The Little Way of Homeschooling

“You know well enough that Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, nor even at their difficulty, but at the love at which we do them.” St Therese of the Child Jesus.

Unschooling, sharing our lives with our children, living our lives as an open book, is education with love.

We may not be doing great things but we are educating our children, in little ways, about the world, in skills, in the Faith…we are learning ourselves, as parents.

Catholic unschooling. The Little Way of Homeschooling.

And the title of a new book. Thirteen families share their discovery of St Therese’s little way . Thirteen families share their discovery of Catholic unschooling.

My family included.

Yes, I am one of the contributors to this book.

Catholic unschooling has shaped and formed me, the kids, our family.


Have you started school yet?

Have you started school yet ?

I get asked this question at church, by people at work, by other homeschoolers.

I may be a bit grumpy ( WHO, ME??), but, in all honesty, if I hear that question again, instead of answering with a smile and my stock answer, I will just scream.

Or eat peanut M &Ms.

My stock answer, you say?

We don’t ever start or stop school, we learn all the time, we read, we do Maths, we write, we study…or we don’t..

“Youth is the time to go flashing from one end of the world to the other in both mind and body; to try the manners of different nations; to hear the chimes at midnight; to see sunrise in town and country; to be converted at a revival; to circumnavigate the metaphysics, write halting verses, run a mile to see a fire, and wait all day in the theatre to applaud ‘Hernani’.” -Robert Louis Stevenson

That describes our homeschooling.

Whch translates today as mum walking in the door from early morning work, one son helping her to prune flowers on her way in, one working on his computer for music stuff, one playing the piano, two conpleting the retro arcade game Golden Axe ( I thought it was Golden Max!), a son now studying Spanish, everyone stopping to say a prayer for a soul, mum suggesting a trip to the shops for errands and fun and talking about Blessed Fra Angelica and someone finding the Faith and Life book with reprints of his paintings, while listening to Gorecki…and music lessons, work, youth group later.

That flashing around, in mind and body. And in discussion.
No screaming. No peanut M&Ms.


Live long and prosper

On the blog A Priest Downunder,, there is a discussion on promoting vocations to the priesthood and to religious life. A discussion prompted by an address by the Holy Father.

A discussion centred on how we, as members of a parish community, as individuals , can encourage vocations to prosper.

” ‘Every Christian community, every member of the Church, needs consciously to feel responsibility for promoting vocations.’ What are we doing in our local area, our parish, our deanery, our school, to promote vocations?”

Last year, our parish women’s group devoted each first Thursday and each first Sunday to prayer for vocations.

And that is good.

However, I also think that we need to look at our actions and how these may help to prosper vocations.

There are a number of things I could discuss here but I will, instead , bring up a recent conversation between myself, my sons and a friend.

On why a priest only uses extraordinary ministers rarely, that is to say, in extraordinary circumstances, when needed.

Well, apart from the obvious statement re extraordinary , we talked about valuing and devaluing the role of the priest, of the religious.

You know, if the extraordinary minister (usually a woman ) serves at the time of communion of the faithful, instead of a religious, say, a Brother , who is also present at mass, what message does that send?

If the acolyte cleans the sacred vessels after Holy Communion and holds the relic for veneration and serves at communion, always, what message does that send?

I am not underplaying the role of the laity here. I understand the concept of the priesthood of believers.

However, it remains to be said that over use of laity and under use of religious, especially in the public liturgy of the Church, does tend to devalue the role of priests and religious. Young men in particular are less likely to look towards vocations … Not because they are not called but because they can serve in the Church, in ministries, in many instances undertaking that which the priest and religious can and should undertake, but without that final commitment.

It seems to me that one way to prosper vocations then, is to fully understand the role of priests and religious in our communities and in the liturgy, in the Church. To fully appreciate and value this role. To fully understand the contribution of lay people.

And to avoid the clericalization of the laity, to paraphrase Pope Benedict XVI.


My year with the saints

Over time now, I find a rhythm in my year. A liturgical rhythm. I think in terms of feast days…oh, you will be here on December 12? Our Lady of Guadalupe!
This living with the saints has developed gradually…I started by reading about the saints with my kids, then celebrating their feast days, then delving further for my own interest…Was St Therese really as sickly sweet as she seemed? The only way to find out was to read her own words…and. boy, I certainly found out why she is a Doctor of the Church! Strong. Loving. Not sickly sweet.
Living with the saints doesn’t mean that I am a saint..no, way too tarnished for that.
It does mean, however, that just as I used to peruse self help books and popular psychology ( Thirty Days to A Better Life; Three Steps to a Super Marriage, Ten Ways Not To Fail As A Mum…) so now I perusue the writings of the saints.
As a booky person, reading and writing are givens for me when faced with life and its dilemmas.
Yet now it is reading of the saints and words by the saints. Asking the saints for prayers.
Living wiih the saints.
So my year with the saints becomes my life with the saints as friends to whom I turn.
Tonight I turned to Mother Teresa.
She was good at dying to self. I am not. I am good at building barriers around myself.
No matter. The saints words give me solace. Give me advice. My own twelve step programme.
My year with the saints is exemplified in my reading with Mother Teresa tonight.
How did she make it through?
With God’s grace. And with her own determination and strength of character. Mother Teresa lived the joy that she did not always feel.
“You know how much Jesus loves you…Be good, be holy – Pull yourself up. Don’t let the devil have the best from you – You know what Jesus and Mother expect from you – Just be cheerful – Radiate Christ…”
Radiate Christ. Thank you, Mother.

And this is why I live with the saints, remembering them, celebrating their feast days, asking for their intercession.
To learn. To love. To be better.
God knows how much I need it.



I am a bit over niceness.

Well, I am over exhortations to be nice..as if this is all the Gospel teaches us..be nice to your neighbour, to your family, smile, never rock the boat.

Did Jesus come to save us just so we can be nice?

Yes, I try to be a nice person. But that is not the whole story of salvation is it? I am here to know, love and serve God on earth so I can be happy with Him in heaven.

So, yes serving God can mean being nice. But it also means a lot more than that.

Sometimes it even means to speak out , with love, but to risk not being nice for the sake of Truth.

And let’s be honest…niceness can lead to blandness, to complacency, to thinking I’m alright…to being lukewarm (…He vomits out the lukewarm, isn’t there that snippet?..).

As C.S. Lewis said, people who are nice may even be hard to save…their niceness leading to self sufficiency and a complacency of soul…I don’t need salvation, I don’t need church, I don’t need religion, I’m not a sinner, I’m nice.

So if I go to church and hear continual exhortations to be nice, and I am already pretty nice, then I am less likely to look towards Our Lord, to worship Him, to research Church teaching, to challenge myself…I am more likely to think, I am doing okay as I am, aren’t I? Well, according to the exhortations in Mass to smile at my neighbour and to phone my mum, I am.

I may be using contraception, I may sleep in and miss Mass many Sundays, I may not understand the sacrament of reconciliation, I may support gay marriages, I may think abortion is fine for others in case of great need…but I am nice because I am friendly, I put money in the collection when I do go to to mass, I bake my cousin cookies, I ask after your health, I like Father and his jokes and the cuppa..when I do go to Mass.

Now, I know I will be criticised for judging here. For not being nice. But you know what? If we are going to talk about being nice, wouldn’t it be nice to hear Church teaching explained, encouraged, exhorted? So I know what the Church teaches and why. So I know what I profess to believe, as a Catholic, and why. So my faith permeates every aspect of my life. For the salvation of my soul, and the salvation of others.

Wouldn’t that be nice?


Like Nim’s Island

I don’t have to go to school, I’m home schooled.

That book, Nim’s Island. A great adventure story. Totally believable yet unbelievable.

A bit like unschooling.

Your kids don’t go to school?

To many, that is an unbelievable concept.

But the learning is believable. The reading. The discussions. The self discipline.

Self discipline?

Yes, because while we don’t have school structure, we do have family and life and work structure.

So, I hear a son say ” I will come to play Band Hero, in half an hour, another half hour of writing.”

Or I see a son reading Mathematician’s Delight during his university holidays.

Or practice the piano, several times a day, without a reminder.

That unbelievable concept of unschooliing, lived out, as Nim lived her life, learning in freedom, in that book and movie.


Personal devotion or public liturgy

The liturgy of the Church is her public act of worship, her prayers, Holy Mass, the sacraments, the Divine Office.

The liturgy of the Church is something in which the whole Christ participates ( to paraphrase the CCC). The whole Christ…Christ, the Head, with His Body, the Church in heaven and earth.
So, we pray at mass , in the liturgy of the Church, as a whole, together. Yet we also have our personal prayer, our devotional life within and outside the public liturgy,
We concentrate on God and praying with our neighbour; conversely we contemplate Our Lord, personally, with private devotion.
Is there tension between the two? Can we become so entwined in personal devotion that we forget our active participation in the public liturgy of the Church? Or can we be so caught up with community and praying with each other…that we neglect our interior preparation?
Our personal devotions should lead us to the liturgy…and vice verse. No tension. But we are not that lone sinner in the pew..we are part of the Church, gathered to pray. And that knowledge has to affect our participation in Holy Mass, for example. Without making Mass itself all about social interaction.
My participation in Holy Mass, tonight, was not a personal devotion. I was an active participant in the Holy Sacrifice. And my private devotions, preparation, reflection, help my active participation in the prayers , with others, in the mass and St Anthony novena.
No tension. But something good on which to reflect..the role of and relationship between personal devotion and liturgy.

You wore a mantilla to mass?

Well, yes, tonight I did. A veil. Head covering.

I used to wear a mantilla to mass more often than not.
And then I stopped. For a variety of reasons.
I wear a mantilla nowadays every now and then.
Tonight was a then.
Candlemas. Mass in the Extraordinary Form. And as I climbed out of the car, late, rushed from work, sweating unladylike in the heat, wearing a short skirt and pink pigtails…well, in that one second something nudged me and I reached into the glovebox of the car and grabbed my black mantilla.
Wearing the mantilla in mass reminded me of why I used to enjoy the wearing of the mantilla….I felt like my eyes were forced to concentrate on Our Lord, on Holy Mass…and not on shoes ( my far too often mass preoccupation) ..
Another case of those externals helping the internal..the internal disposition to prayer.
Of course, who knows when I will wear a mantilla again. God forbid that I become a mantilla policeman, making rules for myself, sticks with which to beat myself.
But the mantilla was a reminder, an encouragement tonight.
Sometimes, I deal with sour expressions, usually on other women, when they see me with my veil. I have a method for dealing with this: smile, nod and acknowledge them quietly “hello”. The smile you wear underneath the veil goes a long way towards placating those who think the veil is a throwback to some legendary era when women were slaves. Why veil

Back To School…Not!

This week, when Australian schools and homeschools are “heading back to school” for the 2011 school year…Anthony is not.

This fifteen year old, my last official unschooler, is reading and watching Noel Steatfeild’s Ballet Shoes…not buying school shoes.

This unschooler is doing Kumon Maths and looking for his brother’s Saxon Physics book, to work through this year…not buying textbooks.

This unschooler is lying on the sofa reading history books and Calvin and Hobbes…not in a classroom reading.

This unschooler is going to Borders, having frozen cokes at McDonald’s, working at Kumon, serving at mass, talking to a friar, watering the garden, playing the piano, talking about the liturgical year, going to the movies with brothers and friends, having friends over for games…not travelling to and from school in the sweltering heat.

It’s a hard life…but someone has to do it!
Where everything counts.