Research confirms what many parents and educators understand intuitively: if we want children to become competent in anything, if we want them to have productive attitudes toward life and constructive attitudes toward people, then education and training should begin early.
by Charles Debelak
This article was written for the community by Birchwood’s Head of School Charles Debelak and appeared in the April 2021 Westlake Neighbors magazine. Mr. Debelak’s writing provides parents with information about sound educational principles and child development issues gleaned from history, contemporary research, and his 50+ years of educating, coaching, and counseling children, young adults, and parents.
Sports and music enthusiasts have long understood this fact. In America during the past 30 years, we have witnessed a phenomenal increase of intense training and coaching at an early age for tennis, soccer, hockey, and other sports. And no one is surprised when we learn that an accomplished, teen pianist has been studying piano seriously since age 5.
In addition, research also shows that the idea of an early start applies to the development of good work habits and positive attitudes. Among scholars like Jonathan Haidt, professor of ethical leadership at New York University Stern School of Business, and Martin E.P. Seligman, Zellerbach Family Professor of Psychology in the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Psychology there is agreement that intrapersonal achievement skills, the personal habits that lead to academic success, like self-discipline, diligence and perseverance, can and should be developed early. With an early start, knowledge, skills and productive work habits multiply year after year creating a foundation for good character and achievement to flourish in the teen years. A graduating middle school student who has learned how to focus, be industrious, manage time, establish goals, and map out plans to reach their goals, will position himself or herself to make their high school and college experience robust, rewarding, and highly productive.
The premise is that the acquisition of skills and knowledge multiply – the earlier the investment, the greater the return. Often referred to as “The Cumulative Advantage” the idea describes, for example, that if children learn to read early, the benefits of being a competent reader multiply throughout childhood and adolescence. With a strong, early start in reading, children’s interest and competency will continue to advance throughout childhood and into adolescence. Sociologists cite this “cumulative advantage” as an important factor for student success.
Furthermore, research suggests that if children have not developed competency and enthusiasm toward academics before high school, and if they have not habituated a solid work ethic, then even the best teachers will find it difficult to inspire their students toward these essential characteristics.
Certainly the pathway toward academic excellence and good character should begin early.