How early is too early to begin homeschooling? I guess I would have to say in utero. After that, it is safe to get started. Seriously, people (and often medical professionals) underestimate the cognizance and awareness of infants. How often has a mom or dad glowed over the fact that their child is smiling, only to be told, "No, that's just gas." Well, I don't buy it. It's like the issue of when life begins. Any answer other than conception is grossly inadequate and flagrantly flawed. Life begins at conception, and teaching/ learning begins at birth.
Children are not blank slates. They are human beings who inherit their genes from their biological parents and their sin natures from Adam. What's more, every interaction they have from the time they are born becomes a learning experience of some sort or another. Christian parents don't serve their children in good stead when they operate as though sin isn't a real factor -- one that needs to be recognized and dealt with from the outset.
Let me illustrate with two examples from my own family life:
When my son was not quite a month old, we moved him out of our bedroom to sleep in his own room. He didn't like that very much and would cry and cry. Even after I did all the things a mother knows how to do, the crying wouldn't stop. This went on for some time. One night my husband had had enough of this and came into the nursery where I was leaning over the crib trying to figure out what to do. In his deep, male voice he said to our child, "Turn over and go to sleep. Your mother needs her rest." I thought to myself, he's GOT to be kidding. This baby doesn't have the faintest idea what he is talking about. However, I turned out to be the one who didn't have the faintest idea of what I was thinking about. Our son stopped crying immediately and went to sleep. I was dumbfounded, and my husband just trotted off to bed and went back to sleep. I had grossly underestimated the reality of a father's authority with an infant. How he knew, I can't exactly explain, but our son knew that his dad meant business.
My youngest daughter is fourteen years younger than her brother and seven years younger than her sister. (I jokingly used to tell people I took a sabbatical every seven years and had a baby!) Anyway, once when she was almost two years old, all three of the children and I were in the living room. The youngest gave her older sister a big smack in the face. I immediately slapped her hand and told her that what she had done was wrong. I then instructed her to apologize to her sister. Nothing. So, I slapped her hand again and told her she had done a naughty thing and needed to let her sister know that she was sorry. Nothing. This happened two more times. Then my son, with all the wisdom he had acquired in his fourteen years, corrected me, sure that his sister couldn't and didn't understand what I was talking about. He felt it was ridiculous for me to even imagine she could. I told him I knew she understood perfectly well, and that she was just being defiant. He rolled his eyes, certain that he was right. I reproved her again and told her to let her sister know she was sorry. Nothing. Again she got a hand slap. Now her sister was assuring me that the smack hadn't really hurt that badly and that Dorothy just "didn't understand." She, like her brother, wanted me to drop the whole thing. Just at that moment, my husband (ignorant of all that had transpired) walked out of our bedroom and was making his way down the hall. Dorothy didn't even see his face, just heard his steps, and very rapidly declared in a loud voice, "Sorry, Rachel!" -- The power of the presence of daddy had both older brother and sister dumbfounded. She really had understood!
I cite these examples because in each case, there was the readiness to underestimate the capacity of an infant and baby to discern right from wrong. Since the learning process has to start sometime, it might as well start immediately. So here's my short list of suggestions to begin the "pre-homeschooling" process with babies:
1. Make sure you set up a schedule that both parent and child can live with and attempt to follow it. This applies to feeding, bathing, sleeping, and play time. Work to have relatives and friends adhere to your preferences.
2. When faced with the impatient cries of a child to be fed or changed, parents should instruct the child to calm down and then he'll be taken care of. No, it won't work immediately, but the pattern of patience will have been begun. Parents should be consistent with this.
3. When a child is about to have a meal (nursing included) grace should be said asking the Lord to bless the food to his body.
4. When a child begins to throw a tantrum, the child should be instructed to control himself. Again, the desired response won't happen immediately, but the pattern of requiring it will be established. The child should not get what he's crying for until the tantrum is over.
5. When it is time for nap time or bed time, the parents should vocalize to the child what they want the child to do. "It's now time to go to sleep. When you wake up I will feed you again." Then, they should pray aloud over the child for God to bless the rest, walk out of the room, close the door and allow the child a chance to go to sleep. Again, I'm not promising immediate results, but a pattern is being laid down, that the child is expected to respect the authority of his parents.
Now, I realize that this goes against much "conventional" wisdom. I maintain that this process is actually more important for the parents than it is for the children, as the parents are the ones in charge. Holding to high standards will allow infants to grow into babies who will grow into toddlers who will grow into little boys and girls who will be able to move into an academic environment much more easily, as obedience and self-discipline have been their context from the beginning.
As always, I'm open for feedback.