm not saying it's the best fit, but neither does Oster. Rather, she shows her readers how some of these business and management practices can be modified to streamline your parenting game. It's a new idea to explore, and for that alone, this parenting book is worthwhile.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Christina

    Very hard to get through. I could not explain how the book was organized (or why it was organized that way). I did not find the content helpful. I forced myself to keep reading, perhaps hopeful that I would glean something useful, to no avail. I also felt gross reading it because it is so obviously directed at those living in a white privileged, 2-parent, financially secure household. She qualifies things by frequently suggesting that it’s obvious some people can’t afford this [sleepaway camp?] Very hard to get through. I could not explain how the book was organized (or why it was organized that way). I did not find the content helpful. I forced myself to keep reading, perhaps hopeful that I would glean something useful, to no avail. I also felt gross reading it because it is so obviously directed at those living in a white privileged, 2-parent, financially secure household. She qualifies things by frequently suggesting that it’s obvious some people can’t afford this [sleepaway camp?] but since you can/should, keep reading. The decision-making framework she describes is fine, but you can read about that in a newsletter or summary of the book. Glad I got the book from my local library instead of spending money on it.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Molly

    2.5 - I like and respect Emily Oster quite a bit and maybe I'm just not in the thick of the elementary years yet and therefore some of the concerns seem a bit..."who cares" (signing kids up for the best sleep away camp in January for example) and the data is sparse--far sparser than Cribsheet. Her framing is certainly useful but this rubric doesn't need to be a whole book. 2.5 - I like and respect Emily Oster quite a bit and maybe I'm just not in the thick of the elementary years yet and therefore some of the concerns seem a bit..."who cares" (signing kids up for the best sleep away camp in January for example) and the data is sparse--far sparser than Cribsheet. Her framing is certainly useful but this rubric doesn't need to be a whole book.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Lindsay

    I've said it before and I'll say it again, Emily Oster is my dream big sister who has such wisdom and strategy. So glad this book came out as we're in the early school years, and looking forward to the middle and high school editions in time! I've said it before and I'll say it again, Emily Oster is my dream big sister who has such wisdom and strategy. So glad this book came out as we're in the early school years, and looking forward to the middle and high school editions in time!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Margaret Heller

    I adore Emily Oster, and there was a lot that was useful in this book. I understand why she had to go this way with this book, since creating frameworks is the only way to do things. But I just can't get my co-parent on board with calendars much less project management software. Alas. I did read many of these pieces via her newsletter, and I think the newsletter tone crept into the book in ways that I didn't love. But it was a pandemic, so I get it. I adore Emily Oster, and there was a lot that was useful in this book. I understand why she had to go this way with this book, since creating frameworks is the only way to do things. But I just can't get my co-parent on board with calendars much less project management software. Alas. I did read many of these pieces via her newsletter, and I think the newsletter tone crept into the book in ways that I didn't love. But it was a pandemic, so I get it.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Alexa Hamilton

    Honestly, I'm pretty tired of Emily Oster's interpreting of parenting data, though I appreciate her efforts, especially for older kids where the data is definitely muddier on these decisions. I did love the idea of a decision making framework. I'm not sure it needs to be so business school/running a business like but the principles of knowing what your family values are so important. Though I could not write up each family member's schedule daily, it would make me want to cry to work it out. But Honestly, I'm pretty tired of Emily Oster's interpreting of parenting data, though I appreciate her efforts, especially for older kids where the data is definitely muddier on these decisions. I did love the idea of a decision making framework. I'm not sure it needs to be so business school/running a business like but the principles of knowing what your family values are so important. Though I could not write up each family member's schedule daily, it would make me want to cry to work it out. But many Oster lovers will love this book.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Tony Leach

    There are some good tools here in the first chapter. Everything else boils down to “no one knows, here are some questions to ask yourself, use your best judgement!” This ends up feeling like a let down.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Kara

    Another Emily Oster book coming out you in August! If you have been following Oster’s books during parenthood starting with Expecting Better in pregnancy and Cribsheet postpartum, you are going to want to get your hands on The Family Firm, her next parenting book for ages 5-12 years. In this book Oster offers a “classic business school framework for data-driven parents to think more deliberately about the key issues of the elementary years.” We are overwrought with input on parenting advise, lea Another Emily Oster book coming out you in August! If you have been following Oster’s books during parenthood starting with Expecting Better in pregnancy and Cribsheet postpartum, you are going to want to get your hands on The Family Firm, her next parenting book for ages 5-12 years. In this book Oster offers a “classic business school framework for data-driven parents to think more deliberately about the key issues of the elementary years.” We are overwrought with input on parenting advise, leading us to anxiety and uncertainty on what is actually best for our kids. The author does the research for you, deep diving into the evidence-based research on the next big decisions in parentland for your youngsters. When to start kindergarten? Is good to start early or wait a year and have your child be a bit older? Private, Public, Charter? And what even makes a good school? Extracurricular activities? Does tutoring make a difference in long term advantages? What about teaching your kids to read at an early age? What makes a child happy and confident? How do we raise kids to be nice and effectively interact with others? Electronics. Learning Based Apps. When to give the phone? How much screen time? Good stuff, right? If you tend to struggle with decision making and want more data to help you do that- this is the book. One of the things I enjoyed the most was her tips and tricks to making these decisions in an organized way, and how to engage your partner in the decision-making process, so you (typically the mother) do not have to hold all the emotional load of remembering things, activities, grocery lists, etc. and for that, this was gold for me. If you are the CEO of your Family Firm go grab this book, out August 3rd. Thank you to NetGalley and to Peguin Press for the Advanced Read!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Erica

    I was really excited for this book. Having read both Expecting Better and Cribsheet, I expected to learn a lot about which commonly-repeated parenting truisms are supported by the data and which are not. Having followed Oster's newsletter since its inception, I also expected to learn more about some analytic and perhaps technological tools that would help my family make better decisions. I was a little bit disappointed. Part of the problem is that - as Oster repeats a number of times - there just I was really excited for this book. Having read both Expecting Better and Cribsheet, I expected to learn a lot about which commonly-repeated parenting truisms are supported by the data and which are not. Having followed Oster's newsletter since its inception, I also expected to learn more about some analytic and perhaps technological tools that would help my family make better decisions. I was a little bit disappointed. Part of the problem is that - as Oster repeats a number of times - there just isn't data for a lot of the things parents want to know, because kids and families and the decisions they face vary so broadly. The question of whether private school is better for your kid than public school depends on which private school and which public school and on your particular kid, and on what "better" means to you. So the kind of counter-to-common-wisdom revelations that filled Expecting Better (coffee in reasonable amounts is okay! also most soft cheese!) simply aren't available for this subject matter. But I do think Oster could have delved further into the material that exists. There is a lot of real estate devoted to extreme consequences of one's decisions (will your child get a concussion if they play sports?) but much less to more quotidian outcomes (will their grades be better or worse?). I would have also liked to see more on the topic advertised in the title: how to make decisions. The framework Oster outlines is simple but, in the face of emotional issues, powerful, and I thought it should have been elaborated further, with more detailed discussion of specific software and tools and more nuanced case studies. 3.5 stars - worth reading if you like this kind of thing. Rounded up because it's so much more rational than most parenting books.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Amber

    I've described myself as a "ride or die" Oster fan, but I do think it's important to say that I more think we would get along really well, and that I find her an entertaining writer, than that this is a great book. I thought the decision-making framework she lays out is a bit pedantic and frankly, business school textbook-ish (which she acknowledges)...but at the same time, some of the questions she poses I thought were super useful--things I had thought about but less formally, and which my hus I've described myself as a "ride or die" Oster fan, but I do think it's important to say that I more think we would get along really well, and that I find her an entertaining writer, than that this is a great book. I thought the decision-making framework she lays out is a bit pedantic and frankly, business school textbook-ish (which she acknowledges)...but at the same time, some of the questions she poses I thought were super useful--things I had thought about but less formally, and which my husband (a great dad but not a big philosophical thinker) surely hasn't. Most problematic (unsurprisingly) is her section on race and education, which is a super ham-handed "of course racism is real and Black people's experience in education is super different blah blah" liberal trope rather than any attempt to engage with the (plentiful) research around what "good schools" even means...that schools have very little impact, if any, on college or life outcomes for well-off kids...that often what white parents mean (as revealed by the schools they choose) when they say "good schools" is "ones with more white kids" rather than "ones with strong value-added outcomes" or even "ones with better scores." I'm sure Oster's audience is overwhelmingly white college graduates, so she has a chance to take on some of these shibboleths but instead had a boilerplate disclaimer that basically runs scared from any work on this topic. Makes me appreciate the book The Cult of Smart, which does try to get at these issues. I think The Genetic Lottery (on my list) will too, in a different way. Anyway, you know what you're getting with these. I like them, but they aren't for everyone.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Bailey Surtees

    I’m a huge nerd, I love data, I love working with children, and I think cognitive development is fascinating. Obviously this was going to be a win from the start. While missing the clearer data driven answers of some of the previous books (and less time given to nitpicking various studies, which, again I’m here for) it also makes sense and was expected going in. Decisions parents face as kids get older get more complex and nuanced and significantly harder to study for causal relationships. One thi I’m a huge nerd, I love data, I love working with children, and I think cognitive development is fascinating. Obviously this was going to be a win from the start. While missing the clearer data driven answers of some of the previous books (and less time given to nitpicking various studies, which, again I’m here for) it also makes sense and was expected going in. Decisions parents face as kids get older get more complex and nuanced and significantly harder to study for causal relationships. One thing I really enjoyed was the decision making structure breakdown. It’s very much in line with “design thinking” frameworks that I’ve used in school, professionally, and while teaching. I think it’s a powerful and under-taught way of approaching complex problem solving, so seeing it used in a new space was a big win for me. Something that could have been better: The issue of being able to weigh options that aren’t easily quantifiable comes up many times. Indeed, I’ve seen it raised in all areas that I’ve utilized other design thinking based problem solving. However, with that, there are some really great tools and ways to approach making non easy to measure or quantify options quantifiable (decision matrices are great for teaching the utility of this but off putting to many with the word “matricies”). I’m sure the author has used many tools of this sort before and I also imagine that it was left out as being difficult to describe or overly nitty gritty to get into in the scope of the book. However, it would’ve been great to reference that there are ways to do that and include a link in the references or toolbox sections at the back of the book.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Greg

    I like Emily Oster. I mean, I like the her she puts in the books, the bits of her personality she includes in the writing. But I also like her method of looking at things. Rather than just relying on whatever you last heard or read online, she goes into the data and finds out what it really says. It’s reassuring, usually, to find that things really aren’t as dire as they seem from all the stuff with five exclamation points you read elsewhere (“Screen time will destroy your baby’s brain!!!!!”). T I like Emily Oster. I mean, I like the her she puts in the books, the bits of her personality she includes in the writing. But I also like her method of looking at things. Rather than just relying on whatever you last heard or read online, she goes into the data and finds out what it really says. It’s reassuring, usually, to find that things really aren’t as dire as they seem from all the stuff with five exclamation points you read elsewhere (“Screen time will destroy your baby’s brain!!!!!”). This book is, most importantly, a framework for how to make decisions as your kids grow. She calls it the Four Fs, and these steps (and lots of meetings) help you to make more informed and deliberate decisions. It’s a good framework, and very unlike how I naturally make decisions. And that’s a good thing, because I usually just make a decision based on how I feel in exactly that moment (and then defend it to the death when challenged (I’m a mess)). My wife, on the other hand, is much more deliberate about things. She’s going to love this book. We will definitely be implementing this framework for ourselves. The rest of the book, the discussion on different topics and their related data, is good but (as Oster warns in the beginning) there isn’t actually a whole lot of specific data for a lot of it. And specific decisions are so very specific for each family. Thankfully, that’s where the four Fs come in.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Sharon

    I was intrigued by the subtitle of this book, “A Data-Driven Guide to Better Decision Making in the Early School Years” and wanted to see what types of decisions might be anticipated. What I liked about this book was the framing questions that Oster provides and the ways in which she suggests having conversations about topics such as family schedules and mission statements, sleep, childcare and parental work, nutrition, parenting style, extracurriculars, and even, the right age for a child to ge I was intrigued by the subtitle of this book, “A Data-Driven Guide to Better Decision Making in the Early School Years” and wanted to see what types of decisions might be anticipated. What I liked about this book was the framing questions that Oster provides and the ways in which she suggests having conversations about topics such as family schedules and mission statements, sleep, childcare and parental work, nutrition, parenting style, extracurriculars, and even, the right age for a child to get a phone. The data is presented, and some applications are suggested. The first topic, of redshirting, was specific to parents whose children are born around school cut-off dates, but the rest of the book addresses more general decisions and styles. I thought it was helpful for Oster to consider different scenarios (i.e. performing in a musical, attending a summer camp, club soccer), the tradeoffs, and how to revisit and assess how the decision-making went and how future decisions can be informed. The author touches briefly on race and other topics that can play into private school vs. public school, and the author is direct in saying that other experts and many other books have been written about these topics; still, I think her framing questions could have been more inclusive of these values.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Anna Hawes

    I haven't read her other books but my impression is that she digs into studies to answer parenting questions with data. This one isn't like that. She discusses some studies but the conclusion for most of them is that we don't have the strong causal data to draw meaningful conclusions. Instead of providing data-proven, one-size-fits-all recommendations, the value of this book is that it offers a framework to make the best choice for your family circumstances. I appreciated the big picture focus; I haven't read her other books but my impression is that she digs into studies to answer parenting questions with data. This one isn't like that. She discusses some studies but the conclusion for most of them is that we don't have the strong causal data to draw meaningful conclusions. Instead of providing data-proven, one-size-fits-all recommendations, the value of this book is that it offers a framework to make the best choice for your family circumstances. I appreciated the big picture focus; it showed me that while I was tackling questions like screen time, sports, and school in isolation, I really needed to consider how these choices affected our family life as a whole. For example, if Sundays are family days and family dinners are important to us, then that makes the decision for many extracurriculars that would conflict with those priorities. It's helpful to stop and think about what our family priorities are and how our day-to-day is or isn't reflecting those. The book is a quick read but the discussions I'll be having with my husband will probably be pretty lengthy. There are guides/worksheets for discussions in setting up big picture family priorities but also for tackling individual choices that come up. It provides some helpful structure to make intentional choices about parenting.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Maddie

    I'm a big Emily Oster fan, but this book was disappointing. Her basic premise was "here's a framework to make better parenting decisions. Also, try to run your family more like a business." I would find that credible were she a businessperson, but she is in fact an academic. Her academic credentials were relevant and useful when it comes to evaluating study designs but her prior experience teaching Microeconomics at UChicago's business school does not make her a successful businessperson. Her ad I'm a big Emily Oster fan, but this book was disappointing. Her basic premise was "here's a framework to make better parenting decisions. Also, try to run your family more like a business." I would find that credible were she a businessperson, but she is in fact an academic. Her academic credentials were relevant and useful when it comes to evaluating study designs but her prior experience teaching Microeconomics at UChicago's business school does not make her a successful businessperson. Her advice on anything business-like is painfully obvious. She has an entire chapter in which she describes in *painful* detail how she uses shared calendars to remind herself to do things. She acts as if letting readers know about the Google Docs/Sheets is a major revolution. She suggests setting agendas for family meetings. I imagine the audience for this book is generally well-educated upper-middle-class parents, and they know this stuff already. I liked the studies she was able to pull together and analyze about things like the benefits of extracurriculars, considerations around red-shirting students for kindergarten, etc. They would have been a fine series of individual blog posts. Oster should have waited until she had more interesting and data-driven things to say before writing a new book.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Cody McCoy

    I enjoyed this a lot! It’s not the same as her data-driven past two books on pregnancy and early infancy / toddlerhood, because the data is just not as good. The one super interesting piece of data: when you test children’s reading comprehension, their “context-specific knowledge” matters a lot more than their “verbal ability.” So a soccer expert will score higher on a reading test where the passage is about soccer— even if they’re not very good at verbal skills. Doesn’t this seem like strong ev I enjoyed this a lot! It’s not the same as her data-driven past two books on pregnancy and early infancy / toddlerhood, because the data is just not as good. The one super interesting piece of data: when you test children’s reading comprehension, their “context-specific knowledge” matters a lot more than their “verbal ability.” So a soccer expert will score higher on a reading test where the passage is about soccer— even if they’re not very good at verbal skills. Doesn’t this seem like strong evidence that standardized tests are biased by cultural context?! (A point totally tangential to the point Oster makes, which is give kids books about things they’re interested in.) Additionally, I really enjoyed her framework for decision-making and plan to implement it in my own life. It sounds really simple, but I have definitely agonized over low-stakes decisions. Now, I can FRAME the decision, FACT-FIND, make a FINAL DECISION, and FOLLOW UP. Instead over DITHER, do some SPORADIC GOOGLING, then DITHER MORE, then GOOGLE, then DISCUSS, then DECIDE, then SECOND GUESS… lol. All about whether or not to go to a wedding that I am now extremely late on the RSVP for.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Brianna

    Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for the ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review! I really enjoyed this book, probably because I’m currently existing in the space that this book tries to prepare you for. It calmed my nerves about things (screen time, extracurriculars, kindergarten start times, oh my!) and it gave me real data to mull over, not just one mom’s opinion. Hallelujah! I really liked the idea of setting a family mission statement, and as someone who literally helps bus Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for the ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review! I really enjoyed this book, probably because I’m currently existing in the space that this book tries to prepare you for. It calmed my nerves about things (screen time, extracurriculars, kindergarten start times, oh my!) and it gave me real data to mull over, not just one mom’s opinion. Hallelujah! I really liked the idea of setting a family mission statement, and as someone who literally helps businesses develop this kind of thing for a living, it’s something I’ve considered but haven’t gotten around to yet. I appreciated the provided framework and how to use it once you’ve created it. It may just have been the kick in the pants I need to develop one with my own family. All in all, I consider myself fairly organized and Type A to a point, but I am definitely not as much so as this author, and would prefer not to consider my family as a business, and to leave room for a bit more flexibility and fewer google docs. If you are a reader who is craving more structure and less stress, you may find this to be the answer for you, though! I’ll keep reading Emily Oster’s books, and I hope they’ll keep lining up at the right time in my parenting life!

  28. 4 out of 5

    Cari

    I am a big fan of Emily Oster and recommend everything she writes, particularly EXPECTING BETTER. I was excited to have an advanced reader copy of this book through Edelweiss. When Oster's last book, CRIBSHEET, came out, my children were already both past the stages covered, so I didn't read it. But as my children are both elementary aged, I dove right into this one. Oster gives a framework for families to make difficult decisions, plus the usual data and statistics to help with some of those ch I am a big fan of Emily Oster and recommend everything she writes, particularly EXPECTING BETTER. I was excited to have an advanced reader copy of this book through Edelweiss. When Oster's last book, CRIBSHEET, came out, my children were already both past the stages covered, so I didn't read it. But as my children are both elementary aged, I dove right into this one. Oster gives a framework for families to make difficult decisions, plus the usual data and statistics to help with some of those choices. While the section on using Google Docs and Calendar was old hat to me - my kids had calendars and schedules before they were born - if you are new to this way of planning, it is really helpful. I also thought the parts explaining different studies were fascinating, and Oster's dry humor makes this book more than chapter after chapter of statistics. Not every reader will gravitate to this kind of parenting book, but it's a good choice to have in any library collection.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Hamsini

    I'm a fairly large fan of Emily Oster- I've read every one of her books and hang on to her insights on newsletter and social media. I geek out on parenting and everything to do with it. My partner and I mull over a lot of important decisions from daycare to school to extra curriculars, adopting a multi-pronged research process before signing up for it. So in that sense, I'm the exact audience for this book, while accounting for large differences in contexts (India vs us) and the fact that a lot I'm a fairly large fan of Emily Oster- I've read every one of her books and hang on to her insights on newsletter and social media. I geek out on parenting and everything to do with it. My partner and I mull over a lot of important decisions from daycare to school to extra curriculars, adopting a multi-pronged research process before signing up for it. So in that sense, I'm the exact audience for this book, while accounting for large differences in contexts (India vs us) and the fact that a lot of her questions don't apply to me here (eg my son is among the youngest in his school cohort but I have no option to 'redshirt' him here! public schools here and literally a non-option etc) I think this is a great read for every parent with a school going child just to think through options on how to organize your family life and decide on choices for your kids. I'm totally making my partner read this. Some people may think this book goes overboard and 'processifies' things too much, but I loved several of the tools and frameworks and will surely apply some of them.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Andrea

    *I received this book from NetGalley in return for a honest review* I really enjoyed Expecting Better and Cribsheet so I was excited when I saw that Oster had a new book coming out covering the Elementary School years I was very excited. This book is different than the previous ones, but that is because the data because more complicated as kids get older and what works for one family is completely different than others. I really liked how she laid this book out however; with broad ideas and then m *I received this book from NetGalley in return for a honest review* I really enjoyed Expecting Better and Cribsheet so I was excited when I saw that Oster had a new book coming out covering the Elementary School years I was very excited. This book is different than the previous ones, but that is because the data because more complicated as kids get older and what works for one family is completely different than others. I really liked how she laid this book out however; with broad ideas and then more specific examples such as when your kids start school (should you hold them back a year if they are born later in the year), or how many after school activities should they be in, and when they should get their own phone. This book covers a lot of important topics and like always is written in a way that is very easy to read and enjoy.

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