Fill in the blank.
________________ is better.
Bigger is better.
Faster is better
More is better.
Earlier is better...or is it?
As parents of preschoolers, you certainly feel the pressure to get your child off to a good start in academics - and maybe even in athletics too. The belief that earlier is better has become so deeply ingrained in our society that we may not even question its validity.
Is a child who starts reading earlier really ahead (smarter than/more advanced than) a child who reads later? Research shows that usually by third grade, and certainly by middle school, there’s no real difference in reading levels between those who started reading early and those who started reading later. The same can be said for young “superstars” in sports.
The “earlier is better” philosophy does not mesh with what we know about child development. It’s like taking a financial principle - if you start saving for retirement early, you increase your chances of being able to retire at an earlier age - and trying to transfer it to child development. Earlier is better works for retirement savings, is not necessarily for young children (see more about this here). Early learning consultant, Rae Pica, writes: “Childhood is not a dress rehearsal for adulthood, nor is it a race. It is a separate, unique, and very special phase of life. And I’m afraid that we’re essentially wiping it out of existence due to a misguided belief that earlier is better.”
What you’re much less likely to hear is the truth about what actually happens to children if prodded to complete tasks before they’re developmentally ready. As noted early childhood expert Jane Healy once told me, “When you start something before the brain is ready, you’ve got trouble.” Among the possibilities for trouble are frustration, discouragement, stress and even depression.
What should parents do instead?
- Be aware of developmental milestones. Educate yourself about what typical 2, 3, and 4 year olds can do. Here is a helpful resource to guide you: Developmental Milestones
- Follow your child’s lead. Notice what your child is naturally interested in and encourage their curiosity. Let them explore and have open-ended opportunities to PLAY that are not adult-directed.
- Don’t be afraid to wait on or forgo structured opportunities/classes. Just because it’s offered does not mean it’s necessary or helpful. Keep life simple when children are little.