So, you think you might want to homeschool?
Since I am in contact with many people in this position – I thought I would collect some of my most frequently offered tips in one place.
My first piece of encouragement is to not rush, or feel pushed, into formal lessons too soon. Our current system of beginning academic studies and “readiness” preparation beginning as young as 3 years old – has robbed childhood. For context, Charlotte Mason didn’t recommend beginning formal lessons until 6 yrs. old. I didn’t do a.n.y.t.h.i.n.g with my oldest until she was 7 and she was, and is, fine!
For clarification, this age limit was intended to be a protectant, not a tether. Some kids might be ready for some things sooner – but in my experience I have seen that it is best to wait. (Also beware if your Little is also your oldest that you don’t slip into the – my kid is exceptional/ advanced/ etc. They seem big to you, but they are babies and you will see that in hindsight.) Childhood is short, they will never have this time again, set up boundaries and preserve it for them as long as you can.
The motivations for beginning lessons sooner rather than later tend to fall into two categories.
The first is the academic pressure to perform and be prepared and not “fall behind”. I have seen that this thought is often rooted in fear - although it can masquerade as other things. Step back and search your heart. While you do – consider that this fear is proving to be unfounded. Studies have proven that early academics show little benefit after the 3rd grade, meaning that much of what is done with children in these early years is coaxing and grooming developmental goals (learning to jump through hoops) and not genuine education. When students are developmentally equal and ready – usually by around 3rd grade - the illusion of “advantage” levels off. In the mean-time the children who were scheduled and prodded missed a golden era of their lives, never again available to them, along with a whole set of executive function skills (a better marker for success than IQ) best attained by free play.
Playing is the work of childhood. Play is serious business and new research into executive function is pointing a damning finger at our society’s micromanagement of early childhood. This is a time when the brain requires space to ask itself, what next, and develop the capacity to respond. There are unique windows of optimal time when these skills can develop, and we are crowding them out in our push for an ACT score that is becoming more and more useless as a determiner for success in collegeo, so much so that more and more colleges and universities are becoming test optional!
The second reason I have seen that parents might want to begin lessons sooner is that somewhere around this age (3-6) some parents and some children begin to desire a little more… something to do. To this person I would like to point out Ms. Mason’s “List of Attainments for a 6 Yr. Old”. (See the link at the end of this article.)
This list offers such a special glimpse. Reading between the lines we see the fruit of a variety of purposeful interactions. Some nature, some culture, some communication, some attention, some general awareness about the world and the people who live in it. It contains the kinds of things a child is naturally ready for and will be leaning towards yet may be getting nudged out due to busyness or screens.
As we look at this list there is the temptation to formalize it in order to make sure it all happens. Don’t. This is not a to-do list but a guide of ideas. You are not a failure if all of these things don’t happen for your child by 6 – they certainly didn’t for mine, but they do give us direction in the sorts of things that could be done if you, or they, feel inclined.
My third bit of advice is to encourage you to use this time for your own development: things like your understandings, goals and habits, your reading, your devotions. More will be caught than taught in this wild world of homeschooling and your life, moods, values, and rhythms will create a sort of atmosphere that your child will breathe in every day. What would you have them take in? This is overwhelming and humbling, but true.
And finally – one of the things that will benefit your homeschooling days the most is the simple ability for your kids to respect and obey what you ask of them. This sounds simple – but it is pivotal. This is something that I have seen to be one of the biggest deterrents to successful homeschooling. Some parents move straight from a: “Do whatever you want for however long you want.” and a, “What do you want to do next?” mode of parenting to lessons and – the kids balk as soon as the novelty wears off.
Even at a very young age (beginning around 3) we can begin to gently instill in our children a sense of ought, of must. Ms. Mason writes about this and one of the points she brings out is that ought and must are not merely for children but for adults as well! We as parents have authority, but it is “deputed authority”. We too operate under certain oughts. We should let our children hear and see that. We should demonstrate how to happily live in that space, as powerful people who are not forced, but rather self-compelled - let them hear the inner workings occasionally.
Sometimes kids think that to be an adult is to do whatever they want. This is not true. There are times and places and ways for all people. This is part of what we can begin instilling early on. Simple things like, courtesies, dinner times, bedtimes, family obligations, church and community commitments. When we tell them no, we should ensure that it is not casual and changeable but thought out and holds firmly. Let them hear the happy call of duty and model what the response should look like.
Gentle training might look like holding to a leaving time or clean-up time while admitting that it would be more fun to stay or continue playing. Help them see that rules are not something we are doing to them, but rather guidelines for life that we all live under. I am not an advocate of explaining every dot and tittle. There may be a need for that at times – but in general the goal should be that you are such a sensible and trustworthy person in authority, that you have modeled it so well, that they respond to the -ought- not the explanation. The recognition and respect of the personhood of the child, as well as the proper application of “masterly inactivity” will be insurance against the parent becoming an autocrat.
So, you have Littles and you think you might want to homeschool? That is great! I believe that homeschooling has the potential to be the best educational experience out there. As you begin to dip your feet in, consider some of these things, pray and seek God for wisdom and don’t forget to listen!
These are exciting times for you and your family!
Blessings on you and your efforts as you nurture the next generation. Your decision has the potential to not only benefit you and yours – but the rest of us as well!
Sara Timothy 2023
After composing this piece – Charlotte Mason Poetry made available an amazing pamphlet from Charlotte Mason’s schools. This was one of the recommended readings for all parents. It contains one of her pivotal ideas, “Turning Your Thoughts” and how to apply it in early years. This piece is a great conversation starter. Here is a direct link.