The Early Start

by Charles Debelak

Research confirms what many parents and educators understand intuitively: if you want children to become competent at anything, you must begin education and training early. Sports and music enthusiasts have long understood this fact. In America during the past 25 years, we’ve witnessed a phenomenal increase of intense training and coaching for tennis, soccer, hockey, and other sports at a young age. No one is surprised when we learn that an accomplished teen pianist has been studying piano seriously since age 8.

The premise is that the acquisition of skills and knowledge  multiplies – 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 (and enjoy reading), 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 adolescence. Sociologists cite this  ”cumulative advantage” as an important factor for student  success throughout their schooling experience.

At Birchwood, because we want our children to excel in math, science, reading, and writing, we recognize that meaningful learning must begin in the primary years. If we want our students to excel academically in high school and college, then we need to pay close attention to the early cultivation of attitudes about learning and abilities in core subjects.

Furthermore, research suggests that if children have not developed competency and enthusiasm toward academics before high school, then even the best teachers find it difficult to inspire their students toward high achievement. Emphasis on a strong academic program should begin early.

Research also shows that the idea of an early start applies to the development of good work habits and attitudes. Researchers 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, note that intrapersonal achievement skills, the personal habits that lead to academic success, like self-discipline, diligence and perseverance, can and should be developed early. Their effect also multiplies and forms the basis for teenage attitudes and achievement.

Graduating middle school students who have learned how to focus, be industrious, manage time, establish goals, and map out plans to reach their goals will position themselves to make their high school and  college experiences robust, rewarding, and highly productive. 

This article was written by Birchwood’s Head of School Charles Debelak to provide 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.