Faster Isn’t Better

“Why were America’s children better readers in the mid 1900’s than they are now that we have TV, computers and a rush to get kids to read younger and faster?” The answer: faster isn’t better! “Children must master the language of things before they master the language of words“ —Friedrich Froebel, Pedagogics of the Kindergarten, 1895 In that one sentence, Froebel, the father of the kindergarten, expressed the essence of early-childhood education. Children are not born knowing the difference between red and green, sweet and sour, rough and smooth, cold and hot, or any number of physical sensations. The natural world is the young child’s first curriculum, and it can only be learned by direct interaction with things. There is no way a young child can learn the difference between sweet and sour, rough and smooth, hot and cold without tasting, touching, or feeling something. Learning about the world of things, and their various properties, is a time-consuming and intense process that cannot be hurried. The modern science of how preschoolers learn demonstrates that the logical structure of reading and math requires *syllogistic reasoning abilities on the part of the child (*Reasoning from the general to the specific or a deduction).  Most young children do not attain this form of reasoning until the age of five or six.  It makes little sense to concentrate heavy-handed instruction in reading and math at age three.  A balanced approach is more appropriate. The theory is borne out by longitudinal studies that show that children who have been enrolled in non-balanced programs eventually lose whatever gains they made vis-à-vis control groups by second or third grade. The guiding principle of early-childhood education is, then, the matching of curriculum and instruction to the child’s developing abilities, needs, and interests. This principle is broadly accepted and advocated by most early-childhood educators. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has issued a policy statement entitled “Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early-Childhood Programs.” There is also evidence that when teachers push children who may not be developmentally ready, it can backfire and a child can lose motivation. Yet there is a continuing call for preschools to engage in the heavy handed academic training of young children, particularly memorization reading. Why, when we know what is good for young children, do we persist in miseducating them, in putting them at risk for no purpose? The short answer is that the movement toward accelerated academic training of the young is not about education. It is about parents anxious to give their children an edge in what they regard as an increasingly competitive, technical and global economy.  That may be well intentioned but for most children it can be a big mistake. Be smart, choose a preschool that introduces academics to preschoolers in a systematic, age-appropriate fashion.