Formal Education (and Screens) Too Early Causes Later Delays

“Children are not coming into school with the hand strength and dexterity they had 10 years ago,” paediatric occupational therapist Sally Payne from the Heart of England foundation NHS Trust told The Guardian. More here

Early Academics is not doing the kids any favors:
“Early academic training somewhat increases children’s immediate scores on the specific tests that the training is aimed at (no surprise), but these initial gains wash out within 1 to 3 years and, at least in some studies, are eventually reversed. Perhaps more tragic than the lack of long-term academic advantage of early academic instruction is evidence that such instruction can produce long-term harm, especially in the realms of social and emotional development.

For example, in the 1970s, the German government sponsored a large-scale comparison in which the graduates of 50 play-based kindergartens were compared, over time, with the graduates of 50 academic direct-instruction-based kindergartens.[2] Despite the initial academic gains of direct instruction, by grade four the children from the direct-instruction kindergartens performed significantly worse than those from the play-based kindergartens on every measure that was used. In particular, they were less advanced in reading and mathematics and less well adjusted socially and emotionally.”

We are spending too much time imagining that we are teaching small children useful knowledge through screens and print over free, messy play. But think about it- do you learn more about how to make a cake and how it tastes by reading about it, or by baking and eating a cake- probably more than once?

Do you really understand the properties of water by reading about it and watching an educational video or ten if you haven’t ever been allowed hours and hours of mucking about in the water, making mud pies, digging out little streams, rivers, dams, and lakes in your backyard, by the side of a creek, at the lake? Everything you learn later through print, lectures, and media makes more sense if you already have the conceptual framework developed by actually just playing and messing about with mud, water, wood, stone, sand, grass, clay, bread-dough, flour, water, sugar, hills, and all that messy stuff that ought to be our children’s birth-right.

For young children, setting the table, counting out cookies or pieces of fruit to serve guests or buy at the grocery store, divvying up the legos or blocks to share with young friends, counting the seashells or buttons in a collection, sorting them into categories chosen by the child without outside interference, counting the stairs going up and down, counting spoonfuls of jam in a jam-cake, matching the shoes and socks, helping to weigh produce at the grocery store- all these things are more important tools for building math skills and the conceptual understanding for meaningful STEM knowledge thgan rote counting or other formal math skills. The rote counting or other rote memory math facts might as well be gibberish for all the good they do a child who has never learned a real world grasp of numbers, one to one correspondence, the concrete nature of the numbers he’s working with.

It’s like deciding to build a house by putting on the roof first, without any foundation or load bearing apparatus, with no beams supporting the roof beneath.

“Children must master the language of things before they master the language of words.”

—Friedrich Froebel, Pedagogics of the Kindergarten, 1895

“In one sentence, Froebel, father of the kindergarten, expressed the essence of early-childhood education. Children are not born knowing the difference between red and green, sweet and sour, rough and smooth, cold and hot, or any number of physical sensations. The natural world is the infant’s and young child’s first curriculum, and it can only be learned by direct interaction with things. There is no way a young child can learn the difference between sweet and sour, rough and smooth, hot and cold without tasting, touching, or feeling something. Learning about the world of things, and their various properties, is a time-consuming and intense process that cannot be hurried.” (more here)

Let them make messes, poke bugs, make an unsightly hole in your yard, get splinters and skinned knees and take a few tumbles. Let them be bored. Let them go barefoot, dig holes, climb trees, wash dishes, play in the sink, spill things, squish bread dough, drop pieces of bread into their glasses of water or milk and experiment with what floats and what doesn’t. Let them find out what happens when…. Give them the time, the space, the freedom, and the boredom that result in those real world experiences and experiments. Put away the screens, and don’t give in to the grumbling.

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