Early Childhood Development: Focus on Input, Input, Input

If you have read any of Doman’s work on early childhood education, you will be familiar with his strong recommendations not to “test” children on what they have learned. If you aren’t familiar, what Doman says is essentially this: children hate to be tested and it is the quickest way to put them off learning. And if you want your child to enjoy learning, don’t test them. So how do we know what they’re learning if we can’t test them? Doman recommends giving your child problems to solve rather than testing.

To be honest, giving problems to a child and testing seem almost the same to me, but here are some examples to differentiate the two based on Doman’s explanations:

What Constitutes Testing?

  • Testing your child is pointing to a word and asking him to read it out to you.
  • Testing is giving your child a mathematical equation and asking him to give you the answer.

What Does Giving Your Child Problems to Solve Involve?

  • Showing your child two flashcards and asking him to point to the one that says “insert word here”. For example, you hold up the words “dog” and “cat” and ask your child to point to the word that reads “dog”.
  • Showing your child two red dot cards and asking him to point to the one that represents “insert number here”. For example, you hold up the red dot cards for “twenty” and “twenty-one” and ask your child to point to the card that shows “twenty”.

Doman’s recommendation is to give your child three problems to solve per session. This method of problem solving gives your child a 50-50 chance of getting the answer right so how do you know he isn’t just guessing and fluking it? Well, if he gets all three problems right, his chances of getting it right has gone from 50% to 12.5%. And the more problems he solves correctly, the lower the odds are that he fluked it.

Like I said, both methods still sound an awful lot like testing to me, but it works for some parents. It did not work for me. I stopped giving Gareth problems when he didn’t seem interested in solving them. For a long while it seemed like he was the “slower” one between him and his older brother. He even scored the nickname “Hercules” while his brother was dubbed “Aristotle” because he seemed to be more about brute force and less about intellectual prowess. There were many jokes about how Gavin would be the brains while Gareth was the brawn.

In our experiences, you don’t have to test your children to find out if they are learning. Through your day to day activities, your will eventually reveal to you what he has learned. All you have to do is be patient and keep focussing on input, input, input – especially when your child is very young.

Although I know the theory behind input and output, it doesn’t mean I never question it. I confess there were times when I did ask myself if Gareth simply wasn’t answering because he didn’t understand or he didn’t know the answer. Then I learned that Gareth didn’t answer because he didn’t want to answer. Although it could mean that he didn’t know the answer, there were times when he didn’t answer because he felt disinclined to do so.

There are times when Gareth will ask to nurse by saying “nen nen” which is the Chinese word for breast milk. Then there are times when he will indicate he wants to nurse by crawling into my lap, shifting himself into the nursing position and tugging at my shirt while saying “eh eh eh”. A couple of times I wanted him to say he wanted “nen nen”, so I feigned ignorance and asked him, “What do you want Gareth?” Instead of saying “nen nen” which he clearly knew, he continued to tug at my shirt and say “eh eh eh”. If I continued to pretend I didn’t know what he wanted, he would start to fuss.

Another example is Mickey. Gareth loves Mickey. He stops everything to watch Mickey and if you tell him you’ll put Mickey on TV, he will stop fussing immediately. But when I ask him to get Mickey for me or to show me where Mickey is, he’ll pointedly ignore me and continue about his own business. There are many similar incidences with words and objects I know he recognises but he refuses to acknowledge. And if Gareth is like this, then I’m sure there are many other children out there like him. So even if your child does not appear to be absorbing anything from your efforts to teach, I would persist because he really is learning.

And here’s a little inspiration:

Recently Gareth rewarded my efforts by demonstrating the recognition of the word “Dad”. Gareth and I walked past a painting that Gavin and I had worked on together while Gareth was napping. Gareth pointed to the word “Dad” and said, “Dad”. Although I have taught him the word “Dad” with flash cards, I did not tell him that the word on the painting was “Dad”. I was delighted when he read the word without prompting, but I kept my excitement under wraps with the possibility that he had fluked it. However, since that first time, he has been back to the painting on two separate occasions and repeated the word “Dad”.

This was the painting:

So this is my advice: do not be discouraged if your child is not like the children you see on Youtube who readily read words back when prompted. Stop testing, stop feeling frustrated and just focus on input, input, input.

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of Figur8.net (a website on parenting, education, child development) and RightBrainChild.com (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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