10 Reasons I Believe Formal Education Is “Better Late Than Early”

10 Reasons I Believe Formal Education is BETTER LATE THAN EARLY // Homeschool Mom Talk // jessconnell.com
Early in our homeschooling journey, someone put the book, Better Late Than Early, by Raymond & Dorothy Moore, in my hands, and it has invaded not only our homeschooling, but every area of our parenting.

“Education is not filling a bucket, but lighting a fire.” ~W.B. Yeats

There is a general approach to education in western society, that the more you can cram in, and the earlier you can cram it in, to a child’s brain, the better educated they will be. The Moores and their research turn this approach entirely on its head and instead, promote that there is a different, preferred order to things.

They contend that too much formal education, too soon, actually is harmful to the child. They point to both an informational disadvantage (kids educated that way actually do poorer in terms of academics) and a global/personal disadvantage (kids educated that way actually care less about education and academics and lose their original spark of creativity and curiosity). 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.

“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.” ~Plato

[It’s actually similar to why I potty train later rather than earlier: because we can force it, work like the dickens, and have a lot of frustration and accidents by potty training early on, OR I can wait until the child is 3 or later, and we all are happier, training is more effective, and it happens with virtually no work at all.]

“Recipe for genius: More of family and less of school, more of parents and less of peers, more creative freedom and less formal lessons.”  ~Raymond Moore, School Can Wait

Here are 10 reasons why, entering our tenth year of homeschooling, I affirm that it’s “Better Late Than Early:”

#1- We want to make maximum use of their creativity and curiosity while they are young. 

I want to stoke their innate curiosity with (primarily) fascination-based learning while they are young rather than squelching it through (primarily) information-based learning by rote and drill. I do not care one whit if they can identify all the letters of the alphabet by a certain age (Let’s be honest: learning that “u” is called “u” is something a child has to, mostly, get over, in order to read well anyhow. Most times that we find “u” in a word, it says “uh”, not “you.”), but I do want them to be fascinated by the world around them. I want to fan the flames of their questions and zeal for learning about the world God has made.

Formal education is important in its season, but maintaining the curious and rigorous MINDS initially entrusted to me is of much greater importance. I do not want to waste their early delight and curiosity on workbooks and memorization-focused drill. When we push them to complete academic work beyond their curiosity, ability, and interest, I believe it actually harms their minds and makes them less fertile for real learning at the time when their interest catches up to their maturity and skill, because they’ll be so weary of the whole bit, thinking that education means boring labor to achieve skills beyond which they are rightly able to both master and use.

#2- We give heaps of loving affection and firm discipline before formal education. 

I believe God puts children in homes and families so that they can be both well-loved and well-disciplined prior to the formalization of their education. This is of utmost importance… before they learn math, reading, or sentence diagramming, they need both the love and encouragement from and the proper respect toward their God-given authorities. We tackle emotional tantrums and fierce-willed rebellion before we tackle phonics and multiplication. It makes the latter easier, and the former virtually non-existent, by the time we enter routinized learning.

#3-  The current “wisdom” in regard to the American childhood ain’t so wise.

The increases in the numbers of diagnoses, childhood prescriptions, and tantrums seen in public settings reveal the foolishness of our modern way of rearing and educating children. Boys in particular are scandalously ill-educated in our current public education system– labeled with diagnoses, riddled with prescriptions, bored to tears, and dropping out at ridiculous rates. Having 6 boys of my own, I’m convinced a large part of this is that we are forcing little boys to sit still, pay attention, and do high-focus desk work far too early. We are asking them to be like their little girl counterparts who mature more rapidly, and are (on the whole) happier and more ready to sit still and be quiet for longer periods of time, earlier.

(And yes, there are important, innate differences between the sexes, and have been for millennia! Don’t let anyone, no matter how modern and degreed and famous they are, tell you any different.)

Children by and large are also lacking in self-discipline nowadays. They rage. They whine. They are self-centered and have appalling social skills. I believe that taking children from their homes sooner, without laying a foundation of learning to respect and obey their (loving) authorities has led to this situation where teachers are put under a terrible weight of having to educate children who have neither self-mastery nor respect for authorities.

So for our children, when we start school is not an age thing at all. I focus on cultivating the right heart attitudes in our children– zestful curiosity about the world mixed with a willingness to control the self and respond rightly to authority– before I begin their formal education.

#4- Reading is a skill that can come slowly (earlier) or come quickly (later), but it will come.

The time and energy required to teach a young child to read is, I believe, a waste of curiosity and skill… it inefficiently uses up time you can never get back, whereas, when you wait for the convergence of skill, maturity, and interest, the time it takes to learn is dramatically reduced. All of our children have read at age 6 or later (usually closer to 7), and all are voracious readers. Once they start, they don’t stop. But I don’t start them until their mature understanding of the world, ability to sit still and focus, and desire to read all merge simultaneously… which sometimes has been 6, or even a late 7.

That said, I feel the need to point out– they’re not dullards… quite the opposite. They are bright, curious, fun children. Our oldest son read the Lord of the Rings trilogy before his 8th birthday, and at age 13, reads adult-level historical biographies. Our 11 year old loves Hardy Boys mysteries and how-to books. Our 9 year old daughter reads non-stop, but is particularly fixated on historical biographies and Bobbsey Twin mysteries at present.

By waiting for the convergence of ability (not just the technical ability *to read,* but the ability to sit still, ability for eyes/hands/brain to all function with ease in conjunction with one another, etc.) maturity, and interest (a desire to read and curious thirst to understand the world around them), they are best-suited for a sprint-like time of learning to read rather than a years-long marathon of phonics and boring stories dumbed-down to the level they can read at (which is far below their capacity for understanding). By waiting until they are interested, they are all lovers-of-reading rather than being bored to tears of it because it took extended, laborious effort before there was true readiness.

#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.

Even *if* I’d taught some of our children to read at 3-4 (which I believe I could have forced with at least 2 of them so far), they would be reading CA-AAAA-AT and D-UUUUUUUUUUU-CK, not listening to mathematical-feats-of-adventure like A Grain of Rice, or sociological and historical tales like the Jewish orphans taken in in the WWII story, Twenty and Ten. There is a world of difference in the vocabulary, depth and degree of the stories, and curiosity-building that happens in “Dick and Jane”-like stories they can read when they are young vs. stories they are perfectly capable of understanding at 5, 6, 7 years old, but can not yet read. Tons of snuggling and reading aloud bridges that gap of time when their reading ability can not possibly match their vocabulary and worldview capabilities. (This is what I most loved about using Sonlight curriculum in the early years of our homeschool.)

#6- I’m not shooting for information transfer.

My goal is not the mere acquisition of skills or downloading of data. Rather, by the time our children leave our home, my goal is that they will be curious, joyful, lifelong learners with a keen awareness of how God has made them– their gifts, abilities, and interests– and how and where those areas intersect with the path of life God has set before them, and the opportunities that exist to earn a living in the world around them.

#7- I’ve seen it work in our home, with a wide variety of learning styles and academic strengths. 

I have had precocious “naturally academic” children who spoke in clear-as-a-bell full sentences at age 2, and children who still lisp at age 6 and don’t seem to show much interest in natural “school” topics. I have auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learners (and that’s just in my first 3 children!). All of them have done better when I wait for their own individual skill-readiness to merge with their own individual maturity level (self-control, ability to focus, etc.), and their own individual interest in learning. Every. Single. One. in basically every. single. subject.

#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).

Waiting until skill, interest, and maturity converge has become a great “marker” for how we approach home education, and I’m convinced- it has made for much less frustration (on both their part & mine) and much more “success” in the things we tackle and pursue.

#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.

Instead of reviewing notecards or practicing the same simplified-reading book 80 gazillion times, they have time to water the peppers and notice the rapid growth of the squash. They have time to find frogs and learn what they eat and how to care for them. They have time to color and play checkers. They have time to build and do and discover principles of aeronautics, physics, and architecture in real life before they encounter them in a class. They have time to learn to work hard and exercise self-discipline over their bodies and their emotions… both being important lessons for their long-term success in life.

They have YEARS of formal learning ahead of them, but in these early years, instead of formal learning, they have informal learning time in the real world. 

#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. 

This is how Abraham Lincoln , FDR, Aristotle, and… well, most everyone prior to 1875 or so, was raised. This is how the “greats” of the past developed curiosity, conviction, and determination… by encountering the real world and having some grasp of it and questions about it before setting out to pursue their formal, regimented education.

“The child who is a skilled thinker and adept learner can adjust to whatever the future doles out. She can spackle in those holes in her knowledge, and she knows how to acquire skills she needs to do things she wants to do. On the other hand, the child who shoveled down his prepared education but lost his curiosity, whose interests withered away and were replaced by a general malaise and desire to just be left alone — that child has a bagful of knowledge and skills with varying expiration dates and dubious ability or desire to acquire more.” ~Lori McWilliam Pickert

 

“The question is not,––how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education––but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?”  ~Charlotte Mason 

Further reading:

  1. Better Late Than Early: A New Approach to Your Child’s Education — by Raymond & Dorothy Moore
  2. Start Schooling Later Than Age 5, Say Experts
  3. Too Many Assessments, Far Too Soon for Schoolchildren
  4. Better Late Than Early in the Education of Children?
  5. Letter from the Save Childhood Movement: Government should stop intervening in the early childhood
  6. One local friend’s approach: Later Rather Than Early

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Jess Connell

Jesus-follower, Happy wife, Mom of 8 neat people. Former world-traveler, now settled in Washington. Host of Mom On Purpose podcast (momonpurpose.com). I write and wrangle kids.

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25 Responses

  1. Allison says:

    I love this! When my oldest (now 6 1/2) was 4, I attempted to teach him to read. While he showed interest at first, he soon began to protest, and so I stopped. Just after he turned 5, he started asking me to teach him, and instead of jumping on it, I *tried* to talk him out of it. He insisted that he wanted to learn, and so we started. It was semi-slow going for a year or so (and I didn’t push it very hard), but he made definite progress. One morning shortly after he turned 6, I heard him sitting in his room reading aloud the steps to a science experiment he wished he could do. From that day on, his reading skills improved dramatically and quickly. Now, 6 months later, he reads all the time and (aside from 20 minutes or so of reading curriculum each day), without coercion. I am definitely a believer in allowing it to progress naturally!

    My 4 1/2 year old, on the other hand, doesn’t even know his letters yet, and is very resistant to the idea of learning them. While I do work with him from time to time (mostly without him knowing I’m doing it), I’m trying not to push him. It’s hard though when there’s so much pressure from our culture (even from his pediatrician) to be sure he knows his letters now. I’d much prefer to wait until he’s in kindergarten to push him at all, and if it takes him until he’s 7 to read, that would be okay with me. He’s a perfectly bright and downright precious little boy, and I have no doubt he’ll be reading perfectly well in college!

  2. Kendra says:

    I found another post I wrote on this subject while I was still sort of working out this theory:

    https://myorangerie.wordpress.com/2013/07/11/the-grand-experiment/

    Why does it take so long to shake off the effects of the schooling we received and really get this? Kind of like your comment on your previous post of homeschooling quotes where you said you still struggle with judging people in their outward “coolness” etc. because of your public school education. Totally identified with that.

    • Allison says:

      Hey, thanks for the link to your post! I’m a total stranger, I realize, but I did find it helpful. :)

      I’m a 2nd generation homeschooler, and like you, my own mom was influenced by Charlotte Mason. When my oldest was 4, my mom passed down to me her copy of the book, “A Charlotte Mason Companion” by Karen Andreola, and it (along with my mom herself!) has heavily influenced my thoughts on this subject.

      • Kendra says:

        Thank you, Allison! Do you know, I’m not sure if I’ve even read that book, which my friend lent me a few months ago!? I’d better pull it out!

    • Jess Connell says:

      Haha I particularly love this at the end:

      “Reread disclaimer if you think I’m all wrong and wait twelve years. You may be right. Who knows how this experiment will turn out?”

      It’s true. Time will tell.

  3. Emily says:

    Thanks for this. My son turned 5 this summer and the “is he going to kindergarten” question is starting to make me crazy. No! He’s staying home! He still naps! He still begs to play if we have a full week of activity and he isn’t home enough! He has so many years of school ahead of him, and I can’t get this time back! I’m taking a very laid back approach at this point, but you’re so right about cultivating your kids’ love of learning. G got a book about space for his birthday and he LOVES it! He now knows all the planets among other things. I would say that is probably more beneficial than requiring him to learn sight words and color in the lines. I appreciate your insight!

    • Jess Connell says:

      I don’t know why I didn’t respond at the time, but I love your answer– “the “is he going to kindergarten” question is starting to make me crazy. No! He’s staying home! He still naps!”

      Very true. 4… 5… even 6 years old is so very very young. The “he still naps!” comment tells it all. :)

  4. Kate says:

    I may just be saying this because of my particular experience with my particular children but I found myself really disagreeing with a lot of this post. (Which is unusual! I like you work!) The false dichotomies were especially frustrating and very judgemental. I teach my children to read and I also read to them. To suggest that people only do one or the other is silly.
    Is it possible that were all just doing the best we can to serve the Lord and raise our children right? Just tell us what you do without putting down people who do it differently. That would maybe leave a little grace for the rest of us?

    • Jess Connell says:

      Yup, totally see where you’re coming from.

      I should have explained this in the article. The dichotomy comes from the study the Moores honed in on this particular book where two groups of same-aged kids actually did take the same amount of time and either (a) do an early push for reading with phonics, spelling, etc. or (b) do exploring/curious stuff with that same amount of time and no push toward reading.

      If I recall correctly, this is about what the results were: In second grade, the early readers read at a higher level. By third grade the groups had equal reading abilities. By fifth grade, the late readers read more often, and more widely, and the early readers showed less academic interest. Etc etc. so the conclusions aren’t comparing two children who were both homeschooled and one only does early phonics and the other doesn’t read till he’s 28 :) but rather, it compared two groups and shared findings from those results.

      So, not a false dichotomy, just perhaps not the exact mold your homeschool (or mine) fits into. That’s ok. Sorry for the unclear message there. Don’t want to communicate judgment and I’m sorry this initially did so for you.

  5. Amy says:

    I enjoyed your insight, and as my 7 yr old is still very uninterested in reading (although science and math are very advanced) I feel a lot of pressure to teach him to read soon. My mom was just in Finland and reminded me that they don’t even start the kids until the age of 7, and they have some of the highest academics in the world, so we will just keep at it, and I do think when he is ready, he will learn to read. He was also my oldest to be potty trained, and I should know that forcing it before they are ready is not going to work, but you get it from all sides to teach younger.

  6. Brittany says:

    I (respectfully) disagree. This seems like something that falls squarely into the “what works for me” category. The best age for formal learning to begin depends on the individual student, teacher, family dynamic (if homeschooling), and even state laws. There is no one “right” age, early or late.

    I’ve taught my kids to read at ages 3-4, and it’s always been a fun, special experience. (Native Reading by Timothy Kailing, is a great book on the subject, btw.) It’s time for just the two of us, playing games, working on reading simple stories, usually for short amounts of time. It’s not a push to shove information down their throat, but like giving them a key to further pursue their curiosity. Just to give you a picture of the other side. It’s not quite the drill/flashcard picture painted. :)

    We should certainly never be frustrating our children by pushing them to do things that are truly beyond their ability. Nor should we try to make them keep up with the Joneses or become some sort of parenting trophy. But I think there are many parents who love the Lord and are seeking what’s best for their children, who do it differently. And that’s okay…we can all practice a little self-forgetfulness.

  7. shannon bradbury says:

    I agree totally. Although we have not always had positive feedback on this idea on homeschooling, it has worked for us and my kids love to read because of it!

  8. Kondwani says:

    I find this refreshing and helpful – even though I am quite confident in what we are doing, I still sometimes question because the boys do not read as well as friends who are in mainstream education. But at the same time, one of the main reasons (there were so many good reasons!) for home education was not wanting to crush their natural curiosity and inquisitive desire to explore the world. The other day, I was listening to my six year old speaking, and he used some quite complex grammar perfectly. He uses words like ‘nevertheless’ appropriately, and its only when we are on the train or something and passers by comment on it, that I really notice that this is quite advanced. I think so much comes from the many read-alouds we share. I also agree that trying to get them to read very basic stories can be stultifying. What is working for us is having the six year old read stories to the three year old. That way they are ‘real’ books as opposed to ‘early readers’ which they seem to detect and detest quite quickly.

    But I also agree for other families it might be different. I know I read fluently at four, cannot remember ever learning and books were a huge part of my early childhood (mainly to escape the boredom of mainstream school!).

  9. Chelsea says:

    Wow, this post was right on time for me. I am homeschooling for the first time this year and I have a 6 yr old 1st grader, 4 year old pre-k, 2.5 toddler, and 7 month old baby. My oldest when to public school for Kindergarten but for various reasons I am choosing to homeschool. We started last week to ease into things and I am just about ready to pull my hair out already. The mistake I made was reading all these blogs of homeschool mommies and all their lovely classrooms and curriculum choices and Instagram perfect photos of happily compliant children. Well….not so much in my house. My 1st grade son doing reading and writing is like pulling teeth out of a cat! All he wants to do is play, have fun and do science experiments. I thought maybe I was doing something wrong and I needed to find another “perfect curriculum” or he just needed to OBEY and not throw tantrums. The truth is my son is VERY smart and comprehends and articulates his thoughts on a very high level. He is advanced in math as well and can spit out all sorts of facts about animal species I have never even heard of. And yet I was concerned that he will fall behind in Language Arts and I am a BAD MOM if I just let my kid play and do the things he is interested in. I mean, he should be properly writing his upper and lowercase letters seamlessly by the time he is 7?? This post just freed me up from some serious mommy guilt and possibly quite a few gray hairs. Thank you! I receive this for me and my family as an answer to the prayers I just prayed this morning asking for direction in homeschooling without so much drama.

    • Jess Connell says:

      Definitely deal with attitude and character before academics! You’re on the right track. Don’t look to the perfect outside… work on the inside person there inside you, and there inside him. Let God change you both, little by little, day by day. He is so faithful!

      I’m glad this was encouraging to you.

    • Kondwani says:

      Just a comment also – I try to avoid these ‘perfect homeschool blogs’ because they unintentionally discourage me! Our life seems far more messy and chaotic, and sometimes I seem to spend half the day getting them to be well disciplined (and even then seem to fall short). We could make a perfect picture occasionally, but life is just not that way (and I never met anybody in real life whose was!)

  10. Christina says:

    I agree except for the potty-learning comparison. Training late is not natural, nor is it the norm in the majority of the world. In most countries 1 year olds are fully trained– we UNTRAIN what is a natural impulse to not soil oneself in the West with our disposable diapers. We all were trained by 2 (ask your mom); it wasn’t until disposable dipes came along that the idea of “waiting until they are ready” came around (disposable dipe companies actually hired experts to say it was psychologically better). My kiddos (boys and girls) were all totally trained (day & night) by 2; 18 mos were fully day-trained. Not a lot of accidents or stress!

    • Jess Connell says:

      Yeah, I’ve trained 3 of our kiddos early (by 2 or before), but now I prefer to wait. I’ve found it to be easier and less stress for us all.

      With the early training, I’M the one who has to be uber-committed and always-tuned-in to their potty goings on in order to make it keep happening. Once they’re older, THEY’RE the ones who are committed and tuned in and make it keep happening. I prefer the latter.

      Different strokes for different folks.

      • Christina says:

        By all means, yes, everyone should do what works for them– but the comparison between delayed potty training (rather, diaper un-training) and delayed formal schooling is false in a large part because
        – delayed formal education is/has been the norm for most of human history & cultures.
        – delayed potty training (prologed diapering) has not (most of the world is appalled at the thought of training a child to sit in its own feces– they train from birth on)

        – formal education is not a natural instinct for all kids
        – staying clean & dry is a natural instinct for all mammals

        – formal education developmentally becomes possible later for most kids (not that individual skills arent possible early; plenty of kids want to read earlier etc. I’m talking attention span, ability to reason spatially, etc.)
        – sphincter control and a desire to stay dry is developmentally normal very young

        My point wasn’t that one way was better than another; my point was that the two shouldn’t really be compared. (I’ve found if you wait until after 18 mos or so you miss a window and get into a battle of wills.)

  11. Jess Connell says:

    Well, I don’t feel like arguing the point. I still like the analogy and think it’s excellent for this because it describes the *mindset of the mother*- that when you relax and don’t feel pressured, it eventually happens, and happens much more quickly, with less work and more ease, than it does early on.

    I had no idea of someone taking this afterthought of an analogy to the degree of “sphincter control.” :) But I see your point, there, and agree that the analogy can only go so far. I’m sure we can agree on this: it is not the most spot-on analogy ever. :)

    It simply came to mind as a similar mindset (for me).

  1. August 24, 2015

    […] of curiosity and overall, long-term academic strength for children to WAIT on academics. When academic abilities develop in partnership with a child’s natural curiosity— to WANT to know what’s written on the paper, to WANT to understand how to figure […]

  2. August 20, 2017

    […] 10 Reasons Why I Believe Formal Education is Better Late than Early, by Jess […]

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