Academics can harm kids at the preschool age. Help them learn otherwise

Academics can harm kids at the preschool age Help them learn otherwise

On September 25th, 2016, The Washington Post published an article by Moriah Balingit that highlighted the pressure that parents of kindergartners succumb to when it comes to their kids’ academic development. A study that she cites shows that the number of people who believed that kids have to learn to read by preschool age increased from 31 percent in 1998 to a crazy 80 percent in 2010. In response to this article, pediatric neurologist Martha Bridge Denckla wrote a letter to the editor, detailing the development of the brain between the ages of four and seven. Getting kids to use their brains in methods that they aren’t yet equipped to handle can result in adverse effects. The brain, says Denckla, is supposed to use that that period of maturation to create neurological pathways that help with speed in understanding at a later stage. Forcing a kid to learn alphabets and numbers when these pathways are under construction can affect quick comprehension later, no matter how we try to reverse the process.

The importance of play in early childhood development has been ground into our heads by our own know-it-all parents. Denckla proves that they’re right, however annoying that might be to admit. Trying to get our kids to learn how to read at the kindergarten age, when they’re supposed to be squiggling on paper that we’d call rubbish in kids but sophisticated abstract art in adults, hampers cerebral progress. But how do we deal with this? By the time our kids reach the right age for kindergarten, we’ve certainly forgotten all the lessons our betters taught us about the importance of childhood. All we can think of is getting those food-spilling, potty-spraying monsters out of the house for a few hours a day, when we can lie in bed with a magazine or do a little overdue dusting, catching up with three years’ worth sleep and chores. Some of us might even think to restart our careers, and if we’re working moms, that’s so many hours of creche time we can cut down upon.

If we were able to find places to leave our kids for a couple of hours everyday that allowed for the importance of child development as Denckla sees it, our problems would be solved. If there’s a play school near our houses that we trust, there’s nothing like it. If there isn’t, Montessori kicks in. Living in one of the country’s urban dwellings, all we have to do is visit Indian Montessori Foundation’s site and enter the name of our city, and it’ll give us a list of schools we can enroll our kids into. Instead of driving them to learn to read in a manner that they can’t handle, our kids will be guided through natural learning at their own paces.

There’s one other really great option that very few parents explore because it involves enduring an extra two years of the 24/7 monstrosities of a post-toddler. That’s unschooling. By the age to start kindergarten, actually, kids can mostly be trusted to remain in the same room as us and not cause destruction beyond repair without disturbing us too often. So, get a part-time, work-from-home job. Set up your work area in your kids’ bedroom/nursery. Surround them with stimuli like posters, picture books, basic alphabet and number guides, lots of paper, crayons, perhaps a blackboard and chalk. Give them limited access to an iPad and introduce them to alternative learning sites that they can navigate on their own. Schedule one hour of your day in which you talk to your kids in only English, or whichever language you’d like them to learn, so that they absorb pronunciation. Over the years, you could continue this process and not send them to school too, if you feel like your time and effort is worth it. Don’t worry about whether they’ll be able to live up to the same manner of academic progress that the other children their age show. Certificates are no marker of ability. After all, Malvika Joshi was admitted into MIT after being unschooled most of her life.

So, let’s shake ourselves up, moms, and stop worrying about what the right age to start kindergarten is. The brain development of children from 0 to 6 years is crucial, and we don’t want to mess with it just because we expect too much of them. Let them live their childhoods the way they should.