Thursday, November 21, 2013

Article: When To Start Schooling

I'm including below an interesting article I came across this week from the New Scientist publication...the content of which I increasingly and strongly agree with.  I'd argue an even later age for children to start school when they have been adopted internationally because they have soooo much other stuff to learn in terms of how to negotiate their new life.  I've said it before and I'll say it again...(neuro typical, non-adopted) kids in places like Finland and Sweden don't start schooling until they are seven or eight, and kids who grow up in those countries score amongst the highest in the world academically by the time they are adults.  Food for thought, no?  Life is about so very much more than academics.

Here is the link (Too Much Too Young: Should Schooling Start at Age 7?) as well as the article content:

Too much, too young: Should schooling start at age 7?

England and a few other countries start formal education at age 4 or 5. That's harmful and misguided
AT WHAT age should children start formal schooling? England is one of a few countries to say the answer is as young as 4 years old.
A long-running debate on this question has been reignited by a letter, signed by about 130 early childhood education experts. It called for an extension of informal, play-based preschool provision and for the start of formal schooling in England to be delayed until the age of 7, from the current effective start at age 4.
This would bring it in line with the overwhelming evidence showing that starting school later is best, and the practice in many countries, such as Sweden and Finland. These countries have better academic achievement and child well-being, despite children not starting school until age 7.
The fear is that the English system – which was introduced in 1870 in order to get women back into work, rather than on the basis of any educational benefit to children – is now causing profound damage. A similar story applies in the rest of the UK, and there is pressure for greater formality in preschools in other countries, such as the US.
Why a renewed call for change now? The UK minister for education, Michael Gove, and his team are continuing to advocate earlier formal teaching of literacy and numeracy and earlier formal assessment of children. The head of the UK's Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills(Ofsted) has also suggested that schools could take children aged 2. The learning style for this proposal wasn't spelled out, but critics quickly warned against formal methods.
If we consider the contribution of play to children's development as learners, and the harm caused by starting formal learning at 4 to 5 years old, the evidence for a later start is very persuasive.
This evidence comes from anthropological, psychological, neuroscientific and educational studies. For example, research on children's play in extant hunter-gatherer societies, and evolutionary psychology studies of other mammalian young, have identified play as an adaptation that enabled early humans to become powerful learners and problem-solvers.
Neuroscientific studies have supported this view of play as a central mechanism in learning. The 2009 book The Playful Brain: Venturing to the limits of neuroscience, for example, reviewed many studies showing that playful activity leads to the growth of more connections between neurons, particularly in the frontal lobe – the part of the brain responsible for uniquely human higher mental functions.
Experimental psychology has consistently demonstrated the superior learning and motivation arising from playful, as opposed to instructional, approachesto early education.
Yet another study, in 2002, demonstrated that, by the end of their sixth year in school, children in the US whose preschool learning had been academically directed achieved significantly lower marks compared with those who had attended play-based programmes.
Developmental psychologists have identified two mental processes that underpin this relationship between play and learning. First, much of children's play involves pretending that one thing represents another, for example that a cardboard box is a space ship. This ability is thought to be unique to humans and underpins language, drawing and other ways in which we convey meaning.
James Christie at Arizona State University and Kathleen Roskos at John Carroll University in Ohio have reviewed evidence that such an approach to language learning, as opposed to formal instruction, offers the most powerful support for the early development of phonological and literacy skills.
Second, through all kinds of physical, constructional and social play, children become more aware of, and more in control of, their physical and mental activity. This allows them to gradually rely less on adult support and become more "self-regulating", both intellectually and emotionally. A growing number of empirical studies suggest that encouraging play early on enhances this ability, and that educational interventions supporting it are the most powerful predictors of children's development as learners.
There is another important strand of evidence. In 2004, a study of 3000 children, funded by the UK Department of Education, showed that an extended period of play-based preschool education made a significant difference to learning and well-being through the primary school years.
In New Zealand, several key investigations compared children who started formal literacy lessons at age 5 with those who started age 7. They showed that early formal learning doesn't improve reading development, and may even be damaging. By the age of 11, there was no difference in reading ability level between the two groups. However, those who started aged 5 developed less positive attitudes to reading and showed poorer text comprehension than those who had started later.
Further research exploring the relative reading achievement of 15-year-olds, across 55 countries, found no significant evidence that an early start brings later benefits.
There is an equally substantial body of research concerning the worryingincrease in stress and mental health problems among children whose childhood education is being "schoolified". It suggests strong links with loss of playful experiences and increased achievement pressures.
Taken together, all these strands of evidence raise important and serious questions about the trajectory of early education policy in England.
In the interests of children's academic achievements and their emotional well-being, the UK government should take this evidence seriously.
This article appeared in print under the headline "Too much, too young"
David Whitebread is a developmental psychologist at the University of Cambridge, UK
Sue Bingham is an early childhood education consultant


  1. I LOVE this article. For many, many years I've complained that children up to grade 5 or 6 shouldn't ever get homework. The article also suggests play-based education--I heartily agree that imagination and pretending are huge. I also agree with the self-regulation piece, though I hadn't linked it to play before. A huge proportion of my work is helping people learn that 'skill'.

    1. Thanks Joanne! I also had not ever thought about linking self-regulation to play before...though now that I do I think it makes perfect sense...and I can even relate it to what I see in Seth.
      I can well imagine that a significant portion of your work would be related to this skill, as it seems to be a skill often lacking in our society.

      Glad you liked the article!!

      Talk soon.


  2. This is interesting! Another example of how difficult it is to apply research from all kinds of fields to 'Education" which somehow remains impervious to change. I like how they point out the roots/origin of the early start in England (getting moms into the workforce in the 1800s therefore schooling was some kind of terrible babysitting or daycare and has stayed that way ever since?). One of the things that always worries me in this discussion IS precisely the fact that schooling itself remains relatively unquestioned. So they think it's fine for children to have "Formal Lessons" at 7, that it won't damage them then?! I've read more education studies and articles than I can count in the past years... this is what bothers me the most. I don't know what age children should start "school", but I am convinced (along with many others, lovely company actually) that schooling itself must change! Most articles and research in education leave the school "untouched" and instead try to 'fix children" by medicating them, learning better classroom management techniques to control children better, etc. I can't stand this stuff. Change the school!!! For me, what matters is that we have to deeply question what the purpose of school is and what is done to children there (in the name of national economic competitiveness, future employability, blah blah, etc etc). These are not wholesome goals. They are 'fine' i suppose... but they are very small and meaningless when held against the experience of even an individual human life which is full of joy and sorrow. They do not ask questions about children's lives, or the purpose of life (except to assume it is to make a lot of money and shop, or something). They do not ask what kinds of lives, experiences, and schools diverse children deserve no matter what their age is. Or what kind of world we all deserve to share as human beings and our fellow species as well. Or what kind of future there will be if we continue on this crazy path we are on that schooling is all tangled up in. I love this article. I'm going to pass it on to my graduate students who are also teachers. I think they are trying so hard (this group) to stop a kind of violence on young children and for that they deserve much praise and I hope they are successful in England with this. And I hope the rest of us can continue a conversation about what kind of schools children deserve across their whole school experience. Actually into post-secondary education. My grad students were just telling me how traumatized they are by some of their classes and assignments. These are mature, grown-ups. Teachers. How can it be that they are in courses that they consider are violent, where they are afraid of the metaphorical 'red pen' of their professors... but they are trapped and have to continue because it is part of credentialing and moving along in their careers ... I get so upset! It doesn't stop in primary education. Here endeth the rant of the evening. Thanks for sharing the article Ruth!

    1. I love, love love your 'rants' Jackie! Oh my word we need to meet some day in real life...some day I'm going to hunt you down, woman...and I mean that in the most non-stalking way imaginable! :)

      Anyway, on to a rant of my own...

      In my research into unschooling over the past number of months, I was trying to find a precise era when the education system, as we know it, was introduced...this article suggested about 1870 for England, which is the clearest I've read about it...but this falls within the range I've read about (I read ranges from 40-150 years). It really is NOT the long established system that we so often assume it is. This is also the most clearly I've read that the introduction of the public system was to enable the entry of women into the workplace, rather than for the benefit of children. How sad.

      In all of my reading/learning about unschooling these months (and I have a long way to go yet), I have simply been unable to understand why our system, our schools, remain so incredibly unchallenged at a systemic level. It's like the elephant in the untouchable, for some reason. It has actually dumbfounded me and, the more I think about it and delve into unschooling myself, the more remarkable this glaring omission is to me.

      One public school teacher told me this summer that in all of her years of university education, no one ever taught her how to actually teach children to read - she had to create that methodology herself by piecing together resources she'd researched. Another of her comments struck me - she said that the university education classes she completed were primarily about classroom management and child control...precisely the kinds of things you're talking about here, Jackie! Honestly, I was a little shocked. And from what you're saying, things don't improve even with grad students.

      It brought tears to my eyes when I read what you wrote about what kind of world we all deserve to share as human beings and what kind of future we'll have if we continue on this crazy path. I so agree!!

      Maybe my kids will help change the world...I sure hope they have some impact!



  3. yes i think we will meet one day! Why not?

    I was looking at books in my office today and thought of one or two more that your children would enjoy... i think Seth might like "Diary of a Wombat" by Jackie French. It's hysterical and he can probably 'read' it right now. Then then Sara Varon wrote some hilarious wordless picture books, the first is "Chicken and Cat" and the sequel is "Chicken and Cat Clean up". Really good for just talking and telling stories, language development and conversations. And so unbelievably funny. And finally, Arnie the Doughnut, by Laurie Keller. You should be able to find them all in the library. There's a book you might be interested in, your library can probably get it for you... "I'm only bleeding: Education as the practice of social violence against children", by Alan Block. but maybe that's too depressing... although he does talk a lot about the history of schooling and curriculum, and how we got into such a tangle, and how we might imagine ourselves out of it based on newer understandings of brain and psychology. He has this one idea in there that I find very powerful. He says the teacher's 'work' is to create a 'framed gap' for children. So we make a frame, but inside there is a 'gap', an open and free space for them to play, explore, and become. We contain them safely and it isn't a chaos or free for all, or a crazy space with no boundaries, but it has a big enough frame with enough psychological space for them to grow properly. There are so many people, and have been so many people over the past century, who have worked hard to make education and schools a place of non-violence, beauty, creativity, etc. I take my hope and inspiration from these, including those early 'pioneers' like Maria Montessori. Even though it's been turned into a 'method' now, she really was a philosopher and a scientist. She was one of the first people to stand up for the education and rights of physically disabled children and to create beautiful schooling places for them. She wrote in one of her pieces about how classrooms looked to her like one of those boards with dead butterflies (specimens) pinned to them. And how the proper work of a teacher is to be free with children, to study the world with them, the world that is alive (ie. nature, etc) and also for the teacher to be like a scientist and study the learning of children who are directly in front of them. I really love her ideas. It puts a lot of ethical responsibility on the 'teacher' to stand up for children's worlds and experiences, and to learn how children learn by learning and studying together with them, not by imposing a world upon them. I feel an echo so maybe I wrote this somewhere before here! I just love her idea though... it's so 'simple' yet hard to do. Takes work and practice to stay in that place. And also a lot of trust in children's ability to grow and discover, and trust and patience in ourselves, and purposefully not hurrying (us or them).

  4. Jackie, every time you leave me a comment I feel like I need a day to re-read and re-read it and try to understand it all...what an inspiration you are to me! You've mentioned M. Montessori before but I don't think quite in this context..and even if you had, it's still great.

    I'll look up those books from the library - with thanks again!

    We read both the Penguin book and The Lion's Share book today. The kids LOVED them. We went through them slowly, especially the Penguin book because, as you said, there's a lot of content there in the midst of the fun of it all. All three, despite their varying ages, loved it and found pleasure in it. Lizzie just loved the overall idea of so many penguins coming into their homes and trying to figure out where to put them all and worrying about whether they'd have enough fish to eat! Seth liked that the Dad kept trying to organize them all and kept failing at it; he thought that was pretty funny and offered up a few different ways to sort them (including offering up our home!). Matthew got the idea instantly that there was a penguin for each day b/c there were 365 of them; he figured out before I could provide the answer that 4 groups of 15 penguins meant that there were 60 penguins; he explained to the other kids what a 'cube' was (and did a good job of it); and he loved how the story ended with another beginning (the polar bears). There were other things that they liked too, but I'm forgetting. What was particularly telling for me was that Seth asked if we could read it again tomorrow...he rarely asks for a book to be read again, and so this was awesome - he said that he had things to figure out yet! Matthew and Lizzie concurred.
    The Lion's Share was great, too - for fractions concepts as well as for social 'etiquette' and justice reasons. The kids had lots to say about the other animals and what they would have done instead, and they commented on how wise the lion was and how quietly selfless the ant was, etc etc. For some reason, Seth has had a hard time (before today) understanding what a half was, but this book nailed it for him - later in the day I asked him to divide something in half like the animals from the book had done and he got it and told me that the pieces had to be equal to be in half. GREAT!

    OK, I have to get to bed, but just wanted to pass along initial thoughts. Talk soon and thanks again Jackie. Have a great weekend!



  5. Lovely story about the books! Thanks for that. Your story reminded me of one fun thing to do with math is to just explore one number and record everything you can do with it. So you could explore a number like 16 for a few days... give each of them 16 objects (legos or little penguins or anything) and tell them to figure out all the things they could do with 16 things. So you could put them in one group. How would you write that down? Show them (16, or 1x16, or draw 16 things, etc). you could put them in 2 groups. how would you write that day? it's a square number. they'd probably figure that out. Show them how to record that, as a picture of 4x4 or as a square number which i can't write in this box). etc. also thinks like it is an even number. etc. You could put them in different patterns (if they had 8 yellow and 8 green legos they could do yellow yellow green green YY GG YY GG etc... which shows counting by twos, which is cool because 16 divides equally into two groups, or into 8 groups of 2, etc) make a poster on the wall together, or little pages that you staple into a book (everything you know about 16) or whatever other number. Some numbers are more challenging and make a bigger list than others... like 3 you won't have so many things to do with it. You can explain that's because it's odd number, etc. i have a cool thing for you to do with 100. i'll email you one day when i have a moment to write it down. i think it would really help Seth conceptualize numbers. The book must have helped him visualize 'half' better... also it is always just repeated exposure to concepts that makes the difference. So important to be patient and just keep coming back to them and back to them in different ways. That's why that multiplication book i recommended is amazing. it just repeats the same things in different, engaging ways, for many days in a row. Helps children conceptualize and visualize numbers and their relationships.

  6. Thanks Jackie. So many great ideas. I'm feeling rather discouraged about learning this morning and feel like tossing everything (including all of our great books) out the window. So today I'm going to focus on the sentence you wrote about being patient and continuing to come back at them over and over...tomorrow I'll focus on all of the other great ideas you've again included.


    Hugs, and wishes for a great week for you.