Are we expecting too much from our preschoolers?
As I scroll through Facebook, I read some parents' comments - asking about ways they can teach their 2 and 3 year old the alphabet and counting.
Or asking about ways that they can encourage their 2 and 3 year old children to sit up at a table and focus on a table top activity like drawing or writing.
Can I please give one word of advice as a mother and a child development therapist.
Please prioritise play more than academics.
Children have years at school to learn about letters and numbers. But their minds only have a quick window to enjoy the many benefits of imaginative play and open ended creativity.
In addition, the brain needs a strong foundation of motor skill development, creativity, executive function, and imagination to be able to write stories, count objects in their environment, follow procedures of a science experiment.
If we rush our children academically, then we miss out on the crucial stepping stones from play.
The research isn't focused on academics.
The research reports that children should not be doing any formalised or explicit learning of literacy and numeracy until the age of 7 - 8 years.
Yet our primary school curriculum (in Australia) is pushing teachers and educational support staff to motivate children to learn letters, count objects, write their name, and draw pictures, by 5 to 6 years of age.
The research highlights the importance of open ended play to encourage children's motor skill development, creativity and imagination. Yet some families are still pushing for early childhood teachers to encourage their children to create works of art, use scissors, count to 10 and write out the alphabet while at kindergarten.
Why do we feel this pressure in our society today?
What makes a parent look for academic activities for their 2 year old?
As my daughter Phoebe repeated 2 years of her 4 year old kindergarten program, I saw the many benefits of not rushing children's development. I used to smile when I observed Phoebe and her friends as they hopped, galloped, and crawled into her kindergarten classroom, positively greeting her educators and peers. No fancy art work brought home. No need for the children to write their name before their body is ready, or cut along scissor lines until their hands had experienced hours of sensory play.
I am fortunate to be able to be inspired by kindergarten teachers and early childhood educators all around the world who provide immense effort in indoor and outdoor learning spaces to develop children's gross motor skills, social skills, and emotional skills, for a strong learning foundation.
During kindergarten Phoebe wasn't making an attempt to write letters, complete puzzles, draw pictures, or paint shapes. Instead Phoebe was interacting mostly with the outdoor play space, climbing A-frames, walking across balance beams, searching for bugs. Now in her first year of primary school she is starting to show an interest in drawing pictures, writing her name, and using scissors like her big brother and sister.
Not rushing Phoebe to do these 'school readiness' activities at kindergarten didn't hold Phoebe back compared to her peers at primary school. Instead, encouraging Phoebe to play at her own developmental level, climbing A-frames, digging in the mud kitchen, riding around on bikes, built a strong foundation of play and motor skill development while at kindergarten so now at primary school Phoebe has a strong foundation for her confidence, learning, and well-being.
Unfortunately for some children highly qualified and inspiring kindergarten teachers are feeling pressured by a curriculum that has been set by academic professors and policy makers.
These curriculum academics created a curriculum years ago before the introduction of technology (internet, smart devices, google search), before the new-age online employment opportunities.
These curriculum academics and policy makers may not be well versed in the child development research, yet they're controlling how our children are expected to learn.
What is a kindergarten teacher to do?
If some parents and primary schools are pushing for kindergarten children to write their name, count to 10, and sit for extended duration in circle time, because that's the perception of school readiness, how can we change the system to support a child's development, instead of push a child's academic performance?
Please share your comments and feedback below.