Thursday, October 6, 2011

Water a Tree Instead

Our kids love building with blocks. The younger can best handle the oversized Mega Bloks, but does well with the smaller Duplo sized as well. Our older is in the recommended age range for the Duplo sized, but would prefer to play with regular Lego. The only reason we had to take my old Lego blocks away is that the younger would have access to them and some Lego blocks are so small, they really are a choking hazard. 

When we go to parks with playgrounds, we often find recommended ages for the equipment. The tallest areas are usually marked about 5-12 years, mid-sized ones around 3-5 years, and the smallest, most boring ones are labelled 2-3 years. Guess which ones our at-the-time 2 year old wanted to play on? Not only that, but which ones the same child did well with in the presence of older kids and excelled on when the place was empty? 

At about 4 months, I started our oldest on alphabet flash cards. Chanel thought I was nuts, but it wasn't long before he was sitting there, looking at the cards through the entire alphabet (sometime twice through), and able to pick out the correct letter when shown three and asked for one. I introduced numbers eventually and he was able to count to 100 before we even started looking at pre-schools. Now Chanel works with him out of 1st grade workbooks.

I recount these observations and activities not to be prideful of the accomplishments of our kids, but to question the appropriateness of the guidelines we've received every step of the way. Block manufacturer's lawyers and business managers have advised their employers at what age children should be able to play with different brands of their toys, not child development specialists. People in the same positions in companies that design playgrounds have determined when children should be allowed to play on different pieces of equipment. If the parent allows their child to play with a more advanced toy, others (sometimes parents, sometimes not) express concern over the child's readiness and perhaps risks being seen as not setting boundaries for their children and labelled a "bad parent."

I cannot explain why flashcard manufacturers would put inflated ages on their products, other than perhaps to avoid having to provide the customer service to explain that a child will not learn the alphabet overnight, or even in a week at 4 months old. I worked with him on it for months before he was able to identify letters, but I remain convinced that it was starting him early that allowed him to know it as early as he did. 

Taking it all in, I can only conclude that we water down our kids' lives. We assign such significance to the calendar year that we don't notice the developmental years passing in between that are wasted away. What it comes down to is a cost/benefit comparison. To let the kids play with things outside the recommended age range, you as a parent need to be there to supervise; to expose the kids to something with a structure they cannot comprehend at the start (like the alphabet or the decimal system), you as a parent need to instruct. Sadly, I know of no day care, preschool, or baby-sitter that has as much an interest in the success of your children as you do. 

Are the potential benefits worth the costs that we've incurred? Having Chanel stay home with the kids, moving out of state to better afford the lifestyle we wanted to give the kids, and everything else we've done, in our opinion, will be worth it. The value you place on it all is up to you.

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