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 deck 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?