Thursday, 5 March 2015

Our Reluctance to Trust and Other Croaky Thoughts

A week or so ago, three boxes arrived on our doorstep. Imogen cheered and jumped up and down, and said, "Wow! Our new home audio recording studio!"

Yes, we now have some new sophisticated equipment which should make our audio recordings sound more professional.

"You should make a podcast, Mum," urged my daughter. "Try the new mic out."

"You'll have to help me work out how to use everything," I replied.

So we connected everything together. Imogen grabbed some music and sang a few bars, and I made a test recording.

"It sounds good!" 

After lunch today, Imogen set up our home studio in the quiet of my bedroom so I could record episode 25 of my podcast.

So what did I speak about?

This week, while trying out my new home studio audio equipment...
  • I share a few thoughts on blogging and what the future holds for my Stories of an Unschooling Family blog
  • I ponder trust: Do people in general have a problem trusting? Do we like to be in control? Can we control all aspects of our lives? Is it wrong to trust too much?
  • I speak a little about homeschool registration: It's time to re-register my girls as homeschoolers. Am I feeling confident about my Evernote records? Will I need to do any preparation before our Authorised Person from the education department comes to visit us?
My voice is croaky and my thoughts may be muddled, but I think the sound quality of my podcast is much improved!

Program Notes:

My Evernote posts

My Homeschool Records and Registration page

Posts about trust

Pondering Trust
Unschoolers talk about trust all the time. Do we have enough trust to unschool? I wonder what that means. Is it a case of putting trust in the unschooling process alone? Or do we trust because we feel unschooling is what God wants us to do? It could be both. I know there are many people without any faith who successfully unschool. It's not necessarily a religious thing to do.

I have been musing over the reason why my girls are so open to my suggestions. And this is what I’ve come up with…

...And secondly, I think they trust me. Trust me? Isn’t unschooling all about parents trusting their children, not the other way around.

Trusting children to make their own choices sounds risky enough when it applies only to education, but what if you extend this trust to other areas of life? Will children decide they don’t want to go to Mass or eat healthy food? Perhaps they will want to watch inappropriate movies or play computer games all day. Some parents decide they just can’t pass control over to their children as it would be irresponsible. They wouldn’t be fulfilling their duty of protecting and caring for their children. At first glance this might all seem very true.

Now that we’re not directing our children’s learning, do we believe they will learn what they need to know in their own time, without us interfering? Do we trust our kids? Or deep down, do we still have certain expectations? Perhaps if they’re not being fulfilled we will start to doubt what we’re doing.

There are more posts about trust under the label 'trust'.


Music: Frammenti, by Andrea Carri, (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

Now onto this week's podcast...

Our Reluctance to Trust and Other Croaky Thoughts:

Did you see Ann Frailey's kind review of my children's novel, The Angels of Abbey Creek, on Catholic 365.Com? Thank you, Ann!

You can also find me on...

Monday, 23 February 2015

Time for New Adventures? Maybe? Maybe Not?

I’ve been putting off writing this post for a very long time. I’ve been trying to convince myself there really isn’t any need to write it…

I have a lot to be thankful for. I have a relatively successful blog, and a podcast too. I could write an unschooling book. I have plenty of material. It all sounds good, but I’ve got this something-is-not-quite-right feeling inside me. And it’s time to face it. It's all to do with this question: Should I continue blogging about unschooling?

I think about why I created this blog…

Years ago, even though I read about unschooling, I had very little idea of what it could look like in real life. “What do they actually DO?” I cried, after I’d finished reading yet another unschooling article. Knowing that unschooling can look different in different families, and from child to child, wasn’t all that helpful. Other people’s children seemed to go off and learn lots with no trouble at all, and that’s all I worked out. My own children didn’t actually do much of anything when I said, “Go off and learn whatever you like.”

When I decided to blog about unschooling, I remembered these frustrations. I wanted to give readers concrete pictures of what unschooling could look like in action, by sharing family stories. I wanted to write about what we actually DO. Of course we are all different. As I was told many years ago, unschooling looks different in different families. But I hoped my posts would give people, who are interested in unschooling, a starting point: something to think about, discuss, and then modify or reject as they like. (I also hoped to share other people’s experiences and continue learning about unschooling myself.)

400 stories later, I’m wondering if it’s time to stop writing. Perhaps I’ve exhausted the topic of unschooling. I’ve written about everything from learning to read to applying to university. I’ve even written about babies and young adults. Is there anything left to say? Could I have got to the stage of repeating myself?

I’m having such a hard time making up my mind about this, because I love my blog. It’s part of the family. A lot of work and love have gone into it. And it will be hard to let it go. But maybe there are exciting times ahead which I will never know about unless I have the courage to move on.

So what do I want to move on to? I’m not sure. I want to keep writing, keep experimenting, keep contributing to this wonderful online conversation. I don’t really want to disappear and concentrate on my knitting. No, I love writing too much to do that.

I have part of a plan: I’m going to contribute articles to Restless Press, joining a team of passionate Aussie and New Zealand writers. I want to keep playing around with words, telling stories. I’d even like to keep podcasting, maybe talking about more general family issues. And there’s all the different options that just haven't yet occurred to me.

I’ve talked about what I might possibly want to do. I wonder what God wants me to do. Sometimes I cry to Him, “Tell me what to do!” And though He probably gives me the answer, I can’t hear it. It’s hard to hear anything when life is so busy, when I am so entangled in this online web.

So I’m going to take a break, create a bit of silence, try to listen and work out what to do.

This isn’t, “Goodbye. Thank you so much for reading my blog. I’m really going to miss you.” Who knows? I could be back very soon. Dozens of unschooling ideas might bubble up within me which I just HAVE to write about. It’s happened before. No, this is just an attempt to clear my head, do some thinking.

So I probably won’t have any new blog posts for you to read in the near future. But I do have around 400 posts, as I said, in my archive. If you haven’t read them all, I invite you to take a look at the buttons in my side-bar or the labels at the bottom of the page. Try clicking on the links at the foot of each post. Practically all my stories are evergreen, just as applicable now as they were when I wrote them.

Explanations over! It’s time to hang up a sign on this blog…

Gone to think?
Gone to pray?
Gone to listen?

Gone to work out what I am supposed to do next.

Hasn't Gemma-Rose grown up a lot since I first started blogging about unschooling? The photo at the top of this post was taken when she was 7. The one to the left was taken recently on her 11th birthday.

I'm not sure where you'll find me in the near future, but you can always find my book The Angels of Abbey Creek on Amazon and other places. But you already knew that, didn't you?

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Why I Like Empty Weeks & Other Busy Week Stories

Last week started off gently, and then life moved into top gear, and we found ourselves hurtling along at a fast pace. But today, I've stopped moving. Yes, I am sitting still, enjoying some quiet Saturday time, after a too busy week.

There is nothing I enjoy more than an empty calendar: lots of free days stretching ahead, waiting for us to fill as we like. Plenty of time to sit on the sofa, sip coffee, chat with my children, do whatever we feel like.

Sometimes I wonder if I should make more of an effort to take my girls places, get them involved in outside activities, be busier. But I think they’re happy with the way things are. There’s plenty of time for us to work on our projects and just enjoy life and each other.

Just recently, it’s been almost 10 am before we’ve got to the stage where we’re ready to get involved with our ‘work’ of the day.  

“What time is it?” I ask when we've finished praying together. “Almost 10 o’clock already? Morning coffee time! Fill the kettle!”

I wonder what happened to the days when we said morning prayers together at 8 am and then got on with things. Are we getting lazy? Are we undisciplined? Should I be worried? No!

I think about what we do each morning. I call the girls at 6.45 am: “Anyone want to come for a run with me?” and they roll out of bed. Minutes later, we are heading down to the bush tracks for a 5 or more km run. Nora our dog runs with us, so we’re exercising her too. When we can’t run another step, we head home for breakfast. Five females pass through the shower. Five heads of hair are washed and dried. (That all takes time!) Then the house is cleaned and tidied and everything is put into order, before we gather for morning prayers.

We do quite a lot before morning coffee time arrives. And maybe those things are the sort which require a disciplined attitude.

So at 10 am we relax on the sofa with mugs of coffee and I ask, “What are you going to do today?” I check the mail and make a few plans of my own, before finally saying, “Shall we get on with something?”

Hours still stretch ahead of us. There's plenty of time for exploring, learning, and having adventures.

I haven’t always been so relaxed about our morning routine. I remember a time when I’d get up early, drag my children out of bed and rush to get everything done by a certain hour. “Hurry up!” I’d shout. “Look at the time! It’s getting late!” Oh my! What a stress that was. What a dragon mother I was. And how unnecessary. What were we late for? Unless we actually had to get out the door for a music lesson, we weren’t late for anything.

Despite being bombarded with outside commitments this week, the girls and I did manage to do quite a lot of enjoyable and interesting things at home. Here’s just a few highlights:

Gemma-Rose and I made a New Journal from an Old BookWe used the cover of one of the books I discarded in my book cull the other week. The notebook turned out so well, I want to make another one. Gemma-Rose wants to try making a different kind of journal: a Ringed One, using a hard cover and hinged rings.

Sophie made a video about running. All our morning running isn’t only beneficial for our health. It has inspired blog posts, podcasts and videos. Of course it’s also good fun. The Team love running together each day!

I didn't think I'd have time to record a podcast this week, but after a bit of scrambling, I did publish an episode as usual. This week’s edition is about boys: Boy Stories. I got stuck for a podcast idea but two friends answered my Facebook plea for help and suggested a topic. Thank you Terri and Tessa!

Charlotte has been working on my Angels of Abbey Creek paper dolls. She’s also working on a special project with Imogen and Sophie. It’s something to do with drawing, web design, freebies and blog anniversaries! I love seeing my girls work creatively together.

And Sophie has been trying out new braiding styles on Gemma-Rose’s hair. We all know that’s a learning experience but would anyone describe it as educational? Susie from the blog The View from the Top of the Ladder told me there is a connection between maths and braiding. I googled both those words and yes! Braiding is maths! I’m going to read a few articles and find out more. I’ll report back if I discover something interesting to share.

Of course last week we also observed Ash Wednesday and we celebrated a birthday (not on the same day!) We went to a homeschool group meeting and we did many other things too...

I look at next week’s calendar: piano lessons, a homeschool group meeting and lots and lots of free empty hours. It's going to be a perfect week!

So how was your week? Was it busy? Did you discover anything interesting? And do you like weeks with lots of outside activities or are you home-bodies like us? 

The Angels of Abbey Creek
You can also find me on...

and my Sue Elvis Writes blog!

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Boy Stories

Usually I speak and write about my four youngest daughters. But not today.  For this week's podcast, I share some boy stories. 

I received a comment saying:

"I want to hear about when your boys were younger."

So that's what I'm talking about. I relate some of the interesting moments I've experienced with my sons Duncan and Callum over the years. 

These are a few of the questions I explore...

  • What if a son is 'different'? Should we make our children conform and be like everyone else?
  • Is it normal for boys to be energy packed, and what if mothers hate looking at injuries?
  • Is it miraculous my son Callum made it to adulthood?
  • What interests can we share with boys?
  • What if brothers can't get on with each other?
  • What is it like to be a boy mum? How is it different to being a girl mum?
  • Do boys like hugs?
  • And what's it like to look up at a son instead of down at him?
I hope you enjoy my 'boy' podcast!

Program Notes

Boy Stories

Eight year old Callum: “I can’t live in the same room as Duncan any longer. He’s so annoying. I need a room of my own!”

I mentally survey the house. “The only free space is the bath. I don’t suppose you want to sleep in the bath?”

Boys, Dream Cars and the Right Words
Boys and cars… Every boy needs to pursue a dream. Before very long, young men with dreams turn into men with families to support. That's good. They all have to grow up. But for now...

A Mother's Hug
I can no longer protect my son from the pain of the world. He’s grown up. He’s out there on his own. And my heart aches for him.

Fathers, sons, cars and LOVE. That's not a dream. It's reality

It's Quite OK to Be Different
Sometimes I wish all my children were ‘normal’, part of the crowd. Would it be easier to parent such children? Would they fit in better? Would I not have to worry about them? But then I look at them, especially Jack. And I realise it's their differences that make them so special.

How I Removed an Engine from a Car
“What do you like best, my camshaft or this?”

“Definitely the camshaft,” I say. “Poetry in motion.” We both smile. I think Callum likes how I take the time to look and listen even though I haven’t much idea about things to do with cars. I'm always exclaiming over the beauty of some part or other. (Have you ever noticed the excellent design and engineering that goes into every single piece of a car?) It's our bit of fun, but it's not only fun. It's serious too. We share a lot. Callum is always talking over his plans, his dreams and his ideas with me.

Engines, Muscles and Spending Time with Dad

Don’t you just love watching fathers and sons spending time together, sharing their skills and enjoying each other’s company? I do.

And Callum now realises if his mother can learn how to operate on a sheep then he can do anything.

“So what’s been going on in your life?” I asked. “But be careful. I’ll probably go home and write a blog post about our conversation.”

I could sigh as I think about my second son; my charming son who clomps through life with a smile; my ever-optimistic son who always hopes someone else will do his jobs for him, help him out with his washing, make him packed lunches…

I also learnt that all children are different. What interests one might not appeal to another. And this is quite OK. But more importantly, sometimes I think I know what's best for my child to learn. I probably just want to provide as many opportunities as possible for that child. But sometimes children have better ideas of their own about what they'd like to do. I have learnt we don’t all have to learn the same things.

Multiplying Potatoes and Other Stories
A few days later we are still eating potatoes. I vaguely wonder if there is a never-ending supply. But I shrug my shoulders without thinking too much more about it, and peel and cook and enjoy. Eventually we eat so many potatoes I can’t help thinking about them. Why do we have so many potatoes when I can’t remember buying any? Are they multiplying as fast as we are eating them? I can’t work it out.

I sit across the table from my son, sipping my coffee and I think about being a parent. It is not easy being a mother. Why do we long so much to have children? Yes, bringing up children provides so much joy. But why are we prepared to endure all the pain and heart-ache that inevitably come along too?

Music: Growly Snake Beat by Podington Bear, (CC BY-NC 3.0)

The Angels of Abbey Creek

If you'd like to listen to more of my podcasts you can find them on iTunes and Podbean.

You can find my videos on Youtube.

My children's book, The Angels of Abbey Creek is on Amazon, as well as other places.

And you can also find me on my Sue Elvis Writes Facebook page. This is where I post the resources I find, as well as other blog stuff. Please come and join me!

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Can Unschooling Be a Christian Thing to Do?

the prayer continued by ☻☺(CC BY-SA 2.0)

When a child has been controlled all her life, she just might grow into the kind of adult who says, “Nobody is ever going to make me do what they want ever again. From now on I’m going to do what I want.”

She might close herself off, stand well back, not let anyone get too close. Because you never know what other people might want her to do. Even someone she declares she loves.

“If you think I’m going to iron those shirts for you, you’re wrong! You can do them yourself.”

And it’s not just physical work she will refuse to do for someone else. She’ll keep a guard on her emotions too. She might grow into a prickly independent person, not trusting, suspicious of any overtures of real love.

“I can do that for myself! I don’t need anyone!”

She’ll want to be the one in control.

How can there ever be real love when there is control? We were all born free and we all have great dignity which should be respected. I don’t think we have the right to control anyone. 

Real love is all about giving ourselves freely to other people, without counting the cost to ourselves, without expecting something back. No one has to make us do what is right. We choose to do it.

I want my children to grow up to be loving and giving. I don’t want them to be concerned only with themselves, not willing to reach out to others. But I can’t make them into that kind of person, by force. 

I have to give my children the freedom to choose and in so doing, I give them the opportunity to give freely of themselves. 

Sometimes people question whether unschooling is a Christian thing to do. Isn’t it irresponsible? Surely all that freedom will make children self-centred and concerned only for themselves? We should tighten up, do our parental duty properly, instead of taking the easy way out. 

But what could be more Christian than respecting another person and loving them freely? And what could be more difficult? Because our children will only learn what true love is really all about, by observing our own example of self-giving.

I think unschooling is totally in line with the Christian way of life. Not everyone who unschools is a Christian. But every Christian can unschool.

At least that’s what I believe.

You can also find me on Facebook, Youtube, Podbean and iTunes!

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Unschool Maths: Why and How

now, by John D. (CC BY 2.0)

A few years ago, we used to unschool everything except for maths. I guess some people would say that's not really unschooling, but that never worried me. I've learnt to ignore other people's opinions and do what I feel is right for us. We did eventually decide to unschool maths, but we did it for a much better reason than only to avoid criticism and be accepted. 

In this week's podcast, I tell you the story of why and how we moved from traditionally taught maths to unschool maths. I share some of my own thoughts on unschool maths, before interviewing my daughter Sophie (13).

The other day I said, "I'm thinking about making a podcast about unschool maths, Sophie. Do you have anything to say about this topic?"

"Oh yes!" she replied. "You're talking to the girl who hated maths and then turned around and now absolutely loves it. I have LOTS to say about unschool maths!"

Yes, as I found out, Sophie did have lots to say. I challenge anyone to listen to her speaking and not catch her enthusiasm for maths!

So will you listen to episode 23, Unschool Maths: Why and How? I hope so!

IMG_6472f CF14 Geometry by A Yee(CC BY 2.0)

Program Notes

Blog posts about unschool maths

But is this compromise killing my children’s inborn love of learning? Will Sophie’s dislike of maths, and her opinion that she is no good at maths, intensify? Should I throw caution to the wind and cut the last tie that is holding me to a conventional approach to education? Should I allow my children the freedom to learn maths in their own way in their own time?

It seems to me there are three main ways of learning maths: the workbook way, the real life maths way and the messing-about-with-numbers way.

Charlotte (16) and I are talking about what she wants to learn about this year. “How about maths? Do you want to do the higher maths course?”

Charlotte screws up her face. “When am I ever going to need to know such things as trigonometry?”

“Well you never know,” I reply. “You could learn it just in case.”

I wonder if maths can be approached backwards? Could we offer the big picture, show children how fascinating and interesting maths is, and then wait for a child to wonder about the details? Maybe it’s a bit like writing... 

I have written a lot of other posts which can be found on my unschool maths page.

Maths Resources

Books by Bill Handley

Scott Flansburg, the Human Calculator

Numberphile videos: Youtube and website

Fibonacci sequence layout at it's best! by Ginette(CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The above photos show maths in action in nature. 

Sophie tells me there's a lot of maths involved in photography, especially if you use your camera in manual mode. I think she's right!

If you'd like to listen to more of my podcasts you can find them on iTunes and Podbean.

You can find my videos on Youtube.

My children's book, The Angels of Abbey Creek is on Amazon, as well as other places.

And you can also find me on my Sue Elvis Writes Facebook page. This is where I post the resources I find, as well as other blog stuff. Please come and join me!

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Why Sophie is Glad I'm Her Mother & Other Dusty Week Stories

It’s been a busy, dusty week...

Our son Callum moved out of home a week ago.

“We’ll miss him,” I said as we watched his car roll off the driveway.

“Oh yes,” the girls agreed, “but there’s a good side to everything. We can have his old bedroom!”

So this week everyone sorted out their possessions, moved furniture and claimed new bedrooms. And in the process, a lot of dust was uncovered. This wouldn’t have been a big deal except for the fact all the girls are allergic to dust. So am I but I kept well out of the way. The girls had all the moving under control. Sometimes it’s good not to be needed.

This morning I took the girls shopping and bought them some new things for their rooms: quilt covers and soft mink blankets, and even a couple of rugs. They came home with grins on their faces. They stripped off all the old faded covers from their beds and made them up afresh with the new ones, and then stood back on their new brightly coloured rag rugs and grinned some more.

“Do you like your new rooms?” I asked.

Silly question: “Oh yes!”

I haven’t seen much of the girls since then. They’re still sitting in their rooms, looking around with big smiles on their faces. I haven’t seen my husband Andy either. He’s gone to the ‘resource recovery centre’ to get rid of bags and bags of rubbish. The girls did a lot of sorting out and pruning back before moving rooms.

I’ve been doing some pruning back too. I decided to cull our book collection. I wondered (just for a moment) if I was doing the right thing. Is there really such a thing as too many books? But then I threw caution to the wind, and started making huge piles of no-longer-wanted books. And in the process I found a few books I’d been wanting to read but had lost, such as The Burnt Stick. Oh this is such a heart breaking story. I know there’ll be a lump in my throat when I read it again. But sometimes lumps are worth it. I’m going to read it out loud to the girls... when we get a free moment.

Yes, there weren’t many free moments last week. It’s just as well, we didn’t have any ‘school work’ to do. I imagine if we'd had some of that to do, I’d be a dragon mother by now, yelling, “We’re behind schedule. It’s only the second week of term and you haven’t done half the things on my plan!”

My girls hate the words ‘school work: “School work sounds so boring. It sounds like something awful you have to do. Learning is very interesting. Why do people turn it into school work?”

Sophie isn’t interested in school work, but she is interested in website design, HTML codes and CSS or Cascading Style Sheets. (I just looked that up to see what those letters stand for!) She's been doing a lot of research and experimenting. The other day when we were walking the dog (that’s a great time to chat) she said, “I’m so glad you’re my mother!”

“You are?” I replied, feeling all warm inside. “Why?”

“Because I don’t think there are many other mothers who’d let me set up an online shop.” 

(I wasn't expecting this answer.) "I suppose not!" 

Yes, Sophie wants to have a blog design shop.

“Do you think it matters I’m only 13? Maybe no one will want to buy anything off me because they’ll think I’m too young to design anything good.”

“Just because you’re a child doesn’t mean you don’t know a lot. It doesn’t mean you can’t be good at something.” It’s true. Contrary to what most people might believe children are very talented. Many of them know much more about some things than adults do.

So if you’re looking for a new header or blog button or blog background or even a whole new blog look, watch out! The very capable Techno Maid will be opening an online shop very soon. (She’ll also have some freebies!)

By the way, if you’d like to learn how to code, you could take a look at Codecademy. They have some excellent free lessons.

Now when we do get some free time, Gemma-Rose and I are going to make some notebooks using the covers of some of our discarded hard back books. We might upcycle some of the books into journals. Here’s a Bind a Book-Make a Journal Pinterest board full of ideas, just in case you’d like to make some books too.

I haven't told you what the older girls have been doing: “Mum, we’ve learnt how to build a castle!”

“You have?”

“Yes, we watched a series called Secrets of a Castle. It's the same people as the farm series. You put the link in the Evernote planning notebook.”

It seems my unplanning idea is working. My children are browsing my Evernote notebook of ideas. Electronic strewing works.

Well, it’s about time I got to work. I need to make my bedroom as clean and tidy as the girls’ rooms. I have some pruning back to do, some bags to fill, some dust to uncover, some sneezes to deal with… I could be gone quite some time…

So how was your week? Did you discover anything interesting? And what do you think? Can we ever have too many books? 

The Angels of Abbey Creek

Thank you Patrice for reviewing my children's novel, The Angels of Abbey Creek.

"...This reads like an updated 1950s Catholic story book and it will greatly appeal to those searching for a wholesome read-aloud for the whole family. Children will enjoy learning a bit about life in Australia in the process and parents, especially mothers, will relate to the challenges of raising a family. Things sometimes go wrong and there are some truly laugh out loud funny moments, but things always work out for the good in the end. This is a fun book, set in the present day, but reminiscent of a bygone era..."

The rest of the review can be found on Amazon.

And I can also be found on Facebook, YoutubePodbean and iTunes!