Objection 1: No Proof That Early Learning Works
To some parents, the concept of “early learning” — teaching children at a very young age using specific methods and techniques — may seem like a modern myth, with little scientific evidence colic to back it up. Yes, one may occasionally read in the newspapers about the child prodigy who could read lengthy books, solve difficult math questions, or play music like a virtuoso, but isn’t this more the exception rather than the rule?
Scour the world wide web, and it is easy to discover otherwise. If nothing else, the bountiful video footage posted online of many young children reading, doing math and playing a musical instrument is proof positive that early learning is a lot more common and successful than some parents may imagine it to be. The Internet community of parents teems with personal testimonies and anecdotal accounts of how their children have benefitted in different ways from their efforts to teach them early.
On the scientific front, there has been increasing research to document the possibility of early learning. Separate studies have found that (1) babies are born with perfect pitch, (2) babies have the ability to subitise, i.e. perceive the number of objects in a set without counting, and (3) young children are naturally predisposed to learning languages. We will read later in this article about another 2 studies which illustrate the long-term effects of early reading on young children. Evidence is slowly but surely mounting to support the early learning theories proposed by educators such as Glenn Doman and Makoto Shichida. As they have always emphasised, children are totally capable of learning at a very young age, and the first 6 years (when the right brain is dominant) is really the best time to maximise every child’s potential.
Objection 2: Young Children Are Not Developmentally Ready
There is still a common belief that very young children are not developmentally ready for early learning: They cannot sit still, pay close attention, and remember abstract shapes of letters, words or numbers. This is because the neurological pathways responsible for these abilities are not yet fully formed in early childhood.
Yet, researchers have discovered that a foetus can respond to sounds during its fifth month in the womb, when its sense of hearing is already developed. In fact, newborns exhibit preferences for sounds they have heard before birth, particularly the mother’s voice, and children who have been prenatally exposed to classical music have even been found to demonstrate early musical skills. Clearly, learning can begin even before birth.
What happens after birth? A baby is not born with a fully-formed brain. The baby’s brain builds itself, by forming connections in response to the stimulation it receives. The more the stimuli, the more complex is the brain’s wiring. Learning will never be as fast and effortless as it is now. The fact that every child can speak his native tongue fairly well by the first 3 years is testimony to the sponge-like absorbency of the brain in early childhood.
Wiring The Right Brain
In the first 6 years, when a baby’s right brain is more dominant than the left brain, the purpose of early learning is to provide appropriate activities to stimulate the right brain and grow its neural circuitry, in other words, increase its capabilities. A young child, with an activated right brain, can be easily taught to read words and perceive numerical quantities. The right brain lets a child apprehend words and numbers as visual images. Sight reading (recognition of sight words) falls into this very category of right-brain activities. By comparison, the left brain lets a child apprehend words and numbers by logical analysis. Phonetic reading (sounding out each letter of a word) comes within the purview of the left brain. But because the left brain develops later than the right brain — after 3 years of age, up to 6 years when it takes over from the right brain as the dominant half — it is little wonder that critics of early learning have always insisted that very young children are not developmentally ready for “reading,” by which they are actually referring to phonetic reading.
Early Learning: A Brain-based System
If we think about it, early learning is essentially a brain-based educational system, which takes into account the way a baby’s brain develops. So by right, every child, no matter how young, would be developmentally ready for whatever early learning aims to achieve.
Objection 3: Young Children Will Not Enjoy Early Learning
Many people may assume that implementing an early learning programme involves forcing young hapless children to learn against their will. That is because we could still recall our childhood experiences in school, when learning a new academic subject invariably involves a certain measure of tediousness, difficulty and even dislike.
The Principle Of Joyousness
While traditional schools practise left-brain learning, early learning is more about right-brain learning. The first thing to know about right-brain learning is that it totally thrives on the principle of joyousness. Early learning experts, Glenn Doman and Makoto Shichida, have constantly highlighted that early learning lessons should always be fun and stress-free for the child. Lessons should be conducted, only when the child is happy and receptive, and stopped before the child loses interest.When taught in this way, parents will discover that their children will look forward to lessons, and even seek to prolong them.
A Natural Love For Learning
Parents should bear in mind that all young children naturally love to learn. When children are being taught in a fun and relaxed way, they do not distinguish between learning and playing. What’s more, they hardly need much effort to pick up the skill of reading or math — unlike an older child. School-going kids tend to find reading or math more difficult, precisely because they have started too late on their learning. In contrast, young children who have been given an early headstart in reading or math will have a far easier time in school and enjoy school more.
Objection 4: What is the point of early learning if the cognitive advantage cannot be sustained over time?
It may be argued that it is all very well for a child to be able to read, do math or play a musical instrument at an early age, but with time, his peers are certain to catch up. If so, isn’t early learning a waste of time and effort? Why should we bother with the hassle then?
Sustainable Benefits From Early Learning
There is mounting research to show that the cognitive advantage gained by children who were taught reading early is actually sustainable over the years. Different studies are pointing to an indisputable fact: Early learning does bring significant long-term benefits to children.
A Supporting Scientific Study
In an early study conducted in the US in the 1960s and 70s by Dolores Durkin, it was found that children who had been taught to read at a young age read better with greater comprehension than children taught at school-going age. What’s more, the study also found that the advantage gained by early readers extended, even when comparing with children of the same IQ and same socio-economic status. Their ability to read well is obviously not a reflection of a higher IQ or a more privileged background, but simply a result of early learning.
Another Supporting Scientific Study
In a more recent scientific study, “An illustrative case study of precocious reading ability,” published in 2004 in Gifted Child Quarterly, authors Rhona Stainthorp and Diana Hughes compared the progress in school of children who began reading early, with children who began reading at an average age. They found that the cognitive advantage gained by the early readers continued to increase, and in fact improve at a much faster rate “when provided appropriate interventions.”
To Teach Or Not To Teach Early?
For sure, it is worth your while, as a parent, to sift through the arguments for and against early learning to reach your own logical conclusion. It would have some bearing on whether you choose to teach your child early. But whatever the reasoning and arguments may be, nothing will influence our decision more than our boundless love and hopes for our children’s future.