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Home Education Magazine

January-February 2000 - Articles

Homeschooling Books - Lillian Jones

Two Beautiful Books:
-
And the Skylark Sings With Me
-
The Heart of a Family



And the Skylark Sings With Me: Adventures in Homeschooling and Community-Based Education, by David H. Albert

If you love being stopped mid-page by powerful observations that strike your mind like little explosions of light, get this book. I heard about And the Skylark Sings With Me: Adventures in Homeschooling and Community-Based Education, by David H. Albert, from several friends who had read excerpts and were excited about it. I must say I was disappointed when it arrived, to see that is was yet another book about one family's homeschooling journey. There are lots of personal homeschooling stories in print, and many more on the way. After all, every homeschooling story really is unique, and people are eager to share their discoveries. However, this book is different. Albert and his family got into some very unique and relatively unexplored territory in the course of their homeschooling journey. Their journey brought them some important insights worth passing on to any parent or educator.

This is one homeschooling book that isn't about "homeschooling" in the usual sense, but about the enormous scope of the natural capacity children have for thoroughly enjoying themselves while learning far beyond the expectations adults project onto them. Albert and his partner, Ellen, homeschooled their daughters right from the beginning. This beautifully written book follows the lives of the two girls from the early years, through many of their explorations, adventures, and accomplishments, describing the trial and error process of providing them with the tools, resources, and freedom they needed to satisfy their inquisitive minds. There was no one formula in mind, other than the clear intention to stay out of their way, while lovingly and respectfully assisting them in their individual searches for knowledge and new skills.

The adventures described made me stop and think back to my own child's very earliest inclinations, and question myself as to how supportive I might or might not have been in helping him realize his dreams in fact, he made me ask myself how much I'm doing that today in his teen years. Albert presents many provocative observations that give one pause to think and to ponder, and that's the mark of a great homeschooling book.

The observations I especially enjoyed was his discussion of why he had chosen to end the narrative of the family's homeschooling years at his older daughter's 10th birthday. He didn't want their success beyond that point to be "the lens through which their education is perceived." His feeling is that the learning experiences children have are not just preparation for life, but ends in and of themselves. "Children," he explains, "are living, breathing, learning beings in the present moment, and satisfying their need to learn is critical to their current quality of life, which has its own inherent value, whatever tomorrow may bring. If there is anything typical of my kids, it is, as of all children unless it is ground out of them their delight in discovery." This refreshing perspective brings with it an especially joyful and thoughtful attitude about childhood learning.

They followed their daughters' individual leads into some fascinating situations in which the girls displayed tremendous capabilities. One might begin reading about their adventures with the feeling that their extraordinary lives don't really have much in common with average children, jumping to the comfortable assumption that the girls are obviously "gifted," or perhaps "prodigies" of some kind. Without a doubt, there was a lot of intelligence there, but Albert continually maintains that while some obvious early leanings were probably there in each case, the outcome was really the result of their being respectfully allowed and encouraged to follow their passions in their own way. In fact, he points out that the girls have entirely different inheritances of genes, one having been adopted. When you examine very carefully what they were doing with their daughters, there was an uncommon attention paid to requests that might have been ignored or dismissed by a different set of parents. That one simple element of the family dynamics alone makes for a profound difference in where the children's interests were able to go.

While there's a lot of fascinating reflection upon the nature of children and learning in And the Skylark Sings With Me, you'll also find plenty of inspiration for ways of bringing the learning of science, nature, language arts, math, and so forth, into children's lives. You won't find the typical suggestions about curricula, texts, or programs, but you'll find some juicy ideas for rich learning experiences, along with occasional short lists of books and resources. What's more important, you'll be inspired to listen with a more sensitive ear and heart to what your own children are telling you about their drives and passions for learning and doing. And that's the point!

Reading And the Skylark Sings With Me is an enjoyable, provocative and mind-opening experience. While considering the impressive stories of how those eager little girls grew and blossomed in a variety of ways we're not accustomed to expecting from children, one cannot help but wonder about the unique potential of all children. What if all children were given the opportunity to grow up in such a stimulating environment, with access to tools, sensitive support, and true respect for their curiosity? It's a question this book brings up in a whole new way. Any homeschoolers, parents, or educators will find themselves truly enriched by reading And the Skylark Sings With Me.

And The Skylark Sings With Me: Adventures in Homeschooling and Community-Based Education, David H. Albert, New Society Publishers in cooperation with Holt Associates/Growing Without Schooling. 240 pages. $16.95 US.

 

The Heart of a Family: Searching America for New Traditions That Fulfill Us, by Meg Cox

The Heart of a Family is the very special result of introspection and research done by journalist Meg Cox as she was about to become a mother. In questioning herself about what she most needed to learn about being a parent, she came to the vivid conclusion that it was ritual. Her book discusses the vital need for ritual, and provides a beautifully woven collection of heartwarming stories describing rituals and traditions of every imaginable kind and then some, as related by 200 families across the U.S.

During her research, Cox found a wealth of evidence to support her feeling that traditions are vitally important to families. Among the many interesting and powerful stories she came across during that research was an item about Bosnia:

"One recent United Nations study of Bosnian children whose villages were bombed and their parents killed found that standard forms of 'talking therapies' were absolutely no use in helping these children rebuild their psyches. The only effort that helped was an attempt to re-create some of the festivals and other rituals that had filled their childhood; having that continuity to hang onto made it possible for them to go forward."

She also came across research by psychiatrist Eugene d'Aquli and anthropologist Charles Laughlin that indicates special brain activity during ritual: that "studies of brain activity have convinced them there is something about ritual that stimulates both hemispheres of the brain simultaneously, briefly creating a state of mental intensity similar to that achieved in meditation."

Meg Cox found that most material on the subject of traditions doesn't attempt to convey any particular wisdom. Most books on the subject are what she refers to as "laundry lists" of "sentimental suggestions" for traditions, with no connection to how they relate to real lives or the lives of the reader. Make no mistake about it The Heart of A Family is a radical departure from that formula. This book that had me continually smiling, moved, and open-mouthed with surprise at all the rich wisdom of tradition that families have invented.

It would be impossible to list all the kind of rituals described in The Heart of A Family, because they cover the whole spectrum of the lives of a wide variety of people from all religions, regions, and walks of life. There are entries on many kinds of holidays, both festive and simple, religious and secular, (up to and including Arbor Day and April Fool's Day), rites of passage, bedtimes, moon cycles, celebrations of nature, play, ending family squabbles, devotions, meal times, first menstruation, birthdays, sacred ceremonies, and just oodles of especially inventive small ones that gave me grins and chuckles. There's even a section called "When Rituals Need Changing," in which it is pointed out that ritual must be respected and used wisely; this section gives suggestions for recognizing and changing rituals that need change or adjustment.

While much of the 339 page book amounts to stories from families about their rituals and how they relate to their whole lives, the presence of the author is always felt in this beautiful book. Cox is there to inspire with comments and suggestion, and has a whole chapter devoted to "Making Rituals from Scratch." This one small chapter could be worth the price of the whole book. I often look at a cookbook in terms of the worth of the special meals it might realistically contribute to my family's enjoyment. But a book that can foster the development of rituals that can enrich our lives and be remembered fondly for many years to come? Now that's a valuable resource!

Cox ends The Heart of A Family with a lovely sentiment that sums up the purpose of her project: " Nurture your rituals and they will provide sustenance to your family all your life. Chances are, your best rituals will outlive you, sending your love into generations to come. Bend yourself to the honest hard work of ritual, and the bountiful crop you harvest will be joy." Well said and her book is an excellent resource that is bound to inspire the planting of seeds for such family traditions. The Heart of A Family, by Meg Cox, Random House, 339 pages plus appendices of resources, $24.95.

2000, Lillian Jones

January-February 2000

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