November 12, 2013

Let my children play!

Here in the U.S., a current educational panacea envisioned for Closing the Gap is to round up all the four-year-olds (and maybe three-year-olds, or younger) and set them to studying their ABCs while they get their 30 million words of being talked at by adults with college degrees.

Earlier this month the "Too Much, Too Soon" campaign made headlines with a letter calling for a change to the start age for formal learning in schools. Here, one of the signatories, Cambridge researcher David Whitebread, explains why children may need more time to develop before their formal education begins in earnest.

In England children now start formal schooling, and the formal teaching of literacy and numeracy at the age of four.  A recent letter signed by around 130 early childhood education experts, including myself, published in the Daily Telegraph  (11 Sept 2013) advocated an extension of informal, play-based pre-school provision and a delay to the start of formal ‘schooling’ in England from the current effective start until the age of seven (in line with a number of other European countries who currently have higher levels of academic achievement and child well-being). 
This is a brief review of the relevant research evidence which overwhelmingly supports a later start to formal education. This evidence relates to the contribution of playful experiences to children’s development as learners, and the consequences of starting formal learning at the age of four to five years of age. 
There are several strands of evidence which all point towards the importance of play in young children’s development, and the value of an extended period of playful learning before the start of formal schooling. These arise from anthropological, psychological, neuroscientific and educational studies. 
Anthropological studies of children’s play in extant hunter-gatherer societies, and evolutionary psychology studies of play in the young of other mammalian species, have identified play as an adaptation which evolved in early human social groups.

Yeah, but how many Mbuti pygmies or bonobo chimps made partner at Skadden, Arps last year?
It enabled humans to become powerful learners and problem-solvers. Neuroscientific studies have shown that playful activity leads to synaptic growth, particularly in the frontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for all the uniquely human higher mental functions. 
In my own area of experimental and developmental psychology, studies have also consistently demonstrated the superior learning and motivation arising from playful, as opposed to instructional, approaches to learning in children. Pretence play supports children’s early development of symbolic representational skills, including those of literacy, more powerfully than direct instruction. Physical, constructional and social play supports children in developing their skills of intellectual and emotional ‘self-regulation’, skills which have been shown to be crucial in early learning and development. Perhaps most worrying, a number of studies have documented the loss of play opportunities for children over the second half of the 20th century and demonstrated a clear link with increased indicators of stress and mental health problems. 
Within educational research, a number of longitudinal studies have demonstrated superior academic, motivational and well-being outcomes for children who had attended child-initiated, play-based pre-school programmes. 
One particular study of 3,000 children across England, funded by the Department for Education themselves, showed that an extended period of high quality, play-based pre-school education was of particular advantage to children from disadvantaged households. 
Studies have compared groups of children in New Zealand who started formal literacy lessons at ages 5 and 7. Their results show that the early introduction of formal learning approaches to literacy does not improve children’s reading development, and may be damaging. By the age of 11 there was no difference in reading ability level between the two groups, but the children who started at 5 developed less positive attitudes to reading, and showed poorer text comprehension than those children who had started later. In a separate study of reading achievement in 15 year olds across 55 countries, researchers showed that there was no significant association between reading achievement and school entry age. 
- See more at: http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/discussion/school-starting-age-the-evidence#sthash.0OUafq1M.dpuf

That reminds me of when my son was three. My wife spent a lot of effort getting him accepted by the most fashionable pre-K program in Chicago's Lincoln Park. But at the last moment it all fell apart, when she mentioned that he wouldn't be coming on Wednesdays: That's when he went to his grandmother's to help her bake cookies (i.e., lick the spatula). And maybe he'd come home at lunchtime a couple of other days per week because 8 to 3 was a long day for him. 

The pre-K's admission officer was shocked by my wife's cavalier attitude toward her three-year-old's academic career. All the educational progress they were making would be at risk if he left early, much less spent an entire day per week in the non-academic atmosphere of his grandmother's house. When my wife voiced skepticism, the admission officer pointed out that she had an M.A. in Education and my wife did not. 

Talks broke down irretrievably, so he stayed home another year and kept going to his grandmother's house to help her bake cookies.

33 comments:

carol said...

Well, obviously, someone's going to have to take care of the kids so why not the school.

Momma's got stuff to do.

Bill said...

"...how many Mbuti pygmies or bonobo chimps made partner at Skadden, Arps last year?"

Priceless

Svigor said...

OT:

So, I caught a glimpse of the new Obamacare logo at Drudge today. I only saw it for a half a second because I hit reload on my browser before I even noticed it, and when the page refreshed it was gone. I didn't know what it was, but I was struck by the imagery. I put 2 and 2 together and did a Web search for the Obamacare logo, and sure enough, there it was:

Obamacare logo search at G**gle images

This is the cleanest version I could find with a quick search:

Obamacare: Organizing for Health Care

Am I the only one who see's an angry, helmeted gorilla from Planet of the Apes looming over America there? I always get a kick out of art like that, especially when it's official gov't/big business art. Is it just an accident? The artist in me finds that hard to believe. Artists tend to look at their work for long periods of time before they're done with it. They tend to look for stuff like that. So, was it meant in a mocking tone? A bit of subversion? Or was it a part of the art direction, i.e., intentionally menacing, with some kind of sick racial overtones?

Weird, just plain weird. A c-note says it gets pulled before long.

A Working Class American said...

I agree--too much schooling, too much homework and much too early.

Myself, I never had any formal education before the age of 6. And my parents never tried to teach more before then, either. Skipped kindergarten, and went to 1st grade at age 6. Learned how to read then. Was reading all sorts of stuff on my own as a child. Went all the way to a doctoral degree by the time I finished. La dee dah....

Big Bill said...

By the age of 11 there was no difference in reading ability level between the two groups, but the children who started at 5 developed less positive attitudes to reading, and showed poorer text comprehension.

Can you say "Reparations", children?

agnostic said...

Looking at small children these days, it's striking how literate they are -- yet how ignorant of their culture.

Parents and teachers (at the parents' behest) just don't care anymore about enculturation of the next generation. We all learned traditional nursery rhymes when I was growing up, but they've been lost (or gone into hiding) since then.

http://akinokure.blogspot.com/2013/08/children-not-enculturated-to-know-their.html

Nursery rhymes are orally transmitted, so they ought to be even more widespread these days -- the kids could also be reading them on their own, since they know their ABC's earlier.

Literacy no longer has a larger point -- it's all "pre-" this and "pre-" that. College is pre-professional school, high school is college prep, elementary school is pre-high school, and now there's even pre-preschool.

Grad students are pre-post-docs.

Professional school is pre-career, career is pre-retirement, and retirement is Death Prep.

Anonymous said...

School?

Cookies?

School?

Cookies?

School?

Cookies?

Shit damn.

Lemme think about that one.

Oh wait, I know the answer!

Anonymous said...

It's far simpler to explain, and play isn't needed as a justification. The specific areas of the brain that are necessary for reading, writing, and arithmetic do not develop to the level necessary to meet a kindergarten/first grade level of education until 7 years of age.

For reading and writing tasks 7 years or age for males and about 6 years of age for females is when the brain is ready. In regards to math for boys its about 6 years of age and for girls about 7 years of age.

I will hopefully post detailed sources later but, Leonard Sax has written extensively about child sex differences and development, especially differences in brain development. I highly recommend his non politically correct books.

http://www.amazon.com/Leonard-Sax/e/B001JSEHTW/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

Anonymous said...

COOKIES FTW!!!

agnostic said...

The point about "self-regulation" arising from play with peers couldn't be more timely. Everyone keeps complaining about how entitled the Millennials are at school and the workplace. In surveys, Millennials themselves admit that this is one of their distinguishing traits.

Having been reared entirely within the nuclear household, they can only grope their way awkwardly through any social setting where they must engage others in a back-and-forth among rough equals. Their minds were shaped to rely on mediation through authority figures, i.e. whining to the parents about who started what, and requesting the parent to "tell Dylan to do such-and-such."

Among your peers on the playground, you can't just whine to some incarnation of the Microaggressions god, and you can't enter a plea to the authorities to force someone else to do what you want them to.

Shedding your brattiness is way more crucial to fitting in to adult society than cramming a few more factoids in the crawlspace of your brain.

Anonymous said...

We all learned traditional nursery rhymes when I was growing up, but they've been lost (or gone into hiding) since then.

Gee, I wonder why?!?

Gubbler of the Society of Reformed Chechenistics said...

Just as with global warming stuff, there's a lot of self-interest and ideology involved.

With early education becoming more about MLK worship and homo propaganda, there is push to begin 'education' much earlier.

Also, it expands the teaching industry and creates lots more (mostly useless)jobs.

Btw, instead of asking what are teachers teaching, we should ask who are teaching the teachers?

Teachers--except professors in elite colleges--are not trained to think. They are trained to learn without asking questions and to impart what they've learned on young ones.
So, who teaches the teachers?
What are teachers being taught to teach the kids?
Your average teacher, especially at lower grade level, never had an original or individual thought in his or her life. (Come to think of it, most college professors are like that too. If most elite professors are PC robots, imagine what most elementary school teachers are like.)

Anonymous said...

Part of this mania for early education seems to be due to the erosion of the middle class.

In the past, even if your kid didn't make it into the elite, he could easily find a middle class job and move to a white area in a mostly white country.

But with section 8, yellow competition, browning of America, and erosion of good working class and low-middle class jobs, it's either you make it or you are in deep doodoo.

Unless you really do well and can afford to live in a fancy suburb or good part of city, nothing is guaranteed. So, parents are anxious about squeezing out the last bit of effort from their kids.

Consider these useless knuckleheads of the past.

http://youtu.be/YbIz96CwH6U?t=1m21s

No one in the video gives a crap about books but they prolly know once they are out of high school, there will be some job waiting for them with benefits and lifetime employment.

Today, even college degree is nothing special. You gotta go to the best colleges and be really good...or your nothing. So, parents are nervous.

Glossy said...

"The specific areas of the brain that are necessary for reading, writing, and arithmetic do not develop to the level necessary to meet a kindergarten/first grade level of education until 7 years of age."

This is obviously incorrect. You should throw away the book where you read it.

My mom says that I started reading at 4 and I have stuff I wrote at 6. It has dates in it. Same for arithmetic - my parents gave me little exercises like 6 + 7 = ? before I went to school. A few people have told me over the years that they started reading at 4. I don't think it's all that rare.

Anonymous said...

"Yeah, but how many Mbuti pygmies or bonobo chimps made partner at Skadden, Arps last year?"

Yeah, because those are the same things, functionally speaking. You spend a lot of time complaining that other writers won't admit that they read you. Wonder why that is?

Handle said...

Eventually they will round up all the kids for pre-pre-pre-K and do the million-IVY-words thing.

But the SWPL parents will revolt and pull their kids out and send them to more free-play / Montessori type places.

And then the gap will be the same as it is today.

And then they'll say, "Ah! It's the playing! Quick, get all the URM's out of pre-pre-pre-K and let them play at home."

And the pendulum will swing and swing but the gap won't change.

Abe Fauxman said...

Unsurprisingly, my beloved country has easily managed to close the gap between my fellow high I.Q. Ashkenazim and those nig... er, I mean our darker brothers from Ethiopia.

Of course. some Jewish acumen was required.

Full article.

Steve Sailer said...

Anonymous complains:

"Yeah, because those are the same things, functionally speaking. You spend a lot of time complaining that other writers won't admit that they read you. Wonder why that is?"

Don't be obtuse.

The posting reads:

"Anthropological studies of children’s play in extant hunter-gatherer societies, and evolutionary psychology studies of play in the young of other mammalian species, have identified play as an adaptation which evolved in early human social groups.

"Yeah, but how many Mbuti pygmies or bonobo chimps made partner at Skadden, Arps last year?"

The interpolated comment is mocking the kind of hyperambitious parent who draws a line between Skadden, Arps partners and the rest of the biological kingdom.

Corn said...

Steve likes to bring up Finland on his blog sometimes, I read once that in Finland children usually aren't taught to read until age 6 or 7. An unusually late age by our standards anyway. Doesn't seem to do them harm. Anyone know if that's true?

Rohan Swee said...

Pretence play supports children’s early development of symbolic representational skills, including those of literacy, more powerfully than direct instruction.
[...]

...but the children who started at 5 developed less positive attitudes to reading, and showed poorer text comprehension than those children who had started later.


I have this notion, completely anecdotal, scientifically untested, but unshakeable nonetheless, that people younger than I am (except for my own children, of course) are becoming more and more irritatingly literal-minded as our decline and fall grinds on. This is not the perennial variation in how well people grasp and wield all the playful possibilities of language that live outside of strict, literal information exchange, but a real widespread deadening of understanding of anything that isn't fact (or "fact"), or sheer cant. (When, for example, did young children start not getting Santa Claus? Is stressing about the non-reality of St. Nick, and how to break this apparently traumatic truth to kids, a recent invention of neurotic parents, or have children really become that deficient in the imaginative élan, the capacity for the non-literal, I thought a normal characteristic of childhood? See also, various isteve commenters.)

So I wonder, is this unnatural imaginative stodginess a result of "kids these days" never being allowed to just freaking play? (Plus, I'd guess, having the ol' flights-of-fancy channels clogged up with pop-culture sewage.) Man, my childhood was a paradise of play. No kindergarten, let alone pre-school, no school at all 'til Grade One at age 7, and nobody the least bit bothered that I couldn't add 2+2 or read a word before then, even though I grew up in a house full of books.

I distinctly remember that time when they were as indecipherable to me, as indecipherable as Chinese characters and Arabic script are now. I'd pick them off the shelf, stare at the meaningless black squiggles, not daunted but with the relaxed awareness that I would eventually go off to the neighborhood school where all would be revealed to me...in due time, in due time. Meanwhile, a 5 or 6 year old has more pressing things to attend to.

I guess nowadays that would have the guidance counselor steering me toward a career as Tom Friedman's houseboy.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

@ Glossy. On average. Or have you lost your mathematical ability and reading comprehension after your early start? Yes there are earlier readers and calculators - I was one and fathered some. So what?

To the OP: Yes, we read once again that we are doing education all wrong. The Finns beat us because they are so laid-back, the South Koreans because they are so driven. It seems that the American kids are always in too much or out too much, spending too much time on the computer or not enough, thrown into competition or shielded from it.

It is very hard, perhaps impossible, to bring a kid up above his hard-disk level, even with great effort. But it is possible to screw your kid up by imposing your insane theories on him in that effort.

Glossy said...

Assistant Village Idiot, I'm afraid it is you who are lacking in reading comprehension. The commenter quoted by me did not make any claims about averages. You are the one who introduced averages into the discussion. Why?

Most educational research is BS. It wouldn't surprise me if his source really did make that idiotic absolute claim.

Alice said...

The ed-school world is populated by SWPL types. They therefore espouse theories of education and learning that are great for elite whites and complete disasters for the left half of the Bell curve.

Constructivism! Inquiry based learning! self discovery in math! These are all lovely, pleasant, engaging forms of *play* for an adult who interacts with a bright child.

It works for them because mom and dad bought ipad flash cards apps made them watch boring sesame street or because the kids are bright enough.

Such methods are below worthless for the left half of the bell curve, who can't discover or infer anything about the rules for phonics or base 10 math systems. So these children are condemned to the sickening jail time of the useless years of k-8, where no one uses Direct Instruction to even teach them to read or count. Because DI must be racist, since it works best for that left half of the bell curve.

But hey! believing in egalitarianism and Rousseau feels good for the SWPL crowd, and it holds back the bottom four quintiles from competing with their offspring, win-win!

Alice said...

And schools, because it is a thoughtcrime to say the top 2 quintiles and the bottom 2 quintiles are different, refuse to allow different methods to teach these populations. So when they believe children must be in school 365 days a year, 9 hours a day, having pressure exerted to force them to stay cognitively above their level, theybsay it for everyone.

and then the SWPL crowd gets upset, and yells for shorter days, longer breaks, less testing. But it must be for everyone or none; what is not prohibited is required.

Anonymous said...

I am OP of the brain post.

My original statement was about brain structure development and optimal learning. Of course it is possible for some children to read at a very young age but, for the type of work a child is required in school, an average or most children will perform optimally with the brain structures developed, and that tends to occur at 6-7 years of age.

Sources:

Book on google, clear your cache and you can probably read the whole book, chapter 1 has a good portion of info and citations in the back:
http://books.google.com/books?id=ZUN_u3qxuyEC&printsec=frontcover&dq=boys+adrift&hl=en&sa=X&ei=EPeCUuGBJraosASA4IGoDQ&ved=0CC8Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

Paper on brain development differences:
http://www.boysadrift.com/2007Giedd.pdf

Bonus: NYT brain map

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2008/09/15/health/20080915-brain-development.html?_r=0

Anonymous said...

Shedding your brattiness is way more crucial to fitting in to adult society than cramming a few more factoids in the crawlspace of your brain.

Brattiness? You mean humanity.

And who needs to fit in, anyway? This is America 2103, not Russia 1917. The worst brats are those self-righteous flag-waving boy scout bully-hypocrites of the 1900-1930 generation, not the Millennials. So get your facts right.

Anonymous said...

Who cares about closing the gap, and other commie sewage. I'm homeschooling my kids to be happy self-loving human beings rather than "successful" self-hating robots. The left and right can go jump off the same cliff.

Anonymous said...

Of course it is possible for some children to read at a very young age but, for the type of work a child is required in school, an average or most children will perform optimally with the brain structures developed, and that tends to occur at 6-7 years of age.

The averages [and, doubtless, the standard deviations, as well] will vary strongly by RACE.

The more time that I spend around children, the more I am coming to the inescapable conclusion that white children are extremely late bloomers - the latest bloomers of all, as far as I can tell.

In general, negro, Mexican, Pacific Rim asian, and jewish children all tend to peak at much younger ages than do white children.

[I don't have nearly as much experience watching Indian subcontinent caucasoids, and I don't yet have much of an opinion about their developmentals one way or the other.]

pat said...

I don't know about these things. I know that kids read at some point but just when that point is, is a mystery to me.

I remember that my mother used to tell everyone that I read printing of the cereal boxes when I was some incredibly young age. I never knew what to make of this idea. Apparently my cousin Willie also read cereal boxes so I never thought much of it. I assumed that all mothers told such stories.

There is printing on everything these days so do all little nippers like Tarzan just suddenly and spontaneously figure out how to read for themselves?

Albertosaurus

Svigor said...

Must be gettin' senile. Never used to put an apostrophe in "sees." Never could even figure out WTF anyone put an apostrophe in "sees." Been doin' a lot more of that kind of thing, lately.

Bill said...


Glossy said...

Assistant Village Idiot, I'm afraid it is you who are lacking in reading comprehension.


No, Glossy, it's you. When someone says something like "Males hit puberty at 13," it's clear to all non-imbeciles that he is talking about mean or median or some other distributional concept.

Also, Rohan Swee is talking about you above.

Bill said...


Alice said...

But hey! believing in egalitarianism and Rousseau feels good for the SWPL crowd, and it holds back the bottom four quintiles from competing with their offspring, win-win!


Beautiful!

Gringo said...

Sin Nombre @ 11/12/13, 9:18 PM
The worst brats are those self-righteous flag-waving boy scout bully-hypocrites of the 1900-1930 generation, not the Millennials. So get your facts right.

Are you trying out for the want ad posted for a comedian's head writer?