The Importance of Age‑Appropriate Education
Education starts from birth, but in order for it to be effective, it must mirror the developmental maturity of the child. By way of illustration: One can easily see how the learning capacity of a 40-year-old is not markedly different from that of a 45-year-old, but the difference in learning capacities of a 1-, 2-, or 3-year-old are obvious and dramatic. A concept is processed differently by children at each age. So, in order for education to be most effective, it must take into account the age – that is, the developmental maturity or readiness – of a child.
Brains are built, not born.
Recently, much has been written about the latest findings of researchers into brain development in young children. It stresses the fact that the timing and quality of early experiences combine to shape the brain architecture. Brain architecture is dependent on age-appropriate experiences, stimulating environment, and genetic framework. Just as a house is constructed from the ground-up and with hardy material in order to build a strong foundation and long-lasting structure, so it is with brain development: Certain experiences must happen in a sequence and with adequate exposure in order to first mature low-level brain circuits that can support long-term development of high-level circuits for complex learning later.
Age is not just a number.
According to the developmental psychologist Jean Piaget, kids build their own understanding. How they conceptualise the world, take in information, organise the information and experiences, and act upon it all depends on age.
Age-appropriate learning is all about adapting to a child’s level of understanding, identifying the readiness of a child to learn, and then following the best-suited method of teaching. Parents and educators need to consider the mental, emotional and social maturity of a child, rather than choosing an educational path linked only to numerical age.
Recent research states that early education – that is, education of children who are 18 months to two years old – is not only about measurable benchmarks like alphabets, numbers or colours. Education at this age involves learning to regulate emotions and learning through obedience and curiosity. Before toddlers learn 1,2,3 or A,B,C, they need to learn people skills like cooperation and friendliness. This social and emotional foundation sets the stage for more complex learning when kids are older, not vice versa. Parents might become impatient in these early years, as this kind of developmental progress isn’t marked with clear milestones, but rushing with too many concepts too early will adversely affect brain development.
In other words, development at this age can be likened to the roots of a tree, which aren’t visible but are constantly growing and building a strong foundation.
Learning is more about quality than quantity.
The quality of your child’s exposure to knowledge and skills – whether vocabulary or social behaviour or cognitive reasoning – will be reflected in the success of his or her learning. Parents should not try to rush a child to adopt learning outside his or her age range. While parents might read about developmental milestones for children, it’s important to keep in mind that these milestones are meant to apply to an age range; a child who reaches that milestone at any time within that range is developing well. Creating learning experiences that fit within the normal developmental parameters of a child’s age range will ensure that he or she enjoys learning.
In early years, kids progress in learning from known to unknown concepts, from general to specific, whole to part, concrete to abstract, and from simple to complex concepts. During pre-school, children learn best through first-hand, interactive, and thought-provoking experiences.
For example, at ages 3 to 4, it is productive to do a field trip in a supermarket where a child can have a range of sensory experiences and can see the fruits and vegetables he or she has learned about at home. But concepts like the solar system or global warming are too abstract for children to understand at that age, as they can’t apply these concepts in their day-to-day lives. In other words, children this age are only able to learn things they can experience through their senses (i.e. touch, feel, smell, taste).
It is not too much teaching—it is too soon.
When adults expect young children to master skills for which the necessary maturity has not yet been formed, we are impairing healthy brain development by excessively stressing the child. If pushed and rushed, a child’s desire to learn will be hampered, his or her learning spirit crippled. When children show signs of tiring, giving up, or becoming bored, it may be also a sign that we need to adjust learning to their level. Age-appropriate learning can also help to identify any delays in mental or emotional development.
Knowledge and information remain useless, unless an experience or the skills to process the information are developed in early years. Because early childhood development plays such a large role in later social, emotional, and cognitive well-being, it’s absolutely vital that that this sensitive developmental stage is nurtured and sharpened by age-appropriate learning and experiences.