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Sophie's Way

by DS Francis

reviewed by Beverley Paine

Flora is a 12 year old girl living in Victorian England reluctantly receiving lessons from her strict and unfriendly governess Miss Clark. Years before her mother, an actress and singer, left the family to pursue a career on the stage leaving Flora's father devastated. His grief propels him to forbid his young daughter to experience music of any kind, especially singing. But Flora's passion is composing music in her head and despite not being allowed to enjoy this past-time her mind and imagination dance to the rhythms she finds in nature: the pitter patter of raindrops, croaking frogs and rustling leaves.

It's while she's daydreaming one afternoon after lessons that she meets a local village girl, Charlotte, about the same age as her. The girls quickly become best friends and Flora is introduced to Charlotte's mother, Sophie, who owns and runs a shop in town. During a month-long leave of absence by her governess, Flora becomes entranced by the very different way this happy and seemingly carefree family lives. She's keen to help her friend do her chores in the shop. As she works she reflects, with Charlotte and her mother's help, on how quickly, painlessly and efficiently she is learning arithmetic, spelling and grammar, subjects she labours over during her lessons with Miss Clark.

Emboldened by her discovery about how she learns best, Flora develops a strategy with her two new friends to impress upon her father the need to change the way Miss Clark teaches her lessons. A surprise discovery about Miss Clark is cleverly woven into the conspiracy. All goes well, until ,upon Miss Clark's return, Flora's secret is discovered and made known to her father. The friends are banned from seeing each other and Flora is miserable.

The story, however, has a happy ending. Woven into the resolution of this conflict is a message about the value and importance of informal learning and how learning can become efficient and effortless when we match our children's learning activities with their natural style and preferences for learning. Flora, Charlotte and her mother, Miss Clark and one or two minor characters are used to illustrate the joys and woes embedded in educational practice and how and why it's important to reflect and consider on that which we are learning and how.

If you are a home educating parent who has already embraced a natural learning or unschooling approach to education this book covers familiar territory but it may offer much reassurance, giving practical and useful description to a process that is often misunderstood and sometimes hard to relate to others. If you are a home educating parent employing a school-at-home approach, this novel is a gentle introduction to the ideas and concepts at the heart of a self-directed educational philosophy.

The novel is an easy and enjoyable read. I found myself engaging and identifying with the main characters. It trots along at a comfortable pace, building sufficient but comfortable tension to hold my attention. The era is sketched adequately through the use of the style of writing and reminded me of my early teen years reading Georgette Heyer novels.

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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.

Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine

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