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Ability vs Maturity with a bright child

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    Ability vs Maturity with a bright child

    I wanted to share something that struck me this evening, that I thought might end up being helpful to others.

    Very often, a question that gets asked is: "My child is very bright; how do I know how to place him/her?" - with the temptation being, to jump ahead into a full core that is far ahead of age level.

    I wanted to share something I have learned from our experience - which is to consider the difference between ability and maturity.

    Ability, in the context of a bright child, is that which seems to be there from the beginning, or that which develops so easily as to seem natural. All of a sudden your child can do something that he or she could not do before. For very bright children, this seems to happen by osmosis. We don't really know when or how they pick things up because they seem to have always known. Or, it only takes a minute for them to suddenly know it. These are children for whom ability seems to come naturally, across a wide spectrum of applications. They do still benefit from practice at these abilities, but the progress is often more pronounced that it would be for many, and therefore does not require a lot of effort.

    Maturity is different. Maturity does not come so easily. It is both earned (from practicing virtue) and natural (from the programmed development of the human person). Only a part of it is therefore within our control. Yes, children can age without maturing. But their bodies do mature without their consent. Therefore it can be more difficult for us to ascertain when a child has hit a new stage of maturity. It is a symbiosis of nature and effort.

    We can address both of these aspects, but what I have learned is that we need to do so differently.

    Ability is actually easier to address: give them things at their level, and then help them continue making progress. It will feel very much like all they are doing is "going through the motions," for most areas of the curriculum, but such is the reality. "Move faster, but don't skip" is a perfect thing to keep in mind here.

    But maturity is different. This cannot really be rushed because of that part of it that is beyond our control. This is where we need to realize that abilities do not change what we should expect of a child for his or her age. For instance, just because a child can do certain subjects at a high level does not mean that he or she is capable of working as long as an older child. So even if a 6 year old child is capable of a high level of work, he or she should still only have the equivalent length of day as any other kindergartener. Balance the ability, with the maturity. Another example is that children of high ability are very often more serious, less childish than their peers. This can give us the false impression that they are somehow "ready for more." I would caution parents of this sort of child, as I have been through many of them. They do not need more work. They need help to be a child, to accept their age and stage - not to be rushed out of it.

    that's all. just some reflections that have been resonating with us again, as we slowly start to head back to school.


    16th Year HSing; 10th Year with MP
    DD, 19, Homeschool grad; college sophomore
    DS, 16
    DD, 14
    DD, 12
    DD, 10
    DD, 8
    DD, 6
    DS, 2

    As always, KF2000 , such words of wisdom! This especially strikes home for me with my six almost seven year old. She *could* do so much more, ability-wise, but I would say that she is behind the curve, maturity-wise, and I am so very glad that we will "just" be doing MP 1 with her, replete with picture books and crafts and lots of playtime!
    Ora et Labora!

    Beech Tree Boarding School, 2020-2021
    DD (age 9): 4NU
    DD (age 7): MP 1
    DS (age 4): MP Jr. K
    "I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time, I rest in the grace of the world, and am free." Wendell Berry


      So true, Sarah! I found that the students in my classes who were a year younger than the others really struggled socially. They weren't really ready for the content we were reading because their maturity level was lower. They could do the work, but it wasn't the best fit for them. Since then, I have been a huge fan of slow and steady.



        KF2000 This is a great insight! I'm going to add it to my "place to the lowest R" elevator speech: Place to the lowest R AND to the lower of ability/maturity.
        Festina lentē,
        Jessica P

        11th year HSing · 9th year MP
        @ Home, HLN, & Latin online
        11th, 9th, 6th, 3rd

        Highlands Latin Nashville Cottage School


          I wonder if second-generation homeschoolers are better at dealing with this, because they don't associate ages and grades (with all their standardized expectations) as automatically as those who've gone through the whole school experience. Then there is no behind, and there is no need to skip: one simply does the next right thing, one step at the time, no matter how long each step takes, but knowing that the pace will be uneven, some stages requiring slower work, others going faster.
          DS (14)
          DD (13)
          DS (6)


            Thanks Sarah for the reminder! It is so hard to look at the beautiful MP curriculum manuals and know it is likely to never be in my future. My seven year old rising second grader could totally do any of the subjects in 3A this year, but the length of the day to complete it is longer than he should be schooling. We will forge ahead with meeting him where he is at, but very often I do feel this strong desire to want that beautiful manual to work for someone.

            For 2019-2020
            DD 16 - 11th with MPOA(AP Latin), Lukeion (Greek4 & Adv. NT Greek), Thinkwell (Economics and Chemistry), plus Pre-Calculus, American G’ment, Early Church History set, and British Lit
            DS 14 - 8th with MPOA(Fourth Form), CLRC(Intro Lit and Comp), plus Algebra, Field Biology, Classical Studies 1
            DS 11 - 6th with Right Start Level G online class
            DS 6 - 1st with Prima Latina