College Ready Kids by Age 12? The Brainy Bunch Book Review

Last April, I watched a Today show episode featuring a family who has had six children start college by age 12. Kip and Mona Lisa Harding homeschooled their children and published a book about their family's educational journey entitled The Brainy Bunch: The Harding Family's Method to College Ready by Age Twelve. I was intrigued by their story and read The Brainy Bunch over the course of a few hours during my flight to Texas a few weeks ago.

The Hardings are a conservative Christian family who chose to start homeschooling their children when the three oldest girls were beginning the fourth, third, and first grades. At first, Mona Lisa tried to recreate school at home, but she quickly discovered that a more relaxed, unschooling-like approach was more effective. Once the girls were able to read well, their learning took off as they pursued their academic interests and journaled daily. The Harding's oldest daughter, Hannah, was doing such high-level math that her parents realized that she could be getting college credit for her work. She enrolled in an online college math class at age twelve, and shortly after, passed the California High School Proficiency Exam, which allowed her to begin taking a few classes at their local community college. By age 17, she had earned a BS in Mathematics; now, at age 25, she's working on a PhD in engineering.

The Brainy Bunch ,  first   published in May 2014

The Brainy Bunch, first published in May 2014

Hannah's siblings have followed similarly accelerated college paths, though via different routes and towards different degrees. They were self-motivated to start college early, just as their older siblings had done. (Kip and Mona Lisa emphasize that they did not push their children into early admission, nor were they motivated by the publicity their family has since received.) Some of the children were able to gain college admittance through dual-credit high school/college courses taken at a young age; others used their homeschool transcripts and SAT scores. Once their family had figured out the various paths to college readiness, the parents were able to help their children focus on high school-level work as soon as they were ready so that the children could meet their early college goals.

I am saddened when I see kids being held back in high school by taking four years to finish. I feel that if the parents would allow them, they could do so much more.
— Kip and Mona Lisa Harding

What I appreciated about this book was the Harding's honesty. They are quick to state (and restate) that they are not a family of geniuses. Plus The Brainy Bunch isn't formulated like a self-help book promising quick advanced degrees for teens; instead, the Hardings simply lay out their family story and share what they've learned on the journey.

The Harding family; photo via

The Harding family; photo via

Admittedly, the book's content strays into odd territory at times, including an endorsement of the Quiver Full movement (which I feel lacks Biblical support), some embarrassing (but innocuous) notes from Kip to his children in the final chapter, and a index of family-friendly dance hits and films. (Do we truly need a list featuring Bambi and Wall-E?) But as a whole, the Hardings' story educated me about the paths to early college admission if my children's desires and abilities point that direction. I live just five minutes from a community college that offers dual credit for certain high school courses, but until I read the Harding's story, I'd never realized how rewarding it might be for my children to get a jump start on their career dreams.

Would you support your children if they wanted to pursue an unconventional educational path (such as homeschooling or extremely early college admission)? Or do you feel the conventional school experience is one that shouldn't be skipped or rushed?

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