I have opinions. Lots of them. Strong ones, too. When I committed to learning as much as I could about homeschooling, I knew it was essential to challenge my opinions if I hope to be the best possible teacher for my children.
I’ve been familiar with the general concept of unschooling for a number of years and have tended to view it with suspicion. Despite my preconceived notions and my desire for an academically rigorous education for my children, I still want to glean pearls of wisdom from the practices and beliefs of others. I hoped to do just that by reading Free Range Learning: How Homeschooling Changes Everything by Laura Grace Weldon.
Truth be told, I expected to not enjoy the book at all. I expected it to promote complete child-directed education. But, though the author seemed significantly more aligned towards unschooling than I am, I was able to appreciate quite a lot of the book.
Free Range Learning is a lengthy book, covering many aspects of homeschooling. It is divided into two sections. The first deals with her philosophy of homeschooling and the positive impact it has on children. Some specific topics include: socialization, simplicity, creativity, mentoring, and family. The second half covers practical aspects of homeschooling such as field trips, school subjects, and curriculum resources. Interspersed throughout the book are the stories and thoughts of homeschooling parents and children from a variety of contexts.
What I loved:
- The personal stories of homeschooling parents and children provided validation to much of what the author said and demonstrated in practical ways, how the philosophies taught in the book can be applied in the homeschool. These stories were from the United States, Canada, Singapore, India, Cambodia, and more.
- I appreciated the lists of books for further reading and curriculum recommended at the end of each chapter in the second half.
- Weldon demonstrates great insight in the subjects of simplicity and socialization. In the chapter on simplicity, she says, “Living more simply relieves the strain on the planet as well as on our finances. It orients us toward gratitude rather than acquisition…we do know that shared ordinary joys in our daily lives are one of the priceless benefits of homeschooling.” For my favourite quotation on socialization in this book, check out my post “Why We’ve Chosen to Homeschool.”
- The topics were well organized and divided into small enough sections. This mom who is constantly interrupted appreciated the many perfect stopping points throughout!
- The book is not geared towards any one religious viewpoint, which makes it a good resource for people from a number of different backgrounds.
What I didn’t love:
- The flow of the main text was regularly interrupted by personal stories and text boxes. I often had to go to the next page to finish the paragraph I was reading and then turn back to read the personal stories.
- The book is the size of a textbook which prevented it from being an easy book to cart around with me outside the home. The 275 pages also seemed much longer than a regular book because of the textbook size!
- I really struggled with the first couple chapters due to my personal beliefs on education. In fact, I almost stopped reading the book. The first couple chapters explain how Weldon believes children learn best through play and following their own interests rather than formal instruction determined by a teacher. I do believe that play and interest are important. However, I also believe that young children do not yet have the wisdom to determine what knowledge will be essential for them to live successfully as adults. I have seen so many individuals struggle in work and adulthood because of a lack of foundational academic knowledge and I do not wish that on my children. Of course, for some people, this downside for me may be a positive for you. Though we may disagree, I am thankful you love your children so deeply and desire for them to love learning on their own terms. A life-long love of learning is so important!
I cannot recommend whether you should borrow or buy this book as it will largely depend on your educational philosophy but if you are new to homeschooling or have children coming up to middle or high school and you are not sure where to start or what to change in this new stage of life, you may find this book a helpful resource to keep on your shelf.
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