The Homeschooling Handbook
by Mary Griffith
Reviewed by Melissa Noble
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 34 No. 5, October-November 1998, p. 105-6
Homeschooling is a compelling topic for many LLL members. LLL encourages parents to make their own decisions, following their hearts. While not part of our philosophy, homeschooling can be a natural extension of that self-determination for some families. As homeschooling becomes more popular, the jungle of resources through which to maneuver grows thick.
It seems appropriate for LLLI to machete through the underbrush and identify homeschooling books that are considerate of children and support loving parenting. The Homeschooling Handbook is a sweet nut among the fronds. Nursing is mentioned in the book, not as a romantic notion, but as a normal part of life. "We used to do everything as a family, with the little ones in arms sleeping or nursing while we did family projects..." (page xxi). Homeschooling uses the sensitivity of the parents gained through loving guidance in order to develop the program of learning better suited to the child.
The Homeschooling Handbook is a secular, solid overview of the homeschooling experience. Griffith notes that "no family will have quite the same needs and interests, but many will give you ideas you can adapt and use for yourselves."
She presents a great deal of information to help parents determine if homeschooling is right for their family.
The book considers why families homeschool. One mother said, "Sending them off every day to learn somewhere else would seem to me to be giving up one of the most joyful aspects of parenting."
The results of ten homeschooling studies are presented. While noting that "negative research is virtually nonexistent," the author takes the pragmatic approach that "homeschoolers are a self-selecting bunch." She says we can't prove that it works, but academics are often the least of the worries connected with homeschooling. Griffith depicts the "Indiana Jones Homeschool Mom," hurdling panic attacks, ducking skepticism, paddling through burnout, leaping across quarreling siblings and dodging excessive obligations outside the home.
Legal concerns are often paramount in the minds of new homeschoolers. She sums up North American homeschooling laws in general and how to heed the law in several representative US states. The author believes homeschoolers should learn about local law and practice homeschooling quite openly.
In Chapter 3 educational theorists Steiner, Montessori, Mason, Holt and Gardner are discussed. Different school structures are enumerated, such as School-at-Home, Unit Studies, Eclectic, Unschooling and Outside Structure. The unfortunate aspect of this listing is that school-at-home creativity isn't addressed; one can certainly mix and match several styles. One can order a complete curriculum from a publisher, but if the parent does her own recordkeeping, she can skip any redundant drill work and add subjects of interest, such as sign language, typing or a unit study on baseball.
The next three chapters apply the different homeschool structures to various age groups, to see how things are going for real homeschooling families. Evaluation and recordkeeping are considered, each record's format determined by its purpose. Traditional grades, portfolios, narrative evaluations and standardized testing are all viable options.
One can spend large amounts of money or virtually nothing on curricula. The local school district, teacher supply stores and catalogues may be caverns full of hidden treasure. The author also mentions other creative resources such as museums, businesses, government and computer sites.
The homeschooling community tosses ropes of advice, support and companionship in the form of local groups, state associations, national organizations, magazines, internet news groups and conferences. The author provides addresses and phone numbers in the outstanding appendices.
The text concludes with a discussion of special circumstances, such as disabilities, living in remote areas and what to do after high school completion.
Dozens and dozens of resource books, internet sites, periodicals, organizations (listed by state) and curriculum suppliers culminate in an encouraging list of colleges that have accepted homeschoolers. This last third of the book is a practical, user- friendly resource in itself, a significant reason this book would be a useful addition to a Group Library. A homeschool novice can chew on this like a handful of trail mix, extracting flavor and stamina for the long haul.
The book lays out the terrain and shows how others have dealt with the challenges. The Homeschooling Handbook assures new home teachers (and students) that the adventure is not undertaken in a vacuum; other mothers and fathers have scouted ahead and charted the wilderness. The course to take is up to each family.