Some free advice for freaked out parents from a homeschooling, remote-working former teacher
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

As employees are being asked to work from home whenever possible and schools across the nation are closing down for weeks, millions of parents have suddenly found themselves in the role of remote worker and homeschool parent.

Since this is the life I've been living for 15+ years, I'm a bit of an expert—if there were such a thing.


(My background: I have an education degree and worked as a public school teacher. Not thrilled with the education system, I started exploring alternative options as my first child approached school age and ultimately landed on homeschooling. That child is now 19 and in college. My other two kids, ages 15 and 11, have always been homeschooled as well. Through our years of homeschooling, I have also worked from home—part-time when the kids were young, full-time now.)

As a former teacher and remote work/homeschooling veteran, I thought I'd offer some advice to the parents who feel like they just got thrown into the deep end.

Everyone's circumstances are different, so I'm not going to specifically tell you how to homeschool while working from home. Rather, I want to help curb your anxiety over your new role and help you adjust your expectations.

Here we go:

1. Lower your standards on housework.

I'm starting with this one because it is so very real. Your house is going to be messier. It just is. Especially now, when we're all spending a lot more time inside our homes than usual, it's going to be hard to keep up with.

When the whole family is home all day, you use more dishes, clutter is inevitable, things get dirtier, bathrooms get used more frequently, etc. Set up chores and create the expectation that everyone helps tidy, clean, and maintain, but also accept that having a pristine home and family home all day are not compatible realities. I've been fighting this battle for 15 years and have learned to embrace the fact that my house will never grace the cover of a magazine.

2. Relax. Your kids will learn despite you, I promise.

I see parents sharing schedules and curriculum ideas on social media, and I'm sure that helps people feel like they have some semblance of control in this situation.

But here's the thing: While routine is important and some people really do thrive on structure, detailed schedules are not necessary from a learning standpoint. If it helps you and/or your children feel more stable, then by all means go wild with your schedule-happy self, but don't freak out if the wheels fall off that cart.

First of all, teaching one kid something takes a fraction of the time it takes to teach 20 to 30 kids something. You don't need to spend hours doing formal schooling each day, and it's healthy for most kids to have lots of free, creative time.

Second, I've fluctuated between structured and unstructured learning with our kids over the years, and aside from math and the basics of learning to read, I've found it makes little difference either way. Humans tend to retain knowledge that interests them or that they need in order to do what they want to do. Everything else gets tossed into a slush pile in our brains.

Learning is a natural, organic, ongoing, non-linear, non-standardized process. Humans instinctively want to make sense of the world and will seek answers to their questions in order to do so. Recognizing that fact can relieve a lot of the stress you might be feeling about having to officially teach your kids anything in particular.

Most of my kids' best learning has happened when they have easy access to information (the internet, books, and tools of communication) and the freedom to explore what intrigues them. We've kept math structured because my kids don't naturally gravitate toward it and they'll need it for standardized testing purposes. But almost everything else has been led by their own interests.

And this method appears to have worked. My oldest graduated with honors from community college at 17 and is now in her second year as an honor roll student at a 4-year university. My 15-year-old is wrapping up her second community college class with a near perfect score—and that's the kid I have most worried about being "behind" at various times over the years. Our loose, free approach to learning has clearly not resulted in academic failure in any way.

So relax. Your kids are not going to fall into academic ruin no matter what you do or don't do during these weeks, I promise.

3. Recognize that learning at home looks almost nothing like learning at school.

Let me assure you that your lack of teacher training makes zero difference in your ability to homeschool. Seriously. I know at least a dozen homeschooling parents who were certified teachers, including myself, and we all agree that our formal teacher training is often more of a hindrance to homeschooling than a help.

Educating a few kids you know intimately is nothing like teaching a classroom full of kids from different families. Homeschooling bears no resemblance to teaching in a classroom, and it shouldn't. It takes a lot less time. It can be a lot looser and freer. It can look like doing a formal lesson for a bit and then curling up on the couch with a book. It might look like binge-watching National Geographic specials or Brain Games (super cool show). It might be hours of strategy games played between siblings. It could be watching "Captain America," coming up with questions about World War II, and researching the answers.

If your school has a specific plan for kids while they're home, that's one thing. But if you are left without a plan, it's okay to say, "What are you interested in learning about?" and then help them find resources for them to learn about those things. It's okay to let them play outside for hours. It's okay to hand them a roll of duct tape and the recycling bin and challenge them to build the coolest thing they can think of.

It's even okay to take an "unschooling" break from formal academics altogether and embrace a curiosity-led approach to learning. You—and your kids—might find it totally refreshing.

You'll find it much easier to work from home while your kids learn if you view yourself as a facilitator of their natural learning process rather than a formal teacher who has to fulfil the requirements of a specific curriculum. That's part of the beauty of homeschooling—learning is just a way of life, not something separate that has to be done a certain way.

4. Take care of yourself. For real.

Everyone has just had their lives upended. All of us are feeling on edge. It feels like a superhuman feat to manage our own uncertainty and fear while also managing our children's.

And being at home with the family all day every day is a stress of its own, even if you love your children dearly. I've been doing this for many years, and while I love many things about this lifestyle, the near-constant togetherness and the feeling pulled in several directions all the time can wear me down. Clearly, that's exacerbated right now when I can't go escape to a coffee shop and we can't all hop over to a friend's house. If you aren't used to this life, it's going to feel overwhelming. You're probably feeling that already. This is a hard time for everyone.

But your mental health is important, so take care of yourself as best you can. If you need to hole up in your bedroom for a while, put on a video for the kids without any guilt—even if you think they've already had too much screen time. Send all the kids to their room for quiet solitude time and take some of your own. Go outside and get some fresh air. Take a bath. Do some meditation. Whatever you can do to replenish your inner resources, because you need them now more than ever.

The kids are going to be fine through all of this and you will be too. Relax. Loosen your standards. Lower your expectations. Embrace curiosity and expect some days to feel chaotic. It probably won't feel like it every hour of every day, but you've got this. Learning might not look like what you imagined it would, but your kids will be learning no matter what, I promise.


Images courtesy of Letters of Love
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When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
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The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

3: Black Fluidity Tattoo Club: Kiara Mills and Tann Parker want to fix a big problem in the tattoo industry: there are too few Black tattoo artists. To tackle the issue, the duo founded the Black Fluidity Tattoo Club to inspire and support Black tattooers. While the Brooklyn organization is open to any Black person, Kiara and Tann specifically want to encourage dark-skinned artists to train in an affirming space among people with similar identities.

To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

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