The Week In Books 2008, No. 6

Creative Home Schooling
by Lisa Rivero was interesting because the author and the featured parents approach homeschooling as primarily a choice made to ensure the best academics, rather than a purely values-driven decision or a mixture of academic and religious concerns as you normally read in homeschooling books (at least the books I’ve read). I thought it was good to hear from parents who don’t have a religious motivation for homeschooling but who still choose it as the best option for their children. That approach, however, might be off-putting to some. My own gradually forming philosophy toward homeschooling includes both values and academic reasons, so I appreciated the viewpoints expressed in the book.

This book is written to address particular concerns in homeschooling gifted children, but the author emphasizes that all children benefit from an individualized education. Because both profoundly and moderately gifted people just learn differently than the average, the book discusses ways children can be helped to learn without the frustrations and boredom or bad intellectual habits they would be prone to in conventional schools. As someone who was in a variety of different “enrichment” or “honors” or “gifted and talented” etc programs in many different schools, I can vouch for the fact that even a strong gifted program won’t solve those problems in full, and one of the major things I hope for with my children is that I can mitigate some of those issues by homeschooling. Now that I’ve said that, can I again emphasize the fact that I’m not driven for my kids to be labeled gifted? In many ways it would be a lot easier if they were average. I just want to be prepared in any case, and as the author of this book states, “All children have the potential to develop their creativity and to learn in more divergent and self-directed ways. Many of the resources, principles, and strategies used in gifted education have been found to benefit all students.”

One concept I thought was particularly well-covered in “Creative Homeschooling” was that of asynchronous development. Gifted kids particularly have a tendency to be operating at a bunch of different “ages” at one time. For example, a child might be doing 5th grade math, and reading on a 10th grade level, but emotionally and socially is a 2nd grader like her peers with similar birthdates. I’m so grateful to my parents for recognizing that in me and not skipping me up grades, but rather pulling me out to homeschool instead. Homeschooling is unique in its capacity to support kids learning on whatever level they can, without the frustrations of being left behind or being bored while you wait for the other kids in the class to catch up. I think that strength of homeschooling applies to kids on any developmental level.

Another good part of the book was a discussion of how several of the major “methods” of homeschooling can be tweaked to fit a gifted or asynchronous learner. One point I made particular note of was the plea not to put the method before the needs of the child. That’s one reason I’m reluctant to sign on to any one method and follow it religiously. The topics covered included classical education, unit studies, unschooling, and a few others.

The Read-Aloud Handbook
by Jim Trelease discusses the considerable benefits that come from reading out loud to kids of all ages. Full of statistics and study results, this book would convince you to read to your kids if you need convincing. Of course, if you’re reading a book like this, you are probably already singing in that choir, but it will reinforce your commitment.

Every time I read a book about reading, I’m struck by the author’s strong feelings about what constitutes a good book. I find myself in agreement with some authors more than others, as you might expect, and I found myself in hearty disagreement with Trelease on a few major points.

Most egregious to me was his contention that kids, even up through high school, should not read classic literature, but rather should be reading modern current books. While I certainly don’t think that all current books are bad, I take great exception to the idea that just because a book is older it is somehow bad or irrelevant. To support his thesis against reading classics, Trelease cites statistics that although high school kids are taught classic literature (and he’s not talking about really classic works like “The Iliad” or Plato’s “Republic” or Dante’s “Inferno” or anything, he means classics like “Huckleberry Finn” or “Ann Frank: Diary of a Young Girl”), when they become adults they don’t like classics and don’t read much at all. Quoting Trelease: “In other words, about 80 percent of the adult population never reads what they were taught to read in high school…If we spent twelve years teaching children to brush their teeth and then 80 percent of them grew up and never brushed their teeth wouldn’t it be logical to conclude that we were doing something wrong?”

Say it with me now, “LOGICAL FALLACY ALERT!!!!!”

The fact that 80 percent of adults don’t read classics does NOT mean kids shouldn’t be taught to read good books! It just means the schools are teaching them POORLY! If 80 percent of adults didn’t brush their teeth we would NOT conclude that therefore teeth brushing is a waste of time prior to college! We would conclude that we need to teach teeth brushing in a MORE EFFECTIVE MANNER. Sheesh.

The second half of the book is made up of short reviews of recommended books that work well for reading aloud. Most of the selections are recent books, which was nice actually because I hadn’t heard of some of them and added a few to our To Read list. Most of them were beyond the level where Hannah is right now, but there were a fair number that would be appropriate for younger readers.

Straight Talk About Reading
by Susan L. Hall and Louisa C. Moats is based on the explicitly stated premise that very few parents can teach their children to read. I find that curious, since I know a great many parents who taught their children to read, but perhaps the authors are making the point that most parents don’t care to spend the time or don’t have the time or are disinclined to teach reading. In any case the authors’ perspective is from the educational establishment, and they are committed to the idea that only experts and professional educators can teach.

Interestingly, they follow that bias up by explaining how very few elementary teachers know how to teach reading effectively. The main thrust of the book is that although parents can’t teach kids to read, teachers can’t teach kids to read either, so as a parent your job is to be an advocate for your child by knowing a lot about reading theory so you can explain to school administrators how to teach your child to read. Hmm. Even though I found the arguments convoluted and irrational at times, I did enjoy learning more about the theories behind reading, and some of the ideas for reading readiness games to play with kids were good. There were some lists of suggested books included, but many of them were titles we’ve already tried and rejected, and the lists were short and random, so those are not a good reason to check this book out. Actually, unless you are, like me, currently involved in a big fit of interest in reading/education/giftedness theory, you probably won’t be interested in this book.

Books for the Gifted Child: Vol. 2
by Paula Hauser and Gail A. Nelson begins with a discussion on giftedness and the role of reading in how people learn and experience life, then quickly moves to in-depth lists of books for children broken down into beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels. I appreciated the lengthy reviews, but I think most of the books mentioned would be better for older children. I did make a few notes, and I think I might revisit this book in a few years when Hannah is older. The types of books reviewed included a lot more science, math, and riddle books than one normally sees in children’s book lists, which might prove to be of interest for some parents.

Currently Reading:
This week I’m going to take a break and hit some fiction!

My review of some kids books for this week can be found here, in the post right above the one where Hannah learns to climb out of the pack and play. So if you have any insight on escape artist two year olds, do chime in!

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