Staff Post: Are We Pushing Our Children Too Fast Academically?
by Abby on
In our work at Green Ivy, we often see students who, in an attempt to keep up with their peers or impress college admissions officers, are taking more advanced classes earlier and earlier. Sometimes this means taking math courses over the summer so that they will be in AP Calculus BC by senior year, or by loading their schedules with too many AP classes sophomore or junior year. Inevitably, some are overwhelmed and can’t manage the course load they’ve chosen, which decreases their free time and adds more stress to their lives. We always advise students to take the most challenging course load that is manageable for them, based on their previous academic performance and personal goals, as the is no one-size-fits-all plan.
While part of the issue can be peer or parental pressure, it’s also true that in our educational system, a focus on amped up academics over commonsense physical play is happening even at the pre-school and kindergarten levels. This has resulted in a kind of “trickle-up” phenomenon, where complex academic ideas are being introduced before students are developmentally ready to fully grasp them. For instance, many middle school students are now being exposed to complex, college level biology concepts, but their minds are still grappling with understanding how the cell functions. Since they don’t yet have a foundation in scientific reasoning and application, we risk shifting from a focus on reasoning to a focus on rote memorization. This can be counterproductive for many reasons, including the fact that when learning is stressful, the more stress hormones flood a child’s brain, which make them less likely to intellectually succeed.
In our fast-paced world, we can forget that learning is a process, and that school is a place for developing our students’ minds. Everyone has unique strengths and weaknesses, and school is about unearthing them. If we push our students too quickly, we may end up undermining both learning and self-discovery. In turn, when we reduce our children’s downtime or playtime, we prevent them from experimenting or making mistakes—arguably two of the most crucial ways to learn.