Sitting with toddler moms at the park, one mom exclaimed, “Max can read Goodnight Moon cover to cover already!” One of the other moms in the group tried to explain to her that he had simply memorized the text, but then things got tense. The littles just wanted to play, but we were some how competing to see whose child was the most intelligent – better yet, who was the best mom for having made him that way. Ugh.

Why Parents Want to Rear Child Prodigies

Many parents compare the age at which their children first learn their ABCs and the legibility of their little ones’ signatures. Our desire to make our kids the best they can be at the earliest possible age is unspoken proof that we've succeeded at being good parents. Today schools expect more from children, earlier. Curriculum for kindergarten is similar to what it used to be for first grade. This puts pressure on parents who worry that their tots won’t be able to keep up with the curriculum if he is not given a head start, so many start "working" with their kids when they're babies.

Pushing Too Hard and Too Soon

There are some negative aspects to teaching babies too much too soon. That is not to say that teaching your child at home is inherently negative. Rather, it is intense, formal teaching, such as rote memorization practices, which is inappropriate for the preschool age group. Experts agree that one of the problems with this type of pedagogical teaching is that it can stymie the child’s innate love of learning, by instead producing anxiety and a general lack of enthusiasm from being pushed too hard at an age where constructive play should serve as a learning tool. In his book Toddler Taming (Vermillion, $8.95), Christopher Green, Ph.D., says, “There is a real danger that being forced to read and pushed too hard at too early an age can turn some children off the whole idea and a definite resistance will appear, which might hinder an otherwise normal approach to the subject.” Parents who create a stressful learning environment are often doing more harm than good. Educators have found that the child who is pressured to learn things before he is ready develops a fear of failure because of the constant burden to perform well. He may also have trouble developing his own goals because goals have always been set for him by his parents. Burnout can also be a problem. A child who has been pushed too hard before school even starts may not enter kindergarten with the same enthusiasm as the child who does not equate learning with pressure to perform. Many parents are enthusiastic about their child learning to read early; i.e. he's bright for his age. The child who begins to read before kindergarten will have a head start over the other children in his class. However, experts agree that this head start is transient, as the other children will soon catch up. Green explains the dynamics of reading and why a child of 3 does not use the same cognitive skills as a child of 6. The 3-year-old utilizes his photographic memory to recognize “sight words.”
The Best Way to Teach Your Tot Teaching your child on a daily basis is one of the greatest gifts you can give him. It is how we teach, not what we teach, that sometimes needs to be modified. Many experts agree that it is beneficial for your child to be exposed to letters, numbers, colors and shapes before kindergarten. How then do we get there without hurrying the child or causing undue pressures? A valuable passion you can pass on to your child is a love of books. Read to your child at least once a day. Attend your local library’s story time, and check out new books on a weekly basis. Make up creative stories with your child. Have your child do illustrations while you write down words. Your child will want to be able to read all by himself if he has developed a love of books. Try to make everything a learning experience, whether it be a parade or a trip to the supermarket. Make yourself available for lengthy conversations with your child. This encourages him to communicate and ask questions. Most importantly, let your child take the lead. Does he seem interested in what you are doing and eager to continue, or is he bored and anxious? Children ages 1 - 3 are not ready for marathon learning experiences. They need exposure and encouragement. They also have a right to a childhood filled with mud pies, ice cream and ponies. However, making the time for some creative teaching in between carefree jaunts is definitely worth the effort.

ABCs and 123s

Nix the flash cards and workbooks! Go for playful ways of learning letters and numbers:
  • Play alphabet bingo
  • Put magnetic letters on your refrigerator so your child can make words with them
  • Label things in your child’s room (i.e. bed, toys, lamp,hat)
  • Count pretzels at snack time
  • Play card games with letters and numbers
  • Write your names in the sand
  • String necklaces with letter beads
  • Make alphabet soup