Arguments For & Against
Early Learning

To teach or not to teach?

Introduction to the Great Teaching Debate

There are no rules when it comes to early learning. Well, okay, maybe just one rule: make sure to keep it fun. Better to not teach anything than to bring stress to your relationship, whether through the preparation you impose on yourself or the discipline you impose on your child.

There is another important issue that hampers parents otherwise interested in teaching their babies - and that is doubt about the benefits or appropriateness of early learning programs undertaken at home or at an early learning center.

There are plenty of critics of early learning out there, many of them with valid points to make. Some have written books on the subject; others may be members of your family. We'd like to address their concerns here.

A highly personal decision

It's one thing to have someone tell you that teaching babies is wonderful. But you really need to come to an opinion for yourself. You need to know all the facts and the arguments for and against early learning in order to reach a reasoned conclusion.

There's plenty of information on early learning out there, but as working parents, we don't always have time to read it. This article summarizes the main arguments against early learning and links to fuller articles, in case you want to find out more.

So what are the arguments against early learning? They basically fall into one of three categories:

"Whatever you're trying to teach can't be taught"

The child you want to teach is too young to learn the subject you want to teach because her brain is not sufficiently developed to handle it.

"You will harm the child you're trying to teach"

You should let babies be babies - and not interfere with the "natural" pace of development. Otherwise, you will only cause harm to the child.

"You can go ahead and teach, but it's ultimately pointless"

Sure, the child you're teaching may learn something now, but a few years down the line, there won't be anything to show for it, as he'll be at the same level as his peers.

Here's a summary of our response to the three main arguments against early learning (for the detailed discussion, click on "Read more"):

"Whatever you're trying to teach can't be taught"

They tell us it can't be done, but there are countless young children out there already doing it - whether it's reading, solving math equations or playing a musical instrument like a pro. Read more...

"You will harm the child you're trying to teach"

It's all a question of balance. The critics assume that teaching involves coercion and that it takes up the majority of a child's time.

In fact, all the experts emphasize the importance of keeping lessons fun and free from pressure, as babies and young children naturally love to learn.

The critics believe it must be necessary to force a child to learn reading or math because they can remember loathing similar classes in school. However, it is our view that it is waiting too long to start teaching that causes the problem. As children get older, they find learning any new skill increasingly difficult - and tiresome. With her growing independence, there is so much more to occupy a school-age child than there is to occupy a baby.

Whereas you may find it a struggle to get your five- or six-year-old to concentrate on reading or math, you might be surprised to see just how enthralled your baby is at his lessons. For a person who is dependent on others for every little thing, the stimulation that comes from being introduced to words and numbers is hard to beat. Young babies have even been known to kick their legs, pant and squeal with delight in response to their lessons.

So whereas lessons at school can be painful affairs, learning in infancy is effortless. And unlike in school, where certain things have to be learnt within a certain timeframe - like it or not - a baby's lessons only proceed when the child is receptive. Read more...

"You can go ahead and teach, but it's ultimately pointless"

In fact, longitudinal studies have shown that early readers maintain their advantage through grade school.

As for math, children have learned to perform mentally the kind of equations that most adults will never manage to do without a calculator. When it comes to music, nearly all of the world's great composers and performers took up their instrument in early childhood. Read more...

Want to join the debate about early learning?

You can share your views with other parents and teachers in the BrillKids Forum.

If there is an argument that you feel hasn't been covered on BrillBaby, please email us and we'll do our best to address your concern.

More on the great debate: to teach or not to teach...