Review x 2: Free Range Learning & Last Child in the Woods

Jul 31, 2013

I decided to review these books together for a number of reasons:
  1. I finished both of them within days of each other.
  2. I read both of them for my education principles group.
  3. Free Range Learning quotes Last Child in the Woods.
  4. Their contents overlap somewhat.
  5. I'm behind on my reviews.
  6. I breathed identical sighs of relief when I was finally finished with each one.

Free Range Learning: How Homeschooling Changes Everything by Laura Grace Weldon

My education principles group includes a pretty even mix of homeschoolers and public/private-schoolers. Our discussions are very well-rounded and inclusive, and it is actually one of the few places where I don't feel like I have to defend or explain any of my parenting/educational/family decisions. It has filled up a part of my life that used to feel like an insecure and puzzling hole. It was truly a tender mercy to find this group.

We try to select a variety of educational titles, but I've noticed that we tend to lean in the homeschooling direction. I am not at all opposed to this, having been homeschooled myself and contemplated homeschooling many times. In fact, I am continually amazed with how a book that is blatantly pro-homeschooling (as this book was) can be so applicable to the population at large.

Free Range Learning makes no apologies for insisting that homeschooling is the best and most ideal method of education for all children. Early in the book, Weldon shared a story from the mom of Jerod, a bright and inquisitive little boy who had a lot of energy and a lot of questions. His experience in public school was unsuccessful from the beginning. His teachers didn't know what to do with all his ideas nor how to keep him entertained and learning for the entire day. His parents eventually started homeschooling him, and his mom later said, "I understand that it would be too hard to have this much learning energy in a classroom. To have twenty-five or more Jerods in one room would be impossible without limiting them somehow."

I have thought about this quote again and again and again. I think it really highlights the differences between public school and homeschooling, and I have come to accept that there is a marked and unchangeable difference. Public school will never be able to individualize education at the same level that homeschooling can. And so if you want that sort of individual attention, you have to homeschool.

And yet, even though I have no immediate plans to homeschool, this book empowered and inspired me. There is so much I can do to guide Aaron's education and love of learning even when he will be spending part of his day learning with the masses.

The book is divided into two parts. The first is mainly a discussion of learning while the second gives resources and ideas for a whole host of subjects from science to history to physical education.

I really enjoyed the first half, particularly chapters 1-3, and that is where most of my inspiration came from. I recognized the importance of letting my children play on their own and be masters of their own education. I've been trying to pay better attention to what they're interested in and provide opportunities for them to run with that interest as much as they want to.

The second half is jam-packed with resources, but (how shall I say this?) I found this section to showcase homeschooling's weirder side (and I say that as affectionately as possible). I didn't look up every single website and book mentioned, but I did investigate the ones that piqued my interest, and most of them were outdated or poorly designed or dealt with the strangest and most unusual subjects. Many of the suggestions within the chapter were also a little non-conformist and unique. In addition, the benefits of video games were lauded about ten too many times for my taste and severely damaged the credibility of the rest of the book for me.

I liked it, and I would recommend some sections of it to others, but to read the entire book was both tedious and time-consuming (I've only been reading it since March). The size of the pages made it feel much longer than 275 pages. Hence, the sigh of relief when it was finished.

Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv

I was excited to dive into this book since, besides seeing it referenced in Free Range Learning, I had heard about it from numerous sources.

The basic premise is that nature is, sadly and frighteningly, becoming a thing of the past. We are gradually removing our children from the outdoors or giving them man-made, artificial nature experiences. Not only are we losing our connection with the land, but it is contributing to distressing consequences such as ADHD, environmental problems, and a loss of many beautiful places.

As I listened to this book, I couldn't help but think about my own experiences with nature. Growing up in a rural part of Colorado meant that I was fortunate to spend lots of times in wide (and wild) open spaces. Even though we lived "in town," there were many vacant lots (which receive an inordinate amount of praise in the book). I spent a great deal of time in the little grove of olive and plum trees that ran alongside our house. A wilder place I never saw. It belonged to our neighbors, but they never mowed or pruned or trimmed anything, so it was a perfect hideout and escape.

As a child, I never realized what an extreme privilege it was to be able to hop on my bike and ride anywhere I wanted, but now, knowing that my own children are not going to have the same opportunity, I'm seeing it for the blessing it was.

The book is filled with many personal stories from Louv's own life and the lives of his acquaintances. If I only remember one of those stories, I hope it's the one from the mom who always told her daughter to "Pay Attention" rather than to "Be Careful." I know I tend to lean in the overly cautious and protective direction, but I want my children to feel confident and content in nature, and I think if I changed this one phrase in my vocabulary, it would help them develop the right sort of caution and avoid the debilitating kind.

This should have been a book that I liked, but for some reason I really had to grit my teeth and muscle my way through it. I don't know if maybe it just wasn't the right time to read it (perhaps it was following too close on the heels of other similar books) or if it felt too repetitive or, as someone in our discussion said, "verbose." Whatever the case, it was not an easy, nor very enjoyable, read. In fact, if I hadn't been listening to it on double speed, I probably wouldn't have made it through the entire thing.

Speaking of double speed, here was a case where I was extremely grateful I recently made the transition to listening to books at a faster speed. You would not believe how slowly this narrator (Jonathan Hogan) spoke. Sometimes I'd start listening and have to make sure I actually had it playing twice as fast because it sounded so normal. Then I would switch it back to real time for just a moment so that I could be amazed that anyone would actually listen to it at that pace (which, sadly, would have been me a few weeks ago). I wish I knew how to put up an audio clip of it just so that you could be amazed too.

Honestly, my favorite part of the book may have been when the Conference Center here in Salt Lake City got a shout-out as being an environmentally friendly building because it has a green roof. And my least favorite part of the book? All of the fishing stories. I can tell that Louv loves fishing, so I'm sure it's only natural that he would use fishing as a frequent example. But for someone who doesn't love fishing, it was a little much.

I really am grateful to have read both of these books. I gleaned a lot of great ideas that became more firmly lodged in place as I discussed them with the other women in my education principles group. But I'd be lying if I didn't say I am both relieved and happy that I now get to move onto other books!


  1. I found the first half of Free Range Learning the most inspiring and ummm... not tedious... too! LOL I think resources and such just aren't meant to be read through in a traditional sense (even though that's what I did when I read it).

    I haven't read Last Child yet but ugh, slow readers on audiobooks - well, let's just say I'm wanting to bang my head on something just thinking about enduring that! ;)

  2. Both of those books sound interesting, so I'm glad you did the hard part and I could just hear a little bit about them :) I agree with the stuff that you wrote. I try to get my kids outside and in nature as much as possible.

  3. These both look good.

    I'm not sure what I think about Free Range Learning but I definitely want to learn more about it.


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