Tuesday, April 21, 2015

What is learning?

Last week, I was really pleased to come across this article, which speaks about a new research showing that early academic achievements aren't necessarily beneficial to a child's learning process in the long run. Actually, the same principle has been discussed 25 years ago in the excellent book Better Late Than Early

Not long ago, we were at a social gathering with another family. Their children, aged 5 and 3, dazzled us all with a display of their mathematical and foreign language skills. Turns out that such things are now taught in private preschools. To me, however, it sounded more like parroting than actual learning, encouraged for the parents' bragging rights rather than for the children themselves. 

Of course it's possible to argue that each child learns at a different pace, and we've all heard of prodigies who have learned to play the piano at the age of 3, wrote advanced poetry by the age of 5, etc. However, here we are talking about a roomful of 3-year-olds who are all sat down in a circle and drilled until they memorize counting until 30, or the names of the days in the week in English (we're talking about children whose mother tongue is Hebrew, of course).

Naturally the daily drill is sugar-coated by fun, games, colorful flashcards and lots of positive reinforcement (clap hands! Clap hands! What clever little children!). However, I believe putting an emphasis on this kind of achievement hinders the child-led learning, free thinking and free play which are so important for young children's physical and mental development. Furthermore, the children are being robbed of the delight of learning for its own sake, of the thrill of discovery. They do what they do for rewards, attention, peer competition or in order to please their parents and teachers. 

Some will say that these are musings of a lazy parent who is unwilling to teach her children anything. I disagree. Encouraging children to memorize facts and rewarding them for it with sweets or stickers is easier than promoting their independent efforts to explore what interests them, let alone finding time to answer their many questions about life and the world we live in. 


MamaF said...

I can relate, we homeschool in Europe and it is a rather new and rare reality. I have a 15 yo girl, 13 yo twin boys, 11 yo girl and a 3 yo boy, we've been homeschooling now for 6 years. I follow their interests and I try to answer their questions and I have to say that it's much more time consuming than sending them to school,or having them follow your curriculum (as i did in the beginning ). So not 'lazy way ' at all ! But so so worth to see them blossom in their own different way, learning with joy and sharing it.

Vegas Mommy said...

I've felt like I don't teach my son enough when he's "behind" his preschooled peers, but I've come to realize (because he's home) that he learns at a different rate. He's ahead in some areas and behind in others BUT he learns at his own pace and he's learned a lot about subjects that interest him that his peers know nothing about (like sea life, the president/capitol, etc.) I just watch to see what's interesting to him and run with it until he's ready to move onto something else. For instance, right now we are learning to count to 100 and read, because he's given me signs that he's ready to learn. (Asking what signs are and breaking down the sounds or counting as high as he can then asking me what's next--and not forgetting--then practicing it over and over). Recently, he surprised me by doing simple addition, not written out of course, but reasoning that if there are 2 brothers and 2 sisters they will "need" 4 horses so they each have their own.

So at this age there is a lot of memorization without understanding (a lot of which can get lost if not applied) and there's some basic reasoning developing. My thought is the memorization is fine as long as it is applied so it locks that information in their minds.

As another note, even dogs can be taught basic math facts! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xGWAZtD3IsQ

Angela Gaddis said...

So good. I have 5 children and we homeschool and I constantly struggle between the 2 extremes. I can truthfully say I only feel like they are behind when I consider what other people think.

Shelley V. said...

I firmly believe that little ones should not go to preschool. If a mother has to work, her child is better off in a small, cozy daycare than in a big preschool. Playing in the dirt is a thousand times better for a young child then endlessly going through flash cards.

Anonymous said...

I have 9 children, 3-23 years old.

My observation on the subject of preschool education as an ex-overeager homeschool mom;
Kids will learn when they learn. Yes, you can do flash cards for 30 minutes every day and get your 3yo to parrot most anything. They won't really understand and retain it until later though.

I can start at 3 doing phonics and reading for half an hour a day and by the time they are about 6 they will be independent readers.

Or I can wait until the child is 5 1/2 and understands story lines in stories I am reading to them, and spend the same amount of time each day they can be reading by, uhh, 6.

So, yeah, don't stress it. It's much more important that they play in the dirt and stare at clouds.

Lady Anne said...

About twenty years ago, it was all the rage in America to show children - infants, really! - flash cards with words such as cerebellum to teach them to read at an early age. Such nonsense. One little girl said she wanted to be a neurosurgeon when she grew up "because it would keep her from getting bored". I think she had reached the ripe old age of six when she made this pronouncement. The child had NO idea was she was talking about, but Mom and Dad were certainly proud of her.

Jesse said...

Yes this is a slow curve for me but I am learning to relax. My boys ( 7 and almost 5) are bright, eager learners but really don't want to sit for more than 45 min. My eldest has learned through legos and shows an amazing engineering aptitude but still can't quite read. My middle had an interesting bend towards electronics. Both of these things could be future careers and both would be lost if b tty hey were in a traditional school setting. I must remember most of the brightest people rarely were trained until 7 or 8. I think letting go of a herd mentality is a hard thing to do but I believe these children are a gift from God and my husband and I must advocate for them, not the state.