Why I Chose Homeschooling: A Librarian's Story, by Jane-Emily

 

I always check far more books out of the library than I can actually read. It’s a hazard of the job. If something looks interesting, I will take it home and give it a go. Somewhere around the fall of 2002, when I had a toddler and a baby on the way, a book titled Real Life Homeschooling: The Stories of 21 Families Who Teach Their Children at Home was on the table of new non-fiction. I took it home with me. I had heard very little about homeschooling, and I’m always up for learning about people and educational methods, so I thought I would find out what these strange people were all about. I had never, ever considered homeschooling myself; this was more like anthropology than self-help.

It was an interesting book and many of the families recommended their favorite homeschooling titles, so I got those out of the library, too (mostly through InterLibrary Loan; my own library didn’t have too many homeschooling titles). The majority of the books talked about homeschooling as an endeavor belonging solely to conservative Protestants, which I am not, and while I was interested in them in order to learn about this thing called homeschooling, I was not at all attracted by the lifestyle myself. The books were also more inspirational and encouraging than they were about exactly how to teach children at home; more for people who were already in the middle of it than for prospective homeschoolers.

Then I checked out The Well-Trained Mind, by Jessie Wise and Susan Wise Bauer. This was a very different book. It was almost entirely about how to do homeschooling. And it laid out an education that seemed to be very near my own ideal. I didn’t know I had an ideal education in my mind, but there it was, in this book, except for all that stuff about Latin. (Who does Latin?  More on that later.) I was looking at a book that described the education I wished I’d had.

I am a fairly ordinary product of fairly ordinary California public schools. I was expected to learn grammar and writing by osmosis; I studied American history several times but hardly ever got past World War I; I knew little about anywhere else except ancient Greece; on the whole, my education through high school was kind of dismal. I was not well prepared for the excellent public university I attended, and only figured out later how much I had missed simply because I didn’t know how ignorant I was. The idea that this was not inevitable for my own children–that there were other possibilities–struck me all of a heap.

I wanted this for my daughter. But I had never before entertained the idea of homeschooling, and it was a daunting one. Could I do it? Dared I do it? I had always assumed that I would go back to work part-time once my (as-yet-unborn) youngest went into school, and homeschooling would derail those plans. And how on earth could I do this? I decided it was lucky I had plenty of time, and that I could take a while to think about it and pray and see what happened.

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I waffled for a full year. I could not let go of the idea for more than a day at a time. As I took my little girl for walks and to the park, I wondered what I should do. I talked about homeschooling, but I didn’t know anyone who did it, and no one seemed to be very interested. My husband was in favor of the idea, but didn’t want to pressure me into it, and so refrained from comment. I didn’t seem to be able to get an answer to my prayers about it. It took me some time to figure out that if I couldn’t even go two days without thinking about homeschooling classically…well, that might be my answer right there.

So, I came to homeschooling through my desire for a classical education for my children. All the other benefits were things I figured out later on; I was all about the academics at first!  I found other homeschoolers in town, too, and made friends.

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First day of school

We are now in our ninth year of homeschooling, which seems completely impossible when I say it! I have read many, many books about homeschooling and even attended a couple of conferences. I’ve read most about classical education, and so far my vision has never wavered; that vision has been refined and improved, but the principles that so impressed me eleven years ago are still the center of my homeschooling philosophy. That doesn’t mean I live up to them, but I try!

The benefits to our family are probably impossible to quantify completely. I am so grateful to have been able to be with my children for so long. I’ve been able to give them so much rich literature, history, and science. One of my major goals was to avoid some of the math-phobia that so many of us have, and I think I have done well there. We were able to deal with my younger daughter’s vision issues with so much less difficulty than she might otherwise have had. Of course, it hasn’t been a smooth road (none of us get that!), but I have never regretted our decision to homeschool with classical principles.

 

Jane-Emily–Jane-Emily is a classically homeschooling LDS mom of two girls, and a librarian jane-emilyat the local community college, very part-time. She loves to read and will pick up almost anything. She also loves to sew and mostly does quilting, heirloom sewing, and smocking. And she’s a Bollywood addict.

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In Defense of Twaddle

by Jane-Emilytwaddle

Twaddle is Charlotte Mason’s term for junk literature — books that are unworthy of attention because they are drivel.  Easy series books, comic books — everything that is more brain candy than solid nutrition.  It’s a wonderfully expressive term, too.  I just love calling things twaddle, don’t you?

Living books, on the other hand, are good literature that provide real mental stimulation, an imaginative journey that sticks with the reader.  While I certainly agree that living books are the best kind, I have developed a strong opinion that twaddle has a worthy place in a child’s library and should not be avoided.  So here is my theory — in defense of twaddle.

Any parent of a small child knows that little ones love repetition.  A preschooler will ask for the same book over and over and over again, until the long-suffering mother is ready to set a match to the thing.  Susan Wise Bauer often talks about this love of repetition as a child’s way of figuring out what things in the world stay the same, and what things change.  In a big world where so much is completely unpredictable from a child’s point of view, the fact that Green Eggs and Ham always ends with the fellow eating green eggs and liking them is a happy confirmation that some things don’t change.

As the child grows older, she learns to read.  She is no longer quite so interested in reading the exact same story over and over again, but she still enjoys repetition throughout the grammar stage.   Reading is very hard work that takes a lot of energy at first, and a child learning to read is navigating quite a bit of unknown territory.  Easy series books — stuff like Magic Tree House, Junie B. Jones, and the worst of the lot, Rainbow Fairies — provide practice with reading skills and story structure while remaining comfortingly predictable.  You never have to worry that Jack and Annie will get stuck; they always make it home.  Rachel and Kirsty will always be able to help the fairy and defeat the goblins.  Comic books will do the same thing.  There are no nasty surprises, and meanwhile there is enough variety to keep things interesting as the child absorbs vocabulary, develops reading ease and speed, and enjoys reading.  Twaddle provides repetition with variation, and that is the perfect formula for a beginning reader in the grammar stage.

I want to say it louder: twaddle provides repetition with variation.  It’s the next step up from reading the same picture book over and over again.

Meanwhile, it’s your job as the parent to require a little quality challenge as well.  Reading excellent literature aloud to your child stocks his mind with language that is far above what he can actually read.  It teaches him to appreciate a really great story with good writing, and allows him to focus all his energy on listening and comprehending.  At this age and for years to come, your child will comprehend more through listening than he will through reading, so you can read a complex story to a beginning reader very happily.  Reading aloud is an important activity for a long time, longer than we usually realize.   (I have a theory about that too!)

Of course, you can andtwaddle2 should require your child to read quality literature for school time.  This is where you can make sure that she reads living books if she isn’t reading them on her own.  If she is reluctant but it isn’t that it’s too difficult for her, try having her read aloud with you, alternating paragraphs.

I am a great believer in requiring some reading and allowing free choice for more reading.  A child ought to have both, and my preference is for more freedom than not.  I get so discouraged when I see children who have to do so much required reading from a list (for, say, the Accelerated Reader program, which I really dislike) that they never get to choose their own books!   It’s hugely important that a child have some autonomy about what to read, and in my opinion that should include the freedom to read twaddle.  Exerting too much control over a child’s reading choices can so easily crush the joy out of it.

So I say bring on the Rainbow Fairies, insipid and saccharine little nothings that they are.  They’ll be outgrown soon enough, and the child will go on to better things, having practiced the skills that make more difficult reading enjoyable.

Addendum, 10/18/13: Neil Gaiman, intelligent fellow that he is, agrees with me, and incidentally manages to pack in a lot of other things I also agree with.  Please enjoy this wonderful speech he gave at The Reading Agency.

Jane-Emily homeschools two daughters in California.  She is a librarian who loves to quilt and embrjane-emilyoider, and she’s a Bollywood addict.  Her favorite author is Diana Wynne Jones. She blogs about reading at Howling Frog Books.