Chasing the pace of learning: when 3 is the new 5

Who among us hasn’t marveled to see a 3-year-old navigate a smart phone like she was born with it in hand? What parent hasn’t paused at hearing another mom or dad speak with pride of a 2-year-old saying his ABCs? Are kids getting smarter?  That’s up for debate, but one thing is for sure: The learning curve is getting sharper and faster.  More and more, it appears 3 is the new 5, and preschool, the new kindergarten.

In January, the University of Virginia released a report on changes in early education.  In a working paper titled “Is Kindergarten the New First Grade? The Changing Nature of Kindergarten in the Age of Accountability,” University of Virginia researchers Daphna Bassok and Anna Rorem explore these changes. Writing for  UVA Today, Audrey Breen quotes Bassok, assistant professor of education, as saying, “In less than a decade we’ve seen the kindergarten experience essentially transformed.” Using two national datasets to track changes in kindergarten classrooms between 1998 and 2006, the study “shows that in 1998, 31 percent of kindergarten teachers indicated that most children should learn to read while in kindergarten. By 2006, 65 percent of teachers agreed with this statement.” For generations, kindergarten was viewed more as a time to adjust to school routines and learn a few readiness skills. It was a “get ready to do it” time rather than a “do it” time.

Despite the changing expectations, in 2012 Education Week noted that the annual Anne E. Casey Kids Count report showed that only slightly over half of U.S. 3- and 4-year-olds attended preschool.

While it’s important to let kids be kids, and research continues to show the importance of unstructured play time, we also need to prepare little ones sooner rather than later for these changing demands and expectations. Workbooks that get toddlers started on readiness skills and make learning feel like play, are valuable.

For example, School Zone’s Watch Me Color! series  (Wavy Water, Zippy Zoo, Friendly Forest, Family Farm) gives toddlers age 1 and up a head start on printing and coloring, with simple shapes and wide borders that make it easy for little fingers and hands to master.

In the six books in the My First Coloring Book Sticker Book series, toddlers 2 and up can easily grasp the big, colorful stickers for a playful learning activity. They match stickers to small pictures on each page. Then they use the stickers as guides to help them color the larger pictures. Matching stickers to pictures and choosing colors is rewarding creative play for little learners. Plus, it builds focus and eye-hand coordination. The titles of Scritch, Scratch! Vroom, Vroom! Buzz, Buzz! Toot, Toot! Splish, Splash! and Oink, Oink! will delight little ones, and the object names on each page begin building important object-word association and vocabulary skills.

Toddlers quickly learn the smart phones and multiple remote controls in their environment, so adding in some on-paper, get-ready activities can be as easy as changing a channel!