I know early education has a lot of critics. I am not here to get into any huge debates. I do what I believe is right for my son. It doesn't mean it is right for every family. If you don't agree, don't do it.
Now is the time:
My basic philosophy is based mostly on right brain research. Baby's brains are growing at an astronomical rate, creating new connections faster than they ever will again. They are hardwired to learn. Therefore, this is the time when it is easiest for them to learn anything. For example, you may have studied a foreign language for four years in high school and another few in college, but I guarantee you that a 4 year old growing up with that language will have better grammar (effortlessly). Just as babies learn spoken language effortlessly, they are capable of learning reading, math, music, and almost any other factual topic just as easily. In fact, reading may be easier. While not everyone pronounces and emphasizes every word the baby is trying to learn equally, words are always spelled the same.
The right brain technique involves presenting information so quickly the right brain has to process it immediately and abstractly. The left, which thinks about it or tries to put it into words, slows it down. The idea is that essentially, we can train his brain to develop an almost photographic memory, making learning later in life much easier. Xander definitely gets exposure to both, although probably more left brain than right brain, just because that is what fits into everyday life easier.
Learning is Fun:
Many people comment that I should let my baby have fun and "be a baby," as if learning and fun are mutually exclusive. I contend that the most important job of "being a baby" is to learn. They are constantly watching the world around them and taking in information. Learning is fun for them. Adults are the ones with the notions of learning being dull or difficult. A few minutes of observing Xander, or any other baby, will show that he wants to know everything about everything as fast as possible. Give him a new object and he will do everything he can to figure it out. He will study it (often with his funny little serious face on), manipulate it, bang it and shake it to listen for sounds, and ultimately taste and smell it. When he has learned everything he can, he usually complains of boredom (he does not enjoy being bored and has no problems voicing his feelings). Xander thrives on new settings, sounds, activities, etc. I thrive of watching him figure things out and enjoy himself. Plus, keeping him entertained means I have less crying and complaining to listen to.
All of our lessons are done joyfully. We only do them if we are both in good spirits. If one us isn't into it, is tired, cranky, hungry, whatever, we just skip it. If we have a week like that, we skip the week. He is ALWAYS rewarded with lots of praise, love, and affection. Our life isn't overrun by lesson either. Many of his reading and math lessons last less than 15 seconds, or take place during play. The knowledge I give him is for him, whatever he chooses to do with it is fine. I do not test him, which would put pressure on him and take away from the great game. I do not expect anything back from him.
Like I said, the lessons and activities we do are for Xander. I do not expect him to be a genius (although every mother hopes, right?). My goal is to provide him with as much knowledge and experience as possible. I feel the more I expose him to, the more he will have to build on in the future. If I can teach him to learn joyfully and easily now, the rest of life should be easier. Also, the wider variety of experiences he has now, the less likely he will be scared to try new things in the future. In addition, we have some great bonding experiences.
Since I am not nearly as eloquent as I could be, here are some links on the topic.
All Children are Born Geniuses
Introduction to Early Learning
Common Criticisms of Teaching Babies to Read
The Gentle Revolution
Other interesting parenting articles: