As children are pushed to achieve academic goals at earlier and earlier ages, the incidence of learning disabilities is growing at an alarming (some say epidemic) rate. There may be a host of root causes, from immune response issues to dietary and familial problems, but one factor is susceptible to immediate control by parents who choose to home school, and that is the age at which traditional academic work is introduced to their children.
Teaching and learning are neither difficult nor mysterious. It does not take a trained expert to teach the phonetic code to a child who is ready. Ready is the operative word. As a former first-grade teacher who learned to read in the first grade, I once thought all children could and should learn to read at age 6. It took a determined homeschooling neighbor, my own “late” reading daughters, and the research of pioneering home school advocates Raymond and Dorothy Moore to convince me otherwise.
Dr. and Mrs. Moore’s first book, School Can Wait, and its twin for laymen, Better Late Than Early, introduced me to the facts about education and child development. The Moores collected early childhood research from medicine, ophthalmology, neurology and psychology and came to the inescapable conclusion that for most children, the optimum age to begin formal academics is between the ages of 8 and 12! For those of us steeped in the culture of early academics, this is a strange pill to swallow. But the Moores didn’t stop with mere laboratory research; they studied home school families in the ’70s and ’80s to see what happened when children were free to learn at a more natural pace. The result was several more books, culminating with The Successful Family Homeschool Handbook. This volume elaborates on “The Moore Formula” they developed over the years as they combined research with practical application.
The “Moore Formula” includes three elements in approximately equal portions: study, work and service. Though they do not recommend formal academic studies before age 8 and in some cases as late as 12, this does not mean that the child does not learn anything until age 8. Children are learning voraciously from birth, and only the roadblock of clumsy “schooling” can hinder or stop a child’s otherwise insatiable thirst for knowledge. Books are useful and important tools, but for a young child, the world is filled with much better learning opportunities than can be found on the printed page alone. When a child is allowed to explore and question and wonder, whole worlds of interest can open that might never be discovered otherwise. In this homeschooling style, a child might learn to read at 5, 7 or 12, depending on the child.
This more relaxed early learning/teaching style will incorporate important developmental areas often neglected or ignored by formal curricula: listening, hand-eye coordination, large motor skills, spatial relationships, personal relationships, knowledge about the physical environment, memory development, imagination, logic and many more. Because of the overwhelming presence of electronic media in our lives, children often have difficulty using their own imagination or even listening to a story without pictures. They are so bombarded with constant sound from radio, TV and electronic games that they can hardly think for themselves. Giving children time in the early years (hopefully with a minimum of TV, etc.) to develop physically, neurologically and emotionally allows them to move into formal academics with a maximum of preparedness and energy.
Delayed academics does not mandate delayed reading; it encourages parents to wait until their children are ready. Until that time, parents can read to their children, play games with letters and sounds, and watch for signs that their children are beginning to catch on to the code. Once that happens, you cannot stop a child from reading. Some will move quickly and others will make slower progress, but as long as the instruction is phonetic (this is vital), children will make gradual progress until they are reading at an adult level.
With our children, we used the Moore Formula instead of a formal curriculum. The girls worked at many jobs and invented as many businesses, including one, Fun Ed, that is still thriving as part of the Excellence In Education Resource Center. They were involved in numerous service projects culminating in overseas mission work.
This happy ending would not have been possible without the concept of “delayed academics,” for our daughters would have been labeled early and often had we taken our little non-readers to the “experts.” Thankfully, we went instead to the Moores, who told us that as long as they were making progress, we should not worry. They were right!
As homeschoolers, we have rejected the educational “system” for a variety of reasons; we have stepped outside the box. Remember that the box includes much more than just the building. Stepping outside the box and giving our children the very best tailor- made education includes questioning the school schedule and curriculum as well. Things that are mass-produced are never of the finest quality, and the same goes for a copy of a mass-produced item.
The best education for your child is one that is developed for his or her unique learning schedule and learning style. Only the parent can judge the appropriateness of the schedule by watching for things to “click,” but we can get quite a bit of guidance from Raymond and Dorothy Moore’s many books on homeschooling and by Willis and Hodson’s Learning Style Profile found in Discover Your Child’s Learning Style. Trying to get a head start by pushing early academics can backfire, causing difficulties for years to come. Instead of worrying about a “learning disability” because your child does not fit the style and sequence of “in the box” schools, spend your energy on developing your child’s natural interests. You will be amazed at the results.
This article was written by Martin and Carolyn Forte — its full-length version may be found at www.excellenceineducation.com