Saturday, 28 May 2011

Doing Our Own Thing

When Felicity was about 6 years old and we’d been homeschooling for maybe a year, I met Anna. She lived in a wooden oasis of a house on the top of a hill that led down to the creek and the bush. The house was a warren of fascinating rooms filled with unusual treasures, a real storybook home.
And in that storybook home lived a storybook family… we were sure of this. Anna had a beautiful family: polite and charming children who excelled at everything. They were musicians and dancers and craftsmen and academics. And they were perfect.
An invitation to Anna’s house was like an invitation to the palace. We would set out from home full of excitement, knowing we were going to have a fantastic day. Anna would serve Earl Grey tea from fine bone china cups and offer us slices of home-made cake. And we’d sit in her country farm-style kitchen wiping our lips delicately with real napkins, while feeling very special.
Afterwards, we’d descend the stairs to the lounge, and the baby grand piano lid would be lifted and we’d be treated to a concert where little child fingers would play adult sized music. While listening, I'd admire the trophies, the exquisite project books full of knowledge, the displayed artworks and crafts... Then someone would suggest putting on a play and the dress-up box would be raided, and my children would eagerly be dragged along in the wake of their more inventive and creative friends. Later, Anna and I would sit on the decking which jutted out among the bird filled trees while the children played in the home-made wooden cubby house, perched above the steeply descending path that led down to a creek side paradise. And Anna shared and I listened, eager to pick up tips on how to have such a splendid family.
I wanted to be just like Anna. And have children like hers.
I enrolled my children in music lessons, then dancing and drama and gymnastics, and filled the house with musical instruments and craft materials, classical music and books. I wanted the same rich creative environment as my friend. I looked out for opportunities to enter competitions that might lead to a few trophies. And I carefully planned units of study and I hoped my children would produce impressive, creative project books to show how much they were learning, books that would rival those of Anna’s family. And although John Holt may have approved of some of the things we were doing, it was Anna I listened to, not John.
When Felicity was 9 years old we moved house. We said a very sad goodbye to Anna and her family. But around the corner there were more friends waiting to share ideas and influence our way of homeschooling.
And one of those people was Helen.
Helen was the first Catholic homeschooler I ever met.  In the three or four years we’d been teaching our children, we’d never met another Catholic family who was educating their children at home.  But we now discovered there was a whole network of Catholics out there, quietly educating, not only their children’s minds but also their souls.
The Faith hadn’t really played a big part in our homeschooling up to that point. I hadn’t really discovered the treasures contained within the Church. I hadn’t thought too much about what God wanted me to do and how I was going to help my children become the people God intended them to be. Helen introduced me to the treasures of the Faith. She also introduced me to Kimberley and Mary Kay, and soon my head was spinning with ideas on how to incorporate a good education with a solid knowledge and love of the Catholic Faith.
Then one day I met Charlotte and she shared, and I listened and wondered. She told me about living books, narration, the value of outdoor play, nature study. We discussed dictation and copywork and I loved her concept of ideas and beauty, and providing the right atmosphere and instilling disciplining through good habits… Yes, I liked Charlotte Mason.
But before I knew it, Laura had joined us at our homeschooling table. Laura Berquist convinced me that I wanted children who could think and analyse and reason critically. I pondered memorisation, the different stages and the tools of learning.
Now I wanted to be Charlotte… or maybe Laura. Which one? These were exciting times as I read and pondered and experimented. My homeschooling methods swung this way and that and then back again.
But one day I realised I’d left both Charlotte and Laura behind. We were ‘doing our own thing’. I’d stopped reading and pondering and looking for the perfect method of homeschooling. I no longer had the time or the energy or the interest. We were too busy living our lives. We’d slipped into a way of learning that felt comfortable, that seemed to work for us as a family.
And I knew that although I’d made a lot of new friends along our homeschooling journey, friends who’d given me some very valuable ideas, it was time to be me, Sue. I wasn’t Anna, or Charlotte or Mary Kay or Laura or…
Our days were enjoyable and fun; our children were learning and growing. We’d get up each morning and follow our noses, experiencing real life, having learning adventures, not always knowing what we’d do, where we’d end up or what we would discover. No big plans. Just life. And I felt at peace. Well, most of the time…
Just occasionally, I’d feel a little bit guilty. Was life too easy? Why didn’t I have any battles trying to get my children to learn? Perhaps I wasn’t pushing them hard enough. I wondered: Was ‘doing our own thing’ other words for being lazy? Were my children really becoming the people God wanted them to be? Would they be prepared for the jobs God wanted them to do? Maybe I was jeopardising their futures. Perhaps we needed to be more structured, plan our days better and make a few concrete goals.
So at the end of every year, when the long summer holidays rolled round and I had a bit of time to read and think, I’d say to myself, “I really must do some more research, buy a few new books and plan the school work better.” But every holiday passed without me ever quite getting round to making those new plans to homeschool in a different way. And we’d just slip back into our usual routine when the new school year resumed.
We continued to do our own thing.
But what was ‘our own thing’? I wasn’t sure until I met Suzie. Yes, I hadn’t quite finished with books and pondering. I had one more friend to meet: Suzie Andres. I read her book Homeschooling with Gentleness: A Catholic Discovers Unschooling  And then I wondered: Could we have gone full circle and ended up back as unschoolers?  But not quite full circle: Could we be Catholic unschoolers?
I really want you to meet Suzie Andres. In her own special way she will tell you all about Catholic unschooling, that gentle and little way of educating our children. I hope you will return to hear more.
Do I want to be Suzie like I wanted to be Charlotte and Laura? No. I could never be Suzie, that warm and beautiful soul. But I can be me: Sue Elvis who still knows her children and their needs better than anyone else in the world, and who now has the confidence (thanks to Suzie) to continue doing her own thing.

Who have been your friends along your homeschooling journey?

Please find out more about Erin's and Leanne's homeschooling friends by sharing their stories:

Leanne: New Inspiration at the blog, Roses, Tea and Our Lady

Erin: Our Friendship Quilt at the blog, Seven Little Australians and Counting

Would anyone else like a link to their homeschooling story?

16 comments:

  1. Sue

    Loved this post! Being true to yourself, it takes time to find yourself at times, your family culture. Now you've got me a thinking. I think you'll enjoy Jeanne's post
    http://ohpeacefulday.blogspot.com/2011/05/whats-going-well-for-you.html

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  2. Hi Erin, I think sometimes we can be a bit intimidated by other homeschoolers. We can admire them and want to be like them, but we also feel we'll never be as good as them. It' a real blessing when we realise it's ok to be ourselves, that we all have our own talents suited to teaching our own families. I guess the same can be said about our vocations as mothers. We don't all have to be the same!

    I will follow the link! God bless and thank you for sharing.

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  3. I agree with Erin, Sue - this is a lovely post. You two ladies are so encouraging - what a blessing to be a part of this online community! Thank you, both:)

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  4. Thank you, Vicky! I've been very tired today and I had trouble writing. I didn't know if this post made sense, and so I appreciate your comment. As always, I love sharing with you too!

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  5. I really enjoyed your post...Wow I wasn't too sure ho you were talking about..and then..it clicked. yes I have read so many books.. Elizabeth would be one of them, but I am Leanne and we do our own thing as well...it works for us..God Bless

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  6. Another great post! After years of reading, thinking and stressing, I've finally found the right fit for us, which is somewhat different for each of my children. I have to say it feels sooo good to have left the anxiety behind and arrived where we need to be.

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  7. Leanne,

    I love Elizabeth too. I could easily have been 'Elizabeth'. There is so much wisdom and good ideas in her book. I think we take a little bit from each of our homeschooling friends and mentors and make it our own, in a way that suits our own families. We don't have to be the same as each other but we can share and we overlap in our ideas and methods sometimes too. That's fine!

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  8. Hi Tricia, isn't that what homeschooling is all about? - finding the right fit for each of our children That's the beauty of this way of educating. Homeschooling is different for each family and maybe, each child within a family. We have that freedom. And I agree with you: it's so good to get to a point when all the stress is left behind, where we have the confidence to do what is right for our own children. Thank you so much for your comment!

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  9. Suzie Andres31 May 2011 04:21

    Oh Sue, you made me laugh out loud!

    "Do I want to be Suzie like I wanted to be Charlotte and Laura? No."

    I might have been crushed -- if I weren't laughing~!

    AND then I read:

    "I could never be Suzie, that warm and beautiful soul."

    I think I will commission an artist to calligraphy this where I can read it each day, or maybe get wallpaper made that says this, or a screensaver!

    Ah, but here's the perfect truth:

    "But I can be me: Sue Elvis who still knows her children and their needs better than anyone else in the world, and who now has the confidence (thanks to Suzie) to continue doing her own thing."

    Yes! You speak with grace and wisdom, dear Sue. I'm so glad to be your friend, to have written things that help you, and most importantly I'm so grateful that I could boost your confidence. I bet St. Therese had everything to do with that: who can doubt her words and witness? God loves us so much! Truly we don't need to be afraid. We are surrounded and held by infinitely tender Love.

    And lastly you ask:
    "Who have been your friends along your homeschooling journey?"

    What a happy question...
    In addition to the wonderful friends you've already mentioned, here are some friends along my homeschooling journey (whom I've met through their books):

    Susan (Schaeffer McCauley)
    Ruth (Beechik)
    Mary (Hood)
    Nancy (Wallace)
    Alison (McKee)
    the 2 Johns (Holt & Taylor Gatto)

    and

    Elizabeth Goudge...
    not exactly an educator or homeschooling mentor, but she is a novelist (not Eileen, but ELIZABETH) who wrote lovely gentle reads. Through her I discovered that it's okay to be very scared. Sometimes that's how we are, but in those times we have the chance to be heroic just by getting out of bed! She writes with such compassion.

    I love your comment to Tricia:
    "Isn't that what homeschooling is all about? -finding the right fit for each of our children."

    God bless you and your readers - with His help, may we all find that right cozy fit. Aah, what a relief God's plan for us is!

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  10. Dear Suzie, I'm so glad to have you as a friend too. I see God connecting us all together, helping us with our vocations as mothers and home educators, and with our journey to Heaven. I am constantly amazed how He works!

    Dear St Therese! Everywhere I look she is there, showing me the way. I have only written about your book "Homeschooling with Gentleness" so far. But I haven't finished! I would like to tell everyone about "A Little Way of Homeschooling" too. If my little blog can spread the message of St Therese and your books, even to a few people, I will be so thrilled.

    Suzie, you said, in your book, that foremost, you wrote for yourself, to put your thoughts down, to work through them and reassure yourself you are on the right track with your own family. I think writing is so valuable for us personally. But the book is meant for far more people than you. Isn't it humbling and exciting when we know God has given us a special job to do, the opportunity to do something for Him who does so much for us? - I was overwhelmed with this feeling when wrote my own tiny book. I'm sure you know what I mean!

    I am just so delighted you have shared my posts, stopped and written such kind comments and allowed me to use your words, Suzie. You are indeed a warm and beautiful soul.

    btw, I love Elizabeth Goudge too! And Nancy Wallace is an old friend. I have an ancient copy of "Child's Work" on my shelf.
    May God bless you!

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  11. This is beautiful - it made me smile - and tear up - seeing bits and pieces of myself here and there. You have a wonderful way with words and a gift for sincere sharing. Thank you for including us :-)

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  12. Dear Sue,

    I really enjoyed reading this post, and had to wonder if we are twins separated at birth or something...there are so many similarities in our journeys.

    Suzie's book, Gentle Homeschooling, was key for me as well, to have confidence in myself (although that is definitely a work in progress, I think its beginnings were from reading that book).

    Amy

    Amy

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  13. Beate, I am so pleased to see you here. I have read your posts on the UC list and your chapter in Suzie's book and I think of you as a friend stopping by. It is good to share, isn't it? I have really enjoyed getting to know you and the other families in "A Little Way of Homeschooling". It is so generous of you all to let us inside your families so we can ponder, find kindred spirits, pick up ideas...share. Thank you for your kind words. God bless!

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  14. Amy, you said, "... had to wonder if we are twins separated at birth or something" Wow! I love that. That makes me feel so special, knowing you connected with my story. I'm not that crazy after all. Or perhaps you are just as crazy as me!! Please come back some time and share some more!

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  15. Sue
    I just finished writing an epic for you;)
    http://sevenlittleaustralians.blogspot.com/2011/06/our-friendship-quilt.html
    truly it is only the beginning, whilst I've shared snippets of what I've learnt from these 'friends', what I learnt from my children is a whole 'nother chapter (or several)

    Looking forward to seeing which direction you take me down memory lane next:)

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  16. Erin, I'm enjoying this exchange of stories! Thank you for your epic. Yes, the story is so long and involved and sometimes it seems impossible to put everything down without actually writing a book. Well, there's an idea!

    I'm glad to hear you want to continue sharing. God bless.

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