Give Your Preschooler a Head Start

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

Your child can have a head start in formal education when he or she enters kindergarten.  I am not talking about some teacher doing that for your child,  I think you can do that.  You can give your child a jump start for academic skills from home and then send him or her to school.  It is true some children start school far more academically literate than others.  Since they are ahead of other children from the very start, they keep on doing even better as they move up to higher grades.  A study that involved 531 children from sixteen schools of Greenboro, North Carolina, surprised the researchers when they learned how far ahead some children were of others when they entered school.  .  

 Researchers in this study observed that at the start of kindergarten, the children ranged from as many as eight to nine skills-year apart on all literacy and social skills.  To be more specific, while some children scored at two year old level on vocabulary, reading, general information, and number skills, there were others who scored as high as average ten-year old.  Since the discrepancy is so large even before the race has begun, no wonder that the gap keeps widening among children as they move up to the higher grades.  It's exactly like the saying goes, "the rich keep getting richer and poor keep getting poorer."  In the study mentioned above, though all children received comparable education, by the end of the second grade, the researchers observed that these individual differences had increased even further.   

 We all know that some children have higher I.Q. than others.  We can assume that when they enter school, the higher I.Q. kids will be academically ahead of others because of their higher intellectual ability.  However, the scores on an I.Q. test, to a great extent, measure academic skills such as, the vocabulary, general information, mathematical and spatial skills.  Therefore, to argue that the differences in the academic skills of children at K.G. level are because of the I.Q. is simply begging the question.  children are because of

 No, these differences cannot be explained by I.Q. alone.  The "home literacy environment," is partly responsible for these differences.  The home literacy environment is defined by three key family behaviors: 1.  How often parents read to their child?;   2.  How often the family uses the library?;  3.  How many hours a day  does the child watch television? 

 All the three family behaviors influence a child's academic and social skills, but TV watching is most critical out of the three.  Hours of television watched at home prior to entering kindergarten negatively influences a child's level of skills.  The more television a child watches, the worse his or her skills are.  Although the study does not specifically refer to video games, arcade machines, or purely recreational games on computer, common sense dictates that excessive time spent on these activities will also have a negative influence on a child's readiness for school.  

 To utilize a computer, select age-appropriate entertaining educational software for children.   For instance, School RockHouse, a software program for children is entertaining and at the same time helps to improve academic skills.  Likewise, there are educational television programs that are fun to watch.  I still watch Seasame Street programs because they make me laugh.  Note that more than two hours of television a day may have adverse effect on a child's social, emotional, or intellectual development. 

 How well a preschooler will do in school tomorrow greatly depends on what parents do at home today.  Parents can give their children a "KG jump-start" for formal education when they walk through the doors of kindergarten?  We spend a great deal of money in formal institutions of learning.  We tend to believe that that's where real learning occurs.  The fact is that what child learns before the age of formal schooling, is far greater than the sum total of leaning he or she would acquire by going through school, graduate college, and work-related experience. 

 Brain's maximum capacity for learning lasts up to ten years of age.  This does not mean that one stops learning after ten or that there is no point to try learning anything beyond that age.   It simply means that in the first few years of life, there is maximum growth potential for developing brain cells, laying the circuitry and the connections between them.  Correspondingly, there is maximum potential for learning languages, math, and other skills in the first few years.  Therefore, let's make fullest use of early childhood potential.  There are aspects of language and math skills that if a child does not learn them by age eight or ten, it's too late.  The opportunity is gone for ever!  

 Do not take this information to mean that parents should start teaching children reading and writing from age one.  Do not try to run a  second school at home for your school-age child.  However, caregivers should create a home environment that whets their children's appetite for learning and provides ample opportunity for them to learn about a variety of subjects.   Read bed-time stories to your children at night.  Take them to the local library, museums and exhibitions.  Encourage reading. Generally, children who have good reading skills are also good at other subjects.  At dinner time, ask your children about the new and exciting things they did and the things they learned that day.  The key is to get them excited about learning.       

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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 



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