Curious about delayed formal math

by | Classical Education, Delayed Formal Education | 3 comments

Hi Laurie! We have been doing Classical Conversations for a few years now and recently I really gathered what the trivium is. A couple of years ago I gave up a formal reading curriculum and my son learned to read just having been read to and having the desire to read (mostly to read what his favorite video game was telling him to do). Well, I am recently reading about not teaching formal math until age 10. This has intrigued me because my even younger son, while he can tell me what 4+5 is, etc, writing numbers on worksheets or anything kills him (and me, very slowly). I am expecting number 6 next month and know I need to simplify. Would you recommend doing the Classical Conversations math and grammar facts until Essentials, or possibly Challenge A age, and then starting the formal Saxon curriculum? Or any tidbits, tips, advice you have would be greatly appreciated. My oldest is almost 13, and then their ages are 7, 6, 3, 1, and one due next month. Thank you for all you do!!

I would first suggest reading two articles, Research on the Teaching of Math and On Early Academics. These will give you the foundation ideas for the concept of delayed formal academics. You will see this is not something that originated with us, but, historically, was a long-held, universally accepted practice.

In our culture, we erroneously perceive that the only way anyone anywhere at any time can learn arithmetic is from early formal instruction – usually in a classroom school. But young children have learned the basic concepts of number in every culture without any formal instruction. Games, measurements, and commercial activity have been the primary childhood instructors. They are still the best instructors of young children.

What we suggest is:

–Formal textbook or workbook instruction in arithmetic may begin at age ten. It is about age ten that the developmental light bulb goes on, and the child becomes capable of a great deal more mental and physical skill. (Of course that’s not an absolute rule. With a few children, it is as early as eight. We call them “bright” children because the developmental light bulb goes on early.) Waiting until the child is developmentally prepared to handle the concepts makes instruction in arithmetic very easy, because the child learns very quickly.

–There is no necessity for formal teaching in arithmetic before age ten. Once all of the developmental parts are there, most children can learn – in a few weeks – everything which they might have spent six years learning (kindergarten through fifth grade), that is, if they haven’t already learned it through questions and experiences and working things out on their own — which is generally the case.

–Depending upon the child, upon the method, and upon the subject matter covered, there exists the potential for developmental harm from the formal teaching of arithmetic before age ten. Small children cannot understand many arithmetic concepts at an early age. We can teach them to perform the process, but we cannot make them understand the concepts. The child “learns” to hate “learning.” The child’s understanding develops along the wrong lines. He may actually develop mental “blocks” to arithmetic – actual physiological blocks in the brain.

–Not formally teaching arithmetic before age ten frees up a lot of time for other activities which will build the vocabulary of the child. Vocabulary is the number one index of intelligence. Developing vocabulary was one of the deliberate foci of ancient education. We waste valuable time for developing vocabulary and verbal language skills if we instead spend those hours teaching a five year old to count by fives. (He’ll know it intuitively by age ten anyway, without ever being taught.) Instead, we ought to spend those hours reading to him. We only have so much time in the day. Do we want to spend it trying to force math skills into a child who developmentally is not optimally prepared, or spend it doing what is developmentally natural to a young child – learning new words and associating them with new ideas and experiences. Stretch the child’s vocabulary during the formative years, and when he’s developmentally ready to do some deeper thinking, he’ll have a mind prepared to take on the task, and he’ll take off like a rocket.

Please note: We are not saying that no child should ever utter the name of a number before age ten. Not at all. About age four, most children discover money, and there is no hiding numbers from them after that. They encounter numbers all of the time. If we encourage learning, then they’ll be asking lots of questions, and we’ll be full of opportunities to teach numbers and measurement. But we would not encourage using a formal workbook before age ten, unless the child has a genuine desire to do so, he shows that he is competent to handle the work, and it does not take away time from other valuable activities. We are not going to ruin the child if we wait until age ten before beginning formal teaching of arithmetic.

…Would you recommend doing the Classical Conversations math and grammar facts until Essentials, or possibly Challenge A age, and then starting the formal Saxon curriculum?…

Everything we wrote about math I would apply to formal grammar instruction also (parts of speech, diagramming, sentence analysis).

We only have so much time in the day. This could be our guiding principle. Age ten is early enough for learning math and grammar facts. Learn the facts as you study the subject. At that time, if the child needs extra help memorizing the math facts, then take the time. An average ten-year-old can jump into a 6th-grade math textbook.

Did you want me to address the video game issue? That’s a whole nuther subject on which I have opinions. : )

We only have so much time in the day


  1. Jessica

    Yes, please do discuss the topic of video games. I would love to hear your thoughts!

  2. stephanie

    I second that vote to hear your thoughts on video games, and if possible with additional links to published research articles on the topic. PS that photo up there is precious.

  3. stephanie

    I shared this article w/ a family who lives in Florida and this was her reply:
    “This is interesting! I’m not sure I can pass it on as state laws here require end-of-year placement tests given by state certified teachers who determine whether or not the student is recommended to move up or stay back a grade. I don’t know how much ultimate say they have and whether it’s formally recorded by the state (I would imagine so given the requirement and you do have to keep a record of school days, if not hours), but it does mean homeschool students have to be up to par with state educated students. So delayed formal textbook work probably wouldn’t fly here.”
    What would be your advice in this circumstance?


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