Enough About the Short “Window” of Time Kids Have to Learn One Skill or Another!

Readers — I love this reassuring piece about the tyranny of “must do before it’s too late!” advice when it comes to parenting. And here I’ll repeat my favorite anecdote about that topic. What age was GEORGE GERSHWIN when he got his first piano?

Twelve!

Not that you have to be a genius to start learning a skill later than some peers. My point is the opposite. And that’s this music teacher’s point, too, in taking on the belief that there is just a small window of time to start learning X, or all bets are off. – L

THE WINDOW, by Diane Hidy

“That window is crap!” I blurted out.

Not my most elegantly phrased response.

She looked scared to believe me but terribly relieved.

The mother of an adorable daughter, age 5, had just confessed her concern about missing “the window” of opportunity for music study. I’d explained to her that her daughter, Sarah, should probably wait another year before starting lessons with me. Sarah is just starting kindergarten this year. I think she’ll do much better if she waits a little bit longer. She has some physical challenges and spends time working on strength and coordination with her occupational therapist. She’s obviously bright and I’m certain she’ll do well when she does start. In my professional opinion now is simply not the best time for her.

Long before there were studies about when children “should” start music lessons, there were still people who could make you feel bad about your parenting choices. There have always been people ready to pounce on a nervous parent.

Hidy goes on to note:

….When we ask ourselves if it’s the “right” time to do something, we’re asking the wrong question. There isn’t such a thing as a “right” time to do something. There are only different children and their individual needs. From my own personal experience, for example, my son couldn’t tie his shoelaces until he was eleven years old. My daughter could tie a bow behind her back at the age of four. Is it realistic to think that the criteria I would use for one of these children would fit the other? Buying into the idea of “right” puts us in the position of measuring our children by an imaginary standard that can only fog up the window through which we see our own child.

Read the whole essay here

Windows stay wide open in a child's life.

Windows stay wiiiide open in a child’s life.

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36 Responses to Enough About the Short “Window” of Time Kids Have to Learn One Skill or Another!

  1. K2 July 21, 2014 at 4:31 pm #

    The window is more about the istructors/coaches getting students enrolled early so that they will get the money for the lessons for a maximum amount of time. Yes, if the child plays the guitar for a few years longer because he or she started young he might be more skilled at an earlier age, but that doesn’t mean the guitar can’t be learned and enjoyed later. It’s about the money much more than the kids.

  2. Erica July 21, 2014 at 4:38 pm #

    I think there are windows – but they are not the same for every child, and not the only factor in deciding when to do something. I started music when I was very little, and it was as much a part of my existence as reading, eating and playing with friends, in part, I think, because of when I began. Others I know started when they were older – still young enough to be flexible minded and open to doing something that they weren’t already good at, but old enough to have an intellectual appreciation for what they were doing and why. Some of the kids who started as young as I were very talented and went very far. Some of the kids who started later were very talented and went very far. Others of us in both classes are appreciative amateurs as adults. The ones that were forced to do it when unready dropped out long before those of us who were able to follow our inclinations, whether early or late.

    I think a lot of this comes from people wanting their kids to be the best musicians they can be. I want my kids to enjoy music. That leads to a very different calculation as to what is the righ time (if any). If you want a concert pianist, you better start early (or as early as possible) and start cranking, because those people need years and years of practice, and the competition starts young. If you want a person who enjoys music and has the ability to play for pleasure, emotional sustenance and family enjoyment, it’s different.

    My brother is a professional musician and a teacher who specializes in teaching younger folks. He truly believes that there is nothing more important for a child than taking music lessons – that’s not because he’s trying to scratch out a few more years of lessons (he has enough students), but because he believes music is of central importance to life. That is why has devoted his own life to it. He thinks I’m crazy because my kids aren’t focused much on music yet, and that’s fine – I know his concern is genuinely for them. No need to assume bad motivations on the part of the teachers!

  3. Emily July 21, 2014 at 5:08 pm #

    I think that there are windows, but it takes a fairly major road block to break that window. My son has delay in skills but he spent 6 weeks in a SPICA cast and it was another 6 weeks before he walked (and more than a year before he walked normally). It took a major incident to impede him gaining normal skills. Normally, children learn skills within a reasonable frame.

  4. Swain July 21, 2014 at 5:09 pm #

    My son and daughter have just observed me publish my first book at age 46. It is NEVER too late to learn something new or pursue a dream. Never. You will invent and reinvent yourself a thousand times in your life. There is plenty of time. Everyone relax.

  5. Bob Davis July 21, 2014 at 5:28 pm #

    This is another one of those situations in which every person is different. Some children are ready to learn a musical instrument or an athletic skill at an early age, others should wait (or their parents should wait) until they are older. There is a certain amount of physical coordination and mental talent that is necessary to become reasonably skilled in music; much as I love music, collect records and attend live performances, I think my mother’s keyboard talent leaped over a generation and blessed my younger daughter.

  6. Stephanie July 21, 2014 at 5:42 pm #

    My youngest is anxiously awaiting the start of her keyboard (piano) lessons at age 5. My oldest is 12 and is finally starting harp. My middle child has no interest in learning to play any instrument – he’d rather study electronics. They’re all fine.

  7. Emily July 21, 2014 at 5:57 pm #

    @Erica–I agree, but I’d change “If you want a concert pianist, start early,” to, “If the child wants to become a concert pianist, he or she should start early,” because it’s ultimately the child who should be doing the wanting, and the starting, and the practicing, and the performing. My dad “wanted” golfers, because he loved golf, so he “started early” with golf lessons when I was six, and my brother was three. We hated it, possibly because we were the youngest in that beginner golf class–it was us, and a bunch of teenagers, and even though we were all “beginners,” their physical strength and co-ordination enabled them to drive those golf balls much farther than we could, and to get much closer to the hole when we practiced putting (which was actually the least objectionable part for me, because strength didn’t matter so much there). My dad gave up on those lessons after the first round, but he continued to force golf on us in other forms, such as mandated trips to the golf course, one-on-one lessons, and finally, a girls’ scramble league where I was fourteen years old, and the teams got shuffled around so I was playing with all eight-year-olds. My mom was our coach for the golf league, at the behest of my dad, and she could see how much I hated golf, especially since I was forced to play with teammates much younger than myself, after the ONE other person close to my age got traded to another team. So, that was when it ended–my mom put her foot down, and my dad finally let me quit golf. I haven’t even touched a golf club since, apart from the occasional game of glow-in-the-dark mini golf with friends. However, now that I think about it, I wouldn’t even play that version of “golf” with my dad (in the unlikely event that he was willing–he’s a purist), because he put so much pressure on me to play golf growing up. My brother still plays once in a while, but it’s never mandatory, and he didn’t hate golf as much as I did when we were kids, because he was slightly better at it than I was. That was another thing–he was better than me at golf, and that made it harder for me. Sure, the gap in our skill levels wasn’t huge, but since he was three years younger, it REALLY made me feel “less than,” and it made me feel like I was “losing” in the “competition” for approval from our dad. I can’t help but think that things might have been different if I’d been allowed to choose golf, or not, or if my dad had listened after the first time (or two, or three) that I said I didn’t want to play.

    So, that’s why your comment about, “if you want a concert pianist” set me slightly on edge. I know you didn’t mean it maliciously, but as the grown child of someone who “wanted” a certain kind of kid, I know first-hand that that kind of mentality can have a negative effect on young people, and drive them in the exact opposite direction of their parents’ wishes. My dad “wanted” a daughter who was into golf (and math, but that’s another story), and instead, he got one who hates both golf AND math, but thrives in music, drama, writing, art, prefers non-competitive forms of exercise (yoga, Zumba, swimming, etc.), and now teaches yoga–in other words, the polar opposite of himself. He also got a son who sometimes plays along to humour him, but that wasn’t what he “wanted” either. This doesn’t bother my brother, but I still think that parents should “want” the kids they have, providing that said kids are decent, polite, kind people.

  8. Donna July 21, 2014 at 8:24 pm #

    I do believe that there is a window after which you are probably not going to become a high quality player unless you are extremely talented, but good grief it isn’t 5.

    However, how many people are really affected by this or even care? I started playing the piano with my daughter this year. It was always something I wanted to try, but we never had a piano as a kid. Obviously, I’m not going to start a second career as a concert pianist at 44, but I don’t have crazy illusion that I would have become a concert pianist had I started playing at 5 either. Very few people will ever become concert pianists regardless of what age they start playing.

  9. Kimberly Herbert July 21, 2014 at 9:21 pm #

    Bravo! I’ll go even further hot housing a child forcing him/her into academic activities the brain isn’t ready for can actually hurt the child. Many kids that I have had that were “early readers”* because their parents forced them to do commercial programs or worksheets HATE reading and learning in general. They had the curiosity and love of discovery forced out of them.

    *This it totally different than the child who because they are read to loves books and picks up on reading skills early starting with retelling from pictures, to reciting known text, to actually reading. Those kids love reading and by the time they get to school you would have to use

  10. Jennifer July 21, 2014 at 10:16 pm #

    The one thing where there is strong scientific evidence for a window is acquiring a language as a native speaker – you can learn to speak a language as a native speaker (rather than a second-language speaker, however fluent) before the age of about eight, but not afterwards. Interestingly, a child hasn’t acquired a first language by that age (as in the case of a deaf child who hasn’t learned lip-reading or sign) they have lost the ability to fully master any language. Mind you, children who are raised multi-lingual from birth are slower in acquiring each language than a mono-lingual child, and are generally delayed in learning to read.

    And there is some logic to the idea that if you want to produce a professional musician or ballerina, starting younger is better, although that may be a timescale issue – using the 10,000 hour rule, if you practice two hours a day, every day, you’re looking at about 14 years to become an expert in an instrument. Overtraining at a young age for sports, however, is more counter productive, due to strain on growing bodies (except maybe for girls’ gymnastics, where puberty can end your career).

    But the thing is – most people are not going to be concert pianists, professional ballerinas, or olympic athletes. They will lack the talent, or the desire, or the dedication, or the luck (or all four), and will be enthusiastic amateurs at best. Even for those people who make a living in music, or dance, or athletics, the vast majority are not going to be star performers – they’ll be teaching or coaching, or doing part time gigs while working a day job. So the of signing your four year old up for lessons in something, in the hopes that they will become a star performer, is not very logical.

  11. Emily July 21, 2014 at 10:26 pm #

    @Kimberley–You are so right about early reading–the child has to want it, not the parent. My mom read to both me, and my brother (three years later) from the time we were babies. I loved being read to, and desperately wanted to learn to read for myself, so I “made” my mom teach me to read when I was three. My brother wasn’t interested at that age–he waited until kindergarten or so.

    @Jennifer–You can actually injure yourself overtraining in music as well. I got tendonitis in my right wrist while majoring in music in university (clarinet), and I had many instrumentalist friends with similar injuries, and vocalist friends with strained vocal cords who went through phases of barely being able to speak, because they sang too much, or pushed themselves for notes they couldn’t quite reach. In fact, some of my colleagues even had to go to physiotherapy for their music-related injuries, and the sight of a music major in a wrist brace or tensor bandage (especially in the run-up to a major performance) was completely normal. Of course, our teachers discouraged overtraining, but we all had to find our own personal point of “too much” for ourselves, and many of us learned the hard way.

  12. SKL July 21, 2014 at 11:07 pm #

    I’ve always believed in having stuff around so the kid can tinker and see if a passion is hidden in there. In my family it’s always been the piano and/or guitar. Most of us are self-taught and just OK at music, but one brother started spontaneously picking out songs by ear at age 2, and he definitely has talent. Never did much with it, but at least he is able to amuse himself and his friends. And it makes the girls swoon….

    Same thing with other basics – give the kid a ball and let him see what other people do with a ball, and see what happens. Give him some writing instruments / colors and see what he does with them. It’s either in him or it isn’t.

    Languages – my kids had the exposure, but they didn’t even like speaking a first language let alone a second. Once in a while I see a spark of interest, but it always fizzles.

    Now soccer – just now at age 7.5, started developing an interest, so I thought I’d sign them up for their first recreational soccer team. Already the vibes I’m getting are freaking me out. In one city, they require a state ID card from the BMV, because birth certificates are too easy to forge. What? People forge birth certificates so their 8yos can cheat on soccer team placement? Lord help us. And my kids at the ripe age of almost 8 don’t even know what a cleat is. We’re doomed.

  13. Donna July 21, 2014 at 11:51 pm #

    SKL – The DMV will actually issue an ID to a 7.5 year old? And isn’t that just based on a birth certificate – meaning if under-8 soccer is so freaking important that you would forge a birth certificate then you could just take the forged birth certificate to the DMV for the state ID?

  14. SKL July 22, 2014 at 12:09 am #

    Donna, from what I read, the DMV checks the submitted documents against the official records or something. And yeah, you can get a state ID for a young kid. That wasn’t in my state, though. So far nobody has asked me for any “proof.”

    Everything I’ve ever put my kids in has been recreational, meaning just to get them exposure and exercise. I can’t see people getting all intense about little kids kicking a ball around. But I hear it happens, and maybe I’m about to see it first hand. I hope not. What was I thinking? I just thought a little experience with team sports would be a good thing.

  15. pentamom July 22, 2014 at 9:46 am #

    “I just thought a little experience with team sports would be a good thing.”

    If that’s really all you’re looking for and aren’t interested in having them develop real skills at all, YMCA sports are great. Y sports aren’t great as the only avenue if you think your kid might have the talent or interest to play high school varsity later; they’ll usually too laid back for that. The coaches are parent volunteers and there’s really no screening for the competence of the coaching, so they might not learn much about skills beyond what anybody could pick up by watching how it’s done. Of course some coaches are better and they might learn more, but it’s hit or miss. But if learning how to play on a team and getting a little exercise is what you’re after, it’s a good fit.

    And at least around here you don’t have to be a Y member to participate, non-members can pay a fee.

  16. Dirk July 22, 2014 at 10:17 am #

    Windows for lots of things stay open your entire lifetime. people learn things from the womb till the moment they die. But of course there are windows for things otherwise the term developmental delay wouldn’t exist. Not being able to do one thing outside a “window” is fine (like not learning to tie your shoes till you are 11) but if you have a cluster of things it means the person has a real problem. Not being able to tie your shoes, hold a pencil, and use a zipper at 11 for example…

    Of course a person can learn to play the piano at 12 or 21 or 42 (although you are indeed far less likely to become an expert at 12, 21, or 42 but you don’t need to be an expert to do something well and enjoy it). It does take years of deliberate practice to become an expert at complicated activities like sports, music, art, etc. It only takes dedicated time to become “good” at something.

    But the bit about Gershwin is misleading. He grew up in a theater district and started learning about music around the age of 10. By the age of 15 he was a professional musician. He logged countless hours in between to hone is abilities. The article about Gerswhin Lenore linked above does say that he started formal lessons at age 12, but the operative word their is formal…He had been learning for years prior and dedicated most of his preteen years to practicing, to the point that he dropped out of school…

  17. Warren July 22, 2014 at 10:35 am #

    There most definitely windows, when it comes to anything requiring physical abilities. From sports to playing instruments, and any other similiar activity. The younger you take it up, obviously the more practice and developement you will receive. That only matters if you want to play in elite leagues, pursue scholarships, study at the most prestigeous art academies, turn pro and so on.

    For the person that wants these activities as recreation, hobby, just fun, there is no window.

    If your child wants to go to the elite levels of whatever, then yes taking up the activity later in their teens or whatever age, it is usually way too late.
    Some just have the rare natural talent, but they are far and few between. It usually takes time, devotion, practise and hard work.

    So depending on the final goal, there can be a window, or not be a window.

  18. Dirk July 22, 2014 at 10:47 am #

    Just to be clear no one has to start anything in a window to become good or good enough to enjoy something. All it takes is dedicated time. And the road to expert takes A LOT of time, but it also takes something else those selling specialization don’t tell you. Love.

    It does not take 10,000 hours to get good at something that number is arbitrary and based only on the study of violin players from one music school and anecdotal evidence about music bands (the Beatles for example). It does take deliberate practice on a dedicated timeline to become an expert. But it just takes dedicated time to become good at something. But the basic math of ten thousand hours doesn’t even work. If you practice something 40 hours a week (impossible) it would take about 5 years to reach 10,000 hours. 20 hours a week (4 hours each weekday) would take about 10 years. And 10 hours a week of practice (which is about the max most people will give) would take 20 years.

    Professional sports offers the best evidence on how this timeline works. Not all athletes reach their 10,000 hours at the same time. Some hockey players for example start at 2, or, or 4 and some start at 8, 9, 10. Etc. Sydney Crosby certainly reached 10,000 hours of hockey way before he turned pro. He did it out of love for the game, it was more than just practice for him. But he also played other sports and got to a certain level of athletics because he cross trained in other sports (to a degree) and because of other factors like genetics and environment. Most people could practice for 10,000 and still only be good, OK, or just passable. Every pro athlete indeed has thousands of hours of practice under their belt. And lots of amateurs too. It doesn’t always lead to the road of expert. Some people end up all stars and some people end up getting cut and it has nothing to do with windows. It has to do with a multitude of factors and not some arbitrary number.

  19. anonymous mom July 22, 2014 at 10:56 am #

    Practice certainly matters, but I really think we have started to lean too far on the side of discounting innate ability. If most virtuoso musicians begin before age 5, is that because they simply had a few more years of practice than other kids, or because a musical virtuoso is going to have the innate skill and interest to WANT to start getting involved with music that young? The fact is that most kids, whether they start music lessons at 4 or 8 or 14 or never, will not become virtuosos, and I do tend to think that if somebody is truly musically gifted, they will do just as well picking up an instrument at 10 as they would at 4.

    But I suppose it depends on your goal. I’m not a very musical person, but when I was a teenager I decided I wanted to learn to play guitar. I took a few months of lessons at around 15, and then just played around on my own. I am not very talented, by any means, but I enjoy it. That’s good enough for me. None of my kids seem to be particularly musically-inclined, although my younger two do a “Music Together” class (a very fun class for preschool age kids) and I have recently started my oldest–the least musical of the bunch–on the mandolin, just to have SOME grounding in music. But, not everybody needs to play an instrument. Not everybody even needs to enjoy music, IMO. The world is full of lots of things, and I don’t see any reason to force interests on my kids that they don’t have.

  20. anonymous mom July 22, 2014 at 11:02 am #

    I’ll have to ask him about it later, but my husband was just telling me the other day that he read a study critiquing the “10,000 hours to become an expert” thing. Other research has found that that’s not the case and that innate ability does have far more to do with success at many endeavors than practice (although obviously you need to combine innate ability with lots of practice).

    My oldest would never be an elite athlete or a concert pianist or a great artist. He’s got many talents, but not in those areas. He could practice sports hours a day, and have started at 3 or 4 doing so, but he simply lacks the kind of coordinate and physical discipline you need to be a great athlete, and always has. It would be foolish, IMO, for me to imagine I could turn him into a pro athlete with enough practice (or could have if we’d started younger), as well as unfair to him and his natural gifts. That doesn’t mean that he might not decide, as an older child or teen, to pick up a sport for fun–I am not athletic at all, but enjoy playing tennis–and become decent at it, but I do think we need to respect our kids as the individuals they are, which includes respecting their interests and abilities.

  21. CrazyCatLady July 22, 2014 at 11:38 am #

    I run into a variation of this when home schooling. It is the “Aren’t you afraid that they will have gaps in their education?” question that implies that knowledge can only be learned at a certain time period of a lifetime.

    I will say that yes, there are certain time periods when children want to learn large amounts of information and facts. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t learn things as an adult that they need as an adult. EVERYONE has holes in their education, be they educated at elite private schools, public school, religious school or home school.

    The KEY is that the school teaches the students HOW to learn on their own when they need it. Some schools are better than others at doing this. So yes, my kids will have gaps. As will every other kid. But they will also know how to find the knowledge that they need, and the skill to work on their own to master the material that they need to succeed.

  22. SKL July 22, 2014 at 11:40 am #

    To me it goes very much against the grain to set a “goal” for a young kid to grow up to be an expert in some narrow field. The whole “it depends what you want” – what *who* wants? Do parents really think they get to decide whether their kid is going to be a soccer star or famous pianist or whatever?

    I have nothing against early exposure to stuff if it’s organized in a developmentally appropriate way. I have put my kids in a bunch of things I never got to do, not because I dream of the Olympics, but for much more mundane reasons. Sometimes as I see other kids competing and all the excitement and the motivation that comes from that, I wonder if I should have pushed my kids in that direction, but I am pretty comfortable. Realistically my kids will need to go get a job the way everyone else does, so I focus more on preparing them for that. I’m pretty sure the window for that is 18 years long. 😉

  23. Max Lang July 22, 2014 at 11:45 am #

    My eldest son didn’t start talking until his 2 years younger brother started talking. He was in remedial reading until 14 when he finally got the idea and read his first book, jumping in at the deep end with ‘Lord of the Rings’!

    He then when on to university and a PhD.

    Some children just start later than others.

  24. pentamom July 22, 2014 at 12:02 pm #

    CrazyCatLady, the thing that drives me crazy about that critique is that if you’re giving your kids a decent homeschool education, then the only problem is that their gaps will be *different from* other kids’ gaps. My kids did have certain “gaps” relative to others when they started public high school in ninth grade; they also knew a LOT more about some other things. And since they had learned how to learn, they simply filled up the gaps by learning the stuff they’d missed. It’s not like every kid in the school came in knowing all the same stuff — a lot of high school English and social studies and science, for example, consists of covering what was covered in elementary school before, only in more depth. So if you’re going to be taught it in depth, somewhere along the way the basic stuff will be mentioned! The only thing that could really cause a problem would be math, and I don’t know any homeschoolers who don’t bother to teach their kids math at grade level (though yes, there are those weird cases out there.)

    Why “not already knowing something” is considered an insuperable problem by so many people, if you’re not talking about something like trying to do surgery without medical school or fixing a car without any training, escapes me.

  25. Donna July 22, 2014 at 12:37 pm #

    “It is the “Aren’t you afraid that they will have gaps in their education?” question that implies that knowledge can only be learned at a certain time period of a lifetime.”

    That isn’t the implication of the question at all. The reality is that the world does expect people to know certain things at certain times. For example, colleges expect students to have a proficiency in certain subjects on the first day of class and classes are structured around students already knowing prerequisite information. The notion isn’t that you can’t learn trigonometry in college, but that trigonometry is something you are expected to already know before you get to college and you will be treated as if you do.

    I’m not saying that this is true with homeschooling or that the question is reasonable, but I do think that that is more the mentality behind the question than a belief that you can’t learn something after certain age.

  26. SKL July 22, 2014 at 1:28 pm #

    Yeah, speaking of educational gaps, standardized testing intrigues me. Apparently someone, somewhere decided that everyone is going to study xyz (and not pqr) in the third grade. Even if your kid is well-versed in many aspects of social studies or science, if it isn’t the stuff they test on, he’s going to come out looking dumb. It forces schools to teach disjointed, not very meaningful units instead of stuff that might be more valuable / stick with the kids longer.

    I mean, why does anyone care if my kid learns urban/rural before or after Roman/Greek or Tory/Patriot?

  27. ariel July 22, 2014 at 1:53 pm #

    I just learned about a plant called the Century plant. For a looooong time (we’re talking 20-30 years here!), there’s nothing but a stalk. But then, all of a sudden, it starts getting buds and then, they start to bloom! I don’t think people who own that plant (and know/understand about its growth stats) ever think “gee, it’s not fast enough; I better add some [plant growth hormones] to it”, “what’s wrong with this thing?!”. They just wait patiently for it’s time to come.

  28. Amanda Matthews July 22, 2014 at 3:13 pm #

    “Even if your kid is well-versed in many aspects of social studies or science, if it isn’t the stuff they test on, he’s going to come out looking dumb. It forces schools to teach disjointed, not very meaningful units instead of stuff that might be more valuable / stick with the kids longer.”

    This is one of the major reasons I homeschool (and that I’m thankful to live in a state where homeschoolers don’t have to take the standardized tests).

    I do think there are windows, just that they are wide open at different times for each different person. I don’t know if they close, exactly, until/unless one gets dementia or some such – but they do get narrower and narrower, until there is only a small opening to try to squeeze information into. Squeezing this information into the small opening is unpleasant for most people, so if it is done often – as is usually done in schools – they will grow to resent it.

    Parents should learn to recognize when a window is open and seize the opportunity to teach that subject at that time.

  29. Michelle July 22, 2014 at 10:53 pm #

    Julia Child didn’t take cooking lessons until she was 37. Stephen Hawking didn’t learn to read until he was 8.

    As far as “gaps,” take a look at the adults around you, the ones who are living happy lives and getting along just fine. Everyone I know has some kind of gaps. Lots of them can be filled in by looking something up and figuring it out — if they’re important once you’re past the age of taking standardized tests.

    The windows don’t matter so much if you look at learning as a lifelong thing and not just something that has to be crammed into a few years of classroom time.

  30. Tired Caregiver July 23, 2014 at 2:24 am #

    There are ‘windows’ with animals too, that are frankly more true and set than in humans. But even then, missing a window means more challenge, NOT inability to progress.

    My cat came to me as a feral kitten with severe health problems. Because he was removed from his mother too early and spent his early months hospitalized, he missed the window for bite inhibition. Cats learn this skill from their mother and litter mates, and it’s very difficult for a human to teach it to them. It’s why bottle fed orphans raised as singles tend to be more aggressive and difficult than kittens raised in a litter. Nine years later, he still bites…but he no longer breaks skin and uses it as a form of affection. It took a lot of work and frustration to get him to that point, and there were people who pressed me to euthanize him simply because he wasn’t perfect out of the gate.

    Point being, even a cat isn’t confined strictly on a timetable to when they can learn a skill. If a kid OR an adult is passionate about learning to play the piano, they’ll learn the skill. It may take them longer, it may be harder, but it’s the passionate and not the timing that’s important.

  31. M. July 23, 2014 at 8:47 am #

    Technically there are some “windows.” For example, it is well-documented that there is a critical period for language learning in the first 7 years of life…but this is only relevant in the extreme cases of abuse and neglect in the cases of “feral children.” But this does have an effect on second language learning…it is also well-documented that children who learn lmore than one language before about age 7 actually process language differently in the brain than those who only learn one. This makes it easier for them to learn subsequent languages later. Does this mean that no one can learn a second language past age 7? Absolutely not, of course. An adult at any age can learn a language, but it will be more difficult and they will never be as fluent as a native speaker…this effect is greater depending on how different the new language is from the native language (harder for an English speaker to learn Chinese than German, for example).

    But there is no reason to believe that this applies to music or athletics or anything but language. My brother in law is a very talented professional musician. He composes and plays and teaches both guitar and piano. He didn’t pick up a guitar until he was 13 and didn’t learn piano until he was about 22 (he’s 30 now). Talent and drive (like the drive to practice) are more important than any “window.”

  32. Melissa July 23, 2014 at 9:12 am #

    My husband and I are raising our children very organically. If they show an interest in something, we provide the tools for it – if they pick it up themselves and work at it, then we’ll provide more formal instruction/lessons. We make sure that there are lots of learning opportunities (although I really do have to get a piano of some sort – I think my son would be into it) laying around the house.

    It’s odd, I think, because most people, including myself, would have assumed that my husband would be much more competitive and gung ho, especially with the sports. He is a highly motivated athlete himself, and coaches competitive provincial girls soccer. He often laments that if his parents had let him start hockey or soccer at a younger age, he would have gone farther in the sports. Yet, our nearly-5 boy isn’t playing organized soccer this year. We both realize he just isn’t ready for team play (he gets intimidated by kids his own age). But he IS around my husband’s girls all the time, there is always a soccer ball around, and he’s “working” at learning the game by watching them play and playing with them and him. When he IS ready and wants to play on a team, his skills will be there (or they won’t, and he’ll just play rec soccer and have fun).

    I see some of the parents for the competitive teams, and it makes me sad. U12 boys – they practice 3x a week plus games. Training all winter. They are ELEVEN. Their friends are the soccer team, their life is soccer, they aren’t “allowed” to play other sports because it distracts from soccer. They barely have time for school work. I don’t want that for my kid.

  33. SKL July 23, 2014 at 10:59 am #

    I’m not even sure about the language window. I never heard a foreign language as a kid. When I was 13 I started taking Spanish in school, and I was always good at it, and later I started teaching myself a bunch of other languages.

    When I was 22 I met a friend from a foreign country where all children learn to speak at least 3 languages at an early age. She isn’t really perfect in any language but she is basically fluent in one. In the other two – which she heard every day from birth and studied in school for years and even went to an immersion school in one of them for years – she can barely get by as well as a monolingual foreigner. She could not learn a new language as an adult. She just can’t. And she’s an intelligent person. I can get by at a rudimentary level in several languages if my life depends on it. 😉 Not saying I’m great at it, but I haven’t spent that much time on it either.

    My kids were born in a Spanish-speaking country and lived there for roughly their first year. When they came home, I used to speak to them in Spanish followed by English, but they would look at me funny, so I dropped the Spanish, and they liked that better. (I suppose I had a funny Spanish accent to them.) I hired a bilingual nanny and they still heard Spanish most days. But they would never speak it. In preschool they had weekly Spanish and French classes, but they learned little. They had piles of books in Spanish, CDs in many languages, toys that talked in Spanish and French, etc. They traveled to several Spanish-speaking and French-speaking countries. (They were also exposed to Hindi, but less so.) Only when they started taking Spanish school (2nd grade) did they start taking much interest, and they still are not really able to converse beyond basic greetings. It is strange to me but they have heard multiple languages for 7+ years and appear no better off for it than I was at their age. Maybe some benefit will appear as they get older, but I don’t know.

    So I am pretty skeptical about those windows these days.

  34. Jim July 24, 2014 at 4:01 pm #

    I was glad that my daughter could not tell time. She never did anything “on schedule.” She stood up before she sat up. She was up and down steps at seven months. At 5 months, she crawled to where the TV was and let us know she was upset because the TV was moved. (As she became more mobile we were afraid that she would tip the TV.) “Windows” are just another ploy to make parents feel bad.

  35. Andrea of Go Diaper Free July 27, 2014 at 7:49 pm #

    Let’s talk potty training for a sec. I teach elimination communication, infant potty training for 0-18 month babies, where we do things a little earlier and with respect and honor for a baby’s need for hygiene, early-on. Frankly, we have plain flipped upside down this “wait til they’re ready” nonsense that causes parents to wait too long to start potty training (we’ve experienced 1,000s of parents’ physiological and psychological proof that gentle potty training is not only possible earlier but is actively practiced worldwide where diapers are not available or used). Why are we potty training at twice the age our parents and grandparents were? We blame the soundbite (they told me to wait; there is no window; etc). I have to say that with potty training, there IS a window and parents lean on that “wait” soundbite to allow a break in this sometimes difficult task.

    Point is, not only are there different children with their individual needs, but there are also *parents* who have their own individual needs. I think oftentimes our over-informative culture freezes our ability to access the intuition within, and we lose touch with our own needs or expectations as parents. It is possible to weigh the child’s needs, where the child is right now, and the parents’ needs and where they are right now, and make a decision from there. So, regarding potty training, many parents FEAR this process and trust the conventional advice to WAIT. And end up making it harder on themselves than if they prioritized this task, did it when optimum (prior to 2), and made it easier for both child and parent. Just my two cents on something I’m passionate about!

    With regards to music…yes! There is no window!!! :) Andrea of Go Diaper Free

  36. SKL July 28, 2014 at 12:53 am #

    I agree about the late potty training. I think it’s more a matter of parent readiness than kid readiness. Are you ready to commit to doing your part to make sure the kid can go on the potty when he needs to go? Younger tots can’t hold it very long and parents don’t want to be on high alert all the time, so they embrace the “wait until the child is ready” (and buy more disposable diapers) rhetoric. I agree this results in kids in diapers much longer than necessary, and often much longer than the parents prefer once they feel “committed.”

    But at some point some people used fear to convince parents that waiting is better. I have read that if you “force” the issue before age 2.5 or so, the child will have all sorts of fears, low self-esteem, bladder and bowel problems, even sexual problems in adulthood! Who wants to be guilty of all that?

    Both of my kids were diaper free at age 1.5 and they never had any of those problems. How eliminating on oneself builds self-esteem is beyond me. How generations of American parents fell for that stumps me even more.