A blog where families who love and live the Catholic Faith can share, encourage and support each other.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Because... Unschooling Q&A

By Leonie

Some recent questions that I have received, about our unschooling homeschooling lifestyle. And some of my replies. Because there is never a new question or a dumb question and because blogging is all about sharing and because this blog reflects my unschooling mentality i.e. sharing bits and pieces.

What do you think are the positives of unschooling?
I guess I see some of the positives of unschooling to be rather nebulous, things like joy and an interest in learning; strong family ties; a sense of identity .Things that can’t always be measured but are with our kids for life – so, there is still that difference, for example, in my older sons, long term unschooling graduates.

In other words, you may not see the fruits of unschooling right now, this very minute, but instead catch glimpses of the fruits but over time. Just like the way our children grow. They seem to be little forever and then, one summer, we notice that they have shot up, their jeans are too short, their shirts too small , and we think, with wonder "How they have grown!" It is the same with unschooling. We worry today about that lazy son. about not enough reading and then, one day, we find a Shakespeare novel under a pillow ( "For night time reading, Mum") and a clean kitchen, cleaned by a son, upon your return from work. Maturity and growth.

Sometimes you don’t see quantifiable things – knowing history or art, for example – but you see, instead, their passions, how much the kids know about their passions – or simply, in the case of one of my sons who has no one passion, just a general happiness, a brightness and an interest in life.

But I see value in a classical education. How can I mesh this ideal with unschooling?

Can you let go of your agenda ( the classical education ) and see where God will take you and your children in learning? I think that is the first step to successful unschooling..no hidden agenda, trusting in a rich home and community experience, in your own influence, in living the Faith, in learning through life. For joy in life and learning, joy in adoring Our Lord, joy in family relationships has to come first, before we even talk about classical education or the tools for learning. We are more open to the goals of the education of "the free man" (to quote Plato and Aristotle) when we are in a healthy environment.

One can also strew a classical education rather than require a classical education. Via books, movies, excursions and outings, music, art, discussion. Living, eating, breathing the classics. Learning Latin or Greek yourself. Learning our prayers in Latin. Learning the Latin in Mass in the Extraordinary Form. Endless family discussions and debate and reference to logic. In other words, using the materials and resources of a classical education within your daily life and home.

One can also educate oneself classically – and then share this with the kids...as you share who you are.

A case in point here. Liturgy is my passion. I don’t teach the kids about liturgy but because I read about it, I blog about it, I talk about it, the kids end up knowing about liturgy. Recently , we had two priests over for a cup of tea. And, as often happens here, of late, we began discussing liturgy. The kids were strong in expressing viewpoints and discussing concepts and ideas – and one son said that this year, liturgy had become something of an interest for him too. Education via osmosis.

But I want my children to learn perseverance and self discipline and commitment.

In family life, especially within my larger than standard family, it is impossible not to learn self discipline and perseverance. We have to discipline ourselves to share, to take our turn, to pitch in and help with chores, to do something we don't want but which others want, to persevere through annoyance or irritability...and through the normal duties and strains and giving and taking that comes with the pleasures of family life.

Unschooling is not wrapping a child in a cocoon..it is opening the world to a child, sometimes warts and all...be it in family discussions on budgeting..or in volunteer work in our parishes or in the homeschool community, working with and rubbing shoulders with a myriad of people.

I have also found that one can pick just a single subject in which to learn perseverance ...and that academic discipline can be learned by consistently studying one subject formally, rather than "doing school" .... and we can leave the other subjects to life and strewing. Sometimes this single subject discipline has been Latin in our house, sometimes Kumon maths or English, sometimes Religion.

But my son's strength is maths but he is not interested in society and environment .

It helps me not to think of my kids in terms of education ( one son is into history, one doesn’t like writing, ) but in terms of virtues ( patience, prudence, fortitude, and so on ) and in terms of character traits ( friendly, quiet) and who they are right now as people. This kind of thought changes my mindset, away from school, and onto the idea of Charlotte Mason that children are born persons. Thinking of children as persons means we think of who they are and what they need; we encourage and acknowledge their input; we don't see them as blank slates on which to write.

Even at work, I see this in my students. I do not mould them; I work with them and guide and instruct and sometimes discipline. I get to know them as people, first.

So, how do we start unschooling?

My suggestion is to start unschooling by taking a vacation, a holiday – in your home, your suburb, your hometown. Act like you would on vacation – make yummy breakfasts, go for walks, play games, watch movies, cook, build Lego, go to museums and libraries, etc.

Don’t think in terms of education, just in terms of living and spending time - and keep a journal of what you do each day. I recently purchased a lovely 365 journal and I am writing brief notes of what we do, things we talk about and think about. It’s hard not to see learning after awhile.

The other thing we do is just celebrate the liturgical year together – you would be surprised how much fun, how much learning occurs just naturally through celebrating the liturgical year. For example, this week we talked about St Martin de Porres, and Peru and looked for Peruvian dessert recipes. We prayed the De Profundis for All Hallows Eve and had an All Hallows Eve party. We went to mass and learned about the history of All Saints and made Soul Cakes. We prayed for the dead on All Souls Day ( and read about horse racing for our Melbourne Cup lunch !) and we talked about St Charles Borromeo, his influence on Blessed John XXIII and about Milan and made Milanese pizza. Who needs school ? And doing activities like this is a good way to fill in that gap that sometimes seems to happen if you stop school and wonder what to do next, what are our passions, what do we do as unschoolers?

But I panic without school!

I used to read unschooling books or websites or blogs, every day. No kidding, this is what I used to do.. read a little bit of unschooling wisdom every day, to help me keep on track when, perhaps, the rest of the world thought I was crazy or lazy. I would pray, workout, read about unschooling each morning.

So is unschooling like unit studies or thematic units?
Well, in a rabbit trail kind of way. Not a full blown you must complete x and y integrated units method but more like..hey, this looks interesting, let's go....The latter describes our unschooling rabbit trails.
For example, it was Harry Potter week and I suggested we do some Harry Potter reading and movies and related activities from a unit study that I found free online. Last year, we were going on a beach holiday to Wollongong so I used some ideas from a homeschool Science blog re a shell project and we did that together. Last year, or the year before, we did the growing tomatoes thing from the Canadian Space project and the Journey North as a family. Earlier this year, we were into the 1980s because we like 1980s music and movies and we went several times to a back to the 1980s exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum. So, I downloaded some teacher resources from the website and we chose some activities to do .
Then we had our whole Legally Blonde/romantic comedy genre study going...and now are into C.S Lewis: Voyage of the Dawn Treader ( new movie coming out); Mere Christianity; Screwtape Letters. And unit study ideas from a study guide ...integrating subjects in a Choose Your Own Adventure fashion.

Can you see how unschooling flows from life, is life, is learning?

So, unschooling is...

Different for everyone.. we have always been very influenced by natural learning, unschooling, delight directed learning, John Holt. And I have found that each of my sons have grown more into self discipline and into academics and continue this interest and inner motivation at university and work.

Therefore, for us, unschooling has lead to more rigorous academics, to learning how to follow a path, to perseverance.

Of course, our family home and family culture has a role – strewing, chores, family life, valuing self discipline and academics, our values and Catholicism . But these are hard to separate from unschooling. And that really sums up unschooling..it is who we are...and it makes us into open books for our children.. avid learners at all ages.
Please share more of Leonie's posts at her blog Living Without School

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Making online friends.

Posted by Therese.

This is my first post on the Australian Catholic families blog. Thanks so much Sue for inviting me to post here. I thought I would write about being a Catholic mother and how the internet has helped me in my role as a home schooling mother and helped my faith.
For the first 10 years of our marriage, Steve and I lived in Adelaide. We had a lot of support and our faith really grew. We belonged to a couple of different Charismatic communities and for me; it was like icing on a cake. It made my faith more alive and I loved being a Christian because of it
At the beginning of 2001, we moved to the South East of South Australia. I loved the quiet life living in the country, but really noticed not having a community of friends to share my faith with.
In 2003, we had another move and I spoke with Steve about the lack of friends that shared my faith. We had the parish community but after being a part of a group that shared prayer times and social times together, I noticed a big difference.
Steve really encouraged me to look online and find some online communities. He had posted on a couple of forums that were hobby based and thought I should get involved in some Catholic ones.
I resisted for a while because I wanted friends in person, not on the internet. After nearly 12 months of this though, I joined Steve Ray’s Catholic Convert forum.
It was great. At first, I just wanted some information to defend our faith because an evangelical had challenged me on it but after being a part of the general discussions, I asked to be added to the ladies forum.
For the next few years, I built so many relationships with the other women posting at DCF. I felt encouraged in my faith and knew that this group was a gift from God.
Fast forward to 2006, I started my blog. This was another opening to find other friends and build relationships online. At first it was hard. I visited many other blogs and left comments. This was so against my nature since I was a naturally shy person. I overcame my shyness though and made many more friends online.
Through my blog and the relationships I have built at DCF, I have the icing on my faith cake again. It has been so valuable for me to have friends only a click away.
I have also found a lot of support for my care of my two children with type 1 diabetes. This was another blessing I got from the internet.
I really hope to meet all my online friends one day. I hope that Steve and I will be able to travel over to the USA when we retire.
The internet has made me feel less isolated in my faith journey and has helped me to make some very valuable friendships.
You can read more by me at my blog Aussie Coffee Shop.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

How to Prepare for a Party

By Sarah

Someone is going to have a party, probably turning eighteen. About six weeks before this, the girls start preparations. It begins with ringing one’s friends to discuss clothes. One’s own wardrobe, and that of one’s friends, is minutely considered, picked over, discussed proposed, rejected, contemplated? “But what about the gold one, you know, with the bow? Yes, but you could just put a bit of lace over that bit or something. Or that burgundy one with the long sash. No, I didn’t know that — well, couldn’t she wear the purple and you could have the silver?” And so on, over the next fortnight, phone calls back and forth, indecision  and hesitation?

Finally, the conclusion is reached that nobody has anything remotely suitable that hasn’t already been worn (or almost worn) at least once, and is therefore not to be considered again. So a new dress must be found. This takes another two weeks or so. St. Vincent de Paul, the Smith Family, all local op-shops, are combed for possibilities. Local boutiques are visited, and there is much more phoning: “Oh, it was just gorgeous, it had this wonderful skirt, and it was just the softest blue — well, yes, about $90 in the sale, but just gorgeous — no, I guess not. But there was another one that was cheaper, except it wasn’t quite the right length, and I don’t think that above the knee is really all that flattering — did you see the green one, though? Wasn’t that cute?” Eventually it is decided that this time, perhaps that maroon one that so-and-so didn’t wear last time could be adapted for this time, and maybe the embroidered silver one with the straight skirt that you picked up at the Smith Family last Christmas but never wore could do for this one?

Dresses sorted out, hair, jewellery and shoes remain to be decided. Much further discussion ensues regarding who has the best sandals to match the chosen dress, whether the owner of the said sandals will be using them or they can be borrowed, whether anyone has a little jacket to go with that dress because if it is cold you’ll just freeze, it’s really pretty strappy; oh yes, there is that shawl with the sequins, or the one with the embossed velvety bits. And so and so really looks best with her hair up, but if you do that what about curling it, because that takes quite a lot of time. No, she shouldn’t have her hair up, it’s such lovely hair, she should have it down. You’ll break your ankle in those sandals!! Oh, have you seen her gold and purple necklace, it’s just so lovely — I’ve got this sort of sparkly one and the earrings do match quite well?

The week before the party all this intensifies. Dresses are re-agonised over and re-distributed before returning to the first decision yet again. Maybe those sandals aren’t quite right. Did you decide on a different pair of earrings?

The morning of the party is happy chaos. Finally everybody is dressed, ready and assembled; the party begins; it is quite fun; but nothing like the preceding six weeks.

The boys start to get ready about an hour before the party.


“Where are my black trousers?”

“Okay, let’s go.”

And they enjoy it too.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

A Mother, a Child: a Special Love

By Sue Elvis

Cooperating with God and creating another human life is miraculous. I have loved the child forming within me from the moment I have become aware of his existence. And when that child has died, I have been devastated.

How can we love a child that has been with us for so little time? Surely our grief and sorrow, when we have to say goodbye to a life barely started, is excessive? After a miscarriage people may say, “You weren’t pregnant for very long. You’ll have another baby. Pull yourself together.” After the death of a newborn child: “At least you didn’t get to know him well. He didn’t become part of your life. It’s not as if one of your other children has died.” But these babies have become part of our lives despite their short time with us.

My feelings of love towards Thomas surprise me at times. My love for him has not faded as the years pass by. In fact it grows stronger. This is all rather a mystery: how can a mother grow in love for a child she no longer has with her?

When you love you open yourself up to sorrow as well as joy. If a loved one dies such an empty feeling results. What is the answer? Not to love in the first place? Could I have prevented myself loving Thomas? No. I had no choice.

The other day I read the following in The Education of Little Tree, the story of a Cherokee childhood by Forrest Carter. Little Tree’s dog had died and he said, “I felt total bad about it, and empty. Granpa said he knew how I felt, for he was feeling the same way. But Granpa said everything you lost which you had loved give you that feeling. He said the only way round it was not to love anything, which was worse because you would feel empty all the time.”

The love between mother and child is not a one way love. It is returned. A baby can recognise his mother immediately after birth. After nine months of living tucked beneath her heart, he has come to know his mother’s voice, her touch, her actions, her heart-beat. He knows where he is secure and who loves him. Thomas never saw me but did he listen to and know my voice? Did he know I was his special person, his mother? Did he know it was my touch he felt as he slipped away from life? Did he love me?

Sometimes it is only when we become parents ourselves that we really appreciate and understand our own parents’ love for us. I think of my mother. Did she look at me with amazement when I was born? Did she marvel at the gift she’d been given? I know she made many sacrifices for me. She didn’t lose me like I lost Thomas but did she still discover that there was sadness mingled in with the joy of motherhood? I moved away from her, I took my place in the world, concerned with myself and my own affairs and often it seems like I never appreciate or return her love.

I often think about being reunited with Thomas in heaven. I will have to wait until then to hear Thomas say, “I love you, Mum.” In the meantime, I can say to my own mother, “Mum, I really love you. Thank you for giving me the gift of life. Thank you for all the sacrifices you made for me. Because of you, I grew up capable of experiencing the special love of a child of my own.”

Please visit my blog Sue Elvis Writes to share more of my stories 

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Mother's Approval

Continuing our posts on motherhood for Our Lady's month of May

By Leanne
How I needed her approval.
It’s been a long and sometimes hard road. I wanted so much for my Mum to want to confide in me and love me as I wanted her too, but it seemed to me that it would never happened.
I began resenting her and her relationships with my children. They would talk, move or cry and what I was saying was completely irrelevant. They were the centre of her life. Mum appeared to me, to want their relationship over mine. That stuck in my throat like a sharp object. I was bitter and unable to confide or have a relationship with her.
I kept telling myself it was Ok. But deep down it was festering. I yearned for that friendship I saw other Mums have with their daughters.
My Nanna introduced me to Our Lady very early in my life. I confided in Our Lady in these hard years. I took her as my Mum. I would confide in her, talk to her and cry with her over this situation and other parts of my life. I loved chatting and smiling, crying and being raw with my heavenly Mum.  It was so easy.
Then one day, God intervened. A serious situation occurred with one of our children and I needed to have my parents involved completely. They needed to know the real situation, not a fabrication made up by a wayward teen. I had an internal struggle - will I call or will I not, but within 2 minutes I had make the phone call. Both my parents arrived within the hour, concerned, but were also concerned for me. Our relationship began to heal.
It wasn’t easy but I made myself vulnerable to her for the first time in a long time.  It took her a lot longer.
Mum finally started sharing with me, her secrets and little things I didn’t know about her, my Dad, my Grandparents and various situations.
It has been a major breakthrough and now we chat easily and our children see this and I hope with God’s grace I keep my relationships strong with our girls. I am always looking of little ways to draw the older children into a deeper relationship with me. Brid & I through being together, with homeschooling, throughout her growing years have a very different relationship.

I wondered how my relationship with my mum started declining, but that is looking back, and I feel called to move forward. Through this healing I am able to be the person I was hiding from her.

I had a friend who wrote me a letter one year and she asked God to heal this brokenness.
Thanks Margaret.
Please share more of Leanne's posts at her blog, Roses, Tea and Our Lady

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Sacrificial Love

By Gae

What do you think of when we talk of 'Sacrifical Love'?

Mostly for us Christians it refers to the love of Jesus Christ and his death on the Cross at Calvary for our redemption.

But can it mean more than that,? Yes I think it does and I believe we are called to offer our own sacrificial love each day, everyday, for the rest of our lives.

When I write it like this it sound scary and an impossible task but each time I review this in my own personal life I know that IS what God has called me to do.

For some people God asks a lot with his call to 'sacrifical love'. He asks for their very lives or the lives of loved ones and major upheavals in life. This doesn't mean that God does not expect me to live a life of 'sacrifical love' each day though. I have never been asked for this demonstration of my love for him, and frankly I am not sure I could handle that!

My offer each and every day of 'sacrificial love' is in the little things that happen in my daily life. While I wish I could say that I do this all the time without thinking and that I have developed this as a lifestyle, I know I cannot say that. At some times I am better at it than others. Sometimes I can even help our children see this in my life and hopefully they will be encouraged by it and embrace it as well, but mostly I flounder with the small progresses and then no progress for some time.

Sometimes I think it is easy for mothers (and fathers) to think of this sacrificial love in terms of a new born or very small baby and the fact we are required to be 'on demand' for our little cherubs. The feeding, changing and loving that goes into a very dependant baby seems to be very much alright and acceptable as a 'sacrificial love' thing.

But what about those little tykes that are just a bit too rambunctious after a long day of play and learning, or those older children who are tending through an emotional stage and of course those young adults and youths that dwell in our homes and the complex issues that they bring to the mix. Let us not forget also that some of us have been blessed with those more dependant children, and those with more special needs  and they  tend to require a much more giving and 'sacrificial love' on a more ongoing basis.

Do we allow these individuals to cramp into our personal space, demanding our much sought after attention, or to let some of their own preferences and individual likes be put in front of our own choices?

Must we always have OUR own way, or do we need to evaluate the thought of 'sacrificial love'.
Of course after a long day at work or within the home it can be quite easy to say NO! I want my own personal space or have it the way I like it.

However I know I need to ask myself at these times; Is this more important than allowing the other person their own way. Is what I want to do or have, or not have done of more value than the other persons choice? I think in some ways being the parents  in these situations can lead to a very selfish attitude, simply because we are the parents.

But I would have to ask myself. Is this a moral issue that requires me to respond in this manner? Is it an issue of obedience for a cause? Or is it simply that I don't really want to be bothered with that noise, issue or the lateness of the hour because it prevents my......... from happening in the way I had planned.

I do believe that our children learn from the behaviours or us parents! How can we expect them to be servants to one another and thus to serve our Lord and King, when we their parents and the closest to them do not model this in our behaviour to one another and to our children.

While I do not pretend to have this 'sacrificial love' thing down pat I do know I try to put relationships first over the more 'typicallly important,' as society dictates of having our home tidy and neat at ALL times. It is more important for me to allow myself the opportunity to serve others by putting their preferences first. And I must say that while our more traditional values of putting our husbands first (of which I agree) is an acceptable fact in our society, I also believe that our children's preferences and needs should be another opportunity of serving the Lord, although this may get me in trouble with some other schools of thought.

"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' Mathew 25: 40

Truly how can I read that and not think of the verse I have taught our children for so many years
" Jesus first, myself last and others in between"

Is this only for children to obey? Or is it for all of us?
For husbands to wives, wives to husbands, parents to children, children to parents and to any others we have the opportunity to serve in our daily lives.

This is our opportunity to allow ourselves to be givers of the lesson taught to us by our Saviour.....SACRIFICIAL LOVE!

I pray that each day I may be a more sacrificial person, a more caring and loving wife and mother, and that my example will help others see the love and joy we have in serving each other, even as Christ served and sacrificed for us.

Blessings to you and your homes,

Please share more of Gae's posts at her blog, Cherished Hearts at Home