9.17.15 NLS Blog: Number 8. Too much too soon can lead to less success later

Top Ten Countdown: What Every Early Childhood Educator Should Know


Number 8. Too much too soon can lead to less success later


Our society has made a definite statement about what we should expect from children and the speed in which they should grow and learn. Our educational system has continued to “push down” academic expectations and practices to the point where we are asking our youngest learners to do things they are not developmentally capable of doing. Parents are in a state of panic to ensure their preschool age children are “academically” prepared for Kindergarten and beyond. Overall, the most value is being placed on academic and content-based knowledge during the earliest years of life.


During a recent training as I was teaching developmental stages of growth, a teacher asked me when a calendar system should be introduced. I explained that awareness of time and space only begins to emerge at developmental 4, so our time spent on calendar activities should coincide. In fact, there has been recent discussion regarding the value “linear calendars” at the preschool and early education levels. An article published by NAEYC stated “Linear representations (also) can help children begin to understand and conceptualize that a day is a unit of time and talk about it with increasing clarity.” (Beneke, Ostrosky, and Katz, 2008)[1] She shook her head and explained that she has spent 15 minutes per day on calendar activities with her three-year old students for the past few years. I reassured her that these activities are not necessarily harmful to her young learners, yet also not developmentally appropriate. The reality is when we teach beyond the developmental, cognitive and linguistic abilities of our children we waste precious time and risk frustration with the learning process. Current brain research is very clear that imperative foundational skills (not just academic) are built as the brain grows in the early years of life. This brain development happens through interactions, particularly socio-dramatic play experiences. The best way we can develop language, critical thinking, problem solving, and pre-reading and math skills is through play!


It’s easy to say “too much too soon”, but what should we do? First, KNOW child development and what is happening during each developmental stage as children grow. They are changing rapidly, and there is a very great difference between a three year old and a four year old when it comes to expectations for learning! Incorporate meaningful play experiences that include pre-academic skills such as following multi-step directions, experimental writing, concepts of print, counting, block play, patterns, etc. Lastly, use your senses and know if your children are not ready for what they are doing and back up. Find a different way to accomplish your goals or standards that meet them where they’re at.


When we meet children where they are at, the following is accomplished:


  • The love of learning is instilled and learning becomes a joyful
  • A foundation for future learning is built, so children soar when they reach the developmental level that enables them to accomplish more complex learning.
  • Confidence is achieved and we avoid frustration and low self-esteem.


There have been multiple studies done on children who have attended academic-heavy preschool programs vs. more play-oriented programs. The studies show that the children in the academic programs have no greater advantage later in their academic career, some studies showing the play-oriented programs produced better readers in the long run! The greatest advantage to not giving them too much too soon is that we will ignite the love of learning in our children that will last a lifetime.



Erin Akers, M.Ed.

Director, National Lecture Staff

Gesell Institute of Child Development



[1] https://www.naeyc.org/files/tyc/file/CalendarTime.pdf


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