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.