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Education pioneer debunks 'earlier is better' approach to childhood education

by Valerie Strauss / Apr 15, 2015

Professor's work offers new approach to early childhood education

The debate about appropriate curriculum for young children generally centers on two options: free play and basic activities versus straight academics. The latter choice has been adopted by many kindergartens in the U.S., often reducing or eliminating time for play.

In the report “Lively Minds: Distinctions between academic versus intellectual goals for young children,” Lilian G. Katz says that beyond free play and academics, “another major component of education (for all age groups) must be to provide a wide range of experiences, opportunities, resources, and contexts that will provoke, stimulate, and support children’s innate intellectual dispositions.”

Katz goes on in the report to make a distinction between academic goals and intellectual goals for young children. She writes that longitudinal studies of the effects of different kinds of preschool curriculum models debunk the seemingly common-sense notion that “earlier is better” in terms of academic instruction.

Katz also writes in the report that “earlier is better” is not supported in neurological research, which “does not imply that formal academic instruction is the way to optimize early brain development.”  

The professor emerita of early childhood education is on the staff of the Clearinghouse on Early Education and Parenting, a cooperating organization with the Early Childhood and Parenting Collaborative within the College of Education at Illinois. She is currently the editor of the online peer-reviewed trilingual early childhood journal Early Childhood Research & Practice.

Katz is also the author of more than 100 publications about early childhood education, teacher education, child development, and the parenting of young children.

Read the full “Lively Minds” report, published by the nonprofit group Defending the Early Years, and view The Washington Post article about the report by Valerie Strauss.