Younger is not always better

In this hyper-competitive, largely Type A oriented world in which we live, we are always told – usually by “the experts” – that it’s better to learn any subject or skill while very young.  The earlier the better.  Hence the proliferation of companies like Kumon and ABC Mouse, and ever earlier learning programs.  Hence the myth that to become truly accomplished at anything, you must start doing it almost from birth.

When Maya was a baby, people were always telling me to enroll her in classes.  Swimming topped the list, followed by things like piano or violin and as many languages as I could.

The thing is, she was never passive about her interests,  gamely trying anything without question.   Woe to me if I enrolled her in something without telling her.  I think I tried it once.   Possibly it was even a swimming class.   I’ve blocked it out, but I do remember glass within about a half-mile radius breaking from her screams.   (Not really.  It just felt that way.)

Then there was language.  Joshua being Israeli, we spoke a lot of Hebrew to Maya as a baby.  That lasted until she was about three and realized none of the other kids she saw spoke or had parents speaking this language.  After that, whenever we would say something in Hebrew she would cross her arms and demand “SPEAK ENGLISH!”   Which was kind of cute the first time.   But then if you persisted with the Hebrew, the window panes shuddered.

Similar stories could be told when it came to riding a bike or ice skating.  (Or wearing shoes, although that one resolved itself before she was 2 due to a pair of awesome felt boots sent to her as a gift from a friend in England.)

I am not exaggerating any of this.  I have witnesses.

So I dropped it.  Stopped trying to convince her to take swimming lessons or to get on that bike or put on those skates.  I figured that at some point she would either become interested or not.  And if she didn’t, well…

As a result, she learned to swim at age 9 and went from hating to have her face in the water to swimming the length of the pool with no problem in about six weeks.    Why?  She was ready and wanted to be there.  And by the way, NINE is not a ‘late’ age at which to learn to swim. Despite what you might have heard.

Bike riding happened at about the same time, courtesy of an afternoon in Indiana with my brother by her side.

Ice skating?  Try the last couple of months.

Languages?  She’s working on Spanish, and sometimes says she wishes we’d endured the screaming and kept speaking Hebrew to her, but then reflects that it might have backfired altogether and made her despise the idea of ever learning a second language.

The point is, forcing your kid into activities because you think they need to learn them at a really young age might work if your kid’s personality is amenable to such things.   Then again, it might not.  (And even if it does work, I have my reservations about the wisdom of such an approach.)

My feeling is that I’d rather have my kid start something later but do it out of their own desire or volition.

Learning something at a  younger age does not make the information more valuable, or make you a better person.  It does not even make the learning easier, especially if coercion played any kind of role.

Learning happens best when interest leads the way.




2 comments on “Younger is not always better

  1. Rimma Salganik says:

    Hi Amy! I enjoyed reading your blog. We are currently unschooling our almost 7 year old son in Madison , WI and are moving back to NYC where we are from in April/May 2014. I have unschooled my daughter who is now 18 , for the last two years of high school so I am somewhat familiar with the paperwork. My concern is the testing for my son and how to incorporate tests into an unschooling lifestyle.
    Love to hear from you.
    Rimma Salganik

  2. Rebecca says:

    Love Reggio! My grandson’s presohocl is Reggio based, and we love love love it. I was just looking at the posterboard that came home when he was almost 3, and they were doing a painting thing over the winter. He had such an interest in the colors and the textures of the paint, and in how the colors mixed that the teachers found a large appliance box just for him, they set it up in a corner, and would let him strip to his diaper and let him paint with his whole body, and just explore the medium.Awesome!One day his teacher took off her shoes, and they rolled out paper, and danced on the paper with paint on their feet.What a great way to approach interaction with small people! Freely, and with tons of creativity, using what’s at hand.

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