Parents know that, even for themselves, learning is more effective when it’s fun. If that rule holds true for them, it is even more so for their child.
Parents know that, even for themselves, learning is more effective when it’s fun. If that rule holds true for them, it is even more so for their child. “For a child to be a motivated learner and to retain what he learns, his heart has to be in it,” explains Nicole Malenfant, Early Childhood Education Techniques teacher at Collège Édouard-Montpetit.
Linda S. Pagani, psychoeducation professor and researcher, also insists on the need to make learning fun.
“It’s simply a matter of letting yourself be guided by the child’s own initiatives and games. There are moments when children naturally want to learn. These opportunities present themselves on their own. The trick is to slide some learning into the play,” she explains.
The brain’s fifth year: a small revolution
Between the ages of 4 and 5, a child’s brain goes through a major transition, explains Pagani. At age 4, the frontal lobe (responsible for behaviour and attention) goes through a huge growth spurt. Then, between 4 and 6, the child consolidates all the skills he has acquired. “During the summer before school starts, we often don’t recognize our children because they suddenly have this great thirst for learning!” she notes.
The danger of pushing performance
It is, of course, tempting to systematically teach your child colours with his building blocks, or letters when you read your newspaper. But it may be a good idea to question your reasons for doing so. Is your child in a state of mind to learn, or are you forcing him?
“Some children like to be pushed, but most don’t. Parents tend to transfer the same pressure they experience at work onto their children,” says Nathalie Fréchette, psychology professor at Collège Édouard-Montpetit.
She believes that this trend doesn’t consider the child’s real needs. “We confuse need for stimulation with performance. It often starts with a good intention, since, as parents, we are learning more and more about child development. We should definitely take advantage of the first 5 years to put the basics in place, but there’s a huge leap between learning to hold a crayon and knowing how to write all the letters of the alphabet,” she explains.
When a child is pushed too hard, the consequences soon become evident. They can appear in Grade 1 or during adolescence, and can be subtle or blatantly obvious. “Some children get more and more stressed from a very young age. They show it by becoming more agitated or complaining of headaches or tummy aches.” Then, at school, they may simply tune out. “When children start school too prepared, they get bored. And when they’re bored, they lose interest and the entire group is affected,” says Nathalie Fréchette.
A, B, C is more than enough!
We don’t expect children to know all the letters by the end of kindergarten. The only objective set out in the Quebec Education Program, a work tool for teachers, is that kindergarten students “recognize a few letters.” So, there’s no rush! You can consult this program on the Ministère de l’Éducation’s website.
For her part, Nicole Malenfant warns parents against having exaggerated expectations with regards to their child’s future teachers. “A teacher cannot take care of 18 children individually like at daycare, nor always consider the particular demands of each parent,” she advises.