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Common Preschool Myths Debunked: Part 1

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on April 6, 2010

            It’s amazing to me that so many parents stubbornly hold on to these common  “preschool myths”–even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.  Many parents believe these myths so strongly that they will not even investigate any evidence that might disprove their premise.  I hope that you, my dear readers, will have open minds.  If you don’t believe me, look up the evidence I site and find out the truth for yourself.

Myth #1: We haven’t started doing anything educational with our young children yet; our children are “just playing.”

Truth:  All children are learning, all the time–whether we are aware of it or not.  All play is learning– especially child-initiated play.  Through play, children learn:

~Academic readiness skills/academics

~Thinking skills

~Speech skills

~Small and large muscle strength, control, and coordination

~Eye-hand coordination

~Play gives children the opportunity to:  Act out and deal with emotional upsets; practice social skills; develop their attention spans.

~Play is vital to normal child development. 

        Never underestimate the value of play, or your child’s need for it.  The best type of play for young children is “creative” or “dramatic” play—the type of play where your child comes up with “pretend” scenarios.  Examples:  A “Mommy” and her baby, a cowboy/cowgirl (“playing ponies” is what we used to call it for my daughter), a superhero, a doctor, firefighter, etc.  Preschoolers also need plenty of time for “manipulative” play; puzzles, play-dough, table top blocks, pattern blocks, rice bins, and so on.

 Myth #2:  Preschoolers need special, “educational” toys in order to optimize their brain development.

Truth:  All toys are educational.  Many of the toys that are labeled “educational” are simply labeled as such for marketing purposes. 

    The best toys are interactive and child-powered.  Avoid toys that are battery run or computer based like the plaque.  These toys often promise great educational benefits, but in truth, they fall short.  (Read the article, Hi-Tech Toys Offer No Educational Gain.  It is also wise to avoid toys that are based off  television shows or movies; these have limited play possibilities.   

     The best toys are the “traditional” toys.  They can be used in many different ways.  When your child plays with a Buzz Light Year action figure, he will always play “Space” or “Buzz.”  But when your child plays with blocks, he can use them as props for many different imaginary scenarios:  He could build a “space station” or add cars for a city; s/he could add plastic animals for a zoo; she could add small dolls to play mommy, or just practice building and stacking.  All traditional toys like blocks, cars, dolls, play kitchen, building toys (like magnetic building toys and Legos), balls, stuffed animals, plastic animals, and so on inspire endless opportunities for years of creative play.

 Myth #3:  The preschool years represent a limited “window of opportunity” when it comes to learning.  Preschooler’s brains are growing neural connections at an unprecedented rate.  We must take advantage of this brain development, or our children will lose the opportunity forever. 

Truth:  It’s true that it is very important to provide a loving, stimulating, and balanced environment for all children, no matter their age.  It’s also true that young children’s brains are growing new neural connections at an astonishing rate.  In fact, by the time children are 11 years old they have almost twice as many neural connections as adults do.  Starting at around age 11,  the unnecessary (unused) connections are pruned away. 

        Older children and adults continue growing and pruning neural connections throughout their lifetimes, and can learn just as well as young children can.  However, there are three areas of special concern when it comes to early brain development:

~Speech development:  Young children learn to speak by hearing speech and then copying it.  It is critically important for brain development and speech skills that you talk to your children all the time about everything you do (from birth.)  Make eye contact with your children, and engage them in “conversations” (yes, even babies!)  Conversations involve a “back and forth” interaction (i.e. baby makes a sound, you make the sound back, adding some speech as well; then wait for baby to respond again.)  It is also important to sing to your children, and read to them everyday (preferably many times.)  All these activities help to stimulate speech development and thinking skills.

~Language development (foreign language):  Baby’s brains are primed to learn language—any language.  So it’s true that it is easier for very young children to learn to speak a second language than it is for an adult (especially if you want to sound like a native speaker.)   However, this doesn’t mean that an older child/adult can’t learn a new language.  

     If you missed out on teaching a second language to your  young child, don’t worry about it; the window isn’t closed;  all is not lost.  Your children can pick it up later.  My daughter took up Japanese in high school (took 3 years of lessons from an exchange student) and I can vouch for the fact that interest and determination makes all the difference.

   If it is important to you that your child becomes fluently bilingual, you might want to introduce him to a foreign language early on (just be sure to do it in a fun, non-pressured sort of way.)  The best way to do this would be to find someone to spend time with him who speaks the language you want him to learn.  Have this person speak the language while playing with/reading to your child.  Ideas:  Foreign exchange students, extended family, etc.  If this is impractical, check out the resources offered by Sing ‘n Learn-especially the “Teach Me” CD’s.

~Music:  I don’t have any proof of it, but I’m convinced that the people who have developed a good “ear” for music–and those who seem to have “natural musical talent”–grew up in musical homes.  The amount of time you spend singing with your children and listening to classical/quality music together is directly proportionate to their later musical talent and “ear” or instinct for music (including pitch.)  It’s not only in the genes; it’s in the nursery (or the CD player?)  So turn off the TV and expose your children to music (see the tab, “My Articles”, then scroll down to “Why Music Matters for Preschoolers” for more information.)

         What about teaching very young children to read or do math?   If their brains are developing so rapidly, shouldn’t we take advantage of that growth and push them ahead academically?  I’ll address that in my next post.

 For more information about brain development, read Endangered Minds: Why Children Don’t Think-and What We Can Do About It, and Your Child’s Growing Mind:  Brain Development and Learning From Birth to Adolescence, by Jane M.Healy, PH.D.

 © 2010 Susan Lemons all rights reserved.


4 Responses to “Common Preschool Myths Debunked: Part 1”

  1. Silvia said

    Yes, I’m with you, I don’t know what it is that makes us fall for the same bad principles. I’m always reading those who think that when we speak about early childhood we are trying to hold their children back from learning well, fast, and early.
    It has to be lack of faith, or that they hold small and insignificant goals very dearly (such as writing or reading a three letter word), versus a more godly and ambitious childhood experience.

  2. Silvia said

    Susan, thanks for telling me your book touches on spiral programs (You wrote a great book, Susan, I talked about you here http://educandoenelhogar.blogspot.com/2010/04/potpurri.html and I’ll keep doing it. I feel totally lucky and spoiled to have your book and friends like you. Now I’ll be reading that part about spiral curriculum for history before posting again on the topic. I think spiral and mastery play different roles in different subjects, and it all depends also on how we make use of those programs, but definitely, knowing what they are about puts us in a better place on how to proceed. That’s very intrinsically tied to our philosophy of education. Many are more slaved to the materials and love the ‘practical’ or tangible results they get from the worksheets, and forgo mastery, many believe that jumping from topic to topic, asking questions and gathering information is learning. However, most of homeschoolers, in time have tried a bit of everything until they finally ‘click’ with a philosophy of education and in the process all mostly understand where their children are far better than school teachers that change every year, from school to school, and that are unfairly constrained to educational politics. It’s a very interesting matter. We all should continue discussing it in posts or conversations.


    • Thanks again, Silvia! I’m glad the book has been a help/encouragement to you.
      BTW, so you don’t have to hunt: I talk about spiral vs. mastery in chapter 25-Choosing and Using Curriculum, first grade and up.
      It is an important topic, and one that new homeschoolers should be aware of.

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