Pressure to over-perform, to over-achieve- to validate our homeschool success by being ahead of the norms…
That’s a pitfall homeschool parents can fall into- especially in the early years. I have met parents recently who feel pressure to show that their 4-year-olds are reading and 5 year-olds writing basic equations.
I have to admit, sometimes this is appropriate (of my 5 kids, one of them taught himself to read at age 4). HOWEVER, I don’t think we are doing our children any favors by shoving them into academics they are not developmentally ready for.
Let me explain:
Children under the age of 5 have neural structure that is significantly different than ours. For instance, an infant’s brain cells (neurons) have little myelination. Myelin is an oily substance that coats the neurons, making them work more effeciently. The myelin sheath does not completely form until a child is in his teens. At pre-school age his lack of myelin effects:
1) The preschooler’s visual efficiency
Children under age 5 are often effectively very slightly far-sighted. The result of this is that their eyes tire easily when moving across small objects- like rows of words in a reading book.
2) The preschooler’s fine motor abilities
Along with the fact that their fingers tend to be short, chubby and have undeveloped muscle tone, lack of myelin effects the ability to work on small things like cutting with scissors, putting together puzzles with small pieces, and writing with pencils.
3) The preschooler’s cognitive abilities
Preschoolers think concretely– not abstractly. (While they can understand, “Give the toy to your brother”, they don’t understand fully the abstract concept of sharing or “be nice”, or patriotism, or algebra.)
They think by centration. (One thing at a time- test this: have your 4 year-old sort beads. They sort by size or color, but not both.) The ability to think of things in more than one manner at the same time and abstractly, is necessary to reading comprehension and math equations.
They do not have reversibility. (Can’t think backwards- as in subtraction is backwards from addition.)
When a young child is pushed educationally beyond what his myelination is able to handle well, he gets frustrated and uncooperative. He learns that learning is a chore, or worse- a torment.
Homeschool parents, why not slow down?
The best thing a preschooler or kindergartener needs is play. Play with toys, with shapes, with puzzles. He needs climbing and jumping and singing and pounding and coloring. This will help get his brain ready to learn. So, relax (meet your state’s goals for kindergarten) but relax about it!
I’m not just spouting off unexperienced book knowledge- with my 5 kids, I took ages 3-5 to develop readiness, wonder, and love of learning. We covered state goals, but we concentrated on development. Four of those kids have hit adulthood- the oldest two teach at the college level, kid #3 teaches high school and is a professional artist, kid #4 is an education major in college. It is OK to slow down!
How do you develop readiness or have educational fun with your pre-school or kindergartener?
We’ve put together a little booklet to help you organize a developmentally appropriate education for your pre-school/kindergartener. A quick read, it has lots of thoughts about developing an inexpensive and fun educational program for your child. A Developmental Approach to Teaching Kindergarten is how I “did” kindergarten.
Also if you’ve never done so, our Human Development curriculum teaches lots about development and is good for parents, as well as teens, to work through. It helps explain to your competitive homeschool friends why you SLOW DOWN with your kids,