Guest article by Natacha Beim, writer, speaker and leader in education.
Early Education: Does it Really Make Kids Smarter?
Most parents who send their children to preschool are very happy with their decision. Some say it is a great way for children to meet friends, some find it an essential step for them to learn to socialize, and some even notice that their children learn a great deal. But few of these parents believe deep down that thanks to those preschool years, their children will be, well, smarter.
How can that be? After all, the academic knowledge given to the child during those years is not so unique compared to elementary school. Does it really matter if a child can read at age three or at age six? Is it really that important to know all the numbers before kindergarten? Why not just let them play and enjoy life?
The Right Amount of Stimulation
The secret ingredient in education is not in the academic component itself. Children who attend early education programs are better equipped to learn because they have received the right type and the right amount of stimulation at the right time. This, in turn, implies they are exposed to a great academic program!
What most of us don’t realize as adults is that for children, learning is enjoyable. Take newborn babies, for instance. When they are not sleeping, they are constantly learning. They learn to recognize our voices, their environment, the patterns of their mobiles and the many things we are excited to bring closer to them. One and two year olds are discovering language, and figuring out their role in the household. They even have their own scientific agenda, which they carry out quite well by experimenting on everything they can find (electrical outlets included). They are constantly asking us questions! The world is a fascinating place for a young child. Once they gain a greater understanding of their environment, they need a higher level of reasoning and intellectual stimulation.
Birth to Age Six
From birth until about age six, a child’s brain is forming all the pathways it will use during adult life. This process slows down considerably after that age. Those pathways can only be formed through adequate stimulation, which explains why young children are constantly looking to learn. This means that what the child learns early on in life will determine how much he or she can learn as an adult. You can compare this process to the child’s physical growth. A one year old is so much more developed than a one day old, but it is harder to see the difference between a seven year old and an eight year old.
As parents, we pay special importance to what our children eat, because we know that it will impact them for life. If they do not grow at that age, they will certainly not start growing in their thirties (at least most of us have given up hope by then). Similarly, what you “feed” your child’s brain during the first years of life determines how easily you child will be able to learn, for life. Since school officially starts at age five, early education is not only a good idea: it is essential for the proper intellectual development of your child.
Education can be Enjoyable
A good preschool program is very enjoyable for children. It enables them to keep pursuing their interests at a much more stimulating level. Of course, not any program will do. A good school will stimulate your child at just the right level, and in many different ways. Simply providing a nice atmosphere to socialize and a craft project for the day is great fun, but it is not the level of stimulation that your child needs in order to develop adequately. Instead, look for a program that offers activities that take into consideration each child’s interests and level of understanding. It should also be varied in nature – music and arts are just as important at that age as reading or science.
Early education does not mean that your two year old will be sitting at a desk, pen and paper in hand. Good programs are very creative in their approach to learning, and “disguise” the projects and concepts taught as games and fun activities where your child is always an active participant. Look for a program that can present a challenge as well as a fun, magical environment.
Early education is an essential step in your child’s life, and one to welcome. You may never be able to measure how much it impacted your child, but you can trust that it did, and as much or more than those meals you prepare with such love and care! And, if nothing else, at least you can say that it is a great way for children to meet friends!
Does your child attend preschool or another early education program? What benefits does he or she receive from it? And what do you look for in a preschool?
Natacha Beim is a renowned writer, speaker, educational leader and founder and CEO of Core Education and Fine Arts. Born in Uruguay and raised in Montréal, she has traveled extensively and studied educational systems around the world. As a pioneer in the field of modern education, Beim continually pursues studies in the field developmental psychology focusing on the early years. She currently makes her home in Vancouver.