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Do We Have to Start Lessons at 6 Years Old?

Your six year old isn’t ready for lessons – is she doomed to a life of failure?

Your little one just turned 6 years old and you can finally start homeschooling! You’ve been waiting for this for months, dutifully following Charlotte Mason’s suggestion to delay academics until 6, and now you’re raring to go.

At first everything was fine. You were excited, little Junior was excited … but soon (was it days? weeks?) your once eager student started hiding.

Throwing himself backwards on the couch and screaming when you brought out the math book.

Putting his fingers in his ears and singing “La La La La Laaaaaaa” at the top of his lungs.

What is wrong? Are you just not cut out to homeschool?

Nah… what’s really happening is that your eager child is just not ready for formal lessons.

If you’ve read up on Charlotte Mason and have a young child, you know that she opposed formal lessons for children younger than six years old.

I know it’s tough to wait when you’re chomping at the bit to offer the richness of a CM education to your child. Some moms start sit-down lessons the month – or even week – their child turns that magical age.

But is this really the right choice?

Many children simply aren’t ready for academic sit-down lessons when they are newly six years old. Six and a half or even fully seven is often a much better choice for most. I’m not a neuro-anything-expert, but it has to do with brain development. If your child isn’t ready, it doesn’t mean that he or she will never be ready.


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How to know if your child isn’t ready for lessons

The first question you’re probably asking right now is, “But how do I know if my child isn’t ready?”

There are no hard and fast rules here. In general though if you see any of the following signs:

  • resistance to lessons
  • tears (theirs or yours)
  • throwing himself backwards on the couch and screaming
  • spinning in circles laughing and not paying attention
  • running out of the room and giggling

or any variation thereof… wait for a few more months.

… Even if your child has already been to public or private school and could sit through the entire day there.

… Even if your child has made it through a few weeks or even a few months compliantly and with flying colors.

Even if you are sure that your child is different and is perfectly capable at the ripe old age of six of doing this thing and is simply choosing not to ….


But won’t I be sentencing my child to a life of “Behind” if we wait?

In a word, no.

Children catch up quickly when they are ready.

Not only that, but you can always skip ahead if you feel your child is ready for higher level work at a later time. Don’t worry about missing things – there is no way that you can possibly learn All the Things in even an entire lifetime.

Remember that “can start at six” or “children begin at six” doesn’t equal “must start at six” or “all children regardless of circumstances or readiness must begin at six or they will be lifelong failures and eating Cheetohs in their parents’ basement when they’re 42.

Would you ever tell a mother with a 10 year old child who wants to bring Charlotte Mason into their homeschool, “Nope, sorry. If you didn’t start when your kid was 6, there’s no way it will work now. You’ll have to find a different educational philosophy.”

It sounds absurd when we frame it that way, doesn’t it?

Then why do we think that our own children must definitely start at six years old?

What would Charlotte do?

Not all students entered the PNEU schools at 6 years old. Some started at 10 or 12 or even later. (The PNEU was the correspondence-type school that Charlotte Mason administered)

We know that in general, children were put in the form appropriate to their age range. However, sometimes a student would be started in a lower form. This student, she says, always interacted with the material in a manner appropriate to his age, regardless of the difficulty of the material.

What does this mean to us? It means that if you wait a year until your child is 7, you will probably want to start your child in Form IB.

But if you wait until your child is 8 or 9, you wouldn’t start at the very beginning of a curriculum in IB (1st year) but instead in IA (2nd or 3rd year) or perhaps even IIB (4th year), depending on where you think your 9 year old child would fit the best.

But remember this: year or form levels in a Charlotte Mason education are not grade levels.

What should I do if not lessons, then?

I don’t recommend that you do absolutely nothing.

Though this can be a viable option.

Instead, give your child that fertile ground in which to grow.

  • Develop a healthy home rhythm with regularity and simplicity if you don’t already have one. (Not sure how? Find out in How to Create a Healthy Home Rhythm)
  • Spend as much time in nature as you can. If you don’t already own the book Coyote’s Guide to Nature Connection by Jon Young, I highly recommend that you get it. If you’re not in the US and shipping is too expensive, you can get it in .pdf form from 8Shields.org
  • Play with letters. Letter blocks, letter tiles, point out letters, make them with pasta shells or draw them in the sand. Just play.
  • Count everything. Sparrows, eggs, ants, acorns. Make up simple math problems using these, but do it in a natural way. “If Henrietta hadn’t laid an egg today, how many eggs would we have?”
  • Use Math Games by Peggy Kaye
  • Tell stories. Then tell them again.
  • Play in sand and mud and water. Go to swimming lessons.
  • Work through the free Phonemic Awareness curriculum at Sight Words
  • Sing. Always. Sing while folding laundry, while kneading bread, and while finger knitting. Sing when you’re getting dressed. Just sing.

If you’re looking for more handholding, A Quiet Growing Time: Charlotte Mason with Your 3 to 6 Year Old is full of practical ideas to use with your children who aren’t yet doing academic lessons.

catching snake in a jar nature study

Go see children’s theater. Go to museums. Go to homeschool park days. Visit local fields to learn field crops in all stages of growth. Draw lizards in a notebook and let your child dictate to you what to write in it. Talk about the natural objects your child finds.

Don’t Force Your Flowers Before They’re Ready

Not being ready for lessons at six doesn’t mean your child is a failure, or has a lower-than-average-IQ. It doesn’t mean that you’re a failure at being a homeschool mom, or that CM won’t work for you.

It just means that your child needs a bit more time.

Remember that children are like flowers and they will bloom when they are ready. We simply provide fertile ground and nourishment.

Want to remember this? Pin it to your favorite homeschooling Pinterest board!

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