By Leslie Crawford
This morning, I told my daughter's preschool teacher, Laura, about a recent New York Times article featuring the growing number of parents who enroll their young children in Junior Kumon centers.
As with Sylvan (the other leading national franchise), Japan-based Kumon is a major player in the tutoring arena, targeting students kindergarten through high school, as well as publishing scores of popular math and reading workbooks. For the past 54 years, the Kumon method - emphasizing mastery through practice - has been taught to over 20 million students in 44 countries worldwide. In 2007, Kumon tapped into an expanding market: Ever-more-anxious American parents who want their kids climbing that ladder of success AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE!!!
OK, I admit I'm not immune. Last week I learned our five-year-old neighbor is already reading. Now I'm fretting my five-year-old daughter is hopelessly behind. Dear God, does she need tutoring to be up-to-speed in kindergarten?
Worksheets for the wee ones
Perhaps reading the minds of parents like me, in 2007 Kumon introduced Junior Kumon for preschoolers, where twice a week, for an hour at a time, kids ages three to five (and even as young as two) sit in tiny chairs and put their wee noses to the academic grindstone. "Age three is the sweet spot," Joseph Nativo, chief financial officer for Kumon North America, told the New York Times. "But if they’re out of a diaper and can sit still with a Kumon instructor for 15 minutes, we will take them."
My daughter's preschool teacher Laura is one of those whole child educators who most parents I know consider nothing short of brilliant when it comes to young kids. I wasn't surprised when she told me that inflicting drill and kill exercises on the small set is pointless. Since kids aren't developmentally ready, she explained, worksheets won't make kids more academically advanced. What they benefit most from at this age is play – and lots of it.
Play is the thing
Like other progressive educators who feel strongly about the absolute value of play, Laura believes that playing not only stretches their brains and bodies, but helps children develop essential emotional and social skills they’ll need to be adults who work well with others.
Laura’s not the only naysayer. Many experts - including those cited in the New York Times - comment on the lack of value in having toddlers and preschoolers do rote reading and math exercises. And study after study suggest that kids who are given plenty of chances at free play are more socially and linguistically advanced and better abstract thinkers.
Rather than dutifully tracing over letters and numbers, by simply running around the playground, building with Legos, and engaging in pretend games, kids learn everything from basic physics to more complex language development. Plus, they're getting their shot at enjoying that moment that's gone all too soon: childhood.