By Renee Mosiman, M.A. and Mike Mosiman
Are raising your preschooler in an intellectually demanding home or and an intellectually stimulating environment?
In an intellectually demanding environment, parents place too much emphasis on the intellect. This is unfortunate for the parent and bad for the child. For the parent, it creates extra stress and anxiety when the time should be spent enjoying a child’s early years. These parents are overly concerned with milestones. Questions haunt them, such as:
- Why doesn’t my child know all his letters?
- When should my child start reading?
- Why can’t my child write his or her name?
They fear their child will be left behind or not do as well as his or her peers.
In an intellectually demanding home, the child fares far worse than his or her peers. The time that should be reserved for freedom and exploration is supplanted by a time of anxiety. A child feels compelled to fulfill high parental expectations; this is fertile ground in which the seeds of unhappiness are sewn. In this environment, a child may believe that the parent’s love is conditional—that in order to be loved, he or she must meet the lofty demands of the parent.
Often this is not how the parent feels. In fact, many parents are doing what they believe is best for the youngster. Yet what is most relevant is not what the parent thinks but rather what the child perceives. If the child perceives a parent’s love is conditional at a time the youngster needs support and encouragement, it can be devastating.
One indication of an intellectually demanding environment is one in which a child spends too much time running from one activity to the next. Spanish class, art class, and music class may be great for a youngster, but not in the same afternoon. In general, too much formal instruction time replaces free play or interacting with parents or friends.
Another characteristic is when a child is confronted with activities before he or she is developmentally ready for them. If a child is pressured to perform beyond his or her developmental level— i.e., to understand letter sounds too early or to write before he or she possesses the fine motor skills—it can damage or destroy a child’s eagerness to learn, as well as his or her self-esteem.
On the other hand, an intellectually stimulating environment is child-focused and physically and verbally engaging, as well as emotionally supportive. Instead of focusing on a child primarily as a budding intellect, such an environment fosters a holistic view of a child. And rather than racing to the next milestone, the parent realizes every child is unique and develops at his or her own pace. Each child has special gifts, and it is the parent’s job to cultivate a child’s talents and strengthen his or her weaknesses.
Parents that create an intellectually stimulating environment do not feel compelled to compare their child with his or her peers, because they know every individual has his or her own strengths and weaknesses. The child is then less anxious because he or she feels loved unconditionally, regardless of his or her achievements.
Such parents carefully select outside activities, yet they do not overly schedule the child. And since there are fewer time constraints, the youngster has more time to experience being a child. There is plenty of play time to enjoy toys, parents, and peers, as well as leisurely reading time. Of course most parents want their child to be smart; by creating a stimulating yet undemanding environment, such parents can be confident that they are doing the most to unlock a child’s intellectual potential.
Learning at this age should be experiential. In an intellectually stimulating environment, a preschooler’s mind is best sharpened through age-appropriate enriching activities under the guidance of a loving parent.
We recommend activities that incorporate learning through play. Choosing developmentally appropriate activities for your child will lay the groundwork for his or her intellectual achievements by creating curiosity and a love for learning.