When my grandfather went to University, there were only 500 students in the entire University. People often did not complete highschool and left after their second year to get jobs. These days, there are numerous courses at every University and even more students. The majority of working adults have attended a University and have at least one degree, some two or more. The world is becoming more and more competitive and it is only natural for parents to want to give their children the best headstart in life that they can.
Although there is a lot of controversy over early childhood development programs – whether they work, whether they are stressing out our children, whether they are even necessary, etc. – the fact that the early childhood development industry is growing indicates that more and more parents are looking into this subject. But as much as parents are busy signing up their babies and toddlers into special programs designed to enhance their development, they also want living proof that these programs actually work and so they ask around.
“What program is your child doing? Has it helped him?”
It is only natural to question these programs because many are often attacked by the experts. Take, for example, the recent class action lawsuit against the program “Your Baby Can Read” (which is apparently based largely on The Today Show report about the program and you can read the counter arguments at Larry Sanger). It has been said by experts that such programs are useless because “children cannot really learn to read until they are 4 or 5 years old because the brain has yet to develop the cognitive ability”.
I cannot speak specifically about the program Your Baby Can Read because I used a variety of methods for teaching my sons to read (Your Baby Can Read being one of them, but also Doman, Little Reader, my own flashcards, and lots and lots of book reading), but I do beg to differ about the “expert” claims that children below the age of 4 or 5 years old cannot read. If you have been an early reader of my blog, you will know that my son Gavin, who will be turning 4 at the end of this month, has been reading for quite some time now.
It has been claimed that young child aren’t really reading, they are simply memorising the word. Excuse me, but I don’t understand how that differs from reading? It was said that the child cannot read once you take the word out of the context that it has been used in – for instance, a child can recognise the word “fish” on a flashcard, but if you show him the word “fish” in a different context, he cannot read it. I found that Gavin could read the words in different contexts just fine. He read menus, sign boards, books, my text messages – even my handwriting (not in cursive, of course, but words that I printed out). If that isn’t reading, then I don’t know what is.
The other early childhood development program that often receives a lot of questions is Right Brain education. A lot of parents send their children, but I’ve seen parents and their children come and go. Many often ask me about how my children are doing – are they advanced? The problem is that I don’t believe my children have been in the program long enough for me to comment. How can you measure the progress of a child on himself? If you performed a study, you could take the average performance of the children as a whole versus the normal development of children who have not done the program, but how can you look at an individual child and decide whether he is doing better with the program?
The other problem is individual variation. One testimonial from a boy who took Shichida classes revealed that although most of his peers started showing abilities in Kindergarten, his abilities did not begin manifesting until he was in Primary School. Most parents are impatient for results because they want to know that the money they paid for all these classes is well spent but they often fail to give the program enough time. I like to take Suzuki’s view point on this: if you stop your efforts too soon, your child not only loses the chance to develop his talent, but he also loses whatever ability he has developed since.
I learned this lesson with Gavin when I first started teaching him Sign Language. When, after a few months, he didn’t appear to be signing back to me, I gave it up completely. Then, months down the track, after no further input from me, he suddenly made his first sign. I immediately started signing to him again, but realised I had lost so many months of teaching opportunities all because I gave up too early.
The problem with early childhood development is that it is sometimes simply too early to tell whether a program is working or not. It’s one of those things where you either have faith that it works and continue to do it, or you give it up never knowing whether it would have worked for your child.