Just today this article was shared on a Facebook homeschooling group I’m part of:
I really enjoyed the article. Not because it was the most well-written or scientifically backed up article, but just because of it’s message, which essentially was – back off of early academics!
Today, when people choose to postpone formal learning past the age of 5, it tends to be called “delayed learning” or “delayed academics”. I disagree. Postponing formal learning until age 6 or 7 or even 8 is not delayed at all. Instead, it is following the the way children were naturally created, and what education looked like historically.
Delayed academics seems to be a sensitive subject. Of course anything that is counter-cultural tends to be. Anytime someone speaks up about the topic on online forums, they tend to get blasted by the, “But my four year old loves her grade 1 phonics program!” moms. Unfortunately, whether the child is capable of doing the work or not, whether they enjoy it or not, science is science, and brain development is what it is. Thus, just because a 4 or 5 year old can do something, doesn’t necessarily mean they should be.
I think one of the reasons why we homeschoolers start our children so young (and as a side note, I was guilty of this with my first), is because we fall prey to cultural pressure, even subconsciously. We feel like we need to make sure we’re “keeping up” with the public school system, lest we face the judgement of others. But also, I feel like we tend to have a very narrow definition of learning, and ultimately seem to only equate learning with formal academics, with textbooks and workbooks and flashcards. We also mistakenly see a child’s natural curiosity and desire to learn, and think that means they are ready for formal learning.
Now, I know people can argue that each child is an individual, and they learn at their own pace, and that is true! I certainly would not argue that, and if your 4 year old expresses an unprompted desire to learn to read, I wouldn’t ignore that. What I would do however, is to teach her in developmentally appropriate ways – and plunking a formal phonics program down in front of her, is not it.
The same goes for math. Children will naturally pick up on math if we just get out of their way. It’s rather astounding to watch and see what they can learn for themselves, just through life experiences. If your child wants to learn math, then teach them – through games, hands on activities, playing store, through concrete real life experiences. Let them play with counting/lacing beads, pattern blocks, Cuisenaire rods, even Lego! But again, hold off on the formal math programs until they’re older. Children need to learn through direct, concrete means first, before they are ready for abstract approaches – and workbooks are abstract, not concrete.
If you research the history of education, going back to the beginning of the classical era of education, clear up until the early 1900s, learning was first done through concrete means and then reinforced orally. Only after it was well learned, did written work get introduced. As such, written work was minimal in the early years. Math especially was taught through hands-on, concrete methods and drilled orally for typically 2 years before students ever started writing sums on a slate. Reading was taught with a reader, oral drill and some simple copywork.
I think it’s important to remember that this is an era (before and just after the turn of the century) where schools were producing students with better reading, writing, grammar, vocabulary and arithmetic outcomes than most have today. They also started later, and ended sooner. Overall, they had far less instruction. I might argue that perhaps it’s because children started later, when they were developmentally ready, and they were taught in more developmentally appropriate means.
Homeschoolers often think that “developmentally appropriate” doesn’t apply to them because we’re not teaching in a school setting. However, what we need to realize is, the problem is not the setting, the school. The problem is that children are created with very specific stages of brain development, and those stages of development do not change whether we’re in a school doing work for 5 hours or at home doing work for 1 hour. The reasoning for delaying academic learning is primarily about brain development and how children are wired.
So, with that, I will give you an extensive list of articles and studies about early academics. While the list is certainly comprehensive, it is by no means exhaustive.
- Better Late Than Early by Raymond Moore (They have done extensive research and have all the information in their book, which is focused on homeschool, instead of the public school setting)
- https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201507/k-preschool-teachers-last-stand-in-war-childhood (Peter Gray is a leading psychologist when it comes to the importance of delaying academics. He has many articles on the topic).
- https://deyproject.files.wordpress.com/2015/01/readinginkindergarten_online-1.pdf (Great one on early reading)
- http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/9266592/Bright-children-should-start-school-at-six-says-academic.html (Great study – contrary to popular belief, “bright” students should actually wait on academics)
- http://www.triumphantlearning.com/charlotte-mason-and-louis-benezets-thoughts-on-math-2/ (Just a Mom’s opinion, but she does include excerpts from the writings of Charlotte Mason and Benezet, with an interesting scope/sequence for math)
- https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201004/kids-learn-math-easily-when-they-control-their-own-learning (This post has some great anecdotes from parents that show just how unnecessary formal math lessons are. Again, formal academics and learning are not the necessarily same thing).
- http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/106044/chapters/Early-Childhood-Education-Programs@-Play.aspx (Notice that it specifically states, “Instruction in formal academic skills” (e.g., reading, writing, mathematics, science) as being inappropriate for early childhood)
- http://www.thebee.se/comments/studies/OgletreeStudy.html (While this is largely comparing the influence of Waldorf education on creativity, it is worth noting that creativity in children is recognized as the best measure of future ability in adolescents and adults. Therefore I include it as an example of why a focus on creative education rather than academic training in the early years may be better.)