Unification News for December 1999
The Acceleration of Child Development
Red Hook, NY
Today’s competitive society is constantly looking for new ways to advance educationally, technologically, athletically and socially. Since our children are the inevitable future of our civilization, we are prone to focus our efforts on their optimum maturation. The extent as to how much we should try to accelerate a child’s development has been an issue for generations. Should we strive to indoctrinate our children to the fullest magnitude possible, or should we simply "live and let live"? A balance of these two extremes seems to be an equitable decision, but finding it remains a struggle.
Psychologists, teachers, parents, peers and friends all play a part in the appropriate nurturing of a child. Vygotsky’s theory of cognitive development deals primarily with the zone of proximal development, which is the difference between what a child can accomplish with assistance and what he or she can do alone. His strategy emphasizes adults or elder peers working alongside children to give aid in case they encounter an area of difficulty. I believe that this method can prove to be highly effective. As I experienced, we tend to achieve more when we are placed in a situation where other people are more proficient at the task at hand. We are challenged, yet guidance is readily available to ensure our success.
Piaget had another way of evaluating a child’s development. He characterized children’s understandings of the world by using schemes. Schemes are psychological structures which organize experiences which the child encounters throughout life. Piaget believed that infants, children, as well as adults, form these theories to understand the world around them. Accommodation takes place when schemes are modified based on experience, and assimilation is the process when new experiences are readily fixed into current schemes. If we utilize this hypothesis, we can conclude that by exposing children to the world more efficiently, we are creating more applicable schemes for our children, and thus advancing their cognitive development. How much an infant or a child is capable of taking in is another question. Can an infant really benefit from a trip to the Louvre? Is he or she truly competent enough to be able to process the information being presented to them so that he/she advances intellectually? Recognizing the mental age of a child is always something to consider when seeking to find a pertinent balance.
The term acceleration, as applied to child development, can be defined as a process which further promotes a child’s intellectual ability at a faster rate than the norm, by exposing the child to various situations and learning techniques. Signing up one’s child for little league baseball, soccer, piano lessons, girl scouts/boy scouts, dance, music, and/or art classes are all common practices which parents offer their children in expectation of enhancing their knowledge of the world. When does it become too much? Are children ready at age three to dedicate themselves to an activity because their parents have high hopes for them? Should we as caregivers constantly offer new hobbies, or should we take a step back and allow our children to enjoy their youth as it is? I believe that children need their own space as much as they need our guidance. If we bombard our children immoderately, they could end up feeling overwhelmed by the circumstances which approach them. We ought to put ourselves in the child’s position and inquire whether we are taking pleasure in life, or if we are under too much stress because of the expectations of others.
I believe that it is imperative to participate actively in the lives of children to the extent that the child is still able to "act its age." I perceive the benefits of overindulging a child in order to accelerate its development to be very limited, and this even holds the possibility to put the child at a disadvantage. Childhood is a time in a person’s life when one is permitted to make mistakes, take risks, be dependent on others, and simply be themselves free of responsibility. Once adults try to attach an identity to a child for the purpose of competing with society, the child feels trapped and confined to what is expected of it.
Children should be profoundly cared for through guidance and encouragement to ensure a healthy self-concept and self-esteem. We should not overwhelm them with what we want them to become nor what we want to become ourselves. Children need us for approval of their actions, rather than a dictatorship for their doings.
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