delayed formal education
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In a culture that so often pushes for early academics, do we feel pressured to begin homeschool lessons too soon? Do we push our children beyond their developmental readiness? I recently talked with 15 homeschool moms who delayed formal education until their children were age 6 or older. I discovered why they chose to wait on academics and how this decision affected their children.

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Some Homeschool Methods Call for Delayed Formal Education

I became interested in this concept of delayed formal education when I was learning about the different popular homeschool methods.

I learned that followers of the Charlotte Mason method traditionally don’t begin formal lessons until age 6 per Charlotte Mason’s instructions:

In this time of extraordinary pressure, educational and social, perhaps a mother’s first duty to her children is to secure for them a quiet growing time, a full six years of passive receptive life, the waking part of it spent for the most part out in the fresh air.” -Charlotte Mason, Home Education Page 44

Adherents to the Moore Formula by Dr. Raymond and Dorthy Moore delay formal schooling until at least age 8. Their children focus on play, work, and service to others in the early years.

Then you have parents who successfully “unschool” their children. Their lessons are informal at every age as the child initiates learning that is personal and meaningful to them. Although learning is happening all the time, “school” isn’t predetermined or forced by the parent.

Other families choose a later start to better support a child with special needs.

Science Supports a Later Start Despite Our Culture Pushing for Early Academics

I later came to realize that many scientific studies also support an older start age. This 2015 report, “Reading in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose” shows how teaching a child to read early will not make them better readers in the long-run. A little digging on the internet will unearth many similar studies.

I was intrigued. I feel it is so common even among homeschoolers to take the opposite approach and begin as early as possible.

We push for children to read, write, and do simple arithmetic by age 5 or 6. We even start them in sports and music lessons at age 4 or 5 believing we’re giving them an advantage.

We want to keep our children up to par with their peers and feel stress that they could be “falling behind.”

But maybe our worries are often unfounded. Maybe there is a better way to handle the early years.

With these realizations, I wanted to hear from some real homeschool moms who delayed formal education. These moms chose to wait for various reasons, just as their philosophies and methodologies vary.

For them a delayed start is not an excuse to homeschool lazily or ignore a developmental disability. It’s an approach borne through careful reasoning, and their results speak volumes.

I think we can learn so much from their experiences and perspective.

Statements on Delayed Formal Education From Real Homeschool Moms

Here are their statements:

We have found each little one is so different and learn differently. Some are early learners and some kids just want to play. We delayed formal education with our youngest because it suited him best to learn by playing and observing the older kids.Sofia Trillo from Fun With A Message
Every child is unique and learns differently. My eldest are quite academic and were reading independently by the time they were 5, I gave a little input and they picked it up really quickly because they were interested. My third had to attend school for a year when he was 4 ( whilst I cared for my father) and after that year of ‘formal teaching’ was still unable to even recognize letters. The school wanted to put him back a year. I pulled him out of school and within 5 weeks of gentle teaching at home he was reading independently. My 4th child showed no inclination towards reading so I allowed him to follow his interests and play. I read to him lots but didn’t really do any formal teaching with him. Then one day when he was about 7 and a half I noticed him snuggled up on the sofa ‘reading’ a novel. When I asked if he wanted to read to me he read perfectly! He had picked reading up from his environment and taught himself.

I think each child learns when they are ready and when they have a desire to. Pushing them to learn something they aren’t ready for when they are too young or when they have no interest in it can have the detrimental effect of putting them off learning. They usually get there in the end. It is our job as their homeschooling parents to be sensitive to our children’s learning needs and styles and rather than teach we should provide opportunities for them to learn – for some this may be more formal, or at an earlier age but for others it may be more play or practically based with nothing formal until they are much older.

Every child is unique and as homeschoolers we are in the privileged position to be able to create a bespoke curriculum for each of our children.Nettie Gallagher from The Blossom Tree

Children are really so different. By 18 months my oldest was walking around car parks reading the licence plate numbers, and by 4 she’d essentially taught herself to read, whereas my second wouldn’t even look at letters till she was almost 7, then she picked up a book and started reading it. The beauty of home education lies in the ability to respond to individual needs, rather than do things by an age-based time table. My second child never needed anything formal, because she was processing in her own way, whereas my first enjoys the challenge of more formal lesson plans. Just follow their lead, and they’ll surprise you.Luschka Van Onselen from Diary of a First Child
I’m a former teacher and instructional coach (trained teachers and wrote curriculum), with a Master’s in Educational Administration. I had a complete paradigm shift when I started homeschooling my own kids. We are academic unschoolers and have seen great results with our kids. As our kids have gotten older, we set goals and I help see them through. We aren’t anti-curriculum, we are pro-learning. When my kids were younger (preschool age), we spent a lot of time outside, a lot of time talking and asking questions about how things work and spending time encouraging their wonder of the world. Our approach has led my kids to LOVE learning. They know that learning happens all of the time. While we are relaxed in our approach, we still teach self-discipline in our family, through goal setting.Katrina Dyste Oldham from Rule This Roost
I have six kids. I’ve found over and over again that waiting is better. And even after starting school, the longer I can keep it fun and ‘play’, the better. All of my kids are neurodivergent – ADHD, autism, OCD. My last child is 6. If she’s interested, she practices writing letters – all the materials are there for her. She colours. She plays with Legos. She gets read to and loves to practice the words she remembers. When I read history or ‘big’ literature to the older kids, she wanders around. The child just above her will be 8 next month. I feel she is JUST NOW ready to sit down and do lessons, and even so we’re almost always done by noon. That doesn’t mean that I don’t let kids forge ahead when they want to. My #3 was reading before he was 4 – I still didn’t make him sit down and do anything resembling lessons until he was 7 or 8.Marie Campbell Beausoleil from Just Plain Cooking
I don’t do formal lessons for my kids until later. I find it more effective to let them casually play with learn-to-read apps and games until they’re pretty good at reading on their own, which tends to naturally happen around 7. At that point, I start formal lessons for all subjects.
Charlene Hess from Hess Un-Academy
My son is 6 going on 7, I did formal education when he was 5 but too much did not go well so I stopped. I plan to begin this week with PAL program. Boys are a little different than girls. Boys would rather explore and they have a high energy level. They need to play more, and then sooner or later they will beg you to do school.Sharon Stubbs Rideaux from The Homeschool Kitchen
Although we began homeschooling when my kids were babies, we didn’t start formal learning until they were much older (around 6 or 7). Even when we did start using workbooks, it’s been very relaxed and slow as it took a while to get the right curriculum for all kids. I’m just now starting to feel like we have a good grasp on their math. Delaying formal learning has helped my kids to mature their attention span and learning styles, so that they were more ready to learn by the time we started workbooks. There’s a big difference between a 2-second attention span and a 1-minute attention span. It’s a lot easier to teach kids who are focused, even if they still need lots of breaks in between tasks.Missy Parlane from Homeschooling My Kinetic Kids
We’ve [delayed formal education] with all my boys. We follow a Wadlorf/unschooling vibe here. We chose to start later with formal academics because we wanted our children to develop at their own pace. So much is pushed down to younger ages and it feels so forced. We looked into many different philosophies and realized that in many countries around the world school doesn’t start until around 7 so that helped me to trust my instincts. We follow a gentle rhythm to our day including stories, family activities and lots of time outside. We follow their natural curiosity into topics they are interested in. As my boys get older then we do move into some school work, but have always allowed for plenty of time to explore on their own. My blog is www.joyfulmudpuddles.blogspot.com it you wanted to check it out. I’ve got posts on our style and making homeschooling your own.Meaghan Jackson from Joyful Mud Puddles

I think you will also enjoy reading what Lindsay Leiviska had to say on the subject. She is a fellow homeschool mom with a masters in teaching.

Unfortunately in our culture we have bought into this belief that every child is supposed to meet arbitrary benchmarks and expectations based on the average behaviors and capabilities of a wide population of children.

When we artificially push our kids to learn academic subjects too soon while using traditional teaching methods, these efforts often backfire. Here are just a few reasons why I recommend waiting on formal math and other instructional areas until our kids are (at minimum) over the age of 7:

1. Increased seat work often leads to decreased amounts of imaginative and physical play. I cannot more highly stress the importance of both imaginative and physical play for the developing child. Both physical and imaginative play increases connections between the two hemispheres of the brain. This leads to greater language development, attention span, physical coordination, interpersonal and self-regulation skills.

2. Pushing academic material too soon leads to unnecessary relational stress and strain between parent and child. When the homeschool parent believes that her child will be “behind” (behind who, BTW?) this fear leads to increased stress on both child and parent. As she tries to impose outside academic objectives on her child without ever taking into account her child’s individual wiring and current level of cognitive development, it backfires. The child resists as his developmental skills are unable to process and receive the academic information at that time and in that way. Mom’s stress increases and she often pushes harder. Then her child shuts down even more. Tensions grow and the cycle continues.

It’s just not worth it. If your child wants to do math at earlier ages, great. Have at it. But just because Little Johnny up the street has learned multiplication at the age of five, doesn’t mean your child is developmentally there yet. Pushing won’t get him there any earlier no matter how hard you push.

In the same way that we don’t shame adolescent girls and boys when their bodies are not as physically developed as their peers, we need to remember that same principle when it comes to cognitive development and academic readiness.

Take a deep breath, step back, and focus on your own child’s abilities, wiring and maturity. In the end, it doesn’t take 12 years to learn math. Spend the early years allowing your child to explore and discover. Enjoy playing outdoors, counting rocks and frogs. Engage in discovery-based learning for as long as you can. Play, play, play. Read together, engage in conversations and have fun.

These activities alone will prime your child’s brain, mind and soul for long-term academic, emotional and relational success. Be encouraged!
Lindsay Leiviska, MA Teaching, Homeschool Mom of 3 Uniquely-Wired Kids from A Heart For All Students

Articles on Delayed Formal Education by Homeschool Moms

Five other homeschooling moms were kind enough to share their articles with me. These were such inspiring reads:

  • Kerry Klein Beck, a veteran homeschool mom from How to Homeschool My Child, explained that her son started formal math in 6th grade and caught up in 1.5 years. He won the math award as a sophomore! Here is his case study.
  • Renee Bergeron, homeschool mom of 14 from the blog, Little Earthling, has an insightful article, Delaying Formal Education: Why I Don’t Push School Before Age 8. She explains why she chooses to delay formal education and how this plays out practically in her homeschooling.
  • Julie Polanco, a homeschool mom of 4 from Julie Naturally has two wonderful articles on delaying formal education. In the first, How to Teach Math for K-6th Grade in One Year! she shares how her son was relaxed with mathematics until about age 12, at which point he filled in the gaps in less than one year. She explains that verbal skills actually build math skills early on more than math worksheets or memorizing formulas. In her other article, Some Ideas of What to Teach Preschoolers, she points out why much of what we normally teach preschoolers isn’t actually necessary and doesn’t support their natural development. She explains what we can teach them instead!
  • Nicki Truesdell, a second-generation homeschooler and mom of 5, shares why Delaying Math Instruction Might Be a Good Thing. Her children started formal math at age 8 and learned very quickly. She also shares how she handles the preschool years without pushing formal lessons in her article, Homeschool 101: Preschool.
  • When To Begin Formal Homeschool Lessons by Michelle Cannon, homeschooling mom from The Heart of Michelle, is another worth-while read! She presents some compelling reasons to wait to start schooling until age 7. She explains what to do if your state requires an age-5 start age.

Delayed Formal Education Is Not Delayed Learning

These moms brought up so many good points about homeschooling and education in their statements and articles. Here are my main takeaways after hearing from these moms:

  • Delaying formal academics doesn’t mean delaying learning or holding our children back from learning skills early. It means we allow our children to learn in a way that’s natural and not push or force “school” beyond their developmental maturity.
  • There are many ways we can facilitate learning for young children even if we are not yet schooling them.
  • Age is not a good determiner of readiness since every child is unique and develops at their own pace.
  • An early start is not necessarily equivalent to a “head start.”
  • Pushing too early can stifle a love of learning and can actually be damaging.
  • Scientific studies more often support a later starting age despite our culture’s push for early reading and mathematics.
  • Many kids will learn the academic skills they need with relative ease when they are ready, whether that be earlier or later.
  • We should utilize the freedom we have in homeschooling to support our child’s individual needs and development in the early/preschool years and not feel pressured otherwise.

A special thank you to these moms for sharing.

I would love to continue this discussion, so please share your own thoughts and experiences in the comments below!


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