Why The Preschool Years Are So Important

A: The field has always been contentious. But there's something we all agree on--anything you provide for preschool children that is less than top quality is a missed opportunity to contribute to the rest of the child's life. The dissension is about what represents "top quality." Where we disagree is the question of what children should be doing in their preschool years.

Q: How important are those preschool years?

A: The early years can have a long-lasting effect. For me, the best analogy is this: If you have a really good, well-balanced diet in the early years, you will sustain the damage of famine when you're older a bit better. You'll still die if you don't eat, of course, and education isn't an inoculation, but you'll weather it better if you've been prepared.

Q: Why can't experts agree on what children should be taught in the early years?

A: It's very hard to get absolutely definitive research. There are too many variables.

Q: Why is that?

A: The way we'd get the information would be unethical to perform. We can't say, "All right, for every other child born on such and such a day, we'll put them in one situation and follow them, and then put others in another situation and follow them." We're always making the best inferences we can, but any field that has data weaknesses has a vacuum. The vacuum is filled by ideologies.

Q: What drives you crazy about some theories of child-rearing?

A: The one thing I'm very worried about is all this talk about common sense. If common sense is right, you don't need science, you don't need universities, you don't need research. You just stop the first person on the street and ask him what he thinks.

Q: You've written about the differences in boys and girls at young ages. To what do we ascribe those differences?

A: We know that boys are neurologically slower than girls. They catch up in middle childhood, but there's a difference. Girls, we know, put up with nonsense [in school] better. Girls will put up with being forced into a passive role better than boys. Boys are growing up in a culture where males are expected to be assertive.

Q: Should parents be pushing kids to read if the kids aren't so inclined?

A: You want to teach children to read. Everybody agrees with that. The disagreement is when and how. There's no evidence that the earlier, the better. There are 4-year-olds who can learn to read, but not all of them can. When we start early, we're teaching a lot of children that they are incompetent.

My son wasn't really ready to read until about 6. He reversed letters. He's 45 now, and in those days, they didn't put kids in special education so fast. If they had, he'd have been put in there.

Source : http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2001-04-15/news/0104150299_1_preschool-years-common-sense-boys

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