Developmental psychologist and bestselling author Dr. Gordon Neufeld has thoughts about early childhood education that may come as an unwelcome surprise to parents of preschoolers and education policy-makers.
Neufeld is against four-year-old kindergarten. He’s also against five year-old kindergarten. And possibly even six-year-old kindergarten. Unless, of course, kindergarten is all about play and not at all about results.
Neufeld is co-author of the 2004 book Hold on to Your Kids: Why Parents Matter, which argued that parents who relinquish the parental role too soon prompt children to turn to peers for their attachment needs, sometimes with disastrous results.
“It takes six years of ideal conditions where a child gives his heart to his parents,” says the Vancouver-based Neufeld.
Neufeld knows he’s slogging into a political mire. Ontario is implementing all-day four-year kindergarten. Last October Charles Pascal, Premier Dalton McGuinty’s special adviser on early learning, acknowledged that implementation might have challenges, but things would work out “if people keep a focus on what’s best for kids and families.”
On the other hand, critics have pointed out that in Finland, one of the countries whose students are among the highest-ranking performers in international comparisons, students don’t start formal education until they’re seven.
In Canada, Neufeld finds it worrisome that even though children are going to school younger and being educated more intensively, children are less curious in Grade 12 than they were in kindergarten.
“Society is increasing expectations. Parents need to be the buffer,” says Neufeld, who has addressed the parliaments of European nations on early education and is scheduled to go to Brussels next fall to talk to the European Parliament.
What’s the answer? Play, says Neufeld. And extended families.
Preschoolers have fundamentally different brain wiring and need to be free of consequences and “attachment hunger,” says Neufeld. Germany, where the word “kindergarten” was coined more than 150 years ago, mandated play-based preschool education about a decade ago.
Play helps children build problemsolving networks. At four, five, even six, children are not ready to learn by working because the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain where a child is capable of mixed feelings, is still under construction. “It only gets wired at between five and seven years of age,” says Neufeld.
Developmentally, preschoolers have to be secure in the love and attention of their families, says Neufeld. Too often, children are pushed into performing. “You can get incredible things out of them if you detach them from marks and rewards.”
What is play? Neufeld defines it as “not work.” Play is expressive and it’s not “for real.” There are no consequences to messing up, and the child is playing for the joy of the activity, not because of an outcome. It’s like playing marbles, Neufeld says. You can play for fun and take your marbles home when you’re done, or you can play for keeps, where the winner takes all. Only playing for fun is really playing.
Read more: http://www.ottawacitizen.com/life/work+play/6109961/story.html#ixzz2CKzVJgCZ
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