What You Need to Know About Parenting a Preschooler: 20 Common Myths in Early Childhood Education
Misinformation About Early Childhood Education Spreads Rapidly These Days Thanks to Social Media
Most adults remember their parents warning them as children to wait 30 minutes before taking a swim. Though doctors today say this precaution is totally unnecessary, some uniformed parents continue to give it. Thus, they perpetuate the falsehood into the next generation.
While moms and dads today have greater access to knowledge than ever before, they're still susceptible to misinformation. This is especially true in the realm of early childhood education where untruths spread like wildfire from one parent to another. When they're heard often enough, they're apt to be believed – especially if spoken by a celebrity or politician. Jenny McCarthy, who found fame by posing nude for Playboy, has influenced millions with her anti-vaccine stance even though she has no medical or scientific background.
To set the record straight, here are 20 common myths about early childhood education that too many accept without questioning. Hopefully, they'll be put to rest so moms and dads can deal with the truth and not misinformation:
Myth #1: Earlier is Better When It Comes to Reading
While the federal government pushes for academic rigor at younger ages, many parents get the impression that early reading instruction reaps long-term benefits. There are even instructional programs being sold on television that claim to teach babies how to read. Yet, there's no research to support the position that earlier is better when it comes to reading. Youngsters who learn to read at 5 aren't better readers than those who learn at 6, 7 or even later. In Finland, a country whose educational system is envied around the world, formal reading instruction does not begin until age 7. Moreover, studies show that children who learn to read when they're older are more likely to read for pleasure than those who learned when they were younger.
Myth #2: All Young Children Can Learn to Read if Given the Proper Instruction
Adults get overly impressed when a precocious 4-year-old can read. Some make a foolish leap, mistakenly believing that all 4-year-olds can read if given the proper instruction. Researchers, however, say this is simply not true. Judith Hudson, a developmental psychologist, writes: “Most children have not yet formed certain neural connections that allow them to decode printed letters and then mentally combine them to make words. A few children are able to read earlier, but most of them just pick it up; they don't learn through direct instruction.”
Myth #3: Phonics is the Most Important Early Reading Skill
With the big push for early reading, educators are now teaching structured lessons in phonics during preschool and kindergarten. But research shows early reading exposure should focus on the affective realm, not the cognitive. Young children need to make an emotional connection to books. Knowing T says “tuh” and B says “buh” is far less important than making positive associations with books – those all-important feelings of security, excitement, suspense, comfort, and pleasure that turn kids into life-long readers.
Young Children Need to Associate Reading with Love, Comfort, and Security
Myth #4: Teachers Have a Highly Structured Way of Teaching Reading and Parents Should Stay Out of It or They may Confuse Their Children
Parents are their children's most influential teachers and the best equipped to instill a love of books. Reading to their youngsters – making connection between their kids' lives and the characters in the books – is the best way they can encourage success. Moms and Dads should never trust an educator who's trying to keep them out of the process. Informed teachers know it's vital to get parents involved.
Myth #5 : All Children Should Learn to Read at the Same Age
Readiness to read varies greatly, mirroring the uniqueness of each child. Early reading does not signify intelligence or predict future achievement any more than early potty training equals a high IQ. Acknowledging that each child develops differently is key to promoting reading success. It takes skilled and experienced teachers to appreciate these differences among learners. Unfortunately, many quality teachers have become disenchanted with the one-size-fits-all approach that reigns in education today and have left the profession.
Myth #6: Parents Can Best Help Their Children Read by Teaching Decoding Skills (Sounding Out Words)
The most effective way moms and dads can help children develop a life-long enthusiasm for books is to read themselves. Their children should see them reading for pleasure (fiction books, magazines, the sports pages) and for knowledge (non-fiction books, newspapers, instruction manuals, materials for work). This gives youngsters the crucial message that reading is both important and enjoyable.
Myth #7: Direct Instruction is a Powerful Way to Teach Reading Skills
Direct instruction is an effective teaching method in special education but far less so in mainstream education. Research shows that early literacy is most effective when presented in an organic way throughout the school day: the children reciting nursery rhymes and poems, singing songs, dictating stories to the teacher, writing words with inventive spelling, listening to stories and acting them out, making meaningful connections between words on the page and real life experiences.
Myth #8: Educational Psychologists Supports the Push for Early Learning
Most of today's educational policy goes against what we have learned recently in neuroscience. Neuroscience shows us that no two brains are alike so it's unreasonable that we're treating all learners the same and expecting the same results. Colleen Rau, a reading intervention specialist, cautions, “The lightbulb goes on for students at different times. But if we make students feel pressure so that they shut down, then that light bulb is not going to be as likely to come on and they aren’t going to develop the confidence that they need to become successful readers later.”
Myth #9: Young People are Flocking to the Field of Education, Making Sure We Have Talented Teachers in Place
Experts predict a serious shortage in teachers as young people choose more lucrative higher-status jobs. Many are deciding that a teaching career – requiring a college diploma, a credential, and often a master's degree – is not worth the time and money.
Myth #10: Standardized Testing with Young Children Garners Reliable Results
Our country's love affair with standardized testing continues with preschool and kindergarten teachers now administering tests to their students. But standardized test results for children younger than 8 are largely meaningless. Children's brains are growing rapidly and their attention spans are too short to garner substantive results. Moreover, standardized testing eats up precious instruction time and stresses out young learners.
Standardized Testing Stifles Teacher Creativity and Stresses Young Children
Myth #11: The Best and Brightest Endorse Common Core
More than 500 esteemed professionals – educators, pediatricians, and developmental psychologists – signed a joint statement opposing the K-3 standards. Their statement said: “We have grave concerns about the core standards...The proposed standards conflict with compelling new research in cognitive science, neuroscience, child development, and early childhood education about how young children learn, what they need to learn, and how best to teach them in kindergarten and the early grades.”
Myth #12: The Common Core Standards for K-3 were Created by K-3 Teachers
Shockingly and tellingly, no K-3 teachers were on the committee of 135 people who wrote the Common Core Standards for K-3 classrooms. Their lack of involvement in the test-creating process resulted in an exam that's developmentally inappropriate and potentially damaging to young learners.
Myth #13: Common Core Promotes a Child-Centered Learning Environment
Teachers must introduce 90 standards in kindergarten. Therefore, their classrooms become teacher-directed with structured lessons, children sitting and listening, and rote learning. This goes against decades of research that show youngsters learn best in child-centered classrooms where they learn by doing – through play, exploration, and self-direction.
Myth #14: Teachers are Amazed at How Well Technology Has Prepared Young Children for Kindergarten
While tech companies profit handsomely by targeting younger and younger consumers, teachers are struggling with the ill-effects of too much screen time for little kids. More than ever before children are entering school with weak gross and fine motor skills – unable to hold a pencil correctly and comfortably, unable to cut with scissors, and unable to sit, stand, and move efficiently due to poor balance, coördination, and strength.
Parents Want Their Kids to Use Technology but Starting Too Early Has Ill-Effects
Myth #15: Other Countries are Modeling Their Early Education Classrooms after Those in the United States that Emphasize “Academic Rigor”
Countries such as Denmark and Sweden take an opposite approach to early learning with their highly successful Forest Schools. Youngsters spend many hours of each day in the forest – regardless of the weather – where they're encouraged to explore, take risks, and get dirty. Activities stem from the youngsters' imaginations – not toys, games, and technology. The high adult to child ratio lets kids climb trees, splash in puddles, and play in the mud while staying safe. Research shows children who attend Forest Schools are happier, more confident, and more independent.
Myth #16: Schools are Doing a Terrific Job at Reducing Childhood Obesity and Promoting Fitness
With the drive toward academic rigor, recess and physical education classes continue to get devalued. This is especially true at high-poverty schools where children get substantially less recess time than kids at more affluent schools. Reduced time for exercise, outside time, and play go against the research that shows active kids are less depressed and anxious, more self-assured, and more eager to learn.
Myth #17: Extracurricular Activities Are Always a Good Thing for Children
Over-scheduling children with extracurricular activities limits opportunities for play and downtime. Youngsters need unstructured activities each day to stay healthy -- both physically and emotionally.
Myth #18: Parents Shouldn't Worry if Children Are not Getting Enough Sleep
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children not getting enough sleep is a huge concern. It leads to problems such as obesity, depression, and ADHD.
Family Dinners Help Children Develop Better Eating Habits and Avoid Eating Disorders
Myth #19: Family Dinner Time Is Over-Rated
Family dinner time gets shortchanged when parents and kids bring their cell phones, I-pads, and laptops to the table. Studies show that families who eat dinner together regularly reap the benefits. These include less substance abuse and delinquency, lowers rates of depression, fewer eating disorders, and a greater sense of cooperation and good will within the family.
Myth #20: Young Children Benefit When Parents Heap on Praise
Too much praise makes children overly dependent on others' opinions. Studies show parents make a more positive impact when they extol their children's effort and not their performance.