A new study from the University of Illinois has not only found that earlier formal education is not helpful, but also that a narrow academic curriculum does not support the inquisitive nature of young children and does not address the issue of how they learn.
Written by Lilian G. Katz, the report, “Lively Minds: Distinctions between academic versus intellectual goals for young children,” argues that intellectual education is more important for young children than academic education, relays Valerie Strauss for The Washington Post.
The study found that young children benefit more from intellectual education including free play and basic activities. While an academic education did result in higher test scores, it did not always create inquisitive adults. Katz said that although “formal instruction produces good test results in the short term,” preschool activities that foster an interactive role may create results that are “not so impressive in the short run” but “yield better school achievement in the long term.”
The findings go against current legislative efforts to require school attendance from a young age. In recent years, teachers unions have worked hard to lower attendance laws, which in turn has required schools to hire additional teachers and aides.
“Young children enter the classroom with lively minds–with innate intellectual dispositions toward making sense of their own experience, toward reasoning, predicting, analyzing, questioning and learning,” says Dr. Katz. “But in our attempt to quantify and verify children’s learning, we impose premature formal instruction on kids at the expense of cultivating their true intellectual capabilities – and ultimately their optimal learning.”
Despite the findings, early childhood education advocates continue to argue that children need to be involved in a structured school setting from as young as 6 weeks of age in order to properly shape their brains.
Early childhood group The Ounce, located in Illinois, have pushed for children to attend school from an early age, particularly if they are from a low-income family. Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner’s wife Diana, who leads The Ounce, said young children from poverty-stricken homes will face brain damage if they do not attend early childhood programs.
“Those children that are raised in environments that are not supportive, that are not responsive to their needs homes that are sometimes chaotic actually have biological changes in their brain…” Rauner said.
She went on to cite an additional study that found the brains of middle school students who were poor during their first years of life had suffered damage comparable to that of a stroke victim.
However, Katz’ report states the “earlier is better” theory is not supported by neurological research, which “does not imply that formal academic instruction is the way to optimize early brain development.”
Katz contends that young children learn best through programs focused on social, emotional and intellectual goals, as opposed to academics. In addition, these programs should offer interactive experiences rather than passive learning.