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January 28, 2004 1 min read
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Tales From Home

Christopher Paolini hasn’t fared too badly for a young man who never set foot inside a classroom.

His fantasy novel, Eragon, is No. 1 this week on TheNew York Times’ best-seller list of chapter books for children. The book, published by Knopf Books for Young Readers, has been on the list for 20 weeks.

Mr. Paolini’s mother, Talita Paolini, a Montessori-certified teacher, instructed both Christopher, who is now 20, and his little sister, Angela, at home in Paradise Valley, Mont. Her son went on to write his novel at 15.

Ms. Paolini cobbled together a curriculum that included Montessori methods focusing on the senses and gaining firsthand experiences, the approach called “unschooling,” and traditional home schooling workbooks.

One experience Ms. Paolini remembers, she said last week, was having her children place 100 strips of paper with 10 dots on each of them on the floor to show the amount 1,000.

“To this day, if we tell Christopher he has sold 1,000 books, he immediately gets a vision in his head of what 1,000 looks like,” she said.

“Unschooling” focuses on children’s learning styles and personality types, allowing them to learn by exploring.

For the Paolini children, it meant incorporating their interests into projects that eventually turned into books. For Ms. Paolini’s daughter, that meant a project on chocolate; and for her fantasy-loving son, creating an imaginary pen pal from another planet so that he would learn how to write.

Ms. Paolini did use textbooks, including the A Beka workbooks published by Pensacola Christian College in Florida, which she bought back when home schooling textbooks weren’t readily available.

“There were not many options back then when I was teaching my children, but now you can find them anywhere, even the neighborhood grocery store,” she noted.

Ms. Paolini taught both of her children until they were ready for high school. They then enrolled in the American School, a correspondence high school, to get their accredited diplomas.

“The most important and basic thing of their education is that my husband and I were very involved in helping them to learn more every day,” Ms. Paolini said.

—Natasha N. Smith

A version of this article appeared in the January 28, 2004 edition of Education Week


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