Homefires - The Journal of Homeschooling OnlineHomefires - The Journal of Homeschooling Online

Marty Layne is a homeschool mom from British Columbia and the author of Learning At Home: A Mother's Guide To Homeschooling. Marty is also a talented singer/songwriter. She has a CD called Brighten The Day - songs to celebrate the seasons. Marty enjoys conducting her popular workshops at homeschool conferences in the U.S. and Canada.

What Mothers Need to Develop to Homeschool

Book Review of "Learning At Home: A Mother's Guide To Homeschooling" and Q&A with Marty Layne!

by Diane Flynn Keith

In her book, Learning At Home: A Mother's Guide To Homeschooling, Mary Layne says that to be successful at homeschooling you have to be successful at parenting. She identifies eleven criteria for what makes a successful homeschooler:

  1. Genuinely like your child or children and enjoy his, her, or their company.
  2. Have a sense of humor.
  3. Be able to read, write and do basic math and be willing to upgrade your skills as necessary.
  4. Have a commitment to a philosophy that leads you to homeschool.
  5. Be prepared to receive criticism for your decision to homeschool.
  6. Have a support system or network and/or a supportive partner.
  7. Be able to learn from mistakes.
  8. Be willing to develop limit setting skills.
  9. Be willing to develop patience.
  10. Be willing to develop observational skills.
  11. Be willing to change.

She expounds on each of these points in her book with insight and compassion. She gives clear, demonstrative examples of what she means along with advice for how to develop these traits. The segment on developing limit-setting skills ought to be required reading for every parent -- homeschooling or not. It is sensitively written, explaining why kids need limits, and how to provide them in a secure and loving way.

A good portion of the book addresses how to teach various subjects. It is filled with personal stories that give useful suggestions for helping kids (with varying abilities, skills, needs, and interests) learn about subjects like math, reading, science, the arts and more. Resources are plentiful. In a chapter on teaching writing composition, Marty Layne gives excellent advice when she invokes the reader to keep in mind a poem by Piet Heim:

Put up in a place where it's easy to see
the cryptic admonishment T.T.T.
When you feel how depressingly slowly you climb,
it's well to remember that Things Take Time.

One of my favorite chapters in the book is titled "Burn-out." The author acknowledges its occurrence in homeschooling as a normal part of life. A discussion of conflict resolution skills and the acceptance of change provides insight for how to deal with burn-out. But Marty Layne goes way beyond the standard advice. She touches on a very real need - the need for moms to develop and enrich their own lives without separating from their children, and explains how to do just that. She admonishes mothers not to "should" on themselves. (I should be more patient, I should have baked cookies, I should have mopped the floor, etc.) Finally, she passes along a quote to homeschooling mothers that she saw on a secretary's desk at a church:

Do not feel totally, ultimately, and completely responsible for everything.
That's my job!


The sage and lighthearted advice for homeschool mothers makes this book a gem.

Questions & Answers with Marty Layne

This Q&A was conducted during a Virtual Homeschool Conference on HomefiresJournal Discussion List

Q:  Should We Teach Kids To Read At An Early Age?
Have you any information about children who are forced to learn to read at an early age - or who receive reading instruction regardless of readiness? And what about children who do, quite naturally and at a very young age, teach themselves to read - I think they are called "spontaneous readers."

A:  The information I have has to do with children being encouraged/forced/expected to read before they are ready. As I mention in my book, I began to feel uncomfortable when my oldest son was not reading by the time he was 7 and a half. We started to work on reading - 10 minutes a day but not necessarily everyday. He learned and was reading within the year - went from no reading to being able to read anything. I realize looking back how much I was focused on reading as though that was the only sign of successful homeschooling.

As those of you who have read my book know, my other children learned to read between 8 and a half and 12 years old. My 14 year old daughter andI often discuss how amazing it is that the little 6 year old girl who lives across the street can already read. My daughter found it quite delightful to watch as this little girl learned to read. There was no way anyone could have stopped this child from reading other than to take away everything in print. And I saw that happening with my children when they were ready to read - there would have been no way to stop them when they were ready.

Obviously for the "spontaneous reader" not learning to read was not an option. As I have watched my children pursue things that they seemed almost driven to do, I realized that they were following internal prompting and doing what I hoped homeschooling would allow them to do - know themselves. When they were younger, their knowing was not on a cerebral level. It was an intuitive, instinctual response. As they have grown older, they have a very solid base of self awareness/knowledge. In the process, I, too, have grown in my ability to listen to my intuition and trust my inner knowledge of myself.

Q:  What are some of your favorite literature titles to read out loud to your children?

A:  Jim Treleases' The Read Aloud Handbook is useful. We did a lot of exploring and reading through things at the library and suggestions that the librarians made.

We enjoyed Ida Early Comes over the Mountain and Christmas With Ida Early both by Robert Burch for many years. You can go to this link and read an article I wrote for "Home Education Magazine" that has suggestions for finding good books.

I have three sons and a daughter. Books I read to my sons often didn't work for my daughter. I also found that as I grew with my children, books that I thought were good at the time weren't as good when I reread them.

Some books everyone in my family enjoyed that were realistic: Homecoming, Dicey's Song, and Come a Stranger (all about the same group of people) and Izzy, Willy-Nilly (about a girl who is injured in a car accident) by Cynthia Voigt.

Great books to read aloud to boys are the Henry Reed books by Keith Robertson. There are quite a few of them, funny. My daughter enjoyed them, too.

Read alouds for younger children - 5-8 Betsy Books by Carolyn Haywood.

For ages 9 and up: Cheaper by the Dozen and Belles on Their Toes

For ages 10 and up: The Anastasia books by Lois Lowry. Quite funny.

12 and up: Books by Gerald Durrel especially My Family and Other Animals. Gerald Durrell was the founder of the Jersey Preservation Trust. His books combine funny stories about people as well as interesting information about animal life.

My two oldest sons really enjoyed the Alfred Hitchcock series about The Three Investigators And then there's Danny Dunn and Encyclopedia Brown for fun science and logical thinking read alouds.

For those who like dragons - you might like Everyone Knows What A Dragon Looks Like by Jay Williams, Peasant Pig and The Terrible Dragon by Richard Scarry, and a story by Rumer Godden - Fu Dog. Rumer Godden has written delightful stories about dolls that even my boys liked as well as stories about children who are outcasts finding a way to cope - Didokai, McFadden's Halloween.

I can't remember who wrote about reading The Diary of Anne Frank - you might also enjoy books by Kate Serredy -The Good Master, The Singing Tree, and The Chestry Oak and Lois Lowry's Number the Stars.

I am reminded of the series of books about an Afro-American family - Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, and others by Mildred Taylor. Also A Choice of Weapons by Gordon Parks, well-known photographer. A fascinating account of how he came to choose photography as a way to express himself and work for change. These would be for ages 12/13 and up.

The problem for all of us at our house now is that we often ask "Anyone have a good book sitting around?" We wish our favorite authors would write more books!!!

Q:  Are "The Classics" Overrated?
People have said that our lack of interest in the classics with their archaic language is an indication of our "dumbing down". I don't agree. Language does evolve and "good reads" don't necessarily mean old classics. What is your take on "The Classics"?

A:  I couldn't agree with you more. When I think of the 6 months we spent in 12th grade English class going over and over E.M. Forester's A Passage to India, which I had read in about 3 days, I cringe. It will take me another 20 years before I am ready to even think of reading another of his books.

We recently watched some films of some of Jane Austin's books -Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and then one of my sons decided to read her books. He enjoyed the humor and the round about language and descriptions. I did too which surprised me.

Q:  Any Video Suggestions?
I am still at a loss when faced with finding quality videos for my kids - both nonfiction and entertainment. Surely there must be a resource for these?

A:  My children were 5 and more before we started watching videos. We saw a few inappropriate ones like The Wizard of Oz before I realized that this was powerful stuff for a 5 yo child who only saw a video once or twice a year. I then began previewing them, and/or thinking more about the story. My children watched very few videos when they were under 10 years old. They preferred having a story read to them. They now prefer reading to watching TV.

One video that we all enjoyed (and we first saw it on the big screen) was Charlotte's Web. It's one of our favorite books, so it amazed us that the video was well done. Generally, we find that most videos of books we have enjoyed seem to have no relation to the book we read and we are almost always disappointed.

My 14 year old daughter has observed that little kids seem to watch a large number of videos when she baby-sits. She finds it amazing that they don't play instead.

I don't know if this follows but, we have enjoyed many audio recordings. Listening to a recorded story is a much more active way of traveling to a different land than watching a video. We have many stories on tape. The BBC Radio has done a number of stories such as The Secret Garden that are just wonderful. There's a wonderful recording done by EB White of both Charlotte's Web and The Trumpet of the Swan. And try Jay O'Callahan for recorded stories. He's an incredible story teller.

Q:  If Kids don't read "The Classics" how will they learn to be good writers?
I heard a teacher say that kids in school present essays and papers containing sentence fragments and run-ons not knowing that it is unacceptable. According to her, to learn to write well, the kids need to read well-written books that follow the rules - especially the classics, even if they are archaic. I wonder if the writing standards will eventually change to accommodate our evolving language?

A:  Writing is such an interesting subject of discussion. Just how do children learn to write and how does one decide who is a good writer? We discuss this often at our house, especially after we've read a book by a favorite author that just isn't up to par with their previous writing. What makes it not as good? Why do some of us like certain writers and others of us don't?

My kids read voraciously most of the time. I never asked them to read anything in particular. Instead, I often suggested that they would like a certain book. It's from all their reading that they have a sense of good writing. We have very interesting discussions about commas and other forms of punctuation as well as writing styles. There are various sites on the internet that my son Robin has found helpful in his pursuit of becoming a published author. Writing well seems to me to take time and a tremendous amount of effort, especially in those books that can be read effortlessly and the words just flow off the page and into one's mind. Like anything else that looks effortless, it means a lot of hard work took place.

It will be interesting to see what writing looks like 20 years from now. Will we move toward a language of short-hand words and abbreviations? Will the focus still be on writing lessons as our culture becomes more and more focused on visual depictions such as music videos, TV dramas, TV news, computers, and movies? I often find it very boring to watch a movie, there is no conversation. TV programs also have very little real conversation. There are a lot of pretty or not so pretty visuals, action shots and in between some conversation driven plot. Contrast this with the BBC TV series often shown on PBS stations called "Yes, Minister" which relies only on conversation to get the story across. It requires intense listening and attention. I find it a great relief to watch, in fact, I often just listen to it as I am working on the computer which is in the same room as our TV.

Q:  Any final comments you'd like to make about homeschooling before your Guest Membership at Homefires Journal ends?

A: Here's something that I wrote recently to sum up why I am so glad I homeschooled my four who are now all young adults.

The best thing about homeschooling - it's TIME

Time to sit and read to your children out loud Time to stay in your pajamas all day and play Time to watch your children as they put on plays Time to listen to your children Time to look at spiders Time to go for a walk when the sun is shining, or the rain has just started to fall, or the wind is blowing hard Time to understand your children, to discover what makes them happy, sad, mad, or glad, and help them understand themselves Time to build relationships Time for a child to follow an interest Time for a child to be bored Time to sing Time for a child to learn how to live in a family with other people all sharing the same space Time for a child to just sit outside and daydream Time for a child to read Time for a child to discover things Time to paint in the kitchen and make a mess Time to learn patience Time to laugh together Time to play games together Time to just sit with a child and be quiet together Time to call your own.

The time we had at home with each other or when a few friends came over to play were rich and satisfying times. We spent a lot of time at home. Home was a fun place - there were toys that led to interesting play, a yard that had trees and bushes, pets, brothers and a sister, mom and dad, and lots and lots of books, plus an unending supply of peanut butter rice cakes.