10 Reasons I Believe Formal Education Is “Better Late Than Early”
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
- Better Late Than Early: A New Approach to Your Child’s Education — by Raymond & Dorothy Moore
- Start Schooling Later Than Age 5, Say Experts
- Too Many Assessments, Far Too Soon for Schoolchildren
- Better Late Than Early in the Education of Children?
- Letter from the Save Childhood Movement: Government should stop intervening in the early childhood
- One local friend’s approach: Later Rather Than Early
Subscribe to my newsletter, and I'll send monthly encouragement -- full of truth and grace for moms. SIGN UP, SO WE CAN KEEP IN TOUCH: