How Much Should A Child Know?

I wonder really how much should a child know at a particular age? It’s really very child specific isn’t it? Even between siblings sharing the same set of chromosomes, learning comes at different stages. My brother spoke pretty late, while I was a vayadi (chatterbox in Tamizh) since I was born (Okay that’s exaggeration, but I would talk a lot!) my brother could look at a page just for five minutes and then you could ask him any questions and he would answer. I, on the other hand, would go about reading it loudly 10 times and yet skip the key point of the page…In short, what I mean to say is, even same chromosomes sharing siblings have different stages and times for milestones.

However, when we put in a bunch of kids of the same age let’s say 4.5 to 5 years together, we expect everyone to have the same skill sets. Recite 1 to 100, write A to Z, read, speak etc..

For those of you who are regular readers of my blog, you would have realised that at one stage, till about 2 months ago, I was extremely disappointed that R never makes an effort to read on her own. I am a mother who keeps harping on the fact, that I will never compare my child to anyone, she is unique, if she wants she can do it her way, etc. But when it came to reading, I must admit, I was super disappointed. I felt sad that my child, to whom, I try and read regularly is not even making an effort to read. She says ‘Amma, mereko nahi aata (Amma I don’t know)’ I started comparing her to other kids I know, who started reading at 4 years, etc. Until one day she told me ‘Amma, I don’t want to read okay!’

And then I realised, I was pushing her the wrong way. Okay, so she may start reading at 10 years, big deal! As long as she continues negotiating me with X number of books when I suggest X – 2 number of books, I think I shouldn’t cry 😉 and the kid sure likes story books, (touchwood) I know that for sure! And that’s when I realised, we do expect a lot from our kids.

At 2 years – is she saying all the alphabets? Does she know 1 to 10? Do you think she should also be knowing the spellings of one, two and three?

And at 3 years – at least can identify A to Z – capital and small letters? Or know the spelling of 1 to 10? And she should be able to know 1 to 30 at least?

And it continues…

While I do agree that kids have amazing grasping power, does it really make sense to teach systematically taught stuff to kids?

The problems, at least in India, as per me are these:

  1. We seem to confuse between education and learning. While we do need an education system to teach things systematically, often we don’t seem to emphasize on the learning. That’s where we seem to lose out many potential research candidates. Learning means everything. From learning to know when you want to do potty (what? it’s important!) to learning to lift the food and put it in your mouth, from learning that landing on the sand after a jump is not going to hurt too much, to knowing that staying for too long in water is going to make your skin wrinkle. Learning is everything. We need to encourage learning in children, not just rote learning stuff by heart! 
  2. We want our children to be the BEST in everything. Honestly that’s just not possible. You would have a robot as a kid then, not a child right?
  3. We tend to compare excessively. I have faced issues of people telling me, why would your daughter write A to E while my son writes only A to D…no seriously!
  4. We often live our dreams through our children. May be I am also guilty of that. I want R to learn Classical music (vocal or an instrument) is it because I couldn’t get to learn it?

I could think of so many other things. Please don’t think this article is written to point fingers to anyone’s parenting skills. Each parenting style is different and as my mother puts it ‘the parents know the best for their children. It’s just that I want us to create a generation of people who yearn to learn and not just rote learn everything they see…may be then, we can look towards a more positive childhood for our children? May be if at four, your child can tell you that he/she wants to use the loo, or that she wants to put the carrots into the fridge and help you out, you should be really happy about it!


First published in the IMC Magazine


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35 Responses to How Much Should A Child Know?

  1. Santulan says:

    Well, I have no experience about this and only assumptions so will not comment more on it.

  2. You are doing the right thing RM, we should let the kids grow and learn at their own pace. I recently went to Chucky’s class volunteering to help kids read. I was amazed how well some 4 years old was reading . I felt bad that I didn’t make Chucky to read at young age. We do read a lot to her, but I don’t make her read. I have similar issue with Chucky where she says she doesn’t want to read. I am not worried or forcing her.

  3. Maya says:

    Such a poignant post this, RM!
    You want R to read her own books? At five? My kids’ school starts with alphabets only when they turn 6! 🙂 🙂
    I used to get so worried when my son goes to the park and stands observing things than play around. It took me a long time to realise that he is a dreamer by nature and to let him be. He does get his physical activity when he is with his friends. But left alone, he is in his own world!
    I think we (by we, I mean, this generation of parents) look at children more as trophies of display than a body of flesh and blood and more importantly, with minds and interests of their own. If only we let our kids be themselves, we shall be at peace and the kids will flourish in their own ways too!

    • R's Mom says:

      Well, I think I was overexpecting till I realised that its not right 🙂 I would love to put R in such a school. The amount of homework and stuff she has is honestly horrendous!

      Hugs to Kuttan..he is really cute 🙂 I am glad you are letting him be instead of forcing him..I respect your parenting methods

  4. chattywren says:

    Very well said RM, I think on the same lines too. My two kids have such different learnings and orientations towards, especially if I compare them at age 4 respectively. And there I am guilty to making comparisons. Also, there is a big difference in education taught at school, even home, and an individual’s innate curioisity, desire to learn about things. I do think if one works on that aspect, it may go a long way.

    • R's Mom says:

      Also, there is a big difference in education taught at school, even home, and an individual’s innate curioisity, desire to learn about things. – Very very true!

  5. Divya says:

    Oh R’s mom, you are so right on target. I think we Indians are crazy when it comes to education and always wanting to be better than others that we have forgotten the essence of learning and joys of learning. Although I loved my small town upbringing, I hated the fact parents butted heads with teachers when comparing our marks (No kidding ask anyone from my town who all went top 5 medical and engineering colleges in Karnataka, no less). Even now after all these years in far away country, desi folks wants to if my 2.5 year old is potty trained, eats by herself, does she know her numbers and alphabets, her colors and her shapes( in what frigging sense will be ever use octagon and hexagon tell me?). Will this cycle ever end? Seesh the pressure of being a kid!

    • R's Mom says:

      Oh hugs hugs hugs to you….my mom was the opposite..she went and fought with my class 4 teacher who gave me 50/50 in my SS paper saying that she found out 8 spelling mistakes in the first page itself!!!

      LOL on octagon and hexagon heheheheeh 🙂

  6. Deeps says:

    Cant tell you how much your post resonates with my thinking, RM! You know its a terrifyingly competitive generation we are living in, which puts our children under grave pressure, sadly. And what I have observed is that the competition is not just between the kids but also between the parents, and its not a good sign at all. The constant push to outdo each other is unnerving. I have seen children getting bogged down by their parents’ mounting pressure and expectations.

    Like you said every child is different. Their interests, their capabilities, their aptitudes, their dreams are different. Its unfair of parents to expect them to perform and grow with the same skill. As long as Namnam is concerned, as long as she is happy and satisfied with the way she is grasping things and she is assured that she has put in her best, she doesnt need to worry about how others perceive her.

    Fantastic post, RM! Its amazing to see you so sorted when addressing all the relevant parenting issues. R is going to grow up wonderfully well with parents like you and RD to guide her along 🙂

    • R's Mom says:

      I wrote this post more as a reference to myself that everytime I make the mistake of comparing the brat to anyone, I should remember that every child is different 🙂

      you are one of my parenting gurus boss, so thanks for this 🙂

  7. Sreetama says:

    I can totally relate to your post. In my childhood I took time to speak & learn ABCD. My mom lamented that I’ll never ever learn the alphabets. My masi laughed & said is it possible? Has it ever happened that a child couldn’t learn ABCD? I think R loves the bonding time between u & her and hence refuses to read. Otherwise am sure she can read herself but doesn’t want to let go of the ritual of u reading out to R!

    • R's Mom says:

      I do tell the brat that I will read for her as well, but she refuses to read on her own..ah well, like your masi said, how can a kid not know ABCD..similarly I am sure she will just learn to read on her own and enjoy 🙂

  8. Smitha says:

    Totally agree with you, RM. Every child is different and we, as parents should celebrate that difference rather than expect our child to be just like another. Be it achievements or just their personalities. Loved this post!

  9. ashreyamom says:

    true RM.. mine knows everything, but wouldnt say it aloud. that was the complaint in school.. inspite of knowing everything, she is so silent, but at home she is so loud. I told the teacher that she needs get comfortable with the place first. only then she would open up.. right now i am not stressing bunty on anything.. we are let her be herself.. hope i dont change.. 🙂

    • R's Mom says:

      yaa..Amma always says that some kids know everything, but they just dont want to say it to teachers..chill AM, I am sure Bunty will be super cool 🙂

  10. Sri says:

    Agree completely!

    Today, its a rat race for one bothers about the learning process..we went through hell trying to get an LKG seat for our daughter…recommendations and donations matter nothing else!

    I try not to compare my daughter with other kids..sometimes people simply say things about your kid..i have realised its better to just pretend to listen and completely discard their words!

  11. Prachi says:

    I hate making my hyperactive 3.5yr old sit at a study table and write complicated letters like ‘e’ & ‘g’, similar looking ones like ‘b’ & ‘d’ and numbers like ‘6’& ‘9’….!! And next session will come with hindi letters as well *faints*
    There are lots and lots of things waiting to be explored by the tiny hands…which are, unfortunately, busy in learning how to hold a pencil correctly. They will anyway learn it….why to force them so early….!!

    (Sorry, I cribbed about another issue and got off track from comparison thing. On that note – I agree with you RM, 100%)

  12. Smita says:

    With you totally on this.. there are days when my In laws get worried that Arnav is not learning anything in his current school but as I have repeatedly said here that I & hubby are very clear that
    – we are not taking him out of this school because it promotes practical knowledge over bookish knowledge
    – We are not putting pressure on him for learning something. There is time for everything and he is just 3 now.
    – We will not compare our kid with other kids. Period!
    – We will pratice what we preach.
    – I was not an over achiever in school niether was hubby and we are doing quite ok in life. So we will just let him be and won’t accept anything exlempary from him. If he achieves something great very good if not…lfie moves on!

    • R's Mom says:

      You and your hubby are awesome parents! you are a big inspiration..I loved your last true, average people at school do well in friends are doing so much better than me (at least financially!) though I was a topper through school!

  13. pixie says:

    Hugs RM!!

  14. Vinitha says:

    My 4 year old daughter was born in the US (she has had desi friends and non-desi), lived in Singapore and now in Australia (not a single desi friend here). I have seen the way preschools operate in different countries and how the parents pull values from the school system and teachers to “help” their kids.

    My conversations in the recent weeks with parents of my daughter’s friends.

    US desi-mom: My kid goes to ABC math center and is at x level blah blah blah. He/she is into “X” sport or “Y” instrument. I don’t want to push too much on my kid. Still cannot finish his/her food. I make dal and rice and he/she won’t eat so I have to make pasta in addition to desi food.
    US non-desi mom: What a riot! He/she is being a typical 4 year old. Wants everything in the toy store and book store. Can make his/her own breakfast/sandwich
    Singapore mom: My kid can write his/her name and can spell and read. Weekends are so hectic ballet/music/little league/Mandarin/swimming. My maid takes him/her everywhere. I am so busy that I think I should have a tutor for my 4 year old to get ready for Primary. I ensure my maid cooks healthy protein rich food and feeds my 4 year old in between the classes. It is tough la.
    Aussie mom: What school? Oh the place they spend a few hours everyday. Buddy sure has a good time there. I have no clue what they do. He/she seems happy and I have few hours for myself. Reading/writing? well they will do all that in Prep and primary – 4 year olds don’t have to worry about studying. My matey knows when he/she is hungry and makes his/her own food and eats before heading outdoors.

    Where do I stand? I try to pick the best from everything. I do spend time with my daughter and do help her with reading and writing. But not from books and such. I let her read titles and small words from the books I read. Mostly I want to lead by example. If I want my daughter to spend time outdoors I ensure I do. I want her to eat healthy. I do. I want her to read. I do. I want her to practice dance. I do.

    That is my style. I don’t judge others but I do admit I get a little worried at times that I am not doing enough. I also don’t compare. I have learned to make peace with my “inner tiger mom” and tried to be just a stepping stone/guide. It is hard but it is necessary I feel.

    More moms should take your views to heart! Great post and you made me write a blogpost in your comment section

    • R's Mom says:

      THANK YOU for the lovely comment. There is so much difference in the way parents raise their kids na..but I loved what you are doing with your daughter..she is a lucky gal 🙂

      Thanks again for showing me this difference in parenting style of different regions 🙂

      • Vinitha says:

        That is the best part about living around the world. I love to see how different people react and raise kids. I find in general Asians very driven (which is never a bad thing) . and yes sometimes we as parents want to live our dreams through our kids. I hope I can control myself and let my daughter be herself first

  15. Well said! And most of us know that ‘every child is unique’ but still the pressure starts right from birth discussing development milestones (guilty, guilty). I guess one reason we do that is because we don’t know what other topic to talk with other parents!

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