What a 6 Year Old Should Know

What a 6 Year Old Should Know

Every so often, when curiosity gets the better of me, I take a peek at the school curriculum to see what my 6 year old would have been learning at school. I’m always left a little confused. Not by the material, which is pretty basic as you would expect, but by what has been deemed important for a 6 year old to know. What things they need in their life at this age. I wonder how this was all agreed upon. Who decided the important things a human needs to know to have a successful life, and when they ought to know them? It’s rather interesting to think about.

Much of the curriculum seems obvious, and is made up of things that form part of our everyday life so there would be no need for explicit teaching of these points. But there are some things that, to us, are not relevant at this point. For instance, who decided that at 6 years old you need to be able to interpret bar graphs and Venn diagrams? How did it come to be that 6 years old was the time to learn about verbs and adjectives? To me, some things seem so displaced from the everyday life of a 6 year old. My 6 year old anyway.

Sure, there may come a time for these things. I am not saying these things aren’t important, and I’m not saying that some 6 year olds don’t want to learn them now even! What I am saying is that I’m really very comfortable with waiting. Waiting until it becomes relevant and necessary. When they have an interest. When they need this knowledge in order to complete something they’re working on. I’m saying that I don’t believe there is one plan that can be mapped out for every person’s education and that when they get to the end of it that means they are considered ‘educated’. I’m saying that there is no rush, there is time, and things are learned very easily when you wait until children are motivated and ready for them. So it doesn’t matter to me who came up with which curriculum, or when ‘they’ say kids should know certain facts. What matters to me is the little individual learning and growing in my home.

What a 6 Year Old Should Know

Can we just pause with childhood for a moment? Can we just delight in all the things that are important to a 6 year old? Six years old may be the second year of formal schooling but it is still very little. There is oh so much time ahead.

So, what is on the ‘curriculum’ for my 6 year old?

What a 6 Year Old Should Know

  • LOTS of unstructured play time. Every day.
  • Many hours spent outside.
  • Art, every day. Exploring new materials, expressing ideas, letting her creativity lead her.
  • Time with friends. Getting to know each other, playing, working together on art and projects, exploring together.
  • Adventures: to the beach, to the creek, bushwalking, around our neighbourhood.
  • Excursions: to the museum, art gallery, zoo, wildlife centre, library.
  • Visiting family.
  • Reading stories together.
  • Imaginative play.
  • Time with her siblings.
  • Following her interests, asking questions, finding the answers.
  • Catching bugs.
  • Climbing trees.
  • Riding bikes.
  • Everyday maths: counting, cooking, shopping, learning to tell the time, handling money.
  • Science: experimenting, asking countless questions, studying animals and insects.
  • Building projects with her Dad.
  • Helping with household jobs.
  • Gardening.
  • Fun.
  • Curiosity.
  • Growing independence.
  • Keeping alive that childlike sense of wonder and love of learning.

That’s what’s important to her. That’s what’s meaningful to her at this stage of her life. What do you think a 6 year old should know?

40 thoughts on “What a 6 Year Old Should Know

  1. Charlotte Mason made a “Formidable list of attainments for a six year old”, written in the 19th century. It strikes me how very different her goals were for children than they are now.

    Link: https://www.amblesideonline.org/CMAttainments.shtml

    I think it’s a wonderful list and the good thing is, many of these things (perhapts even all of them) can be realized while unschooling.

  2. I saw this as a pin on Pinterest. I clicked on it wanting to know what my 6-year-old should know, but I was also dreading it because our days our filled with more playtime than ‘school time’. I can’t tell you how great it was to read this. Seriously, it made me feel so much better with what I’m doing with my kids. I need a reminder like this every once in awhile. I think I may print it, if that is ok with you, and put it on my wall as a reminder. Thank you, so much, for this!

  3. Are you actually asking? Because there is an answer. While this approach may work for children in situations like your daughter’s, it isn’t at all appropriate for the public school system. Teachers in a public school have one year with each child and then they pass them on to another teacher. It is therefore each teacher’s job to make sure she has covered everything slated for her year. To some extent, the curriculum is arbitrary (though much of it is based on research about what children can best learn at that age). While you are able to put things off until later, a teacher in a public school doesn’t have that luxury. I’m sure you didn’t mean to insult, but to a former first grade teacher who worked with all her heart to prepare her students (most of whom didn’t lead the idyllic life you portray), I couldn’t help but take some offense.

    • Hi Caitlin. Yes, I realise there is an answer and that in schools this may be the most practical way to do things. I have nothing against teachers! They have such a hard job. This was written from the perspective of a homeschooler. We often get questions like ‘how will you know they’re learning what they’re supposed to?’ etc. And so my point is there is no need for us to follow some ‘arbitrary’ curriculum, and what they’re ‘supposed’ to be learning according to the school curriculum often doesn’t fit with how we live our life, and that’s ok with me 🙂

    • I’d be curious to see some links to the research that backs up the curriculum and the research you refer to that says what children children are best suited to learning at particular ages. As a teacher, in my 20 years of teaching, I’m yet to see any research to support the ages that children are supposed to learn things or even research to say why children should learn what’s in the curriculum as opposed to other things.

      Obviously in a conventional school setting, it is not practical to do anything other than teach the same thing to all children in the same class, however I have my doubts that the decision of what should be taught is based on current research.

      • Saani, albeit unconventional, there is a formal school setting that does allow for the child to learn whatever he or she wants: Montessori elementary class. It is a multi-age class, so what’s actually impractical is trying to teach all the children the same thing. There are some standard lessons that the teacher will try to “cover” with each child, but this adult has 3-6 years to cover it, instead of just one.

      • Hi Saani, that’s not as surprising as it might sound. My friend of 15 years has been teaching since she was straight out of uni. She now works at a university leading a teacher training programme. Since I started home edding and she has had children of her own, we’ve been talking about research bases, etc. She had no knowledge of Montessori, Reggio, Waldorf or really any other form of alternative education and the research associated with it. It wasn’t taught to her at teaching college so she didn’t teach it to her trainees. That you are an experienced teacher who has no knowledge of this research says more about the training system than it does about you or the research. If you look us these or many other alternative forms of education you will find a wealth of research from recognised academic institutions. Hope that helps ?

    • maybe you should question what the teachers have to do to children and the research they come up with because SCHOOL CERTAINLY DOES NOT WORK FOR MOST CHILDREN THEY ARE DISRESECTED CONSTANTLY AT SCHOOL INSTEAD OF TAKING OFFENCE THINK how does this affect children to be forced to do things they don’t want or need to do

  4. How funny, I was having a conversation about this the other day. I am trying to get my head around WHY probability and graphing is so big in the current maths syllabus. Yes – later on (and very easy to pick up later on), but in the early years? I read an article by some mathematicians critiquing the current syllabus who also were perplexed by why such a big emphasis on probability and graphing so early on. I can remember quite a few years ago they introduced a bizarre grammar program into schools – turned out it was all based on one person’s masters thesis – crazy.

    Caitlin, don’t be offended by different opinions – use them to think. If no one ever questioned, no one would ever progress.

    • Cara, your response was unnecessarily rude and condescending. I’m not offended by the author’s different opinion. I’m offended by the assumption that just because it wouldn’t have occurred to her with her very limited experience in education, that that would mean there is no reason behind curriculum decisions. That’s offensive to the field of education and all educators who have made a career of working on such matters. However, as I already stated, I assume she didn’t mean to offend and I’m merely pointing out that one shouldn’t assume that because some thing is unknown to you means it is unknown. I’m happy for her that she has found something that works well for her family, but dealing with an entire diverse population of children calls for very different standards.

      • I’m curious about the phrase “very limited experience in education.” Surely the blog author has spent all of her life being educated–at home, playing as a child; likely in traditional education settings later on; now, actively immersed in the unschooling movement, learning from hands-on experience living this lifestyle with her family. She speaks to others about education often, I’m sure. She writes a blog about education that many read for inspiration and resources. All of this leads me to believe she has significant experience in education.

        The problem I think is stating that education must come from the “experts” and as the experts describe it. For a six year old, the question is why must she know this certain list of skills right now? For an adult, why must the author be trained or educated as a teacher so that others will not claim she has very limited experience in education?

        This comment and the blog post in general are getting at a deeper why than I think Caitlin may be considering. Yes, there’s logistical and political and social reasons why school policymakers choose the subject matter they do for certain grades. Yes, classroom teachers are limited to covering a set amount of material in a year. I don’t think the blog author was ever unclear about why those things occur.

        I think the actual question this post poses is about if we all agree this is the best model. Can we think differently about learning? Are we inspired to raise our children differently? Are we inspired to look at teaching and assessment differently from within the school system? These types of questions. The kinds that breed change and improvement.

        • Thank you for your thoughtful reply. While I appreciate what you are saying, I do believe there is a difference between experts and novices. I have “experience” with medicine in that I have been sick and recovered, nursed my children through various illnesses, read countless articles on the subject, etc. However, I am in no way qualified to dispense medical advice as a doctor would. The doctor has had formal training and that is important. The same is true when talking about education in a formal sense. Now, I am not saying the author is not qualified to educate her child. When I said she had little experience as an educator, I was referring to the fact that she does not have a degree (ba or higher) in education and does not work in the school system (though perhaps I should not have made that assumption since I don’t know what her background is). The idea of evaluating what schools are getting right and wrong is great and I am fully supportive of that.

          • I can agree with that.

            How about an expert in unschooling, however? I believe the author can certainly be considered that. There’s no higher degree for unschooling (although I actually took a college course in it, incredible it was even offered, and that’s what changed my career plan from prospective school teacher to prospective homeschooling mother).

            So many experts are self taught. Many experts in newly developing fields (say, technology) are innovators without degrees behind their names as what they are doing hasn’t been adopted by the institutions.

          • Caitlin, I am curious…as an obviously dedicated teacher, who is passionate about helping the children under her care within the schooling system, why are you so concerned about what an unschooling mother believes about the curriculum? I too, would like to see the evidence that the curriculum has been determined in reference to research about how children learn in their natural state. In reality, there is none.

            And in reference to your comment about experts and novices…have a read of John Holt’s book Instead of Education. He writes very eloquently of the difference between teachers with a Capital T and teachers who are humble enough to realise that they are merely a tool in someone else’s self-development. The reality is, as humans, we are all born with the capacity to choose that which we most need to further our development. None of us need Teachers or Curriculum or Institutions (aka schools) in order to reach our potential, but we may find it helpful to have the benefit of a trusted relationship with a teacher who can guide our self-construction in an area of interest to us, within an environment prepared to meet our authentic needs.

            As a highly educated “T”eacher, I also once believed that education should be left to the experts. Now I realise how the world has been brainwashed into believing that knowledge always comes with a pricetag.

          • It can sometimes be hard to sing the praises of homeschooling without offending someone, but I definitely think trying to think differently about the formal education system is important moving forward. Homeschooled children do have the luxury to learn on their own schedule, and thank God for that. I know if my daughter was in public school, her days would be full of frustration, but she’d be too timid to pipe up and say so. Caitlin, homeschooled children also are shown to do amazingly well, regardless of the educational background of their parent/teacher. I always have felt encouraged by that. I don’t have to be a genius, or a former teacher, or even have a college degree. I learn right along with her. Thanks Sara for your thoughtful post. Also we got our Spielgaben set here in the USA this past weekend…inspired by yours!

        • I am just confused on how this is a ‘homeschool/unschooling blog and teachers/people who are very well aligned within the traditional school system are reading and getting ‘offended.’ Maybe read blogs that are aligned within your own personal interests? Thank you for the post. Being a newly homeschooling parent, I love the inspirational daily readings.

  5. As a fairly well educated person, who’s original plan was to become a school teacher many years ago, I have embraced homeschooling for my 3 youngest and have never been happier with a decision I have made. There are some wonderful teachers out there, but they are often confined to curriculum that is anything but reasonable for the children they are teaching. So much emphasis is now put on standardized testing and non-educational activities (in my opinion) that little time is left for actually helping children to learn. I too have wondered about some of the math curriculum over the years, when my oldest child was being taught scatter plotting in Grade 3, when he still could barely manage adding and subtracting let alone times tables, etc

    My oldest two struggled through elementary school, due to some learning issues and the constant push by the school system to medicate behaviours (which we refused to do).
    My younger kids are loving homeschooling (our 10 yr old did JK, SK and Gr1 before we pulled him) and I know that they would be much more stressed if they were in school, and so would I!! Our approach is a mix of structured curriculum for the basics and unschooling. But we do not hold any of them to a set time frame for learning something, they are all too different for that.
    I am so grateful to the people who put their homeschooling life out there for us to read about, it provides the encouragement and acknowledgement that we all need. I don’t believe that you need a degree to homeschool your kids, that’s a fairly recent development in the teaching world if you look at history. My aunts became teachers in the 50’s after just one short year of teacher’s school and they were much more effective at helping kids to learn than most teachers today. Not because they were better people but because they were not confined to some silly system of proving to the world that “our school” or our “country” gets better grades than someone else. That’s too much pressure on everyone.
    I know it’s not for everyone, but I am glad I can be a homeschooler. Thanks for the great article!

  6. Thank you for sharing this. Homeschooling kids are indeed so very blessed. They have the privilege to be taught by mum and can explore and enjoy learning in the most creative and interesting way. Well done!
    I have homeschooled my children too before and agree that it is one of the best investment of time and heart we can ever give to our children.
    Persevere in your creativity and you will see amazing returns in the future!

  7. I had a major breakdown today from the overwhelming pressure I have been putting on myself & my 6 year old as we have just begun homeschooling. I cried & begged God to help me figure out what I needed to do & to please help me find our way in this journey. Truly, discovering your blog is the answer to my prayers. Thank you for sharing. This is the direction I’ve been praying for. God is so good!

  8. And what if ALL kids are in the school all day? And don’t have any homeschool or unschool families near??
    We can see childrens in the street only on weekends.

    My son is in soccer but they can’t talk if they are in a game or practice.

  9. What a wonderfully written post and so so thought provoking. I was a teacher in a primary school teaching 7 year olds and I found the curriculum very difficult to follow- so many uninspiring things, endless goals and targets they had to meet- and most of it was totally irrelevant at their age and most of them weren’t terribly interested either . I couldn’t agree more with what you say- all your points are so true and I love your list of suggestions of what your ‘curriculum’ for your 6 year old. Feeling inspired! Amelia

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  11. Thank you SO incredibly much for this simple, lovely little post about little 6 year olds. What they need is so basic. Love and play. I needed this so much today. Sometimes we start listening to others opinions a little too much and start to wonder if we are doing the right things for our kids. We second guess ourselves so much as moms. Today is my birthday and I have stopped everything to play with my daughter all day (she will be 6 in April) because she told me she wanted me to have the best birthday ever. She knew that what I really wanted to do was to play with her all day 🙂 Thank you again for your post. It’s just lovely!

  12. I just have to say this is my first year we are going to be homeschooling. While researching I came along a list that was shorter than this one and almost made no sense to me. EVERYTHING on this list made sense to me and was a joy to read. Thank you!!

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