Saturday, 28 March 2015

Evernote Unschool Maths Notebooks

For anyone who's still interested in Evernote and unschooling...

Proving a child is learning maths, for homechool registration purposes, could be rather tricky for unschoolers. We don't have any maths workbooks or exercise books to show an Authorised Person (AP) when she comes to visit us. We don't have any printouts or achievement certificates or other records from online maths courses either. Actually we don't have any paperwork at all. So what did I present to our AP at our recent registration visit? I showed our AP our Evernote unschool maths notebook. 

Our notebook contains many notes, representing lots of different maths learning experiences. In case you're interested, I made a screen cast video to show you how I recorded these experiences. While I click on the various notes, I talk about a few maths resources and give my opinion (and my girls') about whether they are valuable as far as unschooling goes.

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Thursday, 26 March 2015

Registering as Homeschoolers Using Evernote Unschool Records

The other day I promised to tell you more about our recent homeschool registration visit. An Authorised Person (AP), from the education department (NSW), came to our home to see our children, and look at our records and education plans for the future. And we were hoping everything would be in order and she'd grant us another two years of registration.

We've had many homeschool registration visits over the years, but this one was a little bit different. For the first time, I presented our AP with Evernote records instead of paper ones. And although I was confident these records would be acceptable, I couldn't actually be sure until I saw the AP's reaction.

I placed my computer on the table in front of the AP, opened up my Evernote notebooks and stepped back, leaving her to explore. She scrolled through all my notes and was absolutely blown away. Yes, she liked my records very much. Before the AP left our home, she wrote down a few details about Evernote and it seems she wants to find out more about this paperless system for keeping notes.

Later I was thinking about the AP's reaction to my records. I don't think she would have been so impressed with Evernote if my notes hadn't been full of so many unschool learning experiences. Although we didn't mention the word 'unschooling', it was unschooling which impressed her. Evernote was only the tool I used to showcase my girls' unschooling.

It can be very difficult to convince most people that unschooling is a legitimate alternative to more traditional ways of schooling and even homeschooling. Maybe that's why it's important we think about the best way to present our children's learning, especially when we are dealing with people who don't understand the philosophy of unschooling. Most times, these are the people we have to deal with when we are registering our children as homeschoolers.

Our AP was expecting to see three things when she visited us: 

  1. evidence of what the girls have been doing over the past two years 
  2. evidence they are learning, progressing and covering the school syllabus
  3. an educational plan for the next period of registration. 
The first point was easy. Evernote is such a wonderful tool for recording unschooling. Points 2 and 3 were more tricky. How can unschoolers cover the school syllabus and how can I make a plan for learning? These just do not fit in with the concept of unschooling. Despite sounding difficult to do, I satisfied the AP on all three points. How did I do it? I decided it was easier to show you, rather than write about it, so I made a video called Registering as Homeschoolers Using Evernote Unschool Records. 

So our AP was happy. We're happy too. We were given another two year registration period. We can continue living an amazing unschooling life.

I'm also happy for another reason. I had an idea, tried it out and it worked. Don't you just love it when that happens? I do!

Thank you for reading my post!

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Tuesday, 24 March 2015

A Successful Evernote Homeschool Registration Visit

If you listened to last week’s podcast you’ll know I recently had to apply for another period of homeschool registration for my girls. You’ll also know I promised to report back when the visit was over.

Yesterday Sophie asked, “What if we fail our homeschool visit? What if the AP (Authorised Person) doesn’t like your Evernote records? What will you tell everyone?”

“I suppose it could be embarrassing if we fail,” I said. “I might have to confess I led everyone astray with my Evernote idea.”

But we didn’t fail. No need for me to get embarrassed. Our homeschool registration visit couldn’t have gone better!

For the past two years, we’ve been unschooling in our own way, enjoying our life immensely, doing exactly what we want as far as education goes, (despite living in a state which has rather strict homeschooling requirements). And now we’ll be able to continue in the same way for another two years.

When our AP arrived this morning, I placed my computer in front of her and said, “I’ve done something different this time. I’ve been using Evernote to keep our homeschooling records.”

Our AP hadn’t seen Evernote before, but she was very interested to see what I'd been doing. As she scrolled through my records she kept saying, “Amazing!” I think she might have been impressed. Before our visit ended, she took out her notebook and jotted down a few details about Evernote. She intends to find out more.

It was obvious from our records, the girls are learning. I even managed to satisfy our AP that their learning matches up with the school syllabus. (This is a requirement in NSW, Australia where we live.) I didn’t provide a plan for future learning. I had another idea which I shared with her and which was acceptable. 

I was going to write down all the details of the visit and tell you about the notebooks which I presented to the AP, but I think it would be much better if I showed you in a screen capture video. I can explain how I’m using Evernote, while showing you my actual notebooks. I’ll also tell you more about our registration visit and how I satisfied the requirements. So if you’re interested, please watch out for a new video. I'll make it as soon as I can. In the meantime, you could watch my other Evernote videos which are on Youtube, or read my Evernote blog posts.

I might also talk about our registration visit in my next podcast. There’s lots to say so please look out for that too.

Before our AP left she asked, “How do you keep so enthusiastic after 23 years of homeschooling? Don’t you ever get fed up?”

I guess if we weren’t unschooling, I might have got fed up long ago. Can you imagine teaching the same things year after year, over and over again, to 7 different children? (And what if you had to convince them to learn it?) Yes, I probably would be glad when my last child finished homeschooling.

“It’s easy to be enthusiastic, when I’m also learning,” I said. “Learning's a family affair. It’s not just something our kids do." And then I added, “I’m also continually learning more about the process of learning… How kids learn best. That's exciting.”

Rereading this last paragraph, I think I talked about unschooling and showed evidence it works without ever mentioning the word ‘unschooling’. Do you think our AP suspected we are unschoolers?

“I wonder what you’ll have discovered by the time I next visit,” she said.

I wonder!

“Two more years of registration!” I shouted to the girls as the AP drove off. They cheered. I cheered.  And we smiled. I don't think we've stopped smiling all day!

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Saturday, 21 March 2015

Young, Beautiful Avatars & Other Discoveries of My Week

Can I tell you about my week in only a few minutes? I shall try!

Why am I in such a hurry? I'm eager to get back to the editing of my latest children’s novel. The end is in sight. I have almost completed The Angels of Gum Tree Road!

Talking of gum trees, Sophie and I took a few walks through our beautiful Australian bush this week. With cameras in hand, we went in search of suitable twigs to make Thomas Bear labels. 


I've decided to send some of Thomas' bears off to new homes. Before they leave, I want to attach a label to each one, bearing its bear name, together with Thomas' name and birthday. All my homemade ribbon and tape labels were miserable failures, so I sent out a call for help on my Facebook page, and received some great ideas.

One friend suggested I use a scrap of wood as a label. This made me think of twigs. I’m going to try sanding back a piece of gum tree twig and then writing the words upon it. I might even experiment with some varnish. If I tie the twig to some jute or other string, I can put it around the bear’s neck. What do you think? Will this work? I’ll try it out and then post some photos if I’m successful. I rather like the idea of sending a bear off overseas, accompanied by a little piece of our native Australian bush.

Of course, not all Thomas’ bear labels have to be the same. I might make some of Patchwork Pottery's labels which look like custom labels, but are in fact homemade.

Or I could use a pigma pen to write on fabric.

Two lucky bears will be getting fabric labels made by Chris’ son. (Chris is from the blog Campfires and Cleats.) I was so touched by his offer to help me. These will be very special labels indeed, made by an expert young sewer. 

Thinking of Thomas makes me think of Lucinda. Dear Lucinda read my story, An Exquisite Gown of Love on Restless Press, and then decided to donate her wedding dress to Angel Gowns. It will be made into very special burial gowns for babies and young children who have died far too soon. Isn’t that a huge act of love? You could hop over to Lucinda’s blog, Navigating by Joy and read her post, Why I'm writing about wedding dresses on Mother's Day.

I also want to send you off to read another of my friend’s posts. Kelly wrote Are They Doing Enough? Do you ever get a panicky feeling, wondering if your kids are doing 'enough'? Kelly has a suggestion for any homeschooling mothers who might be feeling inadequate. 

Sophie has a big smile on her face at the moment. We were able to buy Photoshop Elements 13 and Premiere Elements 13 for her, at a student’s price. She’s busy learning how to use the new software (and teaching me at the same time.) Sophie’s discovery of the week was lots of free Photoshop Actions. We've been having fun applying different affects to our photos.

Charlotte wants to improve her digital drawing skills. She loves concept art and illustration and so I’ve been looking for an online course in this area. I discovered The Magic Box, put together by Disney character designer, Chris Oatley. Charlotte is eager to sign up and try out the lessons.

Flannel flowers

Yesterday I spent some time experimenting with Voki:

Voki is a FREE service that lets you create customized speaking characters.
My school teacher husband Andy uses Voki as a teaching tool. Of course, when I saw the software I couldn't resist the temptation to sign up for a free account and try it out too!

It didn't take me long to make a couple of Vokis. There weren’t any avatars of ageing unschooling mothers with fading red hair, so I had no choice but to be young and beautiful. (I suppose I could have been a cat or dog or an oddball instead.)

I put together a little speech (lasting only a few seconds) and then tried the text-to-speech option, choosing an Australian accent for my avatar. Although I tried tweaking my spelling, she just couldn’t say ‘homeschooling’.


Then I made another avatar, and uploaded a file of my own voice. I think this worked better.


How could we use Voki? Well, I wouldn’t use it in the same way as Andy, but maybe children (and mothers) could have fun messing about with the avatars in their own way.

You can share your Voki avatars by embedding links in web pages, or by providing a link to the Voki website. But I made videos of mine, using the Snagit screen capture software. There's a 15 day free trial if you'd like to try it out.

Well, that's a a few of this week's discoveries. It's now time to publish my post and then do some editing of my novel!

Enjoy the weekend!

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Thursday, 19 March 2015

Forcing Kids to Learn and to Eat, and Should We Test Them?

"What shall I speak about in this week's podcast?" I ask my daughters.

"What are you thinking about at the moment?" asks Imogen.

"Next week's homeschool registration visit. Perhaps I'll start with that and see where it leads."

And this is where it led...

  • What kind of records will I be presenting for next week's homeschool registration visit?
  • I have to make a plan for the next period of registration. How can I do that when we are unschoolers who don't work to a plan?
  • What do I think is wrong with testing?
  • Is it possible to make kids learn what they don't want to know?
  • What if kids refuse to learn what they 'have' to learn?
  • Can we force children to eat?
  • Is it our duty to train kids to eat whatever food is given to them? 
  • Do I have any fussy eaters?
  • And who does the cooking in our family?

"What shall I call my podcast?" I ask. "Do you think I could call it A Very Interesting Podcast?"

"Is it interesting?" Imogen asks.

"I have no idea. I suppose I'd better play safe and call it Forcing Kids to Learn and to Eat, and Should We Test Them?"

Does that sound interesting? I hope so!

Program Notes

Blog posts about kids and learning

How to Make Children Do Their School Work
We can use our authority as parents to force our children to work. But is there a better way? A gentle way?

“You can’t make me learn anything I don’t want to learn.” This reminds me very much of trying to make children eat. We can’t forcibly feed a child something they haven’t a desire for, however hard we try. In the same way, we can’t really stuff knowledge into a child’s head if she isn't interested, though it might appear we can...

Igniting a Child's Love of Learning
Have you ever noticed how a feeling of delight is contagious? When I am excited about the day and all we will learn, my children pick up on my mood.

Sophie: If you want to learn something you have to be interested in it... like the elephants I was reading about today. That was really interesting and I remember so much.

Gemma-Rose isn’t a defiant child so when she said to me, “You can’t make me learn anything I don’t want to learn,” I stopped and listened.

Blogs post about testing

Will I be giving the girls any more tests? I spent years trying to remember things just to pass tests... and then forgetting... I want something better for my children. No. I won’t be giving them any more tests. 

An Unschooling Way of High School Science
When I finished my degree, I had years’ worth of books and papers to sort through. I took all my lecture and laboratory notes and threw them in the garbage bin. I’d memorised the notes long enough to pass the exams. I no longer saw a use for them.

Blog posts about unschooling records for homeschool registration

A Perfect Method for Keeping Unschooling Records
I mentioned this program in my last video. I said, "I think Evernote's the perfect record keeping method for unschooling." That’s a big claim, I know. You might already have a system you think is pretty good. But if you don’t, read on...

Unschooling, Strewing and Unplanning
Whenever we apply to reregister as homeschoolers, I have to provide the education authorities with a learning program for my children, that covers the school syllabus. So how do I provide such a plan when we don’t actually know what we’ll be doing from one week to another? That’s where Evernote comes in. I thought of a way I can use Evernote to write a plan (I could call it an unplan!) which can be used for registration purposes, as well as be useful for us.

There are more posts on my Homeschool Records and Registration page

Blog posts about food

In the Kitchen with a TV Chef Dad
Have you ever noticed how children want to do exactly what we’re doing? You don’t have to ask them if they’d like to learn. They just stand and watch and then say, “Can I help, Dad?” Before we knew it, we had a whole line of sous-chefs, all eager to join Andy every time he entered the kitchen.

Dealing with a Fussy Eater
But I wouldn’t give up. No, it was a real battle of the wills. Why wouldn’t they eat the food I‘d carefully prepared? Didn't they know how much time I’d spent cooking it for them? It tasted good. I liked it. Why didn’t they?


Stuff You Missed in History Class Podcast: Australian History


By Grace by Podington Bear, (CC BY-NC 3.0)

Now on to this week's podcast: Episode 26, Forcing Kids to Learn and to Eat, and Should We Test Them?

The Angels of Abbey Creek
Have you ever noticed how we rarely have to force kids to eat picnic food? In the above photos, Gemma-Rose is indeed enjoying her food!

I'd like to thank everyone who has commented recently, either here or on my Facebook page, and also thanks to the kind readers who've followed my blog or liked my page.

As well as Facebook, you can also find me on Youtube,  PodbeanAmazon, and iTunes.

And if you take the time to listen to my podcast... Thank you!

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Blog Post Ideas & Other Lurky Week Stories

I haven’t written a single post this week. Maybe you noticed. This time last week I was sitting here on my sofa writing about inflated baked beans and boxing kangaroos, and that was the last time you heard from me.

I have however written a lot of posts in my head. (Do you ever do this?) I just haven’t had time to write them down properly. But I’ve scrawled the gist of these stories into my notebook, so I don’t forget what I’d like to say if ever I do get a few quiet moments for writing.

So what’s in my notebook?

  • I had an idea for a new Evernote video and probably an accompanying blog post. I have some new thoughts, some new ideas on how to translate unschooling into hopefully impressive notes for homeschool registration purposes.
  • I want to explore the idea of unworking. My friend and fellow blogger Susie, mentioned that word in a Facebook comment. And I started thinking…
  • I have an unwritten story about the very wild life of unschoolers. It involves multiple balls of wool and delicious iced finger buns (the ones covered with sprinkles!)
  • Then there’s the post about encouraging words, and where they can lead.
  • And what about potatoes? I once went potato digging on a Welsh farm in the middle of a very cold winter. What’s the point of that story? I haven’t figured it out yet, but I’m sure it will all come together as I write. It usually does.
  • I also want to tell you about Gemma-Rose's earring disaster. I know the point of this story. It’s all about love and pain and being a mother.
  • Then there’s spelling and spammers.
  • And how amazing kids are, everyone's, not just mine.
  • How about another chore story?
  • I could write a confirmation story too.
  • And I have a tissue idea. I think this one will turn into a Thomas story.
  • I could write a blog post about lurkers. I know all about lurking because recently, I’ve been doing a lot of this. Yes, I’ve been hopping around the Internet, without revealing my presence. I haven’t had much time for stopping and commenting, but I’ve still been reading.

photo by Sophie

So I haven’t been commenting and I haven’t been writing blog posts. What have I been doing?

I’ve been editing my next children’s novel, a second collection of Angel stories. I discovered I have time to blog or time to edit novels, but I don’t really have time to do both. I thought it was time I made my novel a priority. I really want to see it finished. It shouldn’t take long to get it into shape. I've set myself a deadline (mid-April) which I'm busily working towards.

So it’s been a week of no posts. But as you can see, I’ve had lots of post ideas. I wonder if any of them will turn into interesting stories. I hope you’ll stick around to find out.

In the meantime, if you can’t find me here, you could hop over to my Sue Elvis Writes Facebook page. Despite not blogging, I've been updating it every day. 

So what have I been posting on my page? 
  • I recently shared a photo of my son Callum and his fiancĂ©e. Yes, we are anticipating a wedding later in the year! 
  • There’s some photos of Gemma-Rose and her newly crocheted scarf. 
  • And a couple of hints I learnt from my daughter Sophie which you might find useful too. (I learn far more from my children than they learn from me!) 
  • I added some links to some books and other resources. 
  • I've shared the odd short story, which doesn't take many words to tell. 
  • And I've been posting photos of Thomas' bears. Some of them are preparing to leave home. (I'd hoped they'd be on their way by now but I've been having trouble with their labels.)

As you can see, my Sue Elvis Writes Facebook page is really an extension of my blog. 

And now that I've told you what I've been posting, and what I hope to write about in the future, I'm off to edit a wedding story. Yes, two of the characters in my novel are getting married!

The Angels of Abbey Creek
I'd like to thank everyone who has commented recently, either here or on my Facebook page, and also thanks to the kind readers who've followed my blog or liked my page.

As well as Facebook, you can also find me on Youtube,  PodbeanAmazon, and iTunes.

Thank you for reading my post!

Saturday, 7 March 2015

The Inflated Can of Baked Beans

I Say Old Bean! by Smabs Sputzer(CC BY 2.0)

“Do you know what inflation is?” I ask.

My youngest daughters Sophie and Gemma-Rose look at me with blank faces.

“I could tell you a story about inflation. Do you want to hear it?”

The girls aren’t sure but I begin the story anyway.

“Once upon a time there was a ten year old girl,” I say. “She was me. I was that girl.”

Ah! This is a story of my childhood. Now Sophie and Gemma-Rose are leaning forward, eager to hear more.

“When I was a girl I lived in Queensland. Do you know where that is?”

“North,” says Gemma-Rose.

“Yes, a long way north. Queensland is closer to the equator than we are, which means…”

“The weather is warmer than here,” says Sophie.

I nod. “Much warmer. When I was a child, we didn’t have proper winters. We just had warm weather and hot weather. Summers were unbearably hot. Sometimes it got so hot we had to go to the shopping centre to cool down. Do you know why we went there?”

“The shops were air-conditioned?”

Again I nod. "We didn’t have air-conditioning at home. Nobody did. We just opened our windows to let in the breeze. The windows didn’t have fly screens on them. I wonder if we had lots of flies in the house. I forget. We used to open our front door too, as soon as we got up each morning. Everyone did. If your front door was open, it meant you were home. If our door was closed, we were probably at the shopping centre trying to cool down.

"We’d walk to the shops, in a long straggly line: my mother, my sisters and me. Maybe other families who lived on our road walked with us. I can’t remember. But I do remember what my mother looked like. She was very beautiful and very young looking. Everyone used to think she was my older sister and not my mother.

"I always lagged behind because I liked to look at things along the way. I always watched out for the kangaroo. It was a pet and it lived in someone’s garden. Of course no one is allowed to have a pet kangaroo nowadays, but it must have been different when I was a child. The kangaroo was called Cassius Clay.”

“Cassius? That’s a great name,” says Gemma-Rose. “I’m going to write that down and use it in a story.”

“Wasn’t there a Cassius in one of Shakespeare’s plays?” asks Sophie.

“In Othello, perhaps. Anyway, this wasn’t a Shakespearean kangaroo. It was a boxing kangaroo. It was named after the boxer Cassius Clay who changed his name to Muhammad Ali.”

“Why did he change his name?”

“I forget. Perhaps it had something to do with his conversion to Islam. Anyway, the kangaroo isn’t important to my story. I just remember seeing it every time we went to the shops.

"Once we got to the shopping centre, we all sighed with relief as we stepped through the automatic doors into the deliciously cool air. It was a very popular meeting place. We’d gather there with our friends, and chat and shop and play in air-conditioned comfort for as long as we could.

"One day when we were strolling up and down the supermarket aisles, my mother suddenly stopped. She picked up a can of baked beans and exclaimed, ‘If prices continue rising at this rate, one day a can of baked beans will cost a dollar.’

"A whole dollar for a can of baked beans? I couldn’t believe my ears. Surely that would never happen. It’s not as if baked beans are something valuable. They're not precious like gold or silver. No, my mother was definitely mistaken.”

Sophie and Gemma-Rose giggle.

“Hang on a minute,” I say, opening my computer. “I’ll look up the price of a can of baked beans.” A moment later:  “A 420g can of Heinz baked beans costs $1.94.

"Now if wages haven't increased at the same rate as the price of baked beans, we have a definite case of inflation. We're getting less baked beans for our money." 

Perhaps baked beans are more valuable than I thought.

Now I'm wondering...

How much will a can of baked beans cost by the time I tell this story to my grandchildren? 

The Angels of Abbey Creek
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