Or, Jeanne Contemplates Empty Shelf Syndrome
Last night I listed some of our homeschool books for sale. Some homeschoolers sell books throughout the years, but my homeschooling has been spread over children widely spaced in ages, so I was always hanging on to things for the next kid. And besides, our moves complicated my, uh, poor tracking of inventory.
Somehow I still had Bob Books on my shelf long since I had my last beginning reader — who, despite other kids’ apparent appreciation for Bob Books — had not been moved by them in the first place. Which probably accounts for why they are in excellent condition. Twelve tiny paperbacks, $5. Still in the original set box. (Sold)
And so the disassembling of the library has begun. First to go were the Life of Fred books. These were not just Life of Fred, but Life Savers while they worked. And then, one day, they didn’t. The chatty, silly narrative that had disguised the fact that arithmetic was happening was suddenly, well, far too chatty and silly. We’d passed into the “just the facts” stage, and then firmly into high school math with regular, serious math books and no looking back for Fred.
I’m sure that the son who used Fred and then left him behind never appreciated what a relief it had been for me to find Fred in the first place, to have him work narrative magic on a story-oriented kid who hadn’t yet realized that he was going to be really good at the true nature of math, no matter how tedious he found early efforts at calculation. And for the record, I wouldn’t have insisted on a formal math curriculum at all at this stage because I was working on the big concepts in his head via “living math,” but the kid wanted one, taking us on a years-long endeavor to find Math Books That Worked. Fred worked longer and better than most, but then became tedious in his own right.
I had gratefulness attached to the Fred books, but also a serious sense of finality that it was over. And, kind of a cheerful sense of wanting them to be in the hands of another kid who might learn from them.
So Fred broke the ice. By selling Fred, I got enough money to pay for a Spanish lesson. And then I ran my hands over my bookshelves to see what else I could part with, to see how many more Spanish lessons I could fund this way.
The next batch includes A Charlotte Mason Companion: Personal Reflections on the Gentle Art of Learning, which is the first book I ever bought at a homeschool conference, which was the first homeschool conference I ever attended. That was way back in North Carolina in our earliest homeschooling years. Before we moved back to Virginia. Before we moved to Mississippi. Before we moved back to Virginia again.
That book, like its shelf sisters collected during the same era, has a lot of miles on it.
When I posted my For Sale list to my email groups last night, it was the first book spoken for, and it will go to a new home alongside Pocketful of Pinecones, a Charlotte Mason nature study book in story form. I was never a Charlotte Mason purist, but I found the techniques she recommended to be effective, and what’s more, I noticed how often the same techniques popped up in other approaches to homeschooling that worked for us and how naturally these techniques came to me. Sort of like a big intersection of How to Homeschool ideas with my name on them — the nature walks, the good books, the narration, the sketching, the fresh air.
Some of the books I’m selling now caught my eye on my own bookshelf last year when I was preparing a presentation called “A Homeschool Mom Looks Back” for the 2013 VaHomeschoolers Conference. I hadn’t been sure how to organize my talk. A simple year-by-year re-telling of our couple of decades of homeschooling didn’t feel like it would be compelling or helpful.
But — the books. The idea came to me fully formed while I stood in the upstairs hall looking at our personal homeschool library. I snapped pictures of my bookshelves, pulling out certain groupings that were especially helpful during certain years or with certain subjects or with certain kids. There were also the non-helpful books, one or two complete duds.
There, still on my shelf some fifteen years later, was Saxon 54, the math book that nearly did us in during our first year of homeschooling, that I could not bear to give or sell to anyone, lest it impart the same torture on another child that it had on mine.
So the book photos arranged themselves into a PowerPoint presentation with a little help from me, and I made notes about how the books had shaped our homeschooling and how our homeschooling had shaped our book acquisition. My presentation was, basically, a giant book talk, taking my audience with me through years of our family’s reading, of my own reading. My audience was with me, nodding and supportive of this odd flight through our book shelves, accepting it as a perfectly rational approach to “A Homeschool Mom Looks Back,” hanging around after the session ended to talk about books, needing to be pushed out the door so the next session could get started.
These are my people.
(You can read more about that session and the other talks I presented in 2013 in my post about the 2013 VaHomeschoolers Conference. Let me know if you’re interested in having me give this talk to your homeschool group).
So breaking up the library that reflects our homeschooling years is no small task. It turns out that my memories of years of learning alongside my children are stored with each book. A La Leche League friend told me about the Oak Meadow curriculum that got us started; these books over here are the books I used to take in a canvas bag to show new homeschoolers when I led local homeschool groups; these were the novels that started a real reading binge in one of my sons; here are the historical fiction books that took my boys through Colonial times, the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World War II, the Civil Rights movement.
Here is the science text that sorta worked, alongside the real science books that filled in the gaps and then became the real sources. Here are the d’Aulaires’ books that my mom got from the Doubleday book sale when she worked for that book printing plant part-time four decades ago — would I have found these treasures of our lives if she had not happened to bring them home long before I ever thought of children I never knew I would homeschool?
(Over at TheHomeSchoolMom blog, I wrote about my love for the d’Aulaires’ mythology books, which can be used in lieu of a packaged curriculum — or found as part of a curriculum).
Yes, I’m saving some books. Yes. The d’Aulaires aren’t going anywhere. The only way I can get rid of the ones that I realistically will not be using again is to give myself permission to save some. Many, if I want. I can save them for sentimental reasons — the books with the most warm memories, the books my mother gave me during my childhood that I then enjoyed with my sons, the books I have seen inhabiting my kids in that unexplainable way. I will save a few books for their beauty, some others because I anticipate an opportunity to share them with other children in the future, several because they are hard to find today, and some Just Because.
But now I can sell Saxon. I have lived in Homeschooling World long enough to see the many homeschoolers who have loved Saxon Math as much as we hated it. Saxon has taught me truths about homeschooling, that customizing really is key, and that what doesn’t work for one kid really will work for another, that a key advantage of homeschooling is its nimbleness — no need to bang your head against the wall using resources that don’t work for your kids. Life of Fred was over for us before the high school math years, but I know many others who successfully prepare for college by using Life of Fred all the way through their teens, covering all their upper level high school math.
So off to find new homes are Jacobs Algebra (loved; used by mathy middle son with little help from me — and sold), Nebel’s Elementary Education (well recommended and probably a good fit for us, but it never shouldered other books out of the way to become a major player in our household), Martin the Warrior (were we the only houseful of boys who did not get hooked on Redwall at the time?), Pinhole Photography (actually, oldest son used this in college to do a project, which involved making a camera out of a box — and it really worked), an Apologia Exploring Creation through Biology book used with friends in Mississippi (chosen for its coordination with labs — but requiring supplementation on some concepts), among others.
In addition to selling some of our books, I’m sure I’ll donate some to the VaHomeschoolers 2014 Conference Used Resource Sale, which is another way to get useful resources into new hands. (Great bargains there, by the way, and you could donate books, too!)
I’m only at the beginning of this process; there are hundreds and hundreds of books on our shelves. I’m sure it won’t move fast enough for my patient husband, who has the sort of binary Using It/Not Using It approach to the stuff of life I could use a little more of.
Still, he does not push, somehow understanding how hard it is to let go of these books that have been with me through all those miles, all those moves, all those years, all our boys. By the fireside, around the kitchen table with its flickering candle in a child-decorated jar, among the bed-headed sons arguing about theme or plot or motive or imagery.
I’m sure my husband would not want to complicate our coming encounter with empty nest syndrome (just a couple years away) with empty shelf syndrome.