There are many books about home education. Those listed below are a few of my favourites, covering a wide range of styles and philosophies, with the most recently published at the top.
‘Natural Curiosity’ by Lisa Carne
This book is a refreshing introduction to a family who unschool, using the children’s strong interests in the natural world and natural history to develop their own learning styles. It doesn’t say how to home educate, but gives many examples of how it works in one particular family.
The book charts the children’s learning from babyhood, and the parents’ dedication to what they term EPIC education: Explore, Ponder, Imagine and Create. They helped their children notice birds, insects, plants and other wonders of the natural world when they were small, and then continued this focus even when the children decided, for a few years, to go to the local primary school.
For the past couple of years the children – a boy and a girl – have been educated at home, and there are many examples in the book of the ways they learn without any pressure, time commitments or curriculum requirements. Nevertheless, they manage to learn a great deal through spending time outside as well as through reading, through conversations, through questions, and through technology.
It’s all quite upbeat and encouraging with many distractions and notes that make it better for dipping into rather than reading straight through. There’s a chapter on parenting style too, and one on how the natural world impacted many famous people, some of whom (but not all) were themselves educated at home.
‘Learning Without School’ by Ross Mountney
The author is a former school teacher who has home educated her children for many years. In this book, she describes the process of home education for anyone interested in knowing more. She explains what is meant by education and learning, why school is not appropriate for many children, and gives plenty of ideas for getting started. She relates much of the book to what is learned in school – since that’s what most parents understand – and shows how many children can learn more effectively without going to school.
There is a useful chapter on ‘special needs’ – by which she refers to anyone who does not fit into the ‘norm’ expected in a school education – and an overview of different styles of learning with an emphasis on the need to be flexible. There are some anecdotes from the author’s own experience, including times when she changed her approach or ideas, and text-boxes with quotations from other home educating parents.
My only slight quibble with this book is that the Local Education Authorities are claimed to have responsibility for the education of all children; this is not the case, since education is the prime responsibility of parents. Still, for anyone interested in how home education might work, in theory and in practice, or who is seriously considering educating their children at home, I would recommend this book.
‘How Children Learn at Home’ by Alan Thomas and Harriet Patterson
I haven’t read this book, which was published in 2007, but a friend has recommended it highly. One of the authors wrote another book, still in print, as the result of extensive research in the UK and Australia – mostly factual, but encouraging to those wishing to home educate.
This particular book emphasises the role of informal, apparently random study through which children learn at least as much, if not more than their school-going contemporaries. This is despite schoolchildren having their education given in supposedly logical sequences.
This may all be obvious to home educating parents – however it’s presented very well, from an academic background, so it’s the kind of book that could be good to buy for relatives or friends who are dubious about the theory of home educating, and particularly those who don’t understand the ideas behind unschooling or autonomous education.
‘Teach Yourself Home Education’ by Deborah Durbin
This book has a wealth of information about home education in the UK. It covers the legalities in detail, taking parents through the various steps needed to de-register their child from school. It has chapters about the reasons why many families decide to home educate, whether due to problems in school or a philosophical belief in home education, and it also looks in a more general way about the kinds of people – across a huge spectrum – who choose this option. Previous research into home education is referenced and explained.
There are sections about different learning styles, and some of the possible ways of going about home educating. There’s a short chapter about socialising – something that always seems to be considered a problem by those who have not home educated – and a detailed look at how it is possible to get qualifications such as GCSEs, if desired.
Ideal for anyone who wants to know more about home education, or who worries that it might not be a positive option. Recommended to anyone just starting out.
‘Free Range Education’ edited by Terri Dowty
Twenty British families (including ours) wrote individual chapters explaining why they chose to home educate and an idea of their philosophy. This book contains a fascinating series of vignettes into home education at the end of the 20th century.
Some frequently asked questions are answered in between chapters, but the majority of the book describes what home education is like from day to day in different households. Most of them are informal: some are entirely autonomous, while others use at least a few National Curriculum or other text-books. The overall feeling coming from this book is of happy, healthy children and teenagers who enjoy the challenge of learning, and are confident about their future.
Ideal for parents considering home education, or for those who are already home educating and are looking for inspiration and encouragement. Unfortunately this is no longer in print, and the second-hand prices tend to be high. But if you can find it in your library, or inexpensively in a charity shop, this is well worth reading.
‘Those Unschooled Minds’ by Julie Webb
This book is based on interviews with twenty home educated people in their twenties, or older. The author first spoke to them in their teens, while they were still being educated at home, and wanted to find out what they thought about the pros and cons of home education.
There are lots of interesting insights in this book. I felt it was an encouraging tribute to the ground broken by those families who opted to educate their children at home in the 1980s and before, when home education was a barely recognised option in the UK.
Read this if you wonder what happens when home education finishes, and whether young adults who have not been to school are able to deal well with employment and adult society. Inevitably it’s somewhat dated now, but still an inspiring read.
‘Doing it their way’ by Jan Fortune-Wood
This book describes thoroughly the ‘autonomous’ method of home education which is gaining popularity in the UK. It examines various theories of raising children and of educating, and explains why the author believes strongly in child-led education. It shows clearly how vital it is for parents to be fully involved in their children’s lives, and to take them and their concerns seriously.
I didn’t agree with every word in this book – the assumption is made, for instance, that every child, if raised entirely non-coercively, will make wise choices at least most of the time. It is also assumed that a totally autonomous lifestyle is always possible, if we take the time to discover a mutually agreeable solution to any problem. The principle is good, but in practise I found there wasn’t always time available. Moreover, some children, in my experience, benefit from more parental guidance than this book would allow.
Nonetheless, this is well worth reading.
‘Teach your Own’ by John Holt
I haven’t actually read this book – or not in the updated edition, anyway – but it’s considered a classic in the home education world. John Holt was one of the early promotors of interest-based education, pointing out the futility of mass learning for many children. This is a revised edition, helping parents understand that education should be relaxed, interesting and grow out of the children’s own motivation.
There are chapters on living with children, on working with children who have special needs, and discussion of ‘serious play’, according to the synopsis.
It also has financial and legal advice, and suggestions for co-operating with local schools – however that is probably more relevant in the USA than the UK.
‘For the Children’s Sake’ by Susan Schaeffer McCauley
This book is based on the research of Charlotte Mason, a British educator from the early 20th century. It examines the style of this radical thinker, seeing how relevant her ideas were to the modern child, and how they can be put into practice either in a small school or in the home. In a nutshell, Charlotte Mason believed that children should have a lot of freedom, good books (she called them ‘living’ books) rather than pared-down tedious readers, and spend a lot of their time outside.
Susan Schaeffer McCauley educated her own children at home, and gives examples of how she approached their learning. This book is ideal for anyone interested in Charlotte Mason’s principles, since the original books are rather long-winded and old-fashioned, and almost impossible to get hold of. This one feels very dated now, but I found it very interesting and inspiring, nonetheless.