The more I watch 18 month old daughter grow and advance with her language, spatial reasoning, and general understanding of the world around her, the angrier I get. If this is how quickly toddlers learn, then why did the think-tank have so many kindergartners coming to school so totally and utterly unprepared?
Before I had experienced being the mother of a toddler I had no idea how truly amazing early development is. I'd worked with toddlers, baby sat for toddlers, and had friends who were mothers of toddlers, but I hadn't witnessed for myself the true miracle of early learning. Instead I thought that perhaps my friends were just overly drilling their children with academic information, insufferably filling their poor children's heads with color flash cards or something of the sort. Or maybe my friends just all had genius children.
Now that I can watch my own daughter develop and know that I am not drilling her with flash cards, forcing her to rote count for the sake of counting, or making her use crayons to practice her fine motor at an early age, I am gaining a better understanding of how children develop. I don't think my daughter is a genius. I think she is an average child who happens to be in a home filled with books, toys that encourage interaction and imagination, and parents who talk to her.
So what about the five year olds children who enter the think-tank with nothing- unable to identify their own name, unable to differentiate between letters and numbers, not able to count to five, understand how to hold a book or how to even listen to a story? How does that happen?
I have met five year olds who have less academic skills than my daughter's two year old friends. Not because the five year olds didn't have the intelligence to learn, but because they hadn't had the opportunity.
Preschool is essential. There just isn't a debate. There is no excuse, none, for two year olds to know more than five year olds. It's not a matter of intelligence. It's not even a matter of English as a second language. It's a matter of opportunity and exposure. Regardless of whether or not we move towards a government sponsored preschool for all program, as a society we must look at how we can get our children who need the most into school environments AND how we can work with their parents to understand what their child needs to develop successfully.
Parents need to be educated on how to talk to their child, how to read to their child, and what sort of games and toys to buy their child. If parents have never been given a model of how to interact with their toddler- never been told that it is important to read to their child- how would they know that they should?
I worked with a parent once who sent back all of the free books I'd been sending home. "We have so many books in our house," she said, "But my kids still don't know how to read so the books are worthless."
I don't think it had ever occurred to her that she could read the books to her children until they learned to read on their own.
I want to sit down and play with my daughter without getting angry. I wish I could enjoy her development without the sinking, heartbreaking realization that there are children out there who should be developing as quickly as she is and aren't.