Note: This is a combined review of Homeschooling: A Patchwork of Days and Homeschool Open House.
You're right, Nancy! This (Homeschooling: A Patchwork of Days) is the book I wish I'd had when I first started homeschooling. Like you, I always wanted to be a "fly on the wall" at a homeschool, just to observe - to see if what I was doing was "right" (whatever that is), but didn't want them on their best, most productive behavior...making it look good.
Nancy has "done unto others" and made being a "fly" easy with her books, Homeschooling: A Patchwork of Days and its follow-up, Homeschool Open House. I actually got to do what I'd wanted so much to do when we started five years ago; I got to "see" someone else's homeschool day in action.
Homeschooling truly is a "line upon line, precept upon precept" undertaking, not only for the individual family, but for homeschoolers in general as a movement, and I appreciate Nancy's acknowledgements of "Homeschoolers who pave the way for those following".
Even in her introduction, Nancy builds excitement by asking the questions that you always wanted to ask. She shares her own embarkation upon homeschooling, with all the ups and downs inherent in the task. Her honesty - and the honesty of the 30 families who follow - is upfront and forthright, and blunt sometimes (I loved 14-year-old Noah's account on page 60, "...I hear my mom shout..." and later "...my mom shouts..." and his account of how only one of three bulbs is working in the "big room light" and how the books he chooses are "interesting", unlike the ones his mom selects). Want honesty? Ask a kid!
Gary and Nancy Lande's "The Gift of Time" account of their day near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was personally convicting and encouraging at the same time. How can she do so much? (Why can't I?) And then I realize that when my two are older, I might be able to accomplish that amount. She motivated me with every page.
Nancy weaves into her chapter the arduous task of making home "a rich and familiar place again" where children have "choice and responsibility" and are "accountable and enthused." I like her "Weekly Planning and Learning Log," and will be duplicating one for my own children. And her "box" organization idea runs over me like an answer to prayer.
I am chided repeatedly in the book to break out of my "public school" mentality and the assumption that I have to do school like it was done unto me. Her comments about not only what to teach but how and why to teach touched my heart; she wrote what I felt: "We created an environment in our home that made accessible wonderful books and resources; ... and most importantly we made ourselves available. We created experiences that would nurture in our children the ability to ask questions, define problems, take risks, experiment, determine the relevant from the useless, explore the process of building conclusions, work creatively toward solutions and communicate effectively. We helped them to learn the satisfaction of mastery of a task or subject."
I really like the differentiation between being social and socialization! (page 30) And chores? I've already changed our schedule and it's working GREAT!
Everyone needs sweatshirts like Barb had made for Matthew and Nick in Derry, Pennsylvania: "Erupt with knowledge ... Homeschool!" Barb's dry humor comes through clearly as she ditches the "strict 'workbook'" mentality and switches to unit studies. I could almost see her sons cringing as I read. And, she talks to herself - I liked her immediately. "After all, should Matt be doing mindless exercises in nouns, verbs, adverbs, and adjectives over and over again? Then I tell myself, 'No,' ..."
I REALLY like the "brag tags," and will incorporate that idea into my homeschool ASAP, Barb.
Jane, an "unschooling" mom from Ryegate, Vermont, performs a yearly evaluation (hmmm) and restricts TV (so I'm not so weird). "We evaluate it all as we go and we'll change things if we need to. In the meantime, we're thankful that there isn't too much typical around here."
Wow. She's thankful for that? Maybe that means I should be, too. Hmmmm.
And, if you've got a learner with great amounts of attention that needs to be spread out over several activities and you just KNOW he/she should be able to focus, you must read Chuck and Nancy's "Building Castles" chapter. Read up on Noah, age 14, (the humorist I quoted earlier!). Nancy also evaluates at year's end and uses the summer to brush up on what she might have skimmed too lightly during the school year.
And I had to laugh/cry when I read her account of the escaping rabbit. With us, it's escaping goats and chickens! And trees that hit the roof! Someone else has days like mine! Then I read about Penny's sick cat (page 70) and was sure -- giggle, giggle (sorry, Penny) - that chaotic intervals must be the rule and not the exception.
John and Penny offer their children a semi-structured school environment in Scotland. Between their thousands of books and living in a historic town, school just seems to jump out at them from every crevice. I appreciated her ability to "go with the flow" and encourage those "impromptu discussions" with her children as they made their way over stone walls and down to the toads. "Impromptu Discussions" just became a new entry in my own homeschooling log!
Read "Teacher Didn't Shave Today!" and giggle with Brendan and Sharon (who had to do the proposing). They're working on their family of 12(!) Brendan has most of the homeschool responsibilities, and is also busy as an Air Force Reserve officer. Remember all the times they've been sent out lately? He was there, making family life a wee bit more than hectic. He's also home with the children enough to hear the derogatory comments that come with being a stay-at-home dad. He suggests a thick skin and a sense of humor as an antidote for sarcastic venom. You also sense in his writings a deep concern and love for his family.
Read next about Casey and (yet another!) Nancy, who is the primary wage earner. Homeschooling doesn't discriminate or segregate. Any family can do this, and this book proves it by dismantling many arguments and myths inherent in the discussion. Nancy's advice: "And try to get enough family time, marriage time, and sleep!"
And I loved this: "Of course my house is perpetually a mess. WE have determined our priorities in a very conscious fashion. I've heard it said that no one on his or her deathbed has ever said, 'I wish I had spent more time at work (or cleaning the house)!' "Amen!
Read about Edris, who says her greatest encouragement comes from her husband, Clifton, and "the Word of God."
16-year-old Brianna wrote about the untypicalness of their typical days in Eagle River, Alaska, where Dad is an emergency room physician, and Mom ("mellowing with age") sounds up for sainthood. "She likes ... learning how to have a meek and quiet spirit and doing anything with her children ... Her greatest desire is to be a godly wife and mother ... Since she is so aware of her own weaknesses and imperfections, she realizes the rest of us deserve equal understanding."
Wow! What a testimony - especially from a sixTEEN-year-old about her mother!
And when I grow up, I want to be like Louise and Gregg, with their seven children - farm, orchard, year-round gardens, family game night, hours of reading time, and all. I'm on my way, I think, since I can relate in every fiber of my body to her statement: "Nothing is ever constant."
Join Jim and Ann for "a real, but not ideal, preschool day" in the Midwest.
Hear Cindy's heart from her mobile home, where they've homeschooled since birth. God put her on a schedule that she's been able to stick to.
"We've learned not to be a slave to our schedule, but also not to drop it at the slightest excuse."
Ouch, Cindy. That hurt!
And, hey, while I'm licking my wounds, HER kids are up at 5 AM!
She shares her seven lessons of homeschooling that have gotten her through the past six years (at publication):
I am doing the right thing.
I can't do it on my own.
I am the best teacher for my kids.
I start simply - only what's required (beginning school only at the state's legally required time).
I read aloud as much as possible.
I let the older teach the younger as much as possible.
I concentrate on the early years with reading only. Once they've learned to read, everything else is A PIECE OF CAKE!!!
Meet Blake and Karla, from College Station, Texas. Karla has a teaching certificate, "and by the end of my student teaching I had decided that 'no way were my children going to the public schools."
Keith and Sandra homeschool their three children in Albuquerque, New Mexico where they don't, "...educationalize trips to zoos and museums and such. We just go, and what we read or see is discussed, but not in a scheduled, checklist way."
You'll want to read about Randy and Sharon's "Fifty Character Traits" - I'm checking to see if I know anyone who measures up! Wow! Would that we'd all be able to instill the list from pages 179-180 into our children - and ourselves!
Bill and Leslie homeschool in Val-Morin, Quebec in Canada. I really liked the way they approached their chapter: WISH... REALITY... complete with cartoons! Leslie encourages homeschool parents to... "do our own home education, that we need to research our own projects that interest us, pull out long forgotten dreams, dust off those old books and plunge into learning, letting our children be inspired by our example."
Told you this was a convicting book!
Greg and Jo-Anne homeschool in Sydney, Australia, lending to the international flavor of the task. Jo-Anne wrote during mid-summer - January! Hear her wisdom: "We have an answering machine because, while running a homeschool organization, I found I could spend my whole life on the phone, so now I strictly limit my calls - none in the "school time" unless desperate..."
Cathy, of Quakertown, Pennsylvania, tells us about motivation. You'll want to read that chapter for sure. Her children now are in a public school, where they are doing well. She advocates homeschooling through childhood.
Don't think you can homeschool with lots of little ones? Read how Dave and Ruth handle it with children ages 5, 4, 2, 1, and newborn. See pages 212-216.
Brad and Betsy are missionaries with Wycliffe Bible Translators, living in the small rural Jola village in Senegal, Africa. Betsy has opted for a curriculum package since ordering and getting books in an African village is a bit of a hassle. She'll help you overcome your own excuses in short order when you see what it takes for her to homeschool.
Matt and Leslie homeschool from their church parsonage in rural Pennsylvania.
"Our kids have done well academically and I love being with them," Leslie writes. "I have been sobered, though, by how much our children learn from us that is unintentional. With all day to be with them, our influence upon them is so powerful. Many times we have seen ourselves mirrored in our children's attitudes and responses. Homeschooling can reveal the best and worst in us, but I am thankful for the mirror of God's Word and a loving crucible - our home - in which to help each other become more like Christ."
Those parting words at the end of the book should sober us all. Leslie's "speak the truth in love" eloquence goes to the heart of why we do what we do.
In Homeschool Open House, Susan Richman's Forward suggests having your children read some of the chapters. Gee. Who-da-thunk-it?
And besides all the meaty chapters in Part 1, Lande gives us updates on many of the families from Patchwork in Part 2's Five-Year Follow Up Interviews.
Go with Lande from Alaska to Zimbabwe, across 11,000 miles to hear the typical and the atypical. Curriculum choices. What works and why.
Need to evaluate or re-evaluate a decision about homeschooling? Lande gives you the checklist on page 9.
I immediately liked Mary, from South Carolina, with goats (me, too) and an enthusiastic, LOUD, early riser (me, too) whose morning prayer is for the Lord to help her remember her priorities (me, too).
"My first priority is taking care of the emotional and spiritual needs of the household, and next is taking care of the physical home - in other words, focusing on home life, not the house. It's so difficult to do those things that are 'invisible' (like reading to the children, praying with them, making time to cook with them and including them in my little jobs around the house) when the 'visible' things have a way of piling up and causing me to dread unexpected guests!"
And all the homeschool families who agreed, said, "Amen!"
Meet George and Jill, ages 55 and 51 respectively, who'll make believers out of anyone who thinks they're too old to homeschool. Meet their blended family of birth and adopted children (his, mine, ours, and more of ours), the youngest five of whom are at home where four are being home educated. This family has also provided foster care for more than 40 children.
Meet Cheryl from Canada, a black single mom who hated the prejudice she encountered in public schools in Canada and in Jamaica. She wanted better for 10-year-old Phil.
"The incidences of racism and classism I experienced in Canada and Jamaica probably nourished the roots of my thoughts to some day homeschool if I were to have children of my own. I certainly thought that a mentally safe environment would be a better experience than the one I had!"
Go from South Dakota to Florida to California. Homeschool for religious reasons and for academic reasons. Homeschool with a racially mixed family. Homeschool through tragic and sudden deaths. Homeschool on a sheep farm in Canada. Homeschool with new Christians. Homeschool with a California mom who argued against homeschooling - until she saw the benefits for her son. Homeschool in Michigan where God writes the lesson plans, and in the mountains of Arizona, where eclectic learning refuses to squelch natural curiosity.
Both books let you meet and become attached to a myriad of families, allowing you to glean from their wisdom and mistakes as you create your own homeschool. In the end, Lande hopes you are awed "by the diversity, strength and tremendous promise of family."
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Deborah Deggs Cariker A Houston-area veteran journalist, Deborah Deggs Cariker is a ninth-year homeschooling mother of two, and Assistant Editor of the EHO Product Reviews Department. Cariker and fireman husband, Bill, make their home near Montgomery, Texas.
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