by Mike McHugh
It is often difficult for concerned parents to know how early they should get their children involved in reading and other "academic" subjects. There are so many mixed messages being put forth these days. Some experts tell moms and dads to get their youngsters in formal education as soon as possible --- fill those minds with masses of information! Others direct parents to wait until their children feel like learning, and actually encourage parents to avoid formal academic training until youngsters reach age eight or nine. Both extremes, and they are extremes, suggest that parents will damage their children if they start too late or if they begin too soon.
If we stop to consider the advantages of home education over institutional style schooling, it should become clear that common sense and a respect for each child’s individuality should be our guides in determining when to begin formal instruction. Does it really make sense to put pressure on our children to comprehend certain facts simply because some expert has established a timetable regarding when he thinks students should learn certain concepts? On the other hand, do we want to stifle the child who is ready to learn to read at a young age because some educator insists that no child should learn to read "too early". In my view, it is just as harmful to be pushy as it is to be unresponsive with your children.
One of the most wonderful aspects of home education is that it provides an environment where young children can learn with variety at their own pace. Home educators, in other words, do not need to choose a one size fits all approach when it comes to selecting precisely when to begin their child’s academic training. Home education, when properly pursued, is personalized and individualized to the needs and academic readiness of each child.
Regardless of which kindergarten curriculum home educators choose to utilize, it should provide them with the flexibility to selectively determine when to begin their students in math, reading, etc. The attention span of most young children is such that they can only handle three hours of academic instruction each school day, with each teaching session lasting no more than twenty minutes.
If you find that your student is honestly not ready for formal teaching, which is usually obvious if he or she shows a consistent lack of interest or ability in academics such as reading or math, then do not fuss or fume. Showing your frustration before the eyes of a young child will only cause him to be turned off to the learning process. In cases where a student is slow to catch on to a particular subject, simply back off a bit and teach those areas of your kindergarten program that are more appropriate such as Bible, art, or music. During this period of waiting for the child’s cognitive ability to mature in a particular area of study, continue to patiently nurture the student’s readiness skills as much as possible. For example, if your student is not mentally prepared to tackle a full study of phonics-based reading, then continue to read to the child every day and have him listen to tapes that will help him to understand the basic sounds of each letter and vowel.
In regard to the question of when it is appropriate to begin a child in school, the answer should hopefully be rather obvious by now --- a child should begin formal study as soon as he is ready. God created youngsters to blossom at differing times and to varying degrees. For this reason, there is no magic time period when all youngsters are ready to begin school. Perhaps the most that can be said from a developmental perspective is that boys tend to mature intellectually more slowly than girls.
It is the duty of each parent to react in a loving and personable manner to the spiritual, academic, and emotional needs of their children as they begin to demonstrate a capacity for learning and knowledge. The option of home education, particularly in the early years, empowers parents to ease their children into the learning process with less stress and with more consideration of their unique needs and readiness skills. For this reason alone, home schooling is often the best way to have children enter the world of formal education and in the process gain a lifelong love for learning.
Copyright 2006 Michael J. McHugh
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