July-August 2008 Selected Content
Book Reviews - Jeanne Faulconer
The Homeschool Reader Series, Volume Two
The Homeschool Reader Series, Volume Two: Collected Articles from Home Education Magazine 1995-1999, Edited by Laura Weldon, HEM Books, 978-0-945-097-32-7
The Homeschool Reader, Volume Two is a collection of timeless articles from Home Education Magazine from 1995 - 1999. The ideas, reassurance, and authenticity present when the articles were first published endure today, creating a valuable resource for new and veteran homeschoolers. Editor Laura Weldon couldn't be more accurate when she writes in the introduction, "Each author's distinctive voice will remind you of a memorable conversation with a friend. You'll come away with excellent advice and the hard-won wisdom of these homeschooling parents who have been where you are now."
It's almost as if the writers have attended my recent homeschool group discussions, eavesdropping about concerns, interests, and ideas shared among parents. The table of contents reflects the breadth of the discussion, with articles grouped in categories like Starting Out, Fathers' Viewpoints, Socialization, Different Needs, Unschooling and More Structured Homeschooling, Teens and Young Adults, Travel Homeschooling, and Perspective. Not neglected are the traditional academic subjects, with groups of articles providing information and inspiration for helping children with math, reading, writing, art, physical education, science, history and social studies, philosophy, and ethics.
Weldon points out a reader can open this book anywhere. Sort of a Reader's Digest for homeschooling, the book's articles are self-contained and digestible for a busy parent who is not able to read in long sessions or who is looking for shorter pieces to mix in with other reading --if the reader is able to put it down. There are articles by both veterans and shorter-term homeschoolers still in the throes of adjustment. These homeschooling parents are representative of the real life version: while many are confident, many writers express periods of self-doubt and show us challenges they face.
Even with this realistic view, the advantages of home education shine through. Linda Dobson's "The Early Years Child's Learning Assets" reminds us of the energy and curiosity naturally present in young children. Dobson explains, "Part of homeschooling's charm, its beauty, its secret, is that homeschooling is a natural way to allow natural energy flow to happen. Does it make sense to bottle up all this energy, even if doing so serves 'school rules?' Or does it make more sense to nurture and encourage the resulting learning assets so they can serve your little learner's needs?"
"Handmade, Homespun and Homeschooled" by Robin Ohlgren-Evans is a lovely tribute to the creative possibilities inherent in homeschooling. Ohlgren-Evans asserts, "Homeschooling gives us a richly creative forum in which to live, and we take full opportunity." She describes her family's crafting, paper-making, tie-dyeing, felting, baking, skate-board creating, soap making and more, saying, "Making things is an integrated and expressive learning process that is satisfying, empowering, and productive."
The rewards of homeschooling are woven through the more-than sixty articles, including the close family relationships, flexible schedules, positive socialization, customized learning atmosphere, and opportunities for community service.
The Homeschool Reader, Volume Two offers something for everyone, including parents taking older children out of school, as Ellen C. Bicheler chronicles in her article "Leaving Public Education." The article focuses on her daughter's request to be homeschooled in reaction to a negative junior high experience and provides valuable insight on the adjustments a family makes. But Bicheler's article also addresses homeschooling's value as part of a parent's personal growth -- especially for a parent who was invested in public schools as a proponent and volunteer. "How ironic that homeschooling more than anything provided a path for my own interests to flourish. While watching Melissa pursue her interests with intensity and commitment, I realized that there are other ways of doing things than the old public school and college model I was familiar with."
There is practical help here for getting started, deschooling, working with teens and young adults, and record keeping. Do you need reassurance about your house having that lived-in look, homeschooling with toddlers in the family, homeschooling without a daily plan, children who resist active teaching, late readers, or dealing with family members lacking confidence in homeschooling? You'll find it here, along with a jam-packed article, "Make Learning Fun" by Katie Fawcett, that is practical help worth the price of the whole book.
More of the articles in The Homeschool Reader lean toward child-led, interest-based learning. They will be valuable to eclectic homeschoolers and structured homeschoolers who are curious about these methods or who enrich structured learning with interest-based homeschooling. But the book also includes the ponderings of parents who face internal struggles about unschooling, as well as those who have embraced it completely. "How much structure" is addressed with openness, and several writers report how their family has worked out education for children who prefer or do better with more structured schooling.
The articles contributed by fathers are both practical and poignant. There is nothing more moving in the book than Gary Wyatt's article on homeschooling fathers. "Children need more of their fathers and fathers need more of their children," says Wyatt. "Men have an extraordinary potential to realize in the lives of their kids, a potential that goes beyond narrowly defined gender roles."
And the authors of these articles can write. Gail McClelland Fenton writes about her homeschool nature group. "We whack dead sticks together, climb boulders, watch dragonflies emerge from pupation, spray water on lichens, watch ants, draw habitat maps, track deer, invent our own chipmunk language, read stories outdoors, write poetry, invent science experiments, play music on fallen logs and admire a perpetual parade of life forms. Again and again while we are engaged with nature we talk about body parts, life cycles, adaptations, habitats and the interdependence of plants and animals. Again and again, we come back round to pick up loose ends and weave them into a bigger tapestry."
Fenton says, "Why did I waste our time on personal interactions with mud? Why didn't I just tell kids about soil? I did this because I want kids to learn deeply, with their bodies, their senses, and their hearts, and because I want them to understand how soil makes a life-and-death difference for all plants and animals. To care for life on earth, we have to love mud."
Editor Weldon has selected articles that help our homeschooling and are literary as well. The rich detail so often present in the pages of Home Education Magazine is evocative of the homeschooling experience. As evidence, let me leave you with a passage by Kathleen Creech. She writes, "At night, when other children were going to sleep to get ready for school, mine were still up learning, dashing around in the darkness or using flashlights to make the rain turn to silver streaks. They stood still and listened to the great horned owls calling to each other. They lay on their backs and watched satellites traverse the sky overhead. When they finally went to bed, they often spent time reading the maps on the wall beside their pillows, tracing rivers and touching mountaintops before they drifted into sleep."
© 2008, Jeanne Faulconer