Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Review: Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling

When I saw that Apologia was one of the vendors for the TOS Homeschool Crew, I was really excited.  I hoped I'd receive something, and I hoped it would be something I didn't already own.  Of course, since I own a lot of their products already, that could be difficult...  Science?  I own most of the elementary books, and some upper level.  Geography?  Own that.  Apologetics/Worldview?  Prayed for this.  Writing? Nope, don't have that.  Resources for Parents?  Huh, when did they start carrying all of this???

Well, I was on the list, and the book they sent, The Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling by Debra Bell, is not one that I own.

Debra Bell is a name I've heard since I started homeschooling.  I believe I read her earlier edition of this book back when I was a fairly new homeschooler.  And I was interested in seeing what she had to say now.  I have mixed feelings about this book.  Let me list some pros and cons here:

  • Very readable, most chapters are short and to the point.  The long chapters are broken up pretty well, and those tend to be fantastic resource lists.
  • She doesn't assume homeschooling is the only option, and doesn't sugarcoat things.  I love resources that do point out the frustrations and downsides of homeschooling in a realistic way.  And she has a separate pros/cons list for homeschooling your teen.
  • Her library chapter is excellent, with suggestions like checking out materials you are considering purchasing in order to evaluate them.  I'll recommend the same for this title -- check it out at the library, then decide if it is something you'd use enough to justify the purchase.
  • Her organization chapter is realistic, with assurances that having school stuff invade most corners of the house isn't necessarily a problem.
  • Her planning chapter includes a list of goals she had one year -- and includes her notes about not meeting all of those goals.  I particularly liked that she was not setting herself up as being perfect.  Of course, even creating such an extensive list causes me to hyperventilate.
  • There's an awesome little section on making the learning relevant.
  • My favorite chapter is over SEVENTY pages long, and it goes through suggestions for all the core subjects, for primary, elementary, and secondary ages.  This chapter is the reason I am glad to own this book.  It makes me think.
  • In the section on teens, she does a nice, basic overview of issues relating to planning high school, transcripts, and college.
  • The final section is an extensive list of homeschool organizations, suppliers and resources.
  • The first section really made me feel inadequate.  Thinking it over, I disagree with a number of her assumptions about what qualifications you need to homeschool. 
  • There is a Family Inventory at the end of the first section that you are to take to determine if you have what it takes to homeschool.  She doesn't give a grading scale, but we certainly failed.  We don't have a lot of money to spend on school, we don't have consistent bedtimes, my house is generally pretty chaotic, we don't have art supplies readily accessible, my husband is not terribly involved in our school, I don't have support groups and co-ops, and so on.  On the other hand, I do think it is really important to think through some of these less than ideal aspects of our life and figure out how we'll "make up" for any deficiencies.
  • I don't happen to use a lot of textbooks, but her tone about textbook use was over-the-top, in my opinion. 
  • She is a strong proponent of raising independent learners. I don't disagree with that exactly.  But I want to be involved in literature discussions and history discussions and worldview discussions... not just with my elementary aged kids, but with my high school students too.  I don't want them to do junior and senior high independently.  This book made me feel guilty for not pushing them towards more independence.  And for not pushing for that independence much earlier.
  • She is an incredibly strong proponent of co-ops.  Co-ops are her answer to most homeschooling problems (Mom feeling burned-out?  try a co-op. Worried about socialization? try a co-op.  Need some competition? try a co-op.  Have a reluctant learner?  try a co-op.  Want to encourage team-work? try a co-op.   Don't know how to teach algebra? try a co-op.  Need another mom to talk to?  try a co-op.)  I didn't choose to homeschool so that I could drop my kids off at a co-op, and spend half our at-home time hassling them to do their homework.
Overall, I think this is a good book.  Is it worth $20?  I don't know.  It is a pretty easy read, it is well-organized, and there is a lot of information.  My recommendation would be to check your library.  If they don't own the updated & revised version (the one with the bright orange cover!), figure out how to request that they purchase it.  Read through the book, and figure out for yourself if it is a resource you want to own.  You can also visit the Apologia website to read the table of contents and Chapter 6.

And you can check out what my fellow crewmates have to say about Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling at:

Any questions? I'd love to know what you would want to know in deciding whether or not this is something you want to purchase.

Disclaimer:  As part of the TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I did receive this book for free from Apologia.  The fact that I received a complimentary product does not guarantee a favorable review.  It does guarantee a review. A fair review. But I am not going to praise something unless I think it deserves the praise.  If I don't like it, you'll hear that.  And hopefully with enough detail as to why so you can decide for yourself if what I hate about it makes it perfect for your family.  For more about my take on reviews, visit my blog post here.

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