Home Education Magazine
January-February 1999 - Columns
Homeschooling Books - The Homeschool Reader
"This is a darn good book!" I found myself saying out loud while rereading The Homeschool Reader. This book is sometimes overlooked as a suggestion for new or prospective homeschoolers, simply because it isn't a typical 1-2-3 sort of introduction. And yet, that's exactly what makes it a great introductory book! Homeschooling isn't a 1-2-3 kind of thing, regardless of what so many of us thought/hoped/wished when we began. Homeschooling at its best, as it's shown in this book, is a freeform combination of many unique personal experiences and explorations that come together in a natural way. The Homeschool Reader offers rich inspiration for the experienced homeschooler, while it shows the new homeschooler what this thing we call homeschooling is really about. This also makes it excellent reading for effectively explaining homeschooling to curious or skeptical family and friends.
Mark and Helen Hegener chose 50 articles, by over 30 writers, from a decade of Home Education Magazine, for The Homeschool Reader. The 50 articles are organized into six parts, covering a general introduction to homeschooling, philosophy about teaching and learning, approaches to learning various basic subjects, advanced learning, networking, and personal experiences.
The articles in the first section, Homeschooling, amount to a very good general introduction, addressing frequent initial concerns of prospective homeschoolers. In the first article, "Why Homeschool," Kathleen McCurdy, who homeschooled her (now grown) children, expresses her observation that "The real homeschoolers, the ones who are here to stay, are the ones who have come to understand the meaning of parenting. These parents have learned to resist the urge to 'teach' their children (as in 'teacher'). They have grown accustomed to expect that their children will learn because there is something to learn... These parents will help, encourage, answer questions, share in discoveries, and maybe even learn with their children. And they wouldn't give up this privilege for anything in the world!" As someone who spends a fair amount of time listening to parents' questions and concerns, I certainly wish this kind of insight could be the first thing to come across in the beginning stages of investigation into the nature of homeschooling. This sort of focus is so much more valuable in the long run than finding out which "curriculum" to buy.
For parents who worry about whether they need to know every subject in order to teach their children, Mary McCarthy, another longtime homeschooler, warmly assures us "If that were so, I wouldn't look so blank when a son tries to explain computers or the hydraulics of a 747 or whatever to me. It's best to just learn along with them and to appear interested. Learn phrases like 'That's nice, dear,' and 'Did you do this all by yourself?' and 'Do the neighbors know?' These will come in handy." This is so true for those of us who have been at it for awhile, but it's so difficult to convince someone who hasn't experienced it yet. If such writing in The Homeschool Reader is taken seriously, it can give anyone a head start in comfortably relaxing into their new homeschooling life.
Earl Stevens, in his familiar sage-like manner, offers empowering advice: "Home education is a job for amateurs. Nobody knows what you and your children should do. It is a deeply personal adventure for each family, and no two adventures are alike." And Shari Henry, never one to mince words, adamantly presents a different twist to why homeschooling is the best option for every child. She even compares socialization to chocolate: "We all like both, but too much of either simply isn't good for us. Contrary to the status quo, healthy socialization does not equal lots of peer group socializing." These seasoned homeschoolers stimulate the reader to take a fresh look at matters they might not even have thought to consider.
The next section, Teaching and Learning, tackles such issues as what it takes to be a good home educator, the value of basic skills versus knowledge, the unit studies approach to learning, the importance of sharing enthusiasm for learning, how to provide for children's fascinations, and the "most meaningful" part of homeschooling. There's good, solid advice here, gleaned from many collective years of experience.
One piece that jumped out at me was something Chris Ressler shared: "As homeschooling families, we are actually blessed. Our children are at home with us, instead of spending the better part of their young lives trying to please nameless teachers and administrators. We can build so many more precious memories. We need only be willing to take the time." This might seem all too obvious to those of us who have been at it awhile, but it's unnerving to see all the nervous newcomers who are so focused on the academic studies, the part they think is "homeschooling," that they don't even realize yet that there is something bigger-much bigger-going on. Books like The Homeschool Reader can help more parents to realize the full potential of what they're doing with their families.
More specific learning topics are addressed in the next three sections of the book-roughly 150 pages of practical tips and advice presented in a personal way. There are interesting articles on creative ways of handling reading, writing, math, science, history, geography, social studies, and other subjects. There are articles like "Unschooling Math" by Sue Smith Heavenrich, "A Case for the Classics" by Shari Henry, "Teaching the Sciences" by John Holt, "History at Brook Farm School" by Donn Reed, and many other meaty ones. There are also thoughtful articles about higher education and life beyond homeschooling. Then some longtime support group leaders tell about how to get connected. No matter how often I open this book over the years, I'm always surprised at all the helpful information. But remember, these are some of the best articles from HEM over a ten year period. They're not just plain helpful-there's some delicious writing in these articles.
The last section, Personal Experiences, is an intimate sharing of the tangible life stories that we homeschoolers love-the little things that are so real to our common experience. In one article, Linda Dobson describes a common phenomenon of initial fumbles and subsequent transformation: "A curriculum does not a school make, but I stubbornly continued along the only route I knew, attempting to 'spice up' the curriculum in an ever-failing attempt to make school more 'fun.' The self-imposed stress of outrageous expectations, coupled with that of abject failure, forced me into a subconscious hiatus. And the less I worried and planned, the more Charles and Erika responsibly assumed control of their day. They had inadvertently discovered a more direct route to my lofty goal. School had to be a place of their own..." So many of us have been there and done that. She goes on to describe how they all happily restructured their environment and routines to suit their real needs. In another article, Kathleen Creech, whose beloved HEM column is missed these days, paints an almost sensual picture of some of those golden and profound moments when we look at our children and think "This just feels so right."
Remember The Homeschool Reader as both a good introductory book for new homeschoolers, and a reference book for your ongoing needs-as I said earlier, it's a darn good book!
The Homeschool Reader, second edition, revised and edited by Mark and Helen Hegener. 220 pages, 6" x 9" trade paperback, appendixes, indexes. $16.95 postpaid. ISBN 0-945097-25-5, 1995, Home Education Magazine. 1998, PO Box 1083, Tonasket, WA 98855; 800-236-3278, Info.
© 1999, Lillian Jones
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