Secular Homeschool Recommended Book List

Secular Homeschool Reading and Book List

Secular Homeschool Reading & Book ListOn any given day you will find multiple conversations focused on books in our online community. Rich discussions of authors and subject matter, innovative ideas for related lessons, and always a plethora of recommendations for more books. Reading back through hundreds of threads in various SEA Homeschoolers Facebook groups these 25 books have been recommended time and time again. Having read nearly every book on this list I can certainly understand why. This book list is secular homeschool approved.


Secular Homeschool Reading & Book List

Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall – A funny, insightful, and colorful story about being true to your inner self and following your own path despite obstacles that may come your way.

Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty – Rosie may seem quiet during the day, but at night she’s a brilliant inventor of gizmos and gadgets who dreams of becoming a great engineer in this book that celebrates creativity and perseverance.

Grandmother Fish: A Child’s First Book of Evolution by Johnathan Tweet – Told in an engaging call and response text this book takes children and adults through the history of life on our planet and explains how we are all connected.

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo – Somewhere between fairy tale and fable is the tale of a China rabbit named Edward, transformed by the lives he touches as he learns about love, loss and consequences.

Matilda by Roald Dahl – A brilliant, but lonely girl with special powers and neglectful parents finds courage and friendship while facing off against surprising characters from her daily life.

Our Family Tree: An Evolution Story by Lisa Westberg Peters – The roots of our family tree reach back millions of years to the beginning of life on earth. In this family album you’ll meet some of our oldest relatives–from both the land and the sea–and discover what we inherited from each of them along the many steps of our wondrous past.

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate – Inspired by the true story of a captive gorilla known as Ivan, this unforgettable illustrated novel told from the point-of-view of Ivan himself is a story of friendship, art, and hope.

Hoot by Carl Hiaasen – An ecological mystery made up of endangered miniature owls, Mother Paula’s All-American Pancake House scheduled to be built over their burrows, and the owls’ unlikely allies–three middle school kids determined to beat the system.

Holes by Louis Sachar – Stanley Yelnats, a kid who is under a curse. Now he has been unjustly sent to a boys’ detention center. It doesn’t take long for Stanley to realize there’s more than character improvement going on at Camp Green Lake: the warden is looking for something. Stanley tries to dig up the truth in this inventive and humorous tale of crime, punishment, and redemption.

His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman – This epic trilogy tells the story of Lyra and Will, two ordinary children on a perilous journey through shimmering haunted otherworlds. They will meet witches and armored bears, fallen angels and soul-eating specters. And in the end, the fate of both the living and the dead will rely on them. Philip Pullman unlocks the door to a world parallel to our own, but with a mysterious slant all its own. Dæmons and winged creatures live side by side with humans, and a mysterious entity called Dust just might have the power to unite the universes–if it isn’t destroyed first.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio – August was born with a facial difference that had prevented him from going to school. Starting 5th grade he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid, but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face. What follows is a powerful story of a community’s struggle with empathy, compassion, and acceptance.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan – This exciting series follows the demigod son of Poseidon and his friends on a quest that will have them meeting gods, battling monsters, and taking on the Titans from Greek mythology.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson – Jacqueline Woodson, the acclaimed author of Another Brooklyn, tells the moving story of her childhood in mesmerizing verse. In vivid poems she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world.

The Giver by Lois Lowry – This story centers on twelve-year-old Jonas, who lives in a seemingly ideal, if colorless, world of conformity and contentment. Not until he is given his life assignment as the Receiver of Memory does he begin to understand the dark, complex secrets behind his fragile community.

The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini – This 4 book series follows 15 year old Eragon who believes that he is merely a poor farm boy, until his destiny as a Dragon Rider is revealed. Gifted with only an ancient sword, a loyal dragon, and sage advice from an old storyteller, Eragon is soon swept into a dangerous tapestry of magic, glory, and power. Now his choices could save or destroy the Empire.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding – At the dawn of the next world war, a plane crashes on an uncharted island, stranding a group of schoolboys. At first, with no adult supervision, their freedom is something to celebrate. This far from civilization they can do anything they want. Anything. But as order collapses, as strange howls echo in the night, as terror begins its reign, the hope of adventure seems as far removed from reality as the hope of being rescued.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – The unforgettable novel of a childhood in a sleepy Southern town and the crisis of conscience that rocked it takes readers to the roots of human behavior, to innocence and experience, kindness and cruelty, love and hatred, humor and pathos.

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling – Imagine a school in a castle filled with moving staircases, a sport played on flying broomsticks, an evil wizard intent on domination, remarkable friends, limitless secrets and surprises, and an ordinary boy who’s the hero of a whole world he doesn’t even yet know. This is the story that comes to life in this marvelous series as each of the seven books chronicles one year in Harry’s adventures at Hogwarts.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak – In Nazi Germany, 1939, the country is holding its breath. Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement.

The Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett – Armed with only a frying pan and her common sense, young witch-to-be Tiffany Aching must defend her home against the monsters of Fairyland. Luckily she has some very unusual help: the local Nac Mac Feegle–aka the Wee Free Men–a clan of fierce, sheep-stealing, sword-wielding, six-inch-high blue men.

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai – Inspired by the author’s childhood experience as a refugee, fleeing Vietnam after the Fall of Saigon and immigrating to Alabama. This coming-of-age novel told in verse has been celebrated for its touching child’s-eye view of family and immigration.

1984 by George Orwell – The year 1984 has come and gone, but Orwell’s prophetic, nightmarish vision in 1949 of the world we were becoming is timelier than ever. A startlingly original and haunting modern classic of “negative utopia” that creates an imaginary world that is completely convincing, from the first sentence to the last four words. No one can deny the novel’s hold on the imaginations of whole generations, or the power of its admonitions -a power that seems to grow, not lessen, with the passage of time.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie – The story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, he leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot. Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, coupled with poignant drawings that reflect the character’s art. This powerful tale based on the author’s own experiences chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – A masterwork of twentieth century literature set in a bleak, dystopian future. In a world where television rules and literature is on the brink of extinction, firemen start fires rather than put them out. Their job is to destroy the most illegal of commodities, the printed book, along with the houses in which they are hidden. When a fireman meets an eccentric young neighbor who introduces him to a past where people didn’t live in fear and to a present where one sees the world through the ideas in books instead of the mindless chatter of television, then she suddenly disappears…he begins to question everything he has ever known.

Animal Farm by George Orwell – As ferociously fresh as it was more than a half century ago, this remarkable allegory of a downtrodden society of overworked, mistreated animals, and their quest to create a paradise of progress, justice, and equality is one of the most scathing satires ever published. As we witness the rise and bloody fall of the revolutionary animals, a razor-edged fairy tale that records the evolution from revolution against tyranny to a totalitarianism just as terrible.

 


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The Importance of Reading Aloud
Building the Habit of Reading Aloud

Secular Homeschool Reading & Book List





Why Study History?

history, samantha matalone cook, sometimes we should be uncomfortable, seahomeschoolers.com

Why Study History?

History is our story, the record of our triumphs and tragedies. Without history, everything is new and surprising; history does not predict the future, but it narrows the possibilities.

The best way to learn history is to immerse yourself in the study of it – through historical television dramas, movies, historical novels, and by reading history, particularly one that takes both a social and political approach. Children love learning what other children’s lives were like, but even older students (and adults) like their history to read like a novel.

In teaching history, remember the twenty-year rule: do you want your students to know this fact in twenty years? I can remember a phrase on a history test: Harley-Smoot, probably because Smoot is such a fine name (or maybe I just remember it from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). I can’t match it with any detail, however. It turns out to be Hawley-Smoot Tariff. Does it matter? I can always look up the name (as I did writing this paragraph). I do want my daughters to remember that a protectionist tariff contributed to the Depression, but I’ll save that for high school. In elementary school, the Depression is Dorothea Lange’s haunting photograph of the “Migrant Mother.” In middle school, it is Cinderella Man and The Grapes of Wrath.

The most important thing in elementary and middle school history is to encourage students to care about history, to see history as something that happened to real people whom they find interesting. That caring and that interest will fuel the hard work it takes to learn history at a more complex level, but chances are, your children won’t find it hard work, because interest will turn the page for them.

                   Teach History as a Story

History is interesting. Remember that. Countless teenagers drop out of history classes as soon as they can, moaning history is boring! If your students think history is boring, you’re not teaching it right. In many countries, world history is often condensed to a single year of secondary school – no wonder far too many students hate it: endless memorizing of dates and key terms, thousand-page textbooks, dry, dreary accounts of dead men.

I became a student of history because:

I heard stories from one grandfather about World War II in the Pacific; I read the scrawled handwriting of my other grandfather of his days in the Irish Rebellion. My grandmother told me stories about her parents, gold and silver mining in Nevada. She showed me pictures of her mother in a long, flowing white dress amongst the dirt and dust of a mining camp.

I found gravestones in a field.

We drove past a house with a Trojan Horse in the lawn, and my father filled the next hour with a recap of the Iliad and the Odyssey.

My mother invariably made me go to bed in the middle of the Disney feel-good movies on Sunday night, but she would let me stay up and watch any of the British historical dramas on PBS: The Flame Trees of Thika, A Town Like Alice, Danger UXB.

My father read me stories of King Arthur, Fionn mac Cumhaill, and Cuchulain.

I read books – Little House on the Prairie, Carry on Mr. Bowditch, Tale of Two Cities.

I accepted bribes – “We’ll take you to see Excalibur if you first read The Once and Future King and a Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.”

Children’s stories, television, books, and ivy-covered ruins: that is how I came to love history. Old photographs, journals, and a gold buckle I could mark with my fingernail made me a historian.

In addition to being a pleasure, learning about history through stories is also the best way to remember it. In Why Don’t Students Like School? Daniel Willingham has an entire chapter entitled, “Why Do Students Remember Everything That’s on Television and Forget Everything I Say?” The answer appears some pages later:

The human mind seems exquisitely tuned to understand and remember stories – so much so that psychologists sometimes refer to stories as “psychologically privileged,” meaning they are treated differently in memory than other types of material. . . . [S]tories are easy to comprehend  . . . stories are interesting . . . stories are easy to remember. (51-53).

History is simply a collection of stories. In more advanced work, history is analysis and interpretation of these stories, but the story is always the basis: what happened?

It is far easier to learn material presented as a story than it is to learn the same material in the condensed, often dry language of the history encyclopedia or textbook, even if you have to read a hundred pages to learn what takes ten pages in a textbook. The hundred interesting pages will feel like nothing to those with reading stamina; those ten pages can be a slog for even the best readers.

                   Teach History Chronologically

Most American schoolchildren study history as if someone had taken a deck of “important historical moments” cards and shuffled them. Here’s the Core Knowledge Standards for history:

First graders study early world history, modern Mexico, and early American history through the Revolution and westward expansion. Second graders jump back to Early Asia, followed by Modern Japan, followed by Ancient Greeks, then the US Constitution, the War of 1812, and onward to the Civil War in American history. Third graders study Ancient Rome, the Vikings, and in American history dive backwards to the Colonies.

I much prefer Susan Wise Bauer and Jessie Wise’s internationally-focused schedule described in The Well-Trained Mind, where students study world history in three cycles of four years, although I do have some disagreements with Wise and Bauer on their techniques and methods of studying history. History happened in chronological order on our three-dimensional planet. Geography, climate, and the behavior of the country next door (or often on the other side of the world) has profound influence over the way history unfolds, and thus for the clearest understanding world history and geography must be studied as one overarching course, rather than splintered into either nations or themes.

                   Sample History Sequence:

                   Developing Civilizations (to 500 CE)

  • Becoming Human
  • Human Migrations / Hunter Gatherers
  • Early Farming
  • Ancient Civilizations Mesopotamia & Egypt
  • Ancient Civilizations China & India
  • Mediterranean 2000 – 800 BCE
  • Mediterranean 800 BCE – 500 CE
  • Beginnings and spread of global religions (Hinduism, Confucianism, Buddhism, Judaism, and Christianity)
  • Han China
  • Your ancestors

                   Mobile vs. Sedentary Nations (500-1600 CE)

  • Ancient Civilizations Americas
  • Ancient Civilizations Sub Saharan Africa
  • Nomadic Tribes invade Europe
  • Origins and Spread of Islam
  • Christian Empires / Crusades / Protestantism
  • Tang / Song China
  • Nomadic Tribes invade Asia / Yuan / Ming China
  • European countries invade Americas (“Columbian Exchange”)
  • Renaissance Europe
  • Your ancestors

                   Europe vs. the World (1600-1850)

 

  • Sea Trade & Warfare: beginnings of a global world
  • Qing China
  • Mughal India
  • European colonialism
  • Africa enslaved
  • US Revolution / Constitution
  • French Revolution / Napoleonic Wars
  • Industrial Revolution Europe
  • Japanese Isolationism
  • Your national history

                   The Global World (1850-2000)

  • US Slavery / Civil War
  • Social Effects of Industry
  • WW I
  • Economics: Capitalism and Communism (Great Depression / Ukraine Famines)
  • WW II
  • Cold War
  • Middle East
  • Latin America
  • Cultural Changes: liberalism & fundamentalism
  • Your national history

 

Download this list as a PDF

It was a struggle to limit this list to ten points each year. It is not a fixed list, of course; it is certainly biased, but I have highlighted cultures and ideas that still have influence in today’s world. My own failing in history is usually to try to cover too much in a given year: I want my children  to know everything!  Your local library (and Interlibrary Loan), a book of timelines, and a historical atlas can help you put together a history of the world at a listening or reading level suitable for your children.

                   Historical Sources

In history, we talk of three kinds of sources: primary, secondary, and, for lack of a better term, tertiary. Primary sources are what working historians rely on: the original documents, whether they are official (charters, agreements, constitutions), domestic (diaries, tax records, oral histories), or published books from the era (Homer, Plato, Shakespeare, Thomas Jefferson). Students should do research and analysis of primary sources and read some of the great books of our past in middle school and high school.

Historians use the primary sources to produce secondary sources. These range from articles, to books for an adult audience, to monographs for other historians. These secondary sources are the best way to teach history, because they provide a wealth of details, personal stories, and interesting information that makes history memorable and important. The difficulty with these books is they usually require strong reading stamina. Many students won’t be ready to read them until high school, which leaves middle school as the most difficult age to source good history materials. There is a new trend  of journalists writing secondary source histories, often based on historical monographs and their own primary research, creating very readable, exciting books about the past, which bring history alive for middle school and older students.

Tertiary sources are the third level, the least lively, the least readable, and often the least accurate. Here are your textbooks, which often are simply based on other people’s (or other committee’s) textbooks; here are your encyclopedia entries, your Wikipedia, and the summary histories of a region (or sometimes the entire world). These tertiary books have an important place in the study of history, but as a spine, or a general reference book, rather than the sole source of information.

Historians know that every writer of history has an agenda; they are acutely tuned to perceiving bias. Students are seldom taught to take the same approach. It’s obvious to most readers that primary source material will have biases, but it’s important to remember that secondary and tertiary materials are also the product of the author’s worldview, which is often simply better disguised than it might be in primary sources. Unfortunately, most sources of historical reading available to students fall into one of two poles: absolutism or relativism, with no guidance as to how to understand or even detect those biases. Most history books for children, particularly in the early grades, fall into the absolutist category: jingoistic platitudes about how marvelous one’s own country happens to be. Adults who were brought up with absolutist history bristle with anger at relativistic history which asserts that all cultures and mores are equally valid. Real history takes a middle ground; it reports the good and the bad, and it evaluates and argues.

For his article, “On the Reading of Historical Texts,” director of the Stanford History Education Group Samuel Wineburg analyzed the thinking process of professional historians versus that of strong American high school students, and discovered that this awareness of bias was one of the key differences in the way the two groups perceived historical writings. The students had not yet learned to mistrust their textbooks. Without realizing it, I taught my children this key skill early on, because many of their books were so biased that I couldn’t let the notions stand.

Throughout our history program, I have emphasized broad conceptual knowledge over rote memorization of dates and people. I’m not convinced that remembering the minutiae of history is as important as having the global picture of the past ten thousand years. I do think that reading that minutiae is important, however. Too many history books take a “dates are boring” approach and it can be very difficult to figure out what date the author is talking about. Dates are important. They cost nothing to read, as they are a very fast shorthand to fixing events in your mind. Authors too often think that students will simply glaze over if they use a date, but I don’t think that’s true. Readers do not necessarily retain the dates, but knowing the date helps them make better sense of the paragraph, which may help them better remember the ideas in the paragraph. Remembering exact dates, however, has a high cost for most people: flash cards and drill.

                   Learning History

                   Sample Stages of History Learning

Grades K-2: Teacher reads a history story aloud; students draw a picture and gradually transition to drawing a picture, writing a caption, and finally writing a short summary of the story and sketching a blackline map.

Grades 2-4: Teacher reads a history story aloud; students write a half a page summary and sketch a blackline map.

Grades 4-6: Teacher or student reads a history selection aloud; students either write a half page summary or take notes and make rough outlines of the material, make map sketches. Every six or eight weeks, students write 1-3 pages either describing what happened in a historical event, or discussing why and how something happened, or compare and contrast two events.

Grades 6-8: Students read assigned readings from textbook and adult-level history books. Textbook readings should be accompanied by notes or outlines, followed by a four or five line summary of the most important ideas. When working with longer books, students can take notes and annotations, and should write a short summary at the end of the book with a bibliographic entry. Map sketches continue to be valuable learning tools in geography and understanding how and why events happened as they did. Every six or eight weeks, students should write a 3-5 page paper (topics can be assigned or free choice), with or without outside research. Most papers should contain description, discussion of the events and perhaps a comparison with another event in history. In addition to discussing the reading, papers could also discuss the relationship of historical novels or films to the actual events of history.

Grades 9-12: Students read historians’ monographs, narrative histories, selections from a world history textbook, watch movies, read novels (both modern historical novels and contemporary literature from the time period), and listen to lectures from MOOCs or commercial programs such as the Great Courses. Emphasize note-taking on lectures and readings, and date memorization if they plan to take standardized exams or APs. Students should write one or two  5-8 page papers every semester and practice with essay exams, with both general questions and document-based questions.  Course-work will need to be structured around State or National requirements for high school, and the schedule may be determined by any pre-college testing your student chooses to do.

Projects: What about all the history projects – building models, baking bread? Are they necessary? I don’t think so. If you and your children enjoy them, great, but if you don’t, feel comforted that reading, writing, and drawing are the most efficient ways to learn history (and build reading and writing skills). I always found it more efficient to work on reading and writing in “school” and leave plenty of time for my children to build mud castles on their own.

                   Choosing Historical Readings

For homeschool teachers who may have been heard to shout “history is boring!” themselves, teaching your children is a wonderful way to learn all of those stories that you missed out on in your own schooling. Read the stories along with your children, watch the movies, find out about your family’s story, or one like it if your own is lost. Read historical novels.

On your own time, try some narrative history books (that is, books where history is presented as a story). Try Cod, Nathaniel’s Nutmeg, Longitude, Mayflower, 1776, and so on. After the success of 1776, various authors have come out with books centered on a single year: 1491, 1492, 1493, 1927, 1968. These books capture a moment in time and bring it alive to modern readers, adults and strong middle school readers alike.

When you’re choosing books for your children, ask yourself, is it interesting? Younger children will remember the Usborne Time Traveler series; when they’re a bit older, they can learn about Rome from Caroline Lawrence’s Roman Mysteries.

Going further back in pre-history requires even more work of the teaching parent, because scientists’ understanding of our pre-history is developing faster than the pace of children’s books. Every one of my children’s early books (and their high school textbook published in 2004) maintained firmly that there was no interbreeding between humans and neanderthals; recent science shows that as much as twenty percent of the neanderthal genome is distributed through human populations today. But instead of fretting about these changes, I welcome them: it demonstrates that history is an ongoing discovery, just as much as biology or astronomy.

                   Secular Programs

Religion is obviously an important component of history. Students must have a familiarity with the major religions of history and understand how religion both affects and is affected by historical trends. However, many homeschooling programs privilege one religion over the others.   For example, the popular Story of the World series by Susan Wise Bauer have a notable Judeo-Christian bias. Biblical stories are presented as fact, while other religions’ stories are presented as fable. It does not meet the requirements of a truly secular program.

Like many other secular homeschooling families, we found it possible to use Story of the World successfully. If you choose to use this series, I would recommend using the books only (not the add-on workbooks), and reading the material aloud to your students for volumes one and two, even if they are capable of doing the reading themselves. This will allow you to skip around, modify the order, or simply point out bias as you see it. Learning about bias is an important history lesson in itself.

Pandia Press offers History Odyssey, which uses Story of the World series as a spine in elementary school, but re-orders the chapters and skips the most biased ones – the editing work is done for you. The syllabus includes a lot of outside reading, but with advanced planning you should be able to order most of the books through Interlibrary Loan if they’re out of your budget range.

My dream curriculum would follow my topic list above with four children’s books on each subject in elementary school; a full-length adult popular history and a novel, biography or movie on each topic in middle school; and a comprehensive study of primary sources, historical monographs, and a textbook overview in high school.

Many programs use the Kingfisher History Encyclopedia as their spine in middle school. This is a good reference book, but it shouldn’t be used as the base reading for a program. Strong readers will be better off with a good high school textbook, such as Duiker & Spielvogel’s Essential World History or Felipe Fernandez-Armesto’s The World. 

I started off with Duiker and Spielvogel when my daughters were in fifth and sixth grade, because I was desperate to keep up with the four year cycle. It was too difficult. I read it aloud, and that taught them a bit about reading about history, but in retrospect, I might have done better to deviate from my plan and teach US history with Joy Hakim’s History of US,  while letting their reading levels strengthen through free-choice reading. (I recommend The History of US with a few caveats: it can be slightly jingoistic and the format is extremely busy. My children preferred to flick through it and “read the distractions first,” looking at the pictures and the sidebars, and then returning to read the main text of the chapter.)

Three cycles of world history over four years is my ideal, but don’t be afraid to rearrange it to suit your family, reading levels, or available resources.  One of the great virtues of homeschooling is that you can make school match the needs of your family and your children. If your program turns out students with a broad overview of historical events and an interest in history and historical literature, you have succeeded – even if they don’t know about the Hawley-Smoot tariff.

                   History Summary

  • Teach elementary and middle school history chronologically
  • Use writing to expand understanding
  • Textbooks help with the big picture, but trade books are more memorable
  • Use literature and film to complement historical readings

Check out our post about how to put together the best science field trip here.





Unschooling When You Can; Teach When You Must

Unschooling When You Can, Teach When You Must - Classical Education and Unschooling Meet

By Kate Laird

Kate Laird will be participating in SEA Homeschoolers’ School of Choice Week, 2017, airing from January 22 to 28, 2017. Kate’s podcast will air on January 25.

Our school is an intersection of classical education and unschooling.  I think of my philosophy as unschool when you can; teach when you must. Children love learning, they love making discoveries and they love being left alone to learn. I trust them to do this. Almost. If I left my children to completely unschool, they would read thousands of books and paint thousands of pictures, but they wouldn’t do math. My best friend’s child would have worked through every math program he could find, learned to program, but never read a history book.

When I began homeschooling, it was for geographic reasons, and I didn’t want my children to grow up thinking that I’d sacrificed their futures for the sake of our lifestyle. It was (and is) very important to me that they have all the educational opportunities that they would have had if we lived more sessile lives.

The disparate philosophies of homeschooling demonstrate that there are lots of ways to go about it – most of them successful, but they have to work within the family, for both the students and the teacher. I read with awe about the parents who develop elaborate, multi-subject projects, designing a learning structure that meets specific goals, while the children have a wonderful, fun time. That sounds like a lot of work! I like to think of an essay assignment (or better yet, have the kids generate their own), and let them write about it for a week, while I pre-read next month’s history assignment. Is that organizational sloth or classical homeschooling?

Through our years of homeschooling, I found I kept coming back to a few core ideas. The first was that school should be always difficult, never impossible. It took me a while to find this balance – and I often find I have pushed too far into the impossible, but I’m getting better at keeping an eye on it. I really don’t want them to have easy work: what’s the point? In practice, this means we don’t do worksheets, and we rely on writing summaries for both retention and proof of work. Summaries (sometimes called narration) are a whiff of classical and Charlotte Mason homeschooling. They’re also a great way to really learn material.

I also emphasized the development of reading and writing stamina. Students who’ve read a thousand books will have an easy time with reading high school literature, history, and science. Students who have read a couple of books a year will struggle. Reading improves reading – students who have read Lord of the Rings five times will have an easier time with 1984 and The Selfish Gene than those who have spent the same amount of time reading 36 week-long units with book excerpts, answering multiple choice questions about theme and meaning. Writing well comes from reading well and from writing practice, far more than from diagramming sentences and trying to learn vocabulary in workbooks.

Although I have stolen many ideas from Classical Homeschooling – my favorite is repeating the study of world history three times through in grades one to twelve – I don’t agree that students progress linearly through three stages of intellectual development. Instead, I see students using two types of knowledge acquisition: automatic and thoughtful. Students of all ages need both types of learning.  Handwriting, letter recognition, musical instruments, math facts, and second language vocabulary are examples of automatic learning. Comprehending literature, composing music, essay writing, algebra, and class discussion are examples of thoughtful learning, which is learned, not by drilling, but by doing and doing again. The traditional classical learning would put all elementary school in the automatic category and all high school in the thoughtful, but all students use both, sometimes at the same time. Think about the automaticity you need to drive a stick shift car – your feet play the gas and the clutch and the brake without your conscious thought. At the same time, your thoughtful learning process and your experience comes into play, which is why a 40-year-old is usually a better driver than a 25-year-old with lightning-fast reflexes.

Pushing academics during school hours, unschooling whatever we can, and trimming some of the busy work has let us pursue a rigorous curriculum with a lot of free time for childhood. Children need time to be alone, as unsupervised as possible, working out their world. They need time to be bored and to figure out how to fill that time, without relying on adults, video games, or television to fill it for them. Imaginative games (even television-inspired ones) are important for children’s developments, for empathy, and I suspect they are helpful in developing readers and writers, for what are readers and writers, but creators of another world in the medium of sedentary words, instead of the running, pole-sliding, three-dimensional world of kindergarten play?

Do modern children have enough play time to create this world of the mind? I don’t have researched-based answers to this, but I do have a feeling that too many parent-directed (or coach-directed) activities, too many “quiet the children down with a screen” parenting decisions (whether it be television, a movie, or a game of Minecraft) get in the way of this part of intellectual development. Boredom is a precious childhood resource, not a scourge. It is from boredom that writers develop, readers emerge, artists draw, musicians play, creativity blooms.

Kate Laird is the author of Homeschool Teacher. www.katelairdbooks.com

 

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Life as a Journey

Jason Grooms Photography

“Life is all about the journey, not the destination.” We’ve all heard it a thousand times and when times get tough, we use it to comfort ourselves. For me, it’s something else. For me, it’s pure rapture. As a kid staring out of the car window, every clutch of trees in the interstate median had a Robinson Crusoe sanctuary just beyond the first line of pines. Every wooded lot was an exotic jungle and every mound of construction dirt a faraway desert dune. There was something magical and exhilarating about the continual line of experiences that the road served up in front of me.

I still feel that sense of wonder and adventure and it’s something as a dad that I want to pass on to my kids. The trouble is, there’s no curriculum to teach wanderlust or how to grow an adventurer’s heart. The good news is, you don’t need it. While there are a few books out there that can inspire adventure the best lesson plan is experience, and it doesn’t require a passport or airline miles. You can find adventure on your own street or in your own town.

Here are a few things I’ve found over the years that can help light the spark of adventure, without costing a fortune.

Take an “I Don’t’ Know” trip. Take a day to explore without knowing exactly where you’re going. Seriously, decide on a general direction and start taking turns until you end up somewhere new. You’ll be surprised how quickly you find something fascinating and story-worthy, even within your own neighborhood. Take your map, GPS or smartphone with you so you can find your way back. If you really want to ramp up the adventure, try and find your way home with none of the above.

Use adventure rules. Set some adventuring rules, find places that fit your criteria, and GO. A few years back my kids and I had a summer of exploration we called DadQuest. The rules were simple. A) It had to be someplace we had never been. B) It had to be someplace that cost less than $5 per person (free was preferred). C) It had to be within a 2-hour drive or less. That summer we visited a Sponge Diving museum, two flea markets, five state parks, an abandoned zoo, and a wildlife trail for an endangered bird that was on someone’s farm.

Get on a bus or train and just go. In many cities, you can buy a train, bus or transit day-pass for very little. Get one and see where it takes you. We spent an entire day riding the metro train and trolleys and walking between stops. The added benefit for this one is that it teaches a great life skill, how to get around using public transportation. If your kids are used to riding around in their car seats in the back of a minivan like mine are, chances are when they get older they’ll be clueless about how to get around without a car.

Be fearless. This is probably the hardest of all for me. With all of the horror and suffering and pain flashing by on your local news station it can be hard to remember that humanity is, by and large, good, and there are a hundred-thousand good people for every one who’s not so good. I to make it a point not to classify people as good or bad with my kids. People just have different stories or backgrounds or struggles they’re facing. Last weekend we parked at a small lot for the train station and I commented that I hoped it was a safe place to park, but that the only thing of value in our van was the car seat, and if someone needed a car seat bad enough to steal it they could have it. It sparked an entire conversation with the kids about people who were down on their luck and how hard it must be to get to the point of feeling the need to steal and what we could do to help people who needed car seats. There was no judgment or words of condemnation, only genuinely seeking to understand. It made me proud.

In the end, it’s still a crazy life and sometimes a trip to the store is just a trip to the store, but the next time you’re driving somewhere and your son or daughter is quietly looking out the window, think about what’s going through their mind. Check out that sparkle in their eye. That’s what I’m talking about. I don’t want that to ever go away for them. I don’t want them to ever stop looking at the world with wonder.


Jason Grooms
Jason Grooms

Jason Grooms is an author, adventurer, mountain climber, husband, dad of six and grandpa of one and a half. Along with his brilliant and beautiful wife, he’s been homeschooling for almost two decades (two graduated and four close behind). When he’s not being a teacher, adventure guide, and life coach for his kids, Jason is a Director of Learning and Development for an international company by day and writes science adventure books for kids by night. He has his degree in Cultural Anthropology, is an ordained Humanist Celebrant, and is certifiably the biggest Disney nerd you will ever encounter. You can find his science books and activities at SEA Books & More, and follow along with his mountain climbing adventures on his YouTube channel Geek on the Peak TV (https://goo.gl/IsTi5K).





The Benefits of Secular Eclectic Academic Homeschooling

The Benefit of Homeschooling - Secular Eclectic Academic Homeschooling, Secular Homeschooling, Secular Homeschoolers

By Blair Lee, A Voice from the Middle

There is a revolution going on right now in education. It’s called homeschooling. I am part of a fringe group in this revolution. You don’t hear a lot from us, but there is a group of homeschoolers who consider our style to be secular eclectic academic homeschooling. You don’t hear from us because on the one hand we are the unloved mongrels of the homeschooling community so we keep a low profile, and on the other hand we are too busy figuring out how to best facilitate our children’s education. We spend too much time on academics and have too much structure to be considered unschoolers or child-led learners, and too little time on traditional academics or have too little structure to be considered classical homeschoolers.

Many secular eclectic academic homeschoolers pull their children out of traditional school or never have them attend it because, although like traditional schools we believe in the importance of academics, we do not believe in the way the academic subjects are being taught, the testing culture, and/or we disagree with the subjects that are being taught. For example, I believe there are certain subjects that should be taught less so that there is time to teach subjects such as computer science. (And I am not talking about less time for science or history when I say this!) I think that subjects such as math and some writing could be incorporated into history and science so that there would be more time for these two very important subjects and so that writing and math could be taught in a way that makes them more relevant.

America is a funny country when it comes to academics. We want to be at the top academically when it comes to things like beating Singapore’s test scores in math or scoring as well on standardized tests as Finland does, but we don’t have a lot of appreciation for academics in most of our communities.

There is a focus on winning and having the top scores on tests, but there is a lack of focus on the sheer beauty of learning. I think the disconnect between school and the inherent beauty of learning comes about because of the misguided focus on “winning” (AKA having the highest test scores) versus getting a good education so you can be intellectually engaged. As I have said before, I am sympathetic to the constraints placed on schools. Schools have to have performance mandates because they are using tax payer dollars, and tax payers want to know that their dollars are being well spent. So… testing happens. That is how schools show they are performing well. Most eclectic, academic homeschoolers think there should be less focus on testing and more focus on having intellectual discussions about issues both big and small. Not because they will solve any problems (or maybe they will), but just because they are interesting to engage in. Interesting people have interests; it is that simple.

The academic benefits of homeschooling when there has been a focus on academics are impressive. I am blown away by the wealth and richness of my son’s education, and how it has led to an intellectual engagement with his academics and his passionate love of learning. He still thinks I am smarter than him, and he is right about some subjects like chemistry, but in other areas he has surpassed me. He has been given the time and resources to delve into his passions. He doesn’t appreciate it yet, but I think he is already standing on my shoulders. By the way, if you think that my son is a gifted student, he’s not. He is a pretty average, typical 15-year-old who happens to be growing up in a family that places a lot of value on the love of learning.

The homeschool community is not necessarily warm and accepting of secular eclectic academics. I have been accused of being a “Teachey teach to the textbook type” and a “school at homer”, both of which are derogatory phrases in the homeschool community. Neither is accurate, but even if they were, big deal. My child is happy and well-adjusted. We all like the way education works in our house. I don’t know why anyone else would care. On the other side of it, I have been asked by classical educators if I wasn’t worried about Sean being able to get into college. The answer to that question is, “No.” My purpose with my son’s education has never been so that he could get into a good college. That will be a natural outcome, but it is not the purpose and that gives me much more flexibility with his education. I started as a student at a community college, and it is a perfectly good path to getting a college degree. College is not the focus or the end-goal for my child. We focus on academics because I want my child to be well educated. That to me is the purpose of an education. And then there is the issue with being secular. Does that mean we are anti-faith? The answer to that is no. It means the materials used for learning present the facts, theories, principles, and models as recommended by a majority of experts in the field being studied. Unless the subject is philosophy, secular academic materials do not take an individual’s philosophy into account. It is not anti-faith. It is pro-learning with minimal bias from the author’s worldview.

The lack of acceptance does not bother me, as you probably guess, since I blog about being an eclectic and academic homeschooler, and I am a scientist who writes secular academic science books. Actually that’s why I decided to write about homeschooling high school. I wanted to help my fellow homeschoolers who are trying like I am to negotiate the path for providing a unique academic education for their kids, while making sure that they have plenty of time for socialization, video games, and all the rest of the things teens are into these days.

I write for the fringe group of us in the middle, who believes there is real value in academics, but who are looking for something more innovative and individual than what is being done in traditional schools. Those of us in the middle think one of the main purposes of an education is that at the end of it a person is well-educated, with the caveat that we define what well-educated means in our house. We also think an education should lead to a person who loves learning and who understands how to learn. We are trying to figure all of this out organically using innovative and eclectic approaches.

(4/2015) Until a couple of days ago, I thought there were only a few of us. I was feeling lonely. I wanted a community of people to brainstorm with, so I put a message out on two Facebook Groups. I was hoping to find the 10 other (or maybe there were even fewer, I worried) secular, eclectic, academic homeschoolers out there. The response to my post has been overwhelming. There are quite a few more than 10 of us, and we need each other.

There are two main reasons we need each other. The first is so we can have a community of like-minded people. Homeschooling is done at home with just your family, so it can be isolating, especially if you don’t have a group that you identify with like unschoolers and classical homeschoolers do. The other reason we need to form a group is ironic. We are academic homeschoolers, but we want to be innovative and eclectic with our academic homeschooling. Because of this there is no book or set of guidelines we can refer to. We are just winging it most of the time. We need to form a group for the same reason that teachers in traditional schools need to get together and talk about what’s going on in their classrooms. We need others to strategize with. We need a forum where we can discuss what’s working and get help on what’s not. We need a place where we can find others to form online co-ops with. Basically we need a group where it feels safe and comfortable to discuss academic issues as they relate to our situation. We need other people who feel the way we do about academic homeschooling to use as a sounding board when we’re figuring things out. We also need a place to be able to come to so we can tell others when we figured it out and it really worked. This helps others, but it’s also nice just to be able to say, “Guess what wonderful thing my child achieved academically,” and know that these other people are going to be proud of the academic achievements of your child, because like you, they care passionately about academics.

This group is going to be about educating and about innovative academics. The emphasis with it is not going to be about how to get your child into college. Getting into college will be a result of this process, but for the purpose of this group it’s not the purpose of the process. I know a bit (but just a bit) about this, because a very well-regarded university reached out to my son in January asking him to apply to their summer program. We did not solicit the application. They solicited our participation. When it comes to college, I am beginning to feel like Kevin Costner standing in a field, “Build it. They will come.” (It being my eclectically educated son.)There will be colleges that don’t agree with me on this. That’s okay. Not every college is right for every person. Eclectic, academic kids should probably seek out eclectic, academic colleges. (Now if we can just get those same colleges to waive standardized test results as part of our child’s college application, Hmmnn…… The way I see it, schools looking to attract homeschool students should rely mainly on portfolios of work from a homeschooled student when deciding if they want to admit the student.) Maybe when Sean goes to college I should work on that instead of joining the Peace Corps. Yes that is one of the things my husband and I are thinking of doing, the Peace Corps I mean, when Sean goes to college.

If this post resonates with you, look for the Facebook Group “Secular, Eclectic, Academic, Homeschoolers,” Secular Eclectic Academic Homeschoolers closed group. It is open to any homeschooler or educator who considers themselves a secular eclectic academic, who appreciates the value of an academically-rich education that is innovative, and who wants to promote that within our homeschool community. There will be no selling on this group. That is not its purpose. This will be a positive force, and only those people who want to have a constructive discussion should sign up for it. The group is open to people of any faith, or lack thereof, but we will not allow any proselytizing. The academics we will be discussing in this group will be secular academics. That does not mean people cannot discuss religion within education, but it has to be from the perspective of academics, and all science discussions will be strictly secular. I look forward to meeting my fellow secular, eclectic, academic homeschoolers!

The benefits of secular homeschooling




The Scientific Method: Defined, Applied, Learned

Scientific Method

The Scientific Method: Defined

The scientific method is an investigative method based on experimentation, observation, and deductive reasoning. The purpose of this investigation is to explain a phenomena occurring in the natural and physical world.

The hypothesis is an educated guess. The word “educated” is a key word in this sentence. When a scientist makes a hypothesis they are not just guessing in the way you might guess the outcome of a coin toss. They are basing their guess on what they know about the area of science the experiment focuses on. This is one reason it is critical to understand the foundational fundamentals of a scientific discipline. It is also why it is necessary that science courses begin at the beginning and very clearly build from there with a thoughtful increase in the level of skill required to conduct the experiments.

The procedure is a list of the steps needed to conduct the experiment. The procedure should not include techniques that are too advanced or complicated for students to understand. The procedure in a science experiment is very important.

“A scientific theory is a widely accepted explanation of something observed in science. Theories are based on experimentation, observation, and reasoning—the scientific method. Before something can be called a scientific theory, it must be tested many times by different researchers, who get results that are consistent with that theory.” R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Biology 2

If the procedure is not well written or not conducted in the same way every time, an experimenter can get “results that are not consistent with that theory”. Because scientific theories depend on many different researchers getting results that are consistent with that theory, it is essential the procedure be written and understood clearly.

Once the experiment is set up, it is time to conduct the experiment. While they are conducting the experiment, students will make observations. Observations are the collected data from the experiment. Observations made during an experiment lead to a better understanding of how the natural and physical world works.

It is necessary that scientists and science students be able to report their observations in a meaningful and cohesive manner. The data and results component of the scientific method is where the data, calculations, and observations are written, calculated, and explained.

When deductive reasoning is applied to the data and results, a conclusion is determined that supports the observations. If many different scientists conduct an experiment and get the same conclusion based on their analysis of the data and results, the observations made during the experiment can change or support scientific theories and scientific models.

“A scientific model is a simplified representation of a real system. Scientific models are based on the scientific method. Scientific models make it possible to study large, complex scientific principles and systems.” R.E.A.L. Science Odyssey Astronomy and Earth Science 2

The Scientific Method: Applied

When students determine their hypothesis they are applying their understanding of basic science principles with respect to the experiment.

When a student conducts an experiment the procedure is applied in two different ways. As a student reads through the procedure they are reading a set of instructions explaining techniques used in science. Since all scientific theories and models are based on experimentation, a basic understanding of the techniques used in science is a far-reaching component of the foundational fundamentals of science. The second way the procedure is applied is by conducting the experiment. Understandings in science come about through experimentation. It takes countless hours of laboratory work to develop a scientific theory or model. Learning science without conducting experiments is like learning to sew without actually sewing. Science is an active endeavor, not a static one.

The observations and data are applied by using them to determine the results of the experiment. Making observations, collecting data, and using these to determine results are a meaningful application of applied math as it relates to science. The ability to use math applications is an essential skill in science in the same way punctuation and spelling are essential skills for the craft of writing.

The final step when applying the scientific method to an experiment is to use deductive reasoning to determine a conclusion for the experiment. This synthesis of information and application of the foundational fundamentals that should be in the conclusion are more than just an application of the scientific method. It is also a natural and intuitive lesson in logical thinking.

The Scientific Method: Understood

Most of the time students and educators do not pay enough attention to the hypothesis other than to write it or make sure it is written. A student’s hypothesis should be evaluated critically, but not with criticism, to look for how well the student understands the science the experiment is based on. A good strategy to use when your student writes a hypothesis is to ask them what scientific principles or knowledge they are basing their hypothesis on. When this is done students will come to understand how scientists arrive at their hypotheses based on educated guesses.

When students read and then work through the steps of an experiment they come to understand some of the basic procedures real scientists use when conducting experiments. They also come to understand at an intuitive level that scientific theories and models are determined and developed through the application and manipulation of science practices.

Observations made while experiments are conducted are the basis for the data and results that are used to develop scientific theories and models. Students spend a lot of their school time learning math. Using data and observations to determine results helps students understand how math is used to help explain how the natural and physical world works. When experiments are well paired with theory, observations made while conducting experiments greatly increase and add to a student’s understanding of the theory taught. Making observations, collecting data, and then using these to determine results also leads to a better understanding of the work scientists do and the type of deductive reasoning and analysis used for their conclusions that lead to the development of scientific theories and models.

Scientific theories and models are a synthesis of conclusions from many different scientific experiments. It is through conducting experiments in academic situations that students come to understand how conclusions determined using the scientific method can explain how the natural and physical world works.

 

The Scientific Method: Learned

When science is learned in a manner where theory is carefully paired with experiments chosen so they relate closely to that theory, the scientific method is learned through reasoning and observation. It is also learned intuitively. Instead of relying on a rote memorization of terms and their definitions to explain the scientific method, students understand in a meaningful way how the scientific method works, how scientific theories, models, and principles are developed. Most importantly they learn how these theories, models, and principles are used to explain how the natural and physical world works

This article first appeared on the Pandia Press blog: http://www.pandiapress.com/blog-post-list/





The Renaissance of a Handcrafted Education

The Renaissance of a Handcrafted Education, Secular Homeschool
Renaissance of a Handcrafted Education
Renaissance of a Handcrafted Education

From the time I was pregnant with my son Sean until he was a toddler, if you had asked me what I wanted him to be when he grew up, I would have told you I wanted him to be a Renaissance man. To me, the term Renaissance man means a person (male or female) who has a deep and nuanced knowledge over a broad range of fields. It refers to a person who is literate and can express oneself through writing, speaking, or both; a person who is a creative thinker; someone who is not necessarily an athlete but who is comfortable with his own physicality. And I expected him to be social, it never even occurred to me my child would not be the extreme extrovert I am. It was the dreamy sort of fantasy a mom with her first (and it turned out only) child has.

Learning from the Experts
Renaissance of a Handcrafted Education: Learning from the Experts

The dream didn’t survive toddlerhood. It was during toddlerhood that I realized Sean had his own dreams and personality, and it was those that needed to guide his path. The first time I realized my child was not an extrovert, he was a slightly, shy introvert, I panicked. I am not kidding. I had absolutely no idea how to parent him when it came to social situations. I thought things like (but never said), “How could anyone prefer standing and observing over jumping in and doing?!?” “Why would you want to hang out with me alone, when you have others who want to play with you?!?” I dealt with it by letting him hold on when he needed to, and helping him have wings when he felt comfortable flying.

Donegal, Ireland, 2007
Donegal, Ireland, 2007

Early on, I chose to honor who he was, even when it took work to figure out how to do it, instead of pushing an agenda I had for him. I do not believe in pushing your child to be what you want him to be. I think it is more important to ensure he has the skills and tools he needs, and then to work with him so that he is a critical thinker who can figure out for himself what he wants to be. So that was what I focused on.

Hip Hop Nutcracker
Renaissance of a Handcrafted Education: Hip Hop Nutcracker

When I realized the small rural school he was in during kindergarten couldn’t give him the skills and tools he needed, with the advice of his teacher, I chose to homeschool him. Sean and I spent some time using different educational approaches until settling on secular, eclectic, academic homeschooling. He is too artistic, and I appreciate academics too much for any one methodology to completely suit both of us. So, instead of choosing one, I gifted him with a handcrafted education.

Hip Hop Nutcracker
Renaissance of a Handcrafted Education: Hip Hop Nutcracker

Handcrafted educations like those found in the secular homeschool community are not new. During Renaissance times, people would have considered secular, eclectic, academic homeschoolers like us to be humanists, educating their children from a humanist perspective. For us, humanist has nothing to do with or without issues of faith. It refers to the use of secular academic materials, those that present facts, theories, and models as recommended by a majority of practicing experts in a field of study. This type of education, tailored to the strengths, weaknesses, and passions of an individual and their family is the type of education that Leonardo da Vinci, Florence Nightingale, and Thomas Jefferson received.

It was only recently that I realized my dream for my son came true. came true. In fact there is a whole group of homeschooled kids growing up to be Renaissance men and women. The secular homeschooling component is important to the recipe. With a Renaissance style education you can introduce material to someone, but they must choose to explore it deeply. This deep exploration requires time without a timeline. Renaissance educations have at their center a core base of knowledge, of course. But that core does not come from a checklist of facts to be memorized and prescribed skills to be mastered, as happens with a traditional education. There is more individuality and ownership with a handcrafted, Renaissance education. When it comes to learning things in a deep and nuanced way, ownership is a critical component. You can bring someone to the table of knowledge, but you cannot make them consume it. There is a reason we are experiencing a renaissance of a handcrafted education. It is because this type of education leads to a person who knows how to learn and understands the value and joy of learning. More than any other element, this is the one that makes someone a Renaissance man or a Renaissance woman.

Researching before writing an article
Renaissance of a Handcrafted Education: Researching before writing an article

These days, Sean is 18 and beginning to assert himself and his own independence. It is an exciting time for all of us, but often there is nothing very romantic about it. I homeschooled my son, so my fingerprints are all over his education and learning. Lately though, as he has begun to assert himself, showing signs of the man he is growing into, and making his knowledge and learning his own, his fingerprints are beginning to obscure mine. It is during these moments when I realize, with no planning to make it happen, this secular, eclectic, academic path we chose together resulted in his growing to become a Renaissance man.

 


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1406266378 Blair Lee M.S. is the homeschooling mother of a 15-year-old and a world traveler. Blair loves to read, cook, laugh, hang out with friends, and homeschool. In 2015, she co-founded Secular, Eclectic, Academic Homeschoolers SEA Homeschoolers on Facebook. Blair writes for the Real Science Odyssey Series, RSO, as well as blogs and magazines. Blair speaks about eclectic, academic homeschooling, science, and travel at homeschool conventions. You can follow her at blairleeblog, Twitter, Facebook, and Katch.





Why “Neutral” Science Isn’t Neutral

Why Neutral Science Isn't Neutral - Secular Homeschooling

by Blair Lee

Are there any science types reading this title wondering who I am? Or do you know who I am and think I’ve finally lost it? I am not talking about science as it is practiced and taught at most universities throughout the United States. I’m talking about the special brand of “neutral science” found in the homeschool community and increasingly in public schools in the United States.

The neutral science I’m referring to is science that suffers from omission. These are middle and high school level science courses that leave out the bits they think will offend people because of their faith and philosophy of life, or omit things to obfuscate the importance and acceptance of science principles and theories. Any middle and high school level science course that does not include the main principles and theories that are the foundation of that science is not neutral at all. In fact, they would be the opposite of neutral. “Neutral” science allows for a pernicious form of proselytizing that for the most part goes unnoticed. It allows for groups such as the intelligent design camp to sneak their views and beliefs into texts that look like they only teach science. Texts that are infused with someone’s religious beliefs are actually well-disguised religious treatise and dogma. They are not neutral, and do not represent mainstream science.

If you had told me a decade ago I would be arguing against religious extremism in science I would have thought you were nuts. I am a scientist, not a religious scholar, or a religious philosopher. As such, I write about science not religion and not philosophy. Unfortunately, there are authors of science texts who allow their faith to affect their writings about science. For someone who is a passionate advocate for the teaching of science this is actually offensive to me. It is also disappointing when I see people unwittingly recommend courses that have this sort of religious dogma hidden within them.

Personal beliefs don’t have a place in science courses. It isn’t the job of science to support an individual’s philosophical beliefs. It is the job of science to explain how the natural and physical world works, even when scientific explanations are at odds with the person’s philosophical beliefs. Science by its very nature is neutral. What is neutral for science is to report the facts, accepted principles, and current theories. As a textbook author, I do decide what to include and what not to include in my books. My decisions for this are based on what is taught at well-regarded universities. I choose the best of those courses, look at what they include and how they are structured, and then write courses structured similarly, for the appropriate grade level. This is what you should expect from a course you are using to educate your child.

Why Neutral Science Isn't Neutral candy chromosome

Candy chromosome: Basic genetics is often left out of or under taught in neutral science courses, because a good understanding of genetics leads to an understanding of how evolution occurs.

How can you as a non-scientist figure out what to use? There are some key things to look for in a middle school or high school level science course that is truly neutral:
• The inclusion of evolution: Here is a neutral statement from the science of biology, “Evolution happens.” When we talk about the theory of evolution, the theory part refers to the processes of how evolution works. For example, there are theories about how multi-cellularity and eukaryotic cells evolved; no one knows exactly how either of these evolutionary steps occurred. That evolution occurs is a fact. No neutral middle school or high school biology course would omit it. No neutral biology course would omit how all the organisms on earth came to be here.
• Is the word design used in place of the word evolution? Fashion designers design clothes. Scientific researchers design experiments. Organisms evolve; they are not designed.
• Is the word created or creation used when discussing how organisms, the universe, or matter came into existence? Organisms evolved; they were not created. The universe and matter formed from events starting with the Big Bang; they were not created. There is simply no evidence any of these were created. The only topics and statements that belong in science courses are topics and statements that have evidence supporting them. Topics and statements based on a person’s beliefs with no supporting evidence belong in a philosophy course, not a neutral science course. When scientists do not know the answers to questions, for instance: “how the first organism evolved, and what its exact chemical makeup was” or “what was it like right before the Big Bang,” it is inappropriate to answer with personal beliefs.
• The inclusion of the Big Bang Theory: Here’s a neutral statement from the science of astronomy, “The universe is over 13 and a half billion years old. The best explanation for how it came into existence is the Big Bang Theory. The evidence for the Big Bang Theory grows all the time. The Big Bang Theory explains how all matter and antimatter in the universe came to be, even the matter that makes humans.” This is a scientifically neutral statement. An astronomy course that does not include an explanation similar to that about the Big Bang Theory is not neutral.
• Another neutral statement, “Humans have been burning fossil fuels in increased amounts since the Industrial Revolution. This has led to an increase in carbon dioxide and other molecules in the atmosphere that absorb sunlight in the form of heat. The more heat trapping molecules that are in the atmosphere, the more heat that is trapped, and the warmer the planet becomes. It is simple thermodynamics. The increase in absorbed sunlight is causing climate change on a global scale.” Any geology or environmental science course that does not include this topic is not neutral.
• Does the middle or high school level biology course only teach the old Linnaean system for classifying organisms? This is the system that uses kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. This might seem like a minor point, but scientists and universities only use the Linnaean system for naming organisms. The Linnaean system is popular with courses that are not neutral because it supports the philosophy of the “Great Chain of Being.” The modern method for classifying organisms used by scientists and taught at universities is phylogeny and cladistics.

You might think chemistry and physics are immune and you don’t have to worry about these two subjects. The problem is what is being left out. What key parts of these courses are omitted? As Bob Seger says, “Deadlines and commitments; What to leave in, what to leave out.” If scientists are writing these courses, and I’m not always sure they are, what are they committed to? No scientist committed to adequately educating people in these areas of science would omit these facts and theories. They must be omitting key parts of these science disciplines to further an agenda other than quality science education.

Why Neutral Science Isn't Neutral

Here’s the problem with a chemistry or physics textbook that omits key parts:
• Chemistry is the science that definitively proves evolution occurs.
• Physics is the science that gives the clearest evidence the Big Bang is how the universe came into existence.
• Physical chemistry is the area of science used to study and explain climate change.

Many of the so-called “neutral” science courses omit the parts that provide the evidence supporting these facts and theories. If you use these “neutral” science courses for your middle or high school chemistry and physics courses, your child will be left without the necessary science background to understand evolution, the Big Bang Theory, climate change, and other key science principles. If you use these “neutral“ science courses for middle school and high school biology, astronomy, geology, or environmental science, your child will not even be getting the necessary background in these areas of science to understand that science discipline. I think you’ll agree with me, that isn’t neutral at all.


1406266378Blair Lee M.S. is the the founder of Secular, Eclectic, Academic Homeschoolers. When she’s not busy doing these things, she’s busy writing or working on service projects. She is the author of the critically acclaimed Real Science Odyssey Biology 2 and Chemistry 1, http://www.pandiapress.com/publications/real-science-odyssey/. She is currently working on Astronomy and Earth Science 2 for the series.





The Charlotte Mason Method in the Secular Homeschool

Charlotte Mason

“I am, I can, I ought, I will.”*

If you’ve been homeschooling for any amount of time, chances are you’ve heard the name Charlotte Mason. She has made quite a name for herself in the modern homeschool movement, despite the fact she lived over a hundred years ago. Charlotte Mason (1842 – 1923) was a British educator who advocated for improving the quality of education for children. She promoted the idea of a “liberal education for all” not just those of a certain social class.

If you’ve ever searched for Charlotte Mason inspired curriculum or information, you probably found a variety of resources that were nearly all Christian in nature. While it may appear that the Charlotte Mason method of home education is not compatible with a secular lifestyle, I strongly disagree. Even though many of her ideas were based on Victorian era Christian ideals, her education methods can and should be used in any homeschool today – secular or not.

“Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life.”

When I first began homeschooling my eldest child several years ago, I discovered Charlotte Mason’s educational philosophy. I was drawn to the idea of educating with living books, so now much of what I do is based on this foundation of teaching. But it’s more than just reading beautiful literature. It’s creating a unique atmosphere of learning. Load your bookshelves with the best literature you can find. Hang beautiful, thought-provoking art work around your house. Watch history and science documentaries as well as good movies and television programs. Listen to beautiful music (which, of course, is open to interpretation). Filling my home with beauty and grand ideas is one of the best ways that I have found to inspire my children with the best ideas the world can offer. And you can too.

“The question is not, — how much does the youth know? when he has finished his education — but how much does he care? and about how many orders of things does he care? In fact, how large is the room in which he finds his feet set? and, therefore, how full is the life he has before him?”

There are many basic tenants of the Charlotte Mason method of education that I feel you should try to incorporate into your daily homeschool routine.

Living Books

20150223_112258Literature is the foundation of the Charlotte Mason philosophy of education. Rather than studying from dry, formal textbooks, your children will be immersed in lovely prose and vivid writings from authors who care deeply about their subject matter. A living book is one that evokes emotion and draws you deeply into the story. Living books offer much for thoughtful contemplation, not just simply providing information to the reader.

The majority of Charlotte Mason websites, books, and curricula available on the market today focus on Victorian era literature. While those books are quite lovely and can be valuable resources – there have been literally thousands of books written since 1923 that beg to be explored and appreciated. These wonderful books are just as worthy of yours and your child’s time. A few suggestions such as The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly, One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia, Phineas Gage: A Gruesome but True Story About Brain Science by John Fleischman, and George vs. George: The American Revolution As Seen from Both Sides by Rosalyn Schanzer are not to be missed.

Living books appeal to all ages – they aren’t childish and they don’t have to be compartmentalized by grade level. You can read them aloud to your whole family, and everyone will get something from it. In a Charlotte Mason style homeschool, replacing your uninspiring textbooks with fascinating and well written literature and non-fiction will bring your studies to life.

Copywork and Dictation

“Perfect Accomplishment.–– I can only offer a few hints on the teaching of writing, though much might be said. First, let the child accomplish something perfectly in every lesson––a stroke, a pothook, a letter. Let the writing lesson be short; it should not last more than five or ten minutes. Ease in writing comes by practice; but that must be secured later.”

Copywork and dictation form the backbone of language arts in the Charlotte Mason 20150727_141210method. In the beginning, copywork doubles as handwriting practice, and focuses on the neat and careful handwriting of single letters, then words and finally sentences. Once your child is comfortably writing full sentences, choose beautiful passages from the literature you are reading for them to copy. This is “killing two birds with one stone,” in that you are working on their best penmanship, but also filling your child’s thoughts with grand ideas and exposing them to examples of good writing. Consider this learning to become a good writer by osmosis. If your children are immersed in a world full of living books and lovely thoughts, they will also learn what good writing looks like and therefore, learn to write well.

When students become proficient at writing, you can begin dictation (usually around the age of 10). Dictation is similar to copywork, in that you will still choose beautiful passages of literature. But the difference is that instead of just copying the words in front of them, you will read the passage aloud for them to transcribe. This gives them the opportunity to take those passages of good literature and work on learning the mechanics of writing, such as where to place the commas, end punctuation, grammar, and spelling. This cultivates the skills of observation (they must study the passage first), listening, comprehension skills, and learning proper sentence structure.

Narration

Narration is the basis for composition in a Charlotte Mason style homeschool. It takes the place of reading comprehension quizzes, inane discussion questions and tedious book reports. Narration is simply retelling, in their own words, what they have read or heard. Children naturally want to tell us about things they saw, heard or watched, so narration is a natural extension of that. Ask your child to tell you what they remember after a reading. By telling it back to you, they will recall more clearly and for a longer period of time. It is essentially an oral composition exercise. They will have to focus their attention on the reading, then organize their thoughts and learn to express themselves clearly and coherently. To keep it interesting, narration can also take the form of creative assignments, such as creating a skit, a piece of art, or a short story – all based on the reading.

Once your child gets older and has been narrating orally for a while, begin written narrations. The method is the same, but now they put their thoughts into writing. Again, to keep it interesting and not merely writing a summary of the reading every time – they can create a character journal, write a letter to the author, conduct an interview with a character, all while developing the skills of literary analysis. Coach them early on, and watch as they naturally pickup better writing skills on their own.

Nature Study

“This is all play to the children, but the mother is doing invaluable work; she is training their powers of observation and expression, increasing their vocabulary and their range of ideas by giving them the name and the uses of an object at the right moment,–when they ask, ‘What is it?’ and ‘What is it for?’”

20150805_144901In Charlotte Mason’s day, nature study was the only science students would study before high school. In Victorian times, there wasn’t much of a need for the average student to deeply study science. It was only necessary to grasp a basic understanding about the immediate world around them such as local flora and fauna. To them, keeping a nature journal was more than just a scientific study, but a piece of artwork with beautiful plants and animals hand-drawn or painted in great detail.

In our modern world, it can feel like nature study is unnecessary. Why bother, when there are more important and interesting sciences to study? But nature study has many benefits that are too important to be overlooked. By getting outside and experiencing the natural world, your child will develop observational skills, a keen sense of wonder, and a desire to deepen their scientific knowledge.

It may be easier to just stay indoors and watch a nature documentary on television, but our children also need the experience of seeing it in the real world and become a part of nature, and own the knowledge by collecting it themselves.

So how do you do it? You can get out once a week for a nature walk, learn the names of all of the plants in your neighborhood, go on a hike or walk along a nature trail once a month, visit a nature reserve or state park, choose a tree in your yard to study for a year, put out a feeder and observe the local birds, or choose a few insects to collect and study. The Nature Connection by Clare Walker Leslie is an excellent resource to get you started.

Short and Varied Lessons

At first mention, short lessons sound somewhat fishy to most people. Considering that most children spend upwards of 6 – 8 hours of their day in school then a couple additional hours working on homework – how can short lessons be a good thing? But the idea of short lessons is such an important aspect of Charlotte Mason’s method, and if used correctly, we cannot overlook it.

“You want the child to remember? Then secure his whole attention.”

Short lessons allow you to keep your child’s attention focused. Remember back to those hour long lectures you would sit through in school – it was inevitable that your mind would wander. Charlotte Mason suggested that a better way would be to spend a powerful 20 – 30 minutes engaging your child’s mind. Rather than completing a page of 50 math problems, assign 10 and be sure your child can do them well. There is no meaningless busy work in this method of education.

Instead of watching the clock and spending an hour on math, an hour on history, and an hour on language arts – spend some time focusing your child’s whole attention on those 10 math problems. When they are done, read a chapter from your history book and add something to your timeline or label a blank outline map. Then spend some time outside in nature. Upon coming indoors, you both go off to do some independent reading for 30 minutes. Short lessons discourage dawdling and encourage your child to give their best effort. Your formal lessons can be completed by noon, and the afternoons can be filled with errands, art, or just leisurely pursuing your passions.

“The end result of a Charlotte Mason education is the children find knowledge so delightful that it becomes a pursuit and source of happiness for a lifetime.”

At first glance, Charlotte Mason’s methods of education may appear old-fashioned and overly religious. It would be easy to dismiss, but the core of the method is still very worthwhile in a modern, secular homeschool. You don’t need to follow her original reading lists, or even follow the method strictly in order to give your child the best possible education. Just fill their environment with beautiful and worthy ideas, spend time out of doors exploring the natural world and pursuing their passions. Give your child a world full of heroes and myths, things to think about and fall in love with, ideas to ponder and inspire them. That is the best education possible – one in which they see learning as a life-long pursuit and not something that must be done within the “schooling hours” each day.

*All bolded quotes are from Charlotte Mason’s writings: Charlotte Mason’s Original Homeschooling series
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541489_10201946477719418_1965114942_nEmily Cook is the author and creator of the secular homeschool curriculum Build Your Library, a literature-based K-8 program infused with the teachings of Charlotte Mason. She writes full year lesson plans as well as shorter topical unit studies. Emily has been homeschooling her four children in Southern NH for 13 years. She is passionate about reading aloud to children of all ages and loves to share her love of literature with others. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest