There’s a whole lot of misinformation flying around these days!

Whether it’s about what it takes to be a good parent, or what children really need to succeed, there are myths wreaking havoc on childhood, on early education, and on you!

I don’t know why people are believing the myths. And I don’t know how all the craziness – and it is craziness – began. I just know I want to put an end to it. I want the facts – and child development – to dictate how children are raised and educated. And I expect you’d like the same.

Among the myths circulating throughout our society, there are four big ones that I see as most detrimental to children and the parents and professionals who live and work with them. Let’s look at them one at a time, in no particular order. (All of them make me want to pull my hair out!)

1. Earlier is better. This one has become deeply ingrained in our society. Among other things, it has led parents, administrators, policymakers – and even some teachers – to believe:

  • Children should experience the kindergarten curriculum in preschool and the first-grade curriculum in kindergarten.
  • Children should be reading by the end of kindergarten, if not before.
  • Children should be exposed to academics as early as possible or they will fall hopelessly behind.

As a result, I come across stories of four-year-olds being asked to draw a picture of their family (which is fine if you don’t expect a Rembrandt) and write a sentence about them. Of three-year-olds required to attend “Zoom school” from 8:30 am to 2 pm. Of three-year-olds expected to properly grasp a pencil.

No one who understands child development would ever expect these things of such young children.

2. Children learn by sitting. Many of us attended school when it looked like this:

So, this is what most adults think of when they think of school. That’s why, although the photos are now in color, school still too often looks the same!

How many other things can you name that haven’t changed in over 150 years?

School is the glaring exception – even though we now have so much brain research about how children truly learn.

Among the results of this myth are:

  • Children are being denied the opportunity to use their preferred modes of learning, which are movement and play.
  • Children are being denied the opportunity to engage multiple senses in the learning process.
  • Children fidget because their lack of movement creates an inability to concentrate.
  • Children grow tired and are unable to concentrate.

The myth that children learn by sitting still may have made sense before we had any science proving how children learn. But, again, today we have an abundance of research determining that active learning – physically experiencing concepts with as many senses as possible – is most effective for young children.

Simply put, children are experiential learners; and keeping them seated actually prevents them from learning optimally! With all this in mind, why would we want them to sit?

3. Digital devices are necessary for learning. It’s so easy to think that the shiny, new gadgets are superior to the old-fashioned stuff, like books, blocks, and play.

I mean, how can the simple, age-old things live up to gadgets that provide millions of pieces of information and images at our fingertips?

There are plenty of ways to counter that belief. I could offer evidence about the incredible value of books, blocks, play dough, and so forth. But, for me, the best way to counter this myth is to cite the detriments accompanying it and to point out that none of these detriments is a problem with the good, old-fashioned stuff!

Some of the problems associated with this myth are:

  • Children are once again being denied the opportunity to learn in the way nature intended.
  • Language development is being delayed.
  • Children are experiencing less social interaction, which is critical in the early years.
  • Anxiety, depression, and aggression in children is increasing.
  • There is an epidemic of myopia (near-sightedness), which significantly increases the risk of major ocular health disorders such as retinal tearing (21 times greater), glaucoma (40 times) or cataracts (six times).
  • Gross and fine motor skills are suffering.

And these are only some of the problems. I have to wonder: In an age when children are so overprotected that we’d bubble-wrap them if we could, how is it that we’re overlooking the very real dangers inherent in device use?

4. Play is a waste of time. Play is a biological drive and what nature intended for the young of almost all animals. Can you imagine trying to keep kittens and puppies and baby goats from playing? The idea is ludicrous…and it should be just as ludicrous to keep children from playing!

I don’t know when adults decided it was essential for children to be “productive.” That shouldn’t be a word associated with childhood!

As a result of this myth:

  • Once again, children are being denied the opportunity to learn in the way nature intended.
  • As Dr. Peter Gray asserts, as play has decreased in children’s lives, anxiety and depression have increased.
  • Recess and outdoor playtime are being eliminated from schools and early learning centers in favor of more “instructional time.”
  • Children no longer know how to play!

It’s been said that when we debunk a myth, we create a gap in a person’s mind. So, to be effective, we have to fill that gap. And what better way to fill it than with facts?

Decision makers – whether they’re parents, administrators, or policymakers – need to be equipped with the truth:

  • Child development cannot be accelerated. And children who begin doing things – whether in athletics or academics – when they’re developmentally ready, catch up with and often surpass those who began early. With reading, for example, by the time children get to third grade there’s no difference between children who started early and those who started later. So, there’s no point in stressing children by requiring them to perform tasks for which they’re not yet developmentally equipped.
  • Physical activity and breaks have been shown to improve – not detract from – learning and productivity! There is so much research on this topic.
  • If children are experiential learners who acquire knowledge through multiple senses – and they are – digital devices and virtual reality are not the way to go. A child sitting in front of a screen experiences concepts through two senses at the most. Simply put: Three-dimensional experiences surpass those that are two-dimensional!
  • Play provides opportunities for children to meet and solve problems – the number-one ability they will most assuredly require in this rapidly changing world. It helps children express their thoughts and feelings and to deal with stress. To cope with fears they can’t yet understand or articulate. Through play, children acquire literacy, mathematical, and creative skills. Make-believe play, in particular, has been linked to self-regulation skills, which in turn have been linked to greater academic success than IQ has.

Where and how are decision makers going to learn these truths? From you! You’re the expert. That’s why I plead with early childhood professionals to share their knowledge. To tell their stories.

It doesn’t have to be difficult! The only requirements? The ability to talk to people and a pride in what you do!

Note: This article was adapted from my online course, “Become a Champion for Play & Joyful Learning.” 

 

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    13 Comments

    1. I absolutely loved this article. The words “Children are experiencing less social interaction, which is critical in the early years.” I believe are so true. Having 3 girls and 9 living grandchildren; I am truly big on education. Learning through play is definitely fundamental. Sometimes I learn a thing or two. Although I just give a bit of wisdom, cheers, unrestricted guidance when needed. Love this article.!
      MaryAnn Mason

      • Thanks for reaching out — and for your wonderful feedback, MaryAnn! You make an excellent point re: playing with the children. If we adults do more than offer a bit of wisdom and cheers, it can’t be considered authentic play, which is child-initiated and child-directed. Your grandchildren are lucky to have you, MaryAnn!

    2. Loved this, Rae. The levels of education are being moved down into lower age groups every year… Soon there will be expected academic expectations from infants. Even the expectations for older ages are unrealistic and inappropriate. Every learning age needs movement and brain breaks throughout the day. Adults do, too! I know I can’t sit and learn for long periods of time without losing focus and interest… and maybe this is old age (!!!), but I think this has been the case for forever! My son is working from home and is supervising and directing his sons’ online learning and it is peppered with hikes and music and board games. I couldn’t be more happy for them.

      • Thanks for the input, Deb! And, no, it’s not just old age!! The research is clear that sitting causes fatigue and an inability to concentrate…and that brains need breaks! It is just so frustrating that nonsense is driving education!!! But I’m really happy for your grandsons. 🙂

    3. Thanks for summarizing the myths so eloquently!! I truly have been baffled by how much we ignore the research behind understanding how children learn best. We succomb to so many outside pressures and it hurts that those pressures carry more weight than genuine proven research. I am so fortunate to work in a public school preschool that is play based and SUPPORTED by my administration.!!! They trust that I know the research and that children need play to learn. My students go into kindergarten with a brain that is more flexible and has had authentic play experiences to support the foundation needed. I am so happy that it has spilled over into our kindergarten classrooms because they have seen the difference in the preschoolers coming from our play based program versus students coming from a worksheet/sit & get style classroom. Our kindergarten teachers have all been through constructivist training and have developed more of a play based curriculum. Classrooms that once were full of tables and chairs for hours of seatwork, now are replaced with House Areas, Block Areas, Art Areas, and more! I hope the trend continues across other school districts and hope your article will strike a cord with many more early childhood educators.

      • It IS baffling that we ignore research in favor of…what? I don’t even know why they’re ignoring it. I do know it sure as heck isn’t for love of children. But thank you for sharing your story, Shelli. It does my heart a lot of good to know that sanity reigns somewhere! You’re making a difference!

    4. Right on, Rae. It’s mind boggling to think that anyone in education would not intimately know how children learn. Movement is so important for the brain to function. It’s all one system! Great read.

    5. I feel like this is something that should read because it is so true. We are not helping our children by not allowing them to be children .

    6. I am so disheartened by the practices of care and learning that we are imposing on children. Worse, I am disheartened by the profession and the policy makers who regulate our profession for their blatant disregard of the supporting data for freely chosen/child directed PLAY!. Instead of closing the achievement gap, we need to work toward policy that closes the PLAY gap! Thank you so much, Ms. Pica for this wonderful and timely article.

      • I hear you, Sally. There are times when it feels hopeless. But we can’t lose dedicated and passionate people like you, so I hope you’ll hang in there and keep fighting the good fight.

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