Is Your Three-Year-Old Reading? If Not, You Can Get a Tutor for That

I’ll do just about anything to help my kids succeed: We have a massive library of engaging books, computer games that make math and letter recognition thrilling, and a jam-packed schedule of enriching extracurriculars to foster their creativity and physical development. And that’s on top of all the learning that my four-year-old is already doing in preschool.

But Maggie and I won’t be taking part in the latest trend: preschool tutoring. A growing number of parents are clamoring to make nursery schools more academic -- and sending their kids for afternoons at places like Kumon or Sylvan Learning Centers so they can get get a leg up on reading and math skills, starting as early as age three. Kumon touts their Junior Kumon program with the argument that “It’s never too early to start on your child’s education.”

But while it may be impressive to think that your four-year-old might be able to master multiplication or your kindergartner could fall asleep reading her bedtime story solo, experts say that we’re focusing on academic success way too early for our toddlers.

“Parents think starting early is best for their child,” says Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, author of Einstein Never Used Flash Cards, and a professor of psychology at Temple University who specializes in child development. “They look around and see the jobs are shrinking, and think, ‘If I start early, surely my kids are going to win.’ But in this case, research doesn't show that early tutoring fosters future success.”

In fact, it’s general knowledge -- the kind that comes with giving your kids the freedom to play and explore -- that’s a better predictor of high test scores, increased creativity and the other hallmarks of academic success. “Kids learn better when they’re active and engaged, and it’s meaningful to them -- not from worksheets.”

Hirsh-Pasek recommends dropping the flash cards and looking for ways to introduce math and reading concepts into your child’s everyday routine -- using numbers, letters and words that are a part of your child's everyday life. “A child’s world is rich with opportunities for learning -- playing hopscotch, looking at baseball scores, reading books, telling stories, or playing with toys that offer platforms for imagination, like little figurines, castles or farms. If you want to help your child, go to your backyard and have a wonderful day, read a book at night and play a board game,” Hirsh-Pasek recommends. That sounds like a good plan.

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