I wonder what percentage of families who begin to home school actually persist in one form or another for longer than 10 years? Longer than 5 years?
Let's say a family persists in educating their children at home for 5 years. Which five years would be the most important five years to home school? I suppose that it depends on what a family's goals are for home schooling in the first place, right?
Since there is little formal schooling before age 4-5, I am going to suggest we assume that those years are at home anyway. So I am going to suggest that the best 5 years might be.... (drum roll) age 5-10. Why? Plasticity.
One definition of the word plasticity is "easily shaped or molded" as in "he rendered the material more plastic." In educational terms, plasticity is referred to when discussing the biological bases of learning and memory. Experimental evidence has shown that brain functions in certain environments change for the better and in other environments change for the worse. "An enriched environment can significantly enhance cognitive development, especially when the enrichment comes at an early age." (Driscoll, p. 296-297) Driscoll continues, "there is also evidence that neuronal plasticity declines with age in many species, including humans. This is thought to be a function of mature individuals committing increasing portions of their nervous system to memory storage."
Combine this concept, minds being more easily shaped and formed at earlier ages, with how values inform decision making. For me, it makes sense that the time to have children in the "value oven" of the home, is in the younger years. As it says in the Bible, "Train up a child in the way he shall go, and when he is old, he shall not depart from it".
We have seen this in our own home. As I am in school and Cyndy has agreed to work outside the home. Our youngest is 14. With Joe, are still doing at least half of our educating at home and with Will, our 16 year old it is about the same. In conversations with them, they are very clear about the pros and cons of what the formal school environment offers, and what it does not. We talk openly about it and consider ways to avoid any negative influence from our current choices. For me, this is possible, however, because when their minds were more pliable, "plastic", they were home full time. Our family and religious/moral values are more firmly implanted from the years at home than they would have been if we had allowed other value systems to take root when their minds and hearts were so pliable.
It seems to me that any political policy or social norms that encourage younger children especially, to to be outside the home. Spending many hours outside the home when young hands others a large power of influence on the value development of our children. This can only result in a higher probability that such children will lean toward making a higher number of decisions not informed by family values. Why? Because those decisions are now informed by values other than our own. So many parents are shocked in the teen age years, when decisions made by their children seem so foreign to what they thought was being taught at home. If they stepped back and realized the dominance of the influence of others, in any educational setting other than the home, it would become evident that they were fighting a battle of time that they were losing all along.
A certain kind of plasticity can however have a negative effect on our children as well. I am speaking of moral plasticity where value system have become relative. In a relative moral environment, some things being true or valuable in one circumstance can be considered untrue and worthless in another without any sense of conflict or inconsistency. Plastic values lead to plastic decisions. When decisions are informed by variable values, plastic values if you will, you just never know where someone is going to come from! Trust erodes, relationships can suffer, true peace of mind vanishes by degrees. Such moral relativism, if implanted into supple minds at early ages, seems to be very difficult to overcome in the later years.
This all seems like common sense to most who read these posts. I guess I mention it because it is nice to know that other people, who actually do research, find a fundamental basis in their studies, that supports what seems to many so natural and obvious. I vote to keep kids home as long as possible, as long as their minds are plastic, pliable and open to our finest teaching and values clarification efforts.