Unschooling: The Little Way


I would like to tell you a story of Suzie Andres and St Therese and homeschooling. But first I must start with a tale of grief. Grief? Yes, it was through grief I first met St Therese and her Little Way.

Thomas died as a baby and I grieved for a long time. But one day the pain lifted slightly and I felt pure joy and was glad to be suffering for God. Love overflowed my heart and I suddenly had the urge to suffer anything for God. I wanted to be a saint. And not just a little saint but a big one. I felt I could follow in the footsteps of St Teresa of Avila or St John of the Cross, whose books I was reading at the time. But this worthy thought lasted only a moment. With the next wave of grief came the plea, “I’ve had enough. Please help me, Lord.”

I had a prayer card. I can’t remember exactly what was on it but I knew I was a bit afraid of it. The words said something like “I offer my whole life to suffer greatly for the souls of my family and friends.” Perhaps there was something about how this life on earth is so short and we should suffer as much as possible while here. And there is nothing better we can do than to ask for suffering that will win the eternal souls of our loved ones.

I agreed entirely with the thoughts on the prayer card but I couldn’t pray the words. I’d pick up the card and read the words but I always made sure God knew I wasn’t really praying them. I was frightened. I knew what suffering was. I was right in the middle of it. How could I suffer this for the rest of my life? Some days I just begged God to take away the pain. No, I wasn’t made of the right stuff to be a big saint. However much I wanted to be big, I knew I was really just a little soul. I just wanted God to lift me right up in His arms and take care of me and make things right.

Then I discovered St Therese of Liseaux. Of course, I’d heard about her but I’d been avoiding her. I remember a friend telling me that she’d chosen Teresa of Avila as her patron saint and not Therese of Liseaux. The reason? The friend had always had this idea since childhood that The Little Flower was a sickly sweet saint, a saint without substance. I needed big help from a big inspiring strong saint. So I turned to St Teresa of Avila. I knew she’d suffered greatly. What was that famous quote? Something like “God if this is how You treat Your friends, it’s no wonder You don’t have many of them.” I was going to be one of God’s few friends. So I read The Complete Works of St Teresa of Avila and then went onto The Complete Works of St John of the Cross. And I tried to follow in their footsteps. But it was too difficult.  I wasn’t brave. I didn’t really want to suffer. I wasn’t a saint.

Then somehow I came into contact with St Therese of Liseaux regardless of my belief she couldn’t help me. I read The Story of a Soul, and later, I Believe in Love and I discovered The Little Way. Suddenly I realised that maybe I could still become a saint after all. Not a big saint but a little one, a little one supported by God’s arms. I could be a full little cup instead of a full big cup.  Or perhaps, as Suzie Andres would say, I could become a great saint through the little way of love. I started taking life one day at a time, not asking for suffering, but asking God instead to help me accept and bear whatever came my way.
But what has grief got to do with homeschooling? Just as I wanted to be a big saint so I wanted to be the perfect mother and educator of my children. I made big plans, bought the right resources, did my research. How could I fail? But some days I suffered. There were times when I just wanted to lie down and never get up again. “I can’t do this God. It’s too big a task. I can’t give my children all they need. I don’t have the inner resources to give them the perfect education. I am not enjoying this at all. It was never meant to be this way.” How would I teach my children everything I thought they needed to know? Some days they seemed to learn nothing. Other things got in the way or they were uncooperative, not fitting in with my grand plan. Were my children getting ‘behind’? Was I jeopardizing their futures?
I thought about the alternatives, about sending my children to school and I realised I didn’t have a choice. The educating job was mine and mine alone.

Gradually I changed my style of teaching my children. I stopped making plans we never got around to using. I stopped writing timetables that we were unable to keep up with. I didn’t worry about completing particular curricula. I decided to just enjoy my children and trust that they would learn as we spent our days sharing and doing things together and just being a family. We had discovered unschooling. In public, I called our homeschooling method ‘doing our own thing’. I’d vaguely refer to good books, enjoying our interests, music, writing… But to myself I called it ‘my lazy way’. Yes, there was a bit of guilt. Should we enjoy homeschooling together so much? Shouldn’t homeschooling be a bit more difficult? Perhaps we were just being lazy.  Maybe I’d just given up.

Then I discovered Suzie Andres’ book A Little Way of Homeschooling. I jumped up and down with excitement. It all made perfect sense. We were following St Therese’s Little Way while we were homeschooling. I’d given up trying to be the big saint, that perfect mother and homeschooling parent. Instead of trying to educate my children on my own, I was listening to God and to my children. I trust they will learn what they need to know. I no longer worry about that endless list of absolutely essential knowledge I thought I should stuff into my children. I am now living each day, one day at a time. I don’t believe God means homeschooling to be difficult. I don’t see homeschooling as a sacrifice and a suffering that I am just meant to endure and offer up. I think God wants us to delight in our children. And to trust in Him.


There are so many wonderful excerpts I could quote from A Little Way of Homeschooling. Here are just a few, written by Suzie, I hope you will enjoy and find helpful.


Therese was a realist, and knew there was work to be done, but she decided to do whatever came here way without fear without worrying about the outcome, without the false notion that it depended on her…


… I think that one of our methods for multiplying worries is telling ourselves that our job in educating our children is to do our best, to pack as much knowledge into them as possible. How much more profitable to us to begin from Therese’s reminder, “It’s only in Heaven that we’ll see the whole truth about everything. This is impossible on earth.”

God will give each of us the time that we need to learn everything He wants us to know; this applies to both ourselves and our children. Why do we expect we must teach it all to our children in our homeschool? And why do we automatically assume that this burden of prospective learning will be painful for them, arduous for us? There is a less frightening way….

… In the spirit of St Therese, we as Catholics ought to realise that Jesus has set us free. If we believe His words, if we strive to believe Him more and more, we will start by living one day at a time, letting tomorrow take care of itself. Already we will have made progress if we refuse to see the whole future of a child contained in today’s accomplishments, successes and failures…

…Spend time listening to Him, and let Him tell you what He desires for your family. It may be unschooling… Whatever it is, you will recognise it by the peace it brings to you and your children. Do not settle for anything else.

Yes, peace.

Eventually I felt peace despite my grief as I started living one day at a time: “I accept how I feel. You allow this grief. But I need You to help me through the day.” I began to trust God. He was looking after me. And peace followed.

In the same way, I know God is looking after our homeschooling family. When I started listening, He led us to unschooling. And I know this is what He desires for us. I can feel it. No longer do I feel guilty. Instead I can feel peace… real peace.


A Little Way of Homeschooling
is available both as a paperback book and an ebook as epub and Kindle editions. I thoroughly recommend Suzie’s book.


Tags: , , , , , ,

Related Posts

Previous Post Next Post

Comments

  1. Reply

    ……and so do I thoroughly recommend it. I was so touched that A homeschooling Mum, who I didn't know very well would send me her copy..I loved this book and it made such sense to me. It was the first homeschooling book that made resonated with me..It gave me peace that our way of homeschooling is our way. And its exactly how God wants us to be.. in all the messyness of life. thanks for your support dear friend

    • Suzie Andres
    • July 1, 2011
    Reply

    Sue,
    So many moms I know are dealing with grief right now, or have had their "fair" share…On this Feast of the Sacred Heart, I can't imagine anything more lovely than our little book tied together with suffering. Although I wouldn't have thought of it myself – the connection you made or (especially) the suffering! – I am grateful. And I know I speak for my contributing authors when I say 'Praise God' for any good our book can do.

    As Jesus says in today's gospel (Matthew 11:25-30), "I give praise to You Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although You have hidden these things from the wise and the learned, You have revealed them to little ones. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will."

    I think of your Thomas, of Marie Rose Guadalupe C. (whose 5 yr birthday into heaven we just celebrated), of Charles G., of Joshua S. (coming on 5 years next week), of Tim M., of little Bernadette, of Rachel G., of little Malcolm O. – whose story I heard from his mom just this last Wednesday, the same day dear Joseph John S. went to meet Jesus face to face. These, our dear children who have preceded us into Life, know what the wise here on earth don't yet know – namely, a Love beyond our greatest hopes and dreams. May they ask our Heavenly Father to reveal some of this infinite Love to our hearts too.

    I rejoice that A Little Way has brought you peace, and I pray others find their little ways with the same joy your family has.

    with much love and gratitude,
    Suzie

  2. Reply

    Leanne, I have so much enjoyed sharing our homeschooling stories over the past few months. Unschooling, our beautiful children, good friends, Suzie's books… God is certainly looking after us. How much He must love us!

  3. Reply

    Suzie, I am so relieved and pleased you like my Little Way post. I'd been pondering it for some time.

    So many parents suffer as they homeschool. I have also suffered as I tried to do the best for my children. And from thinking about this struggle, it was easy to go back to my struggles through grief.

    We all want to do wonderful things for God who loves us so much, and for our children whom we love so much, but we are so weak. I was just so delighted when I saw your book with its Little Way title. Yes! I will homeschool my children the Little Way, the Way of Love.

    I was wondering if anyone would understand my connection between grief and homeschooling. But I think the Little Way can be applied to all aspects of our lives, it's just a way of living, a way of love.

    Yes, so many little souls are there in Heaven with Love. May God bless their sorrowful parents and may He give them peace.

  4. Reply

    I love this post, Sue. It explains so well how we come to find peace in our schooling and in our lives.

    It's great to be able to share these things with a spiritual sister!:)

  5. Reply

    Thank you, Vicky. You are always so encouraging and you understand!

    I am glad your comment finally made it. I wonder where it went the first time. No doubt another little glitch with Blogger!

    God bless my sister-in-faith.

  6. Reply

    Sue, this blog is so beautiful. I just wanted to let you know that I feel so refreshed when I read your posts.

    Before his transplant, Aidan shared the NICU with several babies with CDH. St Therese was our dear patron during his long hospital stay. He received his transplant on ST Therese's feast day, October 1, 1999, when he was 4 months old, but was sick for many months after. He had a major stroke in November of 1999 and came very close to death. It seems like a sign of the Communion of Saints that when I was offering up our crosses for whoever needed prayers, it could possibly have been your family that I was praying for, even though I didn't know you back then.

    Thanks for sharing the story of Thomas's life.

  7. Reply

    Willa, your words mean so much. I am grateful you have taken the time to stop and write those beautiful and encouraging words. I think that is what we all need: friends and encouragement.

    "when I was offering up our crosses for whoever needed prayers, it could possibly have been your family that I was praying for, even though I didn't know you back then." This is such a beautiful thought, Willa. We didn't know each other but God was aware we'd become friends in the future. Yes, I am sure we benefited from your prayers. Thank you.

    To have been suffering with our babies at the same time, half a world away. I felt so alone then but not any more. I can't but help tell Thomas' story. Thank you for sharing it.

    St Therese pray for us.

  8. Reply

    I shared this post with my hubbie, particularly after yesterdays missal readings, made me cry. we have been homeschooling, living life with a terrible grief situation that I hope no one ever goes through. This regards our precious son, who is 19 now-its too long to write here but… God has been gentle though it all and has helped heal me and his Dad and his siblings. Not a day goes by that we don't want him back in our lives, one day soon we pray.
    We have tried to find the joy in the every day.
    We offer up our cross for the souls in purgatory, and boy is it hard seeing your youngest dd deal with this situation with such love and joy in her heart, particularly as I struggle daily.
    God Bless you all

  9. Reply

    Leanne, I am so sorry that you are suffering so greatly. You are in my prayers as always. I have found that accepting grief doesn't mean the pain goes away. With Thomas, I tried to trust and remember God loves me so much, and to try and bear the pain with love. Yes, it wasn't easy! But I am sure God was there helping me even though He seemed so far away at times. Most of the time I felt no joy but there was a sense of peace because I wasn't fighting the situation. I grew so close to God during this time and I can see you are there close to God too. I wonder what immense graces God has planned for you. It is so difficult when it is our children we are grieving over. Perhaps you are winning graces for your son even though you may feel he is a long way from you. Keep plodding, Leanne and I will keep praying. Maybe it will be through dd's prayers and love that miracles will be achieved.

    • Suzie Andres
    • July 5, 2011
    Reply

    Leanne,
    So very sorry for your suffering. I will be praying for you and healing in your family. Jesus' plans are very mysterious (to say the least!), but I know He is only planning good for your ds and other dear children, your husband, and you. Which of course doesn't mean it doesn't hurt like crazy. As St. Therese said to her sister Celine, we'd like to carry our cross but without feeling pain. Sounds good to me! She continued to say, though, that then it wouldn't really be a cross… In His wisdom Jesus allows the pain, even if, as Therese also says, in His Love He must avert His eyes – for it hurts Him to see us hurting. May He quickly bring joy where there is sorrow.

    You might like the prayer to Our Lady Undoer of Knots. Sometimes we need to know our Mother is working on these knotty seemingly insoluble problems. You can find this prayer in the back pages of A Little Way, and also on the internet.
    with my love and prayers,
    Suzie

    • Gae
    • July 7, 2011
    Reply

    Dear Sue,
    I am so totally interested in this book. So many of the ladies I admire have recommended it. I feel our lives are so usntructered at the moment and likely to stay that way that 'formal' stuff just isn't working for us. Mind you I love the realxed pace we ahve but worry a little about the little ones especially. Does the book adreess teaching reading etc.
    Love the post as always
    Blessings
    Gae

  10. Reply

    Hi Gae. If you get a chance please read Suzie's book. I'm sure you will enjoy it. It doesn't have any specific information about teaching reading ie no chapter called "How to Teach Reading"!! but there are lots of words of wisdom from the 13 featured families. God bless!

    • Suzie Andres
    • July 8, 2011
    Reply

    Gae,
    I did consider including in the book the story of how Dominic learned to read while we were unschooling, but there wasn't room for it after all.

    Here is the short version (and then I hope you do get the book because there's so much encouragement packed between those two covers, and I'm sure you'll glean many particular tips too):

    Joseph, my older son who is now going into his senior year in college, was our first unschooler, but he did have some formal phonics (read: Kmart workbooks 🙂 before he learned to read.

    So when Dominic came along 12 years later (our 2nd child), I was curious to see if things would go differently with his learning to read (without any formal workbooks). His progression to reading went like this:

    1. we read to him.
    2. we put letter magnets on the fridge.
    3. eventually he started noticing letters – on the page, on the fridge – and learned their names and sounds, casually, over time.
    4. By this point he was about 5 and I'm thinking, "Wow, he's about ready to take off reading – he knows all his sounds and sees that words are simply these sounds put together. Any day now!"
    5. Time passed and Dom – who loves Lego, and playing army guys, and being read to or hearing books on tape – had no interest in reading himself!
    6. I don't read comic books aloud, and eventually Dom NEEDED to know what is being said in Calvin and Hobbes and Tintin…so he started reading!
    7. And then he wanted to read Lord of the Rings so he can see the movie, so he began his first "Chapter Book" (LOTR! He's not finished yet, but has found other books to read in the meanwhile).

    From #4 (having the tools) to #6 (actually reading) was probably from age 5 to age 7 (almost 8)for Dom. I am really glad I waited and let him do it himself when he wanted to read, because now I know that unschooling actually works 🙂

    Hope that helps. I'm sure there are lots of other stories about kids informally learning to read – even when the family does formal homeschooling. I remember a dear friend whose oldest daughter started reading around age 5 before my friend had a chance to teach her! On the other hand, I have a friend who starts her unschooling by teaching each child to read at age 4 with 100 Easy Lessons. The kids have all wanted it, and since she planned to let them go into the wide world of knowledge and learning through reading, it made sense for them to do this formal work together first…And they are still definitely unschoolers.

    I hope you have a chance to read the book! God bless your family and enjoy,
    much love,
    Suzie

  11. Reply

    I'm just reading this book and find incredible encouragement and courage from it as well as from your blog and podcasts. Your transparency is refreshing. Blessings to your family.

    1. Reply

      Kim,

      Suzie's book has helped many, many people I'm sure! Suzie is a beautiful person. We exchange emails and share our writing lives, amongst other things. She is so encouraging.

      Being transparent can be frightening, but everyone is always kind when I reveal my inner thoughts and details of my life. It has led to some wonderful friendships where we have been able to share and help each other. God bless you too!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

CommentLuv badge

0 shares
%d bloggers like this: