Friday, October 24, 2014

Too Short Skirts and Other Stories of My Week

On Monday it rained and so I hopped onto the treadmill, instead of heading down to the bush tracks for a run. Oh my! Treadmill running is deadly boring. I am sure one treadmill kilometre is much longer than one bush track kilometre. It seemed to take forever to run 5 K. It’s just as well I had something interesting to listen to, as I pounded away. My iPod was tuned into The Catholics Next Door podcast.

The Catholics Next Door… I’ve been turning those words over in my mind. They make me think about our neighbours. We don’t actually have any Catholics living next door. I guess we’re the Catholics living between our neighbours. I wonder what those neighbours thought when they heard we were going to move in right next door.

I can just imagine the news travelling down the grapevine: “Have you heard? A family with 6 children is moving into that house at the end of the road!” Did our neighbours gulp? Did they imagine a house and yard overflowing with noisy children? Did they dread moving-in day? I don’t know. I guess it could have been worse. Our daughter Felicity didn’t move in with us (she lives on the other side of Australia), and of course, nor did our son Thomas

We’ve now lived in this house for 6 years. In a couple of weeks’ time we’ll celebrate ‘Moving in Day’. It’s a day worth remembering. You see, we thought we’d never be able to buy a house. We’d been moving from one rental home to another for 25 years. But then God surprised us and gave us a home of our own. That story is included in Theresa Thomas’ and Patti Armstrong’s book Big Hearted, if you’re interested in reading it.

But back to the neighbours. Do they wish we'd bought a house in some other street? I don’t really think so. We get on well with the people over the fence. I don’t think we’re hard to live with. Being introverted, we tend to be quiet. We don’t like noisy parties or loud music. We hardly ever have people over to visit. Oh, I suppose they might not like the noise Callum makes when he goes to work at 5.30 am. His car has a loud engine that growls like a lion. They might complain the car wakes them up. But then again, they might not. It was the neighbour who sold the car to our son.

Yes, we are a quiet and introverted family. We don’t normally do a lot of socialising. But we have ventured out a bit recently. (We'll probably now have to stay home for a month to recover.) Last weekend we got together with a number of homeschooling families for a picnic. It was a beautiful spring day. We all sprawled on rugs in the shade of the gum trees and enjoyed some conversation while we ate our food.

I had a great chat with a young 8 year old friend. She was so excited. She told me how she'd read my book, The Angels of Abbey Creek, and enjoyed it very much. Her 10 and 13 year old sisters liked it too. That made me smile and feel all warm inside. It also made me feel like hurrying up with the editing of the sequel, The Angels of Gum Tree Road.

I told my young friend that my daughters Charlotte and Sophie are making paper dolls of the characters from my book. She immediately said, “Oh wow! I’ll be able to act out all the stories in your book if I have some dolls!” Wasn’t that a lovely reaction?

National Novel Writing Month begins next week, and the girls are busy making final notes for the novels they plan to write. I have been tempted to get caught up in their excitement and write a novel too. How can I miss a year, the first in 4 years? If I don’t take up the challenge, I will be the only girl around here who won’t be smiling at the end of the month, as she downloads her winner's certificate for writing yet another 50 000 word novel. 

Yes, I am tempted to join the girls and write a novel, maybe use all those random words we were discussing a couple of weeks ago. But no. This year I am going to do something different. I am going to finish editing The Angels of Gum Tree Road for my young friend. This book was my NaNoWriMo novel of two years ago. Two years ago? Yes, it’s been sitting around waiting to be finished for a very long time. If I don't make a move soon, my friend will grow up and no longer be interested in the story.

The other writing idea I'd like to do is putting together an unschooling book. I’ve been mulling this over for a while. I could write an ebook. What do you think? I wonder if anyone would be interested in such a book. Stories about our unschooling family? Why should people want to know more about me and my family? In some ways, that seems like a strange idea.

Did you notice I created a new Facebook page for this blog? A couple of weeks ago when I was recording one of my podcasts, I finished by saying, “You can find me on Facebook.” It wasn’t until later, I realised that anyone looking for me on Facebook would probably type in 'Stories of an Unschooling Family'. How would they know all my unschooling stuff is on my Sue Elvis Writes Facebook page? So I created a new page: Stories of an Unschooling Family, to match this blog and my podcasts.

It wasn’t an easy decision to more to a new page, and leave behind all the people who have been following along with me for quite some time now. Will they move to the new page too? Will we continue to chat and share and be friends? Will they even realise I have moved? If you haven't already discovered my new page, I hope you'll come and join me!

It's Friday afternoon here in NSW, Australia, on a sunny spring day. Once more the weekend is approaching. What are we planning to do? The girls want to go to the library to borrow the next Billabong book by Mary Grant Bruce, Jim and Wally, which is stored away in our library stacks. Of course, we'll have grocery shopping to do as usual. (Food seems to run out far too quickly.) But the rest of the weekend is free, so I might have time to help Sophie make another skirt.

Last Saturday we recycled a too short denim skirt by adding a fabric ruffle to the bottom of it, after being inspired by this Recycle Blue Jean Skirt Pinterest board. I have similar plans for a pair of micro shorts I bought the other day. (I felt kind of strange buying something none of us would consider wearing.) We're going to turn them into a skirt by taking the top section and adding a layer of pretty gathered fabric to it. I hope it'll look good. If we're successful, I'll post a photo on Facebook!

Thank you so much for reading this week's posts, and visiting my Facebook pages, 'liking' my new Facebook page, listening to my podcasts, and taking the time to write comments. 

In particular I'd like to thank Lisa at The Ramblings of a Multi-tasking Mama for writing a post called Angels Out and About. It featured my children's book. The Angels of Abbey Creek went rock climbing! 

Also, Faith of Household Diary, very kindly linked her post, Some Inspiring, Relaxed Homeschooling Blogs, to my blog. Thank you!

The Angels of Abbey Creek

Enjoy the weekend!


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Mothers, Unschooling and a Lazy Way of Life

Is unschooling a lazy way of life? Do mothers choose to unschool because they can’t be bothered putting together a proper homeschool program for their children’s education? Perhaps unschooling mothers don’t actually do much in a day.

My daughter Imogen and I discussed these questions in today’s podcast.  

Along the way, we also talked about how we can encourage a love of learning, strewing, tiredness and how everything is potentially interesting, even maths! I also chatted more about fulfilling rather strict homeschool regulations, and record keeping.

I hope some of that sounds interesting and you'd like to listen to this week's podcast. 

Please ignore any contradictions. This is an unscripted conversation where we mulled over ideas as we chatted. Words don't always come out perfectly!

Program Notes

Blog posts about homeschool registration and record keeping
My Registration and Records posts page, in particular...
Unschooling, Strewing and Unplanning
How We Unschool Despite Strict Homeschool Regulations

Blog posts about strewing
Sharing a Few Ideas with My Unschooling High Schooler
Time for Some Strewing

Blog posts about encouraging a love of learning
Igniting a Child's Love of Learning
How to Get Children to Do Their School Work
Encouraging Children So They Get Excited About Learning

Blog post about how children learn
Making Children Learn What They Don't Want to Know

Blog posts about being a tired mother
About Being a Tired Mother
Because I Am a Mother

sound effects credit:

The Angels of Abbey Creek
All the above photos were taken at The National Museum of Australia, in Canberra.

I've created a new Stories of an Unschooling Family Facebook page, where I'm posting my extra blog stuff. I hope you'll join me there!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

How We Unschool Despite Strict Homeschool Regulations

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we didn’t have to answer to anyone and could unschool our children with total freedom? I guess some people are fortunate to be able to do this. But we're not.

In our state of Australia, if we want to homeschool, we have to fulfil certain requirements. Our children are supposed to follow the same syllabus as the one used in schools. And we have to prove they’ve done that. But how can we do that if we’re unschoolers? What if my girls aren’t at all interested in what they are ‘supposed’ to be learning? What if they want to do something else?

I can fight the system. Maybe the registration process will become more relaxed if we all protest and work together. Perhaps we won’t always have to live under this strict system. It's possible we might gain the freedom to unschool without any restrictions. And I’m really hoping this will happen.

But what about now? How can we unschool TODAY without compromising our educational beliefs but still stay within the system? How does our family do that?

It's fortunate my girls have a wide range of interests. (We are all visibly and audibly excited about anything and everything so I think that helps.) Usually I can translate my children’s interests into the right educational language and apply it to all the required key learning areas without a lot of trouble. I just need to be good at matching up the right areas of the syllabus to what my girls are doing naturally. For example...

We took a trip to Canberra not so long ago. When we came back, our heads were buzzing with all we'd seen at the various museums we'd visited. We’d heard about Walter Burleigh Griffin, the American architect who designed Canberra. He also bought acreage in Sydney, planning to build a community of knitlock houses which would blend in with the natural environment. Our imaginations were captured. We wanted to know more. 

One thing led to another, and later when it came time to update my homeschool records, I realised the girls had shown interest in so many things that just happen to be 'required' learning, without any planning whatsoever. Their natural interest was enough to enable me to tick off a number of outcomes in the syllabus. Of course Walter Burleigh Griffin might not be mentioned in the syllabus but 'design', 'relationship with places', 'safe living', 'Federal government' and other topics, which we explored, are.

So the girls learn, I record and life goes on.

But occasionally there are times when the girls show no interest in a required topic at all. What do I do?

I could say to my girls, “You have to learn this and that and the other because that’s what the education department demands. When you’ve finished doing the required stuff, you can then go back to following your own interests.” But I don’t. 

Doing things only because you are required to isn't real learning. It's just a waste of time. My children wouldn't really be unschooling if we worked in this way. I am not willing to compromise, even if compromising means we’d sail through the registration process without any trouble. 

Is there another solution to this problem? I think there is. I think we need to look at the school syllabus in a new way.

What is a syllabus? Is it a boring list of things someone not very important has decided our kids must learn? Or could it represent a whole range of wonderful learning experiences? EVERYTHING in this world is potentially interesting. This is a fascinating world we live in. Just because the educational department has marked some topics as essential doesn’t mean they automatically become boring and irrelevant. It is possible my children still might be interested in something that’s in the syllabus. How do I find out? I could do some strewing.

Of course I won’t look at the syllabus through schooly eyes. I’ll be looking past all the jargon that clutters up each requirement, that turns something potentially interesting into something deadly boring. I‘ll try to find something that ignites my own interest, something that makes me feel excited. Because if I’m not interested in what I am about to strew, there is less possibility my children will be interested. 

For example, Sophie is supposed to know all about rates and ratios in maths. I took this from the stage statement for the maths syllabus for children her age:
Students are familiar with the concepts of ratios and rates, and apply these when solving problems.
I could say, “Sophie, you need to know about ratios. Let’s get this out of the way so I can tick it off. Just do this worksheet and we can say the topic is done.” Or I could try something else. This is what I did the other day:

I did a bit of browsing on the internet and found a video about scale models and then said, “Hey, girls, this is so interesting! (I was telling the truth, not trying to trick them.) Do you want to watch with me… “

The girls picked up on my tone of voice and came running. They were eager to share what I had discovered. Of course I didn’t mention the word syllabus. Why should I have? Why spoil something genuinely interesting by associating it with the word ‘required’.  This information isn’t the exclusive property of the education department. We are entitled to learn about it just because we want to. And many times that’s exactly what we end up doing.

So we watched the video and then we started talking about scale model cars, maps, model railways, model villages, dolls' houses. Dolls' houses? I remembered when Andy and I saw Queen Mary’s dolls' house at Windsor Castle many years ago. Sophie and Gemma-Rose wanted to hear about it. They picked up on my tone of excitement. I really did enjoy seeing that house. I found the fact that everything is a perfect scale model of something in real life very fascinating. And so did the girls. We found a website about the dolls’ house. Then we remembered our visit, a couple of years ago, to the model village, Cockington Green. The discussion continued. Ratios turned out to be a very interesting topic!

But what if my strewing fails? I could try again from another angle. And if that fails too I might just say, “I presented my children with the opportunity to learn such and such but they rejected it.” Because all we really have to do is provide our kids with opportunities for learning. No one can force them to actually learn. They have to cooperate. And if they won’t, despite our best efforts, there’s not much we can do about it.

Of course there may be some things on the syllabus we feel are inappropriate for our children. I'd just gently object, saying they do not meet the needs of our girls, or go against our beliefs.

Looking for resources to strew, translating my daughters’ learning into the right kind of language, and trying to juggle their needs with those required by the educational authorities is hard work at times. I have to stay a step ahead of my girls, always on the look out for things that might interest them. I have to be aware of what’s in the syllabus and be creative about how I interpret the official requirements. I always have to ask the question, “What syllabus outcome matches what my girls have been learning today?” 

Is all the effort worth it? We think so. My girls can happily follow their interests, unaware of all the behind-the-scenes work I’m doing that allows them to learn in the way that works best.

So we can unschool, despite the strict homeschooling requirement. We can still live an amazing unschooling life!

(If you do some browsing on the Internet it probably won't take you very long to come across people who declare that unschooling is a lazy way of life. A lazy way of life? Oh my! They have absolutely no idea what they're talking about!)

The Angels of Abbey Creek

All the above photos were taken at Questacon in Canberra.

I've created a new Stories of an Unschooling Family Facebook page. I thought it makes sense to have a page with the same name as my blog instead of posting all my extra blog stuff on my Sue Elvis Write Facebook page.

I hope you'll join me on Facebook!

Thank you to everyone who has already 'liked' my new page!

This post is linked to the Hip Homeschool Hop

Monday, October 20, 2014

Why Picnics are Important

Many years ago, parenting and homeschooling could sometimes seem rather overwhelming, Some days my children refused to do what I asked. Or everyone needed me at exactly the same moment. Or I felt so tired I didn't want to do anything at all. It sometimes became too much and I wanted to run away. "I've had enough!" I'd yell before running outside. 

I'd sit on the garden wall, my body stiff with tension. Then gradually as I calmed down, I'd notice the warm sunshine soaking into my skin, and the flowers blooming alongside the wall. I'd glance up and see my children peering nervously at me through the window. Then all of a sudden, I'd jump up and shout: "Make some sandwiches. We're going on a picnic!"

The crisis was over. I'd remembered what was most important: my children. We were a family. We were supposed to enjoy each other. And that's exactly what we were going to do: We were going to leave the problems at home and go on a picnicking adventure.

Eventually I left that stressful life behind. I stopped trying to make my kids do things other people thought important. Instead I listened to my children and their needs. And my own. Of course by that time, I'd discovered unschooling.

These days I rarely get all worked up over unimportant things. But we still go on picnics. We go on lots of them. I don't wait until we need a break from our routine before suggesting we set off on an adventure. I try to take advantage of every suitable picnic moment.

We grab the picnic basket and fill it with food. We pack the sunscreen and make sure we have our cameras. Of course Nora is coming too. She climbs into the car and stretches her long doggy body on the middle seat next to Charlotte.  Sophie and Gemma-Rose are in the back, and Imogen is in the front. We are ready. Off we go!

Soon we are at the park.

Imogen hands out sandwiches filled with potato salad and ham and cheese.

Charlotte fills cups with coffee or icy cold water.

Then we eat.

And when we can't fit in another mouthful, we go for a walk.

We take photos...

 of ducks...

and flowers...

and each other.

When we go on a picnic, we get outside and enjoy nature: We observe flowers and birds and trees, and how everything changes with the seasons. We practise our photography skills. We stroll along paths and down bush trails, breathing in fresh air and exercising our legs. And while we are doing all of this, we talk and talk about all kinds of things. We link arms and smile. We soak up all the pleasure of living in the moment. We love and enjoy and the bonds between us grow stronger.

And that's why picnics are important.

So when was the last time you went on a picnic? Do you have a favourite picnic place? And what do you like to pack into your picnic basket for lunch?

The Angels of Abbey Creek

I've just created a new Stories of an Unschooling Family Facebook page. I thought it makes sense to have a page with the same name as my blog instead of posting all my extra blog stuff on my Sue Elvis Write Facebook page.

Of course I'm starting all over again with followers. My page feels rather lonely at the moment. Will you hop over and 'like' my page? I hope so!

This post is linked to the Hip Homeschool Hop

Friday, October 17, 2014

Maths and Other Wild and Yummy Stories

We've just had a very wild week.
A week ago, we thought we'd arrived at summer. But by Tuesday we’d been thrown back to winter. The temperature plummeted, the rain fell and the wind howled. On Wednesday morning we woke up to find part of our backyard fence lying splat on the ground. Resurrecting the fence, before Nora our dog escaped, was the first challenge of the day. 

We'd planned to go out to our usual weekly homeschool meeting, but we decided the weather was too wild and unpredictable to venture out. Instead we turned on the gas heater and snuggled up together on the sofa to watch a Youtube video.

Do you remember me telling you about the Tudor Monastery Farm series, which is available free on Youtube?
Historian Ruth Goodman and archaeologists Peter Ginn and Tom Pinfold turn the clock back 500 years to the early Tudor period to become tenant farmers on monastery land.
Ruth, Peter and Tom obviously enjoyed living the life of Tudor tenant farmers. And we really enjoyed watching them. Can you imagine living in a time when the Church was a natural part of every aspect of daily life?

We finished watching this series last week, and immediately the girls were eager to begin watching War Time Farm, made by the same team:
Ruth and Peter are joined by archaeologist Alex Langlands, as they turn the clock back to run Manor Farm in Hampshire exactly as it would have been during the Second World War.
So we found the first episode on Youtube and settled down to watch. And it was good!

Would you believe Gemma-Rose has been taking an interest in maths?

One day Sophie said, “Can I have some maths problems to do, please Mum?” I do not lie. She did say that! So I remembered the Yummy Math site which has real life maths problems. She’s been dipping into the site (in an unschooly way) and learning heaps of interesting things. (So have I.)

The other day Sophie and I were looking at a Yummy Math exercise, comparing Pixar and Dreamworks movies. Which is the most successful studio? What criteria do we use to decide? Gemma-Rose heard the words Pixar and Dreamworks and couldn’t help herself. She peered over our shoulders as we were looking at various figures and graphs. Then she joined in with the very interesting discussion. 

We ended up on the BigPond Movies site looking at the Rotten Tomato ratings for various movies, and in the process discovered a movie we haven’t yet seen: Mr Peabody and Sherman. It has a 79% Rotten Tomatoes rating, which is supposed to indicate it's rather good. Have you seen it? We might rent a copy tomorrow night and have a family movie night.

What shall we eat before we settle down to watch our movie? I don’t think we’ll be cooking sausages for dinner even though it's Saturday night. Our sausage phase seems to be over. Now we can’t get enough of quiche… made with a tortilla crust. Have you ever tried making quiche this way? It’s delicious! We’ve been using shop bought tortillas but we might try making our own. I did a bit of research: Tortilla making sounds very easy to do.

Making a podcast is easy too. And fun. Maybe your children might like to try it. (Or you.) All you need is Audacity which is free to download. You could keep your kids' (or your) efforts private, or upload the podcasts to Google Drive for free, and share the link on a blog, or with family and friends. Here’s a good basic Youtube tutorial video in case anyone would like to have a go.

I’m still learning about podcasting. This week I worked out how to improve the sound quality of my podcasts by adjusting the Audacity settings. I also eliminated those annoying pss pss sounds by using a pop filter in front of my microphone. I made my own filter by stretching an old pair of tights over a coat hanger. It worked perfectly! I think this week’s podcast sounds better. At least I hope so!

Today I realised it’s been exactly a year since the Hall Road bushfire which threatened our village. Yes, 12 months ago we were homeschooling in a crisis while the sun blazed overhead, and a huge bushfire blazed out of control down the road. Wild weather. Wild fire.

But today we're not wiping the sweat from our brows. No, we're shivering. Soon I'm going to put on my winter pyjamas and then snuggle up on the sofa next to my husband, with a glass of wine and a few pieces of chocolate. Does that sound good? I think so! The perfect start to our weekend.

So what did you do this week? Did you learn anything new? Anything wild or yummy?

It looks like there's something yummy for morning tea. And is Gemma-Rose laughing wildly?

Before I finish this post...

My children's novel, The Angels of Abbey Creek, is available from Amazonas well as Lulu and Barnes and Noble.

And recently on my Sue Elvis Writes Facebook pagewe've been talking about tortillas, educational videos, paper dolls and other things. Please hop over to read the extra blog stuff!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Beginnings and Endings, and a Simple Christmas

We’ve had a lot of beginnings recently.

Last week the new school term began and Andy, my school teacher husband, went back to work.

On that same day my daughter Charlotte celebrated her birthday. She began the 18th year of her life.

And the girls have begun a new project which they’re hoping will earn them a little pocket money.

Some beginnings are closely followed by an ending. On 9th November 1999 our son Thomas’ life (after birth) began. A day later his life ended. I have begun thinking about how we will celebrate and commemorate those two days next month.

I have also begun thinking about Christmas. Is it possible to have a simple Christmas? And is it okay to end old traditions and begin new ones?

And what is the best way to begin and end an episode of a podcast?

I talked about all these beginnings and endings in this week’s podcast: 
Beginnings and Endings, and a Simple Christmas

Program Notes

Paper Dolls
Paper Dolls by the Serendipity Sisters
Imogen's and Charlotte's paperdoll blog

Anything You Can Do, I Can Do...
A blog post about how our children are always watching us, learning from our example. I mention the girls' paper dolls.

My Books
My children's novel, The Angels of Abbey Creek
My grief book, Grief, Love and Hope

My Grief Stories

Sue Elvis Writes grief page
Lists all my grief posts

Stories of Grief, Love and Hope blog
All my grief stories collected on one blog

Leo, Augustine and Theodore
The story of how Thomas' teddy collection began.

Crochet: Bears!
A Pinterest board with lots of cute crocheted bear ideas and patterns

Getting Rid of Our STUFF!

Becoming Minimalist
Interesting blog written by Joshua Becker

You'll also find me on my Sue Elvis Writes Facebook page. Please hop over and join me!