“When should I start?” This is THE most common question I get about homeschooling!

Often this question is tied to a deep fear that if we don’t start soon enough or “on time” that our child will be disadvantaged or behind for the rest of their education.

We’re going to break that all down in this post and I promise that by the end you’ll be feeling calm, confident and ready to homeschool.

Let’s start with the bad news:  there is actually no one starting age for homeschoolers.  In fact, legally it varies from state to state!  Why does it vary so much?  Because professionals agree that starting school should be tied to a developmental age range.  This varies from child to child. A good range is anywhere from six to eight years.

Here’s the good news: when children are developmentally ready to learn, they pick up material much faster.  So even if one child starts later than another, they usually end up at the same place in a few months or years.

The other secret is that starting kids early (say 3 or four years old) often gives them no advantage later down the road–they eventually end up at the same place as their peers. In fact, often kids who are started before they are fully ready can become burnt out and have negative associations with learning.

Here are some examples of this age range used in different models of education:

1.) Finland is considered on of  the best education system in the world.  Kids there wait until they are seven to start school.

2.) Charlotte Mason always started her students at the age of six.  

3.) The research of Dr. Raymond Moore points to age eight as the optimal age when auditory and visual senses are developed and the logical area of the brain is functioning. Eight is a scary thought because it’s so out of the cultural norm, however research found that students who started later were able to catch up with their peers in a short amount of time. You can read about that in the book Better Late than Early

4.) More studies have been done that show when children are in the older end of their cohorts in school, they have an easier time in school and go on to be more successful.  The advantage of an early start fades away over time.  Here’s an article you can read about it.

There isn’t a singular age because we know that development varies from child to child!  You can start any time within this range. It does not actually have any bearing on whether or not your child will be able to go to college and lead a full life.

Maybe your friends in public school have kids that are “way ahead.”  That’s great, but it doesn’t dictate the future success of your child.

Why does school make such a big deal about ages and grades and scary things like cut-off dates?  Well, school is a big system that can’t take each child’s individual needs into consideration.  (They can’t move at a non-linear pace–the way learning would move naturally.) They have to pick a set age for organization purposes because they serve such large groups of children.  So even though the research tells us later is better, schools don’t operate by that data.

We actually discuss this question and your options for when to start in two of my courses.  In my spotlight course Curriculum with Confidence, we talk about whether you need to do a preschool or kindergarten curriculum.  (Plus, crowd-sourced curriculum recommendations from my 24k Instagram followers!)  You can get it here for $9.99.  

In my comprehensive signature course Whole Family Learning Rhythms we talk more about when you should start and strategies for making homeschooling simpler in the early years. We also lay out systems for homeschooling multiple ages at a time.  If your oldest child is going into preschool or kindergarten and you’ll be homeschooling alongside toddlers and babies, this is a great course for you!  You can get it here for $14.99.

Now What?

To start homeschooling, you simply start where your child is at and move forward from there.

When I start, I begin at six (this is when Charlotte Mason always started).  My start is always experimental because I have to find out whether my child is ready or not.  If my child isn’t ready for bookwork like phonics and math, I put the curriculum away in a drawer and continue reading aloud to them, teaching them the topical subjects and letting them free play.  The exact time you start is up to you and your intuition as a mom (sometimes it might be mandated by your state.)

This is just like when your little one is ready to wean from milk to solids.  You have a general range of time where you know it is developmentally appropriate to do this.  However, you know it won’t be the exact same day or week for all babies.  You have to experiment, learn, and iterate!

Once you decide when your child is ready, then you start the curriculum. By the way, there is nothing magical about starting at a certain time of year (starting a “grade level” in the fall is just a cultural tradition) You can start any old time!

All you need to do is start at the base level of your curriculum and move forward at your child’s pace.  Some curriculum websites have test that allow you to analyze your child’s level.  I typically start with the lowest level and let my child zoom through the easy things and enjoy the mastery.  This creates a more positive atmosphere around learning!  Working at your child’s pace simply means you’ll move quickly or skip lessons when you encounter things you already know, and take more time on the things you don’t.

Your goal should be to meet your child where they are and focus on making progress!  When we choose not to kill the love of learning by trying to force our kids to perform on a timeline, we are already succeeding!

If you just feel stumped about exactly where you should start, check out my free course The Simple Start Mini Course!  

Want more detail about how subjects are taught?

Go here for the post about topical subjects (history, literature, science and geography)

Go here for the post about math.

Go here for the post about phonics and reading comprehension.