Homepreschool and Beyond

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Why I’m so Adamant About the Importance of Readiness

Posted by homeschoolmentormom on May 31, 2010

        I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the issue of readiness, and why I’m so adamant about its importance.  It’s surprising to me that so many parents seem to believe it is a non-issue. 

Here’s my list of reasons:

 ~Tradition:  Yeah, I’m a bit of a traditionalist.  Formal academics have traditionally been saved until children reach the age of 5 or 6.  The preschool years were considered to be a unique, set-aside time that was special to both parents and children.  It was marked by close relationships between parent and child, real life experiences and lots of time for play, art, music and reading aloud (the epitome of a “traditional childhood”.) 

       In the last thirty years or so, there has been an incredible “pushdown” in curriculum.  What used to be reserved for Kindergarten or First Grade is now routinely taught to preschoolers—either outside the home or in.  The powers that be promised that this pushdown would result in higher test scores, higher IQ’s, higher graduation rates and greater overall academic success for the children throughout their lives.  However, this has not been proved true.  Instead of the expected boost in test scores, the result has been stressed children, an unprecedented increase in learning disabilities and attention disorders, as well as lower test scores than ever. 

       Is it any wonder?  Preschoolers haven’t changed, and yet what is expected of them has changed drastically.  This “experiment” has gone on long enough.  It’s time to return to the tried and true methods.  It’s time to give our children the time they need to be little, and the time they need to mature before they are introduced to formal academic lessons.

 ~Research: The issue of readiness has been studied for many, many years now.   All of the evidence coming out of the world of academia (college research) as well as the brain and sensory research being conducted by doctors and developmental psychologists support the importance of readiness.  The few contrary opinions come from those who are in the government school camp.  They commission studies to “prove” the benefit of early academics, early “intervention”, and early out-of-the-home care, especially in the lives of disadvantaged preschoolers (but make no mistake–their ultimate aim is mandatory government preschool for all preschoolers.)  The most famous of these studies, The Perry Preschool Project, seems to prove their point—that is, until their methods and conclusions are examined carefully.  For instance, the Perry Project studies disadvantaged children, comparing them to other disadvantaged children.  Even so, they apply their outcomes to all children (even children from normal, loving homes.)  This misapplication of the results is equal to doing research without a “control” group.  (Remember, according to Dr. Raymond Moore, author of Home Grown Kids, No study of normal children from loving homes has ever proved that there is any benefit to out-of-the-home preschool programs or early academics.) 

       This is just the beginning of the flaws.  A home-visit component was included in the study, but not considered in the results.  Teachers visited the home and family, working with the children and working with the parents, teaching them how to take better care of their children and how to provide an enriching home environment for them (a learning environment.) They even supplied appropriate books and toys, and taught the parents how to play with and read to their children.  However, they neglected to account for the home visits or include any of the changes made in the home and family when they reported the results of the study.  Instead, they credit any gains the children made to the preschool program only, even though home-life is well known to be one of the greatest predictors of school success: “…many studies indicate that parents are the biggest factor in academic success, particularly at the early ages. A 1999 study by Parker, Boak, Griffin, Ripple, and Peay examined the way that parent-child relationships affect school readiness. According to a report titled “Supporting Young Children as They Enter School,” this study concluded: “Main findings were that children have better school readiness outcomes when parents spent more time helping them at home. Parents that had a better understanding of the importance of play in child development also contributed to better cognitive outcomes for children.””  I believe that it is obvious that if gains were made, the changes in the home were the reason, not the children’s preschool attendance.

       Finally, when promoting the results of the Perry Preschool Project, they neglect to reveal that the study showed that the “gains” the children in the study made were short-lived, disappearing all together by the second grade.  For more information about these flawed studies, their exaggerations, and the truth about developmental research, read THIS wonderful article.  For another important article about early academics, click HERE; also investigate the tab, “Important Links.”

~The most important and famous experts in the field of child development believe in the importance of waiting for readiness; people such as Charlotte Mason, Dr. Jean Piaget, Dr. Raymond Moore, Dr. Ruth Beechick, Dr. Jane Healy, Dr. David Elkind, Dr. Lillian Katz, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, P.H.D., and many, many more.   

 ~Personal experience:  I taught preschool for more than eight years, in every type of setting:  Private daycares, a parent participation program, a college center where we trained college students who wanted to become preschool teachers, and later on, I provided home daycare.  In many of these settings the preschools had several different classes—sometimes more than one per age group.  In some centers I worked in one smaller classroom with one “set” of children, and in others, I worked in one large classroom where the children rotated through “stations” (80 or more children.)  In all those years, in all those schools, working with all those different children from many different types of families, I never came across a preschooler (age 4 or younger) who was ready for formal academics, and I never met a 3 or 4 year old who could read phonetically. 

       Now I’m not in denial; I know that there are gifted children out there who are developmentally ready for formal academics.  Some of the most gifted children of all teach themselves to read, or teach themselves math at a young age.  But these children are few and far between; they are unusual.  With the advent of the internet, however, it’s easy to click on blogs that describe these children’s special abilities.  Doing so makes parents of “normal” children feel as if their children are “behind” or not “doing enough”.  Don’t feel that way.  It’s O.K. for our children to be “normal”. 

 ~It’s a waste of time.  Why spend two or three years concentrating your child’s entire learning experiences on formal academics, when there is so much to learn through play, natural learning, and reading aloud?  Why concentrate exclusively on only one aspect of your child’s development, while overlooking the needs of the whole child?  Why spend years gluing beans on the letter “B”, when you could be engaging your child in creative art, creative play and exploration?   Why make alligators shaped like the letter “A”, when you could read about real alligators, learn where and how they live, and so on?  Which type of learning is going to be the most meaningful for your child—and which type of learning ignites the fire of a life-long love for learning?  Which provides that simple base of knowledge about the world (and the vocabulary to go with it) that will help your child in all his learning later (especially reading comprehension?)

        Most children who are raised in a responsive, enriching home environment “pick up” those academic skills (colors, letters, numbers, shapes, etc) on their own—especially if they have parents who take the time to talk to them and read to them.  Why spend years trying to teach them “facts” or “skills” that they are not ready for, when they will learn them in only days or hours a year or two later?! 

       I talk with parents all the time who insist that their children are ready for academics.  Some of them have children who are gifted; others have pushed their children every step of the way; most simply do what they think is expected of them.  Here are some questions that I think these parents should consider:

By concentrating on academics, are you overlooking other, more developmentally appropriate activities that your preschooler needs and enjoys?  Some parents tend to overlook play, art, music, and reading aloud in favor of workbooks and flashcards.

Will learning academics really help your child in the long run?  Studies have shown that children who participate in play-based preschool and Kindergartens actually do better in the long run than children who concentrate on early academics.  According to research, “children subjected to overly-academic programs tend to have more behavior problems and are less likely to be enthusiastic, creative learners and thinkers.” In fact, other research states that “By the end of their sixth year in school, children whose preschool experiences had been academically directed earned significantly lower grades compared to children who had attended child-initiated preschool classes. Children’s later school success appears to have been enhanced by more active, child-initiated early learning experiences. Their progress may have been slowed by overly academic preschool experiences that introduced formalized learning experiences too early for most children’s developmental status.”  (Read the entire article HERE.)  

 Are early academics best for your child emotionally? Roberta Golinkoff, author of Einstein Never Used Flash Cards: How Our Children Really Learn and Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less, says that “Research…shows that academic preschools offer children no long-term advantages academically, but makes them (children) more anxious.”

       Once again, I’d like to encourage parents who are taking an academic approach to reconsider their methods.  Refocus your homepreschool.  Learn about insects, the ocean, pets, plants, trains, etc.  Read, bake, dig, do art, sing, and play together.  Spend hours outside; take long nature walks.  Put formal academics at the periphery of your preschool time instead of the center of it. You and your children will be happier for it.

© 2010 Susan Lemons all rights reserved.


3 Responses to “Why I’m so Adamant About the Importance of Readiness”

  1. Mandy Mom said

    I couldn’t agree more. I know that I often struggle with the “are we where we should be”, and I have to remind myself- the kids are learning at their own pace.

    I know what I was learning in school, and my daughter is right along the lines of what I was learning (actually, a bit further in some areas) in 2nd grade. It frustrates me that some people think she is behind, when she is right where she needs to be. She just started 2nd grade! She doesn’t need to be reading novels yet. And it’s okay that she’s not doing multiplication or division yet (although, we are going to introduce that this year).

    And, by golly, it’s okay if my almost 3 year old can’t say his full name or recite the ABCs clearly!

    Whatever happened to letting kids be kids and enjoying that time with them, rather than pushing them into formal education before they are ready?

    I think it’s an ego issue on the parents part, personally. Yes, we do want our children to be intelligent, but we also want them to ENJOY learning!

    Anyway, thanks for your comment on my blog! Great post here!

    • Oh, that self-doubt and “adult peer pressure” can get pretty strong sometimes! But be confident that you are doing what’s best for your children. Whenever I used to get worried, I’d re-read “Home Grown Kids” or “Better Late Than Early” by the Moores. It always helped me put things in perspective.
      I agree–let’s let our kids be kids. Let’s let them have a traditional, old-fashioned, non-pressured childhood!

      BTW, my kid’s math curriculum doesn’t start multiplication until third grade…you’ve got nothing to worry about. Mastery is more important than “speed”, anyway.

  2. katepickle said

    I am so with you on this… what is the rush??? Children will learn when they are ready and motivated to do so. No one is really going to be ‘left behind’ if they haven’t been doing their flash cards from age two… I am sure that is a fear tactic designed by some marketing company to get us parents to buy useless things!

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