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What Age?

April 15, 1995

Because some children are ready to begin learning to read at the age of four to six, it has been accepted as the time to start all children. Children are put in class rooms where they are continually bombarded with information and tested as to their progress. It takes twelve long hard years to drive the information into them. The system has been arranged so that as soon as a child's mental development will allow comprehension of even a small amount of the material, he is made responsible for it. The early maturing children have set the pace for the average. The later maturing children who are just as bright a year or two behind the others are always under a pile trying to keep up. In this competitive environment, they develop feelings of inadequacy. If he is not crushed by the sense of failure, the late maturing child may prove to be the brightest when he is grown. What they are doing is like moving into a house before it is finished. If you wait until the child's mental faculties are amply developed, in the fertile environment, there will come a craving to learn. At such a time, teaching is easy.

big book of homeschooling

For the sake of understanding, observe with me an imaginary experiment with two children of equal mental comprehension who will mature at the same time. The one in a traditional class room will be continually pushed to his limit. Before he is ready he will be made responsible for the information. Some of it he will comprehend right away much of it will just swim around his head until he matures to the point of comprehension. For the teacher it is sometimes like piling dry sand. It is a constant process of hammering it in — drill and test, drill and test. As he develops new mental rooms, the teacher waits outside to fill them with information. Most of what is thrown at him, he is not ready for, but they just keep slinging it in his direction until it sticks. The poor child is a professional student at six. He is filled with responsibilities and worries, with no mother to comfort him.

The other child in our experiment is at home at his mother's feet feeling secure and protected. He is mentally developing at the same pace, but his information rooms are not being challenged or filled before they are complete. He will appear to be two or three years behind the other child in our experiment. At seven or eight this child will begin to learn the school material that our other child was learning at six. The difference is that where it only takes an hour a day to teach the eight-year-old, it took eight hours a day to teach the six-year-old. And, our eight-year-old homeschooler is loving every minute of it. He is not being burnt-out by pressure and competition. He is not struggling to learn. His hunger is just being fed. The homeschool parent who is willing to wait for the mental and emotional development to occur will experience far less frustration and anxiety. And, the child will have fun learning.

I have observed that by the time the homeschooled children are fourteen or fifteen they have far surpassed their traditionally schooled counterpart, and that with one-tenth the effort.

- Michael Pearl

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4 comments on “What Age?”

  1. My son's are always praised for their intellect by every person we encounter. I think because my sons are willing to engage any aged person in deep conversation. People call them "Genius", "Smart Little Guys!", and the like. Little do they know, my 6 year old is not reading on his own as of yet, and my 8 year old did not learn to read until age 7. However, they both know far more than any child their age (that we have met, and we have lived all over the nation) about the world, history, science, and how to notice and care for people around them. We just keep on reading to them, and let them pick it up in their own time. If your child wants to read at age 2, that is a blessing for your child. If the child wants to learn to read at age 8, that is just fine. As a former teacher at an outdoor school, I can say that I feel the hundreds of children I met, the ones who learned the most were choosing when and how they were taking in information.

  2. AMEN! Now and then, this mother's heart does a "are the kids at the right level compared to. . ?"

    I was raised very academically minded with specific school hours and forced learning that took a lot of joy out of the process when things were pushed before we were ready (and I was homeschooled and love my Mom for doing it!) So when I married my husband who was raised the opposite (who went to university at 16 and was graduated with a professional degree at 23) iit was scary to think of NOT pushing academics to every child at the age of 4, but instead considering teaching as a way of life and utilizing the books as tools for goals etc.

    Once when I was talking to a SIL about homeschooling, she looked at my children and said "Your children can discuss intelligently (or try 😉 )anything people want to talk about, they know how to access information they need, they are joyful children who WANT to be with people and want to learn - good grief, they do the morning chores for the farm without you reminding them! They are more able to live in this world than anybody I know because they are living alongside you and learning everything and talking about everything with you and your husband instead of learning in an artificial environment where nothing is applicable, you forget 80% of it and learn at the pace of the slowest child in class while making fun of them (she is a well educated Berkley graduate)"

    To set this ridiculous mother's mind at ease, my husband (the smartest fellow I know) sat our oldest (9 years) down with standardized tests (which he NEVER does and he and I are staunchly opposed to!) and asked her to do the questions the best of her ability. She passed 5 grades higher than she is supposed to be and I thought what did that just tell me. Absolutely nothing about her ability to cope with the reality of this world and life!

    I flushed those irritating thoughts about education down the drain and continue to live joyfully with my husband and young family of girls (aged 9 and under) who can pump gas for the car, water the cows and even milk, butcher chickens (and want to learn dispatch the pigs next year!), answer phones intelligently, carry a conversation with elders and draw people out in encouraging ways, sew their own clothes out of pillowcases just because they can (and be thankful for the pillowcase even though they do have clothes and it was just a self imposed challenge :), who are humble, forgiving and compassionate (and joyfully obedient!), and do not have to be prissy, helpless, or simpering girls who just blindly follow what peers or others tell them to do (at the expense of sometimes being victims). And the 7 year old makes her daddy and I coffee every morning before breakfast and brings it to us wherever we are with a cheerful smile and slobbery kiss. It doesn't get much better 🙂

  3. Amen Heather! I need to be continually reminded not to be worried about their academic achievements and to focus on their overall development into responsible human beings who will not bulk at learning something new, and will be respectful servants in our world who can see those around them.

    I have been working slowly at teaching my son (age 7) how to read for a couple of years because he wanted to. But he is dyslexic and it has been a challenge for him. If i continue to go at his pace he does not get frustrated and doesn't even know that he is working with a "handicap" (as the world would call it). But if i were to push him i know i would make reading an enemy and he would hate it, and would feel inadequate.

    My son was not even talking at age 2, but his fine motor skills were off the charts! Just to say that children develop at different rates and what is the right time for one is not the right time or age for another. It does not mean that they are slow, just developing at a different rate. I know that my son will read well when it finally catches on because i did not make an enemy out of reading. How do I know? Because it happened to me! I have dyslexia. I struggled in school, trying to keep up with the rest and felt inadequate. I was 15 before reading became easy. I am not unintelligent; I have gone on to become a midwife, just can't spell for the life of me....But as Debi says, that is what spell check is for!