Education and the Very Young
I have frequently written on how to educate your child. Maybe this article should be called “How to Not Educate Your Child.” We are blessed to work with parents in many countries. Some are so concerned that they don’t want to miss a moment of opportunity. So, we are frequently asked, “What do you recommend for children before kindergarten?” The answer is simply we do not begin formal education before age five..
From the ages of two to three children are developing their fine and gross motor skills. Shortly after, they jump off of steps, ride a tricycle, build with blocks, and use crayons. They begin using sentences and exploring language in the world around them. They start to have a sense of emotion. They begin to ask questions.
At the age of four, maybe earlier, they go down steps one foot at a time comfortably. Their fine and gross motor skills are improving. They are able to dress with assistance and have learn cooperative play with other children.
At the age of five their speech shows great improvement. They are able to speak increasingly clearly. Even putting together five or six sentences at a time becomes a norm. They play in groups and interact with adults around them. Physical coordination increases and can be demonstrated by their ability to skip.
It was once thought that young children are just small adults. This view is no longer held by any respectable social scientist. Their bodies and minds are still learning to work together. The developmental process they go through will be addressed by parents most successfully if we recognize its stages.
Babies are miracles from God. He brings them into this world totally dependent on their parents to provide for all their needs. (Incidentally, it is worth pausing to consider the incredible trust He gives us to raise one of His children without any previous experience. Think about the likelihood of that in the realm of hiring people for a job!) Every day that goes by, they are growing and turning into the person that God wants them to be. As parents we always want what’s best for our children. We want to provide them with all the opportunities we can, and one of the first things we are able to do is make sure they get on the right path educationally. But as with all things, too much of good thing, is simply this, too much.
According to Alison Gopnik, a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of The Philosophical Baby, a book on the mind of children, pretend play teaches children how to understand themselves and their world, leads them to better adjustment in school and helps them become “flexible and sophisticated thinkers.” Joanne Kelly, a literacy and language expert at Harvard University, says that the most important thing a parent can do to help their child learn to read is create a language-rich environment at home. By this she does not mean directly teaching your child language, but rather taking the opportunity to help them understand the world around them in an environment that is filled with language. If you are out on a walk and see a duck, you can talk to the child about how the duck makes a quaking sound and that ducks like water. Remind them about the funny duck that appeared in that book you read to them recently.
Children also are very experiential learners. Play is one of the most important ways a young child can learn from the world around them. It helps them understand the physical and social world as well as how to express and manage their feelings.
One does not need to provide a formal education for children ages 2 to 5. They need to be loved and allowed to explore the world around them. One of my favorite thoughts on point comes from R.C. Sproul, a well-known theologian and author who joined us on the board of a classical school that we were part of starting. At a parent night intended to develop parental interest in the school, he spoke of the wonder and curiosity of children that was part of their love of learning. When asked a question afterward about how we instilling this love of learning, he said something I’ll never forget. He said that it is not our job to instill a love of learning—God has already done that. It is our job to not kill it!
When I hear of parents interested in getting an early start on educating their children and wanting to know what we recommend they use, I get concerned. Children don’t need a formal education at these tender years, and pushing them this way can be very counterproductive.
This is not to say that you should not expose your children to learning. Read books to them—lots of books. I don’t think a child is ever too young to be read to. This will encourage their exposure to language. Also, encourage your children through play. You can even help your child learn numbers and letters through play. When my boys were young, one day a week we would pick a letter and eat things through the day that began with the letter. So for the letter B, we might have banana pancakes and bacon to start the day, for lunch we might have a bagel with blueberry cream cheese, then for dinner burritos and broccoli. There was nothing formal about this. But it introduced my boys to their letters in a fun way—through play. Playing songs where that will cause them to learn information is very helpful. After all, how many nursery rhymes do you remember from when you were a child?
It may seem ironic for us at Veritas Press to say these things. We are known for being one of the most rigorous educational programs around. But your children will grow up way too fast. Enjoy those early years. Let them learn through play and experiencing the world with you. You don’t need to feel like they need a formal education. That will come soon enough. And most of all, LOVE them and let them see you loving learning yourself.
By Laurie Detweiler