Teaching According to Readiness and Interest


With the huge focus the last several years on teaching babies and very young toddlers how to read, I think there are many parents out there feeling inadequate if their preschooler isn’t already breezing through books. Our culture tends to equate education and accomplishment with worth. If a child is “behind” most of the other children his age, it is often seen as an indication that something is “wrong” with him. In many situations, the child is treated as though he has failed.

I am concerned about this mentality. Yes, when a child has real developmental delays, they need to be addressed. My concern is with assuming that just because we *can* teach a very young child to read (or whatever other developmental milestone), that it means that we *should*.

Always Learning

From the time a baby in his mother’s womb becomes aware of his surroundings, he is learning. Motion, light, sound, touch… before he is even born he is learning. Learning through experience continues and should be encouraged and enabled by parents. Time should be taken to explore with them, answer questions (endless, precious questions!) and experience the excitement of learning new things with them. This type of learning is an awareness and study of the life happening around a child. Formal education is another animal, entirely.

Formal Education

I’m not necessarily talking about preschool and kindergarten, though they are part of it, but also well-meaning parents who are trying to give their children the best start by drilling them with facts. A three-year-old who is made to sit down at the table and drill alphabet flashcards is learning to hate to learn (unless this is something that he initiates because it is fun for him). If a young child is capable of learning something and has an interest in doing so, by all means- teach them. Make it fun and don’t push and pressure if they lose interest. Formal teaching becomes a problem when it’s not about learning and loving to learn, but about accomplishment and worth.

Wait Awhile

It takes hours, days, weeks, months and years longer to teach a child something he isn’t ready to learn. Why not just wait? If a three-year-old must be drilled for hours a week on the names and sounds of letters, he isn’t ready to learn them. Why not wait until he’s five or six or even seven and teach him when it will be easy and fun? Why not postpone learning in each subject until it can be done when a child is developmentally ready to learn it quickly and easily?

As parents, we love our children and we want them to succeed. In that loving desire, we can so easily become convinced that what is “best” for them is that they learn as much and as early as possible. After all, we don’t want them to be “behind” the other children their age. Being accepted by their peers becomes more important to us and to them than learning well and loving to learn.

Teach It Faster

So many parents (especially homeschooling ones) complain about their kids being bored or frustrated or confused by what they are supposed to be learning. Instead of wasting all those early years on misery, why not teach them about real life (how to cook, clean, garden, camp, build, etc.) and postpone the book learning until they can breeze right on through it and love the feeling of accomplishment?

By the same token, when you run across something that they really love and excel in, don’t feel pressured to hold back until they are the “right” age for learning it. Do you have a math whiz? Nourish that passion! Provide advanced learning materials when it’s appropriate. If you homeschool, that is easy to do, but if you don’t, don’t feel like your child is stuck with fourth grade science when she could easily do sixth grade. Supplement their formal education with whatever they need.

Focus On The Goal

Our goal for our girls is that they learn how to learn and that they love to learn. Yes, there are important things that we want to teach them in each subject, but not at the expense of the joy they have in learning. We take advantage of all of their natural curiosity, discover their interests and nurture their passions. That is so much better than being able to boast about them being “ahead of the other kids” or “getting straight A’s”. Those things won’t matter when they are grown, but loving to learn can last a lifetime. πŸ™‚

If you’d like to learn more about our vision for homeschooling, here are some more posts.

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14 thoughts on “Teaching According to Readiness and Interest

  1. This is such a frustration for me!!! We have been very laidback about schooling because of this very reason, but it’s so frustrating to have the awkward, judgmental conversations that start with “What?!? You’re 3 year old can’t even write his name yet? And you think you’re going to homeschool him? He’s going to be so behind. You’re doing him a disservice.”

    Kids will catch up, because they will learn it more quickly if you wait until they’re ready. I completely agree. It seems like, more and more, it’s just becoming a race.

    We started K w/ my son this year, who turned 5 in mid-August. He was just diagnosed with high-functioning autism and has all the symptoms of severe dyslexia (and then some), so we’re making this pre-school and he’ll be doing K again next year.

    We have to ask ourselves–Am I trying to teach my child for his benefit, or so that I can win the race and be “better” than some other mom because he’s ahead.

    • Very well said, Crystal! It should be all about what will benefit the child, not our sense of competition or our egos.

      Thanks so much for commenting! πŸ™‚

  2. I needed to read this today. I wanted to begin teaching Bug to read, but I am seeing that he is not yet ready, so we are holding off. A part of me felt bad about that, but he is learning new stuff every day and the reading will come with time. I loved that you pointed out teaching our kids how to do life skills. That is so important and so many parents completely ignore it.

  3. Farmlife Chick says:

    Wonderful post! So true! Children will eagerly learn when they are ready!! Parents tend to get impatient with the learning process or simply don’t understand it, OR feel pressure from groups, family, neighbors etc. Unnecessary and often burdensome expectations are set on parent and child. So glad you wrote this post!:)

  4. Hello there…visiting from the link up over at intentional.me I don’t homeschool, but I empathize with you. It seems that before a baby even leaves it mama’s womb its in some kind of competition to keep up with others. I have four daughters…each of them had their own pace of learning, their own strengths and weaknesses. The last, 6 years old is displaying some symptoms of ADD (which incidentally my 3rd, now 16, was the same way). Suddenly we have labels for these children. My mother in law(deceased now) would say “let the children be, nothing’s wrong with them..they’ll outgrow it.”

    She was right! My forgetful, disorganized young daughter is now a focused (if still disorganized) adolescent, heading into the future as a young woman with her dreams and goals…even if they are not the same as her older sisters’ I’m keeping my eye on the 6 year old, but with prayer and patience…I hope never to hear that ADD word brought up.

    God bless!

  5. I think you and I have very similar views on homeschooling. Off to read your other posts! Thanks for sharing this with the Thrive @ Home link-up. I’m pinning this to our board! πŸ™‚

  6. This was a superb post!! This was the thought 25+ years ago when I first started homeschooling. There were books written along these lines by Dr. Raymond & Dorothy Moore and another book by Dr. Elkhind about the hurried child. I waited until my children were ready. This meant one read at five, another at 4 and the others to 9. I taught my children using a pre-school and kindergarten curriculum unit study about God’s Creation. Not one of those fancy popular programs that cram early phonics down their throats. We are homeschooling for God’s glory and although academics are important that can wait and they will learn all the faster. Learning is supposed to be for a lifetime. So, be encouraged ladies!!

    Thanks for linking this up over at WholeHearted Home.

    • What an encouraging comment! Thank you so much, Judith! I’m not familiar with those books, so I’ll be sure to look them up, soon.

      Thanks for hosting the link-up! πŸ™‚

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