ERIC Identifier: ED294653
Publication Date: 1987-00-00
Author: Hills, Tynette W.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Elementary and Early Childhood Education Urbana IL.
Hothousing Young Children: Implications for Early Childhood
Policy and Practice.
Recent proposals for educational reform have emphasized academic
achievement and preparation for technological change. As a result, many parents
and administrators are raising achievement standards for young children.
Teachers are being pressured to alter curriculum and instruction, and young
children are being hurried and "hothoused"--caused to acquire knowledge and
skills earlier than is typical (Sigel, l987). This digest discusses the effects
of hothousing on early childhood programs, the conflicts early childhood
educators experience regarding hothousing, and actions they can take to improve
HIGHER STANDARDS FOR YOUNG CHILDREN
The current pressure for young children to achieve comes from several
sources. Parents pressure children for various reasons:
--their own ambitions for achievement; --their own need for help with
multiple responsibilities, expecially if they are single; --anxiety about the
uncertain, highly competitive futures children face.
There have also been broad changes in social values. Heightened expectations
for young children may signal a change in the nation's view of children. For
example, Americans may no longer see childhood as a unique period of
development, requiring special nurturance (Winn, l981); adult interests may have
become paramount (Douvan, l985).
According to Katz (l987), when educational reform is applied to primary
school and downward, the results are:
-acceleration of formal academic instruction, for example, earlier
introduction to reading and math, complete with texts and workbooks; -entry and
placement tests for kindergarten and first-grade; -standardized or other tests
for promotion to first grade; -transitional or extra-year programs for children
who cannot keep up.
Affluent children may receive an excess of "enrichment," such as special
tutoring in the arts and fast-paced educational programs. They may have to
answer to high expectations for skills and knowledge. Children in low-income
families also face more stringent standards in school and at the same time may
have added family and community responsibilities. Such pressures may be harmful
to the mental and physical welfare of children (Elkind, l986) and deny them more
IMPACT ON EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATORS
Those who advocate hothousing programs pay too little attention to theory and
research. Complex developmental processes underlie concepts and skills used in
primary and elementary education. Children must actively organize their
knowledge, apply it to new events, and relate ideas about time, space, number,
and persons. Accelerating young children forces them to rely on lower-level
cognitive processes, for example, memorization and visual recognition of letters
and numbers. This may stultify learning and damage children's self-esteem and
confidence (Elkind, l986; Sigel, 1987). Children must have time and suitable
social and educational experiences to develop normally. It is short-sighted to
trade human complexity and creativity for accelerated academic learning in early
childhood (Minuchin, l987). To do so is counterproductive for long-range
Early childhood educators place high value on collaboration with parents.
Thus it is especially distressing that much of the hothousing pressure comes
from parents. Conflicts with parents over aspirations for children and
expectations for programs threaten a traditional source of teachers' support. If
children sense lack of agreement, their confidence in significant adults may be
Early childhood educators are now particularly vulnerable to criticism.
Society places a low value on their work. Other professionals lack understanding
of what they do. Educators' programs are subject to administrative and parental
interference. Educators tend to be isolated from one another and hampered in
developing professional counsensus on policy and practice. These circumstances
weaken the professional influence of teachers and reduce their ability to resist
pressures that may be harmful to children and to defend appropriate programs.
WHAT TEACHERS CAN DO
The widespread emphasis on accelerated achievement for young children and the
simultaneous devaluation of children's personal and social development present
teachers with urgent responsibilities. Early childhood educators must renew
their dedication to sound practice and increase their sensitivity to social and
economic forces (Hills, 1987). They should work to:
--Build respect for the unique needs of young children. Young children need
protection and nurturance during a prolonged period of development.
--Promote the best interests of all young children. While some young children
face demands for accelerated achievement, others face early semi-adult
responsibility due to the absence of family or community support. Systems of
child care and early education in our country must respond to the developmental
needs of all young children (National Association for the Education of Young
--Gain support from other child development and early childhood
professionals. Early childhood educators should conceptualize their work as part
of a comprehensive system of care-giving and education that provides support for
--Enlist parents in promoting appropriate programs. Teachers must take
special pains to work closely with parents, and to emphasize the importance of
experiential learning, play, and social experience while doing so. In close
cooperation, parents and teachers are more likely to provide what children need
for optimum development and learning.
--Gain a voice in decisions about curriculum and instruction. Early childhood
educators are equipped by training and experience to recommend the most
appropriate educational experiences. They must participate in making decisions
about educational programs, balancing broad traditional goals of comprehensive
child development with emerging needs. They must also help parents and others
understand the place of early education in the long process of children's
To prevent inappropriate practices and advocate for appropriate practices,
--be aware of reasons why parents and administrators urge acceleration;
--become effective spokespersons for sound policies and practices; --ally
themselves with other parents, teachers, and administrators who are committed to
practices that best serve the long-term interests of children.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Douvan, Edith. "The Age of Narcissism, 1963-1982." In AMERICAN CHILDHOOD, A
RESEARCH GUIDE AND HISTORICAL HANDBOOK, eds. Joseph M. Hawes and N. Ray Hines.
Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1985.
Elkind, David. "Helping Parents Make Healthy Educational Choices for Their
Children." EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP 44 (1986): 36-38.
Hills, Tynette W. "Children in the Fast Lane: Implications for Early
Childhood Policy and Practice." EARLY CHILDHOOD RESEARCH QUARTERLY 2 (1987):
Katz, Lilian G. "Current Issues in Early Childhood Education." TRENDS AND
ISSUES IN EDUCATION, 1986-1987. ED 281 908.
Minuchin, Patricia. "Schools, Families, and the Development of Young
Children." EARLY CHILDHOOD RESEARCH QUARTERLY 2 (1987): 245-254.
National Association for the Education of Young Children. "Position Statement
on Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving
Children from Birth Through Age 8." YOUNG CHILDREN 41 (1986): 4-19.
Sigel, Irving E. "Does Hothousing Rob Children of Their Childhood?" EARLY
CHILDHOOD RESEARCH QUARTERLY 2 (1987): 211-225.
Winn, Marie. CHILDREN WITHOUT CHILDHOOD. New York: Pantheon Books, 1981.