Aap Aur Hum

Quarterly Newsletter


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February 2021

Danger of Pushing Children in Early Years of Schooling

It is natural for us as parents to want our children to grow and develop well. For instance, every parent is eager to see her child stand up and walk. But we also know that we have to wait for that to happen. You cannot make a six-month-old child walk. You cannot expect a one-year-old to run fast. We need to tell ourselves: ‘There is a time for everything; we have to be patient and follow nature’s pace and pattern of growth and development.’ What applies to physical development is equally relevant to intellectual activities. There is mounting evidence from scientific studies that children should not be pushed to writing and arithmetic when they come to pre-school classes. You have to wait till they come to primary school years just as you wait for a child to walk on her own.


Apart from research studies, field realities also indicate psychological damage to children if they are pushed to perform when they are not physically and mentally ready to do various activities. Early head start in giving education does not mean downward extension of primary school chores. There is a misconception that if reading and writing skills are given earlier, children will gain an advantage in their later learning. This is as wrong an assumption as believing that a child who is helped to walk a month earlier than normal would be better walker or runner than other children that acquire this in their normal course of growth and development.


Rather, the child helped prematurely to walk may inadvertently develop deformities of gait and posture in coping with the pressure, Similarly, if children are pushed too early to reading, writing and arithmetic, they lose their curiosity to explore the world around them, stop being naturally creative, and may become anxious and fearful.


All children pass through similar patterns of growth and development. The rate of development may vary but not the steps and processes. What happens to children if we interfere in their natural process of intellectual development and learning? For instance, can we teach mathematical operations like ‘What does 1 and 2 make?’ to a four or five-year old child? While this may appear very elementary to the adult, it involves establishing formal and abstract linkages which are totally unfamiliar to preschool children.


They live in a world of concrete objects and operations but the above problem uses formal language of arithmetic and does not refer to particular objects or entities. It is not that a preschool child does not have the knowledge of numbers. But in this apparently simple problem they are encountering a novel code, and require to find a link between the formal language of arithmetic and their existing number knowledge. Preschool children cannot create these links for themselves. Forcing them to acquire these would make them lose interest and confidence in using their own number knowledge capabilities, which are rooted in concrete objects.


These concepts remain non-comprehended by children- a mental burden. If such experiences are repeated over a period, children begin to suffer from what is known as the load of non-comprehension. Eventually, children begin to show signs of disinterest in school learning altogether and often get branded as dull and slow learners.


Preschool education is essentially a programme of school readiness. Most learning in the early years takes place through play and through a variety of experiences like storytelling, role-play, music and movement, and free exploration. Parents who push children to formal learning through memorization of alphabets and multiplication tables leave them with a perpetual feeling of inadequacy and take away the opportunity to develop the right perception of self-concept.


Many children under pressure develop habit disorders like nail biting, bet wetting and thumb sucking. In extreme cases, children undergoing academic stress may suffer from chronic muscular pains, diarrhea, headaches and stomach aches. Such children face the prospects of ‘burn-out’ by the time they reach primary classes. Even children, who succeed well in their studies, may continue to carry mental stresses and strains throughout their life.


What should we do as parents and teachers?


  • Try to fit into children’s world and not fit them into the adult’s world. Think and look at the world from their perspective. That way, we will be able to enjoy their childhood.

  • Provide them opportunities to explore and experiment with things around them and help them discover the world. This gives them a sense of achievement and happiness.

  • Provide them a sense of belongingness and security so that they can become confident individuals. Early school experiences should reinforce this feeling in children.

  • Accept their way of thinking and give them conceptual freedom to think differently so that they become creative persons.


Dr. Amita Govinda