Some things you just learn by accident, and they have a way of changing your homeschool. That’s what happened for us with math. With my second child, it was not intentional, but with the next three, I realized that delaying math instruction might be a good thing.
When I say I learned this by accident, what I really mean is that life taught me a few things. Thanks to some changing life circumstances in 2002, I found myself a single, working, homeschooling mom of two. Let me tell ya, that puts a kink in your lesson plans! (Read my full post: Think Outside the Textbook here)
Because of so many demands on my time, some of our formal schooling was delayed unintentionally. At the time, I felt worried and stressed. Would my girls be smart? Would they be terribly behind their peers? How would I keep up?
But hindsight is definitely 20/20, and looking back all these years later, I can say that it was a wonderful lesson for this teacher.
I began teaching my second child formal math lessons around age eight. (Incidentally, that’s also when she began reading lessons.) We used Math-U-See Alpha (basic addition and subtraction). She picked it up quickly and moved into the next level. What I noticed over the years was that she learned quickly and progressed at a regular pace through other levels.
With child number 3, I did the same, and the results were the same. So I continued with children 4 and 5. It was amazing! They picked up the basic math concepts quickly and moved through the books faster than expected.
By high school, all of my kids evened out at math levels close to their peers. (Now, this is not super important to me, but since it is to the rest of the world, I wanted to mention it.) What’s important to me, and in the grand scheme of things, is that they learn the math that they need to be functioning adults. Whether they speed through it in school or finish up just in time for graduation doesn’t really matter, does it?
This doesn’t mean that my children didn’t count until they were eight, or that they were numerically challenged. It just means we didn’t do formal math lessons at first. We still counted objects, counted by 5s and 10s, counted money, learned to tell time, and did arithmetic without them knowing it. They were learning about fractions with cooking and skip counting with money. They learned the basics of multiplication and division without ever seeing those problems on paper. I believe this is why formal instruction went so quickly when it finally began. They were ready.
So what does this accomplish?
Childhood. It’s a gift we often deprive our children of with too many expectations. The race to achieve is often pushed on children earlier and earlier in life. We all feel compelled to help our children succeed. I know my own parenting years began that way. It’s only because of big life changes that I even ventured down another path!
When children aren’t forced to meet arbitrary educational goals to make their parents or teachers proud, they get to live life the way God intended for them: learning through play, through daily life with family, through conversation, and with gentleness.
But it’s not just me that says so. There is a lot of research and evidence to support delayed formal schooling.
“A new study finds strong evidence that delaying kindergarten by a year provides mental health benefits to children, allowing them to better self-regulate their attention and hyperactivity levels when they do start school.
The study, titled “The Gift of Time? School Starting Age and Mental Health” and published this week by the National Bureau of Economic Research, found that these benefits — which are obviously important to student achievement — persist at least until age 11. Stanford Graduate School of Education Prof. Thomas Dee, who co-authored the study with Hans Henrik Sievertsen of the Danish National Center for Social Research, was quoted in a Stanford release as saying:
“We found that delaying kindergarten for one year reduced inattention and hyperactivity by 73 percent for an average child at age 11 and it virtually eliminated the probability that an average child at that age would have an ‘abnormal,’ or higher-than-normal rating for the inattentive-hyperactive behavioral measure.” (Washington Post)
Attention spans definitely benefit!
But even more than the physical and mental behavioral benefits, studies have found that children learn more quickly when formal instruction is delayed (which is exactly what I have found in my little one-room-school example).
In his article When Less is More: The Case for Teaching Less Math in School, Peter Gray tells the story of an Ithaca, NY school superintendent who put this to the test back in 1929. The superintendent instructed his principles to delay arithmetic instruction until the sixth grade. As you might expect, the results were very surprising:
“The results were remarkable. At the beginning of their sixth-grade year, the children in the experimental classes, who had not been taught any arithmetic, performed much better than those in the traditional classes on story problems that could be solved by common sense and a general understanding of numbers and measurement. Of course, at the beginning of sixth grade, those in the experimental classes performed worse on the standard school arithmetic tests, where the problems were set up in the usual school manner and could be solved simply by applying the rote-learned algorithms. But by the end of sixth grade, those in the experimental classes had completely caught up on this and were still way ahead of the others on story problems. “
Raymond and Dorothy Moore, pioneers in the homeschooling movement in the 1980s, wrote a classic book, Better Late Than Early. If you can find a good used copy somewhere, pick it up, or get the Kindle version on Amazon.
So What Should the Children Do?
In our world of younger and younger school days, it’s so foreign to think about just letting kids play. Given free time, a few objects to use, limited screen time, and time with family, kids instinctively know what to do. And the not-so-surprising thing is that they are learning constantly!
The Homeschool Mom shares a great list of examples that show how much kids learn without formal academics, including:
- listening to Mom read aloud
- cooking and baking together
- exploring outdoors
- making art together
- asking questions
- caring for animals
and a lot more! Go read the full article here.
Childhood is not a race, though we often feel that it is. That’s because of our modern obsession with grades, test scores, and college entrance. But delaying math instruction is not going to hurt those things, and it may actually improve them.
Children who are not forced to begin formal schooling at an early age seem to enjoy learning so much more than their peers in formal school. They enjoy learning naturally, and as they grow, they love applying concrete lessons to what they have already discovered.
Before I close I want to say that there are kids who LOVE formal lessons and thrive on workbooks and school, even before they are academically ready. That’s okay, too, because the beauty of homeschooling is in the freedom! I have had some of my kids beg to “do school” like their older siblings, so I let them use flashcards and simple dollar store workbooks. They would spend a few minutes a day on these and be so happy with their accomplishments.
I’m encouraging you to think outside the box. Don’t copy public education. There’s a reason your kids aren’t there, so don’t try to copy their system. Delaying formal math instruction might be a good thing for your family!