Monday, August 30, 2004

Homeschooling Odyssey -- preparations

How I started thinking about Homeschooling, a Sparky exclusive.
These are my thoughts and research: began December 2002

Education is not a race [Elkind, Miseducation: Preschoolers at Risk]. Neither is competition necessary to learning. Id.

I used to think homeschoolers were nuts. We live in an expensive area, in part because schools are so good. Why live here and home school? Now, home schooling seems so desirable to me, I wonder why more people aren't doing it.
To read more, click on the Xs

I had always assumed I'd send my DD to preschool at age 4, maybe even at 3. Conventional wisdom holds that its difficult to get a spot in a 4 year old class without having been in 3 year old program resulted in my considering preschool at 3, but I'm a gambling woman and would be willing to roll the dice (really, its not impossible to find preschools, though you might not get your first choice and might wind up in the dreaded afternoon program). Then I began questioning the necessity of preschool and ultimately rejected the notion of preschool. I read articles about choosing whether or not to preschool.

I had some casual discussions with DH that we could probably home school through junior high but don’t know how to handle HS level math and science. I met a woman who home schooled to high school. Suddenly the concern about higher level math and science disappeared, the kids could always go to high school.

I had some concerns over unnecessary competition in school; unwanted socialization experiences and possible, though perhaps not probable results - eating disorders, stress, having life controlled by school [day at school, homework, projects].

So I started reading about preschool, what goes on in a typical day, etc. I read Miseducation: Preschoolers at Risk by David Elkind and moved to from there...

Books I’ve read as I considered home schooling:

Home schooling Almanac by Michael and Mary Leppert – nice overview, easy to read, no need to read sequentially. Lots of information and interviews with parents and even one with a college student. Resource review.

Kingdom of Children by Mitchell Stevens – sociologist’s dissertation on the home school movement. Neither pro nor con, really just reporting and interpreting the social movement of home schooling and looking at the distinctions between “Christian” home schooling and the more liberal ‘unschooling’ movements.

This book gave me a wonderful sense of perspective on the subject as well as lots of information on the effects of homeschooling and the mechanics and history of the movement. Especially helpful was the information and background of the various support groups and homeschool organizations. Found the unbiased look at both the inclusives and the believers to be very helpful. -- I was later told by others that they felt the inclusive v. believer dicotomy oversimplified the movement, but I found it helpful, a good starting point.

Rebecca Rupp books – Getting Started on HomeLearning and HomeLearning Year by Year. California crunchy and well-educated. Level-headed and easy to read. Encouraging but also intimidating when you read about all the questions her kids were asking. Completely non-religious. Like her style, agree with her philosophy, lots of quotes. Year by Year book has curriculum for each year.

The Essential Montessori by Elizabeth Hainstock (recommended by my good friend, The Barely Attentive Mother). While this really wasn’t about home schooling, some of the statements really struck a chord with me. “The time that we spent learning together gave me the chance to work closely with my girls, laying the groundwork for a continuing rapport in their later years. I was able to watch each of them develop into a unique individual and learn infinitely more about them than would have been possible in any other situation. I felt that their emergence as individuals was more readily apparent to me because of our shared Montessori experiences than it would have been if I’d just given them a cheerful good-bye and sent them off to nursery school each morning. [p.7 explaining her teaching experiences with her preschool children].

Home schooling the Early Years Child by Linda Dobson – A good book, non-religious, maybe too how-to before I’m ready for it. General how and why, lots of tips.

Home school Manual by Theodore Wade – collection of articles, Christian, some by HSLDA leaders; dated look, didn’t really appeal to me, but seems comprehensive.

Teaching Montessori in the Home: The Preschool Years by Elizabeth Hainstock –
“Education need not be imposed on the child; given a learning environment he will be free to act and to develop himself along the lines of his own inner direction.” p.8
“Far too many schools today are also guilty of not allowing our children to think for themselves. Children are too often being forced to submit to an unimaginative curriculum in an environment where the teacher makes all the decisions, while the children suffer under the delusion that they are really learning. What they are getting is shallow, superficial learning that profits neither the teacher nor the pupil. Today’s children need far more stimulation than they are being given. They are learning by rote, responding to stock questions with stock answers; too seldom are they allowed to use their minds imaginatively and creatively. On the few occasions when a child or young adult is suddenly presented with a “thought” question, he is unprepared to cope with it – his thinking processes have become stagnant from disuse. It is a pathetic fact that too many young people today are able to think and talk only in vague generalities and abstractions. Is it the fault of the child that he is ill prepared, or does the fault lie within the structure of our present-day educational system and indeed, with the parents themselves, for placing too much emphasis on dependency?” p.14

For the Children’s Sake by Susan Shaeffer Macauley – an overview of Charlotte Mason’s philosophy. Love it! Religious but not overtly fundamentalist Christian – religious as in, we are all God’s children and each deserve respect. Hates ‘twaddle’, watered down, uninteresting texts used by school to teach. Emphasizes the importance of living books, ones that captivate the imagination and give children something to think about. Give them good books, give them books you may think are too old for them, they will learn and take something from them and want more.

A Charlotte Mason Education by Catherine Levison – brief and spotty, not as much of Mason’s philosophy but more quick summaries of how-tos [not fleshed out, not always coherent]. Author is a conservative Christian [talks about covering up ‘objectionable’ parts of art with post-its].

The Way they Learn by Cynthia Ulrich Tobias – not a home schooling book, just talks about learning styles and environmental preferences and how we remember. Its more than just the modalities of learning [aural, visual, kinesthetic, etc], its got lots of different theories and has references to many other books.

EasyHomeschooling Techniques by Lorraine Curry – fundamentalist Christian, a quick read and not bad if you ignore a lot of her religious beliefs [Creationism and disdain for evolution; ‘unacceptable’ art featuring nudity]; talks about setting up a scope and sequence, choosing good books, etc.

The Question of God by Dr. Armand M Nicholi, Jr.
Not a homeschooling book, but talks about C.S.Lewis’ experiences as a student at a private boarding school. I imagine that some of his critiques might be applicable to the public school system.
“If the parents in each generation...knew what really goes on at their son’s schools, the history of education would be very different.” “I have never seen a community so competitive, so full of snobbery and flunkeyism, a ruling class so selfish and so self-conscious, or a proletariat so fawning, so lacking in all solidarity and sense of corporate honor.” The environment fostered pride and arrogance and the tendency to look down on others. Lewis’ father eventually withdrew C.S. to study with a private tutor. The years he spent with his tutor were the most formative and happy of his life. He spent many hours of each day delving into books of his own choice. Every afternoon he was free ‘to read, write or moon about in the golden-tinted woods and valleys of this country.’ pp. 8-9.

Should I Home School? By Elizabeth and Dan Hamilton
A very helpful book, examines the question of whether to homeschool recognizing that its not the right choice for everyone [especially families where the spouses disagree]. Christian, assumes curriculum use. Likes Magic SchoolBus educational software.
Begins with educational options available – public school, parochial school, private school, Christian Day School, homeschool. Continues with questions to ask – developing an educational philosophy and determining which of these options most closely follows. Consider your time, interest and availability to homeschool [planning and teaching]. Consider your personality and your child’s [whether homeschooling would lead to or contribute to conflict with a difficult child]. Very helpful in providing questions to consider for those who feel pressured to homeschool [especially if for religious reasons].
Gives an overview of available curriculum and urges the reader to consider how much planning they would be able to do for homeschooling. Some curricula offer more structure and guidance which may be helpful or stifling – this structure corresponds to the availablity of the teacher to prepare assignments. Some curricula are heavy on review and drill, some move at a faster speed. She suggests Cathy Duffy’s Christian Home Educator’s Curriculum Guide and Mary Pride’s Big Book of Learning as resources.

Christian Home Educator’s Curriculum Guide by Cathy Duffy
Comprehensive. Discusses learning styles and teaching styles. Gives an overview of different homeschooling methods. I enjoyed this a lot but it was overwhelming.

Mary Pride's Big Book of Home Learning is another great resource.

Very pleased with the products offered by Sonlight Curriculum. Based on a living books approach, it offers a scheduled curriculum using real books [as opposed to text books]. Liked their philosophy – decidely Christian but more ecumenical, not Western culture biased.

The Relaxed Homeschool, Mary Hood
I really liked this book; its short [just over 100 pages] and easy to read. Mary is called the Christian unschooler by many. She has a Ph.D. in education which certainly lends credence to her opinions. She dedicated this book to Charlotte Mason for ‘who taught me to respect my children.’ This book is not a nuts and bolts how-to, though it does sort of help you get started. She urges you to determine your philosophy and some long range goals as a means to guide you. She mentions that she is Christian and it comes up during the course of her book but in a very low-key manner – no hammering away about God’s will nor sprinkling her book with Bible quotes. She highlights some of the shortcomings of institutional school without attacking them. She is a proponent of using living books but doesn’t get into details. She touchs on the teaching of different subjects but since she uses the living books approach, she doesn’t really approach teaching from a view of separate and distinct subject areas.
She discusses the importance of having a general daily schedule but isn’t a slave to it. The schedule is important, because even if you scrap it every day, it allows you to see areas you may be missing. Also, she does not have separate blocks of time for the various subjects, but simply an hour or two for academic subjects, some quiet time, chore time and time for activities.
She does a funny aside about unit studies – she basically says that she is more child directed and literature based while unit studies tend to be parent driven and activities heavy. This was helpful to me as I decide what approach I want to take.
In Chapter 4, she illustrates the lunacy around ‘teaching reading’ by comparing it to teaching kids to talk. Basically, kids are motivated on their own and provided a rich environment, will learn just fine without all the high priced gimmickry of experts. She points out that motivational techniques actually kill the intrinsic desire to learn [reading is made drudgery through dry, dumbed down textbooks and then made to answer questions, write reports and dissect them until reading is no longer an enjoyable experience]. She gives an example of how her son read great books but every summer, would turn to short dumb books to rack up points for the library’s summer reading program.
I was also interested in what she said about teaching science. She mentioned that people tend to approach it in one of two ways, either from a textbook approach [which tends to be very dry and not always clearly relevent] or an experiment driven approach [which tends to be disjointed as you learn about various parts of science without any obvious connection; ie magnetism to chemistry]. She prefers a literature based approach which involves checking out books from the library on subjects in which her children have shown interest and subscribing to various science magazines and just learning through living [gardening, etc].
Early math is also easily learned through living; one on one correspondance being very important. Cooking, measuring, math games. Purchased manipulatives aren’t necessary, use cheerios, popsicle sticks or other objects. If you want a text, use inexpensive workbooks.

So You’re Thinking about Homeschooling, Lisa Whelchel
A quick, easy read. Briefly profiles about 15 different composite families and uses a few pages to tell how and why each homeschools [single parent; harassed kids; unusual circumstances]. Of all the "families," only 2 homeschooled from the start, including the author. The 'families' are actually composites of many people she'd interviewed.

Teach Your Own, John Holt
Loved it – more substantive than a rah-rah homeschooling book. Holt seems to really like and respect children and emphasizes that they learn plenty on their own.

The Unschooling Handbook, Mary Griffith
More general, lots of encouraging quotes....

John Taylor Gatto, Dumbing Us Down and The Underground History of American Education are wonderful if you're feeling saucy. If you're unsure whether you want to homeschool they will either scare the heck out of you or get you started homeschooling immediately. Personally, I love them.

I am now a member of my state's inclusive homeschooling organization, subscribe to the Home Education Magazine, plan to become involved in monitoring homeschool legislation and hope someday to help with lobbying.
As my DH has said about our desire to homeschool, "Yes, we drank the Kool-Aid."


Anonymous said...

Very interesting and thoroughly researched. The "art" behind teaching and learning (especially young students)continues to facinate me.
I was genuinely amused by this comment in one of the book descriptions: "She points out that motivational techniques actually kill the intrinsic desire to learn [reading is made drudgery through dry, dumbed down textbooks and then made to answer questions, write reports and dissect them until reading is no longer an enjoyable experience]."
It made me giggle because I have a distinct 2nd grade memory of a conference where my teacher told my mother I had not shown interest in reading. This interest was measured in "SRA reading kits", and if we completed a number of stories in a certain time, we could win bike stickers. When my mom turned to ask why I hadn't been reading, I nonchallantly replied that I thought the stories were boring and didn't need a bike sticker. The teacher had never bothered to ask ME.--Julie

Marjorie said...

Hello Julie, Thanks for your comment -- an excellent example.
For a link to Julie's blog click here