In The Schoolhouse Experiment, Pamela Beere Briggs fondly reflects on her two years home-schooling her daughter, Natalie McDonald, in order to share what she learned with parent-teachers and other educators.
Briggs and her husband, William McDonald, decided to opt out of a competitive, testing-focused atmosphere and teach Natalie at home during her seventh- and eighth-grade years, from 2009 to 2011. Briggs’ educational philosophy entails nourishing the whole child by fostering curiosity—by looking at art, for example—and a love of learning with a research practice she calls “delving” and by supplying healthy food and promoting physical movement, which they called “physical fun,” especially outdoors.
She recounts projects such as Natalie’s first writing assignment; a pulsilogium Natalie built modeled after Galileo’s invention; and reading Joy Hakim’s A History of US as part of their self-designed curriculum, which also included math and a virtual voyage around the world.
Excerpts from Natalie’s assignments and her reflections as a young adult illustrate the success of the experiment in nurturing an informed, inquisitive mind. The book also excerpts recent research supporting Briggs’ points on stress reduction, the benefits of sleep, serving breakfast in the classroom and media literacy, while the brief but warm meditations of retired public schoolteacher Judith Feuer-Walden round out each chapter’s calm, thoughtful discussion.
Although she speaks to parents educating kids at home during the coronavirus pandemic with “prompts for parents” concluding each chapter, Briggs hopes her suggestions might reach public schools, noting the success Finnish and French schools have had with less homework, more movement and healthy meals.
For parents with flexible work schedules, access to the outdoors and other resources that Briggs and McDonald could provide Natalie, The Schoolhouse Experiment is an inspiring template. Intelligent, readable and wise, this warm-hearted book “imagine(s) new, healthier approaches to schooling” that put the emphasis on learning, rather than testing results.