It has been demonstrated that a child's mental and physical development during his first six years of life will have a great influence on his next sixty years. Yet, many parents are unaware of the importance of personally educating and developing their children at home.
FIVE years ago a United States government study revealed a startling fact about your child's education: The major factor determining your child's success in school is not the teacher's experience, the principal's training, classroom size, quality of textbook or other related school-centered element. The study was called, "Equality of Educational Opportunity." It was first commissioned as part of the civil rights legislation of 1964. The results were surprising and highly informative. "Variations in the facilities and curriculums of the schools," the study concluded, "account for relatively little variation in pupil achievement." What then was the major factor determining success in school? By far the most important factor measured in the survey was the home background of the individual child! In fact, the survey discovered that the failure of many minority children was established before they ever entered school. It stated: "Whatever may be the combination of non-school factors — poverty, community attitudes, low educational level of parents — which puts minority children at a disadvantage in verbal and nonverbal skills when they enter the first grade, the fact is the schools have not overcome it" (emphasis ours).
Formative First Five Years
Over the last decade, research in early child education has revealed the crucial importance of a child's home environment. At one time most educators felt that physical growth, social adjustment, and "school readiness" were all a child could develop during his first six years. Now many educators and child psychologists are convinced that the first six years of a child's life are his formative years. These are the years when a child's personality, character, and intelligence are usually set for life. They are the child's years of greatest, most natural and most eager learning. Dr. Benjamin Bloom of the University of Chicago has demonstrated that a child develops 50 percent of his intelligence — his ability to learn and grasp new concepts — by age four. By age eight his intelligence is 80 percent set. Significantly, Head Start and other pre-school programs have found that the momentum of short "catch-up" courses disappears quickly. But, where disadvantaged parents have been taught how to work with their children, the momentum is kept up. Today, it is clear that a child's success in school, his character traits, his personal values, and his personality are basically decided by the home environment. Most children and most adults are what their parents make them. The schools are incapable of replacing parents who have failed their inherent responsibility to rear, educate, and develop their children.
A Philosophy of Abandonment
Yet, paradoxically, a philosopy of abandoning the responsibility to educate children dominates child rearing today. Most parents have come to feel that the school is responsible for rearing and developing their children. Parents have tacitly commissioned the school systems to provide instruction beyond the traditional academic subjects. Primary and secondary schools now offer everything including physical education, manual arts, home economics, music, driver education and graphic arts. Drug abuse education is becoming popular among American schools. Sex education is also being introduced. Not that the teaching of such courses is wrong. But the increasing scope of the public school system has inspired one of the greatest tragedies in Western education: Parents have forgotten that they should be the prime teachers. Parents don't think of themselves as educators. Educators are thought of as paid professionals. And education is considered something reserved for the classroom after age five or six. Fathers no longer feel a responsibility for teaching their sons how to repair a broken table leg or change the spark plugs in the family car. After all, the reasoning goes, the kid can learn these things in the school wood or auto shop. Hundreds of thousands of girls must learn even the fundamentals of cooking and sewing in high school or college home economics courses — because their mothers never taught this knowledge at home. Most parents never consider that they have a vital part in teaching even academic subjects such as geography, current events or arithmetic. The philosophy that you can "leave your child's education to the professionals" has come to dominate not only academic subjects, but much of the relationship between parent and child. Too many parents make no special effort to develop their children during the important first five years of life. Even the development of character and moral values is too often left to the school in hopes that "maybe the school will teach him the discipline and respect I couldn't." But schools and colleges are unable to accomplish such a feat. Many educators, in fact, reject the role of character builders. Parents can help reverse the trend by reassuming their responsibility as teachers. Only in this way can they insure the proper development of their children. Not with a program of strict, pressurized, "classroom" drill. But with well thought-out goals in basic child rearing. And by making learning exciting, natural and enjoyable. Today, schools bemoan the fact that too many parents consider the classroom as a garbage can into which they throw their refuse — disobedient, characterless and unconcerned children. How, then, can the schools even do their part? It is high time parents took a new view of their children, and the crucial part they as parents play in the education of their offspring.
A Parent's Advantages
Parents actually enjoy a host of advantages in working with pre-schoolers. Normally, no other person can even begin to match a parent's influence with his child. Young children have an almost infinite faith in their parents. A parent's teaching will be unquestioningly believed. Children also have a strong desire to win parental approval. They will go to great lengths to please parents who are truly interested and excited about their accomplishments. But unless this attitude is nurtured, it can easily die. Parental guidance and instruction is personalized in a way which cannot be duplicated by schools. A parent can deal with his children on an individual basis. A teacher has 30 or more pupils to care for — and little time for individualized instruction. Parents need to remember that education does not have to be sophisticated or complex. An explanation of "why" can add to a child's understanding of the world around him. Rare, though, is the parent who has been taught how to rear and educate his children. Competent parenthood is looked upon as an instinct which will magically appear when needed. Usually there is no grasp of the responsibilities and no vision of the great possibilities wrapped up in a child. No special thought is given to the development of those possibilities. And no plan of action is outlined. What should a parent teach his children, then? And how should he go about it?
A Broad Range of Experiences
A child is born knowing nothing. He has to learn everything. And much of his early learning will be by experience and experimentation. Beginning with your own home, you need to give your children the broadest range of experiences. The "work" of infants and toddlers is moving about and exploring their surroundings. Muscles and coordination are developed by crawling, walking and other motor activities. Research also indicates that the stimuli of coordinated movements early in life have a critical role in the development of the brain. Freedom to wander through much of the house is necessary for a child if he is to understand his world. Children need to be instructed what not to touch. But parents should arrange their homes so that children can freely explore with a minimum of "don't touch's." Children of all ages benefit by being included in the day's regular activities. Shopping, painting the fence, visiting friends, or planting the backyard garden are all helpful educational experiences. Special trips to the mountains, the beach, points of interest, zoos, dairies, or construction sites are important learning experiences also. A variety of specific skills should be developed in each boy and each girl as they grow older. As much as possible fathers should teach their sons basic manual skills — principles of carpentry, gardening, mechanics and the like. Mothers should teach their daughters the homemaking arts and gardening. Parents need to encourage their child's athletic and sports development. Basic coordination skills of running, skipping, jumping, swimming, catching and throwing are needed as a foundation. Team sports can teach cooperation and the right kind of aggressive drive. Camping, hiking, horseback riding, fishing, hunting, snow skiing, and water skiing add greatly to the development of any child. Children also need a variety of social contacts and events — from group outings to home entertaining to dining out. Activities such as these not only educate, but done together they are the concrete, personal experiences that draw parent and child together. Such shared experiences convey love and concern. They create an atmosphere in which inner thoughts, feelings, dreams, and hopes can be expressed. And they effectively do away with any generation gap. A variety of experiences will also develop right self-confidence in children — a positive eagerness towards new opportunities rather than a withdrawing, doubtful, discouraged inferiority complex.
Even more important than providing a variety of experiences, parents need to specifically teach right character, positive attitudes, responsibility, honesty. The home is the only really effective place where children can learn these traits. Schools can supplement the teachings, but the basic mold is set at home. Above all else, the parental model — your example — will determine your child's character. Children will follow an example far more quickly than a lecture. A parent cannot smoke and hope his children will somehow "do as Daddy says and not as he does." A father who breaks the speed limit until he spots a police officer or gripes when he receives a traffic ticket is teaching his children the same kind of disobedient behavior. He is teaching his children an "it's all right as long as you don't get caught" attitude. A mother who belittles her husband is teaching her daughter how she should treat her own future husband. Much of today's youth rebellion is a reaction to a double standard — parents who told their children to do one thing but were seen doing another. If parents want children with wholesome character and right attitudes, parents must first insure that their own character is wholesome and their attitudes are right. Child rearing and development are still the responsibility of parents. And parents can still make the best teachers — if they will only learn how. No institution can replace the right influence of loving, thoughtful, dedicated parents. If you would like additional information about teaching your child, send for the book, Plain Truth About Child Rearing, offered without charge by Ambassador College. See the staff box, inside front cover, for the address nearest you.