From the very beginning the boys were exposed to lots of music, as their dad was a professional musician and their mother sang with him. There was always a piano in the house for the children to plunk around on, and they did lots of plunking! The boys were sung to from birth and were present at lots of jam sessions, band rehearsals, and concerts. They listened to a wide assortment of recorded music, as their parents had broad musical tastes. They were also read to every day. They often left the library with 20 books for mom to read to them, only to return a week later for new books. By the time they were elementary school age, their mom was reading them the classics. They all became very good readers and listeners.
Steve and Darlene chose not to have a TV in the house from the beginning, which left lots of time for the children to make their own entertainment and fun. They spent much of their time in make-believe play and outdoor adventures.
Darlene was very conscientious about feeding her family a nutritious diet. They had a garden, belonged to a natural foods co-op, had goats and chickens, made their own bread, and all meals were made “from scratch”. The children helped with food preparation doing things like kneading dough, shaking the cream for butter, sorting the beans, stirring the batter, and flipping the pancakes. They also washed countless dishes!
The family began homeschooling in 1978, long before it was popular! In fact, in the Indiana farm town where the Lester’s lived, the legality of homeschooling was very questionable. So, the family went underground, not wanting to jeopardize their freedom to teach their kids in the way that they saw fit. The family tried various curriculums, but quickly found that “unschooling” worked the best for them. Each child had different interests, talents, and styles of learning. Their parents felt it was important to be equally supportive of each child’s gifts and styles, so they rejected the “one size fits all” approaches to learning. Each child learned to the beat of his own drum.
During this time, their dad encouraged them to play instruments and sing along with him. For Christmas 1980 the family recorded an assortment of songs, recitations, and recorder pieces that they had been working on. They sent it to friends and relatives as Christmas gifts under the title, “The Incredible, Luminous, Universal Musical Family”. One of the tapes was sent to John Holt, the leader and definer of the unschooling movement and frequent convention speaker. He mostly spoke on what was wrong with schools and what could be done about it. His conclusion was everything, and nothing. In other words, schools can�t be fixed, just take your kids out!
(He had also started the magazine “Growing Without Schooling”, the first homeschooling magazine ever.) The Lester’s admired John for his great courage in going to bat legally for so many parents who wanted to take full responsibility for their children’s education. And this, at a time when homeschooling was met with opposition and hostility in our society.
When John received the Lester’s Christmas tape, he loved it so much that he wrote an article about it in GWS. He said it would be the first audio tape offering of John Holt’s Book and Music Store catalog. This encouraged the family to make more tapes. (Read John Holt’s original review that started it all.) They recorded a sequel to their first tape called, “My School”, followed by their “learn to sing in harmony” tapes that are offered on this website. The kids enjoyed the challenge of singing in harmony, and when the songs they were learning turned out sounding good, they were more than willing to record them on tape. They wanted to hear what it sounded like! During that time, the family also recorded two tapes having a breastfeeding theme for families with babies. Babies were very much enjoyed in the Lester household, and the songs on the tapes clearly reflect the family’s enthusiasm for little ones. Darlene is a La Leche League leader (a breastfeeding consultant and advocate) and these tapes came out of her own nursing experiences and family dynamics. The tapes have sold steadily through LLL for the past 14 years.
The Lester family tapes caught a precious period of the family’s history when all the boys still had high voices and were willing and eager to perform. Sometimes their parents could scarcely keep them away from those microphones! As the boys matured, they became more reserved. But, to this day they all play music and sing together on a regular basis. Now in their 20s, they still love music.
John Holt Review
“For some time I’ve been thinking of adding some tape cassettes to our book list, and I’m very happy to begin with this, one of the most delightful tapes of adults and children playing and singing (and now and then speaking) that I have ever heard.
“The Lesters, who are GWS readers, made the first version of this tape to send to friends and relatives as a Christmas present. People liked it and the next year the Lesters updated the tape with new songs and material. They sent me a copy of this revised tape, just for a present, and I loved it so much that I urged them to make copies of it and sell it. Since some of the poems and music on the tape were copyrighted, they decided to cut out all the copyrighted material and replace it with new poems and songs of their own, and it is this tape which they (and we) are now selling.
“I’ve played this tape often, and love it more every time. Friends who have heard it, both here and in Europe, love it as much as I do. In the first place, the songs themselves are wonderful. The British conductor Sir Thomas Beecham once said, wisely, that great music is music that penetrates the ear and sticks in the mind, and by this standard these are surely great. They are part of my mental sound track; I often find myself humming or singing them almost without knowing that I am doing it. As the titles show, they are all about the life of the family: “The Incredible, Luminous, Universal, Musical Family”, “Vegetables”, “Big Wet Baby Kiss”, “Three In The Bed”, and so on. My favorite of all is “Don’t Hit The Baby” (“you know you’ll only make things worse”) – very funny and very true advice. When Steve says in the last verse, of their little one-year-old, “He’s lots of trouble cause he’s little and new, but he’ll be a brother in a year or two”, it says so much about babies and children, and the relations and feelings between the little ones and the big ones, that I find it very moving. All of the family sing. Steve, a very gifted musician, plays beautiful guitar. Darlene and the older boys play recorders. Someone (Darlene?) plays a little blues harmonica in “Big Wet Baby Kiss”, and several of them play rhythm instruments. Steve and Darlene sing with a wonderful swinging feeling which the boys, even Damian at 3, have clearly picked up. There is great spontaneity and life in these performances; they have not been rehearsed to death, and sound like what they are, a family singing together for the fun of it.
“But the star of them all is 3-year-old Damian. It would be worth the price of the tape – triple the price of the tape – just to hear his rendition of “Home On The Range”, which must be one of the great performances in the whole history of recorded music. Words can’t do it justice; you’ll have to hear it. I hope many of you will hear it, for this is a real treasure. And only the first of many, for the Lesters plan to write, sing, and record more tapes. I can hardly wait for the next.”
(Growing Without Schooling magazine, issue #28, 1982)