My two (almost 2-year old children) have started going to a day care centre a couple of days a week - they seem quite happy there and it's all going well. The centre has a learning framework for the early years and has asked us what our learning objectives and goals were for our children. The framework lays out goal areas such as developing a sense of well-being, showing confidence and independence, etc.

So I am simply wondering whether my kids should actually have goals at such a young age. If you have objectives, then you must also think about performance (are objectives being met?) and what you do with it (if objectives are not met, then what?). My instinct tells me this is all overcooked, that my children will soon enough be under scrutiny and required to perform (against standards, others, themselves, etc.), and for the rest of their life (at school, at work, outside, etc.). Doesn't putting objectives on them so early put unnecessary pressure on them (and us)? Am I missing something altogether?

3 Answers 3


The distinction here, as you've noticed, is between setting goals and applying pressure. The difference is whether the focus is on the behaviour of your child or of the centre towards your child.

From the centre's perspective, I suspect they're simply trying to figure out what you, their clients, want from them.

For example, I would like my daughter to be able to read for herself before she starts school, as I started reading at a very young age, and believe that it made me more confident in my early years. I would also like her to be comfortable expressing herself when she is unhappy or lacks confidence, so that I know when she needs me to support her.

Other parents may simply want their child to be able to play nicely with other children of her own age, or have very strict learning goals based on academic research. Still others may want to have some time to indulge in adult pursuits like getting coffee with friends or spending time as a couple, which is entirely sensible after 2 years of near-100% parenting, and simply want their child to be in a safe, nurturing environment during this time.

One key thing that I would want is the assurance that the school will be providing support rather than pressure. If they're exposing your children to influences that will encourage them (e.g. reading time), that's one thing, but if they're assessing them and finding them wanting (e.g. reading tests), that's very different, and I would agree with you that at this age, that would be pressure that might be counterproductive (caveat: personal opinion, not backed by statistics) as it could make your child less confident/more neurotic.

The Best People to Discuss These Concerns With are the Staff at the Centre. You clearly have valid concerns, and they are the best equipped to explain how any goals and objectives you set will be used. At the same time, the fact that you're raising these concerns with them will give them insight into what you're looking for from them.

As far as the goals themselves go, the first step towards achieving anything is to work out roughly what you want to achieve. We have desires and expectations for our children even before they're born, even if it's as basic as "decent human being", and working out what those desires are at this stage allows you to tailor YOUR behaviour to encourage theirs. This does not mean that you are assessing them, rather yourself and the others who you've trusted to care for them. If these goals turn out to be unrealistic or counterproductive, you can ALWAYS drop them or reassess them. (For example, if my daughter turns out to enjoy art and/or sport over reading, my goals would change to match her wants and needs).

  • +1. Except it's not what parents what from the staff but what parents want for their kids to accomplish.
    – Karlson
    Mar 4, 2012 at 1:39
  • @Karlson: I agree, but I think Aqua's concern about focusing on a 2-year old's accomplishments rather than on the environment in which they can accomplish things is valid. It's easy for that to turn into pressure to meet a fairly arbitrary "standard" at a very early period.
    – deworde
    Mar 4, 2012 at 1:48
  • I just remembered Rick Moranis' character in this
    – Karlson
    Mar 4, 2012 at 1:52
  • 1
    Never seen it, any good? ... I think this has reached the point where we take this to chat.
    – deworde
    Mar 4, 2012 at 1:59
  • I guess you're right.
    – Karlson
    Mar 4, 2012 at 2:10

The centre has a learning framework for the early years and has asked us what our learning objectives and goals were for our children. The framework lays out goal areas such as developing a sense of well-being, showing confidence and independence, etc.

I agree with you that setting goals for children at such a young age is almost never a good idea. If the wording above comes from the day care centre, it is a bit worrying. You should clarify with them what their actual approach, methods and practices are. If possible, sit in a couple of times to check what's actually happening during classes.

It may turn out that they are perfectly OK, and your children is in good hands. The centre may simply try to "sell" themselves to demanding parents, who nowadays may be too much goal oriented, want their children to "develop" and "perform well", and look for places which do not "just let them play all day" (which is actually the best way for children of this age to learn, to develop their cognitive, mental, emotional etc. skills and to discover the world).

OTOH they might really mean this "learning framework" for real, with special lessons (foreign languages etc.), exercises, good / bad points and whatnot. In which case I would flee with my kid as fast as I can.

Some subjective thoughts about the goals listed above:

  • Developing a sense of well-being - to be frank, I can't imagine how this can be learned or taught. To me, either a toddler is having this, or not. If (s)he is not feeling happy, secure and loved, the problem is almost always with us parents / teachers.
  • Showing confidence and independence - this varies greatly among children (and adults too, for that matter). As @deworde notes in his answer, supporting the child and offering opportunities (plus guidance and mentoring) for her to learn how to deal with social challenges, such as meeting other persons, performing in front of others (nothing more than singing a short song at this age) etc. is perfectly OK, but setting and checking goals is definitely not. Children develop at wildly different rate and have different personalities. If done badly, such "learning" may attempt to force them all to behave like extraverts, which can be extremely frustrating and even damaging for the approx. 30% of the population who are introverts.
  • I agree, it sounds very much like they are "selling" themselves. (I also agree with the rest of your post, btw).
    – Treb
    Mar 5, 2012 at 8:09
  • What you are saying resonates on many levels with how I see things, especially on your thoughts about what can, and should, be learnt. Mar 5, 2012 at 9:37
  • "I can't imagine how this can be learned or taught. To me, either a toddler is having this, or not. If (s)he is not feeling happy, secure and loved, the problem is almost always with us parents / teachers." - Isn't this a bit self-contradictory? I mean, if the problem is with the parents and teachers, then it's something that, while it may not be able to be taught, is exactly the kind of thing that is under the control of the parents/teachers.
    – deworde
    Mar 5, 2012 at 10:04
  • @deworde, what I mean is that it should be the goal of the parent (and teacher) to ensure the child is well, rather than that of the child to "develop" or "learn" a sense of well-being. If the child has received enough love, care and support the way she desires it, (s)he will feel well (most of the time - barring the inevitable ups and downs of her developing psyche). Mar 5, 2012 at 10:25
  • @PéterTörök That clarifies it for me, thanks!
    – deworde
    Mar 5, 2012 at 17:52

You concern would be founded if there is pressure exerted, but believe it or not, you have objectives for your kids right away. By three months you expect them to begin holding their head up on their own (you gave your child tummy time to help facilitate meeting this objective). You expect them to start turning toward you when you call their name (you spoke to them a lot and used their name with them). You expect them to say dada and mama around the time they turn one. These are all "learning objectives" that you helped to facilitate your child accomplishing in one way or another.

At the preschool where I worked we had learning objectives (or goals) for our two's class such as, "recognizes own name" and "can identify three colors out of seven". These goals were to help guide us in choosing activities that touched on a range of modalities for our kids so they were getting the most varied - yet developmentally appropriate - experience possible. It really was more of a guide for us than a measurement of the kids. At the end of the year we went through a checklist of these goals and no one saw that checklist except the head of school. Some of the objectives were the kinds of things you would see on a developmental abilities chart "can jump", "can walk in a straight line", "can walk along a zig zag line". The only two's objective that got any pressure (after they turned three) was "can use the potty" because they couldn't move from the two's room to the three's room without this.

To meet the objectives we would play games, do crafts, sing songs, have story time. . . For example if we wanted to expose a child to community helpers (a safety objective for the threes is that a child can recognize police, firefighter and paramedic uniforms as signifying these people as community helpers), we would play dress up and make sure to include child versions of these uniforms, use puzzles on another day that depicted community helpers, Read books about community helpers, take a field trip to the fire house, have a police officer as a guest speaker, the kids had puppets with these characters and could act out their community helper puppets doing their jobs. . .

The Three's objectives included the list of (around 50) objectives that were exactly the same as for the twos and a few that were appropriate for a three year old were added. Examples of these were, "can recognize some of the letters of the alphabet", "can safely hold scissors," (child scissors of course) and "can count to ten". Another ten or so were added for the fours.

If a child did not meet an objective, it was of no concern because it was assumed they would eventually meet a good portion of the objectives but never assumed they would meet all of the objectives before Kindergarten. On the other hand, if they weren't meeting Most of the objectives that were related to developmental milestones, it acted as a red flag that a particular child might need a little extra support in something.

Simply ask to see examples of the school's typical "learning objectives" and you most likely will think them fairly reasonable. It is pretty unlikely they are talking about anything considered "highly academic" especially considering that the examples you gave already were about independence and social well-being (sharing, interacting with others. . .) If the learning objectives have something like, "count to one hundred" for the two year olds, then I'd be concerned.

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