Age Does Matter: Your Questions Answered by Dr. Marcy Guddemi

On the first of this month, I wrote a post about The Gesell Institute of Human Development and their recent study, asserting that the progression of healthy child development has not changed over the past 70 years, in spite of the fact that our expectations of them have.  (You can read the full post here.)

Dr. Marcy Guddemi, Executive Director of the institute, agreed to answer your questions in regards to that post and the study itself.  Several people had similar questions, so I took the comments and created a list of composite questions, which Dr. Guddemi has so kindly answered.  (My personal favorite response is #6.  Just in case you were wondering.)

1.”I am especially concerned about the young children who speak home languages other than English. If English-speaking children are being rushed and pushed by developmentally inappropriate methods and content, then what chance do dual language learners have to jump in and catch up? When you consider that as many as 25% of preschool age children in this country may be DLLs, the difference between what they need in preschool and what they are getting is a service gap of great significance. I believe that as the level of diversity grows, the need to return to developmentally appropriate practices becomes even more critical.” – Karen Nemeth

How could you connect this study to the application of DAP and meeting the needs of children who are dual language learners?

Our study clearly shows where a child is on that developmental pathway that all children proceed on as he/she learns and grows—thus leading the teacher to be able to personalize and adapt the curriculum to meet the developmental needs of that child. 

2. “Are there any connections you can see between your findings regarding DAP and after-school over scheduling?” – Emily @ Random Recycling

 There is no clear connection, but if afterschool over-scheduling is more of the same inappropriate things we see in our classrooms, we must stand back and stop this craziness.  Children need time to play spontaneously for large uninterrupted blocks of time (45-90 minutes) without a teacher or an adult directing their every move.

3.  “I have a question; Is there any ongoing research in regards to pushing kids developmental to enter school earlier and earlier and the high rate of ADHD diagnosis?” -Mona

I believe there is a clear relationship between over diagnosing ADHD and children being expected to perform tasks that they are not ready for developmentally.  We will have to look for more research in this area, but I do remember seeing a study just recently on this topic. (*For those who are interested, you may want to read these articles here, and here and consider the increasing expectations for these young children.) 

4. “How does the Gesell research compare to research done in other countries that widely embrace a play-based early childhood curriculum? How does the U.S. match up in things like crime rate and test scores?” – Sarah 

I believe our research support what other countries are doing—waiting until age 7 to start formal instruction of reading!  Other countries do a better job at respecting the unique needs of the child under age 8.

5. Can you talk a bit more about “splinter skills”?  How do performance and proficiency differ?  If children seem to “rise to the occasion” why shouldn’t we capitalize on that? 

The problem with splinter skills or “performances” is that it is not REAL learning.  Real learning happens when brain cells are connected to build meaning for the child.  When a child memorizes a splinter skill with no  brain connection, it is quickly forgotten—like cramming for a test!  What a waste of time for the child when they could be developing real meaning that will stay with them and also be the foundation for more and more difficult and challenging learning!

6. What is your response to people who reject your study, saying their children did learn to read at 4 and have been successful ever since? 

Some children do learn to read at 4.  But not all children CAN learn to read at four.  Walking is another example.  Some children learn to walk at  9 mo but no one can teach all 9 mo old babies to walk!!  Our research supports that fact that we must respect developmental differences.  Early walkers are not better walkers than later walkers, and research shows us that early readers have no advantage over later readers by the end of third grade.  Each child is different!  Gesell Institute wants each child to be respected and supported in the type of learning that is right for where the child is developmentally.

7. (This was a continual theme in questions that were asked and discussions that were had.)   How do you balance what you know is right for kids with what you know will be expected of them? I know many parents choosing preschools struggle because they know that the play-based preschool is the most appropriate choice, but they also realize the frustration their children will face in kindergarten.  It’s tempting to find those “preparatory” type preschools in the hopes of mitigating the kindergarten frustration.  Likewise, preschool teachers who are well-versed in DAP, who know what will be expected of their students the following year, struggle with deciding whether or not to introduce concepts they don’t feel are age-appropriate, hoping to keep their students from struggling the following year.  What can be done?  What can we do as parents and as teachers if we don’t agree with the push-down curriculum, but it is in full force in our children’s schools? 

We need to be strong advocates for our children!  We need to demand appropriate curriculum and policy in our public and private schools.  Parents need to be active participants in the PTA’s, meet with the principal,  speak and write letters to their legislators.  Visit your child’s classroom and spend the whole day there.  Know the facts.  Knowledge is power.  Do not allow your child to become merely a test score.  Also bombard the principals, etc. with research papers!  The Alliance for Childhood’s “Crisis in the Kindergarten” is an excellent example.  (Summary and recommendations here.)

Thank you so much to Dr. Marcy Guddemi for agreeing to field our questions.  And thank you also to all for your input and interest.  Let’s keep this conversation going!

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