Saturday, August 23, 2008

Review: Haystack Full of Needles

About five years ago, I met an amazing woman: a woman with now 6 girls and one boy, a home school mom steeped in the Catholic faith, a charitable and crafty woman. I “knew” this woman only through the Internet, and yet a real friendship grew and flourished.

That woman, Alice Gunther, just wrote a book as full of the Catholic faith, charity and craftiness as all her online writings…. a book that is imbued with the Holy Spirit and love of the Blessed Mother…. a book that shares so willingly with others her own journey of family-based learning. Haystack Full of Needles is subtitled “A Catholic Home Educator’s Guide to Socialization”, but it is so much more than just about socializing.

It’s an adventure story.

Gunther takes the reader on her own adventure: an adventure from only child to raising six girls and one boy …. an adventure where the heroine starts out as the self-professed greatest critic of the homeschool lifestyle and emerges as the queen of homeschool advocates … an adventure with the Catholic faith at the center and all the wonders of the world emanating from that core. This is an adventure with happily-ever-afters scattered abundantly throughout.

A fairy tale? A useless venture like looking for a needle in a haystack? Not at all.

Gunther shows how through prayer, friends and love for her own children she is able to give her family a full and rich education without the brick-and-mortar so often touted as the only answer. But more than that, Gunther shows that the children involved (and she uses more examples than her own beautiful children) not only thrive in this setting but desire to continue even through the “terrible teens”. And they survive as healthy, knowledgeable, faith-filled, loving young adults who socialize with one and all.

An interesting side theme in Gunter’s book: the need for socialization for the homeschool mother. This mom-time is as critical as the children’s socialization and education, but often gets overlooked in discussions of the “s” issue. Gunther credits a handful of close friends who not only helped her embrace the home educator’s vocation but also help her continue to plan activities and clubs for the dozens of families in their groups. These close associates help through the good times and the bad.

Gunther credits too, the loving support and guidance of her husband – spousal involvement and support are key ingredients for success in any home education adventure.

Most importantly, a strong and active faith life for all in the family (but especially for the home-educator) – socializing with God and His saints – reaps untold rewards and assistance along this path that is still considered “alternative”.

The book is full of practical tips and suggestions for creating your own home education adventure with other families. And, as Gunther repeatedly points out, this can be one family or 20 families – the important point is to find things that you and your family love and create clubs or field trips, inviting others as desired.

For Gunther and her family, looking for other like-minded families is no longer like looking for a needle in a haystack – the haystack is full of needles!

[A personal note: my eight-year-old daughter immediately recognized the cover-art as Monet’s Haystack at Giverny – how many other eight-year-olds in “real school” even know the name “Claude Monet” let alone titles of his work? ]


Alice Gunther said...


What a tremendous and beautifully written review! I am speechless, but so thrilled to find it here!

You are beautiful. THANK YOU!!!!!

:) :) :) :) :)

Jennifer Gregory Miller said...

What a great review, Mary! I refused to look at other reviews, especially yours, until I wrote mine. You have such a gift for writing!