Formal Homeschooling: How Early Is Too Early?

How early is too early to start formally teaching children? We all teach our children from birth just by talking to them, singing to them, reading to them, playing with them, and encouraging them to talk and play and create. But formal homeschooling is different. It requires the student to practice more self-control, have more patience, and use more fine motor skills. It’s not as natural and often not as easy as the kind of learning that naturally occurs through play.


Most children do not benefit from starting school early. I know it’s exciting to buy new school materials! I know it’s fun to think about and plan “doing school” with those cute little 2, 3, and 4-year-olds. I know every mom wants her little one to be the smartest child he or she can be. But the truth is that starting school with your very young child is probably not the best thing to do. Very young children learn so much more by playing than they do by more formal, sit-down learning. Their minds and bodies just aren’t ready yet to sit down and concentrate for very long.

Another problem I see is that moms who do try to do more formal sit-down work with very young children then start to worry that something is wrong with their children. Those little boys and girls are probably perfectly fine, healthy, and “normal.” They just have a lot of energy and a lot of curiosity. They need to move around, jump around, run, play, and be active! God did not make them with the ability to sit quietly and pay attention for more than a few seconds (or at the most a few minutes) at a time. Of course there are rare exceptions to this, but by far the majority of children fit this general “rule.”

There is nothing at all wrong with teaching your preschooler, but it needs to be done by playing and having fun, not by sit-down-at-the-table to “have school” lessons. Young children learn best by doing physical activities.

I know it’s very tempting to buy all those books and notebooks. I know it’s tempting to plan all those lessons and get ready to sit down at the table together ready to teach and learn. I know that doing more “active” lessons through play really doesn’t seem that much different than what you’ve been doing since your child was born. And you’re right! You’ve really been “homeschooling” your child since birth! And look how much he or she has learned so far!

If there was one thing I could go back and do differently with my own children, I would have waited longer to begin formal homeschooling with my son (now age 18). All those years ago, I thought I had to start formal teaching when he was 5. I didn’t realize that I could have waited another year or two. He was absolutely not ready for it, so I drug him to the table each day and made the poor little guy miserable. I made myself miserable! But I thought I was doing what I had to do, and I thought I was doing what was right. There’s nothing I can do about it now, but I promise you I would do it differently if I had a second chance.

If you have a very young child whom you plan to homeschool, have lots of fun with him or her! Do all those active things that your child loves to do! Let him get worn out swimming, playing at the park, and even helping around the house and in the yard. Wait a little while to begin formal academics, and let her learn through play for now. And get ready for a wonderful and fun school year!

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  1. Tanya @ Kentucky Sketches

    I totally agree with you, Wendy! I’ve learned from personal experience that while some children excel at young ages, so often too much pressure too early does far more HARM than good! One of my daughters was an older Kindergartener, but simply WAS NOT READY for formal schooling and my pushing and prodding did more damage than good. She’s 9 now and sometimes I feel like we’re STILL recovering from those mistakes I made!

    But thank heavens I learned a lot from that! This year we’ll start Kindergarten with my youngest, but it will be very RELAXED! No pressure so that my little guy can be the 5 year old he is. We have PLENTY of time!

    Thank you for this post!

    • Wendy

      I did the same thing with my son, Tanya! He just wasn’t ready for formal schooling, but I didn’t know that all those years ago. I thought I was supposed to “force” him to learn to read and do math and all those things. I, like you, feel like I’m still dealing with my mistakes. I can encourage you by saying that he is 16 now and loves to read, so thankfully I didn’t cause him to miss out on reading for fun. I hope you enjoy kindergarten with your little one this year!

  2. Shannon

    Thank you for sharing. My 6 yr. (youngest of my five) is doing Kindergarten again this year. He is my only child to never go to preschool and has and will be homeschooled. However, he is not ready to learn. He has no desire. He wants to have fun! He cannot even tell me all the letters in the alphabet! Does this stress me out… absolutely! But, he is a smart kid, and he has no learning disabilities. He just wasn’t ready to learn to read. Compared to everyone else his age, he seems to be behind. It’s just his temperament, and he was the “baby”. So we will do kindergarten again, and pray we see great improvement this year. Your post was encouraging to me. I know if the next few years, we will catch up to everyone else and nonone will ever know the difference!

    • Wendy

      You are very welcome! And you are right! There is no need to worry that he is “behind.” There is no reason why every child should learn to read at age 5 or even 6 or 7. He will learn when it’s the right time for him, and he will enjoy reading and learning much more than he ever would have if you had pushed him. Thanks for your comment!

  3. Honey Rowland

    I TOTALLY agree! Children do best being active. Pen and paper and a desk + children = wrong. Kiddos should be running, jumping, exploring gravity as they try to climb up a slide or jump from the swing. Or learning their letters or colors from environmental print, talking with said kiddo about bouncing the red ball and checking out the green frog or the butterfly with orange wings.

    Nice post Wendy Bird!

    • Wendy

      Thanks, Honey! I wish I had known back when my children were small how much difference active learning makes! It could have saved my poor children and me a lot of trials and errors! And I have to say that I’m kind of beginning to like being called Wendy Bird. 😉

  4. Heather Franklin

    Thanks for this post. My oldest is 6 and would be going into 1st grade this fall, if he were in school. I have read this message over and over, but I NEED to hear it over and over. The temptation is so great to get formal with our learning ASAP, both out of excitement, and out of fear and comparison. People are asking me how homeschooling is going and what we’re doing. My friends are telling me what their kids are learning in school. I feel the pressure. I need to hear this message regularly — it’s okay to wait. More than okay, it’s best.

    • Wendy

      Heather, I’m so glad to have helped reassure you that you are doing what’s best for your child! 🙂 And thank you for the sweet comment.


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