“Children must master the language of things before they master the language of words.” – Friedrich Froebel, founder of kindergartens, 1837
I remember a friend of mine who taught English to 6-7 year old Italian kids. She was constantly plagued by parents who kept insisting that the children should learn something about English grammar. They did not realize that their children did not yet have the logical and reasoning capacities in their brains to get their heads around functions of nouns, verbs and tenses. My friend tried explaining this to the parents but they were never really convinced. Fortunately my friend refused to give in and the kids went on learning English through playing, games, singing and drawing.
You can see the parents’ agenda, though. Their faulty reasoning is that the earlier you start getting your head round all the academic stuff, the better you will be and the greater progress you will make. They want them starting earlier and earlier on letters, numbers, homework and worksheets.
Research does not back Common Core Standards
Most research shows that these parents are totally wrong. The situation is not helped by the fact that Common Core Standards set down by the US education authorities require that children should start reading and math early on. But language and literacy games and experiences are the activities which can lay the foundations for children to become expert readers. Why start too early?
“The true object of all human life is play. Earth is a task garden; heaven is a playground.”- G.K. Chesterton
A 1930s experiment which is still valid today
L.P.Benezet was a schools superintendent who conducted very interesting experiments in the 1930s in Manchester, New Hampshire. He asked some teachers to drop arithmetic from grades 1 to 5.
”For some years, I had noticed that the effect of the early introduction of arithmetic had been to dull and almost chloroform the child’s reasoning faculties.” – L.P. Benezet
This was an outrageous suggestion at the time. The results were astounding though. Children who had abandoned arithmetic were taught to count and measure things. Children were also asked to talk about topics that interested them rather than reciting things they had learned by heart. The idea was to give them hands on experience with numbers, but also to communicate and reason logically.
By the time of the sixth grade, those children who had been in the experimental classes were doing much better on tests of story problems and had a much better understanding of numbers and measurement. They were not doing too well on the standard arithmetic tests but they soon caught up. They were also still much further advanced on the story problems by the end of the sixth grade.
German educationalists were wary before implementing change
It is fascinating also to look what happened in Germany more recently in the 1970s. There was a proposal that the school curriculum should be modified. There were suggestions that there was too much emphasis on learning through play in the kindergartens. Legislators and educationalists were thinking of moving to a more instruction based syllabus. But first, they wanted to carry out an experiment.
They involved over 100 kindergartens. Half of these were to use more academic type instruction while the other half were to continue basing everything on play. No prizes for guessing which children came out on top. Those who studied through play did better on reading and math tests by grade four and they were better at coping with social and emotional challenges. As a result of this experiment and others, it was decided to hold back on academic instruction in the early years of education.
Let the children play
Pediatricians and educationalists are now convinced, more than ever, that play is essential part of a child’s development as a whole person and is an important element in the happiness and well-being of each and every child. This has been borne out by numerous research studies and also advocated by the great educationalists such as Maria Montessori and Jean Piaget.
It is crucial that child playtime is not reduced in the kindergarten or pre-school stages and also not overwhelmed by screen time or early academic training. Let the children play and learn!
“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.” – Fred Rogers
Featured photo credit: kindergarten is fun/woodleywonderworks via flickr.com