A controversial and obscure teaching technique, the Shichida Method, has seen a recent bump in popularity in Australia, one school founder says.
According to the woman who brought the Japanese method of tutoring babies and toddlers to Australia, Shiao Ling Lim, enrolments at centres in Sydney’s west have doubled in the past two years. A recently opened centre in Parramatta is already fully-booked of its 170 places, and another four centres cater to parents around NSW and Victoria.
In case you, like us, were wondering what Shichida is and what exactly it’s supposed to achieve, Shichida is a once-weekly 50-minute class for babies as young as six-months and children up to nine years old. The creators say that by using play-based learning including songs and activities they can “tap into the subconscious mind of babies”.
Shichida Australia claims the classes will create a “strong foundation” for speed reading, mental maths and a good attitude to learning. But more specifically that children as young as two who go through the program can learn to recognise the alphabet and start to read, while four-year-olds can tell the time and read at a higher level.
And if that sounds too good to be true, an educational and developmental psychologist warns it probably is.
However, Shiao Ling Lim herself says the program “is not about creating geniuses”, and instead explains its goal as “getting children to love learning”.
That’s how Melbourne mum Suzanne Shakespeare sees it. The opera singer has been taking her two-and-a-half-year-old daughter Matilda to regular sessions since she was about 20 months.
“It’s enjoyable. She enjoys it. I enjoy it.” told Mamamia.
“It’s an added stimulation for her. I just see Matilda as needing a lot of stimulation in order to be able to rest. For her, it’s perfect.”
Suzanne said she first brought her daughter to tire her out hoping she would sleep better, and while this hasn’t worked, she and her daughter have kept attending because of the results she saw.
"I can see it's done a lot for Tilly... I think her memory has improved. She's writing her name, she loves problem-solving, the mazes that they have are very intricate now and she absolutely loves those."
"She communicates like an older child, I'm told. Those two-year-old tantrums, we haven't really had those because she explains why she's upset. I do attribute that to Shichida as well."
Suzanne said while she didn't know if this early learning would help her daughter when she reached school, she hoped it did.
"Every child is different. For Tilly, she absolutely loves it and happens to be teaching her stuff as well."
'There's no independent research to support this type of learning'
At $600 per 10-week term, many parents would be hoping for more than just their child to have fun during their session. And that's what concerns Melbourne-based educational and developmental psychologist Dr Kelly Allen.
Dr Allen told Mamamia parents should be aware that from her search across the world's scientific journals and databases, she could find no specific scientific evidence that supported Shichida's claims or found the method was an effective learning tool.
Of particular concern to Dr Allen is that the Shichida Australia website features personal stories, media promotion and testimonials, but provides no details of independent scientific research, despite mentioning that it is "based on 60 years of ongoing research into childhood brain development".
"There also appears to be a lack of endorsements by individuals from reputable professions such as psychologists, neuroscientists or paediatricians," Dr Allen said.
She also took issue with the method's claim it "taps into both left and right side of the brain".
"Some theorists suggest that people favour the left or right side of their brain over the other, which results in certain individual traits," explained Dr Allen, who is a fellow of the Australian Psychological Society’s College of Educational and Developmental Psychologists.
You've probably heard people describe themselves as a "right-brain thinker" if they're more analytical or "left brain" leaning if they're more creative. Dr Allen told Mamamia that's basically garbage.
"There is currently no substantive empirical evidence to suggest that people are more left or right brain in their thinking, that dominance exists or relates to personality, or that educational approaches can target one hemisphere of the brain over the other.
"In fact, such theories have been debunked in the scientific literature with mounting evidence to suggest that the notion of sidedness is no more than a myth."
Dr Allen warned that parents should be wary of programs that claim to be "whole-brain" or "brain-based" - especially when there isn't the scientific research to back it up.
The psychologist said that although it's true that early childhood sees children develop quickly, parents can give their children the best start all on their own.
"By simply providing rich and stimulating learning environments and experiences, in addition to things like positive and supportive relationships with caregivers, opportunities for play, books, nursery rhymes and loads of language, they are already giving their children a solid foundation for future learning."
Have you tried the Shichida method or any other accelerated learning programs? What did you think?