Gemma-Rose has lost so many teeth she looks like a pirate. I remember how excited she was when her first front tooth finally fell out after weeks of wiggling. I just had to write a post about it. This morning I went searching through the archives for that story so I could relive old memories. Time to Unschool is not just about teeth or unschooling but about how time passes much too quickly. Sometimes we need to stop and grab hold of the moment instead of letting it slip away...

Gemma-Rose had a loose front tooth. Every spare moment she had, she could be found, fingers in her mouth, wiggling and twisting and turning that little tooth. Soon it was hanging by a thread. At lunch time, two days ago, it finally fell out after one bite of her sandwich, much to my youngest daughter’s delight and relief. She presented it to me on the palm of her hand as if it were a trophy, as if she’d achieved something tremendous. And of course we all congratulated her and shared in her happy moment.

“You can write a blog post about your tooth,” someone suggested.
“You’ll need some photos,” someone else added.
“I’ll get the camera.”
Gemma-Rose obligingly opened her mouth wide in a huge grin and snap! snap! this childhood milestone was captured forever.
Gemma-Rose looks so cute. My mother’s heart goes soft and gooey looking at her.  I just want to pick her up and hug and kiss her.
I guess you are wondering what all this has to do with unschooling. It’s all to do with time.
We have been homeschooling over 20 years. Wow! That looks a long time when you write the number down. But it doesn’t feel like a long time. Only yesterday we were undercover homeschoolers teaching our first child, behind closed doors. And the day after tomorrow, our last child will be off into the wide world ready to live her own life. Or that’s how it feels.
Let’s go back to yesterday.
Felicity sometimes complains she was the guinea pig child. I know how she feels. I was the oldest child in my family too. I was a guinea pig child myself. Yes, her upbringing and the way we homeschooled her was a bit of an experiment. I guess it’s that way with most first children.
I remember the day we brought Felicity home from the hospital. I gathered her in my arms, that tiny tightly wrapped bundle of newborn baby, and I walked out through the hospital doors rather hesitantly, expecting to be stopped any moment: “Excuse me Madam, but we can’t just let you walk out of here with that baby. Where’s your experience? Do you know how to bring up a baby? She’s too precious to be given to just anyone.” But of course, no one stopped me. Felicity belonged to us and it was our job to discover the best way of raising her.
We did our best and she survived the first five years, despite our rather bumbling style of parenting. And then the day arrived when we had to consider her education.  I’ve already told you our homeschooling story from undercover homeschoolers to Catholic unschoolers. It wasn’t a perfect pathway. Sometimes I wish I could go right back to the beginning and do it all over again properly. I guess a lot of people feel this way about a lot of things.
I think about those up and down years as we tried to gain experience and confidence and find the best way to educate our children. It wasn’t easy. Quite often I felt so stressed out trying to do what was right for my children. I had to be not only the best mother, but the best homeschooling mother. And I didn’t really know how I was to achieve that. At times I felt such a sense of responsibility. I felt as if I were carrying a huge burden.
There were days when I’d crack: “If you don’t do your school work… if you don’t learn this… or that… if you don’t try… I will send you to school. I can’t take any more.”  I’d rush out the back door and sit on the garden wall, my head pounding, my heart racing. I’d kept my children home so we could enjoy each other, so I could give the best to my children. And some days we didn’t enjoy anything at all: the baby would be crying, the toddler was demanding, and I didn’t seem to have the energy to encourage the older ones along, to make them do the work I thought they should be doing.  I didn’t enjoy feeling so tired and helpless and frustrated. I felt I was failing both as a mother and a homeschooling parent. Was it worth it? Should I just carry out my threat and send my children to school? But I couldn’t quite do it. I knew this job of raising and educating my children was mine alone and I had to find a way that worked.
After some time sitting on my sun-drenched wall trying to calm down, with my children peering anxiously out the window at their ‘dinosaur’ mother, I’d return and force a smile on my face saying, “Grab the picnic basket and make some sandwiches, we’re going bushwalking.” Worried expressions would instantly disappear and everyone would fly around the kitchen gathering the necessary supplies. Part of me would think, “You should make them return to the work they didn’t complete. What kind of lesson are you teaching them?” But most of me didn’t care. I just wanted to forget all the problems, leave them behind at home and set out on an adventure.
Soon we’d be tramping down the bush track, taking turns carrying the baby and swinging the toddler along. And I would look at my kids, with love and think, “This is what it’s all about.” Joy had returned to the day. I’d come home thinking, “I want to homeschool my children but I don’t want to fight with them. They won't learn anything in an atmosphere of conflict, and our relationship will be ruined. We are a family. And a family should be a place of love, joy, encouragement, support and peace as well as a place of growth and learning.”
Gradually I was discovering what was really important. And gradually I rejected anything that led us away from that close and happy relationship that I knew was the most important thing in the world. I realised that a lot of what was causing our conflict was other people’s expectations and timetables – my children had to do this… that… and the other, not because it fulfilled their needs but because someone (not very important) expected them to achieve this …or that…  Worse, sometimes this… or that… had to be achieved by a particular age. And sometimes I brought trouble upon myself: I simply wanted my children to do certain things to impress certain (not very important) people.
Also, our homeschooling routine didn’t take into account the needs of our little people. Either I taught the older children or I looked after the younger ones. I couldn’t seem to do both at the same time.
But we learn with prayer and time and experience. And God leads us onto new and better ways. He is so good.
I eventually let go of all those expectations imposed on us from outside. I have learnt to listen to my children. I am trusting them and myself and God. We are homeschooling the gentle way, the little way, the unschooling way. The children are learning, but not at the expense of our family relationships.
And so here we are, after nearly twenty years, our last child seven years old. And my problem these days isn’t finding a method that works for our family. No. Our problem is time, time that passes so quickly. The day after tomorrow will arrive very soon and my homeschooling days will be over. So I have to make every moment count. I have to live for today and enjoy every minute.
And how I wish I could have had the confidence to do that with our first child.
“What shall we do this morning?” I ask my younger two girls. They look longingly at the book that’s lying on the coffee table.
“Could you start Ballet Shoes, Mum?”
 I remember this old childhood friend and settle down, with the girls snuggled up one on each side.
Soon we are absorbed in the tale with me reading and an occasional question from Gemma-Rose: “What’s a fossil, Mum?”
I come to the end of the first chapter. “Ohhh! Couldn’t you read just a bit more, Mum? Please!”
Both girls have pleading looks on their faces. Who could resist?
Later, my throat dry and my voice scratchy, I finally close the book. And Gemma-Rose smiles. She opens her mouth wide and I see the gap where once she had a tooth. She looks so cute. I just want to hug her and kiss her. I think about time and how it passes so quickly. Soon I won’t have a little girl.
And I reach out and I pull Gemma-Rose onto my lap and close my eyes and I enjoy.

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  1. 'I don't want to have brilliant children at the expense of our relationship.' - I totally agree with you, Sue!

    I think of the many people I know who are not brilliant, but are honest, good, loving and holy people - they are the role models I want for my children. I, also, think brilliance is a gift, rather than a goal.

    I love the way unschooling allows the children to develop their own special talents, and doesn't restrict them to other people's ideas of success:)

  2. Hi Vicky! I guess I used to think of homeschooling as a means to academic success eg I can teach my children better than school can. Later I thought good family, personal and spiritual relationships were more important than attaining a high level of learning. But maybe it's not one or the other. Perhaps unschooling can develop a child's academic gifts but good relationships won't be lost in the process. Yes, some children aren't headed for academic brilliance and other gifts are equally valid or even more important. And these will be nurtured in the unschool environment too.

  3. So precious our time with our children. Its not long enough before they fly....another great inspiring post...leanne

  4. Thank you, Leanne. Perhaps we spend too much of that precious time we have with our children worrying, instead of enjoying.

  5. Yes Sue, and how good does it feel when we stop worrying and just live in the moment...and enjoying

  6. Oh I relate to those moments, have travelled those paths a time or two, despite all my best intentions to never do so.

    1. Erin,

      Most of us probably have moments in our parenting and home schooling that we regret. I'm so glad I was able to learn from them! I guess I'm still learning...

      God bless!

  7. Sue, did you transition gradually to unschooling? We have homeschooled our five children ages 6-17 for the last 11 years. I have figured out that when we follow a set curriculum or lesson plan (that I spend days putting together) I sacrifice charity in the home for "checking off the boxes". Husband is not on broard with unschooling, so I can't let the kids totally direct their learning, but would like to scale way back on what we want them to study and give them way more freedom to pick up their own interests. I don't know where to start. Any suggestions? I'm enjoying reading your blog, so many goust posts!

    1. When I started homeschooling my first child, I was very enthusiastic about unschooling. Somehow we got distracted by other styles of learning. We tried out a lot of ideas, many of which didn't work for us. Gradually I threw out all that wasn't working, and by trial and error, we settled on a style that suited us. I didn't label this style but rather just called our homeschooling 'doing our own thing.' It was a long time later that I realised we'd come full circle and we were actually unschooling.

      So our transition was gradual. I never consciously made the decision to unschool my children (apart from that initial decision which we wandered away from). I just (eventually) listened to my children, tried to ignore outside expectations and decided to enjoy my children and learning.

      I have put links to our homeschooling story in my side-bar: "Undercover Homeschoolers", "Doing Our Own Thing" and "We're Catholic Unschoolers: Woo! Hoo!" I hope they are helpful in explaining our journey to unschooling.

      I always spend lots of time with my children in the mornings, helping them with their projects, reading out loud, suggesting resources and exploring with them. Afternoons are a time when we do more individual learning, working side-by-side rather than together. Though I have to admit, my older girls seem to be following their own learning adventures most of the time these days. Perhaps you could start with something similar: spend a certain amount of time learning together but leaving lots of time for individual passions too. Or you could set a few structured basic activities to be completed each day and then spend the rest of the day following your children's interests.

      I think it is important to bring the world to our children (or take them out into it). Just letting them loose to go off and explore sometimes doesn't result in much learning. Perhaps children don't know where to start. I think I wrote about this in "Doing Nothing?"

      Maybe you could gather a pile of interesting books, DVDs, website links... and then share them with your children. We have a toppling pile of such resources on the table in our family room. We dip into it all the time.

      When you can identify where your children's passions lie, it gets easier because you will know what sort of resources you are searching for.

      I also like to introduce my children to new things so I will try and tempt them with interesting books they might not consider reading on their own. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't!

      Then I share my own passions. We often write and blog together, take and edit photos, share our interest for Shakespeare and literature and musicals, knit, sew.. I offer my children books to read that I am also enjoying... My husband shares his love of music by singing with them in a couple of choirs. I'm sharing science with Charlotte at the moment...

      We talk a lot about everything and anything. Some of our best learning happens while we sit around the table eating lunch.

      Maybe "How to Make Children Do Their School Work" might give you a few ideas. All my homeschooling posts are listed in a page under my blog header.

      I hope I've given you a few ideas but feel free to comment again or email me with particular questions. I'm quite happy to chat.

      Thank you for reading my blog!

    2. Thanks so much for taking time to reply so generously! You did give so many helpful suggestions. I've read several of your posts, but thanks for pointing me to specific ones!

      If you'll indulge me, I have two more questions.

      1. Have you always been good at talking and listening with your children? Did you have to learn that as a parent. I realized recently that I'm not good at that and I think that I haven't "won their hearts". Working on it.

      2. As a Catholic convert I have wanted to protect the kids from the evil and sin that abounds in our culture that I was swept up in when I was just a teenager. We are careful about what books, tv, Internet, friends and activities that the kids are involved with. Don Bosco is a model for us and he was especially careful about books. I remember reading about St. Therese's mother saying that certain girls were not good companions for her daughters. We do have cable tv, internet and video games that are used within limits. I do believe we need to teach our children how to use the media properly and not get taken by it. I guess the two big issues with giving them more freedom to explore their own interests would be #1- books and #2- Internet. The library has so many great books, but a lot of trash too. The Internet is the same thing. The kids have discovered that you can learn just about anything on YouTube, at the moment their favorite is "how to fake a Scottish accent", but I feel like I'm constantly telling them to turn their heads because some bad this has popped up.

      Question 2 is pretty loaded. I know we are all doing the best we can to know and do God's Will for our families. I think there could be many different approaches to the issue. Would love to know how you deal with it since your kids have a lot of freedom in their learning.

      God bless you!

    3. Talking and listening? I guess I have improved in that department over the years. There really wasn't much time for talking and listening when we were busy trying to fulfil other's people's expectations and timetables. When I stopped worrying about whether we were covering all the work we 'should', I relaxed. I no longer regard time sitting around the table just chatting as wasted time. We don't have to rush from one thing to another but can really take time to share. From this kind of listening, I learnt to tune in or 'listen' to my children's needs.

      I also try and take time with each child individually. I have end-of-the-day chats with Charlotte. She likes to share anything interesting she has done at this time of day. I chat to Imogen when we are driving to piano lessons. Gemma-Rose regularly climbs on my lap for a cuddle and I talk to her then. The same with Sophie. I make sure I have mother-son time with the boys even though they are now young adults. We usually go out for coffee. If I notice someone isn't coming to me, I will make a point of inviting him/her to chat with me.

      When we chat, I don't just ask them questions but share my own thoughts, interests... with them.

      I guess with your second question, you are worried about letting your children go off exploring on their own because not everything they will come across is good. My children know the limits of where they can explore. They usually have certain websites bookmarked which I know are safe. I am usually around when they are on the Internet anyway. We don't watch TV but we do watch DVDs so I know these are all suitable. Sometimes an unsuitable book or two makes it home from the library. Usually we just chat about why I don't think it's a good choice. The girls always agree with me. It's usually a case of choosing books in a hurry without looking carefully at them.

      I have a good idea at all times of where my children are exploring but of course, we can't be absolutely certain our children will never come across anything we consider bad. Perhaps it's all to do with feeling 'right' inside and when a child comes across something that is wrong, they feel uncomfortable and will turn away. But how to get that 'right' feeling...

      Maybe we just need to teach our children why something is wrong. I find my girls won't watch anything with bad language or immodest clothing or love scenes or dark evil scenes... because they feel uncomfortable. I am wondering why. Do you think it could have something to do with sharing and chatting about such issues rather than just making hard and fast rules which a child is expected to follow? I don't really know.

      I spend a lot of time finding suitable books, DVDs, websites etc for my children or we search for them together. They are always surrounded by interesting things. Maybe the answer lies in us bringing the world to our children knowing what they need or are interested in, rather than letting them step out into the world by themselves (until they are old enough and mature enough to do this). I don't think I could stand back and let my children do whatever they wanted and not get involved or show interest. I like to feel connected to what my children are learning.

      Freedom to learn? Yes, our children have this freedom as long as they are going in a direction that we are comfortable with and using resources that we think are suitable.

      So perhaps your children could follow their own interests with your guidance as to what resources they use. You could look for suitable books and DVDs and websites together. Unschooling involves a lot of work on a mother's part. Not everyone realises this!

      If I have confused you please tell me and I will try again!

      Thank you for your questions. It is very interesting discussing such things.

      God bless!

  8. This has been very helpful! Thank you, thank you, thank you for taking the time to answer. I will keep reading and praying.

    1. You're welcome! Please return any time for another chat. I hope your prayers and reading lead you to a way of education that is perfect for you and your children. I've just thought of something! Have you read Suzie Andres' books; "Homeschooling with Gentleness" and "A Little Way of Homeschooling: 13 Families Discover Unschooling"?

      May God bless you and your family!

    2. Yes, I've read "The Book". That's what got me thinking about doing things differently. I read her first book and thought it was too gentle for me, but I'm a slow learner and I think it wasn't the right time for that book for me. I want to read it again. Then I got to meet Suzie when she moved out here to CA a few years ago. We are in the same area. She is so much fun! So I read her book when it came out and this time timing was perfect! I think the book has so much wisdome to offer parents, but especially stressed out homeschool moms. Who could argue with the Saints? She had so many quotes from some of my favorite Saints about love and related it so well to what we are doing at home with our children. So, after reading the book I decided to try to try be better at listening and taking and loving them, but it isn't going so well. Maybe because we are still trying to do school at home? Maybe because our relationships have become so stressed that nothing is working since I don't have their hearts? My goal this summer is to restore charity in our home. At the moment that's the number one thing on my heart and mind.

    3. You know Suzie! I'd love to meet her. We are email friends and I enjoy sharing with her very much.

      Loving and enjoying my children is of number one importance. That sounds so obvious doesn't it? Isn't that the same for everyone? Then why do we find it so difficult to do this? It took me a long time to throw out everything that came in the way of enjoying my children. There are so many people saying you have to do this... and you have to do that... Maybe it takes courage (or desperation)to do something different to the mainstream. Or maybe it's time, time that's running out, wanting to have no regrets...

      I remember one particular day last year when I was watching my children play together and I felt such joy and thankfulness for them and for the way of life we have together. I wrote about that day in "Speed Angel Joy". I realised just how far we'd travelled from those difficult days when I was the hard task master and we had so much conflict.

      Maybe when we are listening and loving and enjoying each other, we are providing the optimum conditions for learning. This seems the wrong way round from popular thought! So many parents are doing their best to provide the perfect curriculum out of love and concern for their children, but I wonder if those children actually learn any better under these more stressful conditions.

      "My goal this summer is to restore charity in our home." Maybe this is the foundation we all need. Everything else will spring from this. Perhaps you can just relax and do things with your children this summer that you all enjoy. You could spend time watching movies, going for walks, playing silly games, chatting, reading books together, listening, praying with each other, discussing everything, rediscovering each other... By the time the new school year comes you might be unschooling without even trying. Maybe failure comes when we feel under pressure to succeed. During the summer months we don't have to prove anything. We can just enjoy.

  9. Thanks Sue, you are a great example for me! Your posts are gems- please keep it up!

    1. Thank you for your encouraging words! I'm glad to share. I hope you will return and tell me how you get on. In the meantime please feel welcome to comment whenever you'd like.

      God bless!


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