Reading The Imperfect Homeschooler's Guide to Homeschooling is like having another mom who is farther along on the road look back to see you struggling, turn around to come alongside, put an arm around your shoulders, and lighten your load with encouragement and advice. At least, this is the mental picture that kept coming to mind as I read this book. I do enjoy sitting down with a cup of tea or coffee and chatting about problems and solutions with another homeschool mom. Having this book is even more convenient, involving no driving, no coordination of schedules to allow two moms to get together, and no picking up of the house to make it welcoming to a visitor.
(Yes, I will take care of those dishes in the sink... or rather, the children will. And the crumbs on the table and floor will soon succumb to routine. At least, that's the plan.)
Barbara Frank has combined three booklets into one, full of encouragement and practical tips that have worked for her family - and that you can adapt for your own use. Two of her four children have "graduated" from "homeschool high school" and two are still at home. Her youngest has Down syndrome, making her advice especially helpful for those of us with special needs children.
A brief introduction ("Or What I Know about Homeschooling") speaks of the author's experience and then touches on choosing and buying curriculum, homeschooling methods (which is actually a statement about how individual families adapt homeschooling to their lives, rather than a description of the "methods" that are currently popular), a sobering insight on "when you shouldn't homeschool," and a reality check in regard to expectations.
Section One, "Covering the Bases," does just that. Part pep talk (Can we do this?) and part practical application (How can we do this?), the author discusses such topics as the concept of Scope and Sequence, using curriculum, avoiding burnout, delight-directed learning, unit studies, readiness, "gaps," and standardized testing. If you are intimidated by the idea of homeschooling, if you feel inadequate because you did poorly in school yourself, or because you don't have a teaching degree, you'll find a lot of common-sense reassurance here, based in experience and statistics. If you are using the "textbook method" and are frustrated or you or your children are teetering on the edge of burnout (or perhaps already over the edge?), you'll find suggestions for a different approach.
The author leans more towards "delight-directed" learning than textbook-based learning, so you won't find a lot of tips here for using textbooks. On the other hand, our family found years ago that the textbook method did not work for us, and so I found her discussion of homeschooling methods to be helpful and relevant, and also confirmed by our homeschooling experience.
Section Two, "Overcoming Obstacles to Homeschooling," addresses many of the habits, attitudes, and "personality" quirks that make homeschooling more difficult than it needs to be, or in some cases, next to impossible. The author takes a hard look at things like television watching, Internet use, chatting on the telephone, shopping, even too much time spent exercising (the latter is not a problem around here - we could actually use more exercise. But that's another matter.)
I found the "Personality-Driven Obstacles" fascinating and eye-opening to read. I could pick out various friends in the descriptions, and all-too-clearly my own problems as well. There are moms who are driven to drive ("going places and doing things all the time"), would-be schoolteachers, perfectionists (applied to housekeeping, homeschool, and/or just being a mom!), disorganized, lacking confidence, or content to follow the lead of someone else rather than thinking for themselves. For each of these, the author unblinkingly considers the drawbacks and offers suggestions for dealing with shortcomings.
The last part of this section deals with circumstances that present challenges to homeschooling: having a special needs child, financial difficulties, disapproval of family and friends, and dealing with dysfunctional members of your extended family or needy friends who seem to take hours of your time.
Section Three, "115 Organizing Tips for Homeschoolers" is not only a list of tips, tricks, and helpful hints, but sketches out a plan for organizing your home and school - a real sanity-saver, believe me! The tips are organized into groups such as keeping files, dealing with curriculum, keeping track of dates and events and phone numbers, organizing yourself and your children, running your home, and homeschooling with little ones. And this is not just space and time organization: The tips grouped together under "Keeping Up Your Energy" are the homeschool mom's quick guide to avoiding burnout.
I've been homeschooling for over a decade now, gleaning advice here and there, and I haven't found a "perfect" homeschooler yet! The advice in this book rings true, and it is clear to me that this author has drawn from experience and not merely theory in writing this guide. Altogether The Imperfect Homeschooler's Guide to Homeschooling is a guide that any homeschooler, newcomer or veteran, should find helpful and encouraging. It's a lot like that chat over the back fence that nowadays is so rare to find, or that cup of tea and sanity on a harried day.
And now that my tea's all gone, I guess I'd better add the cup to the sink and call the dishwashers to their duty!