Monday, February 01, 2010

Debra Bell's Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling (TOS Review)

Treehouse Review Week

We're going to kick off the Treehouse Review Week with a look at the latest edition of Debra Bell's Ultimate Guide to Homeschooling, which is now published by Apologia Educational Ministries. (Sample chapter here. Table of contents here.) Apologia is no longer just a publisher of science texts; they've recently acquired publishing rights to this book along with (Christian-based) homeschool books by Diana Waring, the Clarksons, Inge P. Cannon, and more.

(1997 cover)
When we first moved into the Treehouse with a first grader (The Apprentice) and a new baby (Ponytails), the three of us set out one morning to explore the nearby stores. In a bookstore that since then has become one of our standbys, I saw and coveted the original version of The Ultimate Guide. My budget was very limited for homeschool books, but I knew that this was one I hadn't even seen in our fairly well stocked support group library. I took it home, read the whole thing, and blew everybody away at the next group meeting with what was probably the longest oral book report they'd ever heard outside of school. Sorry about that. But I did think "everybody" should read it!

Although it's been awhile since I read the original book (and then the next edition with the CD-Rom in it that we bought for the group library), I think I can still trace some of our early homeschool path to books and resources that Debra Bell mentioned...along with a genuine desire not to ever be like that shouldn't-be-homeschooling woman in chapter 6.

There are some changes to the book. The computer stuff is all updated. Certain books are now listed as out of print. But the table of contents is pretty much the same: there's a little bit of everything, from learning styles, to library book lists, to raising independent learners. The Bells are what you might call "eclectic Christian" homeschoolers--they favour a generous, real-book-based curriculum (making use of many public-library resources) and a flexible schedule that puts a fair amount of responsibility for getting the work done on the students' shoulders. A few reviews of previous editions have criticized specific aspects of the book, such as a recommendation of a particular textbook publisher (if you're going to use the textbook route--it's not specifically what the Bells did), or comments about dealing with learning challenges or on particular methods of discipline; or the fact that buyers didn't realize "how Christian" this book was going to be. To me that's like going to a homeschool workshop and leaving as soon as the speaker mentions spanking: just because you disagree with certain points doesn't mean that you're not going to get your money's worth overall. But on the other hand, it's good to know up front where the author is coming from.

If there's any limit to the book's usefulness to the "average" homeschooler, I'd say it's in its frequent emphasis on the essential role that co-ops and group classes played in the Bell children's education, particularly in their high school years. Where I live, that just ain't gonna happen; however, there are families here who do homeschool all the way through high school, and without formal co-ops. Canadians will, as usual, find some of the high school and college prep/application/transcript information of limited use, but the general information on high school ("How to do the hard stuff") is still helpful.

I also like the way that this book--in both old and new editions--often ends a topic or chapter by pointing you towards other resources--books on working at home, books about how to juggle several grades at once, books on homeschooling on a shoestring, books about Biblical arguments for homeschooling. Since no one book can cover everything in depth, it's nice to have suggestions of where we might go or who we might read to find out more. With the amount of effort that Debra Bell has obviously put into listing currently-available resources, I'll even excuse her for misspelling Ann Voskamp's name twice on page 298.

I'm not sure if this review is shorter or longer than my without-stopping-for-breath oral review. But I'm done now. You can go check it out for yourselves.

The Price: US$20 from the publisher.

For more reviews of this product, see the Review Crew home page.

Dewey's Disclaimer: This product was received free for review purposes. No other payment was made. The opinions expressed in this review are our own.

1 comment:

Sebastian said...

Nice review. I'm thinking of donating several books to our local library. Sounds like this would be a good one.

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