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Thinking about homeschooling? Here's what you need to know

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My 1-year-old son, Sam, sat on my hip as my 3-year-old daughter, Wren, ran around the backyard before the oppressive Texas heat settled in for summer. Squatting on the ground to investigate a flower and the bee crawling on it, Wren turned her face to me and asked excitedly, “Mom, how do the bees do what they do?"


I stared at her, unsure of what she was actually asking me. How do bees what? Pollinate? Fly? Sting? No matter the question, I had no answer, so I tried to fake it.

“Well, um, bees use pollen, or make pollen, or nectar…they for sure make honey and that's good. They die after they sting you, so whatever they do, they don't do it after that."

Wren gave me a halfhearted smile before turning back to the flower she was observing. Suddenly, I doubted everything I thought I knew about what it would be like to homeschool, brought to my knees by the curiosity of a three-year-old.

I wasn't homeschooled, but I knew from the beginning of my life as a parent that I would be a homeschooling mom. Now my qualifications seemed shaky at best. There was so much I didn't know but needed to, and that day I started grasping in the dark for answers.

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Here are 10 things I wish someone had told me before I started my homeschool journey.

1 | Homeschool parents don't have to be experts – they just need resources.

No teacher has all the answers to every question, but the good ones know when to seek help. That's the key to teaching a child how to be a lifelong learner: be the example.

Be a model of curiosity, exploration, experimentation. Avoid developing the habit of reaching for a predictable teaching tool or another worksheet. Instead, model active learning by asking questions, trying out ideas, and making adjustments.

2 | Teaching a child to read is 90% of the battle and 100% of the solution – but don't rush it.

Focus on not rushing this basic, vital part of learning. Rushing equals struggles, and can take the joy out of reading and writing. So lead your child gently with lots of read-alouds and playful explorations of the letter sounds and shapes.

Once a child can read, they'll find books and information on topics that interest them. Before I knew it, my kids were teaching me about squirrels, Mars, and why the Headless Horseman couldn't be real because they read up and learned themselves.

3 | Socialization isn't going to be an issue.

When people think of homeschooled children, they tend to imagine unsocialized outcasts who lack people skills. This simply isn't the case. Socialization takes place in a variety of settings, not just at school.

For parents who want more support in the socialization realm, Homeschool World offers a way to search for homeschool support groups by area. The lists are extensive and include co-ops that offer everything from book clubs to weekly playdates. In fact, the only problem a parent will have is information overload.

There's also nothing like Meetup.com to connect with like-minded individuals. Homeschool groups abound on the site, but parents should make sure the group they join meets the needs of their family. Some of the Meetup homeschool groups are extremely structured, while others just offer a place for kids to hang out and play.

Sports leagues are another great way for kids to make new friends and learn about sportsmanship. Children will interact with kids who are homeschooled and public schooled in leagues, and this will help them understand the other side of schooling.

4 | Playtime is brain food.

In fact, many schools are adding more playtime throughout the day to let kids work off fidgety energy so they can focus on learning. When the kids spend time engaged in imaginative games in the yard, that's school.

The key is to give kids mini breaks throughout the day. Instead of expecting them to sit for hours and hours and then receive one 15-minute break, let them get up and play after 30-45 minutes of work or when you notice they're distracted and having trouble sitting still.

Play is a way to refill their cup and bring them back to the learning table ready to focus. Also, don't use play as a reward. Make it a part of the everyday homeschool plan, an essential part of learning and exploring.

5 | Start the day with a loose plan.

It's not necessary to micromanage when homeschooling, but it is a good idea to start each morning with a written list of what is to be accomplished during the day. To make sure these expectations are realistic, sit down the weekend before and look at the calendar. How many playdates or field trips are planned for the next week? Are any visitors coming to town? Are there holidays or special events that will interrupt the normal flow of the homeschool week?

Once all of this is taken into consideration, use index cards or a weekly planner to sketch a plan for each day. If something doesn't get finished on Monday, move it to Tuesday. If much more is accomplished on Wednesday than expected, make sure to note it.

Daily planning can become a learning experience for your older students. Give them a planner of their own and show them how to make a checklist to organize their day or their schoolwork. Check things off and create a new list the next day.

6 | On the hard days, decide what it's worth.

Kids will have days where they get out of bed and knock out all their work quickly. Other days will feel like a struggle from start to finish. This is normal. The upside is that homeschool parents have the chance to decide whether to push forward on the hard days or to let their child run in the backyard and make up the difference tomorrow.

7 | Teaching children at multiple academic levels is possible.

Though it takes work and planning, teaching children who are different ages and doing different levels of work is possible. This plan will change throughout your children's development, but here's an example of how it works for a mom with three kids – a toddler, a kindergartener, and a second grader:

  • For the toddler, make sure the child has a sensory station with kinetic sand or water that he or she can play with. Whatever keeps the toddler happy for the longest period of time should be offered.
  • Move on to working with the child who is the most self-sufficient, probably the second grader. Take some time to review information or cover a new skill before letting this child work independently until they need their work checked.
  • Finally, move to the child who needs the most guided help, such as the child who is just learning to read or properly trace letters (around kindergarten age). You'll need one-on-one time to dedicate to helping this child develop essential skills that are the foundation of his schooling.

It's also possible to purchase curriculum that is designed for multiple ages and includes activities based on grade level.

8 | Borrowing vs. buying resources

Some libraries have STEAM kits that offer hands-on math work and materials for science experiments. While there is usually a waitlist and we only get to keep the kit for a designated amount of time, we have the opportunity to sample tons of different items without purchasing.

There are exceptions. If a child loves math manipulatives and will work on math more willingly with them, then invest in manipulatives to enhance the learning experience. It will be worth the cost.

9 | On creating a “real school" vs. a living homeschool

There are parents who like to segregate home and school within the homeschool environment. They want their children to be in school mode and see them as only a teacher during certain times of the day. They may even set up a classroom-style area in their house complete with school desks.

For me, this didn't work, but it could have been because of my prior teaching experience. As a former teacher, I needed to actually pull away from what I thought school was supposed to be to open myself up to all homeschool had to offer.

In our house, it's always home and it's always school, so everyone feels free to discuss science experiments at dinner or to talk about problems with a friend during math lessons.

10 | You don't have to teach every subject every day.

History and science are great, but elementary-aged children don't have to go over those topics every day. Math, reading, writing, and play are the daily essentials, with focused history and science lessons on the agenda two to three times a week.

Once kids master reading and other basic skills, it's much easier to fold in other subjects. Plus, children inadvertently study science every day. All those questions about where the earth came from, why slugs come inside when it rains, and what life is like on the moon? That's science, and kids never stop asking questions.

••••

The afternoon of the bee question, we went to the library and grabbed books. Wren and I read them during Sam's naptime and then looked at videos and pictures of bees on the internet. Wren fixated on the notion that bees communicate by dancing.

As the sun began to set that night, my daughter led me outside. She put her two index fingers straight up over her head, shook her bottom, and made a raspy noise from her throat.

“Do you see them?" she asked.

“Who? The bees?"

“Yes! This is how they tell each other where the pollen is, remember?"

I put my fingers on my head, shook my bottom, and buzzed back at my daughter. I'm not sure if the bees ever arrived, but it didn't matter. We laughed and learned together, and I realized we were going to be just fine.

Oak Meadow partnered with Parent.co to sponsor this piece because they strive to keep the wonder and excitement of childhood alive and to spark each individual's passion for learning.

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I honestly can't remember how I used to organize and share baby photos before I started using FamilyAlbum. (What am I saying? I could never keep all those pictures organized!) Like most mamas, I often found myself with a smartphone full of photos and videos I didn't know what to do with. My husband and I live states away from our respective families, and we worried about the safety of posting our children's photos on other platforms.

Then we found FamilyAlbum.

FamilyAlbum is the only family-first photo sharing app that safely files photos and videos by date taken in easy-to-navigate digital albums. From documenting a pregnancy to capturing the magical moments of childhood, the app makes sharing memories with your family simple and safe. And it provides free, unlimited storage—meaning you can snap and snap and snap to your heart's delight without ever being forced to choose which close-up of your newborn's tiny little nose you want to keep.

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And, truly, the app is a much-needed solution for mamas with out-of-state family. Parents can share all their favorite memories with friends and relatives safely within the app without worrying about spamming acquaintances with every adorable baby yawn the way you might on a social network or a long text thread. (Did I mention I have a thing for baby yawn videos? I regret nothing 😍) It's safe because your album is only visible to the people you share it with. The app will even notify album members when new photos have been posted so they can comment on their favorite moments and we can preserve their reactions forever. It's also easy for my husband and I to share our photos and videos. All of our memories are organized in one place, and we never have to miss out on seeing each other's best shots.

And because #mombrain is real, I especially appreciate how much work FamilyAlbum takes off my plate. From automatically organizing photos and videos by month and labeling them by age (so I can skip doing the math in my head to figure out if my daughter was five or six months when she started sitting up) to remembering what I upload and preventing me from uploading the same photo four times, the app makes it easy to keep all my memories tidy—even when life feels anything but.

FamilyAlbum will quickly become your family's solution for sharing moments, like when you're sending a video to the grandma across the country. Grandparents need only tap open the app to get a peek into what is going on with our girls every day. When my sister sends her nieces a present, the app has become where I can share photos and video of the girls opening their gifts so she never feels like she's missing a thing. The app will even automatically create paper photo books of your favorite shots that you can purchase every month so you can hold on to the memories forever (or to share with the great-grandma who has trouble with her smartphone 😉). Plus, you can update the books with favorite photos or create your own from scratch. No matter what, the app keeps your photos and videos safe, even if your phone is lost or damaged.

But what I love most about FamilyAlbum is that it's family-first. Unlike other photo sharing platforms, it was designed with mamas (and their relatives!) in mind, creating a safe, simple space to share our favorite moments with our favorite people. And that not only helps us keep in touch—it helps us all feel a little bit closer.

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For some celebrities, pregnancy is a time to retreat from the public eye and be more strategic about what they share online. They guard their personal lives a little closer, and their social media presence gets a little more curated.

But when Amy Schumer announced her pregnancy in October, she didn't stop sharing. We saw—and heard, in some of her more graphic Insta stories—just how hard this pregnancy and the resulting hyperemesis (an extreme form of morning sickness) have been on Schumer.

Schumer's humor has always been real, and her new Netflix special, Growing, is one of the realest descriptions of pregnancy I've ever seen on my TV.

As a mom who didn't glow as much as I groaned through my pregnancy, I laughed so hard I cried. And as a mom of a child diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, I cried tears of relief.

In one hour Amy Schumer simultaneously made me feel seen and helped me see a happy future for my son, and I can't thank her enough.

[Warning, light spoilers ahead]

Amy Schumer: Growing | Official Trailer [HD] | Netflix www.youtube.com


The Netflix description for this special describes it as "both raunchy and sincere" and that's totally accurate. If you've seen Schumer's previous Netflix special, you know you can't watch this until the kids are in bed.

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In Growing Schumer proves that pregnancy didn't make her a different person or take the curse words out of her vocabulary. She is who she is, she just happens to be becoming a mom, too.

And becoming a mom has not been easy. Schumer's description of yeast infections, and vomiting and hemorrhoids and all the parts of pregnancy that nobody puts on a felt letter board gave me flashbacks and validation.

In Growing, Schumer is saying that it's okay not to love being pregnant and that it doesn't mean you don't love that baby growing inside you. It's a message more women need to hear because it's hard to see photo after photo of smiling mamas sporting cute bumps and wonder if you're the only woman who doesn't love feeling someone sit on your bladder.

That feeling (the emotional one, not the bladder one) made me feel alone in my pregnancy, but it's been three years since I wondered if there was something wrong with me. These days, I'm more worried about whether my son, who is now a preschooler, will grow up to think there's something wrong with him.

As the mother of a kid on the spectrum, I gasped when Schumer explained that her husband, Chris Fischer, is too. I sobbed when she described some of her husband's quirks, because I see them everyday in my son.

I don't want to spoil the special too much, but let me tell you this: In revealing that her husband, the father of her future child, is on the spectrum, Schumer gave me so much hope.

I'm so grateful that Schumer (and Fischer, who must be on board with this) shared that bit of info because sitting there in front of my TV all the versions of my son's future that got erased when we got our ASD diagnosis came flooding back.

I could see him as a grown man, and he wasn't alone. He was falling in love with a partner like Schumer. He was becoming a father like Fischer. He was happy (and different, in the way Schumer describes her husband) but he wasn't alone.

Schumer's trademark raunch isn't for everybody, but her authenticity and vulnerability sure is for me. For 60 minutes I watched a woman stand alone on a stage and I felt less alone.

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Over the years, switching to nontoxic products has become a popular trend. But, as moms ourselves, we understand how overwhelming it can be to consider a lifestyle change. We founded Branch Basics with the idea that simple swaps in your cleaning closet could be the jumpstart to living chemical-free.

For many people, the swap has been influenced by various headlines. One study compared cleaning your home with conventional products to smoking an entire pack of cigarettes every day. Additionally, the EPA has reported that indoor air quality is actually worse than outdoor air quality.

With every reason to make the swap, here is a beginner's guide to non-toxic home cleaning. We call this process our Clean Sweep with just three simple steps.

1. Review

Pull out all of the cleaners (and pesticides) you currently have in your home. Yes, even the dusty ones deep in the back of the cabinet! Once you have these out, review them for red flag words, like "caution, warning or danger."

Cleaning companies are not required by law to list their ingredients, so any cleaners that are not transparent about their ingredients should be taken out of your home. Remove anything with parfum or fragrance, as the word fragrance represents a fragrance recipe that may have never been tested for safety. (Pro tip: You can use essential oils to make scents you like.)

Other common ingredients to avoid are:

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  • Perchloroethylene or "PERC"
  • Quarternary Ammonium Compounds, or "QUATS"
  • 2-Butoxyethanol
  • EPA registered pesticides like Chlorine
  • Methylisothiazolinone "MIT"
  • Benzisothiazolinone "BIT"
  • Any of the Isothiazolinone family
  • Ethoxylated Alcohols

Finally, toss your dryer sheets and fabric softeners if they're loaded with carcinogens such as dichlorobenzene and benzyl acetate, respiratory irritants such as chloroform and benzyl alcohol, neurotoxins like linalool and ethanol, and endocrine disruptors such as phenoxyethanol and phthalates.

For any ingredient you are unsure of or don't recognize, the internet has great resources like the Environmental Working Group's (EWG) Guide to Healthy Cleaning, where you can look up health ratings from 1-10 (1 being the safest to 10 being the most toxic).

Another excellent tool is the Think Dirty® app, an easy way to evaluate ingredients in your beauty, personal care and household products. Just scan the product barcode and it will give you easy-to-understand info on the product and its ingredients. We recommend that household products have ingredients rated A on EWG's Guide to Healthy Cleaning or a zero on Think Dirty.

2. Remove

If you find products that have toxic chemicals in them, remove them from your home. If you aren't ready to part with some of your products, put them in an airtight Sterilite container in your garage or backyard. This simple act of removal will improve your air quality immediately.

3. Replace

Now it's time to streamline. Do some research and find items that are plant-based or otherwise naturally-based. Branch Basics offers a variety of nontoxic alternatives to popular household products, like laundry detergent and bathroom cleaner. The Honest Company created safe baby and beauty products. And Beautycounter provides safer skin care and cosmetics. You can even scour the internet for resources for homemade alternatives, too. If it feels overwhelming, start with your most-used products and work your way down the list.

Switching to nontoxic cleaning supplies is one of the easiest ways to start creating a healthier home and there's so much information out there that can walk you through what should and shouldn't be in your products. Simple swaps can make a big difference for your family.

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You know that you want to raise your children differently than how you were raised—with compassion and connection, instead of punishment and reward. Except the only thing is, friends and extended family just don't seem to get your parenting choices.

You can feel their spoken and unspoken judgments, and it's really putting you on edge, but you don't want to have uncomfortable conversations or tension. So what do you do, mama?

Here are 10 positive phrases you can say to family and friends who just don't seem to get your parenting.

1. "I appreciate how much you care about our kids, but I'm really happy with how we're doing it."

This response finds the common ground. Both of you care deeply about your children, and that's the main thing to acknowledge. It sets a limit and lets the other person know you are not looking for help and advice, but appreciate their intention.

2. "I've thought and read a lot about parenting and I'm really happy with what I've learned."

Parenting nowadays can look pretty different from how it was in previous generations, and there are so many resources giving contradictory advice. A friend or relative may make the mistaken assumption that you are doing it all wrong simply because it's not how they did it, or are doing it. This response lets them know you have made a thoughtful choice.

Gently pointing out that you have read and thought about their parenting style may surprise them. Perhaps your confident response may even make them curious about what you have read, and why you decided it's the right way for you to parent.

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3. "We've tried different methods, and this is what works best for us."

Let your friend or relative know that you aren't looking for advice, you've tried different styles of parenting and are content with what you're doing.

4. "We find that they're more responsive when we set limits gently."

If you are taking the more peaceful route, then you'll find that it's pretty common for parents to mistake gentle parenting with permissive parenting. Pointing out that you are setting limits, even if they look a little different, can be reassuring to a relative who thinks you are not in control.

5. "I've noticed that if we listen to the crying rather than distracting or ignoring them, then they let out their feelings and are less likely to be upset later."

A lot of people have a huge misunderstanding about crying. They think of it as a negative that needs to be stopped instead of as a healthy and healing way to express emotions. This is a simple way to tell them that there is a purpose in allowing feelings, and it's actually better in the long run for your family.

6. "Every family is different, but this is what works best for us."

Parenting differences can often bring up strong feelings between friends because one person may assume you are judging them and think that what they're doing is wrong. Acknowledging that every family is different is a peacemaker. It shows that choosing a different path doesn't mean you are judging or critical of others, and you get that everyone makes different choices.

7. "Kids are so different. This is how my child responds best."

Everyone is the best expert on their family and what their children need. Nobody on the outside looking in can tell you how to parent. This phrase lets the other person know that what you are doing is based on what your understanding of what your child needs and ensures they won't need an explanation.

8. "Don't worry, I can handle this!"

If a friend or family member wants to step in and parent for you, this is a polite way of saying "no thanks."' A lot of people aren't comfortable around big emotions so perhaps they see your child crying and want to give them a lollipop to cheer them up.

This phrase gently lets them know they don't need to fix or solve the situation. It can be reassuring to them that despite the wild emotions of your child (or their challenging behavior), that you are feeling calm and under control.

9. "Thanks for your advice. I'll give it some thought."

This is a conversation closer. It lets the person know they've been heard and you aren't just dismissing what they say. But it also ends the debate, so it's perfect to use with someone you know will never understand what you're doing.

10. "I guess this must look a little different to how you were parented?"

This might not always be appropriate, but if the timing seems right it can open up a discussion about the roots of why the other person might feel the way they do about parenting. Sharing stories about how you were parented can help both come to an understanding that everyone chooses their own parenting path based on their own complex histories, and personal choices.

It also gives the other person a chance to express how they feel about their own childhood, which can help them feel heard, and more relaxed and flexible in their attitude to how you are parenting.

Plus one more that isn't a phrase: Just listen.

Sometimes, no response is needed. Often when people give advice or have strong feelings towards other people's parenting, it's because they feel a sense of responsibility. Perhaps your children's big emotions triggered memories from their childhood, and how they would have been treated if they acted out or expressed themselves.

In those moments, their unheard feelings get ignited and they respond from their own sense of hurt. It can be helpful just to listen to them, to accept that their reaction has nothing to do with you and your parenting, but is about their own history.

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Motherhood is a journey with highs so high so you'll remember them forever, and lows so low you'll curse the day away. I'm still navigating these uncharted waters and just when I feel like the sea has steadied, the water turns choppy again.

My days are filled with uncertainty as we discover more about what's beneath this sweet boy of mine. I know he is smart, strong, passionately curious, compassionate and spirited. What I'm still learning, though, are the differences that make him unique. It's difficult to describe what it's like to be a parent of a spirited child. The answer depends on the day, the task, the weather—the answer is always changing.

Our days ebb and flow, like waves of the ocean. They swell with enjoyment and eagerness and then naturally fade through periodic episodes of misunderstanding and confusion. Attachment and connection, followed by detachment and disconnection. Up and down, back and forth, give and take, push and pull.

My strong-willed child keeps me on my toes, but when I'm able to lift the hood, I can really see what's going on in with his engine. His spirited nature has brought brightness to my life. He is a child of high standards, but is an absolute delight. He is sweet and generous, creative and bright.

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Here are the joys I've learned from parenting a spirited child:

1. His curiosity is a good thing and it reminds me to slow down.

He's always interested in how things work and asks a lot of questions—oftentimes, he tries to figure it out on his own. His senses are keen, and his observations are imaginative and rich. Our five-minute walk to school quickly stretches to 15.

On our way, he'll notice the grasshopper sitting alone on a single branch and the intricate spiderweb laced in the bush nearby. He notices the beautiful colors of the flowers and the leaves changing in the fall.

He'll look up at the sky and see a heart-shaped cloud and hear the distant sound of a siren. He'll notice when one of my shirt buttons is unbuttoned and the single strand of hair on my sleeve. His mind never stops because he is always seeking out knowledge and gathering the data in his mind.

2. His compassion for others and empathy for his friends is admirable.

When he feels, he feels hard. When he expresses love for his baby brother, I'll catch him gently patting his back and giving him a soft embrace, followed up with a kiss and a whisper saying, "I love you."

He once saw his friend fall off her tricycle on the playground and quickly jumped off his and rushed over to make sure she was okay. Every ounce of his body and soul is poured out in those moments. The intense, passionate emotions add depth to my life and make me want to be a better person.

3. He never gives up.

He is determined, tenacious, and will not take "no" for an answer. And if we do say "no," he'll find another way to get a "yes." He's not intimidated by adults or peers and is confident in who he is and what he can do.

At soccer practice, he is the first in line to practice short drills and will run himself ragged until he scores a goal. During our morning school routine, he is the master of negotiation and can somehow convince me he's too full to eat the banana on his plate but not too full to finish off the glass of orange juice.

He is strong-willed and headstrong, qualities I know will serve him well in the future. He wants to learn on his own and test his own limits.

Parenting a spirited child is hard, but it's also rewarding. While it may be a frustrating and exhausting endeavor, I take comfort in knowing that he will grow up to be a leader.

He will be resilient and passionate, focused and unafraid to speak his mind. I don't want him to blend, I want him to shine. I want him to march through life, and not just add to the noise. I want him to love his spirit always, in all ways.

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