I was recently chatting with a friend whose child is attending a “school readiness” program at a private school. She joked that she wasn’t really sure what that actually involved.
I said that I felt the title was quite misleading as many parents enrol their kids in these programs expecting them to be given an ‘advantage’ over other children. The reality is however, that schools prefer all kids to begin at the same level.
It is also true that most kids will develop the skills necessary for school without any preparatory program at all. In fact, more parents are choosing to keep their pre-schoolers at home.
Psychologist Dr Gordon Neufeld actually suggests that our cultural fixation with “early learning” doesn’t help at all . I can’t help but wonder if he’s right.
Myth 1 – Early learning programs are essential for developing social skills
Studies show that children do not learn socialization through interacting with their same age peers. They learn these skills from interacting with adults and children of a variety of ages in a variety of settings (e.g real life).
Dr. Neufeld suggests that socialization is more complex than simply being able to get along well with peers. Socialization involves being able to get along with others while at the same time being true to oneself. Therefore it’s fair to say that what children learn in school is not true socialization – it’s actually conformity.
Myth 2 – Early Learning programs give kids an academic advantage
The well trained mind is written by a school teacher who spent a year preparing her daughter for school only to realize that her ‘preparedness’ was an inconvenience to a system based on children being at the same ‘level’. The inflexibility of traditional schooling to cater for her child’s intelligence drove her pursue an alternative: homeschooling.
Schools prefer children to be at the same level when starting out as it makes teaching easier. The school system sadly does a fairly inadequate job of catering for individual differences and academic abilities – it’s just not designed that way.
Children who struggle are more likely to get support than a child who is academically gifted. It is the bright and gifted children that end up suffering in a system that is designed to get a large group of children to meet minimum standards and outcomes. Therefore, even if an early learning program provides intensive education for a child they will still be required to conform to the same ‘level’ as their same-aged peers once they hit the school.
I also question whether our obsession with achievement and competition and wanting our kids to be ‘the best is actually healthy.
Myth 3 – Children need more than just learning at home
As parents, we are our child’s first teachers. We only have a small window to teach our children before we hand that responsibility over to someone else. Let’s not give it away too soon!
I always doubted my ability to teach my children which is why my eldest two attended early learning centers, occasional care, and Montessori programs when they were small. Now, I’ve gone full circle realizing that I can provide a stimulating learning environment at home. In fact, most parents can, but we’ve lost confidence in our ability to do this.
In a culture that teaches us that we are best to delegate our parenting role to ‘experts’ such as childcare workers, teachers and tutors, we have forgotten that as parents, we are the most important teachers our children will ever have.
Here are some examples of early learning in my house.
Fun with Boxes
I’ve found that although early learning programs can be fantastic – kids can also learn at home.
Reading, cooking, play with musical instruments, playdough, lego, playdates, craft, and even chatting in the car are all opportunities for learning to take place. This is the best kind of learning for pre-schoolers – natural learning. Children have a natural desire to learn and all we have to do as parents is be available to support their interests and provide opportunities for learning.
Early learning at home doesn’t mean literally being at home. Trips to the beach, the zoo, friends’ houses, the park and special events are all apart of a child’s learning and if we are wanting to take a more active involvement in our child’s education then we are wise to incorporate these activities in to daily life.
As parents, we need to regain confidence in our own ability to provide a loving and stimulating early learning environment for our children….and guess what, it’s free!