Homeschooling and Libraries

Things I'm thinking about and learning while working with homeschoolers and writing Helping Homeschoolers in the Library for ALA Editions.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Better Late Than Early

“Once a child enrolls in school he usually becomes locked into institutional life for the remainder of his childhood years….”
Better Late Than Early: A New Approach to Your Child’s Education by Raymond and Dorothy Moore

It's a little chilling when you think about it that way, eh?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

100 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum by Cathy Duffy

Here is another must-have for all libraries that seek to serve homeschoolers.

An active homeschooler and writer, Cathy Duffy has put considerable time and energy into helping homeschooling parents navigate the ever-growing world of curriculum options for their children. This book turns out to be much more than a simple listing of her top hundred picks. The first sixty pages start with the basics: introducing readers to the various movements and trends in homeschooling, helping parents formulate their own educational philosophies and goals for their children, and discussing the idea of learning styles. Duffy asserts that one can’t effectively pick a curriculum without thinking these things through, and she offers a variety of questionnaires and worksheets to make the task less intimidating for those lacking a background in education.

Duffy says that she wants to encourage readers to “become goal-oriented rather than ‘curriculum-driven,’” a goal I think she achieves. I love the way she talks about respecting and building on learning styles and the benefits of being flexible in one’s approach to homeschooling. She also offers suggestions for how to handle practical considerations such as the amount a family has to spend, how many children they have, and how much time a parent has to devote to homeschooling. Duffy writes from a Christian perspective but. at the same time, has respect for a variety of homeschooling options and includes many secular curriculum materials. Her bias is most evident her choice of science curriculums, but, then again, she also encourages families to eschew curriculum and try a “real books” approach to science (as she does for history). Many homeschoolers will appreciate Duffy’s commentary and suggestions on curriculums that incorporate Christian content.

From a librarian’s perspective, one of the saddest things about the book is that as many times as she talks about ways to save money and time and to use real books, she never suggests using the public library as a resource. When she talks about using real books to teach science and recommends Janice VanCleave’s books, when she talks about finding additional phonics readers for practice, when she talks about identifying historical fiction titles, I kept thinking, “The library! The library! The library!” It’s hard to imagine a public library that wouldn’t be a great place to find all of these things and more. Maybe we can convince Duffy to mention the library a little more if she decides to update the book in a few years. :)

In the meantime, Cathy Duffy updates and expands on the reviews in her book on her web site at It’s a great book and site to recommend to patrons, and it’s also worth a look if you’re trying to identify materials to purchase for your library’s collection.

Monday, November 27, 2006

A Word about Advertising to Homeschoolers

Because homeschooling is a movement comprised of people operating outside an institutional environment and under a wide variety of beliefs and philosophies, it can be difficult to figure out the best ways to reach them. When libraries first start to offer programs and services to homeschoolers, they sometimes find that they have a difficult time drawing an audience and wind up feeling frustrated, sometimes giving up on the idea of offering programming to homeschoolers entirely.

I have a few thoughts about this.

Homeschoolers have their own communication networks in any area/region, and sometimes it can take a while to figure it all out. The best way is to start talking to homeschoolers. Try to figure out what organizations are operating in your area, and try to connect with someone in a leadership position who will help spread the word to members. Even if you manage to do this, you might find you’re still getting low response when you first start to offer programs. Part of this is because while homeschoolers are a growing population, they’re still a relatively small segment of the population. Also, like any other family, homeschoolers are busy and need to pick and choose among activities. What you’re offering isn’t going to be interesting to all families, and, if a library is new on the homeschooling scene, many may opt to hold off trying your programs until they hear about how wonderful they are from other homeschoolers. Word-of-mouth advertising is invaluable to any library’s programs and services, but it’s particularly strong in homeschooling circles. People talk to each other and readily share things they’re excited about and that they think work. A great example of this happened just a couple weeks ago when I was doing a library orientation for homeschooled kids. After the class, I was hanging around in the Children’s Room when I overheard two moms standing in front of the homeschooling section. One mom was enthusiastically and knowledgeably educating the other mom about all the programs and services we’ve developed. I could have told this mom all about the same things, but it has so much more authority coming from another homeschooler. It was a great thing to see.

So, when you’re just starting out, remember that if you only manage to get a small number of homeschoolers to come to your programs, if those you reach are impressed with the content and format, they’ll share that information and word will spread. They’ll even teach each other. If you continue to offer programs and services of high-quality and interest, you’re going to reach your audience – just perhaps not always in the ways you’re used to.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

“When You Are in a Subculture of a Subculture, You Often Get Painted as the Freak Family”

Here’s an article on unschooling from The New York Times.

It’s a weird piece to come out of the Times, more like filler than actual news. Personally, I’ve never met an unschooled child who didn’t strike me as bright, curious, and interesting, and I hate to see such a superficial article from a major news outlet that throws questions at the philosophy without exploring them in depth. This strikes me as just the sort of thing that makes people who feel negatively about ANY type of homeschooling feel justified in their negative view, which is a shame.

What I think librarians can take from this article is the feeling of misunderstanding evident in the mother talking about being thought of as “the freak family.” It goes a long way toward explaining why we run across homeschoolers who can be reluctant to talk to us, sensitive, and sometimes even defensive. It isn’t easy to have your way of life constantly – and often casually – called into question. Thankfully, as more and more people homeschool, this is getting to be less and less of a problem, but prejudices and misconceptions about homeschooling are still very much alive.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Library Elf

In a recent discussion with Maureen Wittmann about homeschoolers and libraries, I realized that one of the nicest things we could do for our computer-savvy homeschooling patrons would be to tell them about the Library Elf. If you don't know about the Elf, it's an excellent service for families who do a lot of borrowing and/or have multiple cards. Basically, you set up the Elf account to send you a daily email or RSS that summarizes the current state of your library account(s) in one nice, tidy email. So let's say you have four kids: you can get all of the books from the four kids' cards as well as the two parents' cards in one summary. If you prefer, you can get individual summaries for each card. Each summary includes the status of holds, overdues, and then a nice list of what you have checked out in the order that it's due. I've been using the Elf for a year or more now, and I'd recommend it to any heavy borrower.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Homeschool Library Connection

HomeschoolLibraryConnection is a Yahoo Group that gives members suggestions of books they might want to consider asking their local libraries to purchase and also gives some excellent advice about how to best go about getting a library to actually purchase a book.

This is interesting on a number of levels. Reading the list of advice ("Don't give up if you feel that your suggestions are ignored.") reminds me of how important it is to make it easy for all of our patrons to suggest items that they think the library should purchase. I want everyone to feel comfortable making suggestions and like their voices are being heard -- even when I can't purchase whatever is being suggested. It also strikes me that librarians should be just as interested in this group as homeschoolers, perhaps even moreso, since it's a great way to learn about titles that might be of interest but are often not covered in standard review journals. The traffic isn't that heavy on the group (1-2 posts a month so far this year), so even the busiest librarians should be able to keep up....

Sunday, November 05, 2006

So What, Exactly, Is This Book You’re Writing?

For months now, I’ve been alluding to this book I’m writing, but I’ve left it shrouded in mystery – mostly because it’s my first book and the whole thing was a little overwhelming when I was first getting started. Now that I’ve written quite a bit and am getting more of a handle on the book as a whole, I’m feeling ready to say a little more about it.

The book is aimed at librarians and has two main goals: to teach librarians something about homeschooling and to help them build effective programs and services. In my experience, most people – including librarians – know relatively little about homeschooling or, if they do know something, their knowledge is limited to a particular segment of the homeschooling world. I think some librarians are reluctant to jump into building services for homeschoolers simply because they don’t know much about homeschooling. Other librarians hit roadblocks when they try to build services because they misunderstand the population. I believe that if more librarians understood more about homeschooling and saw the ways that homeschoolers’ goals are so much in line with core library values, they’d be excited to learn more and to do what they could to work with homeschoolers in their service areas.

To this end, my book is divided into two parts. The first half examines homeschooling as a series of movements and philosophies. It seeks to examine the many different reasons people homeschool, the resources that have built up to support various segments of the homeschooling population, and what different types of homeschoolers might expect from libraries. The second half of the book delves more specifically into ways libraries can build programs and services targeted specifically at homeschoolers. Each chapter contains basic information, profiles of real homeschoolers and thinkers in the homeschooling movement, and concludes with suggestions for librarians who want to further explore the topic at hand. I’m working on two appendices: one is an annotated core list of homeschooling materials for public libraries, and the other is an annotated listing of homeschooling periodicals.

Of course, I’ve been doing all this at the expense of, say, cleaning my house, so I’ve been appreciating the links, comments, and general positive reinforcement. It helps keep me working.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Homeschool Diner

The Homeschool Diner is a relatively new web site owned and operated by homeschool mom and lifelong learner Julie Shepherd Knapp. Knapp says she wants to create a useful resource for all homeschoolers, and I think she’s figured it out. The diner motif is charming, and the site is extraordinarily well-organized. She has extremely useful information for those new to the unschooling world, including her fun “Click-o-matic Homeschool Quiz” and useful, concise summaries of homeschooling approaches/philosophies. She also includes links to learning resources (annotated and sorted by subject), and she maintains a discussion list on Yahoo Groups. Nice site, good info -- well worth Knapp’s time and ours.