We certainly should work on having smarter kids. Particularly since it seems adults are going the other way.
After all, it is adults, often leaders, who refuse to acknowledge the evidence that stares them right in the face. They make decisions and policies that seem designed to hurt, rather than help.
Did you think I was referring to climate change? Or energy policies?
I’m actually referring to education and how our policy makers seem to make so many brainless decisions.
Despite a truckload of evidence that proves forcing early learning on children can be detrimental, education policy makers just keep heaping on the pressure at younger and younger ages.
Their decisions and demands are stealing play from children and robbing them of their childhoods.
The oldest Goddess had to take a test to determine her learning level when she started kindergarten this year.
The Best Start Kindergarten Assessment began in all government schools in New South Wales, Australia, in 2010. This mandatory test is designed to determine which children need extra help.
What it actually does is put pressure on parents, preschools and daycare centres to make these little people ‘school ready’. It creates an atmosphere of competition that allows little time for children to just be kids.
There is plenty of evidence to show the detrimental cognitive and psychological effects of children missing free time for unstructured play, creative pursuits and daydreaming.
Schools were once the place where you would go to learn to read and write. Now, there is an expectation that you can already do this to some extent before you even get there.
Education is not a race.
Professor David Elkind
A GARDEN FOR CHILDREN
Kindergarten literally means ‘garden for the children’.
This term was coined by German education advisor Friedrich Frobel in 1840. It reflected his belief that children should be nurtured and nourished ‘like pants in a garden’.
It is used worldwide today to describe either preschool or the start of primary school (depending on the country and state).
Now, halfway through the year, tests are the norm for the Goddess. She participates in a regular spelling exam.
I recently visited her classroom as part of the school’s open day. I was all at once awed and a little dismayed by what I saw.
An oversized, internet-ready screen replaced the giant blackboard that was traditionally the centrepiece of any classroom. This was impressive and I appreciate the practicality of it. It did make me feel a little nostalgic for simpler days.
The walls were decorated with pictures you would expect to see in any kindergarten room. The tables told another story.
Instead of the handful of worksheets and mountains of drawings that used to represent kindergarten life, there were mountains of worksheets, a spelling book, a writing book and a couple of drawings.
Numerous studies have shown that early formal learning may initially show good results, but these tend to even out within a few years. In fact, it does not make smarter kids.
More alarming, there is a clear link between increased indicators of stress and mental health problems and lack of play opportunities for children during the second half of the 20th century, according to a University of Cambridge report, School starting age: the evidence.
Some research suggests formal education for children under the age of seven can even lead to anti-social behaviour as they grow older.
MORE PLAY FOR SMARTER KIDS
So, little Jimmy can read, write and calculate all by the time he’s turned six. But at what cost? Those temporary bragging rights won’t mean a thing if he’s struggling when he’s 12. Perhaps he’s lost interest and is tired of learning overload. What if the stress of school is making him depressed? Maybe he is acting in an anti-social way because he didn’t get the chance to learn important social skills in kindergarten. He was too busy writing books and filling in numeracy worksheets.
Some would argue that little Jimmy learned the social skills while at daycare or preschool. Others claim these early lessons don’t stick without the time and space to reinforce them as the children begin to grow out of the self-centred stage, typical of toddlers and preschoolers. Most children are still quite self-centred at the age of five (the average age for starting kindergarten in Australia).
Australia has one of the youngest school starting ages in the world.
Depending on what month a child is born, he or she can start school as early as four years old.
Children in Finland, Shanghai and Singapore do not start formal school until they are seven.
It is interesting to note that children from these countries have some of the best academic standards in the world. Clearly, starting formal education early does not make smarter kids.
EARLY LEARNING DOES NOT GUARANTEE SMARTER KIDS
More than 40 years ago the German government-commissioned research which showed the kindergarten graduates less advanced in reading and mathematics by grade four came from academic-based kindergartens, rather than play based kindergartens. Their social and emotional skills also suffered.
Forcing too much material onto the developing minds of young children may inadvertently push children into looking like they have ADHD when they might not, according to a professor at Vanderbilt University.
In his book, The Intuitive Parent: Why the Best Thing for Your Child is You, Stephan Camarata, Professor of Psychiatry, writes about the importance of intuitive play on shaping the brain and developing reasoning ability and problem-solving.
Professor Camarata refers to research that shows “play based interactive learning is a key foundation for language development and many other aspects of reasoning and social skills.”
It also plays a vital role in shaping foundations for a child’s understanding of science, maths and reading.
Professor Camarata claims a large percentage of college students in the United States have a “dearth of thinking ability”. He says this can be linked to early education and “rote learning way of teaching preschoolers and even toddlers”.
The pressure on daycare centres and preschools, not to mention parents, to make kids ‘school ready’, makes this extra alarming.
Every moment of a child’s day must be documented by daycare and preschool staff to show how each activity can be related to learning. More than one has lamented the fact that less creative and play activities are offered as more attention is focused on numbers and letters.
SO HOW DO WE GET SMARTER KIDS?
No point in blaming the teachers for creating an atmosphere of information overload rather than a garden for children.
What you CAN do is spend time playing with them. Don’t buy into the stress of competing for results during the early years of school.
Professor Camarata recommends using intuitive parenting to help children excel.
If daycare is a must because of work commitments, consider centres that have a Montessori approach to teaching. This teaching style seeks to develop natural interests and activities rather than use formal teaching methods.
Try to avoid overloading children’s free time with activities that do not encourage imaginative play and creativity. These are the cornerstones of developing resilient, innovative thinkers who excel at reasoning and problem-solving.
Wishing you and your children lots of play time and a gleeful week, Tamuria.