27/07/2010

Learning Without School (by Ross Mountney)

Although I started home educating nearly thirteen years ago, I had not come across Ross Mountney or her 'Diary of a Home Educating Nobody', which apparently appeared in some newsletters by the Education Otherwise support group. But I was delighted when she emailed me, asking if I would be interested in linking to her site and reviewing her book for my home education website.

So for the past ten days or so, I've been browsing through 'Learning without school'. It's a clearly written book, forming a thorough guide to home education. Ross Mountney is a former teacher who has educated her children at home for some years, so she writes with the voice of experience. There's a good balance of theory and practice; with explanations about how to get started, why people choose to home educate, how children learn, and what to do about children with any kind of special need (including the academically gifted).

Pros and cons of different styles of home education are listed, and positive reasons for withdrawing children from school while acknowledging that school can be a great environment for some children. There's an encouraging chapter about social skills and friends, all of which I related to; it's a complete myth that home educated children are not able to socialise. Mixed in with the theory are plenty of personal anecdotes from the author, describing honestly some of the situations she encountered, and some of the changes she made as she learned alongside her children.

There are also several quotations from other home educating parents, giving different perspectives on their lives. They range from highly structured to fully autonomous educators, from those just starting with some trepidation through to experienced home educators with several years behind them. I was slightly disconcerted at the layout of these, some of which had black boxes that started on one page and then continued to another. I thought it a pity that the layout had not been planned slightly better by the editor or proof-readers. In a similar pernickety vein, I felt there were too many exclamation marks, and italicised words which, in print, don't really work.

However, those are very minor and don't in any way affect the content. My only real quibbles are that some of the legal details are incorrect (for instance the author claims that the LEA is responsible for all children's education; this is not in fact true. It is parents who are primarily responsible. The LEA only have a duty if they have evidence that education is not taking place) and that there's slightly too much emphasis on formal learning.

Despite a clear emphasis on flexibility, and adjusting to the needs of the child, there's still a lot of discussion about curriculum and school-type subjects, with the assumption that most parents will have particular expectations of their children rather than allowing them to lead the way.

Still, these are only small points. I think this book would be very useful for anyone wanting to know more about home education, particularly those in the UK, but much of the book would be relevant anywhere. It would also be of great benefit to parents worried about problems their children might be having in school. I only wish a book like this had been available when we were starting out on our home education journey nearly thirteen years ago.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 27th July 2010

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