Element 12:

The Grave Risks of Too Much Information Too Soon

“Some parents and educators believe that a child is like a huge container. To insure the child’s success, they think it their job to fill it up with as much information as possible, as quickly as possible. This misconception is damaging the brilliance of millions of our youth.”
– JW Wilson, Advanced Learning Institute

binaryblue[1]While many experts, who look at learning through the eyes of science are afraid that the information about our windows of super learning will not get out to the general public fast enough (see “Windows of Super Learning Opportunity), other experts are afraid the information will be misused by parents, guardians, educators and coaches in a misguided effort to create kids with super abilities. The research has already placed many parents and educators in a frantic race to expose children’s brains to as much stimulation as possible before these super windows of learning opportunity close. But negative results from programs that teach preschool children academic skills are forcing us to question the value of presenting too much neural stimulation to the brain too soon. Researchers are asking the important question: Could too much information too soon cause damage to the developing brain in a similar manner as too little information too late does?

In a recent poll, 87 percent of parents said the more stimulation the child receives, the better off he or she will be. Matthew Melmed, former director of Zero to Three, a research and training organization for early childhood development in Washington, D.C., says, “Many parents have the concept that a baby is something you fill up with information, and that is not good.” He goes on to say, “We are concerned that many parents are going to take this new information about brain research and rush to do more things with their babies, more activities, forgetting that it is not the activities that are important. The most important thing is connecting with a baby and creating an emotional bond.” Dr. William Stago, author of What Stimulation Your Baby Needs to Become Smart, says there is danger in overstimulating our children. He says some people think they must push young children to excel and that any interaction that involves upping their IQ is good. To get a feel for the frenzy and rush to force young children to learn quickly, consider the proliferation of books and videos with titles like Baby Einstein, Baby DaVinci, How to Give Your Baby Encyclopedia Knowledge, and How to Teach Your Child to be Physically Superb.

Read on to find out why too much information at the wrong time can be disruptive

babyquestion[7]Researchers are just beginning to understand that presenting certain kinds of information to a child’s brain before it is genetically and neurologically ready may disrupt its natural development. At this time there appear to be two sources of disruption. First, as noted, by the father of developmental psychology, Jean Piaget (see “Windows of Super Learning Opportunity), children pass through stages of development in a specific order. We crawl before we walk, we babble before we speak, we grasp concrete concepts before abstract ones. If we try to force a child to walk, talk, read, or grasp abstract concepts too soon, it now appears that we are interfering with the natural unfolding order directed by our genetic program. Disruption of this process can cause regulatory genes to turn on and off at the wrong times, thus negatively affecting neural development.

Second, the brain receives 25 watts of energy in the form of glucose and oxygen delivered by the vertebral and carotid arteries. If too much of this power is diverted away from a super-learning window when it is open its widest, the open window may not have the neural energy it needs to efficiently develop, thus causing abnormal development. As Dr. Bruce L. Miller, director of the Aging Center at the University of California, says, “In the brain, we have lots of systems of modules that work independently. When you turn on one module you often turn off the other.

So far the research in this area is limited, but there is enough evidence for parents and educators to be very wary about supplying information to the young brain before the genetically timed windows are open to receive a particular kind of information. Parents may want their child to be a great gymnast or superb academic, supporting the child to spend hours a day practicing or studying but those parents must consider that allowing the child to be in a situation where the majority of the brain’s resources are focused on only one brain area, like motor or linguistic, for extended periods of time when other windows – such as emotional, social, bonding, or spatial” are open their widest may, in the end, have severe learning and psychological implications for that child later in life.

In the book Cracking the Learning Code and in future newsletters you will discover:

Why “hot-housing” programs that expose children to academics at an early age are being found to cause learning problems, depression, anxiety, and other psychosomatic illnesses later in life.

Why, while hot housing increases academic performance and IQ scores at first, in the “the dreaded fadeout” stage that occurs in later years those advantages are lost.

That many of these hot-housed kids end up being less creative, have a greater need to compare their intelligence to others, develop an inability to work independently, and lose the joy of learning.

How hot-housed kids with especially hard-driving mothers tend to be less innovative than children in nonacademic programs.

Why, during the first seven years of life, free play may be a much more important activity to the developing brain than academics.

Why Jean Marzollo and Janice Loyd say in their book Learning Through Play, “We used to think play and education were opposite things. … Now we know better.”

Why, by ignoring when our children’s windows of super-learning opportunity open and close, our educational system may be causing more harm that good.

That all young children have the gift of a type of photographic memory, which is wiped out when they start to read.

That, because children don’t get 20/20 vision until they reach 7 years old, we may be starting reading programs way too soon.

That many educators and parents have the misconception that forcing a child to learn to read at a very young age will support him in academics later in life.

That many of today’s leaders in business and other fields, such as Charles Schwab and Richard Branson, had reading problems as children.

That if we look at 1,000 tadpoles all born on the same day, we would not expect them all to sprout rear legs and become frogs at the exact same time. But as they pass through the educational system, we expect this perfect timing from our children’s brains and genetic plans.

That, because there is a three-year window for normal brain maturation, intelligence tests (like IQ) that use fixed ages to determine normal scores will continually gives false readings.

That, because our learning systems are set up as if all children develop motor, speech, reading, writing, and abstract thinking capacities in lockstep, we label a 3-year-old reader a genius and an 8-year-old non-reader a dunce. When all it means is that the specific window that allows efficient reading opened sooner in the 3-year-old than it did in the 8-year-old.

That, because boys and girls go through different windows of learning opportunity at different times, we need to present specific kinds of information to them at different times.

How some children are pushed so hard to learn that they have nervous breakdowns, like Yo-Yo Ma’s older sister, who said she traded her childhood for the violin.

That in an effort to emulate the success of golfer Michelle Wie, parents in China, Korea, and Japan are sending their children off to sport camps at the tender ages or 3 and 4.

That we must remember the ultimate task of parents and educators is to use the relevant science, not to create super children, but instead to nurture their souls by helping them to build meaning and purpose into their lives.

To help you understand more about the risks of too much information for the brain, click on other Elements:

Why Experience Beats Linguistic Learning Every Time

Memory Is Not an Event: The Four Stages of Learning

Danger! When the Media Becomes the Environment

Windows of Super Learning Opportunity

The Grave Risks of Too Much Information Too Soon

The 11 Biological Intelligences

Meaning – the Holy Grail of Learning

We Learn Through Selection Not Instruction