How Important Is Early Child Training?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A woman who was 40 years old and desperately wanted a child. During her pregnancy, however, a doctor warned her that her baby could be born with a learning disability. She refused to give up, and she gave birth to a healthy baby.

Shortly after the birth of her son, she began reading to him and talking to him at every opportunity. As he got older, they played games, went on outings, practiced counting, and sang songs. “Even during bath time we played something,” she remembers. It paid off.

While still in his mid-teens, Stephen graduated from the University of Miami with honors. Two years later, at age 16, he finished law school, and according to his biography, he later became the youngest lawyer in the United States. His mother, Dr. Florence Baccus—a former teacher and retired guidance counselor—has devoted much time to the study of early learning. She is convinced that the attention and stimulation she gave her son in his infancy changed his future.
Nature Versus Nurture

A subject of important controversy among child psychologists in recent times has been the role in a child’s development of “nature,” that is, what the child has inherited, and “nurture,” the rearing and training it has received. Most researchers are convinced that a child’s development is influenced by a combination of these two factors.

Little girl typing on a computer

Early life experiences
can influence how a
child’s brain develops

Child-development expert Dr. J. Fraser Mustard explains: “What we clinically now know is that the experiences the child is exposed to in the early years of his life influence how that child’s brain develops.” Professor Susan Greenfield likewise states: “We know, for example, that violinists develop more brain territory for fingers on the left hand than other people do.”
What Training to Provide

Taking a cue from these findings, many parents not only go to great lengths to send their children to the right day care but also spend lavishly on music and art classes. Some believe that if a child practices everything, when he gets older he will be able to do everything. Specialized tutoring programs and preschools are proliferating. Some parents are willing to do whatever they possibly can to give their children an advantage over others.

Young boy playing with paints

Play stimulates creativity
and develops a child’s skills

Does this type of devotion prove entirely beneficial? While it may seem to offer children an upbringing with boundless opportunities, in many cases these children miss the crucial part of the learning experience that comes through unstructured play. Spontaneous play, say educators, stimulates creativity and develops a child’s social, mental, and emotional skills.

Some development experts believe that parent-led play is creating a new type of problem child—micromanaged children who are stressed and emotionally volatile, cannot sleep, and complain of aches and pains. One psychologist observes that by the time these children reach their teenage years, many have not learned to develop coping skills and are “burned out, antisocial and rebellious.”

Thus, many parents are in a quandary. They want to help their children to reach their full potential. Yet, they can see the folly of pushing small children too hard, too fast. Is there a way to strike a reasonable balance? What capacity do young children have for growth, and how can it be nurtured? What can parents do to ensure that their children will be successful?

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