Are We Pushing Our Children Hard to Learn too Soon?

Almost all parents love to compare the intellectual prowess of their child to other kids of the same age. I must admit, I have done this too, albeit mentally. Mornings at the bus stop waiting for the school bus, the discussion between moms, almost always drift towards the little achievements, skills and talents of their children.  As a silent spectator, I am often amused to find mothers speak of their child as if he/she is a budding Einstein. Not that I have anything against this, but when a child all of four years old is already being pushed to get ahead of the pack, something surely doesn’t seem right.

When a young mother of an almost four year old made this announcement, “My son can count from 1 to 100 and has a vocabulary of almost 20 words”, another mom in the group, tried to explain to her that he had simply memorized them all, and it doesn’t equate her child being little Einstein. What ensued was an intense argument on what’s the best way to make a child learn. And that got me thinking.

Are we pushing our children hard to learn too soon? What’s learning for a four year old? Are we expecting our children to be prodigies?

Through evolution, from Stone Age to the present day, across organisms, it’s always the survival of the fittest. There is this struggle to get ahead of the pack. So it isn’t surprising to find us humans to be any different. No wonder you find YouTube flooded with videos of children reading, well before they are out of their diapers. Many parents push their little ones to attain academic milestones, even before the child may be ready for it.

Is this really justified?

Why is there such a hurry to ensure kids learn? Why do we push too much too soon? The most common explanation I am given for this, is the so called “window period” of exposure before the age of 5. It is believed, the more the exposure by this age, the better it is for the child’s intellect (I wonder if there is any research done to substantiate this logic).

What’s the way to learn?

There probably is no right answer to this question. I always have this fear that a parent’s over-enthusiasm, pushing the child to learn too soon, may produce anxiety and a lack of enthusiasm in the child, instead of bringing about a love for learning and intuitive thinking. Children are biological beings, with a complex brain and thinking capacity. Thus, it is vital to give them time to grow and develop their motor and cognitive skills. A chocolate cake doesn’t get baked in a jiffy. You need to patiently wait it out for those 30 to 40 minutes. Similarly, a child’s learning requires time and patience. And the rate of learning varies greatly amongst children. So one needs to be patient and, avoid comparisons of sorts.

Learning isn’t a marathon…

…At least not at pre-school level. It’s OK to read to the child. He doesn’t have to do it on his own, not at the age of four. Stories work wonders on the child’s imagination. Let him make his own, with pots, pans, or just about anything. Let him doodle away; surely a tree need not have to be the way we conceive it to be. Let him take the lead and express his interests.

Encourage your child to explore, sans pressures, sans the need to achieve academic milestones. Muddy puddles, melting ice-cream cones, and wet paints on hands, that’s what his days are meant to have.

*Featured Image: Pixabay

13 comments

  1. I see your point, Ramya. I do feel that a lot of the stress that a child goes through comes purely from the aspirations that parents have thrust on them from a very tender age. Coupled with this is the intensely exacting nature of our education system and you have kids who are nervous, stressed and tormented at a time when they should be allowed to grow at their own pace. As a mother of a 13 year of I can see everyday how much we as parents can do to offset that intense pressure on the child to be an Einstein or a Ramanujan. Well written post. I can definitely say that every parent who reads this will be able to relate to what you are saying!

  2. Ohh the pressure on kids from early on is huge… And I guess parents themselves start getting anxious if they see some other kid doing better than their own. There are always fun ways to make a kid learn… Plays… Games… Art… Handicraft… I am often amazed by how much a kid learns when it’s a game for him. There’s shouldn’t be any pressure on those little souls.

  3. There is parental peer pressure, expectations from grandparents, i remember being told that i was a failure as a mother because despite having talented daughters i did not send them to all those extra-activities, never mind i am a vidwat in bharatnatyam and I taught my daughters at home. I also did not send them to any of those coaching classes as the girls were very clear that they did not need them. so QED

  4. The pressure is too much on kids, I agree completely. Last year when we moved back to Phoenix, some of our friends recommended a school here which is famous for its rigorous curriculum and competitive tests. We chose a public school for our son where he is learning well and thriving. He is happy, we are too. But every time we meet the said friends they go on and on about why we should change him to the other school. According to them education system in America is not good as it is not competitive as in India. I’m actually relieved that my kid is able to learn at his speed and still get to play and enjoy childhood without pressure. I don’t understand the need to grade and rank kids at such young age. Well written, Ramya.

  5. That is one of the many questions I have been struggling with of late Ramya and I have ended up more confused than ever. Of course pushing your child isn’t right. But when you look around and see everyone doing it you wonder if you’re wrong not to. Somedays I feel I’m too laid back a person and I wonder if I’m failing to teach the children to compete – to give their 100 percent to whatever they do! Sigh! There really is no right answer.

  6. I completely agree. It’s not a marathon, certainly not at the pre-school level. But the competition and the expectation some parents have of their kids is nuts! Which is why I kinda like the American low pressure system, which focuses on all-round development.

  7. Somewhere in between the texts, did I see myself being talked about, among the women I know, as the mom who started very early with exposing my child to the books and reading and did not let the child to do what children his age are meant to do, playing outside in the mornings and evenings. In my defence, I can say that I do not go out and boast about his vocabulary (which I am not sure myself) or his reading ability unless I am asked specifically. Apart from this, I feel it would have been better for him if I could take him to the sports camps or the swimming camps but then let go of these ideas since both of us have definite energies and we can’t do it all.

  8. Very well assessed. In today’s times, children are whipped like horses in this rat race and have always been again such undue pressure and competition. Education is about a holistic approach for human development. But, I feel inculcating the reading and language habit is a good thing not to compete but groom children to reflect on things and touching their reasoning power that ushers in confidence. Agree fully with your reflection. Life is no competition. Let the kids be and grow at their own pace.

  9. This is something I can never fathom, Ramya. Some parents are so driven, it is kind of suffocating. Good or bad, I am just not that pushy. I encourage them and motivate them to read more, watch more informative stuff but I am seriously not into this competition with other kids. There is a lady whose son is in the same grade as my son, and she keeps tabs on how my son is doing academically and his extra curriculars as well. It is really crazy.

  10. Peer pressure among parents affects the kids adversely.We are so in awe of other children participating and excelling in so many areas that we forget that each child is different and needs to be treated so.Your post is an eye-opener!

  11. I too believe in going slow. At his preschool, writing letters has been started and my Kiddo does not like it. I make him sit to do that but even if he does not, I do not mind. He is not even 3.

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