Everyone starts their children off at school when they're around 5-years-old. But, is this the best starting age for children at school. Many experts suggest this time is too early and we should wait until children are older. But, how old is old enough?
Picture this senario: At the end of the day. You sit by the fire and kick off your slippers. Jem, your seven-year-old, climbs onto your lap. You reach over him to pick up Pilgrim Progress, a favourite novel of yours, complete with colored pictures. You thumb through the book and find the tasselled bookmark.
About to enter a world of intrigue, Jem swings around and looks at you. “Please, Mom, pleeeeease! Can you show me how to read?” Imagine hearing those words from your seven-year-old. You’ll have to imagine because it’s an unusual scenario for two reasons. Firstly, your child is begging you to teach him to read (not you begging him). Secondly, most children learn to read much earlier.
Isn’t this a bit lazy (or perhaps negligent) to have not taught him to read? Surely he should have been taught much earlier - or should he have been?
'Catching Up' is Easy
Delaying formal education has many advantages.
Although many of us have been raised to prefer early rather than late schooling, evidence suggests this approach is not in the best interests of children and may be damaging. Studies by Raymond and Dorothy Moore, who studied thousands of research papers on the subject, suggest early schooling (ages 4, 5 and 6 ) is damaging to young children as they burn out before they reach third or fourth grade. The Moores concluded:
“All of the learning necessary for success in high school can be accomplished in only two or three years of formal skill study. Delaying mandatory instruction in the basic skills until the junior high school years could mean academic success for millions of school children who are doomed to failure under the traditional school system.”
In other words, you can teach a kid everything they need to know for high school without ever sending them to primary school.
The Moores argue delayed schooling works wonders for children’s enthusiasm to learn and learning maturity levels. They say delaying formal education will mean students quickly start passing their peers who had begun their education earlier (either in school or at home). Students who start their education later excel in their learning, behaviour and sociability.
Physical and Mental Toll of Starting School Too Early
Before they are older and more mature, early formal education may damage them physically if they become fustrated, confused, uncertain or even sometimes delinquent as a result of their disheartening experiences. Raymond Moore also mentioned the physical limitations surrounding early formal schooling, saying, children's central nervous systems are not yet insulated well enough to give a good foundation for thoughtful learning until after the age of 8. Moore also said, 'The eyes of most children are permanently damaged before age 12.’
A researcher on this problem of myopia in the Asian population says that because Asian children have massive pressure to succeed academically, they spend too many hours hunched up, pouring over books in the indoor environment. They consequently miss out on a sufficient amount of daylight exposure. The solution to myopia, often detected in elementary school, is to encourage children to head outdoors into the bright sunlight.
We should also consider individual differences when trying to determine when formal education starts. That is, not all 7-year-olds are mature enough to start formal education. Conversely, some children may be ready to learn at age 6 while others may want to wait until they’re older. Just like some kids go through puberty earlier than others, so some children’s brains develop faster than others.
Teenagers Getting Up Too Early To Attend School
We may even be making our teens get up too early. Research done by the National Home Education Research Institute suggests early starts for teenagers interfere with their much-needed sleep in the morning. According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, teens who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to be overweight, less active, drink, smoke and use illicit drugs.
But, children who get 8.5-9 hours of sleep a night can improve their health, safety and academic performance. Those who don’t get enough sleep minimise the amount of information they can absorb from school lessons, thereby nullifying the main reason they may have started formal education for – to learn!
Therefore, homeschooling teens are at a distinct advantage just because they’re allowed to sleep in and have the freedom to do their own thing! This freedom starts when we let our kids decide how they're going to learn (within reason) and when they're going to start their formal learning. Of course, this needs to be supervised, but most parents will find their children will be begging them to learn if parents can hold off teaching them their ABCs until the children themselves are ready.