“Failing” at 8 Years Old

You have no idea how many people talk to me about how worried they are about their 8-year-old.

Eight-year-olds are the most harshly-judged kids in the entire world because there is such a vast diversity of ability among them. For some, their brains turned on early and their academic skills are great. These kids can read, and write, and win a spelling bee. And then you have the 8-year-old who still can’t read the word “dad”. That was my daughter Anna. We all think we want the super smart kind of 8-year-old who is good at spelling, and most of them are not. Especially the boys. And a lot of the girls are not even ready yet to begin reading two-syllable words. So if you have an 8-year-old who is reading two-syllable words, that’s amazing. It’s actually kind of rare to have a child that age who is naturally really good at that. They have to learn to spell and understand 45,000 different words on their way to adulthood, so don’t expect that child to be able to spell much more than words like farm, dog, cat, pig, and house.

Give grace to your 8-year-olds and let them play games, color, draw, watch educational videos and listen to audio books, and don’t limit them by their abilities, disabilities, or challenges. Just let them be 8 years old. If you let them be that, they are never going to lose their curiosity and wonder and personality and humor and energy and joy. We ruin our 8-year-olds by making them feel like failures. No child that age needs to be considered a failure that young in life, so quit. I was a “failure”…I failed third grade. Do you know how embarrassing, humiliating and heartbreaking it is to fail third grade? Little kids don’t fail. We fail them by having expectations that are completely unreasonable for the individual child.

We worry that our kids’ struggles and mistakes and lack of abilities are going to destroy them for their whole lives. I just want to tell you that failing third grade was part of my story. It was a really important part of my story that I needed to struggle through. I needed that pain and difficulty in my life, because it was a very important part of what made me who I am today. If my education in public school had been easy, and people had respected me as being an intelligent and creative child, and if I had been able to understand the materials and everything and hadn’t failed, I would have no motivation to be helping all of you and creating curriculum for struggling learners.

It’s from my experience as a struggling learner, as a child who was hurt by the system, that I give you Fun-Schooling. I give you Fun-Schooling because as a little child I had a dream of what it would be like if it was always summer vacation. My mom and dad did summer vacation like nobody else. We had the best summers. We would travel all over the country. We had a giant map in our RV on the table. We were always doing geography, following the map, and figuring out where we were going. We did business. We went to art shows. We made art. They let me make art and sell it. I used money. We had a cabinet full of board games—Monopoly and Clue and Mad Libs. It was like the grandest unschooling adventure ever. My mom would read the Chronicles of Narnia books to us and all kinds of other amazing books. We were Fun-Schooling. That was my dream—that education could always be like that.

Fun-Schooling is the dream of a child that was failed. I saw my kids really struggling with trying to do Classical education because I was feeling pressured to do a really structured kind of thing. I’ve seen that the more freedom and tools I give my kids, the more skills I encourage, the more hobbies that they have–the more they become real learners.