The Government's Plan for Diapers to Diplomas
In his State of the Union address, President Obama, proposed to provide preschool access to all four-year-olds across America. He said, "Study after study shows that the sooner a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road. So let's do what works and make sure none of our children start the race of life already behind."
Apparently, the President and his speech writers didn't bother to read the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' final report on the Head Start Impact Study that was published just two months ago. It said:
"In summary, there were initial positive impacts from having access to Head Start, but by the end of 3rd grade there were very few impacts found for either cohort in any of the four domains of cognitive, social-emotional, health and parenting practices."
In other words, and contrary to what the President said, government preschools do not have a long-term beneficial effect, and are a waste of taxpayers' money.
Regardless of the negative research study results, politicians can't wait to round up preschoolers and start teaching them reading, writing, and arithmetic. This is just wrong-headed. As Dr. Susan R. Johnson, a behavioral and developmental pediatrician, wrote in an article titled Teaching Our Children To Write, Read, and Spell:
"There is a widely-held belief that if we just start teaching children to write, read, and spell in preschool, they will become better writers, readers, and spellers by the time they reach the first and second grades." This is, however, not true.
"The truth is that children only should be taught to write, read, and spell when their neurological pathways for writing, reading, and spelling have fully formed. There are many neuropsychologists, developmental specialists, occupational therapists and teachers who are concerned that our current trend in this country of pushing "academics" in preschool and kindergarten will result in even greater increases in the number of children, particularly boys, diagnosed with attentional problems and visual processing types of learning disabilities."
Dr. Johnson explains that "In order for children to be able to sit still, pay attention, and remember abstract shapes, like letters and numbers, they first need to have developed their proprioceptive system" or a sense of where their body is in space. She explains that in her clinical practice, she sees children who are being asked to sit still at a desk who have not yet developed the ability to do so. Their muscles need to move.
These children may appear fidgety in their movements, have difficulty paying attention, and have poorly developed fine-motor skills. They are often labeled as having Attention Deficit Disorder along with learning disabilities in visual processing such as dyslexia. They have difficulty recalling letters, numbers, and shapes. They confuse the letter "b" with the letter "d" and may write the number 2 or number 3 backwards.
Dr. Johnson writes, "The proprioceptive system is strengthened by physical movements, like sweeping with a broom, pushing a wheelbarrow, carrying groceries, emptying the trash, pulling weeds, or hanging from monkey bars."
Doing normal physical activities around the home such as helping with chores and playing inside and outdoors develops the neurological pathways required for eventual academic learning. If you start too soon, you run the risk of hindering your child's ability to learn.
It is hard to resist the messages from our politicians about getting a "head start" on academics. It takes self-control not to whip out the credit card and buy the colorful academic curriculum packages that promise to boost your little Einstein's knowledge of the world. But resist you must.
Here's a poem by an anonymous author that captures the essence of what's important...
I tried to teach my child with books.
He gave me only puzzled looks.
I tried to teach my child with words.
They passed him by often unheard.
Despairingly I turned aside,
"How shall I teach this child?" I cried.
Into my hand he put the key.
"Come," he said, "play with me."
Print it out and put it on your refrigerator as a reminder of what is truly meaningful and developmentally appropriate when it comes to helping your young child learn. Send it in a letter to your legislator along with a request for them to oppose universal preschool.
Give your little ones a hug for me,
Diane Flynn Keith