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Tutoring for Tots

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More parents are sending their 3- to 5-year-old children to tutoring centers to give them an academic edge once they get to elementary school.

While tutoring companies tout their services, many early-childhood experts decry the trend. Scholars say that tutoring young children in a classroom setting with flashcards and workbooks can dampen their enthusiasm for learning and create developmental problems.

Are pre-kindergarteners facing too much academic pressure too soon? Do children need to be academically "prepared" for elementary school? Let us know what you think.

29 Comments

As a former kindergarten teacher and training and curriculum specialist working in a child development center for 5 years I do have concerns with children being pushed too hard, too fast. One of the biggest concerns that parents at our CDC voiced was the big push for academics and whether or not their child will be ready for school. A lot of what is taught or presented to children in the CDC's should be pre-academic skills. They are still developing these skills and many are not ready for the rigorous training or learning we are trying to force upon them. In our CDC's we provide centers for writing, science, manipulatives, library, listening, dramatic play, sensory play, and art. We are helping children develop the social skills necessary to be in a big classroom. In addition we work on their pre-academic, by helping the strenghten their fine motor skills they will need for writing, cognitive skills they will need for solving problems, social skills for getting along, etc. We do not however, use flashcards as mentioned in the comment. I agree that by using these methods we are damping their enthusiasm for learning and their innate desire to learn. School becomes a chore versus a place to discover and learn new things. I prefer to teach the younger group because I have seen what school and pressure can do to the minds and attitudes of children as they excel through the grades. Lets allow children to be children for a little while. There is nothing greater than seeing the lightbulb go on when they finally "get it".

Let kids be kids. This is absurd.

Should we 'push' or not to push young children, older children etc? Theories, preferences, case histories, rhetoric....aren't enough. We need evidence. When doctors worked without evidence they were known as Quacks. Now treatments are tested with randomised trials. Education must do the same.

As a professional storyteller/teaching artist I am dismayed - and deeply saddened - at the number of preschoolers placed in structured nursery & pre-K settings. Often when words fail me I turn to sages of the past. Here's what Plato and Maria Montessori have to say:

“Let early education be a sort of amusement; you will then be better able to find out the natural bent.” - Plato, 428 – 349 B.C.

"It is as if nature had safeguarded each child from the influence of adult reasoning, so as to give priority to the inner teacher who animates him. He has the chance to build up a complete psychic structure, before the intelligence of grown-ups can reach his spirit and produce changes in it.— Dr. Maria Montessori

As a Montessori educator, I have actually seen both sides of this issue. Children will naturally learn certain skills when they are ready for them. Maria Montessori referred to these as "sensitive periods". Forcing a child to do something before they are developmentally ready for it will create long term problems. A child who is sent for reading tutoring at 3 or 4 years old will end up disliking reading, and will suffer academically when they are older as a result.
Now for the other side... I actually worked at a nationally franchised tutoring center for about a year. I even considered leaving my teaching career(before I discovered Montessori) to run and/or own such a center. What turned me off was the fact that so many parents were bringing their 3, 4, and 5 year olds in for testing because they were "behind". We didn't accept 3 year olds, but had three 4 year olds, and several more 5 year olds. The kids would spend all day in a Pre-K or K class, or(worse yet) in summer camp, and then the parents would "dump" them at the center for 2-3 hours of tutoring several times a week. The kids were exhausted, and were unable to focus(not surprising). This is way to much for such a young child. We were not allowed to say anything because if we did, this might cause the parent to reduce the child's hours or withdraw him/her. It would look bad for the center directors,and would result in a loss of money for the center's owner. I resented this, so I left. It became more about making a profit than truly helping children.

If you really want children to love to learn they need lots of free play time with all kinds of materials, not expensive toys and learning products, but cardboard boxes, crayons, blank paper, glue, blocks, empty oatmeal cartons, pots, pans, old tupperware, etc.... A successful early childhood program recognizes this and allows lots of unstructured free play. This is the way to encouage imagination, wonder and creativity--the real building blocks for a love of learning. Let's stop the madness of pretending preschoolers are little-sized adults.

Let children be children. At those young ages they learn the most through playing, not books or flash cards. Parents need to wake up and realize that they are burning their kids out way too soon with disasterous results later in life. Perhaps the parents need to remember what it was like to play and not work all day.

It's like a see-saw, but harder to keep a delicate balance for each child. Children need to play & explore (best way of learning), and need to learn some stucture along the way. We need to provide our kids with an environment that will allow learning without the pressure of daily "drilling". You'd be surprized at what a young pre-schooler can learn, given the right learning environment. A 3 yr. old can learn math with manipulatives, but I wouldn't have that child doing paper/pencil, or tests. I want to encourage the child to explore & learn the math-not have it forced down when he/she is not ready. They need to learn, yes; but not be "stuffed" with it.

It seems the choir is in here! I agree with the fine points outlined by the writers "above" me. I have a 4 year old son and I almost pathologically REFUSE to send him to a daycare/preschool program that prescribes lots of "seat work" and a uniform. I want him to be a problem solver who is creative and well-versed in play.

As a school teacher I hear people FREAK because our students are behind and won't EVER catch up. We talk as if their lives are over/ruined when they're only 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, ... This is CRAZY. We need to return Kindergarten to Kindergarten (last I checked, even with K becoming the new 1st grade, we hadn't gotten rid of 12th grade. Why not?) so that ALL children can acheive. If we took our "super model" standards and pushed them up a year, I think we'd find more uniform success.

As for wanting a child to have a leg-up in elementary (HUH??), I think this best illustrates what happens when the "haves" work to have more. However, access to GREAT educational systems doesn't create GREAT students (G. Bush & J. Kerry), it creates GREAT opportunities -- for those few people. What people really want is access. And shouldn't we all have it?

Children are pushed to hard as it is. When a child is 3, 4, or 5 years old, play, sleep, a good diet and lots of love are what the child needs most. Children as well as many adults learn by doing and play is their form of "doing." So many times in today's society kids are pushed in so many different directions. They go to pre-school, they take dance or ball, karate, gymnasitcs, etc. and are gone from their homes 80% of the time. They don't get home until 8-10 p.m. several nights a week and they are tired all the time. While I agree extra curricular activities are important so is "down time."

Why do we push our kids so hard to grow up? They will face the 5-6 day, 40-60 hour work week soon enough. We want to make learning fun and not burn the child out before he/she reaches 2nd grade.

When do children get to be children - explore their surroundings and let their imagination lead them? Besides a classroom setting being too early, it seems that the computer world has taken over children's opportunity to learn how to play, to imagine things with their toys. More than earlier education, there needs to be "mini-wilderness" parks where there's places to investigate, explore, hide 'n seek - our leaders of tomorrow will have no imagination!

I think that the government, teachers, and administrators need to calm down! All children learn if the information is given to them. We need to just let it happen and stop forcing it to happen at a certain time. Even children with learning disabilities learn at their own pace. Schools need to stop testing every 6 weeks, there is constantly a benchmark so no child is left behind. We all just need to calm down. Just think some of us made it through graduate school without being tested all the time!

While I strongly agree that ECE programs should be the place that provide opportunities for creative play, the simple fact is that parents want their children to "have a leg up" academically. Ladies and gentlemen, the reality is that we are indeed in a competitive race to continue to produce the brightest and the best. Parents think that the footwook should begin as soon as possible.

I have taught in the field of ECE for nearly twenty years. My observation...the world is becoming smaller. Parents are taking notice of the children of first generation Americans schooled with their pre-schoolers. In my experience, by the time these children are four their penmanship, reasoning, attention span, expressive language are highly developed. This is not to say that these children are somehow better. My point is that these skills are noticed by our parents. Parents are wondering...why not my child. These incidents of observaton occur enough to get the attention of our confused, competitive parents. What did it take to get these preschoolers at this level? At what cost. What did they miss? What did they indeed gain? What is the answer?

I am currently tutoring a bright young boy. I have been with him since Pre-K. He is now in the first grade. He has ADD. Drugs are not being used, so he needs the special one on one. As mentioned, I notice the fatigue.

I think we need to rethink how we approach what we've coined as tutoring to these young ones. My time with my student is spent outside making observations, then graphing what we see. Another time, we may discuss his daily routine. With that, we may journal, graph, write a song or story about this. Music accompanies almost all of our activities. I have that advantage in my sessions. Presentation is everything. Children can play creatively, even when an adult is around. Believe it or not, we adults love to be creative and play as well. This child at five understood division by playing with wooden blocks and tasty cooking projects. I am not saying that what I've done is the perfect solution. What I am saying is that parents want what they want. We must and can find a way to satisfy our customer and at the same time provide a world (during our "instruction" time)that promotes wonder, exploration, self-regard, and creativity.

I am a mother, a high school instructor (Geometry), and a Kumon Math and Reading Instructor. As with all things, when taken out of context "tutoring for tots" sounds horrible. But it isn't. It can actually strengthen a child's desire for learning. But it must be presented in a non aggressive enviornment. The Pre-School students I teach at our Kumon center love learning and love Kumon. As with any child, if learning is made fun, even when they finally realize they are learning, they will still want to do it. Too many educators and parents are selling our children short. The results are diploma carriers devoid of knowledge with a distaste for learning. If we teach them "right", they'll get it. In fact, they'll aske for it!Just as when wrapping gifts, PRESENTATION IS EVERYTHING!

I forget the author of this quote "God created the world in play". Let childhood be a time of play (not work). Developmental readiness does not occur on a child's birthday - it is a broad range. We are creating a generation of stressed out, frustrated, sad little tykes. I cannot imagine how anyone thinks this is a good idea. As a mother of three, and a recently certified elementary school teacher, I am horrified of the thought of 3 year olds being "tutored" (unless it is for speech/language/hearing). I have mellowed myself with my third child and realize that he doesn't need to get 100's on every test in 2nd grade! Why won't parents spend more time with their young children instead of carting them off to school! It goes by so fast!!!!!

Tutoring for preschool children is a ridiculous waste of time and money and is likely to reducae the child's interest in academics by the end of first grade. Young children learn differently from older ones and their learning should be play based and facilitated by a person with more knowledge that can gently scaffold the child to new insights. The other person can be an older child or a skilled teacher who follows the child's lead rather than pushing the child into academic activities and skills for which the child is not ready. If parents are eager to have their children achieve at high levels they would be better to spend play time with them at home, take them to appropraite places such as libraries, talk with them about what they see on TV and set examples of reading and thinking. They would do well to minimize time spent on "popular" culture that is designed to advertise to children.

Is it no wonder that so many young children are on medication for "hyperactivity" and "attention-deficit disorder"? And, is it any wonder that so many adolescents are clinically depressed? I couldn't agree more with the insightful comments and I only pray, for the sake of our children, that parents and educators make their voices heard!

Having taught public school kindergarten and public school Montessori programs for almost three decades, I saw that children do not develop well when they are pushed in unnatural settings. We need opportunities for children to explore and learn through their senses. Children need language development and rich conversation but not "one-sided" direct tutoring. This is a huge waste of money as someone said earlier and I agree completely. If a parent has a lot of money to spend on a child, send him to the very best childcare center such as high quality Reggio, Montessori, High/Scope, or Creative Curriculum or take him on wonderful trips where the parent can spend days talking to and with their child about real experiences.

It is sad that too many parents would prefer spending money for someone else to teach their child what should be taught naturally, in the home through counting, sorting, alphabet games and books, langauge development, story telling and story reading, environmental print, etc.

It is only the affluent who can afford early reading programs and these are the same parents who prevent their kindergarten age children from beginning school when they are supposed to opting for an additional year of preschool. Let me tell you, I work with hundreds of kindergarten children and their teachers. Beginning of the year assessments indicate that their are always a good number of students who enter kingergarten not knowing their letters. Any quality kindergarten will provide instruction in letters and sounds, sight words and writing instruction. I think parents somehow think that their child will just skip over all this, but, in reality, the child has to suffer through it even thought the parent has spent thousands of dollars to make sure their child is ahead. Ahead of what?? Ahead of the other children, maybe.....ahead of the teacher and her instruction....not ususally. They are just along for the ride. What fun is kindergarten if the child already knows everything? I'd hate to enroll in a course if I knew all the material....I'd go crazy!!!

I have taught in the public school setting for four years teaching third through sixth graders. Currently, I am teaching pre-k. What I have learned over the years about my students is that learning must be something that they are welling to do and must grow to have a love for it. Learning takes place not only in the classroom but also in the home and in the child's own experiences. Sending a child at the age of 3-5 to a tutoring program is a waste of time and money. Parents should realize that they are their child's first teacher and tutor. Children learn more when it is all practical to them in their own environment.

In response to Carol Fitz-Gibbon, professor emeritus - I agree - we need hard evidence of what is best for children, not just personal preferences etc. Look at the Scandinavian countries such as Sweeden and Norway. Their students have the highest test scores in the world on standardized tests in highschool, and their school systems do not BEGIN to teach reading until children are 7 years of age! Their elementary schools are considered by many knowledgeable people to be the best in the world. We should take a lesson from them. Sooner is not better where academics are concerned.

I think that "tutoring" at that age should be more focused on early learning stimulation than on content of knowledge. The tutor must be qualified and trained in early childhood development and learning theory. The sessions/activities should lead to a cognitive development as well as an emotional development. 3-5 year-old children are innate learners. Let them explore different ways to acquire knowledge through games.
The bottom line is that "tutoring" per se may not be harmful; how it's done and who does it should be the issue in question.

While formal instruction has its benefits, toddlers learn from adults at home and in the community. There will be years of schooling so why not let toddlers remain toddlers and learn by play and crafts working with with others that have a personal interest in their lives. Learning should be fun not a chore or a score result.

I primarily agree that children should be children, and also with not pushing the academics too early. Children should be presented with opportunity to learn as they become ready. Which is the philosophy at the Montessori school that my little ones, age 2 3/4 and 4 3/4, attend. They find school fun, they are lead to learning and not pushed. The opportunity should always be presented, as well as allowing plenty of time for play. Thus children are prepared socially and gradually for the more rigid academic environment, with a true desire to learn paving the way.

After teaching Preschoolers for over 15 years, I have seen the benefits of DEVELOPMENTALLY APPROPRIATE PRACTICES in our program and what is being done to change the way we teach young children by our Presidents NCLB initiative with NRS testing.I feel it is our job as Early Childhood professionals to enlighten parents on the benefits of allowing young children to develop normally. Research has shown that when young children are given good developmental foundations, they excell as they continue their learning years. Good foundations prepare them for understanding how things work. An example of this is fractions in upper grades; when young children are allowed to manipulate materials like blocks and playdoh, they will have a better understanding of how fractions work. A prime example of this is give a child a whole banana and ask the child "how many bananas do you have?" the child will most likely answer "ONE." Next cut the banana in half and ask "how many bananas to do have now?" and the child will probably answer "TWO!" This clearly shows that without lots of hands-on experiences, young children have a more difficult time making sense of their world. Flashcards do not allow for active involvement with materials, they are only drill and kill devices to make young children memorize information without knowing how to apply it to real life. If a tutor can play with young children and talk with them during that play asking open-ended questions to expand their thinking, I think parents will see happy young children who are excited about learning. One finally bit of information; in a recent faculty meeting, an Administrator shared this bit of news with us: Projections for how many prisions and jails to build in the future are based on 3rd grade test scores of boys! What a dim view of our children. It is so important to give young children wonderful learning experiences in their young lives so as they begin their school-age learning, they will have good foundations to build a life of learning on. Parents don't worry about developing young Einsteins but young people who will one day grow up to be wounderful, independent, self-sufficient, giving, supporting, confident human beings. I can speak from experience because I have three wonderful adult children, Adrianne: 26yrs. HIgh School Social Studies Teacher working on her Doctorate, Jimmy: 24yrs.old Jr. United States Army, 1st Sgt. Leaving for 2nd tour of duty to Iraq and Bryan: 20yrs.old recently graduate from Univerals Technical Institute in Houston, TX as Autobody Repair Tech. Let them enjoy being children, it will pay off in the future.

From the Lower School Counselor: Mike Cerkovnik

“Teachers need to engage in ‘observing children as they play and building curriculum that’s appropriate for each child from what we see and hear’…teachers need to ‘deeply understand that intellectual development occurs through play. Children integrate everything they know in all domains when they play. Play should have a big place in a curriculum for children from toddlerhood through the primary grades.”
From 1999 interview with Millie Almy, published in January 2000 issue of Young Children (quoted on preface of Play, Development and Early Education-
By James Johnson, James Christie and Francis Wardle) See Sandra Lee in the Beasley Library to check out a copy.

Over the summer, I read Einstein Never Used Flash Cards: How Our Children REALLY Learn---And Why They Need To Play More and Memorize Less by Kathy Hirsch-Pasek and Roberta Michnick Golinkoff with Diane Eyer. This is a research based book written by psychologists but with that said it is written for a wide audience. The important phrase from my point of view is the “research based” addition to the literature on early child development. To quote the authors “Much of what the media reports about research on child development contains only a grain of scientific truth.” So parents are led to believe that unless they provide all the various learning games, structured activities, etc that their children will not thrive in the academic world.

The authors recognize the stress that modern day parents are under and loudly proclaim the remedy that “PLAY=LEARNING”. Children need the unstructured time to discover their own creativity and strengths. PLAY will help foster their development more than anything else possibly can. The book posits that educational-focused products and activities are not only unnecessary, but in the end could delay some of the practical learning that children get from quality play time.

What Should Parents Focus On?
The book’s message is loud and clear that play time is better than regimented academics. The following three points are highlighted:

1. Kids who are pushed into regimented academics too early display less creativity and enthusiasm for learning;
2. Kids who learn through unstructured play develop needed social and emotional skills; and,
3. Kids who memorize facts and figures at a very early age show no stronger long-term retention

Instead, authors say, play can teach the same facts in a more child-centered way---“simply taking the time to enjoy their children---to play with them and discuss what’s going on in their world---is the best thing parents can do for their children’s minds and emotional development to guarantee future success”.
Chapter 10 is entitled The New Formula for Exceptional Parenting and they promote the following principles:

• The Best Learning Is Learning within Reach
Lev Vygotsky introduced the term “zone of proximal development” which is that zone where the child can most effectively learn. The authors state “Parents and caregivers need to stretch their children’s nascent abilities, not catapult them into a realm where they are unable to grasp basic concepts…but rather introduce learning within reach:presenting children with problems that are within their ken, that make sense to them in the context of their daily lives.”

• Emphasizing Process over Product Creates Love of Learning
The essential component of early learning is that the child enjoys the process of learning. In addition, how the thinking was done is privileged over the final product.

• It’s EQ, Not Just IQ
Research tells us that “Children who make friends easily in kindergarten and are accepted by their classmates are also the ones who work hard in a self directed way that fosters their academic competence…EQ (emotional intelligence) and IQ go hand in hand”. What parent doesn't want their child to be sensitive to others' feelings, to take initiative, be creative, have a positive self-image and self-worth, and value the opinions and needs of others? Chapter 8: Getting to Know You---How Children Develop Social Intelligence emphasizes empathy and is an excellent chapter. Chapter 6 is one of the most understandable writings on IQ and the difference between that and achievement that I have ever read.

• Learning in Context is Real Learning----And Play Is the Best Teacher
Balance is the key theme to ultimately understand. Learning should be fun and startling. The bottom line is “What will intrigue and challenge my child within his reach?”

Resources at the Beasley Library
• Awakening Children’s Minds by Laura Berk –“stunning”
• The Green Folder in the New Book section with a variety of articles on Play
• Playful Parenting by Larry Cohen

This is yet another example of taking young children out of a child-driven play setting and putting them into a structured setting organized by adults. My question is: "What are we going to have to add to their curriculum by the time they are in 3rd or 4th grade to compensate for all they were robbed of as young children? What they are gaining (and studies show that those gains are often short term) in academics, they are losing where physical, social, and emotional development and creativity is concerned.

Unfortunately in Texas may be labeled "Gifted and Talented" while in kindergarten. Once in the program it is next to impossible to get them out. This is what brings many parents to send their young 3 & 4 year old to prep schools so they can be chosen for the "gifted and talented" track. I think it is a shame because when many of these get to Middle School it is very obvious that they do not belong in this program. They were simply taught a little earlier.

The tutor would have to make learning fun and appealing through games and free play. Unfortunately, the standards for even Kindergarten are getting so ridiculously high, that we almost HAVE to send our children to preschool in order to be on track for kindergarten. Soon, I'm almost positive that Pre-K will be a requirement for all children.

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