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How Soon Is Too Soon?
Offered By Judy Pomorski and Dave Mathwig
Joan, a parent was worried that three years of age was too soon for a child to start attending an organized learning program. She was worried about pushing her daughter, Amie, into an experience for which Amie was not prepared.
It is a question asked many times by parents over the years, and our answer has always been the same. No, three years of age is not too soon for a child to start learning! In fact, Amie had actually been involved in a very formal learning experience from the time she became aware of the outside world as an infant. Children learn to understand language all by themselves, a task much harder than learning math or reading. Sure, as parents, we may guide our kids and teach them sounds and such, but the real work is done by the children! Before kids can be told that we are trying to teach them something, they have to learn that the funny sounds Mommy is making mean something. The infant’s mind before language is a mind full of wonderful sounds, shapes, colors and movement - sensations BUT NO WORDS! Imagine that! A world full of sounds that do not mean anything!
How then do kids discover that those sounds have actual meaning? Is it by accident? NO! NO! NO! It is because those wonderful little minds have been busy trying to make sense of their marvelous, large, busy world. THEY HAVE BEEN LEARNING. And their learning experience is far more structured than any teacher or program could ever be. Their minds are incredible! Kids relentlessly try to understand their world by creating categories and rules for experiences and things. Then they try to apply these categories against real life and then, just as relentlessly, create new categories and rules if the old ones fail.
Think about a baby in the kitchen endlessly arranging pots and pans. First they try to fit the big ones into the little ones, an attempt at creating a category - you can put things in other things. Once they discover that the big pot won’t fit into the little one no matter how many times you try or how hard you bang it, they may try the reverse and ‘Bingo!’ - it works! After much repetition, the child will create a category or rule that works all the time and EVEN MAY be applied somewhere else! Kids soon learn that it is important to find these BIG rules - ones that work for more than just one occurrence.
Is Three Too Young?
Learning programs designed to allow children to further investigate their universe, that lead them toward greater understanding by helping them to develop new thinking and exploring skills and that ultimately teaches skills such as reading, math, a second language, music, movement, and more, can only be a positive experience for a young child.
Any learning program should be responsive rather than intrusive by applying the concepts of cognitive development and interactive coaching.
By giving kids the tools of discovery, showing them how to use these tools but not forcing them to do so and by respecting the learning speed and style of each individual, it is important to work individually with each child. That is what interactive coaching means - to interact only when it is appropriate and to offer clues that the child can use to move to higher or deeper understanding. Never to tell or demand passive memorization!
We already know, from our own research, the best ways to teach kids to learn, read, write, and so on. We know, for example, that before kids learn to memorize math rules, they need to understand larger and more basic concepts such as: greater than/lesser than; added to/ taken from; counting; that a number represents BOTH the place and the sum of ALL the units (numbers) before it. Before numbers and rules can mean anything, the child MUST know what those abstract concepts are used for and why! That is how you affect true cognitive development. By respecting HOW the mind learns and by using methods that help kids develop a greater facility with this process, we actually help them to learn how to learn!
By applying these truths in a creative manner that respects each child’s constant need to understand and learn, we can tell Joan that enrolling Amie in an organized learning program was one of the best things she could do for her child.
About Oxford Learning
Established in 1984, Oxford Learning has grown to include more than 120 locations across Canada and the United States. Oxford Learning goes beyond tutoring to help students reach their learning potential, not just for one grade or one year but for a lifetime. The unique programs teach children to learn how to learn.
Visit Oxford Learning on-line at www.oxfordlearning.com for complete program information and the location of a Center near you.