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Free Range Learning How Homeschooling Changes Everything

Laura Grace Weldon

reviewed by Beverley Paine

Laura Grace Weldon's book Free Range Learning How Homeschooling Changes Everything is a detailed description of just about every aspect of home education I can think of. This is the book I'd give to someone with more than a passing interest in homeschooling. It should be compulsory reading for young student teachers as it provides a balanced view of what parents can - and do - bring to the education of their children. At the same time, this book is an invaluable aid to homeschooling parents, offering an in depth examination of the practice of home education. Parents-to-be would also benefit from reading this book, as education begins at birth (if not before!) This is truly a book for anyone interested in the education of children.

Weldon begins with a rich understanding of the nature of childhood and what it means to be a young learner. The first chapter explores the many reasons why the human body is wired for a more natural approach to education. It delves into the divide between life at school and what is real for a child, and how the contrived and evaluation focused world of school gradually replaces the child's innate curiosity and natural motivation to learn.

Pitched at homeschoolers to convince them of the efficacy of the natural learning method, the text is awash with examples that readers can immediately relate to: this helps embed the ideas Weldon espouses. She extols the power of 'hands on' learning and takes an oppositional stance to education as defined by worksheets and rigid lesson timetables. Weldon attacks the premise that 'hitting the books' means smarter students, evidenced by the fact that it is becoming harder for high schools to retain students despite the recent emphasis on 'back to basics' and traditional educational methods. The quote from Larry Edwards sums up Weldon's message to parents and educators: "We need to pay attention to what has always worked for our species."

Throughout the book Weldon references many academic sources to support her premises - a bibliography would be invaluable.

I felt that in using the generic term homeschoolers, Weldon doesn't differentiate enough between unschooling and homeschooling. It is clear she is critical of the widespread 'school-at-home' approach, which is set to increase as educational companies spring up to take advantage of the rich potential of this rapidly growing niche market. Weldon cautions against the ease with which hard-won freedoms gained by the homeschooling movement can be lost as the word 'homeschooling' becomes adopted by these market forces as well as governments keen on regulating homeschooling activity.

The first chapter seems to cover so much! The main point revolves around a plea to de-school society and free children so that they can learn what they need when they need to. The second chapter is well researched with lots of reference to research studies to illustrate Weldon's points. She builds a convincing - and reassuring - perspective for unschooling and naturally learning families. Hundreds of examples from homeschoolers bring the message alive in a real and immediate way - much better than reading dry statistical accounts from research studies into home education.

The chapter on nurturing children's interests is an important inclusion: "Children flourish when they are not the centre of attention. Instead, they want to centre their own attention." Weldon argues that there is no need for pressure of negative reinforcement. It was good to see Weldon dispel the myth that learning has to be fun. Children are energized by their interests and this involves experiencing a range of emotions related to passionate and immersed learning.

Weldon succinctly sums up why homeschooling works so well: "Unlike school, it doesn't take the slow gears off educational initiatives, governmental funding or a new grant for homeschoolers to adapt. Change can happen as soon as need is recognised." Homeschools rarely tolerate 'failure' as an excuse. If it isn't working, we fix it - now!

Free Range Learning calls for balance in the homeschool curriculum: "just because we can doesn't mean that we should" argues Weldon. She believes that families should become aware of the impact of technology on their lives and education by regularly discussing it. I would have liked a much deeper examination of the topic of technology and home education, given its growing importance in the life of homeschooling families. The information supporting the use of information technologies, although convincing, sounds quoted, as though Weldon is putting the case for, but without personal conviction. There needed to be a linking paragraph, one that demonstrates how technology such as mobile phones, internet gaming and emerging social networking technologies also build empathy and friendships, but perhaps not as efficiently as face-to-face social contact or with the equivalent resultant responsibilities and consequences.

The latter half of the book includes practical information about providing resources. Weldon believes "you can educate your children using local resources without overwhelming your budget or your schedule" and proceeds to demonstrate how. She offers practical, down-to-earth common sense educational and social tips and advice that is reassuring. As I read I am aware that Laura is preaching to the converted - everything rings true to my two decades of personal homeschooling experiences.

The book is structured more like a conversation between people exploring and sharing their understanding about how children learn. This rambling conversation seems to cover everything. The snippets from homeschooling families make this book real. Gems like, "I tell new homeschoolers to get a teacher any chance you can. In my experience they are chomping at the bit to really let loose with teaching ideas they aren't allowed to use", show just how 'outside the box' home educators have learned to think!

Laura Grace Weldon's Free Range Learning How Homeschooling Changes Everything isn't a quick read or lightweight look at the practice of home education: it is a thorough and honest look at what really happens when we take children out of school and educate them in the home and community.

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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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