Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Book Review: 50 Veteran Homeschoolers... Things We Wish We'd Known

A few months ago, I read a recommendation for this book by Diana Waring, called "50 Veteran Homeschoolers Share: Things We Wish We'd Known". While in Texas in September, I stopped into a Half Price Books and, lo and behold, when I scanned the homeschool shelf, this book was one of only a few books on that shelf. YAHOO! I grabbed it and bought it (for something like $6, gotta love that!)... and just finished it.

I agree with the person who recommended it to me-- this is a very motivating, encouraging book. And because it does not delve deep into guilt-inducing specifics (like, "you need to be...", or "make sure you..."), it is also very liberating. For those who are already inclined to march to the tune of their own drummer, it will be confirming. For those who are inclined to box-check and feel the need to meet every point on a scope and sequence, this book may be life-altering and heart-gladdening.

Because it presents so many different perspectives and approaches, I found it to be the most freeing book about homeschooling I've read. Normally, when reading books about homeschooling, you get one particular "angle" (patriarchal/family-centered, unschooling, unit studies, or Charlotte Mason, etc.). But instead of getting only one person's perspective or approach, this brings together 50 different approaches. At the same time, all 50 are Christian homeschoolers, so it certainly does come at it from that "angle".

The book is comprised of 50 different chapters, each written by a different homeschool mom or family... and each of those chapters deals with different issues. Some of the chapters do repeat themes of other chapters, but because I just read one or two chapters a night, I didn't find this frustrating... rather, I found it to be reinforcing. The section of chapters that helped me the most (although I enjoyed almost all of them) was the portion about character development and spiritual training.

Some highlights/memorable quotes:

  • For young children and curriculum choices: "Keep it simple! Everything looks so attractive, it is tempting to load up on five times more material than you could possibly use. Resist that temptation. For first graders, there are only two objectives: (1) teach them to read and write, and (2) teach them to count, add, and subtract." ~F. & S. Cooper, p.29

  • About being a Lifelong Learner: "One great realization was that I could also pursue my own interests (such as gardening) and be a model of learning. We believe it's important for children to see their parents as learners, and not just as educators. Modeling a passion for learning... helps them internalize the notion that learning is valuable and worthy of pursuit, even after they leave the homeschool." ~V. Goodchild, p.35

  • Identify your target: "What benefit was it to finish a particular textbook if the children had little recollection of the information?... [So] we began with these fundamental questions: 'As graduates of our homeschool, what will our children need to know?' and 'How will we prepare them to be able to appropriate needed information in the future?' ... We formulated a list of broad objectives on important topics and courses... [covering] each area of life for our children: spiritual, academic, physical, life skills, and employment. Examples of long-term objectives are: 'ability to research a topic biblically,' 'know the flow of history and apply its lessons to current events', 'possess admirable work ethics'. These objectives and smaller sub-goals became our scope and sequence." ~R. Curl, p.59-60

  • Loving while we teach: "Plan to heartily embrace your children every day with direct eye contact, open arms, and adoring smiles, carefully tending to their conversations, needs, and dreams. ... Look, listen, and learn all you can about the incredible, marvelous gifts God sent in these soft, sweet little bodies." ~C. Summers, p.103

  • Re-evaluate regularly: "I wish I had know to have been regularly evaluating what we were doing with our day. It may be a wonderful curriculum, or an approach that fits our family philosophically, but it is continuing to work for the needs of our changing household? What might have succeeded for our family of four might not be effective for our family of seven." ~N. Robins, p.139

  • Schedule vs. Distractions: "There is always a distraction. Even for a disciplined person, it is hard to keep a schedule. ... We decided that people and real life experiences are more important than schedules. We should plan our days, yet be open to respond to ministry opportunities." ~D. Ward, p. 207

  • Give your kids your best: "Instead of using my gourmet cooking skills to wow the neighbors, I needed to prepare some fancy dinners for my children and teach them how to cook French food. ...Instead of singing just with adults, I needed to sing with my children and teach them how to harmonize. Instead of always being responsible and sober-minded with my children, I needed to laugh with them daily.

    "Over time, Michael became my chef d'extraordinaire, cooking meals we could hardly pronounce. ... As we began giving ourselves to our children-- knowing and being known-- and as we allowed our children to mature at their own pace, a marvelous thing occurred: homeschool became a place of wonder, of discovery, and of excitement. A perfect homeschool? No. A good place to learn and grow? Yes." ~D. Waring, p. 225

By offering many different kinds of families, many different versions of "the homeschool mom", and many different ways of challenging and teaching and discipling our children (and students), it has been very encouraging to me at this particular "juncture" of our parenting and homeschooling journey. I eagerly recommend it to others.


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