You may have noticed by now that there’s been a particular trend in my posts of late revolving around education, or rather, early childhood education. There is a reason for it. Gavin has turned two in January and based on much of the information I have read on child psychology and the brain development of children, from birth to age six is the critical period in a child’s development that parents must take advantage of if we hope to help our children reach their full potential as adults.
Sounds a bit dramatic doesn’t it? But I believe it is true. We often look at geniuses in the world and assume that they had some special talent that allowed them to achieve great feats beyond the dreams of “normal” people. And yet, that isn’t really true.
Take a look at Mozart. He was hailed as a genius in music but he began his studies in the art at the tender age of two. By five years old, he could play the piano blind-folded. And what about Tiger Woods, world champion golfer? Playing with a putter before he could walk, he beat avid golfer Bob Hope in a putting competition when he was just three years old. They said that he was a child prodigy in golf, but I think the real key was the fact that Tiger Woods had a passion for the sport and a devoted father who poured his heart and soul towards developing his son’s talent.
Before you get the wrong idea, let me set the record straight. I’m not talking about becoming a zealous parent hell-bent on making a child the next US President. Not in the least. I’m merely using these examples to illustrate what a child can become if he has a passion and is given the right tools and support to achieve it. As parents, I believe it is our duty to help our children identify their passions and to help them realise their dreams.
It all begins with early childhood education – what your children are exposed to, how they are taught, and the freedom they are given to pave their own educational path.
Brillbaby, Your Baby Can Read, Glenn Doman (Sorry SM – haven’t really looked at this last one, but I will check it out soon) and the Montessori Method are just some of the early childhood education programs focused on teaching children from as young as under 1 year old. It might seem a bit much to be teaching a 1 year old how to read but if that child enjoys the activity (and many of these kids do), then why not? It was found that children who learn to read as infants become more avid and proficient readers than those who learn later at the so-called “appropriate” age. I can’t see how that’s a bad thing.
Obviously, if your child hates flash cards (as some children do) then that clearly isn’t the right method for your child. You just need to find other ways to stimulate your child’s drive to learn, which is something every child possesses or he would not have learned how to sit, walk, talk, etc.
So if you’ve been wondering why the heck I bother to take my son to the National Science Center to teach him concepts that are clearly beyond him, now you know. The purpose isn’t to teach him science so he can become a child prodigy. It is to excite his senses and engage his interest in the world around him. In fact, taking him to the National Science Center is just an infinitesimal part of his education, of which the bigger picture is to expose him to as many new sights and sounds as possible. How else can he discover his passion if he has never seen it?
One of the biggest fears of a parent who is against “early childhood education” is probably the fear of overwhelming the child with too much information. Just to cite an example, my parents never taught my brother or me to speak any of the Chinese dialects despite the fact that they knew at least three different dialects between the two of them. Their reasoning was that they did not want us to be confused with language by becoming a “jack of all trades and the master of none”.
However, if you’ve read enough books about child development, especially on the subject of languages, you will know that a child who has been exposed to a second language becomes more proficient in languages when he grows older. He will also find it easier to pick up other languages because the neural pathways in the language center of his brain has been stimulated and further developed.
In the brain of a child who is monolingual, the language center remains undeveloped and the neural pathways are eventually cut to favour the development of other pathways that are being stimulated. So although an adult who is monolingual is able to learn a second language, that person often finds it much harder than another individual who is at least bilingual.
If you are a concerned parent worried about burning your child out, well firstly, I think you shouldn’t be. Your child is much more capable at learning than you are. Just look at some of the feats accomplished by the age of two – walking, communicating, language comprehension (they know a LOT more than you think they do) – and tell me if you could have achieved that much in that amount of time. If you’re still worried then the best rule of thumb to follow is this: expose your child to as much as you can. Observe your child’s interests and encourage further study only in areas that interest your child, letting go of the rest.
For instance, when I took Gavin to the Science Center, I followed his pace. If he wanted to go to a different exhibit, we would move. I would not hold him back and insist he examine all the exhibits. The most I would do is draw his attention to the exhibits that he misses and let him decide if he wanted to stay to look further or to move on.
In other words, let your child lead the way and you’ll never go wrong. I suppose that’s why I’ve decided to incorporate the Montessori Method into Gavin’s early childhood education. The Montessori Method allows the child to lead and choose the educational pathway that excites him the most. That ensures two critical aspects of education – that the child learns faster and has fun along the way.