Four & A Half Years Old
Did you know that at four and a half years old boys naturally become more aggressive due to a testosterone surge? This surge is so great that you won’t see likes of anything like it again until puberty. Avoid soy products as they suppress this surge and we do not understand the long-term effects of doing so.
The Marshmallow Test
“Here is a marshmallow on a plate for you. Stay seated at this table, if you can wait until I return then you may have 2 marshmallows.” The examiner leaves for 10 minutes.
This challenge is a microcosm of the eternal battle between impulse and restraint, id and ego, desire and self-control, immediate gratification and delay. Which choice your child makes is said to be a telling test which offers a quick reading not just of character, but of the possible trajectory your child will take through life. Whewwwww!
Psychologist Walter Mischel, at a school on the Stanford University campus, proposed this Marshmallow Test to 4 and 5 year old children in the late 1960’s. Nowadays there are many videos of children on You-Tube taking this test. Can they delay gratification? Or do they eat the marshmallow?
The examiner leaves the room and the video records. Children sit and stare; many fidget or make efforts to distract themselves, one burst into tears. Another child licked around the marshmallow, sucked it up and spat it back out-he did not eat it. As interesting and often humorous as it is to see these children attempt to wait, the real beauty of this test was that the researchers then tracked these children through high school and discovered that those youngsters that were able to wait had better psychological and behavioral outcomes including: More positive behavior, better adjusted, better mental health, less incidence of addiction and delinquency, and remarkably they scored on average 200 points higher on their high school SAT’s.
So, I am thinking many of you will go home and try this on your children. No worries. because there is much you can do to support the development of delayed gratification, regardless of how your children do on “The Marshmallow Test.’ One simple example of practicing delayed gratification is to respond to your children’s requests (such as for a snack, or to play) by saying, “Yes, and first, please….” (“pass me that big red dictionary”, “put away all the blocks”, “after dinner,” “return your Grandmother’s phone call”, etc.). The request is for a progressively longer and longer act moving away from immediate gratification and toward “after dinner,” “on Fridays,” “put that on your Christmas list,” and “start saving for that now.”
We must protect our children from the trend of being rushed through childhood. Why are we teaching children to read and write at a young age? Why do we not go at their pace? Do we do this for the children, or for ourselves? Who are we competing with? Are we trying to keep up with the Jones’? Why does our society value an ability to read early? Why are we allowing these educational standards to push our children before their brains are ready? Do we want unhappy, “smart”, anxious children that do not know how to play? How does the brain learn best? How can we best support children during the first seven years? The questions go on, some of the adult pressures you already know about as a parent (money, values, competition, test scores and real estate) and below are some important answers to children’s reading readiness.
One of the finest private schools consulted with us over the fear that the children were going to come back as adults and sue them for being robbed of their childhood. Sadly and even after our input all they did was implement 25 minutes of free play at the beginning of the school day for their kindergarten and first graders. We were stunned. Why is it people nod and agree and seem to understand that premature formal learning is hurtful to children and yet adults continue to go along with it. While the issue is much bigger, for the purpose of this article we are focusing on writing and reading.
The physical skills that indicate a child’s readiness for writing and reading without stress are typically met through the mother’s physical activity during her pregnancy and the child’s physical activity through the stages of infancy, toddlerhood and early childhood. The emphasis until the first four baby teeth are lost is on the healthy physical development of the child. Among the many benefits of young children moving, playing indoors and out is that it creates the neural pathways that will then be used to write, spell, read, do arithmetic and think creatively.
Here are 5 vestibular (balance) and proprioceptive (sensory-motor) skills a child has will demonstrate as readiness:
- sit still in a chair for 20 minutes without fidgeting or activating pressure receptors
- walk slowly on a balance beam
- balance still on one foot without knees touching and with arms stretched out in front, palms up, and then counting from ten to one with eyes closed
- reproduce a geometric pattern with a pencil on paper that has been finger drawn on his/her back
When a child is taught to read before these five skills are met, the child is rendered vulnerable to EBIPS challenges later including
- sense of balance
- eye contact
- eye focusing
- eye tracking
- distinction between the right and left side of the body
- sitting still in a chair
- paying attention
- sustaining attention
- concentrating on a task
- remembering the shapes of letters and numbers
- locating body in space
- missing non-verbal cues necessary for successful social relations
- poor muscle tone (resulting in poor posture, tense or fisted pencil grip and collapsed arches-flat feet)
- overactive nervous system
- difficulties with writing, reading and other learning
The human brain is three-dimensional with parts interrelating as a whole. The brain is also task-specific and for the purpose of this paper is metaphorically described as comprised of right and left hemispheres. It is predominantly a left side of the brain activity to connect a sound to a letter. However, the left side of the brain does not develop or myelinate before age seven to nine. This is typically seen as closer to age seven in girls and up to age nine in boys. When we teach a child to read before the left side has developed we stress his or her body and mind and force the right side of the brain to compensate to do the work. To aggravate the concern further, the right side of the brain processes the whole picture randomly rather than the details sequentially. Thusly, the child looks at the first and last letters and maybe the length of the word and can only make a guess. He uses his sight memory because he has not yet developed his ability to sound out the word. Additionally while some children will naturally switch from the right hemisphere to the left hemisphere successfully as they get older, others will not. These children will become wired, so to speak, to read and spell with the right hemisphere. They often have difficulty remembering which sound goes with which letter and they write with great effort, reverse letters and misspell words.
There are many activities that support the integration of the vestibular and proprioceptive systems and the building and strengthening of neural pathways and a good deal of them we seem to naturally come by. These activities include many of the EBIPS recommendations such as not rushing from crawling to walking, to playing games with hopping, skipping and jumping and even by experiencing positive emotions to stimulate the left hemisphere of the brain. Also, EBIPS encourages handwork for nimble finger movements to develop agile thinking. EBIPS recommendations from a young age include kneading dough with both hands, painting, drawing, crafts, cutting with scissors and much more. Further, cross lateral activities (think across the midline of the body) strengthen the corpus callosum, the largest of the hemisphere’s interconnecting nerve fibers so to engage the left hemisphere. Cross lateral activities include alternating elbow to opposite knee sit-ups, climbing and clapping games.
While there are effective solutions for the effects of forced academics include taking a child out of an academic kindergarten and placing him in a program that emphasizes healthful movement and creative play and providing an additional year of kindergarten with great success it is preferable to educate the teachers and parents around the children about how the brain learns best.
Our children benefit best from a calm, rhythm and routined environment that encourages positive feelings rather than stress, fight and flight. In this ideal environment our children have restful sleep, wholesome foods, physical warmth, harmonious physical activities and most of all the love and positive emotions of their parents and teachers. Adults gently challenging encourage children modeling and teaching how to cope with minor stresses.
Of course, watching a screen, regardless of why does not promote proprioceptive and vestibular development. This impairs learning and reduces our brain’s capacity for understanding, meaning, creativity, memory and higher order thinking skills. “Screen time” actually blocks healthy neural development by keeping a child inactive and releasing stress hormones into the body first adrenaline rushes followed by cortisol to recreate homeostasis. Thereafter, learning is impaired for at least 24 hours. The research shows that when rats (often studied because their brain structure is similar to humans) are stressed and without physical activity (like in front of a screen or in the classroom) they lose neurons in the all-important hippocampus (an area of the brain critical to learning, memory and emotion).
Rudolph Steiner developed the Waldorf curriculum. He believed that reading requires dealing with abstractions because printed words are symbols for things not for themselves. Developmentally, children do not develop abstract reasoning in a natural manner until puberty. While we cannot delay reading until puberty there is a way to teach reading that is nourishing and health giving. Children can learn to read through the activity of writing that will arise out of the pictorial representations of letters. For example, a meaningful journey is detailed that takes the listeners over the m-ountains, to a s-nake that directs them to the w-ater where a magical f-ish appears atop the waves. These discovered letters in the drawings become the basis of many artistic, imaginative, written exercises. The book Living Alphabet by Famke Zonneveld beautifully illustrates this.
What is said about intense early learning can be said about organized sport activities. Pushing a structured or competitive activity on young children can lead to a “hardening” physically, emotionally, and psychologically. The young child’s body can start to lose its characteristic softness and flexibility. Aggressiveness and competitiveness may develop, along with an awakened self-consciousness that is not really appropriate at this stage. Free play and noncompetitive games played for the fun of it should dominate the first several years of formal school.
After the age of nine, the child changes, becoming less dreamy, more self-aware, and more independent. Also, he begins to be able to really practice, develop, and master the skills involved in a sport and may be ready for organized athletic activity. The joy of the game rather than the competitive achievement should be emphasized. Further, the activity should not become too much of a focus in a child’s life. There should be other activities and other sports. And a healthy family life should remain the priority.
For teenagers, sports and physical activity are very important. Adolescents tend to have a surplus of energy to be channeled. Otherwise, physical and emotional problems may arise. Unfortunately, with the current emphasis on early sports, many young people are burned out by the time they reach high school. Having played one hundred soccer games a year before they set foot in high school, they are ready to take a rest. The high dropout rate in youth sports means that when young people really need this outlet in their adolescent years, many have already given up on it.
The American Academy of Pediatrics released the following statement in 2000:
Those who participate in a variety of sports and specialize only after reaching puberty tend to be more consistent performers, have fewer injuries, and adhere to sports play longer than those who specialize early.
In early reading, organized sports and in many areas of modern life the adult world is impinging on the world of childhood. Parents and teachers must work together to see that children are protected from the trend of rushing the child. Free play both indoors and outdoors and simple noncompetitive games are what is needed for the child’s healthy development. This, of course, includes many other assumptions such as that the diet is a balanced one, based on a variety of whole, natural foods. If there is no local neighborhood parents can create an intentional neighborhood with safe venue, some equipment, rules and minimal supervision. These ideas are discussed further in the article titled, Truly Winning.
Caine, Renate & Geoffrey Caine. Making Connections: Teaching and the Human Brain.
Dennison, Ph.D., Paul & Gail Dennison. Brain Gym, Teacher’s Edition Revised.
Eliot, Ph.D., Lise. What’s Going On in There?: How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life.
Jensen, Eric. Completing the Puzzle: The Brain-Compatible Approach to Learning. A research based guide to implementing the dramatic new learning paradigms.
Jensen, Eric. The Learning Brain.
Johnson M.D., Susan. Does Early Reading Contribute to Attention and Learning Difficulties in Our Children?
Poplawski, Thomas. Children and Sports: Finding a Healthy Balance