National & State Parks
Continue your child's education as you explore the natural wonder of national and state parks in California.
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America's National Parks for Dummies, Second Edition
What makes a trip to a national park so wonderful? For starters, America's national park system is more diverse than any park system in the world. You can stroll the seashore at Olympic National Park in Washington or Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts, climb craggy mountains in Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, or go underground into the world's largest cave system at Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. You can marvel at the largest canyon on Earth (Grand Canyon National Park), hike among the planet's largest collection or rock arches (Arches National Park), explore the lowest and hottest place in the Western Hemisphere (Death Valley National Park), or wander a realm of forests and misty mountains (Great Smoky Mountains National Park).

And these are just a few of your park options.

America's National Parks For Dummies gives you guidance to decide which park is for you, when to go, and what to see when you reach your destination. This guide will help you plan the best trip imaginable, whether you are

  • An inexperienced traveler looking for guidance in determining whether to take a trip to a national park and how to plan for it
  • An experienced traveler who has yet to explore the national park system and wants expert advice when you finally get a chance to enjoy one
  • Any traveler who doesn't like big, thick travel guides that list every single hotel, restaurant, or attraction, but instead looks for a book that focuses on the places that will provide the best or most unique park experience

America's National Parks For Dummies is user-friendly and organized in a logical fashion. Each park is broken down in a chapter that delves into the nitty-gritty of trip planning and highlights, including tips for

  • Planning your trip by touching on the diversity of the park system, explaining some of your vacation options, and telling you when parks are the most (and least) crowded
  • Ironing out the details by describing how you get to the parks and how to find your way around after you arrive
  • Exploring America's national parks by giving you the lowdown on 15 of the best parks, detailing things like each park's wild kingdom, the best spots for memorable photographs, and a few safety issues

The pages of this book resemble a great long-distance hike – you never know what's around the next bend in the trail. So throw on a backpack, take a swig of water, and get ready to explore the national parks!

These Rare Lands
If a picture's worth 1,000 words, this book--with its hundreds of breathtaking photos of America's National Parks--is a well-stocked bookstore. Accompanied by the words of poet laureate Mark Strand, These Rare Lands is a perfect coffee-table book for anyone who has enjoyed the wonders of nature's wildest places. From a storm over Sequoia National Park in California to the otherworldly stalactites and stalagmites of New Mexico's Carlsbad Caverns and an Atlantic sunset in Maine's Acadia, this is a book that draws you back again and again. Photographer Stan Jorstad's obvious love of nature comes through in the thoughtful approach he takes to his life's work, contained in the pages of These Rare Lands.
National Parks in California
Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks
These parks are home to giants: immense mountains, deep canyons, and huge trees. Thanks to their huge elevational range, 1,500' to 14,491', these parks protect stunningly diverse habitats. The Generals Highway climbs over 5000 feet from chaparral and oak-studded foothills to the awe-inspiring sequoia groves. From there, trails lead to the high-alpine wilderness which makes up most of these parks. Beneath the surface lie over 200 fascinating caverns. The parks are located in the southern Sierra Nevada in Tulare and Fresno counties.
Point Reyes National Seashore
Point Reyes National Seashore contains unique elements of biological and historical interest in a spectacularly scenic panorama of thunderous ocean breakers, open grasslands, bushy hillsides and forested ridges. Native land mammals number about 37 species and marine mammals augment this total by another dozen species. The biological diversity stems from a favorable location in the middle of California and the natural occurrence of many distinct habitats. Nearly 20% of the State's flowering plant species are represented on the peninsula and over 45% of the bird species in North America have been sighted. Point Reyes is located approximately 35 miles north of San Francisco.
Redwood National and State Parks
Redwood National and State Parks are home to some of the world's tallest trees: old-growth coast redwoods. They can live to be 2000 years old and grow to over 300 feet tall. Spruce, hemlock, Douglas-fir, berry bushes, and sword ferns create a multiple canopied understory that towers over all visitors. The parks' mosaic of habitats include prairie/oak woodlands, mighty rivers and streams, and 37 miles of pristine Pacific coastline. Cultural landscapes reflect American Indian history. The more recent logging history has led to much restoration of these parks.
San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park
Located at the west end of San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf, this park includes the fleet of national historic landmark vessels at Hyde Street Pier, a visitor center, a maritime museum, and a maritime library. Visitors can board turn-of-the-century ships, tour the museum and learn traditional arts -- like boatbuilding and woodworking. The Park offers educational, music and craft programs for all ages, and provides unique opportunities for docents, interns and volunteers to learn more about the nation's maritime heritage.
Fort Point National Historic Site
Fort Point was constructed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers between 1853 and 1861 to prevent entrance of a hostile fleet into San Francisco Bay. The fort was designed to mount 126 massive cannon. Rushed to completion at the beginning of the Civil War, Fort Point was first garrisoned in February of 1861 by Company I, 3rd U.S. Artillery Regiment. The fort was occupied throughout the Civil War, but the advent of faster, more powerful rifled cannon made brick forts such as Fort Point obsolete. In 1886 the troops were withdrawn, and the last cannon were removed about 1900. The fort was then used for storage and training purposes for many years. Between 1933 and 1937 the fort was used as a base of operations for the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge. During World War II, Fort Point was occupied by about 100 soldiers who manned searchlights and rapid-fire cannon mounted atop the fort as part of the protection of a submarine net strung across the entrance to the Bay. Fort Point is the only third system brick fort on the west coast of the United States. It became a National Historic Site on October 16th, 1970.
Pony Express National Historic Trail
The Pony Express National Historic Trail was used by young men on fast paced horses to carry the nation's mail across the country, from St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California, in the unprecedented time of only ten days. Organized by private entrepreneurs, the horse-and-rider relay system became the nation's most direct and practical means of east-west communications before the telegraph. Though only in operation for 18 months, between April 1860 and October 1861, the trail proved the feasibility of a central overland transportation route, and played a vital role in aligning California with the Union in the years just before the Civil War. Most of the original trail has been obliterated either by time or human activities. Along many segments, the trail's actual route and exact length are matters of conjecture. However, approximately 120 historic sites may eventually be available to the public, including 50 existing Pony Express stations or station ruins.
Lassen Volcanic
Beneath Lassen Volcanic's peaceful forests and gem-like lakes lies evidence of a turbulent and fiery past. 600,000 years ago, the collision and warping of continental plates led to violent eruptions and the formation of lofty Mt. Tehama (also called Brokeoff Volcano.) After 200,000 years of volcanic activity, vents and smaller volcanoes on Tehama's flanks-including Lassen Peak-drew magma away from the main cone. Hydrothermal areas ate away at the great mountain's bulk. Beneath the onslaught of Ice Age glaciers, Mt. Tehama crumbled and finally ceased to exist. But the volcanic landscape lived on: in 1914, Lassen Peak awoke. The Peak had its most significant activity in 1915 and minor activity through 1921. Lassen Volcanic became a national park in 1916 because of its significance as an active volcanic landscape. All four types of volcanoes in the world are found in the park. Over 150 miles of trails and a culturally significant scenic highway provide access to volcanic wonders including steam vents, mudpots, boiling pools, volcanic peaks, and painted dunes. The park is located in Mineral, California.
Whiskeytown National Recreation Area
The Whiskeytown Unit, with its mountainous back country and large, man-made reservoir, offers many summer activities such as hiking and boating, as well as historical remains of the California Gold Rush of 1849. Whiskeytown Lake, provides 36 miles of shoreline and 3200 surface acres of water, and is excellent for most water-related activities, including swimming, scuba diving, water skiing, boating and fishing. The lake was created by diverting water through tunnels and penstocks, from the Trinity River Basin to the Sacramento River Basin. The most prominent landmark within the Recreation Area is Shasta Bally (elevation 6,209 feet). The summit may be reached on foot and by 4-wheel drive vehicle, but is closed in the winter.
Channel Islands National Park
Comprised of five in a chain of eight southern California islands near Los Angeles, Channel Islands National Park is home to a wide variety of nationally and internationally significant natural and cultural resources. Over 2,000 species of plants and animals can be found within the park. However only four mammals are endemic to the islands. One hundred and forty-five of these species are unique to the islands and found nowhere else in the world. Marine life ranges from microscopic plankton to the endangered blue whale, the largest animal to live on earth. Archeological and cultural resources span a period of more than 10,000 years. The park consists of 249,354 acres, half of which are under the ocean, and include the islands of San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz, Anacapa, and Santa Barbara. Even though the islands seem tantalizingly close to the densely populated, southern California coast, their isolation has left them relatively undeveloped, making them an exciting place for visitors to explore.
Eugene O'Neill National Historic Site
Eugene Gladstone O'Neill, the only Nobel Prize winning playwright from the United States and the architect of modern American theater, lived at Tao House in the hills above Danville from 1937 to 1944. It was at this site that he wrote his final and most successful plays; "The Iceman Cometh," "Long Day's Journey Into Night," and "A Moon For the Misbegotten." Since 1980, the National Park Service has been restoring Tao House, the courtyard and orchards and telling the story of O'Neill, his work and his influence on American theater. The site is located in Danville.
Lava Beds National Monument
Volcanic eruptions on the Medicine Lake shield volcano have created an incredibly rugged landscape punctuated by cinder cones, lava flows, spatter cones, lava tube caves and pit craters. During the Modoc War of 1872-1873, the Modoc Indians used these tortuous lava flows to their advantage. Under the leadership of Captain Jack, the Modocs took refuge in "Captain Jack's Stronghold," a natural lava fortress. From this base a group of 53 fighting men and their families held off US Army forces numbering up to ten times their strength for five months. Visitors can tour both the geologic and historic wonders of this unusual landscape. The Lava Beds are located in Tulelake, California.
Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial
Port Chicago Naval Magazine was dedicated as a National Memorial to honor the courage and commitment of the Sailors, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, Merchant Mariners, and working civilians killed and injured in the largest homeland disaster during World War II. On July 17, 1944, 320 men, over 200 of which were African-Americans, were instantly killed when a loaded munition ship blew up during loading operations. The Memorial recognizes the critical role they and the survivors of the explosion played in winning the war in the Pacific. Port Chicago National Memorial was dedicated in 1994 by the survivors of that tragic event and their families, Naval personnel, and National Park Service. The explosion and its aftermath was a catalyst, one of many, that helped persuade the U.S. Navy and the military establishment to begin the long journey on the road to racial justice and equality following WWII. The Memorial is located 45 minutes outside of San Francisco.
Devils Postpile National Monument
Established in 1911 by presidential proclamation, Devils Postpile National Monument protects and preserves the Devils Postpile formation, the 101-foot Rainbow Falls, and the pristine mountain scenery. The Devils Postpile formation is a rare sight in the geologic world and ranks as one of the world’s finest examples of columnar basalt. Its columns tower 60-feet high and display an unusual symmetry. Another wonder is in store just downstream from the Postpile at Rainbow Falls, once called “a gem unique and worthy of its name”. When the sun is overhead, a bright rainbow highlights the spectacular Falls. The monument is also a portal to the High Sierra backcountry, with some 75% included in the Ansel Adams Wilderness. At 800 acres, Devils Postpile National Monument may be considered small by some, yet its natural and recreational values abound. The Monument is located in the Sierra Nevada near Mammoth Lakes.
Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park
The World War II Home Front is a significant chapter in America’s history. Fully engaged in winning World War II, American women, minorities, and men worked toward a common goal in a manner that has been unequaled since. Women affectionately known as "Rosies" helped change industry and had sweeping and lasting impacts. Richmond, California played a significant and nationally recognized part in the World War II Home Front. The four Richmond shipyards, with their combined 27 shipways, produced 747 ships, more than any other shipyard complex in the country. Richmond was home to 56 different war industries, more than any other city of its size in the United States. The city grew nearly overnight from 24,000 people to 100,000 people, overwhelming the available housing stock, roads, schools, businesses and community services. The Rosie the Riveter Memorial is located in Marina Bay Park in Richmond.
Cabrillo National Monument
On September 28, 1542, Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo landed at San Diego Bay. This event marked the first time that a European expedition had set foot on what later became the west coast of the United States. His accomplishments were memorialized on October 14, 1913 with the establishment of Cabrillo National Monument. The park offers a superb view of San Diego’s harbor and skyline. At the highest point of the park stands the Old Point Loma Lighthouse, which has been a San Diego icon since 1854. A statue and museum in the Visitor Center commemorate Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo's exploration of the coast of California. In a former army building an exhibit tells the story of the coast artillery on Point Loma. In the winter, migrating gray whales can be seen off the coast. Native coastal sage scrub habitat along the Bayside Trail offers a quiet place to reflect and relax. On the west side of the park is a small but beautiful stretch of rocky-intertidal coastline.
John Muir National Historic Site
The Site preserves the 14 room mansion where the naturalist John Muir lived from 1890 to his death in 1914. While living in Martinez, Muir accomplished many things: he battled to prevent Yosemite National Park's Hetch Hetchy Valley from being dammed, served as the first president and one of the founders of the Sierra Club, played a prominent role in the creation of several national parks, and hundreds of newspaper and magazine articles and several books expounding on the virtues of conservation and the natural world. Muir's work laid the foundations for the creation of the National Park Service in 1916. The Muir house and historic Martinez adobe became part of the National Park Service in 1964. In 1992, Mt. Wanda was added to the Site. The 325 acre tract of oak woodland and grassland was historically owned by the Muir family. The site is located in Martinez, California.
Joshua Tree National Park
Two deserts, two large ecosystems whose characteristics are determined primarily by elevation, come together at Joshua Tree National Park. Below 3,000 feet, the Colorado Desert encompasses the eastern part of the park and features natural gardens of creosote bush, ocotillo, and cholla cactus. The higher, moister, and slightly cooler Mojave Desert is the special habitat of the Joshua tree. In addition to Joshua tree forests, the western part of the park also includes some of the most interesting geologic displays found in California’s deserts. Five fan palm oases also dot the park, indicating those few areas where water occurs naturally and wildlife abounds. Joshua Tree National Park lies 140 miles east of Los Angeles.
Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area
Santa Monica Mountains rise above Los Angeles, widen to meet the curve of Santa Monica Bay and reach their highest peaks facing the ocean, forming a beautiful and multi-faceted landscape. Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area is a cooperative effort that joins federal, state and local park agencies with private preserves and landowners to protect the natural and cultural resources of this transverse mountain range and seashore. Located in a Mediterranean ecosystem, the Santa Monica Mountains contain a wide variety of plants and wildlife. The mountains also have an interesting and diverse cultural history which begins with the Chumash and Gabrielino/Tongva peoples and continues today in "L.A.'s backyard."
Pinnacles National Monument
Rising out of the chaparral-covered Gabilan Mountains, east of central California's Salinas Valley, are the spectacular remains of an ancient volcano. Massive monoliths, spires, sheer-walled canyons and talus passages define millions of years of erosion, faulting and tectonic plate movement. Within the monument's boundaries lie 24,000 acres of diverse wildlands. The monument is renowned for the beauty and variety of its spring wildflowers. A rich diversity of wildlife can be observed throughout the year. The rock formations of Pinnacles National Monument divide the park into East and West Districts which are connected by trails, but not by a vehicle road. More than 30 miles of trails access geological formations, spectacular vistas and wildland communities. The Pinnacles' rock formations are a popular destination to challenge technical climbers. Pinnacles is a day-use park, with occasional full moon hikes and dark sky astronomical observations led by ranger-interpreters.
Presidio of San Francisco
For thousands of years, Native Americans called the Ohlone managed and harvested the natural bounty of what is now the Presidio. In 1776, Spanish soldiers and missionaries arrived, forever disrupting Ohlone culture and beginning 218 years of military use of the area just south of the Golden Gate. The Presidio served as a military post under the flags of Spain (1776-1822), Mexico (1822-48), and the United States (1848-1994). Today, visitors enjoy the history and beauty of the Presidio. Within its boundaries are more than 500 historic buildings, a collection of coastal defense fortifications, a national cemetery, an historic airfield, a saltwater marsh, forests, beaches, native plant habitats, coastal bluffs, miles of hiking and biking, and some of the most spectacular vistas in the world.
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park embraces a spectacular tract of mountain-and-valley scenery in the Sierra Nevada, which was set aside as a national park in 1890. The park harbors a grand collection of waterfalls, meadows, and forests that include groves of giant sequoias, the world's largest living things. Highlights of the park include Yosemite Valley, and its high cliffs and waterfalls; Wawona's history center and historic hotel; the Mariposa Grove, which contains hundreds of ancient giant sequoias; Glacier Point's (summer-fall) spectacular view of Yosemite Valley and the high country; Tuolumne Meadows (summer-fall), a large subalpine meadow surrounded by mountain peaks; and Hetch Hetchy, a reservoir in a valley considered a twin of Yosemite Valley.
Alcatraz Island
Out in the middle of the San Francisco Bay, the island of Alcatraz is a world unto itself. Isolation, one of the constants of island life for any inhabitant - soldier, guard, prisoner, bird or plant - is a recurrent theme in the unfolding history of Alcatraz. Alcatraz Island is one of Golden Gate National Recreation Area's most popular destinations, offering a close-up look at a historic and infamous federal prison long off-limits to the public. Visitors to the island can not only explore the remnants of the prison, but learn about the Native American occupation of 1969 - 1971, early military fortifications and the West Coast's first (and oldest operating) lighthouse. The island features many natural features as well - gardens, tide pools, bird colonies, and bay views beyond compare.
Death Valley National Park
Death Valley is a land of extremes. It is one of the hottest places on the surface of the Earth with summer temperatures averaging well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. It encompasses the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere at 282 feet below the level of the sea, and it is the driest place in North America with an average rainfall of only 1.96 inches a year. This valley is also a land of subtle beauties: Morning light creeping across the eroded badlands of Zabriskie Point to strike Manly Beacon, the setting sun and lengthening shadows on the Sand Dunes at Stovepipe Wells, and the colors of myriad wildflowers on the golden hills above Harmony Borax on a warm spring day. Death Valley is a treasure trove of scientific information about the ancient Earth and about the forces still working to shape our modern world. It is home to plants, animals, and human beings that have adapted themselves to take advantage of its rare and hard won bounty. It is a story of western expansion, wealth, greed, suffering and triumph. Death Valley is a land of extremes, and much more.
Golden Gate National Recreation Area
The Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) is one of the largest urban national parks in the world. GGNRA’s 75,398 acres of land and water extend north of the Golden Gate Bridge to Tomales Bay in Marin County and south to San Mateo County, encompassing 59 miles of bay and ocean shoreline. The park contains numerous historical and cultural resources, including Alcatraz, Marin Headlands, Nike Missile Site, Fort Mason, as well as Muir Woods National Monument, Fort Point National Historic Site, and the Presidio of San Francisco. These sites contain a variety of archeological sites, military forts and other historic structures which present a rich chronicle of two hundred years of history, including Native American culture, the Spanish Empire frontier, the Mexican Republic, evolution of American coastal fortifications, maritime history, 18th century and early 20th century agriculture, military history, California Gold Rush, Buffalo Soldiers, and the growth of urban San Francisco. Golden Gate National Recreation Area is also rich in natural resources—it is comprised of 19 separate ecosystems in 7 distinct watersheds and is home to 1,273 plant and animal species. With 80 sensitive, rare, threatened, or endangered species —including the Northern Spotted Owl, California Red-legged Frog, and Coho Salmon— the park has the fourth largest number (33) of federally protected or endangered species of all units in the National Park System.
Manzanar National Historic Site
Manzanar War Relocation Center was one of ten camps at which Japanese American citizens and resident Japanese aliens were interned during World War II. Located at the foot of the imposing Sierra Nevada in eastern California's Owens Valley, Manzanar has been identified as the best preserved of these camps. Manzanar is located 9 miles north of Lone Pine and 6 miles south of Independence, California.
Muir Woods National Monument
Until the 1800's, many northern California coastal valleys were covered with coast redwood trees similar to those now found in Muir Woods National Monument. The forest along Redwood Creek in today's Muir Woods was spared from logging because it was hard to get to. Noting that Redwood Creek contained one of the San Francisco Bay Area's last uncut stands of old-growth redwood, Congressman William Kent and his wife, Elizabeth Thacher Kent, bought 295 acres here for $45,000 in 1905. To protect the redwoods the Kents donated the land to the United States Federal Government and, in 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt declared it a national monument. Roosevelt suggested naming the area after Kent, but Kent wanted it named for conservationist John Muir. Muir Woods is located 12 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Old Spanish National Historic Trail
Santa Fe emerged as the hub of the overland continental trade network linking Mexico and United States markets—a network that included not only the Old Spanish Trail, but also the Santa Fe Trail and El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro. After the United States took control of the Southwest in 1848 other routes to California emerged, and use of the Old Spanish Trail sharply declined. Because of its rich history and national significance, the Old Spanish Trail has been designated as a national historic trail.
California National Historic Trail
The California Trail carried over 250,000 gold-seekers and farmers to the gold fields and rich farmlands of California during the 1840's and 1850's, the greatest mass migration in American history. Today, more than 1,000 miles of trail ruts and traces can still be seen in the vast undeveloped lands between Casper Wyoming and the West Coast, reminders of the sacrifices, struggles, and triumphs of early American travelers and settlers. More than 240 historic sites along the trail will eventually be available for public use and interpretation. The trail passes through the states of Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, Oregon, and California.
Mojave National Preserve
Rose-colored sand dunes, volcanic cinder cones, Joshua tree forests, and mile-high mountains are all part of the scene at Mojave National Preserve. Located in the heart of the Mojave Desert, the Preserve encompasses 1.6 million acres of mountains, jumble rocks, desert washes, and dry lakes. Plant and animal life varies by elevation. Desert tortoises burrow in creosote bush flats, while the black and yellow Scott’s oriole nests in Joshua trees higher up the slopes. Mule deer and bighorn sheep roam among pinyon pine and juniper in the Preserve’s many mountain ranges. Mojave Desert experiences change with the seasons. Infrequent winter snows sparkle on the mountains. With enough moisture, spring wildflowers carpet the desert with vivid colors. Summers are hot; hikers and campers explore the higher elevations such as Mid-Hills and the New York Mountains. The cooler temperatures of fall mark hunting season. A network of dirt roads offer year round opportunities to explore by 4-wheel drive vehicle.
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