Everyday I hear and read about parents comparing their toddler’s abilities to name shapes, recite the alphabet, count to 100, and label/identify a vast array of colors.
I’m sure these parents mean well and want the best for their child, but unfortunately knowing the ABC’s and 123’s is not the be all and end all.
In fact, many of these children who can read at 18 months and count backwards from 100, are lacking some of the basic skills which are a better indicator of future success than are early academic skills.
Here are some important foundation skills that children learn when they are left to play freely:
- social skills (turn taking, sharing, eye contact, joint attention, basics of conversation)
- problem solving
- reasoning (if…then…)
2 Issues Children Are Currently Faced With
Learning Academic Skills in Early Childhood
At some point, educators (but most likely policy makers), decided that children should be prepared for the first grade before entering the first grade. This means that Kindergarten seems to be the new Grade 1.
Children in Kindergarten classes across North America are expected not only to know the alphabet and letter sounds, but to be able to read at a certain level.
Less focus is being placed on learning through play.
In fact, this push for early academic skills is trickling down into preschools.
But more and more studies are showing that preschool should not be about direct teaching and learning academic skills.
As a result, parents (who trust the education system) are pushing their children harder and harder to keep up with the demands.
However, according to many well known child development theories, children are not ready to learn to read and write at the age of 3, 4 or even 5.
This time should be spent in experiential play and learning, setting the foundation skills.
Would you try to teach your 3 month old how to walk? I’m guessing the answer is no.
We all know that a child first needs to hold his head up, roll over, sit up independently, crawl (although some babies do skip this stage) and finally walk.
A 3 month old does not have the muscle development or coordination to get up and walk. Just like a 3 year old (or 4/5 year old) does not have the brain development to learn to read/write.
I am thrilled that where my children go to school (Ontario, Canada), the curriculum for 4 and 5 year old’s was revamped and put into action in 2014 and now is focused on child led, play based learning.
My son’s kindergarten classroom included an art station, a building corner, a dramatic play area as well as a book nook.
Perhaps we should take a look at the Finish school system where children are not taught to read until the age of 7, yet in grade 8, Finish children almost always score higher than North American students on testing.
In the U.S., Common Core Standards are quite the topic of debate and rightfully so.
Why do 4 year old’s need to undergo standardized testing? 4 year old’s should be outside playing!
Many issues are arising due to a lack of play in young children.
For example, The Washington Post recently published the article The decline of play in preschoolers and the rise in sensory issues.
This shows that play is important for so many skills. In addition, mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression are on the rise in young children as a result of too much pressure to succeed at a young age.
Did you know that your child’s vocabulary is one of the best indicators of future success* (and more specifically reading and writing)?
However, most preschool and Kindergarten classrooms do not put much focus on vocabulary development.
*Read page 4 specifically
Early Introduction to Electronics
Young children are being handed electronics much to early, and this includes school. As a result they are losing out on the many skills that can be obtained through play.
Just take a look at this information about 2 year old’s and their use of screens: Tots as Young as 2 Use Tablets, and Parents Are Worried, ASHA Survey Finds.
As a parent, you probably make sure that your child isn’t eating too much candy and as they get older you warn them of the dangers of drugs and alcohol, yet why is nobody concerned about how much time their child spends in front of a screen?
My guess is that the manufacturers of electronics and so called educational apps want you to believe that your child is learning.
However, I can assure you what a 2, 3 or 4 year old is learning by tapping on a tablet or mobile phone is not the same as what they would be learning through hands on play and through conversations with others.
In addition to not learning the basic foundation skills through play when a young child is given unlimited access to screens, they are also at higher risk for weight issues and obesity.
Studies have also found that many young children now have TV’s in their rooms or are given tablets or mobile phones to take to bed with them to “help them fall asleep”.
Unfortunately this will not result in quality sleep for your child.
Children need screen free, uninterrupted sleep in order for their brains to develop.
I recently read a post in a parenting forum where a mother asked “how much screen time is too much for my 2.5 year old?”.
One mother responded saying that she does not limit her 2 year old’s access to screens because he only watches educational shows and plays educational apps.
She went on to say that he is very bright and can count to 20 and sing the ABC song, and he knows his primary colors too, so she is not concerned about his development.
This mom stated that she was quite fascinated by how smart he was and that because of his use of screens he would be ahead of many other kids because he knows the ins and outs of navigating a tablet so well and won’t have to learn this in preschool or kindergarten.
Other parents seemed very impressed.
I wanted to comment but decided my answer would be much to long so I chose to write an article instead. Perhaps I will go back to the forum and post a link to this article.
I have heard several parents say that because technology is all around us children must learn it at an earlier age.
Here is why I must disagree with this statement.
I know quite a bit about technology and electronics and I didn’t get my first cell phone (which was not a smart phone) until I was 25. I sent my first email when I was 20. I am now able to build websites.
So I can assure you that if your child doesn’t have access to a tablet or smart phone prior to the age of 6 (just a random number I chose, I could have said 8 or even 10) he/she will still figure out how it all works and will be caught up to the 2 year old who knows how to navigate a tablet, in no time.
Children Need Foundation Skills To Be Successful Adults!
These are the types of skills that children learn by playing and by exploring the world around them.
The skills I am referring to include vocabulary development, critical thinking, prediction and reasoning skills, social skills, problem solving, etc.
These are the skills that will allow children to tackle challenging academic tasks (once they are ready). Having these skills will also allow children to become pros with technology as this area is constantly changing!
I’m going to say it again, children learn best through play! They need to explore their environments and choose what interests them.
If your child is under the age of 3, stay away from electronic toys that promise to teach your child academic skills.
Without the building blocks that are learned through play, there is no need to focus on academic skills.
What they do need is a parent interacting with the child (not always, children do need to play on their own as well) in an unstructured environment! Academic skills in early childhood should be taught through play. For example, children can learn to count by counting the rocks that they found on a nature hike.
Keep in mind that this article is meant for parents of young children.
I absolutely think that electronics, technology and game based learning have helped many people to learn and thrive (by people I mean young adults and adults).
What are your thoughts on the push for early academic skills on preschoolers? Is it causing more harm than good? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.