There is something that bothers me about education for preschoolers. I know I have previously mentioned my dislike for DVDs and computer games for educating preschoolers. There is something else I don't like much... educational toys.
I have no problem with learning. I have no problem with a preschooler learning. In fact, try and stop a preschooler from learning. Not possible. My gripe is more with what we aim to teach preschoolers when we get all "educational" about it - specifically shapes, colours, letters and numbers. Name me one educational toy that has nothing to do with shapes, colours, letters or numbers... no, I didn't think so.
Why do we focus so much on shapes, colours, letters and numbers? Probably because:
1. It is quantifiable/ measurable (you can count them... how many colours does he know? how many letters?)
2. It is easy. We feel like we are teaching something when we teach colours/ shapes/ letters/ numbers
3. We have been programmed to believe that knowledge of shapes, colours, letters and numbers is an indicator of intelligence/ learning potential
But there are three big reasons that we shouldn't spend so much energy (and time and money) on teaching shapes, colours, letters and numbers...
1. They aren't particularly meaningful
2. A preschooler's knowledge of shapes/ colours/ letters/ numbers in isolation has no correlation with later learning ability and progress
3. A preschooler who is being exposed to a wide range of natural play activities, books and various interactions with caregivers will learn shapes, colours (and later, letters and numbers) without specific teaching, as well as learning a whole lot of other more meaningful skills, and skills that are more predictive of later learning.
Don't get me wrong. We don't need to throw out all our number/ shape/ colour/ alphabet books. (In fact, we have a couple of excellent books that explore these concepts. I must share them with you sometime.) I'm not saying we should never mention shapes again. I'm not saying I never ask "what colour is it?".
I am saying, let's broaden our definition of what an 'educated' preschooler looks like. According to the research (and I'm sorry, I don't have the specific studies for you now, but I can locate them if you are interested), the preschool skills that correlate with later literacy and educational success are:
1. Oral language ability. Not the ability to list and label colours, shapes, numbers and letters, but the ability to talk, express ideas, use complex sentences, retell events and ask questions. These skills are learnt through interaction and play with caregivers and peers.
2. Phonological Awareness. This includes understanding and recognition of rhyme (and exposure to nursery rhymes and poems), ability to hear sounds in words (not recognise letters visually), and ability to recognise features of words (e.g. a long word vs a short word). These skills are also learnt through listening and interaction with caregivers and peers, particularly with books.
3. Exposure to books and print. Again, through shared reading with caregivers.
Notice a trend? Spending time interacting, talking, reading and playing with our kids in natural contexts is WAY more important than teaching shapes, colours, letters and numbers, and INCOMPARABLE with plonking our children down with an electronic "educational" toy that tells them about shapes, colours, letters and numbers.
Do you fall into teaching shapes, colours, letters and numbers? Do you think they are useful?
Linking up with Jess for IBOT