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Parental Anxiety Over Toddler Learning:

What's the Rush?

 

Q. My neighbor brags about all the things her child is able to do because of the expensive preschool he goes to every day. He's in to computers and all that, and can write his name and do worksheets. Meanwhile, our preschool is at our church and is held just three times a week for just a couple of hours. There's no computer; there's just a sandbox and a guinea pig, stuff like that. Our child is 4 and isn't even close to knowing how to read and write. Are we failing our little boy?


A pox on all those anxiety-producing "experts" who have gotten parents to believe that preschoolers need to be drilled in their math facts with flash cards, looking at worksheets with polysyllabic dinosaurs' names and being expected to "read" them, and writing in cursive before the first day of kindergarten or they'll lead a lesser life. A pox!

 

Don't ever compare children, not in the same family, and not in the same school. The baby who walks and talks late tends to be the most thoughtful, intelligent, and kind adult. The child who seems dominant in preschool play because of early verbal ability tends to get eclipsed later on when a shallow grasp of simple command words doesn't cut it in history and science classes.

 

But yes, there's a lot of parental anxiety over student progress, even in the sandbox stage. But there shouldn't be. Relax! Enjoy your child's childhood! Watch expectantly as your child develops at his own pace!

 

Here's a great quote that ought to be gently shared with parents such as you describe:

 

All kids are gifted; some just open their packages earlier than others. -- Michael Carr

 

Over and over again, the studies of preschool "education" programs show that any advantage whatsoever that these drills and "classes" might give to little kids completely vanish by about third grade. Any benefit of all-day kindergarten is erased within a year or two, as well. By mid-grade school, you cannot tell the difference on classroom performance, test scores, behavior, or any other measurement, between a child who came to school "prepackaged" with expensive preschool "jump-starts," and the one who pretty much spent the preschool years in the sandbox.

 

Actually, the only prerequisite to true academic performance on down the road is a preschool child who knows how to behave: how to sit still, how to be quiet, how to share, how to ask "please" and say "thank you," how to deal with a bully, and how to trust and enjoy adults and other children.

 

The bottom line is, it's never OK to push intellectual drills or put pressure on young children to get into academics prematurely. Putting them onto computers, or using TV as a "teaching tool," are especially bad practices.

 

But it's ALWAYS a great idea to observe them and listen to them, and if they're asking for books and writing materials, to give them the age-appropriate tools for learning without any pressure or expectations.

 

Here are some great ideas from the book Read to Me: Raising Kids Who Love to Read, by Bernice E. Cullinan:

 

         Infants like action nursery rhymes; love to listen to nursery songs and lullabies; love listening to Mother Goose verses as they are rocked; love to see babies in books; imitate actions of children in books; participate in the sounds of animals in books; parents should note "The Three R's" for reading to young children: rhythm, repetition and rhyme

 

         Toddlers like to read the same books over and over; can repeat Mother Goose rhymes by heart; like short, rhyming stories; like large, clear, realistic pictures; like to name objects in books and magazines; like bathtub books and toy books

 

         Preschoolers play with language and nonsense sounds; love to say repetitive phrases from books along with you as you read to them; love to fill in the gaps when you purposely leave words out; may create an imaginary friend; are fearful of the dark and strangers; like simple folktales but may find fairy tales too scary; struggle for independence; increasingly use words to express themselves, rather than behaviors

 

Homework: Book, "Endangered Minds," by Jane Healy (Simon & Schuster, 1999), especially as a warning against technology.

 

By Susan Darst Williams www.ShowandTellforParents.com Ages & Stages 121 2008

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