Video: Does tutoring tots really help them?

By Dawn Fratangelo Correspondent
NBC News
updated 10/19/2006 7:54:05 PM ET 2006-10-19T23:54:05

Babies are just getting sure on their feet when the preschool push begins.  

The trend toward early education is the talk of so manyparents, even those of late night. 

"See, my son just started the preschool," David Letterman told a recent guest.

"It's wonderful," said the guest.

"Yeah, he kinda enjoys it, but I don't like it," said Letterman.

Now, there's even a precursor to preschool. It's called "Junior Kumon," a spin-off of the popular tutoring program, but for toddlers. Three-year-old Giana is enrolled. With the help of an instructor, she can identify common objects like twigs and presents.

Large tutoring companies that have long helped high school students prepare for the SATs are now helping three- to six-year-olds prepare for kindergarten. 

Responding to the demands of parents, Junior Kumon was launched in 2003; today, about 40,000 children are enrolled, at a cost of up to $220 a month. 

Giana's mom wants her daughter to have an edge.

"My main goal is to have her ahead of the class," says Gina Moreno. "I don't want her to be the kid that needs [an] after-school program, that needs help."

With kindergarten becoming more academic and waiting lists for the right schools long, parents are divided.

Turn any corner, like at the local bookstore, and parents can feel bombarded. Classics like "Goodnight Moon" are up against books on how to raise the IQ of your preschooler — adding to the pressure to compete and compete early. 

There are no studies on the effects of private tutoring for young children, and many education experts believe parents can do just as good a job. 

"Just because a parent takes their child there and they say, 'Oh, my child learned all his letters!' Well, guess what? He might have learned the letters doing all the normal things you do at home or in his regular preschool classroom," says Ellen Frede, co-director of the National Institute for Early Education Research.

And so, for those trying to slow the early learning curve, the sandbox is still appealing.

"I think it's crazy," says one mom. "We have to let our kids be kids and we have to let them play."

At least for a little while.

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