When my first son was born we lived in a townhouse. It seemed easy to keep track of my son as he scooted around the tiny house.

One day when the baby was five months old he was playing happily with some toys and my husband and I were talking not far away. It was a lovely, peaceful scene. The quiet moment was interrupted by a loud pounding sound. It sounded like the neighbors in the adjoining unit were pounding on an upstairs wall. My husband and I looked around and were surprised to see the baby was gone.

We ran up the stairs toward the pounding. Upstairs we found the baby standing next to the toilet pounding on the lid.  Once the shock wore off we quickly completed all the baby-proofing projects we thought we had months to complete.

On the flip side, only one of our six children lost baby teeth at about the times doctors say it should happen.  The rest of the children had baby teeth well into their teens.  And why are they called twelve-year molars when they don’t show up until you’re fifteen years old?

We accept differences in child development.  Everyone is one his or her own schedule.  That is until the child turns five.  Then it becomes ultimately important to be on track with the academic schedule of the school.  Great harm can be done when skills and knowledge are taught according to the age of the child, and not the child’s development.

I’ve seen this over and over in math.  Students who were expected to understand and apply principles of math before they were ready can end up believing they are something less than smart, or that math is just too hard.  Even students who are old enough to understand algebra and are unable to get past the emotions surrounding earlier failure in math.  These failures were not caused by the child’s lack of effort, but by teachers trying to make them do something they were developmentally unable to do.

I could go on and on about the hazards of early formal instruction, but I’ll give my solution:  wait.  Wait until the student asks for instruction.  Wait until learning is a treat, not torture.  And when the student gets stuck it’s time for a break.  It could be a day, a week, or a few months before the student is ready to begin again.  In the meantime, do what’s productive.  Learn what the student is ready to learn.  If we wait and take breaks, and if we work on what students are developmentally ready for,  learning can take much less time and effort.



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