Okay, I know the title isn’t factually correct since children are learning all the time – especially when they are playing. I guess what I’m referring to are those sessions when we’re trying to teach them something specific. Aside from sounding kiasu because I want to start my youngest who is only 5 months currently on early childhood educational programs, there is a legitimate reason behind it. I guess I learned the hard way with Gavin because with him, I did start too late. By the time I’d heard about Glenn Doman, Right Brain Kids, Shichida, and flashcards, he was already two years plus. His interests were fixed and his mind was set – I couldn’t show him anything he wasn’t interested in; trying to was a waste of his time and my time.
I had resolved to do things differently with Gareth – as long as Gareth was interested to learn. I’ve discovered that Gareth has a voracious appetite for new information. He devours everything I show him and gives me his avid attention no matter what I show him. The only time he turns away or fusses is when he’s already seen too much and is overstimulated, tired, hungry, or requiring some other need to be fulfilled first. He’s mesmerised by my lessons and is such a joy to teach because at 5 months, his mind is wide open and hungry for information. All I have to do is be lively and excited when I present new information to him and he’s rapt.
The other reason why younger is better is because the rate of absorption of new materials is greatest at birth and gradually decreases as the child approaches the six year old mark. It’s got to do with the level of right brain activity which is highest at birth and decreases as a child grows older and the left brain begins to dominate. Unlike the left brain, the right brain has the ability to absorb new information at an astounding rate. Being photographic in nature, it takes in new information instantaneously. The right brain also absorbs all information indiscriminately while the left brain filters information and absorbs only some of what it is exposed to.
Nothing is impossible to a child’s right brain thinking – learning is not limited by the left brain’s reasoning. It is similar to the reason why autistic individuals have been known to demonstrate a capacity for genius. The connection between the right and left brain is damaged in autistic individuals and this damaged connection means the left brain is unable to inhibit the right brain’s potential with what is “possible” and what is “impossible”. Likewise, children can achieve some of the amazing things they do because they are not controlled by the limits of the left brain’s beliefs of what is possible and impossible.
Here’s a story I read about a student who fell asleep in his Math lecture: When he woke up, he saw a math equation on the blackboard and quickly scribbled it down thinking it was the homework. What he had not heard was his lecturer telling the class that no one in the mathematical world had ever been able to solve that equation before. Thinking it was his homework, therefore he should be able to work out the answer, the student handed in his answer to his amazed lecturer. Because he didn’t know he wasn’t supposed to be able to come up with the answer, the student was not limited by the beliefs of the other students. That is exactly how a child’s brain works. He can learn anything because he doesn’t know he is not supposed to be able to.
Finally, the right brain has the ability to absorb new information in three ways: direct, peripheral and 360 degree learning, while the left brain can only absorb new information directly. A young child uses all his senses to learn and has the ability to learn something even if he is not looking directly at it. As adults, we need to look directly at the object to learn because we rely too heavily on our sight to learn new materials since our other senses have been dulled through time.
The senses of a young child are still wide open – he can learn new material while playing with another object and he can absorb new words from a flash card by observing them in his peripheral vision. I’ve heard mothers tell me that they were surprised that their children were able to learn new material from class even though their children weren’t even looking at the teacher at the time the material was taught. Children pick up so much through ALL their senses – they pick up things we don’t even notice. This is the same reason why infants eating solid food for the first time don’t require the addition of salt. What tastes bland to us is rich with flavour to an infant’s untainted taste buds. Similarly, it is the same reason why a person who is blind has such a keen sense of hearing.
The younger you begin, the more you are able to capitalise on all these advantages that a young child possesses when it comes to learning. Not only is a young child eager to learn, but it is also easy for a young child to learn. The longer we wait to teach our children, the harder it will be for them to learn.
I’ve heard the argument for not starting early. Mostly it runs something along the lines of “they’re children, let them enjoy their childhood”. We think like this because learning is difficult for us and learning is often not fun. Learning is stressful and we assume it must be stressful to a young child. But learning is not stressful to children, it’s fun. Young children crave to learn so doesn’t it make sense to teach them instead now of waiting for them to grow up and discover that they no longer enjoy it because it’s difficult?