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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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Did you hear that? That was the sound of Nordstrom and Maisonette making all your kid's summer wardrobe dreams come true.

Nordstrom partnered with Maisonette to create the perfect in-store pop-up shop from May 24th-June 23rd, featuring some of our favorite baby and kids brands, like Pehr, Zestt Organics, Lali and more. (Trust us, these items are going to take your Instagram feed to the next level of cuteness. 😍) Items range from $15 to $200, so there's something for every budget.

Pop-In@Nordstrom x Maisonette

Maisonette has long been a go-to for some of the best children's products from around the world, whether it's tastefully designed outfits, adorable accessories, or handmade toys we actually don't mind seeing sprawled across the living room rug. Now their whimsical, colorful aesthetic will be available at Nordstrom.

The pop-in shops will be featured in nine Nordstrom locations: Costa Mesa, CA; Los Angeles, CA; Chicago, IL; Austin, TX; Dallas, TX; Bellevue, WA; Seattle, WA; Toronto, ON; and Vancouver, BC.

Don't live nearby? Don't stress! Mamas all across the U.S. and Canada will be able to access the pop-in merchandise online at nordstrom.com/pop

But don't delay―these heirloom-quality pieces will only be available at Nordstrom during the pop-in's run, and then they'll be over faster than your spring break vacation. Happy shopping! 🛍

This article is sponsored by Nordstrom. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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For decades, doctors have prescribed progesterone, one of the key hormones your body needs during pregnancy, to prevent a miscarriage. The hormone, produced by the ovaries, is necessary to prepare the body for implantation. As the pregnancy progresses, the placenta produces progesterone, which suppresses uterine contractions and early labor.

But a new study out of the UK finds that administering progesterone to women experiencing bleeding in their first trimester does not result in dramatically more successful births than a placebo. Yet, for a small group of mothers-to-be who had experienced "previous recurrent miscarriages," the numbers showed promise.

The study, conducted at Tommy's National Centre for Miscarriage Research at the University of Birmingham in the UK, is the largest of its kind, involving 4,153 pregnant women who were experiencing bleeding in those risky (and nerve-wracking) early weeks. The women were randomly split into two groups, with one group receiving 400 milligrams of progesterone via a vaginal suppository, and the other receiving a placebo of the same amount. Both groups were given the suppositories through their 16th week of pregnancy.

Of the group given progesterone, 75% went on to have a successful, full-term birth, compared to 72% for the placebo.

As the study notes, for most women, the administration of progesterone "did not result in a significantly higher incidence of live births than placebo." But for women who had experienced one or two previous miscarriages, the result was a 4% increase in the number of successful births. And for women who had experienced three or more recurrent miscarriages, the number jumped to a 15% increase.

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Dr. Arri Coomarasamy, Professor of Gynecology at the University of Birmingham and Director of Tommy's National Centre for Miscarriage Research, said the implications for that group are "huge." "Our finding that women who are at risk of a miscarriage because of current pregnancy bleeding and a history of a previous miscarriage could benefit from progesterone treatment has huge implications for practice," he said.

It's estimated that 1 in 5 pregnancies ends in miscarriage. And while even a spot of blood no doubt increases the fear in every expectant mother's mind, bleeding is actually a very common occurrence during pregnancy, Coomarasamy said. Still, first trimester bleeding is particularly risky, with a third of women who experience it going on to miscarry.

So for women who have been through it multiple times, Coomarasamy's findings are an important avenue to explore. "This treatment could save thousands of babies who may have otherwise been lost to a miscarriage," he added.

The study is among a number of recent groundbreaking discoveries made by doctors looking to further understand what causes miscarriages and what can be done to prevent them. While about 70% of miscarriages are attributed to chromosomal abnormalities, doctors recently learned that certain genetic abnormalities, which exist in a small group of parents-to-be, could be discovered by testing the mother and father, as well as the embryo.

Doctors have also discovered that even knowing the sex of your baby could predict the complications a mother may face, thus helping medical professionals to assist in keeping the pregnancy viable.

But while there is no sweeping solution to stop miscarriages, for some couples, the use of progesterone does offer a glimmer of hope. "The results from this study are important for parents who have experienced miscarriage," Jane Brewin, chief executive of Tommy's said. "They now have a robust and effective treatment option which will save many lives and prevent much heartache."

Brewin added that studies like this one are imperative to our understanding of how the creation of life, which remains both a miracle and a mystery, truly works. "It gives us confidence to believe that further research will yield more treatments and ultimately make many more miscarriages preventable," she said.

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It's never easy to give up a career and launch a whole new one, but when I decided to end my time as an opera singer and move into the field of sales, I knew I could do it. After all, I had the perfect role model: my mom.

When I was growing up, she worked as a dental hygienist, but when I started college, she took some courses in sales. She was single with two kids in college, which was a driving force to make more money. But above that, she truly had a passion for sales. In no time, she got jobs and excelled at them, ultimately earning her the title of Vendor Representative of the Year at her electronics company.

When I entered the field of sales, an unusual and unexpected twist followed. Several years into my career, I was hired by a different electronics company. My mom and I ended up selling similar products to some of the same businesses. (Neither of our companies realized this, and we have different last names.)

But rather than feeling uncomfortable, I saw this as a great opportunity. She and I were both committed to doing our best. More often than not, she beat me when we went after the same piece of business. But in the process, I learned so much from her. I was able to see how her work ethic, commitment and style drove her success. I had even more to emulate.

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Here are some of the biggest business lessons I learned from my working mom:

1. Use your existing skill set to differentiate yourself.

As a dental hygienist, my mom knew how to talk to people and make them feel comfortable. She had also served as a youth leader at three different churches where my dad preached. In each town, she found at-risk kids, brought them together and developed programs for them. She had learned how to help people improve themselves and make their lives better.

In sales, she did the same thing, focusing on how the products or services she was selling could genuinely make a difference in the lives of her customers. Those skills translated seamlessly into her new career.

2. Start strong from day one—don't wait for permission to launch your full potential.

From day one at a job, my mom showed up with energy and vigor to get going. She didn't take time to be tentative. Instead, she leaned into her tasks—the equivalent of blasting out of the gate in a race. Having seen how well this worked for her, I strive to do the same.

3. Have empathy, it's essential.

Many women have been falsely accused of being "too emotional" in business. However, empathy is a necessity and drives better results. As a businesswoman, my mom set herself apart by demonstrating genuine empathy for her clients and her colleagues. She loves getting to know people's stories. That understanding is a key component in her finalizing deals and helping her company reach higher levels of success.

4. Learn often—you're never done building your skill set.

My mom is the reason I spend at least three months out of each year getting a new certification or learning a new skill. She's always working to improve, harness new technologies or develop new competencies—and she's passed on that eagerness to learn to me. She knows that to stay on top, you have to keep learning.

5. Bring on the charm.

By nature, I'm analytical. I like to present the numbers to clients, showing the data to help sway their decisions. And that has its place, but charm is universal. Being someone people want to do business with makes a huge difference. If I had a nickel for every time a prospect told me, "I love your mother," I could retire now! Business, especially sales, is about the connections you make as much as the value you bring.

Our paths have taken our careers in different directions, but along the way, I've done my best to incorporate all these skills. Thank you, mom, for teaching me all this, and much more.

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Every mom has her own list of character traits each of she hopes to instill in her children, but there is one that stands out as a big priority for the majority of millennial mothers.

Motherly's 2019 State of Motherhood survey revealed that kindness is incredibly important to today's moms. It is the number one trait we want to cultivate in our children, and according to stats from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, this emphasis on kindness couldn't come at a better time.

In recent years kids and parents have been straying from kindness, but these Ivy League experts have some great ideas about how today's moms can get the next generation back on track so they can become the caring adults of tomorrow.

Between 2013 and 2014, as part of Harvard's Making Caring Common project, researchers surveyed 10,000 middle and high school students across the nation. They found that no matter what race, class or culture the kids identified with, the majority of the students surveyed valued their own personal success and happiness way more than that of others.

Why do kids value their own success so much more than things like caring and fairness? Well, apparently, mom and dad told them to.

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Eighty percent of the 10,000 students said their parents taught them that their own happiness and high achievement were more important than caring for others. (So much for sharing is caring.)

The folks at Harvard say that valuing your own ambition is obviously a good thing (in moderation) in today's competitive world, but prioritizing it so much more than ethical values like kindness, caring and fairness makes kids more likely to be cruel, disrespectful and dishonest.

So how do we fix this? Here's Harvard's four-step plan for raising kinder kids.

1. Help them practice being nice

Giving kids daily opportunities to practice caring and kind acts helps make ethical behavior second nature. They could help you with chores, help a friend with homework or work on a project to help homelessness.

All those tasks would help a child flex their empathy muscles. The key is to increase the challenges over time so your child can develop a stronger capacity for caregiving as they grow.

2. Help them see multiple perspectives

The researchers want kids to “zoom in" and listen closely to the people around them, but also see the bigger picture. “By zooming out and taking multiple perspectives, including the perspectives of those who are too often invisible (such as the new kid in class, someone who doesn't speak their language, or the school custodian), young people expand their circle of concern and become able to consider the justice of their communities and society," the study's authors' wrote.

3. Model kindness

Our kids are watching, so if we want them to be kinder, it's something we should try to cultivate in ourselves. The Harvard team suggests parents make an effort to widen our circles of concern and deepen our understanding of issues of fairness and justice.

4. Teach kids to cope with destructive feelings

According to the researchers, the ability to care about others can be overwhelmed by a kid's feelings of anger, shame, envy, or other negative feelings. They suggest we teach our kids teach that while all feelings are okay to feel, some ways of dealing with them are not helpful, or kind (for example, “Hitting your classmate might make you happy, but it won't make them happy and isn't very kind. Counting to 10 and talking about why you're mad is more productive than hitting.")

While the folks at Harvard are concerned that so many kids are being taught to value their own happiness above all, they were also encouraged by the students who do prioritize caring and kindness. One of the students surveyed wrote, “People should always put others before themselves and focus on contributing something to the world that will improve life for future generations."

If we follow the advice of Harvard researchers, the world will see more kids that think like that, and that's what future generations need.

[A version of this post was originally published November 8, 2017. It has been updated.]

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These days more women are having babies into their 40s, but the idea that women are facing down the biological clock is pretty pervasive—once you're over 35, you automatically receive that "advanced maternal age" classification, while your male partner's age may never even be mentioned. The pressure on older moms is unfair, because according to new research from Rutgers University, men may face age-related fertility decline too and America's dads are getting older.

It's a new idea, but this finding actually takes 40 years worth of research into account—which, coincidentally, is around the age male fertility may start to decline. According to Rutgers researchers, the medical community hasn't quite pinpointed the onset of advanced age, but it hovers somewhere between ages 35 and 45.

The study which appears in the journal Maturitas, finds that a father's age may not just affect his fertility, but also the health of his partner and offspring.

Based on previously conducted research, the team behind this study found evidence that men over 45 could put their partners at greater risk for pregnancy complications like gestational diabetes and preeclampsia. Babies born to older fathers also have an increased likelihood of premature birth, late stillbirth, low Apgar scores, low birthweight, newborn seizures and more. The risks appear to exist later in life, too: Research suggests children of older fathers have greater risk of childhood cancers, cognitive issues and autism.

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There's been plenty of studies surrounding advanced maternal age, but research on advanced paternal age is pretty slim—scientists don't quite understand how age correlates to these factors at this point. But researchers from Rutgers believe that age-related decline in testosterone and sperm quality degradation may be to blame. "Just as people lose muscle strength, flexibility and endurance with age, in men, sperm also tend to lose 'fitness' over the life cycle," Gloria Bachmann, director of the Women's Health Institute at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, explains in a release for this news.

As we've previously reported, more and more men are waiting until later in life to have children. According to a 2017 Stanford study, children born to fathers over 40 represent 9% of U.S. births, and the average age of first-time fathers has climbed by three-and-a-half years over the past four decades —so this research matters now more than ever, and it may represent the first step towards setting certain standards in place for men who choose to delay parenthood.

The biggest thing to come out of this research may be the need for more awareness surrounding advanced paternal age. This particular study's authors believe doctors should be starting to have conversations with their male patients, possibly even encouraging them to consider banking sperm if they're considering parenthood later in life.

Women certainly tend to be aware of the age-related risks to their fertility, and many regularly hear that they should freeze their eggs if they're not ready for motherhood. And while it's still too early to say whether we'll ever examine paternal age this closely, this research may set a whole new conversation in motion.

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