On national electronic bulletin boards and in phone calls with support group volunteers, many new and prospective homeschooling parents are eagerly asking how to find "homeschooling" curricula. Because of methods schools have developed for systematic instruction of as many as 30 students at a time, it has become an accepted notion that children - even very young chidren - need to be sat down and guided through a set program for absorbing an education. Fortunately, there are a few good books that provide real-world, enjoyable ideas for learning deeply together in a more natural and ongoing way without pressure, packaged curricula or piles of workbooks. Trust the Children, by Anna Kealoha, and Every Child Is a Genius, by Elise Griffith, are two such books.
Anna Kealoha's book, Trust the Children: An Activity Guide for Homeschooling and Alternative Learning, is gaining quite a word-of-mouth reputation for its rich array of fun and easy-going activities. Anna is a popular teacher with a California public school's home study program, and has homeschooled her own four children at various times. These activities have been tested over the years with many children in her own home and in her small alternative education classes.
Some of the activity suggestions seem more appropriate for small group situations, but any of them could be incorporated into the most casual homeschool setting in a fun and effective way. The book is packed with useful information from art and craft recipes, to learning to read and write, learning math through games, learning about history from films and historical novels, nature study, health, values and spirituality, and much more. This book could keep you happily busy for years. There are many thorough and practical hands-on ideas presented throughout, but the tone is one of play and exploration.
Trust the Children is formatted around Anna's "Rainbow Mind" concept of the ideal education: "Think of a radiant rainbow, sparkling with a multitude of colors. Take one away, and the rainbow is not complete. It still shines, it's still pleasing and colorful, but it's not a whole rainbow. A complete education is like a rainbow: all the colors shine. Not only do we need to learn our letters and numbers, we also need to learn how to get along with everybody and sing and draw, and learn about the planet and the stars, as well as our bodies and souls. Why can't we all be like Leonardo da Vinci?"
In keeping with that philosophy, the chapters are divided into Art (vision, perception, creativity), Music (aural art, listening, singing, playing instruments, composing), Letters (language, linguistics, ABCs), Numbers (math, logic, 123's), Nature (earth, science), Body World (exercise, movement, dance), Outer World (human history, social skills, relationships, families, parties), and Inner World (The Great Mystery, spirit, intuition, dreams, soul, or religion - offering a simple overview of the world's great religious thought).
Anna's enthusiasm for learning is contagious. She packs it all into Trust the Children - everything she finds important or fun to know about - you name it. You have to smile as you page through passages about everything from astronomy to the importance of celebrations.
"The way I see it," she says, "around fifty celebrations a year is about right. Indeed, this fits the biblical tradition of honoring God by resting on the Sabbath. The reason that we're not supposed to work one day a week is because we're supposed to be celebrating and giving thanks for this magical creation. Celebrate by playing festive music, baking holiday foods, creating special art, playing games, going to temple or church, hiking in the woods, riding waves. . . oh, there are just too many ways to celebrate!"
The range of material in Trust the Children could provide the basis for a rich childhood education or just a welcome educational reference book.
Another delightful resource is Every Child Is a Genius: 365 Fun and Easy Ways to Develop Your Child's Gifts, by Elise Griffith. This is a great collection of activities for enhancing every child's education, regardless of whether they attend school. It isn't about putting more stress on children to perform like geniuses-as Elise puts it, "This book is going to show you how to bring some fun back into your family life!"
The activities are listed according to general subjects: Beyond Dick and Jane (reading), Pencil It In (writing), From Bored to Board Games (including some great ones for math), From Earth to Sky - Everyday Science, The Computer Age, Historically Speaking (tips about field trips and history study), Other Places, Other Cultures (including geography and holidays), The Three Rs: Reasoning, Responsibility, and Respect, Making the Grade (largely for those dealing with schools), and Keeping It All in Perspective (stages of childhood, learning styles, etc.).
There's no special sequential order to Every Child Is a Genius. You can open at random to any page, and find a delightful activity that will teach as it entertains. Opening to the chapter on Everyday Science, for instance, you'll find instructions on making herbal soaps, scented candles, natural watercolors, creating bug boxes, and butterfly terrariums. . . and those are only 2 of the 25 pages in the chapter. There's a special way Elise brings unusual and sensitive touches to such familiar simple ideas.
The subjects of reading, writing, history, and other academic studies are also handled in a deceptively simple and sensitive way. Here's an example: for quick and inexpensive gifts, she suggests having children decorate white paper and envelopes with rubber stamps, stickers and artwork, copying the name and address of the recipient in the top center of each piece of paper and in the upper left corner of the envelope. These are put into a folder with postage stamps, and sent to friends or relatives who live far away. Beyond the obvious benefits of the construction project itself, just think of thecorrespondence with the children that this could end up encouraging!
In the chapter called Boring to Board Games, you'll find ideas for fraction fun with food, games for learning about how money works, suggestions for card and board games for all ages, and simple craftsy ideas for engaging a child. Activities are extremely low in cost and special in their simplicity. In fact, the simplicity of this book is one of its best qualities. Reading through these simple things brings to mind those long and peaceful days of childhood past that have all too often been replaced with action packed days of today's world. A goal of Elise's is to bring people back to a simpler pace and awareness, and I think she can succeed admirably with her lead.
The chapter on Reasoning, Responsibility, and Respect is a wonderful surprise. It offers creative ideas for handling conflict, communication, responsibility, compassion, and other many other human issues. It also includes ideas for helping in the community. People often want to do helpful volunteer work, but aren't familiar with many of the options, so Elise provides ideas and phone numbers for charitable institutions that can use a helping hand.
Lots of helpful parenting wisdom like this threads through the book: "Encourage learning but don't demand it - even if you're homeschooling. Become your child's cheerleader, information provider, and resource as you guide her natural development. Think about it this way: from the time she starts walking and talking, your child's instinctive inclination is to establish an identity apart from her parents; rebellion is a natural and expected part of growing up. If you're her 'teacher,' and she's rebelling against you, she may also rebel against learning in general."
Anna and Elise's books are quite different from one another in format, but quite compatible in their sensitivity and respect for children. I would think they could live quite happily next to one another on a homeschooling library shelf. Trust the Children by Anna Kealoha, Celestial Arts. Every Child Is a Genius, by Elise Griffith, Prima Publishing. Two books for enjoyment.
© 1999, Lillian Jones
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