For most toddlers nowadays, parental pressure to start getting ‘educated’ begins much before the child can take the first step…
A few years ago, I was approached by a friend. She asked, “How old is your son now? 20 months? Does he know his colours, animals and modes of transport yet?”
I thought she was kidding, but unfortunately she was absolutely serious.
The race to win the educational grand prix is real and toddlers are the chariots of choice. Parents nowadays have become obsessed with making, or rather forcing, children learn as early as possible. As a mother, I have been a front row spectator to this insatiable sport for the past seven years and I can assure you, with all my zeal, that I am NOT a fan.
So what is it about a toddler being able to tell pink from white and round from rectangle that becomes so reassuring to parents? Why are children as young as 16 months of age made woeful subjects of rigorous training for reading, writing and various picture recognition exercises? In some cases, the ‘education’ begins as early as when the child turns eight months old.
It’s all an effort to give the child the “right start”, most parents will say.
Months of practice, flash cards, shape-recognition exercises and memory-building routines is what it takes to make past the panel adjudging a child for admission into their “prestigious” Montessori programme. And yet there is no guarantee that a child can reproduce all that he has learnt on the big day. A simple case of stranger anxiety can put the kid off, and end his or her chances of making it past the panel. And that brings parents the first academic setback and disappointment.
Why in the world does that matter? Does your child’s fate and future depend on the observations of some pretentious school interview panel? Can the rejection take away all that your child has the potential to be? Is the school’s validation of your child’s being ‘gifted’ the only reason to be proud of the kid? The answer is obvious; It should not be in any way. Most of these tests are non-standardized and have no scientific backing to test the true potential of hundreds of children of varying capabilities. Still, a toddler’s valour in the face of an unimpressed panel of strangers and his composure to reproduce the needed answers are made to be his or her life’s make or break moment.
But the urgency arrives much before the Montessori does. It’s usually the family where the pressure is usually received from first. Comparisons begin early.
“He’s four months, right? Has he grown his first pair of teeth? No? Oh my God, get him checked. My daughter had three when she was this age.” Everything a child does is comparable; every move, every giggle, every sound and every movement is held in comparison to others, even though it has nothing to do with intelligence or any other skills that the baby might or might not possess; nor has it to do anything with time and dedication put forth by parents.
“Does he not stand yet? I’m surprised. My child used to run at this age.” The gloating never ceases. But, such conversations are often enough to put a majority of parents into overdrive, and a training ‘beast mode’ that puts undue pressure on toddlers. The same is true when it comes to academics.
Deep down, most parents realise they are being harsh, but still come up with reasons to make sense of this madness.
‘Our parents did the same for us.’
‘This is the only way to get ahead in the academic world.’
‘What will become of my child if she doesn’t get into that school?’
‘She deserves a better education, that’s necessary to get into the best school.’
‘The competition is too strong, so we have to try harder and sooner.’
Time For Corrections
This mad race is wrongfully defining our schools; our teachers and our curriculum. The single-minded approach of good grades equal good life is creating undue stress and anxiety. If education were a book, academics would simply be a chapter.
If education were a book, academics would simply be a chapter.
Is it not more important to head into the direction that suits the journey of knowledge, led by the child’s interests, rather than in that which is dictated by the mad race for grades? These are two different paths. One takes your child on the wondrous journey of learning by discovery and experience, while the other teaches your child about a ruthless world where you get one shot at winning.
To get children educated, parents must educate themselves first. They must understand that nothing natural grows in haste. Nature takes its time. So does organic education. Parents must stop forcing children to learn and just let them learn. Borrowing from Sir Ken Robinson, ‘College does not start at Kindergarten. Kindergarten starts at Kindergarten.’
So does your toddler know his colours, animals and modes of transport yet……
For if he does not, you have a wonder-filled road ahead of you, where you and your child can learn discover new worlds each day led by the child’s interests and innate sense of wonder and curiosity.
The unimpressed panel of strangers can wait.