The issue of readiness is often overlooked by parents of preschoolers. It’s not surprising, since the dominate philosophy about learning in today’s culture is that “earlier is better.” The preschool years have become nothing more than a staging ground for later life—time to grow skills that will ensure their later success in school (Kindergarten readiness). Other experiences/skills that are vital to normal child development are often overlooked, such as play, story-time, crafts, music/finger plays, and time outside in nature.
Research has proven that there is no benefit to pushing early academics on young children. In fact, there can be considerable harm. Most preschoolers are not developmentally ready for formal academics. When parents insist on drilling their preschoolers in academics anyway, they run the risk of turning their children off to learning altogether. Early academics can strain young children’s eyes, leading to near-sightedness, and some developmental specialists believe that the inappropriate push down in curriculum, combined with the current loss of play time and other physical/creative activities, may explain the increase in learning disorders, psychological disorders, and behavior problems so common in children today ( from Home Grown Kids, by Raymond and Dorothy Moore.)
“When we instruct children in academic subject, or in swimming, or gymnastics, or ballet, at too early an age, we miseducate them; we put them at risk for short term stress and long term personality damage for no useful purpose. There is no evidence that such early instruction has lasting benefits and considerable evidence that it can do lasting harm.”
-David Elkind, Mis education: Preschoolers at Risk
Even when preschoolers learn to identify letters or numerals at a young age, that doesn’t mean they are ready to begin addition, subtraction, or reading lessons. Preschoolers need lots of practice counting and manipulating real objects before they are really able to comprehend the real meaning of numbers. And there is a big difference between learning the alphabet and learning to read. Pushing children into arithmetic or reading without the proper foundational experiences will cause confusion, frustration, and later, learning problems.
Clarification: Don’t think that being careful not to push early academics means that you are holding your children back or not exposing them to academics at all. We’re going for a balanced approach. The thing to do is watch your children for signs of readiness, interest, or natural learning. When you see those signs—when your children begin to ask you about letters and numbers—-you’ll know it’s time to begin short, play based lessons in the form of hands on activities and games. You can use store bought or home-made games like Candy Land, Memory, Lotto games, High-ho Cheerio and so on. Additionally, you can find all kinds of file folder games for free online. Your children will be having so much fun that they won’t even realize they are learning. No expensive “curriculum” required, no pressure; just have fun together and your children will learn.
Be sure to see the post, “The Truth About Early Academics” for more information (learn which is best–an academically based preschool/Kindergarten program, or a play based one.) Also consider reading my archives on “readiness.”
Click on the following links to learn even more about the latest research on the issue:
— Jane M.Healy, PH.D., Endangered Minds: Why Children Don’t
Think-and What We Can Do About It
-David Elkind, Miseducation: Preschoolers at Risk
-Dr. Raymond and Dorothy Moore, Home Grown Kids, Better Late Than Early
(To learn about what preschoolers SHOULD be learning, click over to “Preschool Goals”.)
Excerpts from Homepreschool and Beyond: A Comprehensive Guide to Early Home Education, used with permission.
© 2009, 2010 Susan Lemons all rights reserved.