When Should I Start Homeschooling my Child?

There are many questions facing a homeschooling parent. One of the biggest is when to start homeschooling.

Before I answer that question, let’s get something out of the way.

Homeschooling is life. Life is homeschooling.

And it’s an adventure.

True homeschooling is not “School-at-home”, where your child sits at a desk for five hours a day working from textbooks.

Some people homeschool this way and it works for them. I couldn’t. There were too many exciting things to look at, read about, experiment with.

We never spent more than 3 hours max on bookwork on any given day throughout our school years (including high school). 

Related: How to let go of the traditional school mindset 

But back to our topic:

What age should you start homeschooling your child?

From the time they are born! If you’ve taught your child to sing a song, tie their shoes, or how to dress themselves, then you’ve been homeschooling for years.

Any thoughtful parent homeschools their child long before they are officially ‘ready’ for formal schooling.

How does homeschooling work?

Homeschool is about making use of learning opportunities. Seizing the moment when your kids ask a question about the weather or the stars or laws of the country or how we get milk.

Homeschool is about teaching your kids how to learn and where to find information. It’s about keeping their natural curiosity alive. It’s about teaching them to work, to solve problems, and resolve conflict.

Homeschool is about exploring nature, observing animals and plants, and taking things apart to see how they work.

It’s about allowing your kids to flourish in the areas they excel in, and strengthening their weak areas.

Homeschool is about communication, innovation, setting goals, persevering through difficulties, helping your kids find their passion and purpose in life, and about building character.

When is the best time to homeschool?

Now! No matter the age.

You should start homeschooling the moment your child is born. Because life is homeschooling.

To give you an idea of what this looks like, here’s an extractof the year-end report I wrote for my kids in 2005. They were 10, 8, and 6 at the time. This will give you an idea of the learning we did that year, without textbooks (we did do some textbook work too).

  • The children watched a house being built from start to finish (for my parents). They helped to mix concrete and throw the foundations and slab for the floors.
  • We went on holiday to the sea for two weeks and took note of the changes in the sea as the wind and weather changed. We noted the times of the tides, explored the rocks and pools, and learned to snorkel.
  • A beach walk to Diaz’s Cross served as the catalyst for a project on Bartholomew Diaz.
  • We read 17 books this year. We read about beavers, a pet robin, and skunks (science); Helen Keller, Rebecca Boone (wife of Daniel Boone) (History); stories of missionaries to Zambia, Borneo, and Burma (History and geography). We also read poetry.
  • We attended two cattle sales. We discussed why certain animals sell well and others not, and how an auction works. Thrown in for good measure was a trip to the hospital where we all got to see a cast being put on Ryan’s arm after he fell and cracked it. We talked about the difference between a greenstick fracture and a normal fracture.
  • Countless discussions on world events, drought and its implications, stars versus planets, marsupials, how to spend money wisely, and how to begin a friendship with the opposite sex.
  • The children watched kittens being born, followed their progress, and taught them to eat and drink. They faced the reality of death when one of the kittens drowned.
  • The kids observed birds building nests. They saw the eggs in the nest and then the babies hatched. We discussed the advantages and disadvantages of having cats – no rats, but they also catch baby birds.
  • We watched the vet perform a post-mortem on a cow that had cancer and died. He pointed out the organs and showed the difference between healthy and diseased. He removed the lungs and blew into them to show how they work. (Eeew!)
  • This year the children took over many household chores. They also worked on the farm a lot. They learned how to handle cattle, how to think and plan ahead to avoid mix ups with herds. They developed perseverance and stamina. (Later they learned how to inject cattle, not only in the rump but in the eyelid too, to treat opthalmia).
Children exploring in long dry grass

Oh, I got horribly sidetracked. We were having such fun doing real life we forgot about the important stuff! The books! 

Let’s talk about formal schooling.

When should I start formal schooling with my child?

A child is capable of learning many things before he is officially ready for formal education. By now you should have been doing lots of the things we’ve talked about so far.

In their book, Better Late than Early, Raymond and Dorothy Moore use psychological studies to show that most children are not ready for formal education until around 8 to 10 years of age. They suggest that formal learning should begin, at the earliest, at around age 7.

They maintain that a child will learn quickly and more effectively when they are ready. By waiting, you will reduce the frustrations of a child attempting to tackle concepts he is not ready to tackle.

When should you start formal schooling with your child?

When they’re ready.

How do I know when my child is ready to do formal schooling?

Formal schooling is merely the continuation of the very natural act of observing what your child seems eager to learn about the world around them, and helping them learn step-by-step, at a pace that keeps up with their desire but doesn’t frustrate.

Here are some signs your child is ready for more formal learning:

  • Your child can write his name
  • He recognises primary colours by name
  • Your child can trace basic shapes
  • He can count from 1-10
  • Your child can dress herself
  • She can cut safely with scissors
  • Can name body parts
  • Can identify left from right
  • Knows position in space and direction (up, down, under)
  • Your child has good balance
  • Good eye-hand co-ordination
  • Can draw a house or a tree
  • Understands and remembers instructions
  • Can distinguish between different shapes and sounds
  • Your child can sort items into categories/types
  • Can tell a story
  • Can run easily, and climb and move with agility
  • Throw and catch a ball
  • Walk along a straight line
  • Your child has a good concept of time – weekdays, seasons, morning/afternoon
  • Understands cause and effect
  • Can listen to a story and recall the events in sequence
  • Your child can memorise simple songs
  • Identify rhyming words
  • Hear the beginning and ending sounds in 3-letter words like bat
  • Is able to concentrate on a single task for at least 20 minutes

If your child meets many of these criteria, then use trial and error. Try doing some bookwork and see how your child copes. They might start off well but then fizzle out. Back off. Give it some time and try again later. The last thing you want to do is burn your kids out before they even get started.

It’s ok for your child to struggle a little, but if the experience is more negative than positive they will soon lose the desire to continue.

Don’t be in a hurry to start formal schooling

Don’t start too soon. If I could go back and do things again I’d wait a bit longer with my kids. One I started at 8, the other two at around 7. I know with at least one of them I should have waited much longer.

Does that mean you do nothing while you are waiting? No! There are lots of ways to teach language, math, and reading, without using formal methods. And in the meantime, do life!

But do it with intention. Do it with purpose. Talk about what you are doing. Observe. Listen. Notice. Analyze. Think.

See life through new eyes. Recognise learning opportunities. Rethink your ideas about what school is. Set yourself free to learn with your kids and start an adventure you’ll never regret.

Have your ideas of homeschooling changed? What do you need to do differently today? Is your child ready for formal schooling or should you wait a while?

About The Author

Jennifer Lovemore

Jennifer homeschooled all three of her kids-with no teaching qualification. Her kids are grown now but she is still passionate about homeschooling. She lives in South Africa.

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