Saturday, October 3, 2015

Jewels of Astonishing Worth Part 3 - Do preschoolers need academic instruction?

Sending a child to first grade without having had several years of formal or semi-formal academic instruction almost, these days, amounts to parental neglect as far as most parents or schools see it.  Middle class parents routinely consider two or three day preschool for academic preparation even when a parent stays home to care for children, and barring that, the at-home parent expects to begin lessons of some sort by age two or three.

Charlotte Mason discouraged formal lessons before the age of six, for developmental reasons.  Prior to that age, she believed, children's brains required freedom to choose their learning opportunities, within boundaries.  Young children have so much learning to do simply to satisfy the demands of their own brains and bodies that imposing additional learning burdens, even if they are fun, would be too much strain as well as limiting the opportunities for the learning they naturally need.
“His nerve centres and brain power have been unduly taxed, some of the joy of living has been taken from him, and though his baby response to direct education is very charming, he has less latent power left for the future calls of life.” 

Is an early start on academics necessary for later success in school and, more importantly, life?  Research says it is not.
"[Dr. Lillian] Katz also writes in the report that 'earlier is better' is not supported in neurological research, which 'does not imply that formal academic instruction is the way to optimize early brain development.'”

“On the contrary, a number of longitudinal follow-up studies indicate that while formal instruction produces good test results in the short term, preschool curriculum and teaching methods emphasizing children’s interactive roles and initiative, while not so impressive in the short term, yield better school achievement in the long term (Golbeck, 2001, Marcon, 2002; Schweinhart & Weikart, 1993).”

Actually, research shows that formal instruction impedes development rather than assisting it.  For one thing, teaching specific concepts to young children keeps them focused on those specific concepts and prevents their learning how to discover for themselves.
“Direct instruction really can limit young children's learning. Teaching is a very effective way to get children to learn something specific—this tube squeaks, say, or a squish then a press then a pull causes the music to play. But it also makes children less likely to discover unexpected information and to draw unexpected conclusions.”
“Youngsters who are hurried from one activity to another may get lots of sensory input but be shortchanged on the time-consuming process of forming association networks to understand and organize experience meaningfully.”
Jane Healy, Ph.D. Endangered Minds p. 74
"Studies have compared groups of children in New Zealand who started formal literacy lessons at ages 5 and 7. Their results show that the early introduction of formal learning approaches to literacy does not improve children’s reading development, and may be damaging. By the age of 11 there was no difference in reading ability level between the two groups, but the children who started at 5 developed less positive attitudes to reading, and showed poorer text comprehension than those children who had started later. "
David Whitebread "School starting age: the evidence" University of Cambridge Research
Also, young brains, as Charlotte Mason suggested, have vital learning tasks of their own to do, and formal learning gets in the way of that work.
“It is much more difficult, however, to reorganize a brain than it is to organize it in the first place. ‘Organization inhibits reorganization,’ say the scientists. Carving out neuronal tracks for certain types of learning is best accomplished when the synapses for that particular skill are most malleable, before they ‘firm up’ around certain types of responses.”  
Healy p. 53
Significantly, young children may not be ready for the skills being taught, which can cause the growing brain to develop inefficiently.
“Before brain regions are myelinated, they do not operate efficiently.  For this reason, trying to ‘make’ children master academic skills for which they do not have the requisite maturation may result in mixed-up patterns of learning.  As we have seen, the essence of functional plasticity is that any kind of learning--reading, math, spelling, handwriting, etc.--may be accomplished by any of several systems. Natureally, we want children to plug each piece of learning into the best system for that particular job.  If the right one isn’t yet available or working smoothly, however, forcing may create a functional organization in which less adaptive, ‘lower' systems are trained to do the work.”  
Healy p. 67
Delaying formal academics, far from being a sign of neglect, allows young children to learn what is neurologically appropriate for them at the time they are developmentally ready.

Jewels of Astonishing Worth - What is a Child? (Series Introduction)

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