Pushed too far, too soon? The over-intellectualization of childhood (Guest Post by Hybrid Rasta Mama)

Wow! How lucky am I… how lucky are we? What I have here for you is a special guest post by Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama. She is one of my favourite bloggers in part because of how she writes – with clarity, honesty and insight – and partly because of what she choses to write about – which includes healthy eating, attachment parenting and mindful mothering (among many other topics). She has a great sense of humour as well as a wealth of experience as a former Waldorf/Steiner educator. I just love following her blog and I bet you will, too, so go check it out, here.

The post that follows is a result of a new challenge Jennifer is launching on her blog called ‘Blogger on Blogger’. The deal is that two bloggers are challenged to write a post on the same day either on the same topic or on topics that each chose for the other. I am  honoured to be the first blogger challenged. Jennifer asked me to write on Bilingualism. Find my post here.

So, here now, is Hybrid Rasta Mama‘s post on the topic I challenged her to write about: ‘the premature-intellectualisation of our children’:

— — —

What did you enjoy most about your childhood? Playing with your friends? Engaging in a board game with your parents? Helping your mom bake cookies? Creating an elaborate system of tunnels and forts out of pillows and throw blankets? Pretending to be a horse?

Yeah, me too. I remember a childhood filled with ample time outdoors where I could discover the world around me at my own pace. I remember lying in the grass and watching the clouds go by. I remember learning to roller skate in my parents’ basement. I remember reading simple books like Frog and Toad Are Friends and The Bernstein Bears. I remember enjoying being a little kid.

But that was the 70’s and 80’s. So very much has changed. And it breaks my heart.

If I was a young child today and in 30 years was asked to recall my childhood, here is what I suspect I would remember:

  • Watching DVD’s designed to encourage early reading;
  • Listening to books on CD designed to expand my vocabulary before I could even speak;
  • Listening to my mom read me a story complete with venn diagrams and reference charts;
  • Being shuffled from this course to that class in an effort to help me “get ahead” before I even entered kindergarten;
  • Listening to my parents pontificate about the elemental composition of dirt when all I asked was if I could dig a hole;
  • And being forced to miss recess because I couldn’t sit still through my entire algebra lesson – as a second grader!

Which childhood appeals to you more? My childhood or that of many of today’s children?

When did being a child become a liability on your future? When did being allowed to simply do children’s work via exploration of the world around you and good old fashion play become a privilege, an extracurricular activity, and not a right?

Photo by Angie Hill, of her son Braxton

Childhood is fleeting. We humans get ONE shot at enjoying life with carefree bliss and an unencumbered sense of awe and wonder. We are thrust into the grueling world of adulthood by the tender age of 18. And yet, our society has somehow been brainwashed into thinking that we should seize the joy of childhood by forcing adulthood on children as young as two years old. Yes – TWO YEARS OLD! There are now tutoring centers nationwide which aid toddlers in preparing for future academics by forcing them to learn how to do basic math, read, and write. Sick. It is sick.

Interestingly, research does not support the belief that learning to read and do math early actually gives kids an academic advantage down the line. It certainly means that they will have these skills before their peers who were playing with blocks but, in the long run, what will they be missing? In my opinion…so much.

I connect deeply with many of the tenants of Rudolph Steiner, founder of the Waldorf Education movement. He believed that young children learn through play rather than by intellect, while older students (in adolescence) are best met by addressing their capacity for critical thinking, and so on. Study after study has proven this to be true. So why are we so obsessed with taking play away from our children in an effort to free up more time for them to learn? Especially since play=learning.

Blame can be placed just about anywhere for this shift in thinking. But really, it all falls back on the parent(s). Collectively, we have fallen prey to the idea that it is healthy and beneficial to push our children towards a successful future at younger and younger ages. But have any of us been paying attention to the consequences? Are our children really happy? Are they enjoying life?

I see so many children, ages 7 and under, who are stressed out beyond belief. Stressed! At age 4! I shake my head in disbelief. Why should a child, a CHILD, be stressed to learn, learn, learn? Because really, what are they learning? That life is not to be enjoyed? That life is all work and no play?

I argue that academic advancement is not helping any child. Personally, I see a lot of “smart” children who are emotional and social train wrecks. Sure, the 3 year old around the corner can multiply and divide but she has no love of life. She is frustrated around her peers and cannot make that human to human connection as easily as her carefree counterpart who has been given the freedom to be a child.

I think that there needs to be a major shift in our thinking as it relates to childhood and what that really means. Adults need to lighten up. We need to stop speaking to our wee ones as if they are mini adults. Children do not need a dissertation about the revolution of the sun when they ask why it gets dark at night. We parents need to foster and cultivate the natural sense of wonder present in our children. When they ask us “why” let us turn it back to them as say “I wonder.” Let us give our children free reign to engage in life from an organic place. A place where there is no pressure to read by age two, to write 100 words by age 3, and to master algebra by age 7.

Most human beings will have at least 60 years on earth to be an “adult.” Childhood is fleeting. Childhood is precious. Childhood should never be cut short.

We get one shot, yes ONE SHOT, to just enjoy life at face value. So why intellectualize it? Why burden the young brain with facts and figures and other information that it is not willing to accept nor ready for. Why not just let it open and bloom and unfold in the purest sense.

Stop taking childhood away from your children. I implore you. Let them live. Let them be. Let them breathe in the wonder of life. Let them be children….if only for a few precious, unencumbered years.

I sure wish I could be a child again.

Much love and respect,

— — —


13 thoughts on “Pushed too far, too soon? The over-intellectualization of childhood (Guest Post by Hybrid Rasta Mama)

    • Amen! “People make uncomplicated things so complicated.” I think that speaks to ALL areas of life. I remember a childhood of simplicity. I hate seeing what has happened to our society and our world. Our children have A LOT to sort through in order to bring things back to the basics. The route we are on is no good for anyone.

  1. “We need to stop speaking to our wee ones as if they are mini adults. Children do not need a dissertation about the revolution of the sun when they ask why it gets dark at night. ”

    Out of curiosity, how would you answer this question? My daughter is 4, and she has already heard from us about revolution and rotation and how we get day and night and seasons. She seems to really appreciate it. We do pay attention to how she’s reacting to the explanation, and if she’s obviously bored or not getting it, we’ll simplify. But mostly, she loves learning. She just soaks all that information up.

    I do sometimes worry about her not being enough of a “kid” — she reads chapter books, for instance, which I wouldn’t have thought she would be doing at this age. But she loves them, and asks for them (along with picture books, which she also loves). I don’t want to push her, but on the other hand, if she’s interested in a subject I sure don’t want to quash her interest!

    • Hi Jen R! Some children are naturally going to be far ahead of other children. Your daughter certainly could be a child who truly is ready for more complexity. In my experience, some parents misinterpret developmentally appropriate curiosity for “advancement.” I am not saying this is the case with you or your daughter as it sound like you know her well and are diligent in gaging her responses to the information you present to her.

      This post is directed at the majority of parents who feel the need to push their children beyond their developmental AND natural readiness. By all means, work with the level of intellect and readiness your daughter displays. Every child is different.

  2. I love this! I have been trying to say “I wonder” and “I don’t know” as often as I can since I read that post. Sometimes I forget, but when I remember I often notice that she has an idea to share. Sometimes, I realized, maybe she is just asking me because she wants to share what *she* thinks. When I share what I “know” or think she rarely will share her idea. :(

    Children CAN do a ridiculous amount of things — they are amazing! The question is, while they are doing all those things we (some of us) are excited to push on them other things are not being developed. Some of those things are actually vital to living!

    Somewhat related vent — People seem to think learning can only happen if you make it and that learning happens best at school (away from home and parents). My mom was watching my just turned two year old daughter play and talk away (she talks well and a lot–ha!) and exclaimed “She is so smart! What do you think about putting her in school a few days a week?” What?! If she got this “smart” at home why would sending her to school make her smarter?(And I don’t really like telling her she’s “smart” “pretty” or other character labels.) When I asked what she thought my daughter would learn at school that she couldn’t learn at home my mom was stumped and reached for the socialization business again.

    To each their own, but it’s strange (faulty) logic that rules our parenting norms, I tell ya…..

    Thanks for the great post.

    • Thanks Sheila and glad to see you here! Yes, parents can often become rather excited about the “skills” their child is displaying and turn that into an opportunity to “push” them. It is a fine line to walk. Encouraging and pushing are two different beasts.

      So glad my thoughts resonate with you! The “I wonder” mentality really is amazing when you see it in action. So glad you saw that post!

  3. YES!!!
    I an a true believer in unschooling – children will learn what they want/need to know, when they are ready and need the information. They will also be more likely to seek more information and be more curious than children who are consistently pummeled with educational toys/books/television/playtime! I do have many of the items aforementioned, but they are there to play with when and how my little guy wants. I’d rather have a kid who was NOT ahead on all of the standardized tests and HAPPY, rather than another Einstein who can’t sleep due to overwhelming anxiety!

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  5. I totally agree! Many of my relatives are baffled at how much my toddler already knows (colors, numbers, vocabulary, courtesies) without having ‘drilled’ him with anything but I’ve always simply let him learn without pushing and he naturally picks up everything in his environment. More than once I’ve had the comment that my son seems so carefree and happy and yet so bright and I think that my approach to learning has a tangible effect on that. Children learn by exposure and through play and by supporting their developmental needs naturally, you allow them the freedom to really absorb information and learn skills. I feel that what is most important is that they enjoy life and enjoy learning and that requires allowing them the freedom to be children and grow within their own timeline. There is no valid research on the benefits of early drilling other than it looks good at playdates. Emotional intelligence is a far better skill set to encourage!

  6. The photo of the boy reading the book is mine and NOT Parenting Solutions and that is my son. Please either give credit to me as the photographer and my son Braxton or take down the photo. Thank you.

    Angie Hill

    • Dear Angie,

      This photo came to me as part of the guest post written (not by me but) by Jennifer. She rocks and I am grateful for her post… and I never thought to check the photo credit. I am VERY SORRY about that. I am a keen amateur photographer myself and always try to check the permissions and credits, but honestly did not think to do that with a guest post (with their choice of photos). It is my responsibility to do so, though, of course – and I should have done. So again: sorry.

      I actually think there may be a computer glitch here, too, as that credit looks automatically generated by Zemanthis (or whatever it is called). Anyway, will look into it right away.

      By the way, I love this photo. Your chid is adorable!


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