So, you know my top three books to get started home educating. But there’s so many more books about home education out there that are either more specific, more general, or just didn’t make the cut. Here’s a run down of the best of the rest…
The Brave Learner (Julie Bogart)
If you haven’t come across Brave Writer yet, go and check it out right now. Her focus is on language arts (English or Literacy to us Brits), with a sprinkling of pixie dust. She promotes a lifestyle of learning filled with delight and wonder, which generally sounds amazing but slightly unobtainable. I love Julie and have been familiar with her work for years, and her approach is actually very similar to ours. But I have to admit the book left me feeling slightly downcast, because it’s filled with so many good ideas that I frankly don’t have time for. I think it’s a frame of mind thing, so don’t let that put you off. I’d recommend starting with her YouTube videos (I heart this one) and go from there.
The Well-Trained Mind (Susan Wise Bauer)
<Takes a deep breath> This is a run down of providing a classical education for your children at home. It’s got some good resource ideas in it, but I’ll be honest, it’s not for the fainthearted or those of us of a more natural learning bent (unless you have a thick skin). I like much of what Susan Wise Bauer has done, and if you’re determinedly heading into a classical education, this is likely an awesome resource. It just made me feel rather inadequate, is all. (Note – I have the previous edition; maybe it’s softened slightly with the latest?)
Project Based Homeschooling (Lori Pickert)
Lori Pickert used to write at the excellent Camp Creek Blog, as she homeschooled her children in a Reggio Emilia inspired project based style. Now her children are grown, it looks like she’s largely moved on now. However the archives are still an absolute goldmine, and the book turns that into a how-to manual for homeschooling through child-led projects. If you want just a bit of structure in an unschooling lifestyle, this is the book for you. Depending on where you’re at, it’ll either be revelatory, or reassuring confirmation of what you’re already doing.
Homeschool Secrets of Success (Sonya Chappell)
Sonya Chappell is a UK-based second generation home educator, with children who have taken quite different routes (with one now at Oxford University and one running her own art based business from home). She also runs the Courageous Homeschooling Facebook group. She’s taken that combined experience and wrapped it up in a book of quotes, hints and tips from real home educators around the world (disclaimer – I’m in there too :)). You won’t find glossy graphic design, but you will get some hard won wisdom.
A Thomas Jefferson Education (Oliver DeMille)
This is not about an education system proposed by Thomas Jefferson; it’s one based on the sort of education he and other (largely American) leaders actually had. At heart, it involves a lot of free play in younger years, a lot of modelling of a love of learning in the family culture, a lot of reading of good books, and a slow move into a fairly hardcore academic focus in the teen years, driven by the student themselves. A key motto is to ‘inspire, not require’. It’s an approach that I like, a lot (though the book feels a wee bit right-wing to me at times), and again much of it fits with what we have just naturally done. It doesn’t quite mesh with the GCSE setup we have in this country though, which tends to push a fixed curriculum on a student before they’re really ready for it. There are options – but not ones I’ve been convinced enough (or possibly brave enough) to take.
How Children Learn at Home (Alan Thomas)
This is actually the book form of a PhD thesis studying how largely unschooled children are learning, using detailed case studies of a number of families. It’s obviously self-selecting, as is any home ed research in the UK, so it doesn’t necessarily show that unschooling always will ‘work’ – but it does show that it definitely can.
The Read-Aloud Family (Sarah Mackenzie)
One from Sarah Mackenzie, of the Read Aloud Revival podcast and membership. This focuses on reading aloud as a cornerstone of family life – why it’s good and what challenges you might face. Sarah’s a home schooling mother of 6, with teens down to little ones (three within two years at that), so she knows her stuff, and writes in a friendly, encouraging, realistic way. And there are lots of booklists for different ages in the back 🙂 She’s also the author of Teaching From Rest, which I haven’t read but believe is more faith-based. It also gets recommended a lot.
Proust and the Squid (Maryanne Wolff)
A deep dive into reading – how we learn it and how dyslexia can play out in the process. Dyslexia isn’t something we’ve had to deal with, but the book is still a fascinating insight into the complex and often taken for granted process of acquiring the skill of reading. More on it here.
Mathematical Mindset (Jo Boaler)
One of those highly recommended books that’s on my shelf but I haven’t actually read yet. I’ve heard lots of good things, especially if you’re looking for a different way of teaching maths than the rote learning you may remember from your school days.
How Children Fail (John Holt)
Ah, John Holt, grandfather of unschooling and slightly controversial figure these days (don’t let that put you off either – take what you find useful and leave the rest). It’s a slightly gloomy title but a great, thought provoking book about why the way schools usually teach can lead to the opposite effect of what is (presumably?) intended, and leave children feeling unconfident and inadequate. It’s old – originally from the 60s – but still disappointingly relevant. See also How Children Learn, Learning All The Time, and possibly Instead of Education (which is mostly outdated now but basically describes the internet as a solution for learning everything). Skip Escape From Childhood.
Dumbing Us Down (John Taylor Gatto)
Another of the classics of the unschooling/alternative education movement, originally published in 1992. Gatto (himself an award winning public school teacher) argues that schools are not designed to educate and inspire our children, but instead to break them down and teach them to conform. My personal take is it’s more by accident than design, but again – it’s still disappointingly relevant.
The Secret of Childhood (Maria Montessori)
One of Montessori’s originals, setting out her reasoning behind her style of education – what she believes about how children develop and what they need to thrive. I can’t say I completely agree with all her conclusions (though there is also much I like that jives with other educational thinkers), but I always like to get back to the original ideas behind anything that’s more well known as a modern system.
The Book of Learning and Forgetting (Frank Smith)
I wrote more on this one here, but in essence this book argues that ‘you learn by the company you keep’. It’s unschooling the way it was originally presented – not as eschewing academics, but approaching them in an apprenticeship, collaborative style rather than top-down ‘being taught’. It’s dated in places, but the main argument rings true.
Parenting and life in general
Unconditional Parenting (Alfie Kohn)
The book that most directly set us on the path we’re on now. It sets out the case for putting aside the rewards and punishments and simply loving our children for who they are. I’ve written more on it here. (Note – Naomi Aldort’s Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves covers the same ground from a different point of view – you’ll probably resonate with one or the other.)
Hold on to Your Kids (Dr Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Maté)
The basic premise here is that parents should matter more than peers, for much longer than our society usually expects. I don’t agree with everything in here – there are places where it’s a lot more authoritarian than I’m comfortable with – but it’s a good alternative view to a world where kids are expected to be on sleepovers in their primary years and to ditch their parents for their friends as soon as possible. The alternative isn’t having no friends; it’s having friends who are complementary to a strong family unit – and welcomed as such – instead of replacing it.
Kids (Meredith Small)
This is really part of a two-book set looking at the anthropology of child rearing, with the first being Babies. What I found really interesting was that in Babies, it was pretty universal – cosleeping and responsive attachment parenting won out across multiple cultures. By Kids, which focuses on children from about toddlerhood to adolescence, the picture was much more mixed, with a large variety of parenting styles depending on the cultural norms of the society. It really brought it home that while it may sometimes seem like it when you have a baby, by the time they grow up a little there really isn’t a One True Way.
Remotely Controlled (Dr Aric Sigman)
Dr Sigman tackles the thorny issue of screen time, particularly focused on TV, because this was back before social media and YouTube streaming was really much of a thing. I read it back in 2007 when my girls were both babies and it was part of what convinced us to go TV-free when we moved to our current house shortly after. As with anything, draw your own conclusions, but this definitely gave me more to think about than you usually see covered in the screens/no screens debate.
Untangled (Lisa d’Amour)
Adolescent girls, as explained by a guidance counsellor at a girls’ school, who has seen a lot of them (and their parents). I read several books on the teenage years and this was my favourite (though, as ever, I didn’t necessarily agree with all of it). It’s fairly non-scary and realistic, with recommendations that may be second nature already (‘start letting them make their own decisions’ – something that will have been going on since birth in many home ed families), or may take some getting used to. Whichever it is, the reminder that the ups and downs are pretty normal, and all part of the process, can come in handy!
Simplicity Parenting (Kim John Payne)
A good one for parents of younger children. This sets out the idea that what young children need is stability and rhythm (which is rarely the same as a schedule!) – a predictable idea of what is coming in their day, and freedom from too many choices to focus on what is really important to them. For example, if all the snacks in the world are available as choices, that can be harder than just saying ‘do you want apple slices or an oatcake’? Or for that matter just handing them one or the other. It also covers things like not over scheduling, and planning in a balance of exciting and calmer days – so a big day out one day might mean a day at home with nothing planned the next. It’s an interesting counterbalance to the idea of pure autonomy, and rings true more and more the more parenting I get through.
Learning theory and habits
Learning How To Learn (Barbara Oakley and Terrence Sejnowski)
This is the written-for-teens version of Oakley’s ‘A Mind for Numbers’ and the Coursera course ‘Learning How To Learn’ (which I’d also recommend). It’s a crash course in how your brain learns and assimilates information. It’s more geared towards ‘school’ than natural play-based learning, but there comes a time for all of us when exams rear their ugly heads (or you just have information you need to cram into your head for your own reasons) and this will help you figure out the best way through it.
Thinking, Fast and Slow (Daniel Kahneman)
Nothing directly to do with home education, but everything to do with how our brains actually deal with the world around us. Which is pretty useful stuff to know, both as a person and as a parent. The basics are that our brains have two main systems of working – the fast, automatic one (level 1), and the slower, more logical one (level 2). Sometimes we want to move a skill from one to the other – think about driving a car or learning to read – and sometimes we can benefit from deliberately moving into one or other mode – our automatic reactions aren’t always the most logical ones. And the slow mode takes focus and energy; recognising what we are asking of our children when they spend large amounts of time in ‘slow’ mode is important. It’s a fascinating read all round.
Power of Habit (Charles Duhigg) and Atomic Habits (James Clear)
Two fairly recent books that focus on our habits, how they develop, and how we can intentionally mould them. Habits are a bit trendy right now, but for a reason – it’s a super efficient way for our brain to work (more level 1, less level 2), so it’s building them and defaulting to them all the time, whether we mean to or not. Power of Habit is the more exploratory dive into the principles of habit formation, with lots of case studies and explanations of what’s going on under the surface. Atomic Habits is the more actionable ‘how to’ version, and focuses on the best ways to either build or break the habits we choose. Both are great.
Grit (Angela Duckworth), The Talent Code (Daniel Coyle), Bounce (Matthew Syed)
These three are all slightly different takes on what it takes to succeed – and the answer isn’t ‘being born incredibly talented’. I must admit I’m a bit so-so on the definition of success as mostly ‘being exceptional in some competitive endeavour’ (What about being happy with your life? What about helping others? What about being a strong family?). However I can see why that makes it easier to study. The key takeaways here are all still useful however you choose to apply them – achievement comes more from hard work than natural ability, it can be nurtured, and it starts with play and enjoyment.
Honestly, I could have gone on – there are plenty more out there – but any of the thirty or so I’ve recommended so far will give you food for thought. I’ll add to this over time as new books make the grade – please also add your own recommendations (or any thoughts on mine!) in the comments!