A Homeschooling Reading List... with annotations

The fact that I read a lot of books is a known fact around the blog, but in all of the many and varied book lists I have posted over the years, I realize that I have never posted a reading list for the homeschooler. It's actually probably going to veer more into an educational theory reading list, but I find it difficult to draw a line between the two. The other thing that some of you might find interesting (unusual? odd? surprising?) is that the vast majority of these books are not written from a Christian perspective. We have never homeschooled for strictly religious reasons. While our beliefs are extremely important to us (I would even go so far as to say essential), neither J. nor I have ever felt frightened of opposing viewpoints. We also feel secure enough in our theology that we are able to sort and sift through these opposing viewpoints to find what is good and valuable in them. And there is information in these books that is good and useful. Not all of it, but I feel that way about Christian books as well. Rare is the book I agree with wholeheartedly.

I actually think there is great benefit to struggling with ideas you do not necessarily agree with, and a few of these books I did wrestle with. I believe it was this act of wrestling that helped to form my ideas about what learning is, how education occurs, and what school should look like. I recommend many of these books not only for the information they contain, but for the intellectual struggling which will ensue as a result of reading them. The beliefs that cannot endure a good struggle with an opposing view are not really beliefs worth holding.

Without further ado, here is the list of homeschooling and education related books that I believe anyone considering homeschooling, or just interested in education in general, should read. I'll try to put them vaguely in the order in which I came across them, but it will be more of a guess than anything.

Family Matters: Why Homeschooling Makes Sense by David Guterson

  • This was the first homeschooling book I ever read. I had just finished Snow Falling on Cedars by this same author for a book club, and happened to see that he had written a book on homeschooling. This was before we had made the decision to homeschool. In fact, when I read this book, we were still planning on sending to M. to kindergarten. Homeschooling, to my mind, was weird and not a great choice for a child. David Guterson also had a bibliography (I love bibliographies) which I then read through in my ongoing inner discussion with the particular book. Which is how I met...
How Children Fail and How Children Learn, both by John Holt
  • There were so many times that these books made me want to scream out loud. John Holt was calling into question everything I thought I knew and believed about school and education. I'm still not sure I agree with him 100% on everything, but boy, did he give me a lot to think about. Anyone interested in education should really make themselves wrestle with his ideas.
  • Not necessarily having much to do with the idea of homeschooling, but an interesting look at the value of self-learning.
  • Back to struggling with an author's ideas. Rewards for performance made intuitive sense to me, just as consequence-based parenting made sense to me. This really forced me to the look at what was really being said underneath it all. It was uncomfortable. I didn't know if I agreed with it. And I'm not sure I fully embraced this book until we had committed to a connected parenting approach. I'm actually more surprised that it hasn't had a resurgence among those who are proponents of connected parenting because it falls so closely into line with that type of relationships. 
  • This book came out about the same time as the enormously popular, Reviving Ophelia. I read Ophelia for a book group as well, and quite honestly detested it. I found a more positive view of girls and adolescents in this book. Homeschooling did seem to allow girls to develop in more positive ways.
  • Ah, Mr. Gatto, the one time New York State teacher of the year, and current education curmudgeon. There is nothing subtle about him and I'm sure more than a few people heartily disagree with him and find him hard to stomach. I kind of love him for his no filter views on what schools actually do. Once again, everyone in education should probably read him, if only to then put his picture on the wall and use him as a dartboard. Highly entertaining and inflammatory and interesting.
  • Ms. Dobson will not be throwing darts at Mr. Gatto, but taking him out to lunch. A proponent of radical unschooling, Ms. Dobson also questions the status quo and writes about how it can be different. 
  • This isn't a homeschooling book at all. It is also one of the very first brain science-type books that I read. I love this book. Anyone with children should read this book. Dr. Healy makes a very strong case for why actually talking to your children, being present in their lives is so very important. (This is as opposed to putting them in front of screens and thinking the screens are doing the job that parents should be doing.) Excellent and highly recommended.
  • In this book, Ms. Macaulay introduces the educational theories of Charlotte Mason. You could also read books by Charlotte Mason, but I sometimes find it a bit of a slog to get through them, and actually prefer the more modern, adapted approaches to her thinking anyway. I like so much of the Charlotte Mason method.... good books, narration (telling back what you've learned), being in nature... this is a good introduction.
Wild Days: Creating Discovery Journals by Karen Skidmore Rackliffe
  • More Charlotte Mason-style learning. This time the discussion centers around the making and keeping of nature journals.
  • Being in the trenches of homeschooling can be hard and tiring. Ms. Field, an adoptive homeschooling mother herself, is highly encouraging and very practical. I found this book to be helpful when surrounded by so many littles all needing something from me and so little of me to go around.
I know experienced homeschoolers on the list might find one glaring omission. I have purposefully not included The Well-Trained Mind (WTM)on my list of resources. Once upon a time, it would have been right up there at the top. I wanted my children to learn. I wanted them to learn a lot. I didn't want to fail them in any way, and the WTM had such nice lists and resources and plans all laid out ready for me to make use of. If we just followed the lists, nothing would fall through the cracks. I wouldn't fail my children! They would be amazingly well-educated people and everyone else around us would be astounded at their learning and knowledge. And deep in the back of my mind, I also added, and they would know it was all because of ME. I didn't add this book, because over the years of trying off and on to implement all of its wonderfulness (and thereby making me and my children look wonderful as well), I realized that it was unworkable. No one can keep up that pace. No one has a child who is going to be able to do it all. Life would inevitably fall apart at sometime because of its unrelenting, joyless rigor, and then instead of instilling all that wonderfulness, the poor homeschooling family would be left with feelings of disgrace and failure. The book is not realistic; it is not kind; it is not joyful, therefore it is not on my list... well, at least in any positive way.

Happy reading... and wrestling.


Erica said…
Thank you for sharing this list. I have been homeschooling for 5 years now, but I haven't done much reading about it, except for The Well Trained Mind before we first began. I was enamored with it as well, but shortly learned that it was not a good fit for our family. I'm glad to learn that we aren't alone; I admit that I have been harbouring a thought in the back of my head that we are just too lazy to do everything they said.
Jennifer said…
Love the list! Thank you.

I've never read "The Well-Trained Mind" but loved Susan Wise Bauer's fiction so I know it was only a matter of time before I picked it up. Glad to hear I should give it a miss but also sad because her fiction is THAT good! Just enough Christianity for me, the non-Christian.

Your blog is awesome.
Alex and Riann said…
There are some new-to-me titles here. Thank you! I always glean something from your writing, and I am grateful for your faithfulness in this space.

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