Summer. The perfect time to be thinking about school, right? Maybe not, but I have been. Partly due to a new middle-reader book by Liza Kleinman that I’m excited to share with you!
Azalea, Unschooled. Written by Liza Kleinman, illustrated by Brook Gideon. Published in May 2015 by Islandport Press
Kleinman’s debut novel is an enchanting tale about a young girl named Azalea. Azalea loves life and all that’s in it – her sister Zenith, her parents, and now, Maine. Homeschooling has made it easier for her family to travel – and travel they do. From North Carolina they moved to Connecticut, and then to Portland. Azalea has settled quickly, and has even met a new friend, Gabby. Gabby and her siblings are unschooled. Free from curriculum and grading, Gabby is able to explore and learn her world as she sees fit. Azalea finds this rather appealing, and her mother agrees to try this new way of learning. Azalea and Gabby set off on summer adventures – and solving a family mystery. Azalea’s pensive and curious nature has motivated her to find out who vandalized her father’s tour bus. As she searches, though, learns much more about her family (and herself) than she had anticipated.
This book is charming and carefully thought out. I expected to feel that I was “just reading a kid’s book” – but I was happily surprised. Kleinman’s use of language is well balanced and seemingly effortless. She maintains a consistent storyline with diverse and evolving (yet always relatable) characters, and expertly juggles multiple themes – family conflict, young friendship, and trust among them. With a moving plot and some unexpected turns, Kleinman upholds a sophistication that’s rarely seen in middle-reader books.
I read “Azalea Unschooled” about a month ago, and I’ve spent a decent amount of time pondering this little gem. I’d heard of unschooling before, but wasn’t familiar with it’s purpose. What do children actually do all day? I’ve considered this question often, especially in comparison to public education, and Azalea fit neatly into this package of thoughts.
My daughter will be attending kindergarten in the fall. Like most parents, I worry about her success. Specifically, I worry more about if her school will succeed in allowing her to thrive – not if my daughter will be successful in conforming to the rules and needs of public school. I’ve heard many times “But she’s going to a great school, there’s no need to worry. I went there”. That may be true, but public schools still must follow and conform to particular standards. A school is well funded if their students successfully pass these given [national] standards. Do I want my child to “successfully” be a part of a statistic? “Azalea” has had me questioning this further.
There’s no doubt in my mind that my daughter’s school is one of the best. Many families move to this area just so their children can attend said school. But, is there a better way than government appointed education? Do they know best? Well, that’s the question, I suppose.
I also don’t have the answers. I’m a young parent with young children. I have the education, but I lack the experience. So how can I arm myself with the right tools and knowledge, so I know that my child is thriving? Read books, of course.
*Disclaimer: I am in no way discrediting or otherwise disparaging public schools. It works for some, not for others. If my child is an “other” (and I’d bet I’m not the only one), what [else] can be done?
So, here are a couple books to assist with “whole child” education.
Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution that’s Transforming Education by Ken Robinson. Published by Viking Books in April 2015
Written by Sir Ken Robinson, this book was created as a result of a well-known TED Talk from 2006. “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” became the most viewed TED Talk, at about 34 million views. In 19 minute, Robinson explores this question. Shortly after the video’s release, many viewers still had questions about education – 19 minutes isn’t long enough to adequately delve into the complicated subject of American education. So, Robinson wrote Creative Schools. Drawing from his forty years of experience, Robinson discusses the issues of public education, and what to do about it.
The following are notable quotes from some of his TED talks:
“The point is that education is not a mechanical system; it’s a human system.”
“A three year old is not half a six year old.”
“Instead of curiosity, what we have is a culture of compliance.”
Don’t know what TED is? Well, set aside some time, bring your whole brain, and go here:
Want to start with a particular video? I’d start here:
How To Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature by Scott D. Sampson. Published in March 2015 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Though you might not recognize his name, the author is well known for his roll as Dr. Scott in the PBS show Dinosaur Train. This is his first book.
How To Raise a Wild Child is about exactly what you’d think: how to develop and instill the love of nature in children. Dr. Scott’s focus is with combining and using science and art to stir up a passion for nature. Science and art are generally perceived as separate subjects, but Dr. Scott recognizes that this separation is part of the problem – science and art are integral.
I’ve been very eager to get my eyes and heart into this book. Since it’s release a couple of months ago, I’ve been madly finishing other books so Dr. Scott will have all of my attention. Passion is contagious, and I’m ready to go smell some backyard trees. And probably bring my kids, too.
That’s it! Only two books, I know. It’s a short list. But, these books are packed with suggestions that will get your brain spinning.