Childhood isn’t a dress rehearsal for adulthood, nor is it a race. By Rae Pica

In the linked article, Rae Pica discusses the affects of pushing skills onto a child that he or she is not developmentally ready for.  The opening paragraph about a Mom being asked what classes her seven month old would be taking struck a cord–I have to admit that I’m guilty.  When Ella was 3 weeks old, we enrolled in a music class.  The program published a booklet about the benefits of the classes for infants.  In truth, that seemed pretty neat, but I don’t know if that was my main motivation in enrolling.  More so, it was pretty cool to be able to take my own child to a class versus teaching others–it was another perspective.

Recently, a parent came to us to tell us that she had heard one school was teaching 3 year olds sight words and another school “guaranteed” that the 3 year olds read.  In fact, I recently heard a radio commercial advertising a 3 year old program at a school that teaches “reading”.  My first reaction was, Wow!  And not as in Wow, I’m impressed, as is the desired affect.  After attending many early childhood education conferences and talking with professionals that have been in the field for years and years and hold multiple advanced degrees in the field, these claims definitely raised a lot of concern.

First, sure, you can teach a 3 year old to identify sight words and/or other words.  You can teach them letter sounds, letter recognition, etc.  It’s the same skill as putting a picture of a tree in front of the child and repeating “tree, tree, tree.”  Eventually the child responds “tree” when you show them the picture.  It’s symbol identification.  Showing the child the letter or sight word is the symbol and the child’s response is the indentification.  Is it reading?  No.

Second, when these skills are pushed, what is skills are being neglected?  Are there ample opportunities for children to have autonomous experiences in their classroom?  Are they able to build with blocks freely, read with the group, work on a project with their friends and teachers?  There are countless experiences that 3 year olds should be having and that teachers can facilitate that will serve their developmental needs.  Just look at this post about all of the skills necessary before a child learns to read–and these are skills that pertain to literacy.  There are also hundreds of social emotional skills kids can begin to master to prepare them to be able to conquer cognitive skills.

Third, I really do question whether these skills are being taught.  There are many different models of care and education in the early childhood world.  Obviously, each model serves different goals for families.  Some working parents need care for the entire day.  Some look for a play-based program only.  Some families are looking for a hybrid of play, character development and academics.  Some are looking for a loving, warm, caring environment.  Many are looking for a combination of many things here.

In some settings, it can be tough to implement a thorough curriculum, just due to how the children move through classes through a year and how teachers are scheduled through the day.  For a short time (two weeks), I worked at an early childhood center that was set up this way, and I found that very little curriculum was possible to implemented and in fact, was not being implemented at all.  And, this is not a criticism, it’s an observation based on how the structure of the center was set up.

At our school, we have the kids in a classroom for the entire school year because we believe that relationships are the foundation for learning.  Children need to bond with their teachers, make friends and feel safe and inspired by their environment.  If their primary teachers change throughout the day, it’s my belief that this can be tough.  And, if a child moves classes, changing their teachers, friends and environment in the middle of a year, that can be even tougher.  It’s tough because the child has to start the process of bonding and feeling comfortable all over again.  And then, the more formal learning can begin.

I can’t wait to be able to take Ella to classes and paint pottery and teach her all sorts of things.  And, there is plenty of time for that.  If I really consider it, I am teaching her things every day through our daily interactions and experiences.  Are the music classes fun?  Sure.  Are they essential to giving her the best start? No.  What is essential, first and foremost, is love.  From there, authentic experiences and genuine, mindful, intentional interactions will give her a good base to go on.  And then, the sky is the limit.

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