Joan Collins is a self-described “educator, wife, mother, grandmother and friend” who has been teaching for all of her adult life. Dr. Gloria Allendorfer “earned her degrees in Psychology and graduated Summa Cum Laude with each.” What do these women have in common? Both women write for the website Helium.com, a “knowledge co-operative” where registered participants write about suggested topics in a wide range of categories. Both women recently wrote articles titled “Homeschooling supplies you'll need” (here and here). According to their biographies, neither woman is or has been a homeschooler. This begs the question, “Will the real homeschoolers please stand up?”
Joan Collins believes that in order to have a successful homeschool you must have a computer, Dinah Zike books, paper, construction paper, scissors, pencils, crayons, markers, “color pencils,” poster board, a library card, folders, center material, and space. I’m not certain where Ms. Collins conducted her research, but I am in my seventh year of homeschooling and last year was the first year where a computer was a regular part of my eldest’s education. We rarely use poster board, folders, or center material, and my son’s test scores are fantastic! I was surprised to read that I’ve needed Dinah Zike books all of these years. Until I read Joan’s article, I had never heard of Dinah Zike. Her books weren’t required reading when I obtained my teaching degree. I am grateful that Ms. Collins told me that I’ll need both paper and construction paper in my homeschool. I knew I’ve been missing something all this time, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
Dr. Allendorfer’s advice was a little more palatable. She offered some common sense suggestions, such as the fact that a new homeschooler does not have to rush out and spend a lot of money buying everything at once. I was broke when I started homeschooling. Buying prepackaged curriculum was a luxury that we did not enjoy for years. She suggested joining a homeschool association. She started to lose my interest when she felt the need to suggest that a new homeschooler buy basic supplies like pens and pencils. I guess this is as opposed to having children write the times tables in their own blood.
The good doctor completely lost my interest when she offered two insipid observations. The first was that first time homeschoolers “may need to invest in a tambourine, drum, and triangle or bells for the youngest children, as well as flutes, violins, and drums for older children.” The second was her insistence that a new homeschool must have a designated learning area, complete with student desks and chairs. I read these wondering how my children have been doing so well socially, academically, and spiritually while trapped in a homeschool without flutes, violins, and drums. (We do use a tambourine during séances.) When we did have a drum, my children dismantled it. After that they filled the inside with pens, pencils, and some of Ms. Collins’ “color pencils.” As to the designated learning area, clearly Dr. Allendorfer is not aware that one of the best aspects of homeschooling is the fact that our children create the most comfortable learning environment that works for them. Sometimes, we learn at a table. Sometimes it’s on the couch. Other times it’s on the floor. Many times it is outside. There is no need to recreate a brick-and-mortar school in the home. Hasn’t the good doctor ever heard of unschooling?!
These two writers demonstrated my biggest complaint about non-homeschoolers who write about home education. They took no time to visit, observe, and write about a homeschool that works well. They wrote from a position of ignorance. Why would anybody turn to these people for advice on supplies that are needed to start a successful homeschool? Why do the writers at Helium believe that they know the first thing about starting their own homeschool? Did they sleep at a Holiday Inn Express last night?
Both Joan Collins and Dr. Allendorfer focused their entire essays on the trappings of homeschooling. What do parents need to homeschool their children? They need to love their children. They need to love their children enough to sacrifice a second income and all the bells and whistles that come with that money. They need to be prepared to invest time and energy and love, even on the difficult days, into their children’s lives, knowing that they are providing a better education than any school can offer. Parents need to be willing to wear two hats, one as teacher and one as parent, and be able to switch between the two on a moment’s notice. But those others things? You can teach the times tables to children in the dirt with a stick. You just have to want to.