How Early is Too Soon?
Summer vacation is over. Kids all over America and the world are complaining about having to get up at the butt-crack of dawn to get to school on time.
This is not what I mean.
Remember, back in the “good old days”, when Summer Vacation didn’t end until after the glory of Labor Day? Now, some school districts open their campus doors in mid-August!
Yeah, that’s not what I’m talking about, either.
I’m referring to the age of our children. Do we enroll them in formal education environments too soon?
A Surprise Result
There was a story I read online a few years ago that described an African tribal village where girls were forbidden from attending the community school. Eventually, after a relief agency offered aid to the village, girls were encouraged and expected to attend lessons just like the boys.
While acknowledging that females generally mature faster than boys, the aid workers were astonished to discover that the girls, over age 10, learned their lessons exponentially faster than the boys had when they started at much younger ages. In fact, these pre-teen girls knew how to absorb and assimilate new curriculum much faster than boys of their age or older who had been “schooled” for years.
What made the difference? For one thing, the girls considered education to be a treasured privilege, not a compulsory drudgery. Attitude is everything.
The females, forced to stay close to home while their male counterparts trudged every morning to classes, had the benefit of expanded time to learn how things worked naturally, as well as the opportunity to let their minds wander as they followed paths of curiosity.
By the time they were invited to attend formal schooling, the girls’ brains were already wired to make cognitive connections. Math, Science, Language Arts, and History lessons they eagerly learned to read fit naturally into a context of life skills and experience.
What if Waiting is Better?
Imagine if all children could benefit from the anticipation of going to school when they are emotionally, physically and cognitively better prepared to enjoy and profit from it?
From 10 Reasons Why I Believe Formal Education is Better Late than Early, by Jess Connell:
“Waiting for the convergence of maturity, desire, and ability, yields a more self-disciplined child who is more personally invested in, and enthusiastic about, his/her own education.”
Then, she quotes Plato:
“Knowledge which is acquired under compulsion has no hold on the mind. Therefore do not use compulsion, but let early education be a sort of amusement; you will then be better able to discover the child’s natural bent.”
Raymond Moore, author of School Can Wait says,
“Recipe for genius: More of family and less of school, more of parents and less of peers, more creative freedom and less formal lessons.”
It’s worth reading the expanded descriptions of Ms. Connell’s 10 Reasons to delay formal education. Here are the headlined reasons:
From “Better Late Than Early:”
#1- We want to make maximum use of their creativity and curiosity while they are young.
#2- We give heaps of loving affection and firm discipline before formal education.
#3- The current “wisdom” in regard to the American childhood ain’t so wise.
#4- Reading is a skill that can come slowly (earlier) or come quickly (later), but it will come.
#5- Tons of time with mom reading aloud TO them, while they are young, gives them a larger vocabulary and broader worldview than they could manage with the same amount of time dedicated toward teaching them to read earlier.
#6- I’m not shooting for information transfer.
#7- I’ve seen it work in our home, with a wide variety of learning styles and academic strengths.
#8- I’ve seen it work when I’ve done it “right” (waiting until the exact right moment), and work when I did it “wrong” by starting too soon (and had to press “pause” on learning-to-read and wait for the right moment roughly 6 months later).
#9- The real world has much to teach them, and I want to make the most of this time when they don’t have obligations on the horizon.
#10- It’s the way the vast majority of children have learned across the centuries– yes even the geniuses of history– being at home without much by way of formal education until about age 8-10.
As a public school employee, my favorite reason is #2. You have no idea how many children come to school with empty “love-tanks”, lack of self-control, and the inability to respect authority. Every one of these ten reasons to wait would greatly enhance the efforts of professional educators.
But parents must make this choice. Do they want the earliest possible day-care provided by the state so they can pursue other interests and priorities? Or do they desire a true “head start” for their children’s education that may mean delaying enrollment?