Milestones? Or Guilt-Inducement Based on Absurd Expectations?

I just got a BabyCenter update for my fourteen month old (I don't even know why I still bother with those things... it's absurd how UNhelpful and UNinsightful they are...), and one of the "featured" articles was about writing.

Not an article to help me write in her baby book, or write about her. No, this was an article to assure concerned parents that their kids were going to progress just fine if they (the 14 month olds) weren't yet writing. Are you kidding me?, I want to yell... So many studies have shown that early education is actually not helpful at ALL but is in fact detrimental to curiosity, brain development, and intelligence at later ages. And yet they are still writing articles like these? Aimed at the moms of FOURTEEN MONTH OLDS? Do they mean to make moms nervous about things they'd never be worried about or even think up? Are they nuts?!?

Yes, the picture is a total joke. No, Maranatha's not yet writing. She's not even coloring. And that's OK. She's learning to talk, learning what comedy is all about (she's a natural), learning about what we don't touch, and that we don't bite, and how to play with older brothers, and to be gentle with little babies, and ALL KINDS of other things. I'm certainly not concerned about when she'll start writing!!! The thing that saddens me, though, is that there are plenty of first-time moms out there, in a community far removed from any family members or wise women from whom to learn, who will buy into this stuff and begin worrying simply because this kind of thing tells them it's normal to worry about such nonsense.

Seriously, if moms are neurotic, stressed-out, and over-concerned about parenting minutia these days, I think publications like these are at least partially to blame.


Mrs. Brigham said...

I used to get those Baby Center emails and was always baffled by them, too! Glad I am not alone in that. My mom advised me to stay away from parenting books and milestone charts for these reasons. She said a good portion of the stuff they contain are just nuts and if there is reason to worry about your baby's development, you will know without books advising you of this fact.

H. said...

Jess, would you happen to know where it is possible to read about studies showing so early education as a not so good for the baby?



Jess said...

Yeah, Hedi. The book where I've read the most about it is by Raymond Moore, called "Better Late Than Early". In it, there are an abundance of studies cited.

One that sticks out in my mind was done with two groups of children- alike in socioeconomic status, intelligence, and age. One group was taught from ages 4 to I think 6 or 7 with a basic school curriculum of phonics, math, writing, reading, etc. The other group was basically taught to exercise curiosity, doing experiments, watching bugs on flowers, watching spiders spin webs, looking at books together and being read to. No forced curriculum or what we would call a formal education. Of course, at age 7, the ones who had been taught with the curriculum had learned to read, do basic math, and many "educated" things.

Here's the interesting thing, however. Within one year, the other group (once they started a formal education regimen) was at the same level of reading and math as the other group, and by fifth grade was testing significantly ahead of the group that had been formally educated. The brain development and curiosity of the informal group had been encouraged, rather than educational conformity and rote memorization.

The book cites many other interesting studies as well.

Here are some other websites to refer you to articles, books, and studies that have been done about this issue.

"Early Education May Harm Children"

Does Early Schooling Harm Our Children?

An article/study about the ineffectiveness of the Head Start program in the US

Early Writing May Harm Children (BBC News)

Baby Einstein: Not So Smart After All (Time/CNN article)

Delayed Academics: Key to Preventing Learning Problems

Is Early Learning Bad For Kids? (BBC article)

Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling A related book, in that he shows the ineffectiveness in general of the public school system (which of course, starts as early as the parents will hand over their children- anywhere from 3-4 for Head Start to 5 for Kindergarteners), as a former "insider"

I'm sure there are different points of view (else, there wouldn't be a Head Start program, now would there?), but this is definitely where I fall. Early education, formally done, is almost always BAD for the kid who's having to do it, rather than just being allowed to be a kid. Brain development at these early ages are such that play, relational interaction, and a general exposure to books, music, people, foods, and a wide variety of normal, day-to-day things will be not only sufficient but advantageous to any child prior to, say, at least 2-3 years old. Beyond that, even still, a wide variety of books and basic, good quality toys are all that's necessary to raise a quite curious and intelligent little person.

Of course there are always exceptions-- kids who can't WAIT to learn, are pushing their parents like mad to learn how to write and read at extremely early ages, but it is normally the parent pushing the child rather than the other way around.

Hope this helps!

Anna S said...

Little ones learn all the time: to walk, talk, interact with people, and be curious about different things! But it really baffles me... why on earth should children be pressured to learn too early? There will be time for everything! Let children explore their creativity!

Anonymous said...

Jess is absolutely right on this. I've never even heard of that publication, and obviously I'm not missing a thing.

I would add that so called "educational" tv and videos aimed at babies are not helpful and are even harmful. We call those Brainy Baby, Baby Einstein, etc. things "edutainment."

My husband read about some study showing that time spent by babies and toddlers watching these so-called educational things is correlated with lower vocabulary later on.

And I'm not even talking about Dora or Thomas the Tank Engine or Clifford--I'm talking about the children's programming that is allegedly educational.

I highly recommend the book "What's Going On in There?" by a neurologist named Lisa Eliot. It's about brain development from the womb through preschool years. Basically, throw out your videos, flash cards, and the other things that are supposed to help you make your baby smarter.

Keep the tv turned off while children are awake.

Just play with your kids, sing to your kids, interact with your kids, read to your kids.

Laurie B

H. said...

Thank you so much, Jess! I´ll explore these webpages.

Brenda said...

You are so right. There is such a wide range of normal too. First time parents, bless their hearts, don't know that just yet. My 2nd daughter walked at 14 months. For the first time, that is. My friend's baby, born one day before my daughter, was walking at 9 months!!! Could there be a bigger contrast?
And just try explaining to a parent why their 1st grade child is not reading on level _____ by the end of May. Try telling them it's OK even though the school says otherwise!

Anonymous said...

Hi Jess,

I hope this question isn't too personal, this why you choose to homeschool? Or one of the reasons?

My little boy is not quite 2.5, and we are starting to think about school: public/private/homeschool, etc. I want to explore every option that we have and then prayerfully choose what is best. Yes, we have plenty of time. I just want to be as informed as possible!

I am always curious as to various reasons people homeschool. I am seriously considering it, and it is nice to hear others' views. :)

Lauren Hill

Jennie Chancey said...

Fantastic post! When I was expecting my first-born, many well-meaning friends (none of whom had children, interestingly enough!) gave me books on child development. Reading these (often contradictory) tomes was totally mind-boggling. I remember calling my mother and saying, "Mom, did all of us kids do things at the same time? You know, like talking and walking and stuff?" Mom laughed and told me to toss the books. My brother, sister, and I all did things completely differently from one another. I talked "early," while my shy sister waited until later to start talking in full sentences. My brother could play around with math numbers at three, while I showed no interest until quite a bit later. Mom assured me that the whole point about so-called "averages" is that only 50% of the population falls within the "average" range. There will be those "ahead" of the curve and those "behind," and worrying about my baby's "failure to meet normative guidelines" was a pointless waste of time. I just needed to interact with my children, read to them, talk to them, and encourage them to explore and think. Seven children later, this has worked beautifully. I have seven very different, delightfully curious children--none of whom would fit into those "average" book profiles.

I think it's so important for older moms to reassure the newbies and teach them to simply love and lead their children instead of obsessing about these supposed milestones. Yes, we all want our babies to be healthy, but that's not rocket science! Much of it is common sense lost in the rubble of post-feminist motherhood. Today's young moms need those Titus 2 women to give them much-needed encouragement and practical wisdom. This post certainly falls into that category, and I'm so glad you shared it!

sealjoy said...

I used to read those articles with my first, and when I found something to worry about, I would go rushing to the site to find out what was wrong....

I later realized, they are all unique and there really is no cookie cutter way to watch or teach them to grow. God gave them to us and together we (the parents) and the child make a unique set.

He paired us with our children because He knew we could handle them and if we couldn't on our own He would give us the tools in His word to do so.

I don't worry so much or pay attention to them any more now that I have my second. I just run with what seems to work best for each one separately.

now I am a hypochondriac when it comes to my kids, so I will do Too much searching for things that ail them and worry they have contracted some almost dead disease or something, but that is in my nature and I am overprotective... but again God is working with me on this part to learn to let go... but that is another story. :D


Birth of A Midwife said...

What???? Crazy. Well, at least you can sleep well tonight despite the fact your baby is not yet writing 3 pg. essays. ;-) Thank you for this post. I totally agree with you.

Mom said...

Oh my gracious . . . I've seen that precious little face so many times. She really looks like you in that picture, Jessica! I had to stop in my tracks on that one!

Melissa said...

Totally ridiculous! (But what a cute picture of your little girl!) Before I had my little girl I worked as an occupational therapist, mainly with children. There are so many stressed out parents out there and I know that information (ridiculous information) like this does not help at all! I don't read parenting books anymore either. I found that they were making me really uptight about every little thing. Now I try to focus on loving my sweet daughter well and feeding her natural curiosity about things in our everyday life - so much better!

Anonymous said...

Feeding natural curiousity is a great way to teach a child, but it requires motivated and dedicated parents.

I taught a 4- and 5-year old Sunday school class, and we had one little girl who came in and didn't know her name. She couldn't spell her name (or even say it) and she didn't know her colors or shapes. Her older brother had to come sit with her to help her color, hold a crayon, etc.

I think the Head Start programs and things like that are directed at children like her. Nobody cared enough to spend time with her watching spiders and bugs and talking to her. She was just plunked down in front of the tv all day. She didn't know anything.

Writing at 14 months is ridiculous, but we should keep in mind the other end of the spectrum. I don't know what that child is doing now, but she was so far behind in EVERYTHING that it broke my heart.

Thanks for listening. :)