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Why I decided to unschool my children

This unstructured time at home with your kids might change the way you think about learning and school forever.

Why I decided to unschool my children

"How are you holding up?" These days, it's the start of every conversation, email or text. In what feels like the blink of an eye, our whole lives have changed. Our routines uprooted. Work is unpredictable, or worse, non-existent. And just as we're wrapping our minds around phrases like "global pandemic" and "social distancing," the kids are home. Some of them, this year for good. How are you holding up?

Adding homeschooling to an already overflowing plate is stressful. And in times of uncertainty or stress, most of us do what we know, what's familiar. We break out the color-coded schedules, download the latest list of resources, and print out the worksheets. So many worksheets. And don't forget to panic every half hour or so trying to figure out how this is going to work.

About three years ago, I found myself in a similar position. Not a global pandemic, of course, but faced with uncertainty about this new journey our family had embarked on. In February, my then8-year-old son had come home from school and asked for what felt like the hundredth time that year, could I please just be homeschooled? I finally agreed.


The day I filed the paperwork officially withdrawing him from school, I was like so many people at the start of the pandemic I created the schedules, printed out the worksheets, bought the curriculum and set off to recreate the classroom in my dining room. Committed to adding "teacher" to my work-at-home job title, I tried to control and plan every second of my son's day. It was every bit as stressful and overwhelming as you'd imagine—or at this point, as you know.

Months before making this transition, I came across unschooling (which, to be clear, is not the same as homeschooling). I breezed over it, in search of a curriculum I could get behind. But in those early anxiety-induced months, I revisited that strange unschooling concept that suggested maybe kids, young people, can think and choose for themselves. What a radical idea.

Unschooling can mean many different things depending on who you ask, and the openness and lack of structure can feel really uncomfortable and unfamiliar. But setting labels aside, for us, unschooling simply means following our children's lead. We provide support, assistance and, when needed, instruction.

When we found our youngest son literally jumping off the walls, we signed him up for Parkour classes.

When our middle son announced he might want to be a chef, we helped pick out cookbooks and accompanied him to buy ingredients for recipes he wanted to try.

And when our eldest decided he wanted to attend a specialized public high school to focus on digital media, we supported that as well.

If what I'm saying—this idea to follow your children's lead instead of a predetermined path that may or may not be relevant to them and their interests—sounds extreme, I understand. But there are two things I've learned over our journey that I think might offer some perspective.

First, learning doesn't only happen at school. For better or worse, one can absolutely exist without the other. Learning, as it turns out, happens everywhere, all the time. In the recipe making (we have to double the recipe to make six brownies so instead of ⅓ cup, we need...?), in the dance routines, in the art, in the conversations, in the play.

Second, I realized that in replicating the traditional school model, we were creating an environment that is designed to be efficient for classrooms full of students. At home, you have the unique opportunity to focus on your individual child—you can follow their interests and if you can make that mindset adjustment, the possibilities are endless.

I'm not saying it's easy. We've been unschooling for three years, and what I miss most right now are the two days a week my children used to spend at Natural Creativity, a self-directed learning center where facilitators take on the task of supporting, guiding and assisting so I can have precious time to work (Natural Creativity will actually be featured in the insightful upcoming documentary film, Unschooled).

But I am saying, this unstructured time at home with your kids might change the way you think about learning and school forever. With all of our children home every day, it's been an adjustment, especially with limited opportunities to get outside and explore, but our seasoned unschoolers are taking it in stride.

Our youngest has discovered hip hop fitness thanks to a well-placed YouTube ad on his second 30-minute routine of the day.

That 8-year-old who started it all is now an 11-year-old flipping through his newest cookbook to see what recipe to make this week.

But it's our high schooler who's most fascinating to see. He logs into Google Classroom but eventually closes it for equity reasons, the schools in our district aren't able to enforce grading just yet. Unsure of what to do, I offer him some relief. "If you didn't HAVE to learn Spanish (the only language offered at his school) what language would you learn?" A huge grin spreads across his face and referencing his love for anime, he responds, "Japanese?" And he's off! Week two of Duolingo and learning Japanese in hopes of finally watching anime sans subtitles.

That's the power of unschooling.

We're all living and navigating this new reality together. For many of us, life will never quite be the same. But, maybe there's something different, something better we can discover.

You'd be surprised where the learning happens once they're in the driver's seat.

Are you unschooling your kids? Here are some of our favorite at-home learning products that are fun for everyone.

Big Life journal

Big Life Journal

Making mistakes is an integral part of learning. This engaging guided journal invites kids to explore their own challenges, failures and successes and develop a growth mindset in the process. Painstakingly developed by a team of educators, therapists, scientists and kids, it's a treasure in the making.

$25

Farm Steady food making kits

Farm Steady food kit

The food making kits from Farm Steady are a fun and easy way to turn the kitchen into a classroom. From bagels and pretzels to cheeses and fermented foods there are many delicious "lessons" to choose from!

$30

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

These new arrivals from the Motherly Shop are *so* good you need them all

Noodle and Boo, Mushie and Plan Toys—everything you need, mama.

Motherhood is hard work—finding great products and brands to make the journey easier doesn't have to be. Each week, we stock the Motherly Shop with brilliant new products we know you'll need and love from brands and makers that really care.

So, what's new this week?

Noodle and Boo: Holistic baby skin care

Through working with chemists who specialize in natural and holistic skin care, Noodle and Boo has developed exclusive formulas that nourish, replenish and protect especially delicate, eczema-prone and sensitive skin—including laundry detergent. Their signature, obsession-worthy scent—which is subtly sweet, pure and fresh—is the closest thing to bottling up "baby smell" we've ever found.

Mushie: Kids' dinnerware that actually looks great

We're totally crushing on Mushie's minimalist dinnerware for kids. Their innovative baby and toddler products leverage Swedish design to marry both form and function while putting safety front and center. Everything is created in soft, muted colors from BPA-free materials.

Plan Toys: Open-ended toys that last

Corralling and cleaning up the toys becomes less stressful when you bring home fewer, better, more beautiful ones. Plan Toys checks all the boxes. Made from re-purposed rubber wood, they're better for the planet as well.

Not sure where to start? Here's what we're adding to our cart:

Mushie silicone baby bib

Mushie silicone baby bib

There's no going back to cloth bibs after falling in love with this Swedish design. The pocket catches whatever misses their mouths and the BPA-free silicone is waterproof and easy to wipe down between uses.

$13

Mushie kids' square dinnerware plate set

Mushie kids' square dinnerware plate set

We're totally crushing on the soft muted colors that flow with our table aesthetics and the thoughtful high-sided design that helps babies and toddler who are learning to feed themselves.

$15

Noodle and Boo nursery essentials kit

Noodle and Boo nursery essentials kit

Stocked with everything a new mama needs to care for her little one's delicate skin, Noodle and Boo's nursery essentials gift set is the perfect way to create a holistic and natural skin care routine from day one.

$45

Plan Toys doctor set 

Plan Toys doctor set

Ideal for quiet time and imaginative role play, we love the gorgeous planet-friendly doctor kit from Plan Toys. The rubber wood stethoscope, blood pressure cuff, thermometer, syringe and reflex hammer pack up neat and tidy into the red cotton case should they need to dash off on a rescue mission.

$30

Noodle and Boo instant hand sanitizer

Noodle and Boo instant hand sanitizer

Since we're buying and using hand sanitizer by the truckload these days, we're thrilled Noodle and Boo has made one we can feel good about using on little ones who cram their hands in their mouths 24/7. Not only does it kill 99.9% of germs, but it also leaves hands moisturized as well.

$10

Plan Toys natural wooden blocks set

Plan Toys natural wooden blocks set

A toy box isn't complete without a set of blocks—and this set is one of our new favorites. The sustainable, re-purposed wood is eco-friendly, comes at a relatively affordable price point and are certain to last well beyond multiple kids, hand-me-downs and even generations.

$30

Noodle and Boo family fun pack cleansing set

Noodle and Boo family fun pack cleansing set

Because their products were developed for delicate and eczema-prone skin, Noodle and Boo's full line of skin care has become a favorite among those with sensitive skin of all ages. This set is the perfect way to pamper the entire family.

$48

Mushie kids' round dinnerware bowl set

Mushie kids' round dinnerware bowl set

No need to sacrifice safety or design with the sustainable dinnerware from Mushie. Their minimalist, functional dishes are perfect for serving up meals and snacks to your tablemates who might hurl it to the floor at any point. They're made in Denmark from BPA-free polypropylene plastic mamas can feel good about and dishwasher and microwave-safe as well.

$14

Plan Toys geo stacking blocks

Plan Toys geo stacking blocks

The best engaging, open-ended toys are the ones that are left out and available, inviting little (and big!) ones to play. These beautiful gem-like blocks make for addicting coffee table play for the entire family.

$30

Plan Toys wooden green dollhouse

Plan Toys wooden green dollhouse

Energy-efficient design isn't just for grown-up real estate. This green dollhouse includes a wind turbine, a solar cell panel, electric inverter, recycling bins, a rain barrel, a biofacade and a blind that can adjust the amount of sunlight and air circulation along with minimalist furniture we'd totally love to have in our own houses.

$250

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

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5 brilliant products that encourage toddler independence

Help your little one help themselves.

One of our main goals as mothers is to encourage our children to learn, grow and play. They start out as our tiny, adorable babies who need us for everything, and somehow, before you know it, they grow into toddlers with ideas and opinions and desires of their own.

You may be hearing a lot more of "I do it!" or maybe they're pushing your hand away as a signal to let you know, I don't need your help, Mama. That's okay. They're just telling you they're ready for more independence. They want to be in charge of their bodies, and any little bit of control their lives and abilities allow.

So, instead of challenging your toddler's desire for autonomy, we found five of our favorite products to help encourage independence—and eliminate frustration in the process.

EKOBO Bamboo 4-piece kid set

EKOBO bamboo 4-piece kid set

This colorful set includes a plate, cup, bowl and spoon and is just right for your child's meal experience. Keep them in an easy-to-reach cabinet so they'll feel encouraged (and excited!) to get their own place setting each time they eat.

$25

Puj PhillUp hangable kids cups

Puj PhillUp hangable kids cups

Before you know it, your little one will be asking (okay, maybe demanding) to fill their own water cups. This amazing 4-pack of cups attaches directly to the fridge (or any glass, metal, tile or fiberglass surface) making it easier for your child to grab a cup themselves. Just be sure a water pitcher or dispenser is nearby, and—boom!—one task off your plate.

$29

Wise Elk puzzle tower blocks

Wise Elk puzzle tower blocks

These beautiful blocks, made from sustainably-sourced wood and water-based, non-toxic, lead-free paint, will keep your little one focused on their creation while they're also busy working on their fine-motor skills. The puzzle design will encourage patience as your kiddo creates their own building, fitting one block in after the next.

$18

Lorena Canals basket

Lorena Canals Basket

This *gorgeous* braided cotton basket is the perfect, accessible home for their blocks (and whatever else you want to hide away!) so your kiddo can grab them (and clean them up) whenever their heart desires.

$29

BABYBJÖRN step stool

BABYBJ\u00d6RN Step Stool

Your kiddo might be ready to take on the world, but they might need an extra boost to do so—cue, a step stool! An easy-to-move lightweight stool is the must-have confidence-boosting tool you need in your home so your growing tot can reach, well... the world.

$20

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

Shop

20 baby names to set your child up for success

What do Jacqueline, Morgan, Madison and Parker all have in common?

They say picking a baby name is an art, not a science. But when it comes to figuring out which baby names have been linked to successful futures, there has actually been some scientific work on the subject.

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