Key to Preventing Learning Problems
by Martin and Carolyn Forte
As children are pushed to achieve academic goals at earlier and earlier ages, the incidence of learning disabilities is growing at an alarming (some say epidemic) rate. There may be a host of root causes, from immune response issues to dietary and familial problems, but one factor is susceptible to immediate control by parents who choose to homeschool and that is the age at which traditional academic work is introduced to their children. One hundred years ago, it was common for children to enter school at age 8 or even later. Two hundred years ago, children were not even accepted in most schools until they could read.
Today, in contrast, the most arduous efforts of our public schools cannot produce high school graduates who can compare favorably in knowledge and skills with the 8th grade graduates of 1900. What on earth is going on? It is claimed by the education establishment that the fault lies variously with the children (learning disabled), their parents (incompetent and /or uninterested), or the government/tax payers (low funding), or all three. Educators seldom blame their own methods, materials, timetables, etc. Most people would agree that “one size fits all” items actually don’t fit most people very well, but when it comes to education, otherwise intelligent folks are inclined to bow to the “wisdom” of the established educational order in the matter of what a child should learn and when he should learn it. Homeschool parents come to me every day asking for “the list” of what their children should be learning at each grade level. Or, they come in very worried because Jr. is in third grade and doesn’t yet know his multiplication facts or parts of speech or the difference between a parallelogram and a trapezoid! Oh, my!
As a former primary teacher, I can attest to the almost total incompetence of the school bureaucracy – from the teacher colleges to the state mandated textbooks. Even though the new emphasis on phonics is a promising sign, it appears that the manic insistence on developmentally inappropriate “academic” goals will insure a large number of educationally handicapped children for years to come, incidentally providing job security for legions of special education teachers. As principal of a large, private homeschool Independent Study Program (umbrella school for homeschoolers), I see children daily who have been battered by this insane and inhumane system.
But, that is not the worst of it. The problem is compounded by the tyranny of “experts” who are determined to “help” homeschoolers by “diagnosing” and offering to “treat” all
manner of suddenly discovered maladies from ODD (opposition/defiant disorder) to ADHD (attention deficit hyperactive disorder) to my favorite: Auditory Processing Disorder(APD), a wonderful catch-all for the late bloomer who hasn’t yet cracked the phonetic code of English. These “experts” would have us believe that otherwise normal children suddenly become “disordered” when they enter school or begin formal “homeschooling.” This is not to say that there are not children with very real medical and /or psychological problems, but the vast majority of children diagnosed with a “learning disability” are simply normal children with either a low tolerance for boredom (ADD), too much energy to sit still for long doing boring, repetitive work (ADHD), developmentally unready to absorb the material presented (LD, ADD,APD, Dyslexic, Dysgraphic, etc.) or possessed of a learning style which is incompatible with the curriculum in use(ADD, etc., etc.) The labels fly so rapidly and predictably to so many children that they have become virtually meaningless except to the professional “experts” whose livelihood depend on a full IN basket of educationally handicapped kids.
Many distraught parents opt to homeschool after receiving one or more of these dred diagnoses for their children. They remove them from school in order to help them overcome their “disability” and “remediate” their “deficiencies.” Although they intuitively know that their children are bright and can learn, they cling to the standards and timelines of the system that condemned their children and in so doing, create unnecessary difficulty for themselves and their offspring. Often, parents come to me in search of a curriculum to help their children “catch up.” I have to ask, ”Catch up to what?” In trusting that the state and the state’s schools know the best way to educate a child, they are in danger of destroying their children’s best opportunity to learn in the home environment. By pushing children too hard too early, resistance, aversion and fear of failure create barriers to learning, only compounding the damage already done by the school system.
Teaching and learning are neither difficult nor mysterious. It does not take a trained expert to teach the phonetic code to a child who is ready. READY is the operative word. As a former first grade teacher who learned to read in the first grade, I once thought that all children could and should learn to read at age six. It took a determined homeschooling neighbor, my own “late” reading daughters and the research of pioneering homeschool advocates, Raymond and Dorothy Moore to convince me otherwise.
We were very excited about homeschooling and started right in with MCP Plaid Phonics when Tenaya was five years old. She learned the letter sounds quickly but could not put them together to make words. We were both frustrated while the neighbor boys, two years older than my girls, played happily and didn’t even attempt to read. Their mother, Susan, introduced me to the Moores’ books and philosophy. I was unconvinced but I had no choice. My very bright and eager daughter was not reading no matter what we did. Had she been in school, she would have been labeled dyslexic simply because she did not read. Her sister, however, would have earned a whole list of labels: ADHD (she bounced off the walls when she wasn’t climbing them), APD (she made no sound/symbol connections until she was about nine), dyslexic (she couldn’t read), dysgraphic (she couldn’t write) among others.
Dr. and Mrs. Moore’s first book, School Can Wait and its twin for laymen, Better Late Than Early, introduced me to the facts about education and child development. The Moores collected early childhood research from medicine, ophthalmology, neurology, and psychology and came to the inescapable conclusion that for most children, the optimum age to begin formal academics is between the ages of eight and twelve! For those of us who are steeped in the culture of early academics, this is a strange pill to swallow. But the Moores didn’t stop with mere laboratory research; they studied homeschool families in the 70’s and 80’s to see what happened when children were free to learn at a more natural pace. The result was several more books, culminating with The Successful Family Homeschool Handbook. This volume elaborates on “The Moore Formula” which Dr. and Mrs. Moore developed over the years as they combined research with practical application.
The “Moore Formula” includes three elements in approximately equal portions: study, work and service. They do not recommend formal academic studies before age 8 and in some cases, as late as 12. (My younger daughter fell into this older category.) This does not mean that the child does not learn anything until age 8+. Children are learning voraciously from birth and only the roadblock of clumsy “schooling” can retard or stop a child’s otherwise insatiable thirst for knowledge. Books are useful and important tools, but for a young child, the world is filled with much better learning opportunities than can be found on the printed page alone. When a child is allowed to explore and question and wonder, whole worlds of interest can open that might never be discovered otherwise. In this homeschooling style, a child might learn to read at five, at seven or at twelve, depending on the child.
This more relaxed early learning/teaching style will incorporate important developmental areas often neglected or ignored by formal curricula: listening, hand-eye coordination, large motor skills, spatial relationships, personal relationships, knowledge about the physical environment, memory development, imagination, logic and many more. Because of the overwhelming presence of electronic media in our lives, children are often have difficulty using their own imagination or even listening to
a story without pictures. They are so bombarded with constant sound from radio, TV, and electronic games that they can hardly think for themselves. Giving children time in the early years (hopefully with a minimum of TV, etc.) to develop physically, neurologically and emotionally allows them to move into formal academics with a maximum of preparedness and energy.
Since we are on the topic of physical and academic readiness we should spend a few moments on learning styles. It is important to understand that each child has a unique learning style that might be different from yours or his siblings. Regardless of when you start teaching your children formally it is critically important to teach in a manner that best fits the child’s learning style. The absolute best publication we know of to assist you in determining and understanding your child’s learning style is Mariaemma Willis’ and Victoria Hodson’s book, Discover Your Child’s Learning Style. The blending of this book with the works of the Moore’s will provide you the foundation of a highly successful homeschool experience.
Delayed academics does not mandate delayed reading; it encourages parents to wait until their children are ready. Until that time, parents can read to their children, play games with letters and sounds, and watch for signs that their children are beginning to catch on to the code. Once that happens, you cannot stop a child from reading. Some will move quickly and others will make slower progress, but as long as the instruction is phonetic (this is vital), children will make gradual progress until they are reading at an adult level. The catch here is that although you can toss out the LD labels, you may not be able to use a packaged curriculum (Oh shucks!) One of my daughters learned to read (effortlessly) at age 8 and the other at 10 ½. One used Primary Phonics readers and the other preferred Dr. Seuss I Can Read primers. Once past the primers, they simply selected (with my guidance) books they enjoyed. Gradually, they moved to more and more difficult material. Both are college graduates with enjoyable careers.
We used the Moore Formula instead of a formal curriculum. The girls worked at many jobs and invented as many businesses including one, Fun Ed, that is still thriving as part of Excellence In Education Resource Center. They were involved in numerous service projects culminating in overseas missions work. Most people would classify us as unschoolers and I would not argue except to qualify that label by saying we did use the Moore Formula to balance our lives.
This happy ending would not have been possible without the concept of “delayed academics,” for our daughters would have been labeled early and often had we taken our little non-readers to the “experts.” Thankfully, we went instead to Dr. Raymond Moore and his wonderful wife Dorothy, who told us that as long as they were making progress, we should not worry. They were right!
Modern schools were intended to do for education what Henry Ford did for auto manufacturing. In some ways they have succeeded, but remember that children aren’t molten blobs of metal that can be reshaped by any mold to fit in any space for any purpose. Children are unique and delicate human beings with special talents, strengths and weaknesses. Each has his own developmental schedule, which we ignore at our peril. As homeschoolers, we have rejected the “system” for a variety of reasons; we have stepped outside the box. Remember that the box includes much more than just the building. Stepping outside the box and giving our children the very best tailor made education includes questioning the school schedule and curriculum
as well. Things that are mass-produced are never of the finest quality and the same goes for a copy of a mass- produced item.
The best education for your child is one that is developed for his or her unique learning schedule and learning style. Only the parent can judge the appropriateness of the schedule by watching for things to “click,” but we can get quite a bit of guidance from Raymond and Dorothy Moore’s many books on homeschooling and Willis and Hodson’s Learning Style Profile found in Discover Your Child’s Learning Style. Trying to get a head start by pushing early academics can backfire, causing difficulties for years to come. Instead of worrying about a “learning disability” because your child does not fit the style and sequence of “in the box” schools, spend your energy on developing your child’s natural interests. You will be amazed at the results.