Homeschooling Authors & the Books We LovePhoto by Anne Dziok
It always surprises me when I talk with other homeschooling parents, and they tell me they haven’t read many or any books about homeschooling or unschooling. This surprises me because there are so many good books out there, with so much rich information and support to offer us. My favorites are those that tell stories of families and their learning experiences, their growth, and the process of their journeys. Homeschooling is unique for every family, and it’s beneficial to learn from as many people as we can. By reading many people’s stories, we can find those that resonate with us and help us as we get started on this path, as well as those that nurture us through the years.
Reading a variety of homeschooling books helped us create new voices in our heads instead of the old voices that made us question ourselves and fall back on the traditional school model. They gave us new models, new methods to try, and the benefit of their experiences. They showed us how people learn in many different ways. We gained something new from every homeschooling book we read and from every author who shared a bit of their lives with us.
I especially love homeschooling authors from the early days of homeschooling – those who shared their experiences about what it was like for them, and their observations about how their families learned together. I love how they winged it when everything was so new for them, and how they grabbed their independence and didn’t ask for permission to do what was right for their families. They were homeschooling and unschooling before there were hundreds of resources to choose from and everyone telling them how to do it. They showed the simplicity and complexity of it all at the same time.
I also appreciate newer books that offer fresh ideas about homeschooling, those with new perspectives from present-day homeschoolers. They remind me why I started and why I continue on this path. The newer voices often echo the older voices, but it’s nice to hear the reverberation.
I frequently reread my favorite books. I do this when I want to revisit and refine my philosophies of learning, when I need some new ideas or some reassurance. It’s like enjoying a new conversation with an old friend.
The following authors and their books have been so important to our family’s unschooling life, that I thought I’d share them with you here. Where to begin? John Holt, of course.
Learning All the Time: How small children begin to read, write, count, and investigate the world, without being taught
John Holt was one of the first homeschooling authors I read. His books were full of insight about children and learning, and I loved everything he wrote. As a former teacher, he was the bridge from my education background, to help me see the need for self-education and unschooling. He spoke my language. I could relate to all of the anecdotes he shared about his classroom experiences, and then how he grew and changed to appreciate all the learning experiences outside of the classroom, too. I could tell how much he liked and respected children, and how much he trusted parents. He had tried and tried to make educational reforms in his classrooms and on a broader scale, but eventually he realized that families were in a much better position to create the educational change children deserved.
From John’s magazine, Growing Without Schooling, I learned the importance of people sharing their individual stories. Every issue was filled with the interesting lives of families who didn’t send their children to school. They didn’t worry so much about defining themselves as unschoolers or about what that might mean for other unschooling families; they were just thrilled to have their kids out of school so they could live and learn together. I’ve always loved and remembered John’s words from the very first issue of Growing Without Schooling, Vol. 1, No 1, August 1977, p.1:
“In starting this newsletter, we are putting into practice a nickel-and-dime theory about social change, which is that important and lasting change always comes slowly, and only when people change their lives, not just their political beliefs or parties.”
Unschooling is about making that important and lasting social change.
Nancy Wallace was another homeschooling author I read early on, and my first bridge from attachment parenting to homeschooling. She showed me how important it is to really see children, to value and appreciate them for who they are. She gave us such a clear picture of her children, Vita and Ishmael. She described their play and their many pursuits, and it didn’t look like school. She showed us how she learned to take their work and their choices seriously.
Nancy reminded us that it’s okay for children to stay attached to parents and siblings until they’re ready to venture out on their own. She encouraged us to trust our parenting instincts, and to be our own experts.
I cried when I heard of Nancy’s passing away just a couple years ago. She had shared a great deal of her life with us through her stories about Vita and Ishmael. I felt like I knew her and her children.
Marty Layne offered me a mother’s perspective, and her soothing voice was quite comforting as she described life with her four children. She gives gentle advice about how to nurture ourselves while nurturing our children. She recognizes the complexities of motherhood and helps us navigate the many experiences we’ll face. She holds our hands while helping us answer the question, “Can I do this?”
Throughout her book, Marty shares specific ideas about how her family explored reading, writing, and math together. She talks candidly about helping her children learn to read, especially one of her sons who was not ready to read fluently on his own until he was twelve. Her insights about his needs and the importance of being patient so he could learn at his own pace were wonderful. They stayed with me and helped me as I learned the need for my own patience as my son learned to read.
On the back cover of her book, my favorite part of the description about herself is this: “She often stays up too late.” Now that’s a woman I can relate to.
Grace Llewellyn showed us the excitement and beauty that freedom and real learning can bring. She made us want to relive our teen years and unschool ourselves. Grace is another former teacher, and once again, I could so relate to her stories about life in schools and the potential outside of them. She described how much bigger life could be beyond school and shared with us stories of many liberated teens.
Along with writing all her wonderful books, Grace started an amazing camp for unschooled teens called Not Back To School Camp. Throughout Ben’s younger years, we really wanted to attend ourselves, but since we weren’t unschooled teens ourselves, we waited patiently until he was thirteen and could go on his own. He has loved it every single year, for four years now. Each year he makes more friends and gets to know a variety of mentors who have lived such interesting lives. Above all, the camp is the adventure it is due to Grace’s clear vision and commitment to helping teens get the most out of their unschooled lives.
Sandra Dodd helped me see clearly how everything is connected and everything counts. She reminded us that the way we think and talk about learning is important, and that learning is very different than teaching. She has shared her family’s experiences openly and freely with confidence and enthusiasm.
Early on, I read Sandra’s essays in Home Education Magazine and was glad when she decided to publish several of them in her first book. Her second book, like her website, is a treasure trove of wisdom for unschooling families, and her online discussion lists are both challenging and inspirational. This past year, I enjoyed hearing Sandra speak at an unschooling conference, and as a bonus, her grown son, Kirby, was there to share his perspectives, too.
From Homeschool to College and Work: Turning Your Homeschooled Experiences into College and Job Portfolios
Alison McKee reminded us of ourselves as she shared many of the conversations she and her husband engaged in as they learned to trust themselves and their children’s individual choices. She was very honest in her descriptions of their continuous process of learning and growing. She encouraged us to feel empowered about the choices we were making and to cherish our unique experiences as an unschooling family.
I had the pleasure of meeting Alison at an unschooling conference a couple years ago. It was delightful to listen to her stories and calm wisdom about how her children have grown and learned naturally over the years.
Ann Lahrson-Fisher helped me think about the value of conversations in our homeschooling lives. She devoted an entire section of her book to the topic “conversations,” with one of the chapters subtitled “optimal learning through family chitchat.” This might be obvious, but it’s easy to forget. I took it to heart. The things we talk about are often much more important than anything that might look officially educational, things like books or trips or other activities. From then on, whenever I wrote notes to myself about what our family was learning or doing together, I always included notes about the conversations we enjoyed with each other.
I met Ann at a local conference soon after her book came out. We talked briefly, and I remember her soothing, encouraging words. Just like Alison McKee, she seemed wise, gentle, and calm regarding her views of children, family life, and the natural processes of learning.
David Albert spun wonderful descriptions about how his daughters learned, how they grew, and how each of them was unique in her needs and interests. He reminded me how young adolescents need mentors and big experiences out in the world. He’s another homeschooling local I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. I’ve heard him speak a few times at small homeschool group gatherings, and have always appreciated his humor and insights related to the joyful benefits of homeschooling. Best of all, he writes the most delightful book titles of anyone I know.
John Taylor Gatto
John Taylor Gatto shared with us his powerful insights into the nature of schools, teachers, and classrooms within our compulsory education system. He illustrated how harmful this system can be, whether you’re the teacher or the student. His words validated my own conflicted emotions and experiences in the unwieldy school system, and this helped me walk away from the profession.
David Guterson offered us beautiful and poignant descriptions of the striking differences between learning in a classroom and learning at home within the context of a family. When he wrote this book, he was a high school English teacher and homeschooling father of four. He spoke from a teacher’s perspective, but mostly from a dad’s perspective. Whenever a new homeschooling father is looking for a good introductory book about homeschooling, this is one I suggest because of the multiple perspectives Guterson shares. He describes his relationship and conversations with his own father as well as with his children, and he gives us a glimpse of what life can offer outside the walls of a classroom.
Blake Boles has been a great friend and mentor to our son for several years now. We have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know him through his work with Grace Llewellyn’s Not Back To School Camp, and more recently through his Unschool Adventures travel and leadership programs. Blake offers a fresh, energetic voice in the world of self-directed learning. The strength of his writing comes from his enthusiasm for helping unschoolers make their way toward adulthood. He challenges them with inspirational stories, goal-setting skills, methods for mapping big dreams, and creative ideas for grabbing hold of an adventurous life.
Frank Smith offered me good ideas to chew on during my younger days doing graduate work in reading and language arts all the way through my current life as an unschooling mom. His ideas resonated with me then and still do today. Although Smith’s books are not specifically about homeschooling, they address a variety of educational topics that make for fascinating reading. He reminded us that what children need most is to be part of “the literacy club” and to enjoy all that that membership entails.
I had the benefit of graduate course professors who assigned and talked about Smith’s writings. We learned that reading and language skills are processes that take time and need to be approached differently for every individual. Of course, this can be difficult in a classroom, but not impossible. It’s amazingly simpler at home.
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These authors are my friends, my colleagues, my support. Whether I’ve met them in person or only through their writings, in every case, they’ve helped me grow and learn about myself. I love their writing because I can relate to them and their experiences, and sometimes at first when I couldn’t, gradually their words started little conversations in my head that forced me to wrap my thinking around new ideas that made my world bigger. They’ve helped me bridge the gaps in my experiences and understanding about learning, about children, and about deep family relationships. I will be forever grateful for all they have shared with us.