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Why Rush our Babies? April 9, 2009

Filed under: Family Culture — Rachel @ 8:31 pm

Our society is in a rush, a rush to see children read, write and do math at a young age.  Baby Einstein is a mass success.  Parents read books and take classes about working with their infants to put them on the fast track to academic excellence.  Why is this valued so strongly?  Is this common in other cultures?  As sensitive, modern parents, is this the path we want to take?

These are observations and questions that I did not ask of myself as a young mother.  It was a given that the ability to count or to write her name were in some way a measure of my daughter’s intelligence and progress.  I can see how this happens, because we do watch our babies hit milestone after milestone from raising that head to rolling over, crawling, etc.  As they become older toddlers, the physical milestones greatly slow down and we begin to reach for intellectual milestones to chart growth.  Grandparents want to hear the 2-year-old say his ABC’s.  Preschool teachers expect the 3-year-old to recognize letters and numbers.  The pressure is on.

In the past year I’ve been reading and pondering this social climate that focuses so strongly on academics from the youngest age.  As it turns out, it’s not a universal assumption.  In European countries such as Sweden, Germany and Poland, children begin first-grade at around seven years old and aren’t expected to be able to read at all at the beginning of first grade.  Here in the States our education system has long since fallen behind our European neighbors.  Our answer?  Start teaching them earlier!  Move letter-recognition from kindergarten to preschool and reading from 1st grade to kindergarten.  Get them out of the home and into school as soon as possible!  Ouch.  The results have not been pretty.  Farther behind and more stressed out than ever, children and parents are starting to say “no”. 

academicsQuite frankly, I think this value in early academics is misplaced.   The kindergartner who has an active imagination, who relishes artistic expression and who relates well with pears is better poised for success in our world than the one who lacks the above but already knows how to read.  Creativity and sociability really count for a lot in our high-tech, automated world.  I have confidence that the academics will come too, when the child is ready.  That’s why I subscribe to a “Better Late than Early” mentality when it comes to childhood academics.  But, more on what that means later. 

My advice to new parents (besides to read, read, read about it) is to relish early childhood as a time for innocent, free exploration of the world, unburdened by schoolwork.  Approach your preschooler and kindergartener with the confidence that your family dynamic is the foundation of her future self.  Think holistically about fostering growth in all areas: body (physical milestones and skills), personality (social skills and soul nurturing) and intellect (via direct experience with a beautiful, natural environment).  That’s an echo of the Waldorf mantra: head, heart and hands.


4 Responses to “Why Rush our Babies?”

  1. Rae Pica Says:

    I couldn’t agree more! Probably the one sentence uttered most often by parents is, “They grow up so fast!” Yet they do everything they can to rush them into adulthood. Childhood these days has become little more than a dress rehearsal for adulthood!

    “Better late than early” is a much healthier attitude than the “earlier-is-better” myth that has become so prominent in our culture.

    And, by the way, Finland is one of those countries where children don’t begin formal schooling until age 7. They’re expected to learn through play until then. And once they do get to school, they not only have music, art, and physical education; they also have a 15-minute recess after every 45 minutes of instruction. And guess what: they’re number-one in the world in literacy and numeracy!

    Your readers should read David Elkind’s wonderful book, The Hurried Child. Or, if time is an issue, you can hear a 10-minute interview with him on Body, Mind and Child Radio (! It’s definitely worth a listen!

  2. Rachel Says:

    Rae, Thanks for that link. You have a very resource-rich website. I enjoyed listening to your interview with David Elkind. What a non-threatening way to introduce someone to the concerns with pushing early academics!

  3. Rae Pica Says:

    Rachel, since you’re so obviously a kindred spirit, I would love it if you joined our online community at BAM! Street ( Lots of like-minded parents, educators, and experts making connections there!

  4. […] scientific evidence, check out any of the books listed in my post Better Late than Early, or see Why Rush our Babies for a summary of some […]

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