How early is too early?

too early

Imagine the following conversation: “How old is your son Johnny?” ” He is five.” “So, he would be in kindergarten if he were to be in school?” ” Yes, but he is already reading, and he knows all his numbers from 1-20! What about your son?” ” Oh, he is seven. He just hates reading and if he could, he would play all day! Well, I guess he’ll learn to read someday….”(sigh)

You probably have noticed how we often compare our children to others. Trying to make sure they are where they should be, and we’ll do anything to ensure they will get ahead, not behind.. And often, we think that is by sending them to preschool, or start teaching them at home as early as we can. Teaching, as in, academic instruction.

There are advocates for delaying this instruction. They claim that giving our children a structured education at a young age, actually does not give us the desired result. We think our children are ‘ready for school’. They know so much already, their colors, their numbers, etc. Where did they learn that? Most likely at home. And how? By playing and listening and observing. Not by any academic instruction.

See this article for an excellent explanation of this. Quote from this same article: “Children’s later school success appears to be enhanced by more active, child-initiated learning experiences. Their long-term progress may be slowed by overly academic preschool experiences that introduce formalized learning experiences too early for most children’s developmental status. Pushing children too soon may actually backfire when children move into the later elementary school grades and are required to think more independently and take on greater responsibility for their own learning process.”

Depending on how old you are and where you grew up, you will probably look back at your own childhood play as much more creative and imaginative than today’s play. I remember well the activities of my youth, playing in the Dutch ‘brandgang’ (alleys) with homemade bounce toys made of a tennis ball and a pair of nylons :-), building tents and forts, and just playing with whatever was available. Little did I know then that those activities actually developed a skill know as ‘executive function’. What that is exactly, you can read in this article, in which the author writes about the damaging effect of today’s toys that inhibit imaginative play and the decline of ‘private speech’. With that, she means that when children are playing on their own, they will often be talking to themselves to figure things out, planning their activities etc. Adults who have learned this in their childhood, will use it (quote)”to surmount obstacles, to master cognitive and social skills, and to manage our emotions.”

So what can be done in these early years? It is the best time for laying a good foundation, not academically, but concentrating on character, discipline and habits. Here is a series of posts by various people who gave their suggestions and ideas on teaching 3 and 4 year olds.

That delaying academics doesn’t mean the same as delaying learning, you can read in this article. Children learn by doing, by inquiring, by using their senses.

I know it is uncomfortable to break out of the mold, and it seems like we’re doing something wrong as (home school) parents if Johnny can’t read by age 7. Shouldn’t he be doing…( fill in the blank)? Shouldn’t he know his colors, his letters, his numbers? It can be confusing if we have grown up with those ideas, but just let yourself be informed and think about it.

What can you do with your children? Read, read, read to them!  Play with them. Teach them chores and habits. Teach them to obey.


An educator who taught about habits and reading ‘living books’ ( opposite of dry, boring text books), was Charlotte Mason. We’ll talk about her another time. 🙂

So next time when someone asks if Johnny is reading already, you just say: “No, not yet, but he will when he’s ready. Right now, he’ s working on developing very important skills. He’s playing!” 🙂


2 thoughts on “How early is too early?

  1. Domestic Engineer says:

    Can’t agree more!! Wait.. and they’ll learn at twice the speed with 5% of the effort they would have to put into it when they’re not ready… especially with boys! Great article.


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