Home Education Magazine
January-February 2003 - Articles and Columns
Homeschooling Books - Elizabeth McCullough
Family life as an ideal learning environment
Fundamentals of Homeschooling: Notes on Successful Family Living, by Ann Lahrson-Fisher. $24.95, 2002, NettlePatch Press, ISBN 0-9640813-6-9
It's the rare homeschooling parent who hasn't personally encountered the popular stereotypes of homeschooling: that it requires infinite patience, time, and money; that it's something radical types do to protest the evils of a materialistic/secular society; that if you do it right, it inevitably leads to spelling bee championships and stratospheric test scores. Indeed, much of what is written about homeschooling by homeschoolers plays into these stereotypes, implying that it's an endeavor for the select few with the right ideological qualifications and enough money to purchase the secret formula for success.
What if there were another way to look at homeschooling, a way that was more friendly, open, and accessible? A way that put the emphasis not on society, organizations, experts, and educational fads, but squarely on the family? One experienced homeschooling mother, writer, and speaker has dug into the roots of homeschooling and "found those foundations deeply rooted in the familiar: The natural and age-old practices of successful families." According to Ann Fisher-Larson, author of Fundamentals of Homeschooling: Notes on successful family living, homeschooling is just doing what comes naturally -- living with children as a family. How radical!
If you've been looking for a book that respects parents' common sense and wisdom, that honors children and their amazing power to learn, and that tackles its subject with thoughtfulness and insight, this is the book for you. Lahrson-Fisher organizes her book around five basic habits of successful family living: "Play," "Conversation," "Togetherness," "Growing Up," and "Exploration." Sounds simple. But in that framework, she pulls together research, experience, practical tips, and friendly encouragement to create a guide to homeschooling that really stands out.
The section on play will be invaluable to parents of young children -- and not-so-young children -- who worry that their offspring are "wasting" too much time in "aimless" play. In these chapters, Lahrson-Fisher establishes the ways in which play is the foundation for all learning. She calls on parents to protect their children's playtime, and lists some activities and attitudes that can be anti-play, including too-early involvement in organized sports, too much time spent with computers and televisions, and too much parental direction of play time.
Subsequent chapters treat traditional subject areas like mathematics, language arts, music, and science as on-going "conversations" between parent and child. In these conversations, the parent creates the opportunities and environment in which learning can't help but happen. The rest of the book contains a trove of tips for making it all work in a way that strengthens the family and brings joy to learning. There are also resources and suggestions for further charting and exploring your family's learning adventure.
With all the stresses on today's families, and with so many activities competing for family time, it is good to see a book that takes homeschooling back to its foundations: joyful, successful, fulfilling family living.
Ultimate Book of Homeschooling Ideas: 501 best learning activities for
kids ages 3-12, by Linda Dobson. $18.95, 2002, Prima Publishing, ISBN 0-7615-6360-1
"Mommy, I'm bored! Can you find me something to do?"
"You homeschool? What on earth do you do all day? And doesn't it cost a fortune?"
"Why do Wint-O-Green Lifesavers spark in your mouth when you crunch them?"
The answers to these questions and many more can be found in Linda Dobson's Ultimate Book of Homeschooling Ideas. Dobson has gleaned the best kid-tested ideas from homeschoolers around the country, including not only suggestions for new and creative ways to teach skills and concepts, but also new ways to think about and re-value the things you're already doing -- talking, playing games, doing chores, making crafts -- basically, living and learning together as a family.
Parents will appreciate that most of the suggested activities are manageable in scope and require low-cost materials. In fact, Dobson includes a handy chart listing all the "curriculum" materials a family will ever need -- for less than $100. Tips include suggestions for helping a child learn to read, hands-on history ideas, sources for free or low-cost science lectures, how to turn your laundry room into a laboratory, ways to put your extra zoo and park maps to educational use, and much more.
There are chapters covering all the subject areas (mathematics, science, etc.) as well as a chapter on life skills and one with suggestions for cheap, quick, and/or easy group activities. And since no homeschooling book would be complete without a few words on how to stay organized, there's a whole chapter on "Organization, Homeschooling Style."
This book is like having a hundred homeschooling friends who have already been there, done that, kept what works and passed the wisdom on to you. It makes a fine companion to Fisher-Lahrson's book, because it too honors the creativity, passion for learning, and loving warmth of homeschooling families.
Carschooling, by Diane Keith Flynn. $16.95, Prima Publishing, ISBN 0-7615-3684-1
Add to the 501 learning activities in Dobson's book the more than 350 travel-time suggestions found in Diane Flynn Keith's new book, Carschooling. An outgrowth of her columns in The Link and her Web site, www.carschooling.com, Carschooling: Over 350 entertaining games & activities to turn travel time into learning time proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that time spent in the car need not be wasted. More than that, Keith makes a convincing case that "effectively using time spent in the car...improves communication, builds trust and goodwill, and bonds families together in profound and heartfelt ways."
Wisely, Keith begins with practical suggestions for setting up your mobile classroom: how to keep your car clean, organized, and well-stocked (she includes several lists of essential supplies); how to prevent and relieve car sickness; and most importantly, how to preserve the driver's sanity while all this learning is going on.
Learning activities range from variations on time-honored car games like License Plates and Counting Cows, to more sophisticated excursions into literature, history, mathematics, foreign language, and science. Even P.E., health, and art find their place in Carschooling. When basic factual knowledge is required for an activity, such as the different types of clouds, or how a car's engine works, Keith thoughtfully includes it in the text.
There are enough tips in this book to cover most travel situations, from quick trips to the grocery store to cross-country treks, and to please travelers of all ages and abilities. Most importantly, this book, like the two others reviewed in this column, places family at the center of life and learning. All three books would be excellent additions to a homeschooling family's shelf (or car).
© 2003 Elizabeth McCullough
January-February 2003 - Articles and Columns
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