Q. Our 4-year-old grandson is enrolled in a pre-kindergarten class where all the kids are beginning to learn to read and write. The problem is that he refuses to print his name, at home or at school. When we ask why, he says he can’t. I’ve told him over and over again that the word "can’t" shouldn’t be in his vocabulary. He will occasionally print the first two letters in his name but not in proper order. Help!
This is a prime example of the disconnect between research and practice that is ubiquitous to American education, and especially preschool education.
The research is clear that teaching reading before age 6 greatly increases the possibility of later learning problems and underachievement. For more on this subject, I recommend the recently updated edition of David Elkind’s classic “The Hurried Child” (paperback, Da Capo Press, $16.95). Nonetheless, most preschool programs make every effort to teach children to read.
That’s not where the disconnect problem ends, however. The research is unequivocal to the effect that television watching during the preschool years greatly increases the likelihood of attention problems. Nonetheless, it is the rare preschool program that doesn’t have children watching the boob tube at least 30 minutes a day.
Researchers have also discovered a strong link between preschool computer time and later learning difficulties. Some studies have found that screen time of any sort during the preschool years actually changes the way the brain develops. But finding a preschool that doesn’t have kids sitting at computers part of the day is akin to finding the proverbial needle in the haystack.
It can be reasonably concluded that sending a child to a typical American preschool program places the child at significant risk. In all fairness, it is extremely difficult for a preschool to successfully market itself unless it promotes academics and computer learning. Today’s parents are convinced, in the face of a growing amount of evidence to the contrary, that where reading and computers are concerned, earlier is better.
In the 1950s, prior to the onset of one failed education “reform” initiative after another, America’s literacy rate was at an all-time high. It’s interesting to note that with rare exception we early baby boomers were not taught to read until first grade. Typically, our mothers made no effort whatsoever to teach us any literacy skills during our preschool years. Rather, they taught us to pay attention to women and do what women told us to do – the two skills most essential to early academic achievement.
All of the above is prelude to my saying that the effort to teach your 4-year-old grandson to read and write is misplaced, however well-intentioned. Under the circumstances, I support his resistance! He’s a rebel with a cause that is worth defending.
I strongly advise that you stop trying to make your grandson do what he is obviously not ready or willing to do. Then, make the search for a preschool program that is brain-development friendly. If you can’t find one, then keep him at home and let him play. Generations of preschool children seemed to thrive on little else.