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Can we start our children in school at an earlier age?

I started school when I was 6 years old. However, I have heard of kids in other countries starting school at age 4 or 5. We honestly did not learn much in those earlier ages but I feel like by the the time I was able to learn, I was not learning enough from school. I know there are many flaws in the American education system and nothing can be changed overnight but this is just an idea I had...

1. Children will have a head start learning not just knowledge but growing with other children

2. Parents can go back to work sooner since a lot of mothers can't go back to work until their children are in school

1. higher expenses for the government
2. possible negative effects on children (being away from their parents at an earlier age?)

I'm not a pediatrician nor a mother so those with insights, please share how you feel about this?

  • Jul 10 2013: Can we? Yes.
    Should we? No.

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with teaching your kids things at home that will help them in school.

    Some examples include: Good hygiene skills, reading to them, singing to them, helping them learn the letters, number and basic skills like drawing, cutting, tying, kicking the ball, hitting the ball, catching the all, throwing the ball, street signs, fruits and vegetables at the food store, how to mail a letter, where the public library is located, where the fire station is located, where the police station is located, how to catch a fish, the names of 10 trees, the names of 10 flowers, the names of 10 animals, the zoo and visiting museums, and how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. These are all good learning skills that can be done with the parents. Learning at home also builds family relationships and communication skills. Play dates with other children are fine, but at young ages it would seem that a high adult to child ratio would be safer than large groups.

    Couples that decide the lifestyle associated with two incomes is more important to the family than spending time home with the kids should only do so after careful consideration. Some families need both incomes to survive, but there are many that just want to have the extra money and then spend it on daycare, nannies, babysitters or similar child care options. If neither parent wants to spend time raising children, then do you really want children? The goal should not be to rejoice when they are old enough for daycare and schools should not be considered a daycare. These decisions and considerations seem to be lost on many in today's generation.
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    Jul 15 2013: I work and live in one of those countries where kids start school at 3. It can be a good experience for children; however, I believe the programs must be organized in such a way that they honor the child's development and personal knowledge, ideas and questions. Too often early years programs are just accelerated versions of elementary school, pushing for standardisation-- and children's genuine curiosity and sense of autonomy and growing sense of who they are can simply be crushed earlier than usual.
  • Jul 11 2013: To some degree real learning is self-learning and we know words like polymath and autodidac. You can do anything you want. Maybe a child talking freely with adults is the biggest gift that can be given rather than more time in a academically structured environment. Aren't some of you fondest memories learning from other graduate students?
    • Jul 13 2013: George,

      "talking freely with adults is the biggest gift that can be given rather than more time in a academically structured environment" is spot on.

      Parents are often caught in the struggle of trade-offs between what is necessary for the family to survive, be happy, and giving the child as much one-on-one time as possible. This struggle underscores the value of other family members taking the time to include nieces, nephews, grandchildren, and cousins, etc. in any event that might benefit their overall education process. This gift takes a bit of work (schedule coordinating, travel, extra expense, etc.) but as you point out, may create some of the fondest memories, in addition to giving the parent a bit of a break now and then.

      A trip to the zoo, museum, historic site, National Park, fishing, sporting event, recreation center, hardware store, or grocery store is a purposeful investment of your time towards fun or a shopping activity. It takes very little to make the trip a learning adventure for a child and there are often dividends for the work associated with taking more than one child.
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    Jul 10 2013: What next, we take them from delivery to PS 10 ? I would like to see that children stay at home for their first 7 years. I read that it's the age where children are finally gestated. Yes, Mom or Dad can take time to read to them and show them abc's,
    that's fine.
    As far a dumping junior off at the local school, child care or headstart so parents can get back to work and buy those ipads, new cars, what ever is more important then your progeny, it will come back to haunt you, when you are bailing out that 16 year old delinquent, who knows you couldn't wait to get rid of him when he was little.
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    Jul 10 2013: No.

    It's important that kids get the right stimulation and experiences in those crucial early developmental years but this is not for schools to deal with. This is when parents need to be there.

    It's not magic, there's no special formula to follow or, more importantly, no product you need to buy from toy companies for this. I would say some books, singing to the radio/TV, basic objects to play with, water-play, sand-pit and some stuff to climb up/slide down/crawl over,etc.
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      Jul 19 2013: Take them to museums, take them out in nature, take them on neighborhood walks, to the shops, and all that Scott is suggesting. But most important is to have conversations with them about what they are noticing and wondering about and how they are making sense of their experiences. Tell stories about it, encourage them to tell stories and retell stories. This is educating through life and you don't need special qualifications to facilitate that as a parent or an older sibling or an aunt or uncle or grandparent.
  • Jul 23 2013: I am a Montessori Primary teacher, although I use the term "teacher" loosely, because we consider ourselves to be guides more than teachers. I have children ages 3-6 in my classroom, usually around 30 with roughly 10 of each age level. I have taught in both the public and private setting, although my heart is in the public schools. Currently, I work on the South Side of Chicago, in a public school, bringing a Montessori education to the children and families of the neighborhood, completely free of cost but full of opportunity. I am somewhat biased, I know. But it’s a healthy bias. I was drawn to Montessori from the start because I fell in love with the approach. In Montessori training, we work under trainers rather than professors (but just as an aside, I am currently working on a PhD in Early Childhood Education). Anyway, I was told early in my training by my trainer that in order to help prepare ourselves mentally for this work (and believe me, there is a huge mental preparation), we should begin to look at children in such a way that we will strive to offer them the same respect of someone whom we admired. Now, just stop and marinate on that. If we were to come across a Ghandi or an Obama....maybe the would we approach them? Would we tell them what to think, how to be? This, to me, is what Montessori education is all about. And, for our youngest citizens, the very young child, we offer them something they get almost nowhere else. They have the opportunity to be themselves without judgment. They are able to explore. They are supported and poised to reach their own potential. Public Montessori can be available to so many more children. But we as adults have to push the issue. It can serve the parent who needs to go back to work, the child who is inquisitive, the school whose tactics are failing. It is an amazing process and a beautiful philosophy. The buzz is out there for public Montessori, but we need to strengthen it through discussions like these.
  • Jul 23 2013: I personally believe that formal education will eventually lead to the death of imagination. While that may be hyperbole, there is something a bit orwellian about hundreds or thousands of children being taught the exact same ideas and thinking patterns in an environment, in the United States at least, designed to mimic the average day in the life of a factory worker (RSA Changing Educational Paradigms). Especially when you consider that you're removing a young child, literally a learning machine, from a varied, loving, warm, interactive environment and putting them into a structured, scheduled, formal education system. Yes they'll know arithmetic and whatever else is valued as important in formal education, but there won't be a personality. The prime developmental years of the human brain is between the ages 0-5. This is when personality is formed. It's why formal education isn't started until after this period, because it could and would have a pretty profound impact on the child's behavior as an adult. The purpose of having a child is to create a new, exciting, independent human being, not so that you can hand the child over to private tutors and "professionals" at age two so that when he's in his twenties you can brag to your friends over coffee about how wonderful his grades are even though his parents barely know him and can't because they never bonded when he was young. I think were getting a little too far from what it means to be a parent. There's a line between ensuring your child has a successful future, and making sure he knows you love him in the present. It's the job of the parent to walk this line. To know that some parents would prefer to indoctrinate our future generations with approved and standardized beliefs and ideas... It's a Brave New World indeed..
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    Jul 21 2013: I have still not read any comment that formal early education has any benefit over a child staying in a loving family environment regardless of race, creed, or national origin and financial status. In fact, recent DoE data has reveal any educational benefit of preschool was usually lost by the 3rd grade. Now, could there be exceptions? I am sure someone could make a case. .
    I am more attune to the fact that "parents" are delegating their responsibilities of parenthood for any number of reasons,
    be it uncertainty, selfishness, or whatever. The fact is that they are not fully engaged in raising their progeny. The problems I see it that their progeny will except the concept that children are of little importance in the parental scheme of things and as that idea spreads, we can come to the day where women will mail in their eggs and men their sperm to national labs and the government will create population as needed to balance society. Just like in the movies......
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    Jul 19 2013: Check out Deb Roy's talk "Birth of a Word" for a vivid example of the richness of learning that happens just in the home when children are very very young.
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    Jul 11 2013: “Children born in the water with the dolphins develop 6 months faster over their first six months, have perhaps 150 grams more brain weight and are ambidextrous.”

    "I think the idea of a dolphin assisted birth is wonderful - as long as the science can be established and safety measures for the procedure are put in place."

    Read more:

    Dudes, this is hilarious! Sad on the same level as well. This is where science and marketing mix for the worse. Not a science exactly by any means though. Look around, it's all over the place.
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    Jul 11 2013: I think we should start LEARNING as soon as possible, whether we do it in school or not.
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      Jul 11 2013: What do you consider appropriate learning at a "head start" program? Quantum mechanics by 7 years old as a goal or learning with our peers around us at the same rate basically? Thanks
  • Jul 11 2013: Wow I had no idea that you can start school at 3. I personally started at 6 which I felt was a bit late. Especially when I'm in college and there are students from other countries in my classes that are 2-3 years younger than me. Therefore, I felt a bit at a disadvantage... However, another issue that I personally faced was the fact that I am an only child. Since I did not have siblings, it was crucial for me to build relationships with other kids my age (not just the relationship with my parents) therefore, I felt like if I started school at an earlier age (4 or 5) then the friends I made in those childhood years will better build my social characteristics as well..
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      Jul 11 2013: Kids do not start the grade you started at age 6 when they are three. Five years old is the typical age for "kindergarten." Kids who start school younger are in what is called "preschool."

      In the United States, kids typically graduate high school at age 17 or 18, regardless of how early they started going to school.
  • Jul 11 2013: 1. I agree we should start children as soon as possible but the comment earlier about college educated parents with enough time is not the reality of the lower middle class or below. Both of my children were reading at age 3 and were reading at the college level at the 5th grade. One would hope we could do this for every child.

    2. We need not only head start but also training the parents to support the child at home. Some children can do it without but many can not without the support of the village, especially the support of the parents.
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    Jul 10 2013: Any moms out there care to join in on this topic? :)
    This comes at a subtle shock. I must say read again: 2. Parents can go back to work sooner since a lot of mothers can't go back to work until their children are in school.

    Who are we hurting?
  • Jul 10 2013: We should start "schooling" children at earlier than 4 or 5, but the "schooling doesn't have to be in formal schools. My daughter started home schooling when may granddaughter was 3 years old. By the time she was 5 and entered kindergarten, she usually served as a "teaching assistant" to the teachers there. And the teachers there evaluate her as to be qualified a to be enrolled as a second grader.
    I read somewhere that the effectiveness of home schooling is better than formal schooling, especially at younger ages.
    Of course, it is intuitively reasonable that a child will get more "education" when "taught" by an educated parent on a one-on-one basis and with tender love but better discipline. Otherwise in a formal school, the success would depend on whether other children in the same class are well disciplined and with high curiosity as with your child.
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      Jul 10 2013: Every child younger than 4 or 5 has a chance to be home schooled? That would mean for every child at the starting age would need a qualified one on one teacher every parent could afford (I assume you are talking about in this present monetary system). That's a great plan! Let us know where these teachers are, I'm highly interested. Maybe enforce this as a prerequisite to become a certified teacher just for starters on the idea?
      • Jul 11 2013: Vincent, Did I ever say in my previous post that every child should be taught by a outside teacher in his/her HOME SCHOOLING AT EARLY AGES? My daughter has a PhD in Biochemistry and Genetics before she got married, and she had worked as a division chief in a medical device manufacturer. She quit her job just for the home schooling of her daughter. Don't tell me that an educated parent can't do a credible job in educating her child. If you believe that it must be only a certified teacher can do that. Fine, but don't bother to tell me that because I will never believe that since I have already seen the result on my granddaughter by myself.
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          Jul 15 2013: I stand corrected. No, you did not say that. I did not understand your daughter was being the best parent she could be by staying home with your grand daughter and teaching her on her own. I believe this is where the focus should be. A mother or father should be around at early ages and many are capable of doing so. Some are unfortunate and both parents do have to work these days. Some can't wait to go back to work. Why have children then? My apologies.
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    Jul 10 2013: The headstart school at my home town offers parenting classes and volunteer schedules for parents who want to be a part of their child's educational experience. Unfortunately, not many parents take part. The government funding for these children actually depends on how much time the parents volunteer at this school and the school has a hard time making this quota, this is sad. On the flip side, only children of low income families qualify for this program. So the parents who have to work in order just to put food on the table do not have the time to volunteer. A catch 22 is created and peoples' hands are tied, both the parents that do volunteer and the teachers whose hearts are in the right place.
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    Jul 10 2013: I wanted my kids to start school at 6-7 years of age but couldn't do that as so called good schools here don't take kids who are above 4 years of age. So my elder one started going school at 4 while younger had to start at 3.5 year of age.
    So I don't think kids should be at school any age earlier.
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    Jul 10 2013: Depending on what you call school, it is very common for kids here to start in preschools at least part time by the time they are three. I knew only one child in the neighborhood who was not in some sort of school setting part time by age three and a half.

    There has been a lot of research to the effect that early schooling provides an educational advantage to kids, particularly if their parents would not read to them extensively at home.

    Families have different resources for homeschooling kids. The push for more head-start type experiences reflects this finding, though I believe the evidence is ambiguous about the long-term effects if supplementary services are not maintained.
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      Jul 10 2013: Do they read extensively to them at these schools? Not believable.
      Speaking of research, check this out.

      Overall, I don't believe the system needs to change any further, parents and people need to get back to what was.
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        Jul 10 2013: Why is it not believable? Preschools do lots of reading and other educational activities.

        Yes, I suspect many families that believed in those infant videos were pretty annoyed when this research first came out.
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          Jul 10 2013: The attention span of a two year old is much much shorter than a 4-6 year old. Imagine having 10 two year olds ...and you are trying to read a story to them? At this age they are testing their boundaries. This is why it is not believable that someone can't read extensively to them much less a group of them. I believe it is possible but timing is everything, like right after running around in the park. After the first 5 minutes of story I'd say at least half of them would be asleep.
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        Jul 10 2013: I think the kid to teacher ratio would be much smaller than ten to one for two year olds. Typical, I believe, is 4 to 1 or 6 to 1.

        My three kids all went to Montessori Preschool at 3 years old. It was very academically enriching, including reading and other activities. I watched many times.
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          Jul 11 2013: So did my two kids. I'm glad it was Montessori but it was half days which is understandable and good at this age. Unfortunately, mommy bucked that up, could have been for longer. I fought for this not to change, the law were her solders and I lost by this term called "noncustodial parent". I even offered to pay for it. By law I'm not able to see them alone, some supervised visitation crap I have to pay in order to see them. Never, two wrongs don't make a right. I'm taking one for the team of fathers out there that know what I speak of.

          That may be the ratio we have now. Do you believe the population of children grow with their age? I'm speaking on the lines of equality as usual (every child) so in really of this, I'm wrong saying only 10 per class but just the difficulties of 10 two year olds is enough for imagination.
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        Jul 11 2013: I don't understand your second paragraph. There are laws about student to teacher ratio that change by age. These may be different in different states. I was looking at national guidelines.
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          Jul 11 2013: It is not possible for every parent to afford sending their child(ren) to school at 2.5-3 years of age. Therefor the ratio you and I have both experienced is due to this reason. Imagine if the law stated every child must begin school at 2.5 years old for a half day. For the ratio to stay the same would mean a high demand for more teachers (for this 6:1 class) or a much higher number of 2.5 year olds per class (+10). Do we keep going in this direction spitting out teachers? I believe this is the wrong way my friend. Parents need to step up.
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    Jul 10 2013: My children started school around the age of 3. I don't believe it is necessary to start school younger than this. At times I believe this age is too young. When I started school there was only 1 pre-K. Today, I believe you can start at pre-K 3?

    There is something missing or unequal right here, can you figure it out?
    2. Parents can go back to work sooner since a lot of mothers can't go back to work until their children are in school.

    There are many day cares for younger children that I believe are somewhat like school. Do we have to put a grade on this today? Why? Yeah, my child learned to walk better, manipulate (throw temper tantrums), speak better, and was potty trained in pre-K 8. Where the hell was I? I was thinking about me. Are parents not validated to teach their children these things any longer or have they (we) just become lazy and self-centered? "Here is the money, you teach them",

    Where is the bottom of "a head start"? Birth canal? Womb? I am a fetus developer, I come to your house and play live acoustic guitar to your fetus in your womb. I am an educator. My fee is $65 for an hour visit. Does it have to come from someone valid ALWAYS? Sad part is there are many willing to take your money for it and suggest it is "best" for your child. ...Dolphin births! wtf? LOL We are getting dumb or caught up in stupid beliefs as someone is there to take money for it, ALWAYS.
    BTW- I'm waiting for the "Father" app to come out on the smart phones! I can't wait to be fully obsolete. Maybe programed to pay child support too even like SS?!