The negative side of accelerating children

  • 2015

Children who learn to read at four do not show academic advantages compared to those who do at seven. The little ones impelled to read early show deficiencies in creativity or curiosity.
Joan Almon and Edward Miller *

Although several investigations demonstrate the effectiveness of education based on play and learning by action, there are still many who continue to ignore this reality and, instead, insist on justifying a type of formal education, which only shows short-term results, but that in the long term can have disastrous effects for many children.

This desire to force early learning in children is not a new issue, in any case. When the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget - who died in 1980 - studied the stages of cognitive development in childhood, he met very frequently what he called "the question": How can we accelerate the development process in children?

Despite this, there is no research that shows that children who read at age five perform better in the long term than those who learned at age six or seven. And not only that: it has also been seen that the pressure children experience in learning early has brought negative consequences. Educators and doctors report an increasing number of incidents of aggressive and extreme behavior in kindergartens and schools, linking them to these demands ahead of time.

"There is no research that shows that children who read at age five perform better in the long term than those who learned at age six or seven."

When Walter Gilliam, director of the Center for Childhood Studies, at Yale University (Child Study Center), surveyed about 4, 000 teachers belonging to state-funded kindergartens, he discovered that three and four-year-old children were expelled in a proportion three times higher compared to the national rate, for public education students. In addition, boys expelled from kindergarten were 4.5 times more than girls.

Gilliam's data showed that there was a correlation between the amount of play in the kindergarten and the expulsion rates: the less play, the more expulsions. Other researchers are currently studying the increasing rates of aggressiveness in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten classrooms. The crisis document in the kindergarten (Crisis in the kindergarten), by the NGO Alliance for Children, provides many more examples of this.

In the state of Connecticut, the virtual newspaper Hartford Courant reported that student behavior in preschool years represents a physical threat to themselves and others. In 2012, schools in this city suspended or expelled 901 students from kindergartens for fights, challenging attitudes or tantrums; figure that represents almost double what happened in 2010.

A school authority in New Haven (Connecticut City) attributed the increase in violence among young children to the increasing emphasis on systematic testing and the elimination of recess time, gymnastics and other instances of play. "It's no longer like when we were children, when we could count on an hour or more daily to play and explore, " says the authority. "That kind of time doesn't exist anymore."

Meanwhile, Stephen Hinshaw, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and an expert in hyperactivity disorders, referred to the need for a broader approach to kindergarten: “More important than early reading is learning playing skills, which form the basis of cognitive skills. ”He also recalled that in Europe, children are often not taught to read until they are seven years old. And he warned: "the insistence that they read before the age of five creates unnecessary pressure on the child."

It is time to slow down the process: international evidence

In the 1970s, Germany also embarked on a plan to accelerate preschool learning, turning its kindergartens into centers of cognitive achievement. However, one study compared 50 classes based on the game with 50 early learning centers and found that “at ten years old, the children who had played stood out in many ways compared to the other children. They were more advanced in reading and math and were better suited socially and emotionally to school. In addition, they excelled in creativity and intelligence, oral expression and 'industry'. As a result of this study, the German kindergartens were again spaces dedicated to the game.

A recent investigation by Sebastian Suggate of the University of Otago, New Zealand, found no long-term advantages of teaching five-year-olds to read compared to doing so at seven. Suggate conducted this study because he did not find any Anglophone study that confirmed whether late readers were at an advantage or a disadvantage. He only found a methodologically weak work, from 1974, but nothing more from that date. Despite this, people usually insist that early reading is an integral part of the child's achievement and subsequent success. The researcher admits to being surprised, therefore, to have discovered that things are not so.

Suggate carried out three very different, but complementary, studies. In the first one, he again analyzed the information collected as part of the PISA 2006 Report “and discovered that at 15 years of age there are no advantages of having learned to read before the age of five.

The desire to achieve a fast path to success, together with the pressure exerted by complex standards and performance tests, has built a new Superhighway without speed limits or fences: a very dangerous place for children.

Then he shared 54 children from Waldorf schools - where the teaching of reading began at seven years - with 50 children who attended schools where the reading began To be taught at five years. All underwent the same test at twelve years. The study (which also took into account the literacy environment and family socioeconomic level, parental education and aspects of ethnicity and gender) did not detect any difference to the twelve years in fluency and reading comprehension between both groups.

Suggate's third study analyzed reading from the beginning to the end of basic education, both in Waldorf schools and in state schools. And his conclusion is that an early start does not lead to a later advantage. In addition, it determined that the most important early factors for good subsequent reading are the language and learning experiences achieved without formal reading instruction. Because late readers continue to learn through play, language and interaction with adults, their long-term learning is not affected. On the contrary, these activities prepare them very well for a further development of reading. The investigation then raises the question: if there are no advantages of learning to read at five years, will there be disadvantages associated with beginning to read before?

The negative side of acceleration

The desire to get a fast road to success, along with the pressure exerted by complex standards and performance tests, have built a new super highway. without speed limits or containment fences: a very dangerous place for children.

We believe that, instead of subjecting preschoolers to performance tests or measurements of specific skills (such as knowing letters, adding or subtracting), educators should evaluate more broadly and flexibly the child development, considering the cognitive, but also the socio-emotional, the physical and aspects such as creativity, among other essential qualities of human life.

Studies show that the long-term consequences of inappropriate preschool education are dire. The High / Scope NGO Preschool Curriculum Comparison Study (PCCS), also known as the Perry High / Scope Preschool Study, could be the most striking example.

The results are clear: delivering inappropriate preschool education to children at social risk has a permanent negative effect. Millions of preschoolers have been subject to schooling that demands a lot in a very short time. Far from reducing the learning gap with these methods, problems are intensifying. Therefore, it is time for educators and legislators to adopt the rule that guides the medical community: First; Do not hurt.

What have we lost?

While schools focus on instilling math and literacy skills in children, a few researchers worry about studying what is being lost as a result of these accelerated learning. Creativity is one of these losses. The Torrance Creative Thinking Test, applied millions of times, for more than five decades in 50 languages, is a better indicator than the IC to know which students will become successful innovators in a wide variety of professions.

In 2010, Kyung Hee Kim, a psychologist at William and Mary College (United States), revealed to Newsweek the results of an investigation that analyzed almost 300 thousand Torrance scores of children and adults, verifying that creativity scores had been constantly increasing, like the CI scores, until 1990. But since then, creativity scores have been declining little by little. "It's very clear and the reduction is very significant, " Kim said. This decrease is more serious in children, between the level of kindergarten through 6th grade (11-12 years).

Curiosity is another skill that has been lost. Susan Engel, a professor of psychology and director of the Teaching Program at William & Mary College, designed research to study curiosity in the classroom. However, during a series of visits to schools, he observed so few examples of children asking questions and expressing curiosity, that he had to suspend the study.

"More important than early reading is learning skills to play, which form the basis of cognitive skills."
Loss of curiosity has profound implications for education. Science and math educators talk more and more about the need for learning by inquiry; that is, focus on the learning built by the student as opposed to the information transmitted by the teacher. Ironically, student-initiated learning is exactly the way young children learn when they are allowed to play and get involved in discovery by action. Unfortunately, many current approaches to preschool education involuntarily suppress curiosity and experiential learning in young children, making it difficult to teach advanced math and science in subsequent courses.

It is urgent to take action on the matter

Given this reality, it is essential that educators join forces with parents, pediatricians, child development experts and well-informed legislators to change the course of things in favor of a healthy and creative childhood for all children. Only a concerted and transversal action of specialists in the disciplines of learning, health and child welfare can generate a broader awareness of this situation. It is time to start a decade of childhood, which restores and preserves play-based preschool education.

(*) Translation and adaptation of the text by Joan Almon and Edward Miller: The Crisis in Early Education, A Research-Based Case for More Play and Less Pressure.


The negative side of accelerating children

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