I received a rather snarky comment on my “What Should a 4 Year-Old Know?” post today.
While I’ve been contacted by teachers, librarians, principals, doctors and early childhood education experts who have said they wished more parents realized these things, this surly individual called me “blase” and “touchy feely” and said, “C****, we’re all screwed.”
The commenter, Eric, said that “we are so behind other countries that good jobs are bleeding from our borders to other nations…” and “4-year-old children SHOULD be able to write their name, know the planets, list several presidents AND count to 100…”.
So I’d like to take this opportunity to educate Eric on what those countries that are leading the world ARE doing in preschool.
It might not be what he thinks.
Head over to Teacher’s TV and watch this 26 minute video about preschools in Sweden.
As the narrator says,
Imagine a school where play and relaxation is paramount…
…Where there’s little formal learning and most leave at the age of five or six unable to read or write.
…Yet, just a few years after starting formal schooling at the age of seven, these children lead the literacy table in Europe.
The preschool director points out that there is no testing and that “It’s not the child we should evaluate, it’s the processes we do.”
The Swedish preschool’s motto:
Challenge, Discovery, Adventure
The video talks about what’s important in Swedish preschools — lots of time outside, natural foods, cooperation, exercise, security, play, life skills and most importantly, fun. It also shows how these young children do in school a few years later, and lets them talk about what they think of it all.
What about the rest of the world? Teacher’s TV has an entire series of programs that follow countries that teach in the best ways, and Hungary was featured for teaching math best. Again, you’ll notice that they introduce formal learning later and the children do better. In Hungary, they begin formal school at age 6 and are not formally tested until age 14.
There’s plenty more to show the academic reasons for play-based learning for preschoolers. Take a look at this excerpt from Should preschools teach all work and no play?
Rebecca Marcon, a developmental psychologist and education researcher at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, agrees. In 1999, Marcon published a study in the journal Developmental Psychology that looked at 721 4-year-olds selected from three different preschool models: play based, academic (adult directed) and middle of the road (programs that did not follow either philosophy). Marcon followed the children’s language, self-help, social, motor and adaptive development along with basic skills.
“What we found in our research then and in ongoing studies is that children who were in a [play-based] preschool program showed stronger academic performance in all subject areas measured compared to children who had been in more academically focused or more middle-of-the-road programs,” says Marcon.
According to Marcon and other researchers, children who are subjected to overly academic environments early on have more behavior problems later and are less likely to be enthusiastic, creative learners and thinkers.
“You will frequently get short-term gains with a highly academic approach (in preschool), but they come with long-term consequences,” says Marcon. “A lot of early childhood studies only follow children to third grade. But when you take it into fourth grade and beyond that’s where you see the big difference. That’s when children have to be more independent and think.”
When deciding what is best for your preschooler, I hope you will always follow the leads of your own heart, your own child and at the very least, follow the research.
Despite grumpy people who may think otherwise, doing things that are good for children is not bad for any of us.
For more on this subject see: