When to Begin Formal Homeschool Lessons

Aug 24, 2011

Beginning formal lessons at age 4, 5 or 6 is completely unnecessary. 

You may find it interesting to know schooling traditionally began at age seven. My grandmother (born in 1920) began school at that age. When I read the writings of Charlotte Mason, I noticed the children were sent to school at that age in her day (the 1800s). 

According to UNICEF, 34% of the world's children begin formal schooling at age 7. It's interesting to note that only 5% begin at age 5 and 61% at age 6 years.

Early education is an uncommon practice.

Obviously, this idea of early schooling is a western concept and in the minority, but isn't it important to start the children's schooling early?

Research has clearly shown a correlation between pushing programmes that promote early academic achievement and disaffection in teenage years.” says Debe Lawson of the Professional Association of Teachers in England. “A plethora of research advocates the importance of play for the overall development of the child,” Lawson states.

Hungarian, German and Flemish teachers do not start teaching written numbers, writing or reading until children are six years old, believing that most are not able to cope with these skills at younger ages. 

Countries that delay schooling have higher-achieving students.

Studies conducted by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement support this view. They assessed children from 32 different countries, looking at the relationship between the age of starting school and reading performance at the ages of 9 and 14 (resource). In most of these 32 countries, children began school at ages 5, 6 or 7. They found the top-achieving countries had a later starting age. (resource)

In addition, children in France, Portugal, Belgium, and Norway start school at 6 and the school starting age in many Scandinavian countries is 7. Age seven is the starting age in Finland, where students recently came out on top in math, science and reading over 39 other countries, according to a study by the Programme for International Student Assessment (resource).

Learning happens all the time.

 So what about here in the United States? We are required to begin at age 5, aren't we? No, not in most cases.

Each state has it's own laws of compulsory age. But many are not until ages 6 or 7. (Check your state laws here) In Florida, for instance, our age of compulsory attendance is ages 6-16. But what if your state does require a younger age?

If your state requires that your child begin their formal education at age 5, remember: everything counts. Children spend their entire childhood learning. You've been homeschooling since they were born. You're just continuing what you've already begun. 

Consider the following:

". . . the chief function of the child--his business in the world during the first six or seven years of his life--is to find out all he can, about whatever comes under his notice, by means of his five senses; that he has an insatiable appetite for knowledge got in this way; and that, therefore, the endeavour of his parents should be to put him in the way of making acquaintance freely with Nature and natural objects." Charlotte Mason (Volume 1, Home Education, pg. 96)

"Let him go and come freely, let him touch real things, and combine his impressions for himself, instead of sitting indoors at a little round table while a sweet-voiced teacher suggests that he build a stone wall with his wooden blocks, or make a rainbow out of strips of coloured paper, or plant straw trees in bead flower-pots. Such teaching fills the mind with artificial associations that must be got rid of before the child can develop independent ideas out of actual experiences." (pg. 196)

 "A child will have taught himself to paint, paste, cut paper, knit, weave, hammer and saw, make lovely things in clay and sand, build castles with his bricks; possibly too, will have taught himself to read, write, and do sums, besides acquiring no end of knowledge and notions about the world he lives in, by the time he is six or seven. What I contend for is that he shall do these things because he chooses..." (pg. 194)

And isn't all of that learning? Weren't your most fun, memorable and educational times as a child born in exploration? 

I remember being six years old, lying in my uncle's yard watching ants, searching for a four-leaf clovers, or walking among the trees and noticing beetles, bark and blackberry bushes.

Aren't these the connections to science?

Many times, I walked in the woods for the solitude, finding my way back home from the wooded area by the sun and using trees as landmarks. Geography skills.

These are natural connections that wire our children's brains for learning. If your state requires you to "school" at age five and demands documentation, you can certainly document these explorations, discussions and experiments.

What are you thoughts on early education vs natural learning? 

Happy Homeschooling!


  1. Michelle, I so rarely comment, because I am usually nursing when I get on the computer, but now I have two hands!
    I love everything about this post!  My son, who will be 5 in a couple weeks, is not ready to start academics.  Most of the time, I am ok with that.  But then, there are Those Other Times.  The ones where I start thinking about what his older sisters were doing at this age, the ones where people are asking what he can do.  Even my mama asks questions, good-natured though they are.
    The passages you chose are spot on and what I needed to read.  I think I do ok with HR, but this post reminds me what I need to be doing more of. 
    Thank you, Michelle!

  2. HmmmMMmmm.  I suppose some kids are ready at three and others aren't until well after 7.  I think sometimes it also depends on the subject; one can be ready for more formal lessons in one subject but not another! :)

  3. Nice to see ya drop by Happy-Elf!

  4. When I began HSing, I was so surprised to find that I didn't even legally need to register my little guy with the state until 1st grade. I then learned children in FL are not required to attend K. Who knew? I think there's too much pressure on the little ones these days! I feel like my little guy is still so young. He's 6, and I swear he needed a NAP today! He didn't agree, but man! was he having a bad day! It's so nice to have the comfort of home to just let him have a bad day...these kids at PS don't even get a break, and they're babies! He wasn't bad or mean, just off today, and I'm so thankful he can be!

    Found you on the  Hip HS Blogroll. :)

  5. Silvia Cachia8/25/2011

    Well said, Michelle. I also felt the 'urge' to do something more formal, but happily, my own daughter dissuade me from continuing with that and I've managed to keep from 'doing much of what is considered formal' teaching until now that she is almost seven. The change in her ability to focus and attend to a few readings and some table work is a stark contrast with the girl she was a year or two ago... if you can, wait and do all that you should do before, like the things you write about in your post about the early years and how they are learning always.
    I'll add you to my blog roll too!
    Lap books, ha? That's heresy, Michelle, ha ha ha.

  6. Adrienne, I absolutely agree! They do put so much pressure on kids to be more grown up. It strips their childhood away IMO. And it obviously doesn't put them "ahead" in anyway when other children start at 7 and catch right up to the kids who have been in school for years. Nature has its own clock and we can't change the hands.

  7. Lorelai is 8 now (she's the youngest of my 5) and I can see a vast difference between 7 and 8 even. Things she just wouldn't sit still for a year ago come to her with no problems. If one year makes that much difference, then certainly the difference from 5 to 7 must be great!

    Heresy, huh??? OK I'll tuck that in my pocket as an excuse to not do them. It's better than "I hate them" LOL

  8. Popping in from the Carnival, but I've meant to since Silvia mentioned you on her post.  I will enjoy following you.  You have some wonderful insight.

    This is such a great read for me.  I have four boys all six and under.  I've changed how I approach their early years due to CM.  You are so right, the years will fly fast and I don't want to miss them.

  9. I wish I'd learned all this earlier, when my adult children were young. But better late than never, right?


Join the conversation!