Jan 18, 2013

Are there really long term benefits to Early Learning?

This is a question I have been asked quite a few times, and one of the only questions my husband has been asked about early learning, so I will do my best to answer that question in this post.

In a word:  Yes.  Taken at face value the question almost makes me laugh, for what if we were to take the "early" out of the question, which we really could.  Are there benefits for learning to read, for example?  Of course there are.  What about for an adult who never learned?  Would there be any benefits for learning that skill later in life?  Naturally there would.  Learning to read is beneficial at any age, and I include babies in that equation.  There are so many children who struggle with reading in school.  If not for anything else, I would argue that a child who learns to read before heading off to public school will never struggle with learning to read while they are in school and avoiding that pitfall is indeed a long-term benefit.  I recently read and enjoyed "Children who Start Ahead, Stay Ahead" (available at the Logan library, local readers.  ;).  He does a follow-up on families who attended Glenn Doman's classes to see what the long term effects of their early education were.  Only 13% decided to homeschool, most went to public school, and all of the children surveyed had excelled.  Note also the studies shown on YourBabyCanRead's facebook page on November 5th.

But this isn't a question that is asked at face value, I think.  The deeper question being asked is what happens when the child goes to school?  They will be in a class with their peers learning the same things as their peers, and after 12 years of that, will they really be that much ahead?  This question deserves some great pondering, especially if you are planning on sending your children to public school.

Whether or not the teacher looks favorably on the early education of your child can be the key or demise of your child's success.  Some teachers love having a bright child in their classroom to lift the other children up.  When other children see a peer reading and enjoying a book, it can be a great motivator for them to learn to read as well.  The can see that the end result is desirable.  The understand the "Why" behind the reading drills.  The bright child can raise the class average scores, which will reflect well on the teacher.  She can give the reading child a book to read while she has more time to devote to other children who may be struggling.  This has, and is happening in many schools.

But there are also many teachers who don't like having an early learner in their class.  They don't like having to adapt the curriculum for that child, and they don't appreciate the needs of a particularly bright child.  They don't want to admit that the child has reason to be bored in their class.  They don't like having a bored, rambunctious kid!  If nothing else, they don't appreciate the child's need to continue to progress.  Public schools were designed to give the masses basic literacy skills and they do that job well.  Even a teacher who wants to help advanced students continue their education are spread too thin.  It is the children who are struggling to catch up that get the teacher's attention.  Even so, teachers can and should recognize the needs of their advanced students and reach out to the parents for help.  This happened to one of my piano students.  Her teacher recognized that her class wasn't challenging for this girl and she knew that she wouldn't be able to cater to her needs, but during a parent teacher conference this wise teacher told the parents that she needed something to challenge her academically and recommended piano lessons.  Little things like that go a long way in helping these children.

The biggest problem with the sentiment of "No Child Left Behind" is that no child gets ahead.  Society needs bright people to be innovators, inventors, and leaders.  I may have not invented the light bulb, the electric motor, or the car, but I do benefit from their use.  When bright children are allowed and encouraged to accelerate through school, everyone benefits.  We even save tax dollars because they finish sooner.  On the flip side, when bright children are forced to get back in line and endure pictograph phonics lessons when they would rather be reading a chapter book, we can extinguish the child's desire to learn altogether.  This is indeed a negative situation that does arise for parents who have taught their children early, and it is the only negative outcome I can think of for early learning.  Consider this story:  http://chancetoshine.webs.com/ourstory.htm, as well as the responses I received on the BrillKids forum:  http://forum.brillkids.com/general-discussion-b5/has-el-ever-had-negative-effects-on-a-child/.

Ultimately I think that most parents who decide to give their children an early education know and accept the responsibility and stewardship they have over their child's education as a whole and are willing to sidestep the challenges that may come.  They know going in that it doesn't matter whether the child goes to public, private, or homeschool, that their child's education is their responsibility.  It is not any one public school teacher's responsibility to see that any child in their class receives a complete education.  There are many teachers who do a superb job teaching the course material, and certainly children learn a lot in school.  Nevertheless, they are not responsible for the end result for that child, the parents are.

So let's be frank about what happens when a child goes to kindergarten academically prepared for 2nd grade or beyond.  Best case scenario, the child enjoys going to school for the social aspects of it.  It is unlikely that the child will skip a grade, at least in the United States.  I have a friend whose child is gifted and we were discussing how gifted programs don't start until 2nd or 3rd grade age.  She told me that that they do that so they will know if the child is really gifted or not.  The first couple of years of school are usually enough time for the kid's academic skills to average out.  I nodded and said that that makes sense, but then I asked her if she wanted her child to be "averaged out".  As a society, is that what we want for these students?  Are we no better than lobsters in a shallow dish?

All too often these children really are "averaged out".  To avoid this, a common solution is doing what many parents call "after-schooling".  If a child already knows everything that is being taught at the school and public school is the only option, they will not be going to school to get an academic education.  After-schooling means that the child continues their academic schooling after public school.  They go to public school like other children go to a club.  There are many different levels of after-schooling being done, and indeed, any parent that is involved in their children's lives (like, almost everyone) does after-schooling to one degree or another.  On the BrillKids forum I have observed that for early learners, a rule of thumb for after-schooling is to strive to keep your child 2 years ahead.  That way public school acts as a good review, but if some subject is taught poorly or incompletely, their child will still be able to excel when they move on to college.

Another solution is to homeschool.  Just saying.  :)

Before I wrap this post up, I want to share a few examples of what can happen when early learners are fostered in their continuing education.  I share these examples because I don't think these children were simply "gifted", but rather they benefited from an early education and continued that education when they were older.  This is not a complete list of course, just a few that come to mind.

Adora Svitak Published author at 7, TED speaker, online and classroom guest teacher and activist.  Her mother taught her and hired baby sitters to teach her from infancy.  I may not support all of the same causes, but I highly admire this young woman and the voice she is giving to youth and to early learning.

Dr. Sho Yano  Especially where my young son says he wants to be a doctor when he grows up, this handsome young man is an inspiration to me on how early learning can give a head start on the years and years of schooling it takes to be able to compete in some fields.  His younger sister is very bright as well.

Lori Ann Madison The 6-year-old who qualified for the national spelling B learned to read when she was 2.  I don't know her background story but include her because she was an early reader.

Alia Sabur  Child prodigy.  World's youngest professor.  Still going strong as an adult.

David Levy  Math Whiz.  I have enjoyed reading his father's reviews of Saxon Math on Amazon. His father also shared insight into his early education on this thread:  We can do by Moshe Kai with guest Robert Levy discussing Saxon Math

Moshe Kai Cavalin  This boy is not only very bright, but he is also incredibly well-rounded.

Wajih and Zohaib Ahmed  I love this interview with the parents.

Finally, I defer you to Larry Sanger's book, "How and Why I Taught my Toddler To Read." See chapter 12 for further reading on this post's topic if you want further reading- he is far more eloquent than me.  :)  Why would we assume that a child who can read at 3 would loose their ability to learn and progress when they are 6?  Are children who have had no early training at all at a disadvantage to their peers?  If so, we need to do better.  And when we have done that, why not raise the bar and give our children even more?

3 comments:

Andrea said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Captain said...

I'm with you on this one. I think early learning only brings benefits. It always pains me when people say that early readers end up at the same level as their peers within a few years. It makes me cringe the amount of educational neglect it would take for such a bright child not to progress because they have entered school (isn't school meant to make them progress instead of depriving them of learning opportunities). Anyway, I've rambled a little but I really agree with your points.

Andrea said...

You know what I would love to read about? Interviews or opinions of parents who have done early learning for their kids who are now at adolescence or even adults. If you can bring more examples, I think you should make a follow-up to this article :) You talk about differnet cases, kids who were homeschooled all the way, kids who went to school etc. It's more encouraging to find out in their own words what this children have to say about how they've been educated. I know Robert Titzer did that, as his daugther is on the Started DVD of Your Baby Can Read and I loved the idea.

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