Child enjoying nature

With society’s push for starting formal education earlier and earlier, it feels like a breath of fresh air when an article or a study takes a stand against that trend.

Charlotte Mason was a strong advocate of safeguarding a child’s first six years of life as a time for individual development through free play, exploration, and family life. She encouraged parents to wait until the child was six years old to begin formal lessons.

I often get raised eyebrows when I mention that fact in workshops. Many young parents agree with giving their preschool children time to play, but they draw the line at no formal lessons. They think it is to the child’s advantage to begin his academic studies during those early years.

It is not.

In fact, pushing academics during the tender preschool years (Does no one else see the contradiction between that label, preschool, and the current pressure?) can actually hinder a child’s development and inhibit his academic progress later on.

The University of Cambridge recently published an article that explains those findings in School Starting Age: The Evidence. And just a week or two ago, another great article revealed how and why kindergarten has changed over the years to the child’s detriment in The Disturbing Transformation of Kindergarten.

Charlotte summed it up like this:

“The educational error of our day is that we believe too much in mediators. Now, Nature is her own mediator, undertakes, herself, to find work for eyes and ears, taste and touch; she will prick the brain with problems and the heart with feelings; and the part of mother or teacher in the early years (indeed, all through life) is to sow opportunities, and then to keep in the background, ready with a guiding or restraining hand only when these are badly wanted” (Vol. 1, pp. 192, 193).

Children do not need a middleman between themselves and knowledge. They do not need someone to overmuch order, systematize, and organize what they should learn and when. God created each child with a desire to learn. Our job is to “sow opportunities” and give the child plenty of time and space to take what he is ready for and grow at his own pace.

That is the best kind of early education.

Enjoying the Early Years

Charlotte encouraged parents of preschoolers to give their children a quiet growing time for the first six years of their lives. She explained how they could set aside society’s pressures and just concentrate on two things: good habits and good, loving, noble ideas.

Our new 2-DVD set, Enjoying the Early Years, offers guidance and encouragement toward those happy goals. It also demonstrates Charlotte’s gentle step-by-step approach to teaching children to read as they are ready.

Give your preschooler the kind of education that is best. Give him a quiet growing time that will allow him to send down deep roots and flourish.


  1. I really enjoyed this article. I have a 3 year-old and sometimes I get guilty feelings about the fact that I don’t do any formal lessons with him every week. I read blogs with all detailed curriculum for their preschoolers. But I have learned that my son thrives on exploration and discovery. He picks up so much from listening to the lessons I do with my second grader. Without ever working on it he learned all his letters and numbers. It’s just not necessary…they just absorb so much! Play is education for them and our family encourages it.

  2. Thank you for the wise words and the article links, Sonya. SCM has been a valuable resource for me over the past two months as I have been researching and exploring the idea of homeschooling my three young children. Two are still under the age of 6, so this article in particular comes at the right time. I appreciate you sharing!

    • Tricia, a lot of that decision depends on the child and the teacher and the reasons behind the choice. I would think the same principles apply. Children can learn a lot during the early years through informal activities without the constant drain that scheduled lesson might require. We would not want to push lessons on him, but if he shows continuing interest and desire to pursue that direction, we can let the child take the lead. If lessons are the best way to fuel his passion, I might suggest looking into ways to keep both the lesson times and the practice times short—possibly two 15-minute lessons per week rather than one longer one, and short practice times where the habit of full attention can be easily implemented without a lot of wear and tear on the little one’s mind or spirit.

  3. Im a preschool director/teacher, and probably unlike others in my field I agree totally with this philosophy to let kids be kids…to play, grow and learn at they’re own rate before formal schooling starts. (which in Ca the law is your child to be in formal schooling of some sort by age 7! …a far cry from what mainstream society believes) There are many families where both parents just have to work and need care. They should not be pressured to think they’re child should be in an early academic heavy environment for they’re child to thrive and be “ready” for school. If the environment is set up and presented correctly and children are exposed to experiences and concepts where they lead, they will absorb and learn more than you know through playing and interacting with the environment without any “formal” lessons what so ever! So take heart parents, there are great programs out there and early childhood professionals that are committed to and sensitive to the REAL needs of kids under 6! 🙂

  4. I wholeheartedly agree with this philosophy. I made the mistake of formally teaching my second child too early. When I pulled my oldest from public school, my second son was 2 yrs old. I decided it would be easier for us to have him complete preschool material while I taught the older child. I started him on kindergarten material when he was 4 1/2. He is smart, but now at 7 years old, he hates his lesson work. In hindsight, I wish I had waited. It might have made a huge difference in his attitude. With our third, I will certainly wait until she is 6 to begin formal lessons!

  5. My youngest did not attend any sort of preschool. While my older children are fine scholars, there is a difference. I know that she has had their examples to move her along, but there is something else.
    Her learning as a 6 year old has been so effortless compared to her siblings who attended preschool at 3 and formal homeschooling at age 5. My current 6 year old has picked up things without much effort at all and is truly ahead of where her older siblings were at this age and with much less effort. I know all children are different, but as a former elementary educator, 11 year homeschooler, and avid curriculum researcher, I really do believe that delaying formal learning until at least age 6 pays huge dividends for the child. I wish I had believed this when her siblings were younger!

  6. Amen to this article!

    My first 2 children began formal education earlier than my last 3. It did not have a good result. They were burned out and tired by late elementary.

    My current 10th grader began formal lessons around age 7-8. She jumped several grade levels within one year and has stayed a very strong, self motivated student.

    I began teaching my current 8 1/2 yr. olds to read just a year ago. They are in 2nd grade this year. One reads at a 4th grade level and the other at a 6th grade level. This seems to be the norm for students beginning formal education at a later age.

    The early years of play and exploration cannot be reclaimed later. Make them priority!

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