Set Your Kids Free For Some Free Range Learning

Reading Time: 7 minutes

Image: Laura Grace Weldon

Learning is everywhere. It is constant. This one bit of wisdom is one that I keep with myself, always. It helps the kids see that the world has a lot to teach them, and new knowledge can come at any time from anywhere. Being more isolated than most students and teachers, homeschoolers also seek out wisdom, inspiration, support and advice from books and online. There are dozens of books out there on the topic. Some are how-to books, others are stories about one family’s experience. Depending on what you are looking for, there is a homeschooling book out there for you, even if your kids go to conventional school.

Free Range Learning by Laura Grace Weldon is a new book about homeschooling. It isn’t a strict how-to, nor is it just about someone else’s personal experience. It’s a mixture of the two, intertwining real families’ experiences about teaching their children and lists of project ideas and resources. In between, there is plenty of guidance and information about teaching your kids, and even about scientific studies on how people learn. Yes, the audience of this book is mostly homeschoolers, but if you’re the kind of parent that tries to teach your kids during evenings and weekends, this book will have as much to offer you as it would a homeschooling parent.

If you’re on the fence about homeschooling, or even if you’re just looking to make the most of the time that you spend together when the kids aren’t in school, I highly recommend this book. Either at the beginning, or at some point in the journey, most homeschooling parents doubt themselves at some stage of the process and then look for of advice. This book is very supportive and it gives tips and clues to even non-homeschoolers for how to help your kids learn in everything they do. I’m in the fortunate minority, though. In the four years I have homeschooled my kids, I have never felt the need for validation of my decision, never doubted my ability to teach the kids, never felt that we had to be friends with other homeschoolers (around here, secular homeschoolers are virtually impossible to find). Most of our friends send their kids to school. Yet I found this book incredibly helpful for me as well.

What’s in the Book?

Free Range Learning teaches you how kids learn and how to keep them learning. It teaches some things that are necessary to real learning, such as exercise, spending time outdoors and enjoying the learning process. This book is so full of wisdom that I could tell you dozens of good parts and there would still be hundreds more for you to discover. Almost every sentence of Weldon’s writing makes me want to take notes, or yell out, “Yes, that’s it exactly!” to whoever will listen. She verbalizes kid, learning and homeschooling topics incredibly well. Reading this book, I learned as much about myself, and how I learn and experience things, as I learned about my kids. So while this book deals with the teaching of children, it is equally applicable to anyone, grown ups included.

The book is filled with quotes from experienced homeschoolers solicited by the author before publication. Some of the quotes in the book are from homeschooled children and adolescents who will surprise you with their self-knowledge and introspection. Weldon has done a superb job of matching up submitted quotes to the chapter and section topics.

The book is broken into general subject chapters, then into many short sub-topics, some of which are only one page. This makes it easy to find exactly what you’re looking for, and easy to read a little bit at a time. Chapters and sub-topics include Natural Learning Happens Everywhere, Creativity, The Importance of Play, Friendships, Field Tripping, Science & Nature, Math, Critical Thinking, The Arts, History, Language Arts and many others. Many sections give you concrete suggestions of activities or projects that you can do with regard to that topic. The book lists resources such as websites, organizations and resources. Later chapters are full of actual project ideas for that chapter’s topic. The math section in particular has pages and pages of ideas, but other subject-specific chapters also include concrete tips. The whole book is food for thought.

It is not a how-to book for how to homeschool, but it is full of examples of how Free Range Learning benefits kids in specific areas. It even goes into the science of learning using real data from studies to put into words what we probably already know about how our kids learn. It’s a book you’ll turn to on a regular basis for supportive words and advice.

Why This Book Isn’t Just For Homeschoolers

Free Range Learning is filled with some of the advantages of homeschooling. But if your kids are conventionally schooled, don’t let that stop you from reading it. Chances are you homeschool your kids in the evenings and on weekends and don’t even realize it, so the content will apply to you as well.

The book is filled with lightbulb moments that would have been especially helpful and inspirational when first starting out with homeschooling or when my kids were younger. One of the best bits of advice when teaching anything is, “There’s no need to look for external ‘motivators’ when children remain eager.” (p. 3) For those of you who are new to homeschooling, or for those that don’t homeschool, you might be amazed at how easy it is for an interested child to learn.

While I believe strongly in homeschooling, I realize that not everyone can or wants to do it. This book will still be helpful for you since it is full of immediately applicable advice. The lessons and wisdom contained in it are universal. It’s the kind of book that should be issued to all new parents and read and re-read every few years as kids reach new stages.

One of my favorite quotes from the book is this: “When children are deprived of meaningful family time their basic needs for belonging, acceptance and purposefulness do not go away.” (p. 139) This means that if kids don’t feel loved, appreciated and comfortable at home, they’ll find a way to feel that way elsewhere. If they go to school, this can sometimes lead to joining trendy cliques or feeling like they have to be just like all the other kids. Of course, it can also lead to finding groups that play D&D, but not everyone is so lucky.

Reasons for Homeschooling

One of the dozens of reasons why I homeschool my kids is so that their imagination and creativity remain intact. Both my husband and I remember having our creativity either squelched or not nurtured in public school. Free Range Learning puts so many of my feelings and opinions into words, such as how education isn’t separate from life, it is life (those are my words). And that we can’t expect a school to care as much out our children’s education as we do. In the end, it is our responsibility to make sure our children are well educated. Also, in regard to (most) homeschooled kids, “By the time they reach adulthood they are blessed with an appetite for lifelong learning.” (p. xiv)

The book also talks about the issues with public education today, such as how more time spent in school does not translate to more learning. Regular schooling is often a one size fits all place, and that isn’t what some kids need to thrive. Education and learning aren’t just for a few hours each day. They are and should be a way of life, regardless of where kids get their formal schooling.

Rather than giving kids more time to explore, try things out and choose their own interests, school districts sometimes think that the solution to today’s education problems is just more hours of schooling, such as on Saturdays or during the summer. In reality, if what you’re doing isn’t working, doing more of it isn’t going to help. Try something else, not just more of the same.

Free Range Learning reminds us that for some kids, more rigor won’t increase test scores, no matter how hard you try. But an interested and engaged child can learn faster and better than they would in a traditional setting. “Nothing can replace direct observation and experience,” (p. 10) which is a good excuse to get your kids out in the world, traveling and exploring. Also, real life applications help motivate kids and help them understand. Knowing why they are learning what they are learning helps kids who don’t want to learn for learning’s sake. They want to know why they have to know this stuff.

A quote from the publicity material sums up the book pretty well: “Free Range Learning demonstrates that children thrive through naturally paced, interest-led learning without constant monitoring, intrusion and outcome-based testing.” While this makes it sound like the book leans toward unschooling, it really doesn’t promote any one homeschooling method. The advice is applicable to everyone from unschoolers to Classical homeschoolers to eclectic homeschoolers to non-homeschoolers.

Free Range Learning is a useful and important read for parents of all kids, regardless of the child’s age or homeschool status. I know that I will be referring to this book time and again for its inspiration, support and extensive resources. It is currently available on Amazon for $17.96.

Wired: A book full of useful advice and concrete ideas for helping your kids learn, not just for homeschoolers. Inspiring and motivating to read.

Tired: A large portion of the book is devoted to quotes from homeschooling families and not Weldon’s writing, but the advice is so full of wisdom that it can also be seen as a plus.

Note: I received a copy of this book for review.

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