They’re getting younger and younger! Now there’s Junior Kumon, a program to teach your two year old academics. Seriously! In a recent New York Times article, Fast-Tracking to Kindergarten, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/15/fashion/with-kumon-fast-tracking-to-kindergarten.html?_r=1&emc=eta1 author Kate Zernike highlights the proliferation of the new Kumon (and other) tutoring programs designed to jumpstart toddlers’ academic career.
Are they kidding? Sadly, they are not. And more and more parents are drinking the Kool Aid, believing that this is actually a good idea. The poop at the park is that force feeding your toddler academics before he has even started preschool is the key to getting your child into the “best” preschool, which is the ticket into the “best” elementary school, which will lead to the “best” high school and in turn, the Ivy League. And then what? The best life? If only there were such guarantees.
Child development experts throughout our country are mourning the shrinking role, if not the disappearance of play in early childhood programs as well as in kids’ lives. Most parents associate play with not work (and in their minds not learning). They conjure up images of toys and mud pies and wildly running around. But play is the work and business of childhood. It is precisely how children learn. It is through play of all kinds that children gain the foundational experiences that will enable their meaningful learning of academics later on when it is developmentally appropriate. It is through play that children develop language, pre literacy, thinking skills, mathematical concepts, social skills, self control, self confidence…to name just a few of the direct outcomes. We know, too, that drill and kill (the tutoring that Kumon type programs offer) is not aligned with the young child’s neurological development. The right hemisphere of the brain, which thrives on sensory and emotional input, plays the dominant role in the young child’s learning, later and gradually joined by the left hemisphere and more traditional academic pursuits.
Hearing your child recite letters, regurgitate number facts, and essentially “dance for grandma” (to steal a phrase from A Chorus Line), bursts these parents’ shirt buttons. Here is proof of their child’s so-called advanced learning. He is in the running! But what does it really prove? That your child can memorize? Memorizing is not necessarily learning. And there is absolutely no sound data demonstrating that the performing child remains at the front of the class beyond the kindergarten years or the correlation between early rote learning and later achievement. None.
We weep about what our young children are not developing as they are subjected to early academics, twice weekly visits to the tutor, and nightly homework (twenty minutes for math and reading skills required by Kumon!) But parents don’t know any better. Everyone else is doing it. Welcome to competitive parenting. Whose kid will reach the “top” first?
The drill and kill skills will not give your child any advantage in his life pursuits let alone get your child a job. In fact, it’s the kids in India who will get those jobs! It will rob him of the time needed to explore and discover, to cultivate his social, independent, and personal skills, to learn to think outside the box in ways that will set him apart from the number crunchers in far off lands.
I can promise you that force feeding letter and number recognition to the two or three year old child will neither hurry his learning nor get him into Harvard. It might make you feel like you’re keeping him in the parentng race, but at what cost? Where is David Elkind’s The Hurried Child when we need it?