9 Books On How And What Children Should Learn

This is the list of books that have been the most helpful and influential in creating the customized education my children have received over the past 15 years.    A lot of this stuff just is not taught in school, you have to find it yourself on your own.  I read all of these 10 – 15 years ago and they have stayed with me all these years, so here you go:

1- Dumbing Us Down by John Taylor Gatto

This is one of my favorites, it is a skinny book with about 10 chapters written precisely and succinctly by John Taylor Gatto who was a teacher for years in New York City and was named teacher of the year 2 or 3 times, I think.  HIs insight into what happens to us in a public school setting is very enlightening.  It is helpful to give your kids experiences to round out their public school experience as well as what to watch out for if you decide to homeschool or do some other route.  He has a lot of good insight on how kids learn also, and what is really important in the process– time alone, time to think, to to just be– these are not given in public schools generally and it is really important for kids to have time to process and be instead of just going, going, going.

2 – A Different Kind of Teacher — John Taylor Gatto

This book also written by John Taylor Gatto is excellent.  I read it about 10 years ago and it really helped me break some of the identities I picked up in high school as a “smart kid”.  One of the biggest problems of the public I think is when kids pick up a false identity– I’m smart, I’m dumb, I’m just a nerd, or a jock, or whatever.  Public school can be really bad for the “dumb kids” who feel like they can never measure up and so they just give up.  And it can also be bad for the “smart kids”, because they learn that they must never fail and they must have the right answers and that it is not OK to say “I don’t know”.  It was very enlightening to me and really helped me understand myself better, which helps me help my children and others better too.  Great book!

3 – The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer

The Well Trained Mind is a homeschooling classic in its fourth edition print.  Susan Wise Bauer is a professor and was homeschooled.  She has a lot of really great advice and a lot of really good resources and ideas in this book.  However, her curriculum choices and method is very literature heavy and not as strong in math or science.  So I read her ideas and took out the useful parts, and did not try to continue doing all the things she recommends.  But it did give me a look at what may be good to do.

4 – A Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola

This is a guide that takes Charlotte Mason’s ideas and makes them simple.  This book always made me more excited about reading with my kids and watching for their reactions and seeing the world through their eyes.  It made me more aware of how new the world was to them, and helped me be much more patient and understanding. It is especially helpful when you are first starting out and have elementary aged kids.

5 – Climbing Parnassus by Tracey Lee Simmons

This is a great book on what a classical education is and how to implement it.  There are a lot of good ideas in the classical tradition especially on learning how to think logically, and how to train the brain to use reason and to then be able to come to rhetoric and use those skills to persuade others.  The sort of stuff in this book is definitely not taught in public schools.  I will add here that Memoria Press is full of great articles and resources for teaching these skills.

6 – The Trivium by Sister Miriam Joseph

The Trivium is actually a very dense, but very thorough book that explains the trivium which is what education used to be as the middle ages were closing, and the enlightenment and Renaissance opened and continued.  I actually only read the first couple of chapters, but they were enlightening.  My husband read the whole thing and told me about the most important parts.  It is also one of those things that you may not be able to fully implement, but just knowing what else is out there and how we actually got to where we are today is quite helpful.  The chapters on grammar and what it actually is were quite helpful to me.

7 – How Children Learn by John Holt

John Holt is sort of the father of the unschooling movement.  While unschooling does not work for me, I have to admit that it does great for some people and a lot of Holt’s insights are good and helpful in teaching children, especially when they are very young.  Let them follow their curiosity, they are already amazing learners and learn very quickly if we just let them!

8 – Homeschooling For Excellence by David and Micki Colfax

This is basically a case study of a family who first homeschooled when it was basically unheard of.  I got this book at the library when I was first researching the possibility of homeschooling.  This is the account of this family- the parents were professors, moved to a cabin in the middle of nowhere and just let their boys follow their interests.  All four boys went to Harvard.  While their method won’t work for everyone, it was encouraging to see what was possible back when homeschooling really wasn’t seen as a fully viable option for education.

9- What Your ____ Grader Needs To Know

The What Your _________ Needs To Know series are really nice for having a general guide in all the subjects of what things your kids should know.  I especially like this series because it doesn’t just give you a list of things, it actually explains them and gives examples.  They have stories, poems, art projects and pictures, maps, timelines, science projects and explanations, even math problems.  The kids especially like to look at these books and see how much they know.  It is a great after schooling resource too and a great way to just see how much your child is learning and where they are in different subjects. They have it for kindergarten through 6th grade. Just search on amazon!

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