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.

When I was expecting my first child, I wanted to know everything that could possibly be in store for his first year.

I quizzed my own mom and the friends who ventured into motherhood before I did. I absorbed parenting books and articles like a sponge. I signed up for classes on childbirth, breastfeeding and even baby-led weaning. My philosophy? The more I knew, the better.

Yet, despite my best efforts, I didn't know it all. Not by a long shot. Instead, my firstborn, my husband and I had to figure it out together—day by day, challenge by challenge, triumph by triumph.


The funny thing is that although I wanted to know it all, the surprises—those moments that were unique to us—were what made that first year so beautiful.

Of course, my research provided a helpful outline as I graduated from never having changed a diaper to conquering the newborn haze, my return to work, the milestones and the challenges. But while I did need much of that tactical knowledge, I also learned the value of following my baby's lead and trusting my gut.

I realized the importance of advice from fellow mamas, too. I vividly remember a conversation with a friend who had her first child shortly before I welcomed mine. My friend, who had already returned to work after maternity leave, encouraged me to be patient when introducing a bottle and to help my son get comfortable with taking that bottle from someone else.

Yes, from a logistical standpoint, that's great advice for any working mama. But I also took an incredibly important point from this conversation: This was less about the act of bottle-feeding itself, and more about what it represented for my peace of mind when I was away from my son.

This fellow mama encouraged me to honor my emotions and give myself permission to do what was best for my family—and that really set the tone for my whole approach to parenting. Because honestly, that was just the first of many big transitions during that first year, and each of them came with their own set of mixed emotions.

I felt proud and also strangely nostalgic as my baby seamlessly graduated to a sippy bottle.

I felt my baby's teething pain along with him and also felt confident that we could get through it with the right tools.

I felt relieved as my baby learned to self-soothe by finding his own pacifier and also sad to realize how quickly he was becoming his own person.

As I look back on everything now, some four years and two more kids later, I can't remember the exact day my son crawled, the project I tackled on my first day back at work, or even what his first word was. (It's written somewhere in a baby book!)

But I do remember how I felt with each milestone: the joy, the overwhelming love, the anxiety, the exhaustion and the sense of wonder. That truly was the greatest gift of the first year… and nothing could have prepared me for all those feelings.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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