I’m just now preparing to begin home schooling my oldest child, who turned five in January. I’m intending to follow a classical model. I’ve just recently found your website and I’ve read your articles on early formal education.
My daughter is, in your terms, a precocious little tyke, who taught herself to read at age 3-1/2. She now reads chapter books, does basic math calculations in her head, and comfortably uses words like represents, imagination, paleontologist, capillary, etc. We read a wide variety of books and discuss diverse subjects. She attends a Montessori preschool, and we have been doing informal, concrete math at home for a long time. I ordered Saxon Math 1 in preparation for the fall. She saw the workbook and asked if we could start right away. She loves her lessons, especially the worksheets. She works quickly and almost never makes a mistake. So I think, again as you say, perhaps I would be mistaken to hold her back.
Here is my question: When a young child is very advanced for his age, what should guide a parent’s decision as to how quickly to move through material? I mean, if he can handle algebra at age 8 and wants to do it, does that mean it should be introduced? On the one hand, I hardly see the point of teaching algebra to a child that young. On the other, don’t we want to keep the child excited about learning and feed that voracious desire for new horizons?
I have done some reading on gifted education, but I have not found satisfactory information on how to manage the very young child, i.e. discerning developmental readiness, and balancing that against the child’s relentless drive to learn.
Thank you in advance for your consideration of my question.
Whether we have intellectually slow, average, or gifted children, one of the keys is to achieve the best balance. If we focus on what is needed by the child, instead of upon feeding the child’s particular appetite for a particular thing — or lack thereof, then we will achieve a better balance.
For example, let us say we have a child who is somehow a mathematical genius, able to handle algebra at age eight. Does that mean he shouldn’t learn to play cowboys with his older brothers? Does that mean he shouldn’t do his chores of folding and putting away the laundry, washing the dishes, and vacuuming the floors. In other words, should other things be put aside in order that he can pursue his algebra? Of course not. His talent in algebra may prove a curse to him if he learns to think of it as putting him above other ordinary obligations in life.
Likewise, let’s say we have a child who is advanced in verbal skills. He can talk your ears off with an excellent vocabulary, excellent articulation, and a wide range of understanding. But he’s only six years old. The last thing you want him to do is to use that talent to take control of both his and your life.
True talents are actually extra burdens which the Lord places upon some persons – burdens which, if they learn to handle them properly, can be the source of great happiness in achieving godly aims, but if they are not handled properly, can be the source of great sorrow and frustration.
So balance does not come from feeding appetites. A balanced diet is not one which satisfies my constant craving for ice cream and chocolate. Balance comes from training appetites.
Of course, the analogy begins to break down here. We are not saying do not allow a talent to advance – like you wouldn’t let someone continually gorge himself on ice cream and chocolate like a glutton. But you must have an eye of discernment as to what is actually the nature of the talent, how best can it be advanced, and an eye which is not distracted by the talent from other important things.
My boy has a talent for playing soccer, therefore I’m quitting homeschooling and putting him in public school where he can get better training and be better challenged. Bad choice. A whole parcel of other things should take precedence over your boy’s “talent.”
My girl has artistic talent. I’m cutting back on the Greek and Logic and other things so that she can take lots of special lessons and go to art shows, and the like. Bad choice. With such attention, your girl is likely to get a big head about her talent, as if it should take precedence over other important things she should learn, and other important parts of life. Then her talent will not serve her well.
Above all, the child must learn to serve others, not themselves, with their talents. If you have a child with a talent for languages, then find ways he can help others which do not have this natural gift. He could teach others or help others to learn that language, or help others who don’t know English to learn it. Pray that the Lord open up specific opportunities to use the natural as well as the spiritual talents which you, your child, and your family have to build His Kingdom.
And, of course, the parent is in the best position to see how to balance all of these things. One family will need to draw the line in a different place than the next family.