“How old are you?” they would ask. “Three”, replied my daughter. The next question was also standard: “Do you go to school?” “No, I’m homeschooled”, would come the reply.
These days my daughter isn’t as quick to answer that she is homeschooled. She still thinks that she isn’t… But let me explain.
While on a road-trip holiday a bit more than a year ago, we visited some friends who had been homeschooling their 5 kids (age 18mo to 12 years) for the last 5 years. As we are planning to teach our kids at home, and because I find it valuable to learn from other peoples’ experiences in different spheres of life, I asked for my friend’s best advice on homeschooling. This was it: read “Better late than early”.
I duly found myself an ebook version of the book (from f=”https://www.oikosfamily.co.za/product/better-late-than-early/” target=”_blank”>Oikos), and started to read. What I discovered was something I hadn’t known at all. The evidence presented was enough to convince me to change the way that I thought, and the things that I did.
The book is a review of the evidence (from the USA) of the effect of early schooling (sit-down, learn to read and write using small letters etc type of schooling) versus late schooling, and what the trends accompanying ever earlier initiation of schooling can tell us. The results are surprising to say the least.
In the context of South Africa, where we often lament our dismal school-leaving results and blame the lack of good quality early childhood education (read creches), the book’s findings were a revelation. It turns out, in fact, that what children need is not entrance into an institutionalized environment and exposure to formal learning at an ever-earlier age. In contrast, what they need at this (pre-school) age is exposure to a loving, secure family environment. They need to learn social interaction within the context of a home, across age groups. They should be read to, and learn to accomplish everyday household tasks with their family members.
In a society where there is increasingly more pressure to send your child to school at the age of two or three so that they don’t fall behind academically, “Better late than early” was really a breath of fresh air. Even I had fallen into thinking that my child was not comparing well with other kids who had taught themselves to read by the age of 3! Now I was reassured that it was okay!
According to the weight of research from diverse sources, and considering a broad range of physical and emotional development indices, the ideal age of initiation of formal schooling was determined. It appears to be between the ages of 8 and 10, far later than the age when children in many countries around the world are legally required to be in school. Children who started school at this age caught up with and rapidly overtook their peers, not only academically, but also socially and emotionally. Conversely, the earlier a child started school, the more likely they were to have some form of reading or learning disability.
While one can argue and look at study methodologies and whether the numbers had the power to show a significant difference and the like, for me the message of the book rang true. Even adults can learn to read. It’s something you can do at any age. Character, however, is not so easy to change. Right now, I want to focus on building my daughter’s character, in the time when I have the most influence on her. I want to teach her to love God and to love others. To have a good work ethic and to be a good steward. The three ‘Rs’ don’t come anywhere close to that in importance at this stage of her life. They can come later and she won’t have missed out on anything; in fact she will only benefit.
The problem is, I didn’t manage to convince my 3-year-old of this. Suddenly freed from the need to plan preschool lessons in order to occupy her with academic pursuits, and struggle trying to get her to perform said pursuits, while battling to get to my chores, I rejoiced. All I needed to do was do my work to maintain the household, and have my daughter join me.
But because I had already started a school program with her, now taking it away, and not seeming to replace it with anything has left a bit of a hole. She felt special being homeschooled, and I haven’t been able to convince her that she is still learning at home, if not in the same way.
While I really don’t want to increase my child’s chances of struggling with learning by starting too early, I don’t want her to now suffer feelings of rejection because of the loss of a special school program, even if it was done in love! I am still looking for the middle road, and praying that I will find it as I daily spend time learning from Jesus.
What truths have you learned about your child’s emotional and educational needs?