My Favorite Homeschooling Books

This week I’ve been playing around in Goodreads. I have this problem with checking out books from the library, reading them, and then not being able to find them again when I want them. Goodreads keeps track of all the books I’ve read and whether I like them or not. And since lots of those books are available on Kindle now (have you checked out Amazon’s new book-lending program?) It’s kind of like my own virtual library.

Sometime when we have a house and I get all my books out of storage, I’ll reorganize my non-virtual library. But for now, my brain needs some help, and Goodreads is a great solution. So I’ve tried to remember off the top of my head all the books I’ve ever read (ha ha) and input them into Goodreads.  I guess the ones I don’t remember don’t really matter. So here are some book reviews from my brain’s archives for today:

I’m often asked what are the best books to read to get started with homeschooling. There are almost as many “flavors” of homeschooling as there are homeschoolers, so my book picks will of necessity reflect the fact that the sort of homeschooling we do at our house is what falls under the category of Charlotte Mason or Classical Homeschooling.

Charlotte Mason's Original Homeschooling SeriesCharlotte Mason’s Original Homeschooling Series by Charlotte Mason

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This series of six densely-packed books contains the developed educational philosophy of my dearest homeschooling mentor, Charlotte Mason. Writing at a time when the educational system had not yet abandoned the systematic study of classical languages and history, Mason retains these and other elements of the classical education that had been standard in Britain for hundreds of years. She adds to it her own inspired understanding of how children learn, and how we can best facilitate that learning. Part of her genius is her recognition that children are born complete persons, and should be intellectually respected, provided with a full and generous curriculum, and encouraged not to simply imbibe “facts” but to develop real relations with things and ideas. These are books to read again and again.

Charlotte Mason Study GuideCharlotte Mason Study Guide by Penny Gardner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A few years ago I was fortunate enough to attend a seminar given by Penny Gardner on the Charlotte Mason method of homeschooling. I had already read every book on the subject that I could get my hands on (including Mason’s original books), but Penny’s presentation made it all concrete. After listening to her explanations and personal experiences and watching her demonstrate some of the concepts, I could actually picture myself doing narration, picture study, nature journals, etc.

This Study Guide is like a little summary of the seminar. Penny pulls together many helpful excerpts from Mason’s books, and organizes them topically to provide a clear synopsis of each academic subject and element of a Charlotte Mason education. I consider it the best quick introduction to this homeschooling method, and also a useful guide for implementing Charlotte Mason’s ideas.

Climbing Parnassus: A New Apologia for Greek and LatinClimbing Parnassus: A New Apologia for Greek and Latin by Tracy Lee Simmons

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Climbing Parnassus is one of the major influences on my educational philosophy. Simmons traces classical education from its roots in Ancient Greece through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and on into its great decline during the 20th century. He contends that facility in ancient Greek and Latin have shaped minds and thought for millenia. His book is significant for arguing that it is not only the translated literature of the ancient world that is formative, but the acquisition of the languages and the experience of these works in the original. I was most fascinated by his description of Renaissance humanist education. My ultimate goal is for our homeschool to be a sort of modern-day “Casa Gioiosa.”

The Latin-Centered Curriculum: A Home Educator's Guide to a Traditional Classical EducationThe Latin-Centered Curriculum: A Home Educator’s Guide to a Traditional Classical Education by Andrew A. Campbell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Campbell has written a how-to guide for those who aspire to the lofty educational vision of Climbing Parnassus. I really wanted to love this book, and in fact I did love this book. It presents an excellent and ambitious curriculum plan focusing heavily on ancient Greece and Rome (one year for each in the early grades). I am just not quite sold on the “multum non multa” idea of focusing on a few key areas and going deeply into them. I don’t feel like you have to give up “wide” for “deep.” However, I’ve incorporated some aspects of this curriculum into mine, notably the serious focus on classical languages. I also subscribe to the associated email list (on which the author is active), and find it very enlightening.

The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at HomeThe Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home by Susan Wise Bauer

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is the book that originally popularized the idea of “classical education” among homeschoolers. After writing it, Ms. Bauer went on to write multitudes of other books, which many homeschoolers use with delight. Me, not so much. Sigh. Susan Wise Bauer lost one star right off for being so annoyingly pedantic. By far the best thing about this book is the resource lists, which are extensive and well-organized. I don’t buy into the whole grammar-logic-rhetoric stages of child development (Charlotte Mason had a much better understanding of how children are, in my opinion), and the suggested schedules in the back of the book would probably drive any normal homeschooling family insane. However, Bauer at least does advocate bringing back Latin and chronological history, and the idea of academic rigor for homeschoolers. “Classical education” in this case is something of a misnomer, since Bauer’s methodology and curriculum are not in line with classical education as practiced for the past two millenia. The more accurate and currently accepted nomenclature for Bauer and her ideas is “neo-classical.”