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Monday, 15 January, 2001, 14:37 GMT
Is early learning bad for kids?

An early start to school education may not be good for children.

The education select committee of the British parliament says it is concerned that parents are being pressurised into enrolling their children in reception classes too early.

Children in Britain start school at five, earlier than in most other countries. In Denmark, praised for its excellent education provision, formal schooling starts at the age of seven.

Should young children play rather than learn? Or will they be at a disadvantage later on? What is the right age to start school?

HAVE YOUR SAY As a person who has been very actively involved in the field from kindergarten to primary, secondary and tertiary education, I feel that education should be continuous, regardless of age. What is misunderstood is the concept of "formal" education versus learning. If this difference is to be defined in any discussion, I would suggest that a great majority of people would agree that learning is life-long and starts at birth. Learning in children, be it the 3Rs or simple social scales can start as early as we want. What is worrying is the regimentation of schooling that is associated with education. This should be less emphasised at an early age, i.e. before 5.
Professor Kok-hai Ong, Malaysia

The move toward early schooling and day care is disastrous for society

Dr. Pamela Gerloff, USA
The move toward early schooling and day care has been and is disastrous for society. Some early research in the US concluded that kids who didn't go to school until age 8 were better off than those who started younger. One of the problems is that parent and family bonding processes are severely disrupted with early day care and early schooling - leading to significant societal problems. Also, children's brains are not naturally developed for the kind of formal learning schools force on them so early. They can be forced, but the consequences are not good. By the way, some researchers have linked violence, depression, suicide and other societal problems to the introduction of compulsory schooling.
Dr. Pamela Gerloff, USA

In India, especially Kerala where literacy is 100 percent, where even the highly qualified fail to get jobs, it's really a very competitive world. I run a playschool and kindergarten, and children from the age of 2 are present. We do not teach, but we expose them to the world specifically depending on the individual calibre and interests. For me, the calendar age is not the deciding factor. It is the mental age of the child
Sneha Sajen, India

I feel that the decision to start at 5 years old or not is one that depends on the child's development. I have a boy in primary 2, who I feel started too soon, but he was the right side of the 'cut-off' date, yet my 3 year old, who has been at fulltime nursery for 18 months is ready for school having learnt all that she can at nursery, yet she may be prevented starting at 41/2 because she is one week past the cut-off date. I remember when there used to be two intakes-August & January, this seemed to work fine and prevented the problems of holding back or starting early. Would it not be possible to return to and improve on this system?
Fiona, Scotland

Children learn at different rates and different ages

Harry, Scotland
My daughter is about to start school this summer and has attended a private nursery part time since she was 3 months. She has gained a lot from this, including manners, but I feel the formality of a classroom will be a shock to her. She is used to learning in a natural way through her experiences. We have held back our desire to teach her to read and write to any great degree for fear she will be bored at school. There is a wealth of research out there which suggests that countries like The Netherlands and Belgium have a much better attitude and are not so keen to measure children and to test their achievement at any possible moment. Children learn at different rates and different ages. If I were her I would be very depressed to think the next 11 years are planned out for me and there is no escape.
Harry, Scotland

As a teacher I would say get them into kindergarten or pre-school as early as possible, because when they hit school proper they can cope with routines and are already socialised. As a parent I say keep them away as long as possible. Watching my son grow in those early years was a real joy, but like many working fathers I missed a lot. Small children have independence, they are resourceful and as long as they are kept out of harm's way will look after themselves. Schooling takes away that independence and many children become part of a bland and eventually bored crowd.
Peter Haslett, Australia

My child learnt through play from 4 months old until he was 5. It was when he went to primary school that he was robbed of his childhood by being continuously put under pressure to do well in SATs without the necessary training as to how to do an exam. This we know better than everyone else. Government should realise that our kids work longer and harder than in Europe.
Anne Stanton, UK

Children learn through play, just as much as through formal learning

Helen M Smith, England
I feel that children should not be at school until they are at least 5. Too many four-year-olds are now starting school and they are not ready for formal learning. Children learn through play, just as much as through formal learning.
Helen M Smith, England

Having read the above article I feel that the British children of today should begin to develop their skills earlier than the current age limit. Maybe then the children of tomorrow can have a chance at catching up their fellow Europeans , like in Switzerland or the Chinese whose children demand and absorb knowledge at a very early age. Was not Mozart only 3 when it was said he played the piano to perfection?
K. Morgan, WALES

As always it depends what the kids are learning . If the object is to get them to interact and cooperate with other kids instead of trying to strangle them over who is going to get the bouncy ball next then this is a good thing . If the object is to try to get the kid to understand the laws of astrophysics in an Einsteinian context but with reference to the work of Stephen Hawking then I feel it is going a bit far. In the latter case one may produce a genius who is a social misfit due to lack of adequate exposure to other children or you may get a highly overstressed individual who will simply "flip his/her lid" either then or later on in life. I would say then that only education in its broadest sense should be attempted at an early age and detail of any kind should be avoided until a much later date .
James Bruce Reid, Scotland

Primary schools being allowed to give preference to those attending their nursery exacerbates the problems

Pete Crockford, UK
Primary schools being allowed to give preference to those attending their nursery exacerbates the problems. Typically a two and a half hour slot with a poorer adult-child ratio due to Education Act rather than Children Act governance. Working parents happy with their child in a good private nursery are driven to dreadful dilemmas and absurd logistics, of no benefit to the child, parent or the state (the child is in a state-funded place for two and a half hours when a better private place is already paid for) in order to avoid Hobson's choice of schools. Madness!
Pete Crockford, UK

Our kids underperform enough as it is. How will teaching from a later age help them exactly? No wonder we're behind the rest of the world in education.
Steve, England

It is the quality and content of that early learning that is the issue, not the starting age

Amanda Smith, UK
Children are always ready to learn and early learning is a good thing. It is the quality and content of that early learning that is the issue, not the starting age. I am a primary teacher and now a mother and I firmly believe that the only "desirable outcome" for young children is that they explore their world with interest and enthusiasm. When I ask my daughter in a few years time "How was school today?", I just hope she says "Fun!".
Amanda Smith, UK

I started school at four years of age but by then I could already read and write. Children, however, grow up at different rates, some may not be ready for school at five whereas others are ready at three. The right age to start school depends on the child but I can see no harm in sending a child of four to pre-school in readiness to start formal schooling at five.
Dan, UK

Now in my mid 30's I can still remember my early years at school. Out of my class there were four of us that could read on the day we started. The biggest problem was that by the end of the first year we had all outgrown the books in our infant's school library and had to go to the junior school up the road to get reading books.

As we progressed through the schooling system eventually reaching comprehensive school, the four of us all made it into the top banding, and only one other that I still knew from my early years also did so.I later changed school, but met up again with two of the three at a sixth-form college, all of us getting good 'A' levels.
To me this clearly shows that starting education before the age of five is well worthwhile, whether that education is in a school, nursery, pre-school, or (in my case) home setting.
Keith, UK

I know it was 30 years ago, but when I went to primary school we had no homework, ever. Now my eight year-old son brings home work nearly every night, and never seems to have time for a good play session. The pressure is always on to perform and meet targets. I loved school, it was an extension of play. My son hates it because it is work. I eventually went on to get nine 'O' levels, three 'A' levels and a degree. I fear the pressures may turn my son against the education system and he will leave as soon as he has chance. Teachers should have the freedom to set the learning agenda for their class, and the pace.
Dave Pashby, UK.

I would be interesting to see how many parents who object to their four or five year-old going to school at such a tender age, don't hesitate to send that child to day-care so they can go to work! I don't object to either, per se, but it does seem a bit of a double standard. Further, if the child is going to be "given to others" during the day, it might as well be to learn to read and write rather than finger paint!
Mark M. Newdick, USA/UK

Every day of existence is a learning experience

Faye, USA
I have always balked at the idea of enrolling young children in formalised educational settings. When a person has such limited experience of life, every day of existence is a learning experience. To take away the wonder of discovery and replace it with traditional education makes me shudder.
Faye, USA

I went to school at 4yrs 6months, managed to gain 4 A-levels and never felt a failure. The biggest problem was being able to read before I went to school and not being allowed to progress until the rest of the class had caught up!!! I was so bored! Luckily I had parents who were interested in my education and helped in my love of reading. My 4 year old daughter is currently desperate to read and would love to go to school now. She is more than ready but has to wait until September!
Tamasine, UK

The main problem with schooling today is not to do with when pupils start but more that schools are under pressure to do well in league tables. This results in a school moving up the tables if it raises below average pupils closer to the average. There is no benefit in the school's view in encouraging brighter children to exceed the requirements of the national curriculum.
John Ross, UK

No age is too young to start learning

Ian Sharp, England
If this country is to seriously endeavour to maintain its economic position in the new world order, it will do well to heed the mantra of "Education, education, education" - education before schooling, throughout schooling and career. In the same way that no age is too late to start learning (ask any adult education college), no age is too young to start learning.
Ian Sharp, England

It's never too early to start crushing imagination and stop people from thinking for themselves.
Richard, UK

My son's birthday is August 30th. The local schools take children in the Sept after their 4th birthday, hence my son was just 4 when he started school. I did attempt to delay him starting until the following year. However, I was informed that he would go straight into year 1, assuming any schools had room in the year 1 classes. As he may not get into the local school and he would miss out the reception year where they learn to read I felt it would disadvantage him further. Hence he started school at 4. Overall I feel I was pressurised into sending him to school too early and he would have benefited from an extra year at nursery.
Caron, England

We have a 3-year-old son who is very happy with his pre-school. I have the opportunity to send him 4 mornings a week but have kept his attendance to 2 mornings and 1 afternoon. We live in an area where there is social kudos to send your children to the relatively local primary school with nursery attached. In our opinion our son will benefit more from having two full days a week at home with me and his brother than being sent to a formal nursery when he is 3.
There is a lot to be said for stay at home mums!
Amanda Brewerton, UK

The British Education system is now nothing more than an exam factory

Neville Harris, Great Britain
As the British Education system is now nothing more than an exam factory, pandering to the needs of business and industry, I would prefer that my young children are kept away from it for as long as possible.
Neville Harris, Great Britain

Everyone is different, myself personally - I started early. My mum taught me to read before I went to school (at 5). But for some people this may not be the best way.
Chris, UK

My son started school when he was just four and it has been disastrous

Kathleen Sinnott, United Kingdom
Saying that children start school at five is incorrect as they actually start in the year that they are five. My son started school when he was just four and it has been disastrous. He is only now started to settle four terms later.
However, my younger daughter will be the same age when she starts but is mentally and physically ready for the challenge. I felt under incredible pressure to send my son to school in the September even though I would have gladly burdened myself with an extra year's private nursery bills. Kathleen Sinnott, United Kingdom

Children should be given the opportunities to learn at the rate which best them in younger years, learn through play is fine so long it can offer the recognition of those who require more at early ages.
I for one give my son total availability of the computer books and any other educational facilities that I can and I find that through his first 4.5 years he has moved at his own pace through numbers and the computer and is now requesting that he learns to read. From my point of view one should follow the child and not force the child to follow a curriculum
Steve Swatman, Nl

It seems to me that whatever we do for the best ends up being for the worst

Susan, UK
It seems to me that whatever we do for the best ends up being for the worst (according to reports and opinion polls). After years of being encouraged to do one thing because we believe it is right, all of a sudden we may have been causing harm! It's not just education but health education too!
Children should be the adults barometer. If children enjoy being educated from an earlier age, then that should be our barometer. If they show early signs of stress and unhappiness then we should stop. Education should be enjoyable and fun to the children and if it isn't then it has to be addressed.
Susan, UK

There was a thriving play-group in our small village, helping children to socialise and learn, but not academically. But then the government gave vouchers for child care and grants to go with them, and the village primary school wanted some of that. So they began a pre-reception class, and announced that children who wanted to go to the school at five had to do at least two terms in the pre-reception class, or their place could not be guaranteed.
The result is a play-group with about eight children, and a school class of three and a half to four and a half year olds.
Lesley Hawes, United Kingdom

The lesson to be learnt from reading the above comments is that "no size fits all". Different children need to start school at different times, to learn in a variety of different styles and, eventually, to take publics exams as and when they feel ready to. As a teacher, I can vouch for the fact that the education system is run perhaps too strongly according to administrative convenience.
Geoff, UK

Learning, teaching, can start and begin from the earliest ages. I have always been an advocate of teaching a child all he/she can comprehend or learn as early as possible. There is a catch to this; who is the one to determine if it is to little or too much except the child his/her self. Even in this you have to be able to determine if it is just fear or other things that keeps the child from exceeding or excelling. So teach them all you can. So I am for it as long as it is done with all aspects kept in mind knowledge, respect, love, all things that are needed in life.
Mark, USA

Girls are more ready for full-time education at 4 or 5

Nick Grealy, UK
What I haven't read here is what my 4-year-old boy's teachers tell me: Girls are more ready for full-time education at 4 or 5, boys just aren't as interested! Anyone who has a boy of that age knows that it's almost a physical impossibility to get them to sit still for a full school day! Another point that's missing is that early education serves the parents more than anyone else as it allows them to earn more earlier.
Nick Grealy, UK

The Education Select Committee is right to be concerned. We have three daughters and three sons ranging in age from nearly 19 to five. We have studiously avoided pressurising or hot-housing our children, especially before they start school at the age of five. They have attended local nursery or playschools maybe up to three mornings per week, but that had more to do with meeting other children rather than getting an early start to their education. All of our children are literate, numerate and courteous. Those who have sat public examinations have done well and out-performed their peers. I suspect that pre-school education is too often used to make good the deficiencies that arise from absentee mothers.
Chris Klein, UK

When I started primary chool 18 years ago, there was a great deal of play involved and certainly no homework. Now children have to do homework from the age of 5 or 6 and I don't think that this is helpful. Children are beginning to get work anxiety from an early age: I know a six year old who, despite being sick, was desperate to go to school because "I'll miss literacy hour and I'll be all behind.". Surely this shouldn't be what primary education is about?
Penni, UK

Far too many individuals fall through the net

Brendan MacLean, UK
Having worked in special education for seven years up until June last year, I feel that since education in this country has become a political issue rather than a subject worthy of it's own merits, our governments have lost sight of the fact that every child is an individual and that a system designed to cater for the "average child" is simply unworkable and lets far too many individuals fall through the net. I would suggest that a far more flexible approach to education is needed that allows a child's learning to take place at a pace which suits them and from an age that is appropriate to them.
Brendan MacLean, UK

You ask the question: "to play or learn?" Why are these such mutually exclusive things? Playing IS learning. From the second you are born you learn. Twenty five years later I still learn best when it's fun. What we should ask is why learning in schools is a stressful and non-playful experience. The reason people might be at a disadvantage later is because learning has become a chore.
Matt, Amsterdam, Netherlands (ex.UK)

My daughter started school in England at four years two months and she thrived. The boys in her reception class who were the same age had a disastrous year and will probably suffer the ill effects throughout their schooling. Many boys are not ready for school before five and a half or six. Fortunately we are now in Australia where our son won't start school until he is five and a half and furthermore children are not ALLOWED to start school unless their parents and pre-school teachers think they are ready - unlike the English system which makes it very hard to delay the age a child starts school.
Judy Edmonds, Australia

I have a daughter who was four in August, so started reception class in September. She can't wait to go to school each day. Although it is a long day for her, she does a mixture of play and "work", and loves it all. I think that the UK system is fine. All children are different and so react and progress in different ways.
Helen Townley, UK

As I was educated in Belgium, I started a "pre-school" system - which means playing, not learning - at the age of three and "big school" at the age of six, where formal education started. The same system applies for The Netherlands. However, the standards in both countries are much higher, with the end result being a better educated person and employee, and having greater general knowledge which only adds to the quality of your life. It makes you more critical and less vulnerable. UK kids shouldn't go to school earlier but should get a better education. This is the only right way to improve standards, but the government doesn't like hearing this because it means they fail to provide what is essential for the good future of a country: a decent education.
Eve, UK

My only gripe with my education is that I didn't get enough language tuition

Alex Banks, Wales (Living in Sweden)
I am interested by all the Nordic comments. I started at 4 and 2 months, falling just on the other side of the September deadline. It didn't hinder me whatsoever. I loved primary school. My only gripe with my education is that I didn't get enough language tuition. Everyone my age around me can speak 2 or 3 languages not including Swedish. I'm at a major disadvantage.
Alex Banks, Wales (Living in Sweden)

I started school in the UK at 5, and can't imagine starting earlier would have been any more productive. Starting later may not have taken advantage of the incredibly flexible brains that children have. One of the main factors though, is quality of teaching and not just the timing alone.
Christopher Laird, Japan

I am a British person living in the USA and my 4 year old son is not at school here but would be if in the UK, and he is so ready to learn. I ended up having to enrol him in a private pre-school because of his eagerness to find out about things. It is a waste of a whole year to keep them out till 5 or 6 years old. Learning doesn't have to be regimented and in a classroom style fashion it can be fun if taught in a fun way.
Sara Gentry, USA

If anything, early primary school education was too slow for my liking

Andy, Finland
I took the quickest route available through the British education system, having graduated from university at the age of 19. I find that that has put me at a considerable advantage compared with others my own age in Scandinavia, who are typically still studying at my age (23). If anything, early primary school education was too slow for my liking, resulting in boredom. I am glad that I could obtain a high level of education quickly, without sacrificing too many years of my life.
Andy, Finland

Most children begin full-time school in the school year in which they turn four. Some children start school the day after they were three and many of these are thrust into the hothouse of targets - desirable outcomes, early learning goals. Bring back nurseries that offer good quality play and stop applauding the academic target achievers.
Harry, UK

Looking around me in the streets of Birmingham, I would say the education of children can never begin too early. I'm wondering if the art of good manners and respect for the community among the young has finally died an irretrievable death. In my classroom they used to call it 'Personal and social education'. In the face of deteriorating standards of parenting, I would suggest it made a welcome return.
Rebecca Southwell, UK

Five is too young to be put on the educational conveyor belt

David Clarke, UK
I have a happy and creative four-year-old daughter who is thriving in the caring atmosphere of the nursery she has attended for three years. I am worried that when she starts school next year she will be constrained by a system that puts achievement against a set of targets above the natural creativeness of the individual child. Five is too young to be put on the educational conveyor belt.
David Clarke, UK

I am a native Hungarian, living in the UK. In Hungary children start formal school between the ages of 6-7. Kindergarten (ages 3-6 or 7) is optional. I believe it is an ideal arrangement, and even though children start school later, they quickly overtake British children in most subjects, most notably mathematics.
Eva W, UK

There is no single rule that applies to all children as they differ tremendously in their learning ability and readiness. However there is strong evidence that sending children into formal structured learning during the formative years may affect their ability to learn later on. My wife runs a pre-school nursery and she is very insistent on 'learning through play' during the formative years which can go well past the 5th birthday of a child. It is important for the 'learning to learn' phase of a child's development to mature before changing from learning how to learn to gaining knowledge and applying it.
Derrick Bowman, England

5 is I think too young for most. It pressurises some parents to have their children start even younger. In France, there is provision for maternal schools from the age of 2 or 3. "Proper" education starts at the age of 6 which I think this is about right.
Pascal Jacquemain, UK (French)

The desire to know more is the key

John B, UK
Early learning is bad for the Government's apparent desire to reduce us all to Neanderthal intelligence. The important thing when very small children are learning is that it is fun for them. To sit a three-year-old child and teach it parrot-style for hours is probably a bad thing. Reading to a child, showing them the different letters and helping them realise that the squiggles on the page say something about the pictures can captivate a child's imagination and make them want to know more. The desire to know more is the key.
John B, UK

I started "big school" at "four and three-quarters" (I remember these terms, as they're the ones I used at the time!). It did me no harm at all - in fact, it did me a lot of good. I could read at a very early age, and was doing cursive script (joined-up handwriting) by 5. My childhood was all the better for being able to read and articulate myself verbally at an early age. I'm sure many children's frustrations are a result of them not being able to express themselves as they want. I think our UK system should stay as it is.
Laura P, UK

Personally I believe 5 is too young for kids to start school. My daughter is 2 years old and she is progressing very well by going to nursery daily and also by playing at home. Both my wife and I and our other children spend a great deal of time playing with her and reading her books and she loves it. However, I can see the plus side of getting kids to school at a young age as it gives beleaguered parents a much needed break.
Lee, UK

In Scandinavian countries (where they have more realistic notions of maternity and paternity leave than we do) their children start school later, play longer, yet quickly overtake our children in educational standards. Doesn't that speak for itself?
Anne, UK

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11 Jan 01 | Education
'Danger' of early learning pressures
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