If you’ve had pets in your home, then you know that the toys they end up loving are not the complex and expensive ones that you think will engage them. Your cats and dogs end up having more fun playing with paper bags, bones, and bits of string that are practically free. As it turns out, infants, toddlers, and children can be the same way, in a fashion. They are born with a desire to explore their environments, and you’ve no doubt heard the old adage about soaking up information like a sponge. Your baby comes pre-programmed with a desire to learn as much as possible early in life, and as a concerned parent, you no doubt want to nurture that tendency. The problem is that you might go overboard. It’s pretty normal to want your child to excel, to keep pace with or exceed his peers. And you may try all manner of strategies to get him to learn the essentials as early as possible. But a tendency to insist upon rote memorization as a learning tool can actually be detrimental to young children. The audio book “Einstein Never Used Flash Cards: How Our Children Really Learn – and Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less” addresses this very issue.
Authors Kathy Hirsh-Pasek and Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, both of whom hold PhDs and specialize in child development, are here to tell you that letting your kids play is not a bad thing. In fact, the more you allow them to direct their own play time, the more likely you are to foster a love of learning. Thanks to our regimented school practices, most parents have learned all too well that an academic education revolves around drills that rely on repetition and memorization of facts. But babies are not necessarily hard-wired for this sort of learning. In fact, natural child development depends heavily on play and the ability to learn through exploratory practices. And forcing your kids to adopt a fact-based form of education early in life can actually hold them back in several areas.
Although there are plenty of people out there publishing books about how you can teach your kids to talk, write, and do math before their peers, the truth is that scientific studies over the past several decades have overwhelmingly proven that targeted play is the best method of helping kids learn to interact with their environment, developing not only academic skills along the way, but engaging in social and emotional growth simultaneously. The goal of a parent should be to engage children mentally without stifling their natural creativity and their capacity for learning. But when you try to pound their heads full of facts at an early age, all you’re really going to do is teach them that learning is a chore. And the message will be that there’s only one way to learn, which can stifle their creativity and their willingness to engage in the learning process.
As a parent, you might feel like you’re not doing your job if you don’t teach your kids to read, write, and count before they head to preschool. Or you might wonder if you’re doing the right thing by depriving kids of the expensive toys your friends are buying for their children. But the truth is that by providing simple toys like blocks, Legos, and dolls, and sending your kid to the play yard to interact with other kids in a sandbox, you’re allowing them to exercise their natural tendency for exploration through imaginative and unstructured play. Children are extremely adaptable and if you let them they will learn on their own in a creative and unfettered way. If you want your kids to grow up with a love of learning and a creative spirit, give them some room and let them play. Soon enough they’ll be stuck in school with a regimented teaching style that forces children into the same box. But if you’ve allowed your kids to experience the world on their own terms up to that point, they’ll already be ahead of the game.