When should my child learn ABCs and numbers?

       Many preschool and day care programs claim to be “academic,” teaching very young children to count, recite the alphabet, and learn various concepts. Such emphasis on educational activities is part of a larger, society-wide push to have children learn more, faster. Publishers put out educational books and software; toy companies manufacture educational games; television shows teach the alphabet and numbers. Because of pressure from friends, neighbors, some child development professionals, and the media, many parents feel concerned if their two-, three- or four-year-old hasn’t yet learned shapes, colors, letters, and numbers.

       It’s possible to teach a young child to memorize and then recite back almost any short list, including the numbers from one to ten and the alphabet. But comprehension of such concepts doesn’t usually begin until she’s four to six years old. A three-year-old may know that saying “1, 2, 3, 4,” is called counting, but she probably won’t understand that the number 6 represents six objects. To her, learning the alphabet is like learning to recite in a foreign language without knowing the meaning of the words.

       A child can’t be taught to understand concepts before she is ready. Gradually, as she experiments with objects, questions her parents and other people, observes her environment, and explores, she’ll learn what words and numbers mean. If her natural curiosity is encouraged and she has materials to experiment with, she’ll learn concepts easily. But too much emphasis on early education may discourage her and diminish her natural drive to learn. Parents should wait until their child shows a spontaneous interest in letters, words, and concepts, and then follow up on what she can do.

       There’s no need for schools and parents to provide excessive amounts of educational materials for young children. Colors, shapes, numbers, and words are part of whatever children do, so they learn about these things naturally. Every day, a child hears, “Put on your blue shorts,” “Do you want the red or the green crayon?” “Here are three crackers,” “Look at that big truck.” She has constant exposure to such concepts as same and different (milk is different than juice, Morn is different than Dad), soft and hard, big and little. She hears adults counting, sees them reading, and observes letters and numbers everywhere. She gets a natural jump on literacy when her parents read to her daily, patiently repeating her favorite stories.

       You will gradually hear your child ask, “How many is this?” “What color is this?” “What does this say?” She’ll begin to count out loud, at first getting the numbers out of order, and she’ll write letters on paper, often creating nonsense words or writing her name backwards. Try not to correct her but rather encourage her to keep counting and keep writing. She’ll learn at her own pace—without pressure because she’s interested and self-motivated. Then, starting with kindergarten and first grade, you’ll see her make great strides in literacy and math.

Picture Credit : Google