There is a lot of controversy over early learning. Some parents are all for it, others ask, “What’s the rush?”
Robert Titzer (creator of “Your Baby Can Read“) and Doman have said that “children love to learn”.
Doman has numerous books to show how parents can utilise this innate love for learning to help their children learn to read, do Math, develop encyclopedic knowledge and be physically superb. Indeed, The Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential – founded by Glenn Doman in 1955 – has produced many amazing individuals. They showed that you could teach children to do anything and do it well from a very young age.
According to John Medina, in his latest book “Brain Rules for Baby“, the brain is not interested in learning. It is interested in surviving. A child’s brain does not acquire knowledge for the sake of knowledge – it does not “love to learn”. It learns to in order to survive. A child’s focus is safety first, learning second. It is like Maslov’s Hierarchy of Needs – if you do not meet your child’s basic need to feel safe, he cannot progress to the next level to learn.
So what does that mean for early learning? Exactly what Doman, Shichida, TweedleWink and all the rest have been saying all this time – meet all your child’s basic needs (food, sleep, attention, love) and then teach with love. If your child is not having fun, you stop. Nowhere are parents told to keep pushing their children to accept more knowledge when they don’t want it. However, there is a very real danger of parents (even with the best of intentions) losing sight of these basic requirements when they are too focused on the goal of developing their children.
John Medina talks about the danger of hyper-parenting and the baby race (e.g. my baby is better than your baby). I can certainly see why his warnings are justified because it is easy to slip into comparisons. If your child is advanced, it is easy to get smug about it and want to show off your child’s skills (which adds unnecessary stress to your child who has been turned into a circus performer). If your child appears to be behind, it is easy to get worried about it (which also adds stress to your child who feels he is not up to his parents’ expectations).
The potential problems of early childhood education is not in the program itself, but in the parents – their motivations and their expectations of their children. The wrong motivations and the expectation to perform are the dangers that can destroy a child, especially when the expectation turns to anger when the child fails to perform.
Do I still believe in early childhood education? Yes, I do.
Most early childhood education programs work on the understanding that young children find learning easy. They absorb information quickly and easily. Montessori, Doman and Shichida all talk about the importance of the first six years of a child’s life where children are capable of learning at an exponential rate that would run rings around some of the most brilliant adults.
Medina says that “children learn to survive”. Well, if you’re going to survive, you had better learn fast. I don’t see any contradiction to a child’s capability of learning. A child is also capable of learning a lot of things – you have to if you’re going to survive. The only requirement parents need to fulfill to ensure that their child is capable of learning is to make sure all his basic needs are met. And to make sure that their child continues to absorb new information at that amazing rate, they have to provide the right, gentle, loving and simulating environment.
If your child enjoys learning how to read, then why not? If your child enjoys learning about Math, then why not? Young children have shown the ability to get obsessive about learning a specific subject so what’s wrong if the subject happens to be physics instead of how to build a tower of blocks?
At the end of the day, I think the message is: don’t push, don’t force, and don’t expect anything. Just offer and encourage.