Although homeschooling (a.k.a., home education) has technically been around since home and education have been part of our world, Dr. Raymond S. Moore and his book Better Late Than Early: A New Approach to Your Child’s Education have frequently been credited as having been one of the main catalysts in the rise of the American homeschooling movement. (Interestingly enough, homeschooling is hardly mentioned in this book.)
Better Late Than What?
Together with his wife, Dr. Dorothy N. Moore, the authors use their research and even their experience as parents to present their concern that premature placement into an academic setting is having a detrimental effect on the long-term academic success of our children.
The Moores purport that placing children into a formal learning environment is better done later than early. The studies they show demonstrate that to place a child in such an environment prior to 8 to 10 years of age is to do so too fast, too soon.
There are many factors involved: from integrated development (physical, emotional, intellectual), to the natural far-sightedness that does not begin to go away until children grow past a certain age, to separation and attachment needs, to peer attachment over parental attachment, and to premature, unhealthy forms of competition. The Moores counter that although some children initially seem excited about going to school, most often those same children face detrimental effects within a few years.
Comparing forced, premature academic growth with forcing a plant to blossom before it is ready, Moore states, “We would not force a flower to bloom before it is ready unless we were prepared to ask for less fragrance or to watch it wither away before it’s time. We should have conclusive evidence before we challenge nature’s normal course.”
Better Late Than Early is divided into two main parts: the first half of the book presents evidence, studies, and science to present the case for delayed formal education. The second portion walks parents and educators through the phases of childhood development from birth through age 9, providing common developmental milestones and parenting advice as well as suggesting activities and ideas to nurture, teach, and care for a child in each age group.
But What About Early Homeschooling?
So what implications does this have toward homeschooling? With some suggestions in the book and then additional information on The Moore Foundation’s website, the Moores still believe that attempting to place children under the ages of 8 to 10 in a formal, scheduled academic setting is rushing children into something they are not developmentally prepared for.
Of course, the range of formality of the learning setting within homeschooling is extremely broad and complex.
To be clear, though, interested readers must realize that the Moores are not promoting withholding learning opportunities for children; quite the opposite! Particularly within the home setting, there are numerous other areas in which creativity and learning may be fostered during the early years: learning the family routines and rhythms, developing strong character and habits, learning through natural situations, and long periods of exposure to nature and free-play. Related, the Moores also present concern that when children are taken out of home-based learning environments prematurely, they often fail to learn many of the life and generational interaction skills that should otherwise be normal.
While nontraditional educational philosophies such as unschooling and hackschooling are on the rise (just two of many), I simultaneously see a number of parents beginning highly academic homeschool quite early and becoming increasingly frustrated with themselves and their children, believing their children have a behavior problem or a learning disability. In reality, it is most frequently an expectation and misunderstanding (of education, of child development) problem.
I have heard parents with children as young as two grow frantic when their children aren’t “getting” the learning concepts parents believe their child should or aren’t sitting still through lessons. And I have seen parents asking on forums for full-scale curriculum suggestions for their two and three year olds! Of this, the Moores comment, “Premature teaching often results in not only damage to the child, but also an enormous amount of wasted effort by parents and teachers who feel compelled to teach skills or facts too early.”
Additionally, while the Moores present evidence that shows delayed schooling is better for both boys and girls, they also clarify that this is particularly problematic for boys. Such a presentation is not novel; another helpful book of a similar theme, Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men, addresses this same concern with more up-to-date studies and in a more recent publication (2009).
This book is not perfect, nor is the philosophy one that will sit well with some, due to many factors. And yet, should we not consider the alarming trends of the push for earlier and earlier schooling and frequently reevaluate what we are doing?
The overarching message to take away is that formal schooling is most successful when delayed until ages 8 to 10, sometimes even to age 12. Mixed into this message, there are techniques that may or may not be helpful, and certain parenting advice (particularly when it relates to caring for newborns) that was simply a vestige of the era (e.g., getting babies to sleep through the night early on, or concerns of breastfeeding too frequently which, ironically, contradicts some of their later advice on attachment and nurture).
The Moores push for primarily home-based care and learning in the early years, but do show that in several European countries (Finland, a main example; simply Google “Finland education” to find a wealth of articles on the subject), home-like, play-based atmospheres have been successfully replicated in early childcare centers, where formal education is still delayed until ages 7 or older.
With a six-year-old who is neither enrolled in school nor is “officially” homeschooling, I often feel like I am swimming upstream in our approach to our children’s education, even in the midst of having many friends and acquaintances who are homeschooling. As indicated above, my children are certainly learning at home (and actually, both my four and six year olds can read on a basic phonetic level); yet, we’ve never had sit-down instruction periods or forced them to complete worksheets and workbooks.
When you walk this path, it’s easy to occasionally have moments of panic as you watch others enroll their children of similar age into multiple extracurricular activities, perform in musical groups, and then rejoice when the school year is over for their family. But reading this book was reassuring, as has been hearing from older parents and educators who successfully used this or a similar approach.
Sadly, since this book was first published, the push for earlier academics in the Unites States has only intensified. Just this week, The Washington Post published an article titled, “‘Sweat shop’ kindergarten: ‘It’s maddening’,” and numerous, similar articles have been published expressing a shared concern. And yet the push for earlier and more marches on, and mainstream parental consensus continues to press schools for more academics in the younger ages.
Better Late Than Early is currently out of print, but can be found online through Amazon and Ebay, occasionally at dropped prices. You may have better success finding it at a library, or through education resale groups (I found my copy on a Facebook Homeschool Group.) You can also check out this (outdated and formulaic, but still helpful) article on the Moore’s philosophy of homeschooling.
It is not my intent to offend those who have opted to place their children in formal academic settings at an early age. If your child is in such a setting, and is struggling, I hope some of what is mention in this review will allow you to see an alternative route that may better fit your child. Or maybe you are struggling under the weight of trying to homeschool a four or five-year-old for several hours a day, and this can help lift an unnecessary burden from your shoulders. Perhaps it’s the opposite, and your child seems to be thriving. If that is the case, then I wish them all the best and hope such success continues!