Perhaps this seems surprising, because I am a teacher, but I do not really believe in early childhood education. It’s not that I don’t believe that early childhood educators are specialist well trained in what they do, I just don’t believe that children need to be formally educated so early. Based on what I saw as a teacher, people always seem to be in such a rush, worrying that their child will “fall behind.” And basically, what I’m going to say is, what difference does it make? What difference does it make whether your child learns to read at 4 or 7? Will it help your child any in the overall course of their life?
I’m going to argue here that small children do not really need formal education. They need an enriching environment where they can play and interact with the real world. Reading to your child for fun can be beneficial, but there is no need to do this in a formal way. Play is the real business of children, and they learn skills for problem solving and social situations from it.
Many children are not really ready for learning academic skills prior to the age of 7. Our Prophet (s) told us to let children play until the age of 7 and then to teach them. Studies from various countries have shown no real academic benefit to starting earlier. A child who starts early struggles to learn skills for several years, and can get a negative perception of them, but children who start when they are developmentally ready, learn quickly. In several northern European countries, formal education does not start until the age of 7, and students in these countries outperform those in the US and UK where children begin their education earlier.
As a teacher, I saw many examples of the state trying to push children to learn skills at an earlier age that were not developmentally appropriate. For example, 2nd graders were expected to learn to interpret symbolism and figurative language in their reading. This is a skill that is not age appropriate for these children. It is not a matter of education. It is a matter of how the child’s thinking works at this age. According to David Elkind in the Power of Play, children younger than 7 or 8 often have difficulty understanding that something can be 2 things at the same time. If I child cannot understand something being more than one thing at the same time, how can they understand figurative language and symbolism?
Despite the fear and worry of parents, that their child will be behind in learning skills, I cannot see how being ahead is any real benefit to the child. If a child learns the necessary skills during the course of his schooling, how is learning them earlier of any benefit? Children also develop both physically and mentally at vastly different rates. This competitiveness and comparing them to other children serves no useful purpose.
If we let children learn and grow at their own rates, I think we would see that they will grow into happy, healthy adults. They will learn the skills they need. And they will be more likely to reach their own unique potential.