° empty

Learning will come in its own time, way

My son must see the world through rose-colored glasses, because everything in the world he sees is pink.

It doesn’t matter if he is looking at a bright red and white fire engine or sunshine yellow bulldozer. If you asked Gibson to identify the color of either one of his favorite vehicles, the answer is always the same — pink.

In my 2-year-old’s world the grass is not green, the sky is not blue and our cat Garry is not black.

I am not sure where pink came from. Besides a piggy bank on his top shelf, there are few things in his room that resemble the color of cotton candy, and yet pink has become Gibson’s default color.

I am not a terribly pushy parent, I don’t hover over Gibson as he picks up a crayon and criticize him when he colors the sun blue or the grass purple. We don’t go over math before bed, and we are not learning complicated reading concepts on the way to day care. He is 2 and a half, after all.

And yet companies devoted to tutoring 2- and 3-year-olds are popping up across the nation. These junior preschools are drilling numbers and letter concepts into tiny tykes’ heads, rewarding them with stickers and toys when they write their numbers and letters or answer simple addition and subtraction questions correctly.

Parents pay $200 to $300 a week for two, one-hour sessions each week and spend 20 to 30 minutes each night doing required homework, all because they fear their children will be behind before they start school.

Recent early childhood education studies point to the value of learning even at the age of 2 and 3. Children who go to preschool at such an early age are less likely to drop out of school, will have higher paying jobs when they become adults and are less likely to fall victim to drugs and crime than children who start school at kindergarten or the first grade.

In Natchez, all of our local schools offer preschool programs to 3- and 4-year-olds.

Some of these schools are teaching not only the basics but also Spanish as a second language. I bump into parents who marvel at how well their 3-year-old can count in both languages.

Maybe I am an old father, who should be sent out to pasture, but whatever happened to the traditional ways of learning?

Where is the value of play? What role does creativity and imagination have in a world of learning that stresses results and rewards over experimentation and exploration?

I am convinced that some of the greatest lessons in life are learned outside the classroom. Children learn to be physicists and engineers not by memorizing numbers but by learning in the field. For 3-year-olds this might start with figuring out how to make the tallest tower of blocks.

Does this mean I don’t want what is best for my child and his future? Of course not.

Thankfully area preschools do not seem to be like those new tutoring centers that drill learning into toddlers. They too find value in play and investigation.

Still, as I watch my child explore the world around himself, I am not going to fret over what he does and doesn’t know just yet — as long as he keeps learning.

One day he will learn the world is filled with more colors than pink, and I will enjoy when I watch that light bulb and thousands more go off in his head.

To some, that might be looking at things through rose-colored glasses. I don’t think so.


Ben Hillyer is the design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or ben.hillyer@natchezdemocrat.com.