The text below is taken from Ambleside Online’s Frequently Asked Questions…
6. How soon can my child start Year 1?
Young children may be impulsive, need to move and have trouble focusing enough to listen to an entire story and narrate it. Charlotte Mason knew this and therefore recommended that children not do formal school until they were 6 years old. She said that no child under six should be required to narrate. They would gain more from playing, exercising their limbs and getting to know their environment first-hand in a casual, natural way by being outdoors.
Some children still aren’t ready at six. There is nothing to lose and much to gain by waiting until a child is ready. More is required from Ambleside Online with each progressive Year, so the child who is not ready for Year 1 at age 6 may not be ready for Year 2’s more intense history at age 7. Some children need a year or two more to mature. One Ambleside student wasn’t quite ready at age 6; he couldn’t keep still and was easily distracted. He didn’t start Year 1 until he was 8. Two years later, he is in Year 3, reading most of the books himself and enjoys school – a couple years made all the difference. Had his parents insisted on making him sit still for school at age 6, it would been a struggle for both the student and his parents and he would have quickly learned to dislike school. How do you know if your child is ready? When he can listen along and follow a story and tell enough about back to convince you that he comprehended.
In the years when a child’s readiness is still developing, there are things you can do to prepare him for Ambleside Online. Severely limiting TV watching will help his mind to reach its intended potential and help his ability to focus attention. Jane Healy’s book Endangered Minds explains the relationship between the visual information of TV and a child’s attention span. Help your child become less dependent on visual images by reading him chapter books with few pictures – perhaps Peter Pan, Pinocchio, fairy tales, or E.B. White’s books. These sorts of books encourage him to form pictures in his mind as he receives auditory information. Get him used to hearing well-spoken language in the form of poetry and well-written stories like Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit series, nursery rhymes and classic children’s poems, A.A. Milne’s Pooh classics, and James Herriot picture books. Cultivate an interest in growing things by planting a garden (or even a potted plant) or watching insects. Listen to music together, including classical music by Mozart and Bach. Go for walks and enjoy the sights and sounds of nature together. Help your child learn to be observant.
What about a child who is advanced or already reading at age 5, or even 4? Should that child begin Year 1? Although a young child who is able to do formal schoolwork may reflect well to onlookers, list members overwhelmingly said no. None of those parents who waited regretted their decision. Some children did start early and did fine – but many of those parents said that, if they had to do it over, they would have waited. One mother started her 5 year old in Year 1 with success, but, due to family needs, had to stop and start Year 1 again the following year. Her daughter got more out of the books a year later. Even a precocious child will benefit from a little maturity, and will gain much by waiting. Don’t think that waiting a year means your child isn’t learning – the very young brain is programmed to grow best by learning from its environment – watching and participating in routine family life, learning about numbers through day-to-day activities and math games, use of linguistic skills through natural conversations with parents, hearing good language modeled by listening to well-written books, and free play. If you desire some kind of history exposure, your child may enjoy hearing books from the Childhood of Famous American series for fun.
One benefit of waiting is that it gives you, the parent, more time to learn about Charlotte Mason’s methods – she herself said that, without understanding the “why” behind her approach, a Charlotte Mason curriculum was little more than just another booklist.
There is more information about this age group here.