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Question

My three-year-old son refuses to learn. I have tried to teach him letters, numbers and sounds during play, but the instant I start, he leaves. If I say, "Let's count the cookies before we eat them," he will walk away. If I spell his name in playdough, he will leave the table. He still enjoys playing with puzzles and reading books. He will be starting JK in September and I'm concerned: Is it too early for me to worry about his lack of interest in anything "educational"?

Answer

Judy Molland Replied: If your son is playing with puzzles and reading books, he is showing plenty of interest in "educational" pursuits. Your little one clearly wants to learn, but in his own way. Instead of trying to impose your ideas about educational pursuits on him, why not start where he is? Since he likes playing with puzzles and reading books, try participating in these activities with him. And be sure to talk to him about what you are doing; the more language your child hears now, the better he will be able to develop those important reading skills later. As for your question about starting school, if you are concerned that he won't be ready in September, contact the school now and find out exactly what they expect your son to be able to do when he enters the program. You might also seek their advice on your concerns. Good luck!
Posted On 2008-03-18 19:06:20
Dr. Vicki Panaccione Replied: The most important thing you can do for your three-year-old is to follow his lead. He is giving you lots of signals that he is simply not ready to learn academic skills at this point. I would suggest you not push him to learn before he is developmentally ready and showing some interest. The last thing you want to do is turn him off to learning by forcing it upon him. At his age, he is probably into exploring and discovering things for himself---that is developmentally appropriate. He isn't ready to be instructed yet, or to have his exploration determined for him. As long as he is demonstrating signs of learning and perfecting any kind of skill (i.e.—puzzles) and is enjoying himself, there doesn't seem to be a problem. Be careful not to compare him to other kids his age; toddlers develop different skills at different rates of time, but they usually all catch up around kindergarten or first grade. If you are concerned that he is not developing adequately, speak with your pediatrician. However, if he is simply not ready to learn letters, numbers and spelling, relax. Provide him with the kinds of activities he is interested in at the present time. Enjoy his developmental process; don't force him to learn skills before he is ready to do so.
Posted On 2008-03-17 23:49:06
Christine Hierlmaier Nelson Replied: Sounds like your son has a bit of a feisty personality and is just practicing his sense of power in your relationship. How do you react to his walking away? Do you beg and plead for him to come back or shrug and keep playing? My guess is that ignoring his "refusal to learn" will eventually stop the behavior. Continue to play as though he hasn't walked away and you will probably lure him back to play more. Also, keep in mind that play for children is their job. It is how they learn. Continue to interact with him in different ways and use some different techniques for learning beyond direct questions. (Direct questions might feel intimidating if he doesn't know the answer. Feisty kids want to be right the first time or they get impatient.) Make it into a game in which he helps you. For example, take a big truck and a little truck and line them up and simply say (while playing) that the little truck is bigger than the big truck. Wait for him to correct you. Ask him his favorite color rather than asking him to identify a certain color. Count while you play rather than asking him to count. Children learn a lot by modeling and mimicking adults. Keep it fun rather than a source of tension in your face or voice and he'll come around.
Posted On 2008-03-17 09:17:57
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