Thursday, November 30, 2006

Book Reviews, Part 6

365 Days of Celebration and Praise: Daily Devotions and Activities for Homeschooling Families, by Julie Lavender

Homeschooling the Challenging Child: A Practical Guide, by Christine M. Field

Homeschooling Methods: Seasoned Advice on Learning Styles, with contributions by Ruth Beechick, Clay & Sally Clarkson, Christine Field, Diana Waring and others. General Editors, Paul & Gena Suarez. Published by The Old Schoolhouse.

With titles like those, you almost don't need reviews. But here are some of my thoughts anyway.

365 Days of Praise: It's not unusual to see almanacs of days; there are places online with lists of odd holidays and anniversaries, and there are books for teachers that suggest activities for Pickle Week or whatever. But two things set this one apart: it's aimed at Christian homeschooling families, and it's set up to be used as a devotional resource. Each day has a short introduction (sometimes with related Bible reading), discussion questions, a related activity, a "curriculum connection", a Bible verse to memorize, and a prayer suggestion. The introduction has some suggestions for using the book; you can pick and choose which days to celebrate (and some of them are weeks or months, such as National Book Month), and you could adapt the suggested activities depending on the ages of your children.

I think the book might work well for a weekly family night or Sunday afternoon time, since some of the activities (such as crafts and outings) will take more time out of a homeschool morning than you might want for devotions. The suggestions remind me of the kinds of things we do during Advent. There are a few things here and there that are a bit strange or seem to be stretching the theme, such as praying for hatmakers on Hat Day. But overall the activities sound like fun, and for those whose homeschool style is mostly rabbit-trail-based, the celebrations might even be the jumping-off point for a whole day's learning (or more).

I even picked up one easy snack idea that would work well for our own advent calendar: December 12th has a peace theme, and Julie's Goose Day activity (for August 29th) is a bagel-and-cream-cheese dove. You slice a bagel across, cut one piece in half (into C shapes), put the two "wings" on a plate facing out from the "body", cover the whole thing with cream cheese, and put a doughnut hole/Timbit where the head would be. We've made Butterfly Sandwiches before, but never bagel doves.


Homeschooling the Challenging Child: This is the book to read "if your kids isn't like all the other kids on the block." The author notes that the book is about learning issues, not physical disabilities; but it does cover a wide range of learning disabilities and differences, discipline issues, and parent/child clashes in personality and learning styles. There are also helpful followup chapters on "Mom, Marriage and Siblings" (families with "difficult children" need support too), on planning a program, and on when and how to seek professional help. The book is about finding creative solutions and getting perspective on problems (which can sometimes be gifts, not problems), whether your child has an official disability or not. (One of Christine Field's children is an energetic boy who might be labelled ADHD in a classroom, but she feels that's just our culture's negative view of energetic boys.) As the subtitle says, there are practical tips all the way through the book, such as ideas for teaching distractible children (if a child is very bothered by the noise of others working in the room, you might consider using industrial-grade ear protectors).

Christine Field says, "The longer I live with challenging children, the more I truly believe they are a privilege because we are all growing more than we would without the challenges. Our spiritual 'muscles' are strengthened and our creativity is heightened as we find the best way to bring out the best in these children." (page 64) She's done a good job of helping others to do that with this book.


Homeschooling Methods: Many people have tried to do a complete rundown of the major homeschooling approaches, in articles, in books, and at homeschool meetings. They usually fail because a) they don't really know enough about all those different approaches, b) they don't know how the "in practice" side of each approach differs from the philosophical side (what do "real" unschoolers or Charlotte Mason-ites do every day?), and c) of course they're biased towards their own approach, even if they're trying to cover things fairly. I have seen innumerable awful descriptions of CM homeschooling, for example; but if I tried to write a positive description of a popular fill-in-the-blank curriculum, I guess I'd be just as unfair since I've never used it myself.

Anyway, Paul and Gena Suarez have gotten around this by calling on people recognized in ten different homeschooling methods and approaches (if you can count a section on special needs and one on carschooling as approaches). Their choices of methods and contributors are slanted toward Christian homeschoolers: there are no radical unschoolers or homeschoolers of other faiths included here.

You will laugh about this if you know us, but if I was disappointed by one section, it was the Traditional Textbook chapter. If I were a new homeschooler weighing my options, I'm not sure I would be convinced by the reasons given to use that method: mainly familiarity and the fact that you don't have to create curriculum from the ground up. One of my local homeschooling friends, a devoted A Beka user, has given more convincing presentations than that to explain her choices; I wish they'd asked her for her opinion! (Although I know they were going for the "big names" here.) I was also slightly puzzled by the mention of Sonlight Curriculum within the Traditional Textbook section, although I think the writer meant to include it as an example of a curriculum where everything is provided for you, rather than as an equivalent to A Beka or Bob Jones. (Sonlight would probably be more of a literature-based or eclectic curriculum.)

What about the CM chapter? It's written by Catherine Levison and sounds pretty much like everything else she's written about CM (well researched and well written), so there were no real surprises there. The only thing I might wish for there (if there were a little more space) might be just a bit of description about what CM educators are up to these days: the online community has contributed a great deal to CM's continued popularity with homeschoolers, and there are also private schools that use CM methods. There is also at least one annual conference for CM educators, in North Carolina (scroll down through the list of events to see the information for 2007).

The thing I liked best about this book was that it seems to be pretty fair in its coverage of different approaches: the writers contribute from their own perspectives, but they don't bash other methods. As Diana Waring writes (on page 180), "Not everyone is like me."

(Proceeds from Homeschooling Methods are going to NATHHAN, the organization that supports homeschoolers with disabilities and their families.)


(Other book reviews on this blog: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5)

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