The case for ‘unschooling’ during the pandemic

Unschooling parents don't formally try to "teach" children—they let their children follow what brings them joy.

unschooling during coronavirus pandemic

We live in Italy, where schools are closed due to the coronavirus. Children at my daughter's school are learning by an online platform called Seesaw. In reality, though, they're getting just a few hours a day of educational activities, rather than a full curriculum.

As we manage our days, I'm finding that my knowledge about unschooling is incredibly useful. If you haven't heard of unschooling, it's a method of homeschooling where parents don't formally try to "teach" children—they just facilitate their children's interests and let them follow what brings them joy.

If that sounds too easy to be true, I hear you. But I've seen it work, and I can tell you with confidence: Children do have the ability to naturally learn. Studying unschooling has taught me that learning can happen in many different ways. I know now that my daughter doesn't need school to learn, and in fact, a rest from those busy school days can have its benefits.

Emma Homerlein, the junior school principal of the International School of Florence in Italy, also sees advantages to our situation.

"It could potentially be a beautiful opportunity to see how valuable it might be to do things other than spend 6 hours in a classroom. Children can think about their self-management skills, learning to follow online learning instructions without support, organization, time management and self-motivation. The way learning happens in school isn't optimum for all kinds of learners. Maybe some would do a lot better having a little bit of outside time, a little bit of virtual learning, and a little bit of time in school."

Homerlein says she isn't worried about children falling behind with the break from formal school instruction.

"I don't think it will be hard for them to catch up. We need to remind parents that children are not going to miss out on university because of these four weeks. The entire globe is going to be in a similar situation. There's all different types of learning, and being at home is one of them. This can help us look at learning from a different perspective. It could very well be an opportunity for every educational institution to rethink learning."

So what can you do to help facilitate your child's learning at home? Here are a few tips for unschooling that I've learned from our experience on lockdown in Italy.

Focus on self-care and emotional health—your child's and your own

Emotional health is the foundation that all children need to learn. When they are upset or stressed, their brain function is not optimal, and they will struggle to process language, retain information and think in a rational, reasonable way. We are living in extremely stressful times, and our primary focus right now needs to be on taking care of ourselves and our families.

Many of us are dealing with extreme amounts of stress as we juggle work and parenting with no childcare. So consider what the most important things you can do to take care of your own emotional health so you can be there for your child. A regular yoga or meditation practice? Time to video chat with friends, or alone time? Your needs are a top priority, too.

Follow your child's interests

As a homeschooling parent, you don't actually have to set a curriculum, especially for a limited time period like this. Instead, follow and facilitate your child's interests and what brings them joy. This will not only help their mental health stay on track, but will also allow learning to naturally take place.

Have a routine, but be flexible

If a routine works for you then try dividing up the day into different phases such as exercise time, reading, games and independent time. This doesn't have to be a strict schedule, but more of a rhythm with rituals your children start to look forward to. For example, one mom I know starts her kids' day with a daily board game in bed, which combines playtime, strategic thinking and connection—which is as important for kids as caffeine is for us adults!

Establish regular learning habits

Homerlein says, "Habitual learning is important. a little bit of practice and routine.'' She recommends reading to your child each day, and doing activities like baking or playing cards, which are good for number work and memory. You don't need to constantly entertain your children—time to play independently is what really fosters their creativity and self-motivation skills.

Use technology for more than just screen time

The Internet is a fantastic resource and there is so much more to it than simply screen time. Whether it's virtual tours of the world's great museums, an online doodling session with bestselling children's book illustrator Mo Willems, or YouTube tutorials that guide you step-by-step through crafts or science projects, let your kids choose so they're guided by their own interests—they'll learn naturally by following their own instincts.

This is not an easy time for any of us, but one thing's for sure: You can take your child out of school, but nothing can take away your child's natural curiosity and their ability to learn in whatever environment they find themselves in.

Rarely is a woman more concerned with what her body needs than when she's pregnant. We start to question and research everything, right? From swearing off turkey sandwiches to diving down the rabbit hole of prenatal supplements that make up what we lack, the stress of overthinking is real, mama.

One of the main reasons we launched the Motherly Shop is to help take some of that stress away. We've tracked down the best brands and products developed by people (and in many cases, women!) that truly work to serve the needs of real mamas, especially throughout the overwhelming transition into motherhood.

That's why we knew we had to introduce mamas-to-be to the science-backed and expertly-formulated protein collagen for pregnancy from Needed. And as one of our bestsellers, it's clear you've been looking for it, too.

Keep reading Show less

9 products that will help baby sleep better (and longer!)

For many parents, attempting naps and bedtime can seem like a never-ending cycle of rocking, shushing and hoping for some kind of magic sleep solution.

How do I get my baby to sleep? This is one of the most commonly asked questions among new parents, and it makes sense, given that babies are born with their days and nights mixed up. For many parents, attempting naps and bedtime can seem like a never-ending cycle of rocking, shushing and hoping for some kind of magic sleep solution.

And while that might not exist (yet), we have found some of the best products out there that can help baby fall asleep faster and for longer durations. Because when baby is sleeping, so are you!

Dreamland Baby weighted sleep sack and swaddle

Designed by a mama, parents swear by this weighted sleep sack. It mimics your hug to give your baby security and comfort that helps them get to sleep faster and stay asleep longer. The detachable swaddle wing makes it easy to transition as they grow.

It's also super easy to get on and off, and includes a bottom-up zipper for late night changes, so you don't have to wake your baby in the process.


Yogasleep Hushh portable sound machine

Yogasleep hushh sound machine

With three soothing options, this is a perfect solution to help your baby settle when naps are on the go and during travel! I love how compact this noise machine is and that it can run all night with one charge.


Bebe au Lait muslin crib sheets

Burt's Bees Organic Crib Sheets

With a variety of print options to choose from, these breathable sheets are *so* soft and smooth, even through multiple washes. The luxury fabric keeps little ones warm without overheating—a formula that helps ensure more sleep for everyone.


The Simple Folk perfect pajamas

The Simple Folk perfect pajamas

You know what's going to help baby have their best sleep ever? Some quality, super soft pajamas. The timeless (and aptly named!) Perfect Pajama from The Simple Folk are some of our favorites. They last forever and they're made from organic pima cotton that is safe on baby's precious skin. They come in a wide range of sizes so siblings can match and feature fold-over hand covers on sizes up to 12 months.


The Snoo bassinet


Designed by expert pediatrician and sleep guru Dr. Harvey Karp, the Snoo bassinet gently rocks your baby to sleep while snuggled up in the built-in swaddle. Not only does it come with sensors that adjust the white noise and movement based on your baby's needs, there is also an app that allows you to adjust the settings directly from your phone.

While this item is a bit on the expensive side, there is now an option to rent for $3.50 a day, which is a total game changer!


Hatch Baby Rest sound machine + nightlight

best baby sound machine

The Hatch Baby Rest is a dual sound machine and nightlight that will grow with your family. Many parents use this product with their infants as a white-noise machine and then as a "time to rise" solution for toddlers.

The thing I love most about this product is that the light it gives off isn't too bright, and you can even select different color preferences; giving your toddler choices at bedtime.


Crane humidifier

Crane Humidifier

The only thing worse than a sick baby is a baby who is sick and not sleeping well. The Crane humidifier helps take care of this by relieving congestion and helping your baby breathe better while sleeping.

Personally, I think the adorable design options alone are enough of a reason to purchase this product, and your child will love watching steam come out of the elephant's trunk!


Naturepedic organic crib mattress

Naturpedic Lightweight Organic Mattress

In the first few months of life, babies can spend up to 17 hours a day sleeping, so choosing a mattress that is safe (read: no chemicals!) and comfortable is incredibly important.

Naturepedic uses allergen-friendly and waterproof materials with babies and children in mind, making them easy to clean and giving you peace of mind.


Happiest Baby sleepea 5-second swaddle

best baby swaddle

There are baby swaddles and then there is Sleepea. Similar to the brand's swaddle that is built into the Snoo, the Sleepea is magic for multiple reasons. First, it's got mesh panels ensuring baby never overheats. Second, the zipper zips from the top or the bottom, so you can change the baby's diaper in the middle of the night without ever waking them. Third, it's hip safe. Fourth, the patterns are SO cute. And fifth, the interior swaddle wrap that keeps baby's ams down has a "quiet" velcro that won't wake baby if you need to readjust while they're asleep.


We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.


10 photos to take on baby’s first day that you'll cherish forever

You'll obsess over these newborn baby pictures.

Bethany Menzel: Instagram + Blog

As you're preparing for baby's birth, we bet you're dreaming of all of the amazing photos you'll take of your precious new babe. As a professional photographer and mama, I have some tips for newborn photos you'll want to capture.

Here are the 10 photos you will want to take on baby's first day.

Keep reading Show less