Here's a breath of fresh air. Okay, pipe down with the groans. I was just going back to my roots, where we used to have punning contests around the dinner table. Still, Homeschooling: Take a Deep Breath - You Can Do This! is a little different from most how-to books I've read and believe me, I've read a lot of them! Being the mom of a gifted learner and a struggling learner and then one in-between (would that make her "average"? Surely not!) I am always looking for that elusive piece of advice that would help our efforts at home education run more smoothly. If it included do-able advice on cutting down the domestic chaos, that would be a bonus.
Enter Terrie Lynn Bittner, a homeschooling mom with attention deficit disorder (ADD), who has taught at least one student with ADD. She reminds me of a friend who is one of the more energetic and organized people I know - but her organization came at a price, with deliberate effort and sacrifice, because she, too, suffers from ADD. Thus, Mrs. Bittner's advice rings true to this too-often scatterbrained mom. (I mean myself, not the friend I just mentioned.) I feel as if she really understands the struggle I've been going through all these years. Her organizing suggestions sound a bit rigid to me, but then I have all the flexibility of Jello (that is to say, too much), and she does suggest that you try an organizational method and adapt it until it suits you.
The book is laid out in a methodical and logical order, starting with the decision to homeschool, overcoming objections (others' and your own), finding out about the legalities, and laying the groundwork. The author discusses differing ways of using homeschooling, including "afterschooling" - which means the student attends some sort of institutional school, even government school, part of the time, and gets enriched on the side. (This part of the book would drive some of my homeschooling friends, who want nothing whatsoever to do with government schools, crazy.)
Next she goes into organizing both space and time. I must admit I found her ideas on scheduling and record-keeping to be very helpful indeed, though they were also a bit of a challenge given my distractability. I liked her system for keeping on top of paperwork - it sounds doable - and her suggestions for obtaining school supplies frugally were very sensible. There are strategies for teaching one child. (Believe me, this can be a challenge. I know from experience. Our oldest was an only child for years before her sisters came along.) There are suggestions for multi-level teaching, and for facilitating education with babies and toddlers underfoot, and for dealing with gifted or struggling learners. Educational methods are briefly discussed (too simplified, in my opinion, but we'll get to that later), as well as learning styles.
There is a wealth of information in the rest of the book, including how to use pre-written lesson plans or how to make your own, how to use or create unit studies (great tools for integrating subjects and including multiple ages), how to deal with individual academic subjects (math, language arts, science, history, writing, and electives), how to evaluate learning.
There's a whole chapter on defending what you do when others ask "stupid questions" about your homeschooling (Everybody say it with me now: "What about socialization?"), and another chapter that deals with "the bad stuff no one tells you" (and another about "good stuff"). The latter two chapters deal with things that experienced homeschoolers take for granted, like the house being a mess because people are using it all the time, or that you and your children might actually get tired of each other's company sometimes. On the other hand, your children will know how to talk to people of all ages, not just their peers, and their knowledge will vary from that of children in the public schools. (Think about the last. You can present your own values, instead of "values clarification." Your children will probably not learn the misery of daily bullying. Too, they'll learn a lot more in-depth information about a subject that fascinates them, like Math or British literature or History or Auto Mechanics, because they'll have time to explore their passions. In a good way, that is.)
My biggest quibble with the book was the explanation of homeschooling methods. The author simplifies homeschooling into two camps: structured (school-at-home) and unschooling. Anything in the middle is lumped together and labeled "eclectic." I know that all the jargon can be confusing to a newcomer, but I really do think that a little more might have been put into this section of the book. "Eclectic" means not just mixing unschooling with textbook learning, it implies taking pieces of various things and combining them together, which is not exactly the same thing. (Our family is "eclectic" in that sense. We use a packaged math curriculum, participate in a homeschool science class where the teacher creates all the materials, take individual music lessons and sing together in a choir, read "real books" for literature and history, practice narration and copywork, go through art kits like there's no tomorrow, and are always refining our schedule of activities and electives.)
Many of the chapters include resource lists, either books or websites for further information on the topic presented in the chapter. I was familiar with a number of these, but also discovered quite a few that were new to me, and so I commend the author, not only on her organization and presentation of her material, but her research and decisions (what to include, that is, out of the wealth of information "out there") as well.
Whether you struggle with organization or not, whether you're ambivalent about homeschooling in the first place, or an experienced home educator looking for new inspiration, with all its practical advice, especially in the various academic areas, you'll find Homeschooling: Take a Deep Breath - You Can Do This! a valuable resource.