Homeschool Preschool: Thoughts on Readiness

Does it seem like children are going to school at an earlier and earlier age? Are you worried your child should be in preschool by 3 and kindergarten by 5? Then you, my dear friend, have fallen prey to one of the worst ideas in modern schooling. The truth is children - especially very young ones - mature at different rates. One child might be ready for kindergarten by 5, but many others will need another year or two before they are truly ready.

The Rush Toward School

Until recent times, most children didn't start going to school until the age of seven or eight. And this was in an age when literacy rates were much higher than they are now and, generally speaking, children received a more stellar education. Kindergarten was not really about academics, but an invention to keep poor children out of trouble while their parents worked. Only in very recent times have some states made kindergarten mandatory - and that because kindergarten now teaches children what they used to learn in first grade. (An odd thing, considering the first two years of college now teach kids what used to be taught in high school.)

Preschool is a modern invention. In times past, when education was actually of a higher level in the U.S., no one would have dreamed of putting small children in school - although in the 19th century, some cities had "nursery schools" for the children of the working poor - basically, what we'd call day care.

So you can see that ideas about how soon children should go to school have changed drastically in recent years. The current idea seems to be that the earlier children start school, the better they will do academically, the better an education they will receive. Unfortunately, the facts don't support this. (See this post for statistics about early education and resulting poor social skills. This article by the Brookings Institution is one of many that explain how early education isn't helping kids academically, either.)

School Readiness: Two Rules

So when should you start your child in preschool or kindergarten? There really are only two rules regarding this:

#1: Don't send your child to preschool or kindergarten based upon age.

#2: Wait until your child is mature enough to begin preschool or kindergarten.

#1 is pretty self explanatory. Every child matures at a different rate and maturity matters much more than age. We should never worry our child will "fall behind." Pushing a child to learn before he is ready only leads to frustration, fear, and hatred toward learning.

#2 is more difficult. How can you know your child is ready for preschool or kindergarten?

Examples from Our Story

When my daughter was five, I put her in a charter school's kindergarten class. She couldn't wait to start "real school" (as she put it). She couldn't wait to be in a classroom and have a "real teacher" (again, her words). She "knew" she was ready. And academically, she was. She knew her phonics before she could really talk. (She was a late talker, but more than makes up for that now!) She'd been doing preschool work - worksheets, writing, crafts, counting, etc. - since she was two and was quite proficient at it.

The problem was, she wasn't mature enough for kindergarten. She had a horrible time sitting still. She had a worse time concentrating for more than a few minutes. She resisted homework mightily. While she understood phonics very well, she couldn't seem to put the sounds together to read words. In short, she greatly struggled in kindergarten. So much, she was beginning to loose her love of learning.

So I pulled her out of the charter school and we repeated kindergarten another year, at home. (And no, she was not scarred by this. In fact, she didn't even know it wasn't normal. Sure, some of her old school friends went on to first grade, but she never thought it strange that she didn't.)

And my daughter wasn't the only one. Every single five year old in her class was asked to repeat kindergarten. None of them were mature enough. None of them were ready for first grade. Most were just barely ready for kindergarten the following year.

My son was a completely different story. We started homeschool preschool with him at age 3, but only in tiny doses. He liked doing manipulatives, such as sorting. He hated anything to do with writing. Or learning his letters. Or numbers. Or colors and shapes. I didn't push him, though. Pushing your child when he isn't ready is the sure fire way to make him hate school and learning.

This year, my now almost-five year old son is doing preschool again. This year, he is actually interested in learning phonics so he can eventually learn to read. This year, he's excited to learn cutting skills. This year, he wants to learn to count. This year, we believe he is truly ready to start preschool in earnest.

And so...

As parents, we need to watch our children for signs of maturity. We can't let outside pressures lead us to put children in school before they are ready, since this only results in kids who hate school, who are at the bottom of their class, and who find learning stressful. All of that is totally unnecessary If. We. Just. Slow. Down.

There is no rush. Children do not have fully mature, adult brains. Some of their brains are ready to learn to read, and some are not. And that's okay!

Also, when would you rather your child graduate high school? At a younger (and likely less mature) age? Or would you rather she has another year or two to mature before she heads off into the world?

As my husband's very wise great-grandma (who taught in a one room school house for many years) used to say, "Let them be children. They will learn. Don't panic. And especially boys...they usually take a little longer."

Words to live by!

More Articles in the Homeschool Preschool Series:

Why Homeschool Preschool? 
How Much Time?
Scissor Skills
Colors & Shapes
The Balance Beam Game


  1. Wise words! I know my son will probably be a late starter, he just has everything going against him with his disease plus the bone marrow transplant. My daughter, I think she's about on target, and she does (usually) have the patience to sit and do workbooks or crafts. Two different kids, two completely different situations, even though they're brother & sister.

  2. This is all very good info. Even though we homeschool, I wish I would've went with my first instincts and not put started K5 with my youngest daughter until THIS fall. Don't get me wrong - she is reading amazingly well. But she is much more immature than my middle daughter who officially started K5 at age 4 and is now going into 4th. Youngest daughter isn't grasping math, has terrible handwriting, and just seems so babyish. I am going to watch my son, who should start K5 next year "by the rules" before deciding what to do. Last year, he could care less about learning. This year, he is so excited about learning letters and letter sounds and numbers. Funny how each individual child is SO different. None of my kids had preschool before K5... not even any formal homeschooling preschool with work sheets, etc.... and they have all learned all their "required" things very well. I just wish I would've waited with youngest daughter.

  3. And president Obama is pushing his initiative for universal pre-k, where children as young as 4 would be educated in the school system.

  4. We homeschool. We have 4 kids between 10 y.o. and 3 y.o. I don't bother to do Pre k or Kindergarden at all. I just start school "officially" when they are in 1st grade. We still do crafts, they "play" school all day doing workbooks, coloring, and playing but I don't worry about teaching them any specific curriculum. They end up learning on their own. I am always surprised when my 3 or 4y.o. know all their shapes and colors when I didn't teach them any of them. Usually by the second semester of 1st grade, they decide they want to learn to read and then we begin Phonics. My 6 y.o. daughter began 1st grade this August, I tried hard to break my own rule and teach her to read. She can read many words but she DOESN"T WANT to. So I told her, we won't be doing any phonics or reading until she asks me for it. In the mean time, we color, we do math, we do crafts, we do copy work and anything else she wants. when she is ready she will read too. It's like you said they need to be mature enough.