Older Kids – Less is More

Many homeschool families are familiar with Cafi Cohen’s books on homeschooling. I recently passed my dogeared copy of her book, And What About College on to a friend. If you are familiar with her writing, Cafi has a wonderful way of encouraging us that home education does work and that you don’t have to break the bank to help find the resources that best meet your child’s needs.

Not only is Cafi the author of several homeschool books, she was also a columnist for Home Education Magazine for a few years and many of her excellent articles can be accessed online.

One great sample of her Older Kids column was featured in the July-August 1997 issue of Home Education Magazine. In this column Cohen wrote about Less being More. Although the column is over ten years old, the information remains relevant today. She writes this about the vendors’ area of a homeschool conference she had attended:

Hundreds of exhibitors lined the aisles at the last homeschooling conference I attended. There were educational games; nifty self- instructional computer math programs; complete lab science kits; history and art and music videos; all the “basics” of K-12 education on CD-ROM; even some wonderful books.

It all beckoned, promising to make my life easier by selling me the tools for The Perfect Homeschool Program. With unlimited funds, I would have had no trouble spending thousands of dollars. Good thing, with both kids in college, we are no longer in the homeschool shopping mode.

She also writes:

With adulthood around the corner, those parents want to do the right thing, the right thing often defined by the statement: “I don’t want to do anything that will wreck his chances of…..” You fill in the blank: getting into college, finding employment, joining the military, living on his own, etc. It is easy to be scared into trading big bucks for the assurance that you are doing the right thing.

What I learned from homeschooling in the old days, when large conferences, indeed any conferences, were unheard-of and when finding resources was like pulling teeth, is that you really don’t need the glitzy stuff to succeed. In fact, avoiding glitz may be the key to more productive home education.

How is it that Less Is More? Could refusing to spend $500 to $1,000 on new instructional materials not only save you money but also result in a better homeschooling experience for your family? The short answer is “Yes.”

Cohen suggests looking to community models to find great resources for your children. Here are some of the models and resources she suggests. Please note that some of the resources might be gone, but I’ve updated some and added a few of my own.

Public Library

Reference librarians, Books (including any text) not on the shelves I can order inter-library loan and generally have within two weeks, tapes, instructional videos, (dvds) for everything from algebra to zoology, historical documentary films, Internet access, science project idea books, announcements about cultural events in town, reading groups for all ages, magazines

Other Homeschooling Families

Generally you will find these individuals through support groups. You can explore Home Education Magazine’s Support Group Listings to find a group near you.

Community Groups

It seems there are special interest groups for everything. Some my teenagers liked were church sports teams (basketball and volleyball and softball), skiing clubs, ballooning groups in Albuquerque, drama groups, special interest groups for environmental and other political causes.

Catalogs

And resource number four is catalogs from homeschooling suppliers. Some catalogs are full of information for beginners, most notably the catalog from The Elijah Company . It describes various homeschooling approaches and coordinates them to resources. It also has outstanding age-appropriate reading list recommendations.

Other catalogs I like for their reading list and alternative learning materials recommendations are Holt Associates (617 864-3100), The Drinking Gourd (800 TDG 5487), and Grace Llewellyn’s Genius Tribe (541-686-2315).

What to do with all the money you save from using the library, talking to experienced homeschooling parents, joining community groups, and reading catalogs? Here it is, the exception that proves the rule, Less Is More: buy a computer and join us online! The computer is the key to information access, and information can save you frustration, money, and time.

Here are a few more resources I’d like to add:

Community Groups

I did a google search with “my town + community groups” and found a few organizations, but I found many more by visiting my city’s chamber of commerce and again by visiting my local library. These days, the Internet allows us to find almost anything instantaneously, but I think when it comes to taking my kids to meet a group of people, I proceed with caution and appreciate a face to face meeting with the adults first.
In addition to support group listings, HEM offers some online community opportunities at HEM NEWS and Commentary and their Editorial Blog.

They also offer several discussion groups:

Catalogs

I love the catalogs that Cafi shared, but some of them are no longer available. John Holt’s site still exists , but the bookstore is now a part of Fun Books. By doing a simple, “curriculum +homeschool ” search you will find more resource companies now than were available when Cohen first wrote Less is More. Additionally, there are many sites where you can buy gently used resources as well.

Does this mean you should not use a curriculum, nor find as many resources that you can? Of course not, but what it does mean is that you must make sure that any resource you might find serves your child and that you or your child do not become a slave to a program that you paid a lot of money for, but might not be a good fit.

I picked this particular column for Closer Look because I believe the additional pressure to buy, buy, buy to make sure your child excels causes more stress to our homeschool community than it helps. Mark Hegener, HEM Publisher and homeschool Dad once said that all you need to homeschool is love and a library card. That continues to remain true as well and I hope you will read and take to heart Cafi Cohen’s sage advice in Less is More.

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