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Toddler Tutoring?

by on May.18, 2011, under Child development, Expectations, Learning, Parenting, Toddlers

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, 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?

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10 Comments for this entry

  • Robin

    There is nothing in this NYT article that says that tutoring is done instead of playtime. Of course kids need play but there are many kids who do benefit from spending time learning reading and writing skills. Achieving these skills can really boost a child’s self esteem. It isn’t just about getting ahead and performing.

  • jennifer

    I totally agree, Betsy. It is astonishingly, mind-blowingly (is that a word) that otherwise sane and intelligent adults can be such imbeciles when it comes to parenting. Really- you can teach a monkey how to spell and add. These poor children are being robbed of the essential tools they need to develop into creative, empathic human beings. Like you said, after all this untimely and borderline-abusive stress is placed upon these children, is the end result any better? I think not. Statistically, todays teenagers are more drug-addicted, socially-disabled, disrespectful, and incapable of accepting criticism than ever before. It’s very sad that parents place such emphasis on raising gifted children rather than teaching them the most valuable life skills like kindness, creative thinking, and empathy. Skills that are learned is the sandbox as children negotiate sharing a shovel, or while mixing play-do colors and making an original sculpture. Frankly, I would much rather have an average- intelligent child who is empathic and well mannered, then a child who is gifted (another over-used, highly obnoxious word) but a nasty brat.
    Once again Betsy,it is a very disturbing sign of our culture that otherwise intelligent parents think they are doing something praiseworthy by training their toddlers like they are monkeys in a cage, all the while convincing themselves that they are doing something positive in the process.

  • Marni Parsons

    We need to meet children where they are today rather than teaching them what they need to know tomorrow in order to best prepare them for their future. A young child’s self-esteem is boosted by being in relationship to his natural world, exploring and playing with the things and people he loves–not by being taught letters and number Kumon style! What is happening to childhood?

  • Donna

    Do you want to boost a toddler’s self esteem??? Then wean toddlers from the bottle at 12 months and teach them the skill of drinking from a cup, teach them the skill of feeding themselves using utensils, teach them to dress themselves, to wipe their own bottoms, teach them to take turns in toy play and comfort another child who is hurt, let them climb into their own carseat, walk by your side instead of being pushed in a stroller at the age of four, teach them the correct names for their private body parts, ask them questions to get ideas from them when you are locked in a power struggle, let them fall asleep by themselves, etc., etc…you get my drift…trust that the academics will fall into place at the right time…TRUST!!! Thank you, Betsy…

  • Erica

    I agree. As a former perfectionist academic kid – there is only so much you can take. I wish I would have been more free spirited as a kid then I wouldn’t have been so burnt out when I got to college. This wasn’t any fault of my parents, I pushed myself into it for some reason. Point is, I want my daughter to laugh and play and enjoy her childhood. I want her to love learning and be curious. Those traits are far more important than rote memorization which does nothing for us in the age of easily accessible information.

  • Betsy Brown Braun

    There is a great deal more to be said on this topic, but a readable blog is limiting. I would have liked to address the issue of the elementary schools promoting this premature academic fever by their admission testing (for academic skills) of 4 year olds. Crazy! But that’s a whole different blog.

  • Steph

    This will all end when parents stop defining their self-worth by their children’s achievements. Children are NOT trophies.

  • Tutoring Match

    There are many different takes on this debate. What it comes down to is really the belief and preference of the parent. If they believe that tutoring at such a young age will somehow help their child get ahead and they can afford it, they will do it.

  • Betsy BB

    Even though it may be neither a good idea nor in the child’s best interest. Unfortunately, it is often the parent’s needs that are being met…and not the child’s.

  • Shawanna Vanschoyck

    I’m impressed, I must say. Actually not often do I encounter a blog that’s each educative and entertaining, and let me let you know, you’ve gotten hit the nail on the head. Your idea is excellent; the problem is one thing that not sufficient persons are talking intelligently about. I am very completely satisfied that I stumbled throughout this in my seek for something relating to this.

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