Keys to a Successful Homeschool Year (with Amber Smith)

Keys to a Successful Homeschool Year Amber Smith Homeschool Conversations podcast interview

Whether you’re a new homeschooler just beginning your home education adventure or a veteran homeschooler looking for some encouragement at the beginning of the new homeschool year, this is the episode for you! Amber Smith and I talk about the priority of relationships and family culture, the value of reading aloud and modeling lifelong learning, the importance of setting boundaries and expectations, and more. This is a conversation you’ll want to share with your friends after you enjoy it yourself!

Be sure to check out all the other interviews in our Homeschool Conversations series!

Watch the video. Listen to the podcast. Read the show notes. Share with your friends!

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Keys to a Successful Homeschool Year Amber Smith Homeschool Conversations podcast interview

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Who is Amber Smith?

Amber Smith and her chef husband of 26 years raised ten wild children in southern Iowa. Her desire to help homeschool parents avoid burnout, build their best life, with strong relationships, led her to start blogging at 200 Fingers & Toes. That is where you can find the latest articles, product reviews, and new In Due Season Homeschool Podcast episodes. 

As a second generation homeschool grad with a public school background, she understands the experience of transitioning a family to homeschool living. Amber serves the homeschool community as a freelance writer, reviewing and contributing to popular homeschool blogs and magazines by sharing tips and tools used in their homeschool over the last eighteen years. Wherever she speaks, Amber offers practical examples to equip your homeschool, define your goals, dream bigger and build relationships that are vibrant and active.

Keys to a Successful Homeschool Year Amber Smith Homeschool Conversations podcast interview

Watch my Homeschool Conversation with Amber Smith

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Amy Sloan: Hello, everyone. Today, I am joined by Amber Smith. Amber and her chef husband of 26 years raised 10 wild children in Southern Iowa. Her desire to help homeschool parents avoid burnout and build their best life with strong relationships led her to start blogging at 200 Fingers & Toes, and that is where you can find her latest articles, product reviews, and new In Due Season Homeschool Podcast episodes.

As a second generation homeschool grad with a public school background, Amber understands the experience of transitioning a family to homeschool living. Amber serves the homeschool community as a freelance writer, reviewing and contributing to popular homeschool blogs and magazines, sharing tips and tools used in their homeschool over the last 18 years. Wherever she speaks, Amber offers practical examples to equip your homeschool, define your goals, dream bigger, and build relationships that are vibrant and active. Amber, I’m so glad to get to chat with you today.

Amber Smith: No, it’s a pleasure to speak with you as well.

Amy: One of my favorite past podcast guests actually recommended you to me, Gina Munsey. I’m sure if Gina recommended you, that it will be a wonderful episode and I can’t wait to get started. Here at the beginning, can you just tell us a little bit about yourself, your family and how you guys started homeschooling?

Amber: I am a second generation homeschooler. Homeschooling was always something I wanted to do, but a little bit less traditional desire for why. I was a terrible public school student. I was in a gifted and talented program and I was in that program for about three years and I got to see a completely independent and different way of teaching, and then I went back to regular public school when we moved to Michigan.

Seeing the difference between the two, and then also just my nature did not fit the public school program. I tell people I was actually involuntarily homeschooled. My last two years of high school, I completely failed out of high school and took my ninth grade education and went to community college and actually made Dean’s list in college.

It wasn’t really clicked with me until after I had made Dean’s list that I was actually a really intelligent person, I just was not in the right environment to learn. When we had kids, I thought I’m going to have kids that learn like I do and who respond to the world around them like I do, and respond to the social pressures and all of the other things that come along with school, and I just wanted to give them the opportunity to make learning the most important thing in the beginning of their learning career, and then worry about all the other things.

I always tell my kids I want them to know who they are before other people start telling them who they are.

That was really where my desire to homeschool came from was from my own personal experience in public school.

We’ve found our own way along the road because being a second generation homeschooler, like I said, I wasn’t really a part of our home homeschooling program. I was the last of seven kids to be brought into homeschooling. I didn’t really have a hands-on homeschool experience, I went straight to community college and took classes at 16. I did have the opportunity to maybe look at things differently and see that you could learn outside of the box. I think I brought that from my original experience into the homeschool experience that we have now.

Amy: I love talking to other second generational homeschoolers. I am one myself and I think all of us had such a different experience. There were different reasons our parents chose to homeschool or different reasons why we connected there and why we’ve then chosen to homeschool our own children.

Leaning into a Literature-Based Homeschool

I love hearing how your own experience in public school actually affected the way you thought about homeschooling now. Can you tell me a little bit about how your approach to home education has grown and changed over the years? I’m sure with 10 children, and as you started homeschooling, you’ve probably grown and shifted a little bit over time.

Amber: We really have. One thing I knew was reading was an area that was a weakness for me in public school. When I got older, I had a couple opportunities to do some programs where I needed to read things out loud on the spot, and I realized that that terrified me. I wanted a place to practice reading out loud and so I started reading in a children’s reading program because I thought, “If I need to practice, four and five-year-olds are not going to laugh at me”.

I did the children’s storied hour at Barnes & Noble and I thought that is just a great place for me to practice public speaking and practice reading.

When I had my own herd of children, because we had 10 children in 12 years, I had a whole bunch of little people, naptime and bedtime were huge reading times for our family.

That was just a way to wind down. It was a way to get the little ones to lay down, but also I really wanted my kids to love to read and just to see that as a really valuable part of their time and experience, but one of the things I did was I knew I would not read if I was bored. I did not always read picture books and I did not always read children’s books to my children.

We have a family who my seven year old’s favorite book was Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and actually he thought Moby-Dick was hilarious. We just had a weird eclectic mix because I missed the classics in high school. I thought, “You know what, if I’m going to sit here for two hours and read to older kids and then little ones as they fell asleep, I want to read books that I like”.

That started this love for reading. When we hit the time where we started school, I thought, “I want to keep doing exactly what we’re doing. I want to read in the morning, I want to read at nap time and I want to read at bedtime and I want to be able to just call that school”. I really searched for a curriculum that fit the habit we had already developed and the things that we already loved doing.

When I started looking through catalogs and talking to friends, I found a curriculum that was solely literature book-based and the majority of the school was just taught through reading. I knew that one thing was I could combine multiple ages of children for a long period of time by reading one subject to the group because I had already been doing it for years.

That really helped me know that I wasn’t going to have this huge workload. Even though I had a bunch of grades between all of my children, I was not going to have to be chased back and forth between a bunch of things.

For myself, finding a curriculum that met the rhythm of our lives and met the habits we had already created was really, really important to me. I think that really helped me choose the curriculum that fit us best.

We stayed with the same curriculum through our entire high school program. I’ve been homeschooling for 17 years with that specific curriculum and I love and adore it, but I tell people, you have to find what fits you. I’m not a huge person to be like, this is the one thing. I laughed because the lady who introduced me to the topic or the curriculum that I’m using now, the year I checked back with her, she said, “Oh, I don’t like it anymore. I stopped using it.”

I was like, “Oh, how funny that one thing we can love somebody else can just not like it all.” It’s a matter of knowing what kinds of things you’re looking for and then finding the right fit. For myself, I obviously found the right fit because we have stayed with it this whole time, but you did ask how we’ve transition and changed throughout time.

Actually this last school year, I have three high schoolers that are a little bit less enthusiastic about reading than my first two groups of children. I made the transition to a similar curriculum, but one that has a little bit less independent reading books.

I yielded and they’re in textbooks this year, and that was a huge change for me because I have textbook anxiety, but I could identify that, Hey, you know what, this group of kids needed something different so that they could systematically go through the book and feel like they covered everything in order. I have been really good about watching my kids for clues about what’s working and what’s not working, and being willing to make the change when we needed to.

Like I said, last year, even though I loved my curriculum, I knew that we needed to make some tweaks to fit them better and we did make a change to add more textbooks for them. Being flexible is good, and keeping an eye on the cues of your kids and getting their input I think is really, really valuable.

Amy: I heard a few things there that I thought were just really encouraging and applicable to any homeschool family. First, at the very beginning, you started with mom’s enthusiasm. You knew you wanted to read, but you knew you weren’t going to be motivated to read books that you weren’t interested in.

You took this desire you had to read the classics you had missed out on and you shared that love and enthusiasm with your kids.

Then that flowed until you knew who you were and who your family culture was, and that really gave you some direction as you were picking the curriculum.

Then you weren’t so bound up with your curriculum that you couldn’t make a change later on when it was better for the actual real children sitting at your table. I love that.

Keys to a Successful Homeschool Year Amber Smith Homeschool Conversations podcast interview

The impact of Amber’s personal experience being homeschooled

Are there any ways that you see your experience, I know that you were in public school and then you had that community college experience and homeschooling there at the end of high school, do you see that second generation experience playing into the decisions you make or either the things you do or the things you avoid with your own children?

Amber: I think that really helped me be a lot more compassionate about the growth and the changes that happen as children are finding their own independence. I know that was a lot of the areas that I struggled with, was giving myself some room to make choices for myself in my school. For my kids, I have been maybe a lot more flexible about allowing them input into what they’re doing, and also understanding where they’re coming from.

I think my experience as failing out of public school helped me maybe have an eye out earlier for the signs that somebody is having a problem, and also be able to make those changes without, like you said, being so hard-set that this is the curriculum or this is the way it’s going to go this year, but being able to see where somebody is struggling and just make some changes and maybe put things aside.

It’s also helped me be a little bit more flexible to see what kinds of things that kids are interested in, and add those to our school to, again, empower them with some enthusiasm towards their school day. I know for myself, that was a big failure in high school because I had nothing, I felt like, to look forward to in my school day.

I have tried really hard to always have something attached to our school or our school time that the kids can be enthusiastic about and look forward to as part of their school day.

Being with our kids: a great blessing of homeschooling!

Amy: That’s a great tip. I feel like you’ve already mentioned some things that you’ve loved about homeschooling. Is there anything that’s a particular favorite part of homeschooling for you though?

Amber: You know what, I think I’ve just really enjoyed being with my kids. I think that has been the biggest blessing. I would say the number one value of homeschooling is the relationships that you build with your family. If you’re missing that, you’re missing the main point.

We could have lots of academic goals and we could have lots of academic road markers that we want to hit, but if we are missing relationships, then you’re missing the best part of homeschooling.

I see that now. I have adult kids, and they will not leave. They just keep showing up. Every weekend, here they are. They keep coming back. It’s just a sign that we’ve built a culture here, and we’ve built relationships that are long-lasting. That’s a testimony to what homeschooling can do when you work as a family and take into account all of the individual people involved. I think building family culture is one of the best things about homeschooling.

I will say and I made a note, making room for dad was one of the biggest reasons why I was motivated to homeschool as well. We are entrepreneurs. We have been restaurant owners for almost 30 years. Restaurant owners have a huge divorce rate and owning a business like that that is all-consuming is just hard on a family.

The beauty of homeschooling was we did not have to get kids up at 6:00 and put them on the bus at 6:30 or 7:00 in the morning because we’re rural so they would’ve been on first thing in the morning and back at 4:00. Sometimes dad didn’t get home until eleven o’clock at night. We had the opportunity to stay up and hang out with dad. That was just one of the things.

Sometimes I would pack all the kids up at nine o’clock at night, and drive over to the restaurant, and have snacks, and dinner, and color in our workbooks, and just hang out for an hour while he closed down the restaurant. Those were some of the times that I had to be really intentional about creating and sometimes they weren’t always my favorite thing to do. Being intentional about including dad and making time for him to be a part of the kids growing up has been a huge, huge benefit.

Here we are 26 years married. I think that was one of the things is homeschooling gave us the opportunity to be way more flexible in our whole life and just incorporate home, family, homeschool, and work all together a lot better.

Amy: That is such a beautiful story, an encouragement, I think, because it is the beauty of homeschooling that it’s not these separate compartments where we have our school and our work and our family and our church and our life as if those are all separate little things, but it can really all flow organically together. In fact, it’s most healthy and beneficial when we can find ways for it to organically all flow together and be flexible.

Challenges of Homeschooling in the Midst of Life/Work Demands

How about some of the challenges of homeschooling? I’m sure there have been some challenges over the years. What have those been, and how have you sought to overcome them?

Amber: For sure. I think one of the biggest things is that being restaurant owners, we always have demands on our day. For myself, that means I’m getting a phone call in the middle of school and says, “Hey, can you run upstairs and find this receipt and go take care of this item?”

Setting Clear Homeschool Time Boundaries

Two of my biggest challenges. One has been setting the standard of what is my school time and being very, very clear to everybody about what that is, and having really good boundaries about our homeschool because I think people can take for granted because you’re home, you are available.

Just because you’re home, does not mean you’re available. You need to set really strong boundaries around your time and let everybody you know, know what those hours are.

Ì now work independently outside home, I have a job, and so I’m very clear about my office hours for that job. I work Tuesdays and Thursdays, and I’m available in these two windows and that’s all I have. With my homeschool, my kids know 10:00 to 2:00 is our school hours, 10:00 to 2:00. There’s not excuses, there’s no other thing happening, there are no phone calls, there are no games, 10:00 to 2:00.

If you work for me from 10:00 to 2:00, you’re free, and you can do whatever you want. I think setting that really clear expectation for the kids and for the people in our lives has been really helpful to just not frustrate us and not distract us because it’s very easy to get distracted. I try to set up as many outside ways to keep myself from getting distracted so that I don’t ruin our homeschool. I have a talk that’s called “if things aren’t working, it’s probably me”.

I have learned over the years that usually if my homeschool is not going well and if things are falling apart, it’s almost always me first. I have just learned to be really intentional about having a plan for our day and being concrete about our time. That is my one thing.

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Setting Clear Homeschool Expectations

Then my second thing is just setting up an expectation for everyone. Everybody knows what’s expected. Originally when I went and started working part-time two years ago, I thought everything was going to go great because we had been homeschooling for 16 years, the kids were just going to stay in this routine that we had built and we had and we’d established. I imagined in my mind that if I was gone one day a week and part-time another day, they would just follow the routine. It was a hot disaster. For four months, it was a mess.

I realized, hey, you know what, I did not do a really good job of creating really clear expectations for everyone. We just stepped back, and we created a checkout list of what was expected everyday from every student to be done. We literally wrote it out like a checklist, here’s every item you need to do.

Then we created a very clear exit goal. Like on Friday, all of these things need to be done, down to this is where it’s turned in at because oftentimes, they’d be like, “I gave it to you.” When I’m busy, my kids know, do not hand me anything. I am a black hole for items. Do not tell me to keep this safe because I will put it down somewhere in the house because I’m very distracted.

We just created a turn-in box. If it was in the right place and everything is done on Friday, you can go do what you want to do. Having those really clear expectations helped my kids be successful without me hounding them and without me being frustrated. That really helped us get ourselves on track as well. Those were the two things that really helped us have a successful homeschool environment recently.

Amy: Being just purposeful, defining what does done look like because I know I can tell a child like, “Have you finished your work for the day?” They’ll be like, “Oh, yes, mom, I did, I finished.” [chuckles] Then I’ll be like, “Did you do that? I don’t remember seeing you do that. I didn’t hear you practice your piano.” It’s like, “I didn’t do those things.” It’s like, “Okay, let’s go back and review, what does finished actually mean?” Right?

Amber: Yes, I think that is really, really important because I think kids, they’re on to the next thing so easily. We excuse ourselves when we’re distracted, but when our kids are distracted, we get frustrated. One of the things that I have really tried to do is give myself grace, but also give my kids the same grace that I expect for me.

I think that is one of the things that really has helped our family culture is that if I have a bad day, and I feel like the family needs to excuse me because I’ve had a bad day, then I try to do the same thing for my kids. When they’re having a hard time, maybe we’ll give some grace and we’ll make some changes in the day. Then also just being really clear about what to expect makes it really easy to follow through. I try to make things as easy as possible to do the thing that I really want them to do because I want to be happy at the end of the day and so do they. We make that our goal.

Keys to a Successful Homeschool Year Amber Smith Homeschool Conversations podcast interview

Setting up the homeschool year for success

Amy: If we were talking to a new homeschool mom who is just getting started homeschooling, what would be some strategies or tips you would give her to get her homeschool set up well for success here at the beginning of the school year, especially if she’s just starting out for the first time?

Advice for New Homeschoolers

Amber: I think anybody who’s just starting homeschooling, start with just your required core subjects. I think that is where we began. I did not start and I did not start formal schooling with any of my children until seven. I just felt like if we read and spent time together, if we talked about life and if we just walked through the day, communicating and connected, we were covering everything that they would have covered in an artificial school program.

Honestly, I tested it with all my kids and I’ve gone through 10 kids and no child was showing up at age seven with a lack of knowledge or understanding because we didn’t do a workbook. I do feel like if we just walk through life with our kids and speak and talk and connect one on one, you are going to cover all of the topics that somebody had to create an artificial book to go through because a child is stuck in a classroom.

Be confident that your conversations and your interactions actually count as education. I think that’s important to validate because sometimes we’re like, oh, I didn’t do school today, but we walked to the park and we looked at the clouds and we talked about the water cycle and I explained the whole thing as we were going through the park. Actually, and this is a true story, we had the best science conversation. We had all year walking through the park.

You can leave that park and be like, “Oh my gosh, we didn’t do science” or you can leave that park and say, “Wow, my kids have a great scope and understanding of this subject in reality as it works in the world.” I think a lot of times, we invalidate the things we do as homeschool parents because it doesn’t look like school.

I think we need to give ourselves permission to say teaching should have and was, at one time, two people talking and interacting about the knowledge they have and translating that from one person to another. Every time you’re transferring what you know to your child, you are teaching and that counts.

Give yourself credit however you have to do it. Just say like, “Yes, if I’m transferring knowledge from myself to my child, then that counts as school”. I think that’s really, really important to establish and always to just remind yourself of, and don’t discount those times because I think those are the most valuable teaching times that you can have.

Also then don’t overwhelm yourself that first year, just get down to the core things that you need to cover that’s required by your State law, and then you can add in other things as you grow in your schedule. Just give yourself time to grow confident in covering the school work that you have and then you can grow out into electives or foreign language or whatever you want to add at that point, but just get a real good foundation and keep that relationship central to building on that as well within that first year.

Amy: I think as a new homeschool mom, people can go on the internet and they can see all these different lists of all these things that all these people are telling them they need to do. Then you collate them all and you create this massive assignment for yourself, “This is what school has to look like”, and you have all these worries and anxieties of not having done it before.

I love what you were saying just to reframe and really have eyes to see the actual education that’s going on every day and to not try to go out the gate and sprint and do all the amazing things. It’s better to start simple and build that successful habit, prioritize the relationships and there’s time to add other things later on. You don’t have to do all of it right at the beginning.

Amber: Yes, I think that’s very, very true.

Tips for Back-to-Homeschool

Amy: How about maybe a mom who’s been homeschooling for a little bit, but still here at the beginning of the school year is wanting to start the school year off well, would there be any tips for success for that mom you would share?

What’s your homeschool vision?

Amber: Yes, actually one of the things that helps me the most in my homeschool, and I keep going back to it is, I have what I call “My Mom”. It’s just a homeschool binder that keeps all of my information in one place.

The important things that I keep there is one is my homeschool vision. This one surprised me, but I actually bought a little record-keeping online program 10, 15 years ago, and I put it on my computer. The first page made you put your homeschool vision to progress through putting in your information for your student.

I really didn’t intend on having a vision for my homeschool and it wasn’t something that I really even thought about, but because I was required to put it in, I gave it some thought and I wrote up this vision about what I wanted to see established in my kids as we homeschool. Long hold, that piece of paper, every year I pull it out and I read it. Every year I’m just like, I don’t know, bolstered by those words that I wrote.

I feel like if everybody could write down their intention and their goal of what they really want to see happen in their children’s lives when they homeschool and get that in a place where you look at it on a regular basis. Get it in that binder and have it in front of you because there are days when you are just not going to feel it and there are days when homeschooling is hard, there are days where finances is screaming at you louder than the importance that you remember about homeschooling and you’re going to vacillate and think like, ah, I could be doing X, Y, or Z.

Pulling out that vision and being reminded of, no, this is why we made this choice, this was our intention. You can also measure against your vision and say, “I’m seeing these things come to fruition in our lives”. I think it’s really important to get that vision in front of you. I’m not a big goals person, I don’t do resolutions. It’s very out of my character to have this, but every time I read it, I’m renewed in my enthusiasm and in my purpose. I feel like it’s that important to have your vision written in front of you. Then a place where you can check in every once in a while and see what it was and read your own words and remind yourself.

Amy: Yes, especially on those hard days, remembering why you’re doing this is really going to motivate you when you look around at the mess or the cranky kid or the cranky mom and you’re thinking “Really? Is this worth it?” To go back to that big picture that you crafted when you were maybe less insane [laughs] can be really helpful.

Amber: true.

Favorite Books and Podcasts for New Homeschool Parents

Amy: Do you have any favorite books or podcasts that you recommend to new homeschool parents?

Amber: I do. I really love Jen Wilkin. I feel like having devotional or some sort of thing that feeds you is really important. I am a huge podcast listener, I am an entrepreneur mom, I’m a vlogger and a writer. Most of my podcasts that I listen to are business or crafting or marketing. I work for our state homeschool organization and I do their marketing and social media. That’s my sphere of interest. I’m always feeding my own brain. I think it’s just really important to be feeding your own brain. I love Jen. I think she’s a great teacher. There’s a podcast called Knowing Faith that has Jen Wilkin and two other pastors. I just love the community and the back and forth between them. That’s really fun.

Then I have other ones that I just enjoy for myself. I use Sonlight curriculum, and so they have a podcast that I feel like if you can follow maybe the curriculum that you’re using if they have another way to support you in using that curriculum and hearing from moms that are in the same stages that you are, is really important. I have grown through different stages and followed different vloggers and writers throughout my whole career homeschooling.

I think to find somebody who’s where you’re at right now is really important. I think we have to do intentional things to help ourselves feel heard and to feel connected and just know, yes, you know what, there’s other people who are going through the same experience. Then also connecting with some podcasts that have some people with their success stories.

I think a podcast like yours is great because I want to hear where people are at, who maybe are a little bit ahead of me and inspire to be like, I can see the finish line through their story. I think where you can find good stories of people who have gone through the hard times and are sharing their success is a great way to, I don’t know, just encourage your own heart and be like, okay, no, you know what? I’ve got this. I can make it through and I can see the future in their stories.

Amy: That’s one of the reasons why I love asking all of my guests at least some of the same questions because you really start seeing how all of these families are doing things just a little bit differently. You can learn from other ways of doing things and yet you also start seeing the similarities and the parallels in lives and just to know that you’re not alone. If there’s an issue you’re having in your homeschool, someone else has probably had it too and they can come alongside you and cheer you on and maybe give some tips from their own struggles and victories.

I love how you gave the idea and the suggestion of starting with studying God’s Word, because I think so often what we need is not necessarily this book that’s going to fix all our homeschool problems. If we just found the perfect homeschool book that gave us the 10 steps to success, we keep looking for that, “That’s just what I need”, but a lot of times what we need is to just go back to God’s Word and spend time there as it is living and active and encouraging and equipping, and then to grow our own minds as moms that we’re modeling for our children, an adulthood of learning. We say we want them to be lifelong learners. It’s really important that that’s what we’re showing them that we are doing as well.

Amber: Yes. I think that’s a huge value and that’s what I want my kids to know. I reiterate when I’m learning things that are hard, like, yes, we will always be throwing ourselves into learning hard things. It doesn’t end with algebra. I learned how to build a website and I shared that with my kids.

I think it’s really important for us as moms to share those things that we are learning and that we are doing. If that’s crafting, if that’s singing, whatever things that you are using that feed your soul. I think it’s really important to share that side of you with your kids and let them see that as well because I think the same thing they’re inspired to know learning never ends, like we’re always going to be doing this.

Amy: Yes. It’s so much bigger than just the worksheet assignment or the thing you’re checking off on your list today. Learning is much bigger than just those 12 years in school.

What Amber is reading lately

Here at the end, Amber, I’d like to ask you the questions I’m asking all of my guests, and the first one is just, what are you personally reading lately?

Amber: Oh my goodness. I am the worst person to ask these questions. I am listening to– I love Audible. I drive a truck two days a week. I have some drive time. I take advantage of that. I love the greatest courses, which are Harvard and college level courses that you can listen to the lectures online.

I’m listening to one about writing non-fiction. I’m listening to one about the fall of the Roman empire. I am 1000 % a total nerd. I’m also listening to a book called The Economic Hitman. I’m on an economics and consumerism kick as well. I just get on interests and I just follow that vein and mine it for as long as I’m interested. That has been the one thing that I have learned through homeschooling, like when we were study Eastern hemisphere, I was obsessed with all things Japan and went down this long vein of reading fiction books and non-fiction books about Japanese culture.

We can take a lot from our kids’ homeschool and we can dig deep in the things that they’re learning about and it can actually spark an interest in us as well. Last year, I wrote a government and economics unit study for our kids because I couldn’t find a fit for a K through 12 school. We had a fifth grader through a senior. I was like, I want something that again, everybody can read together. It got me sparked and interested in economics. Here I am reading all kinds of just books that are way out of my normal interests, but that’s what homeschooling will do. We’ll just broaden your interests and drive you down some veins that maybe you never thought you were going to mine.

Amy: That’s right. Homeschool moms may never be the same. My kids know like, mom just went to the library and got a bunch of books on hold on some random topic. I may not even actually read all of them. Sometimes I just check out like 12 books and I bring them home and it is just like my comfort stack of books and I’ll just then skim through and see the information I need or see what sparks my interest. Having that stack makes me happy.

Amber: Yes.

Amber’s best tip for keeping the homeschool day running smoothly

Amy: Well, the final question, Amber, is just, what would be your best tip for keeping the homeschool day running smoothly?

Amber: I think the best tip and I shared a little bit about it, I think is letting everybody know your expectations. I think that’s really important in your marriage. I think that’s really important with your kids. If you’re working, I think that’s really important to guard your work time.

I know like when I have a live interview, I go all around the house and I tell every single person eyeball to eyeball, I have their full attention and say, Hey, I’m going to be in a meeting from X time to X time. I will not be available. They know my expectation. They help me meet that. I think I’ve really allowed my family to be on the same team that I am by letting them all know my expectations. Then they have a choice and most of the time they choose to help me meet my obligations, they choose to help me meet those expectations.

I think you can help get your family on-board by being really clear about what you expect. I think also with husbands, that is so valuable. For a long time, my husband wanted to help me and I just didn’t know how to incorporate him. I thought that’s really dumb because I really want help. Then when he asks me how he can help me, I’m like, “I don’t know”.

I started looking at our curriculum and finding places where he could take over this subject or he could jump in and read this topic. When I created a better expectation, then he was able to meet that expectation. I think sometimes we just do a poor job of creating an expectation for people then they can step in and meet those. I think people in your community and people in your family really want to help you be successful. The best thing we can do to help all of them is by being really clear about what we want to see from them in our lives.

Amy: Yes, our children and our spouses can’t read our minds, right? If we have these expectations and then they don’t do what we think they ought to do and we’re all miffed about it. Well, if we didn’t tell them, they had no way of knowing what would be helpful or what we were expecting of them. Yes, I’ve got to use your words, just like we tell our small children.

Amber: Exactly. Oh my gosh. It’s hard when you, as a homeschool mom, I think we feel like we should do all the things. I think that’s just a nature of being a mother. It’s a nature of being female. It’s a nature of being a stay-at-home mom that I think we just take on the responsibility for everything.

It’s been a really lifelong process for me to learn to ask for help. I think some people’s natures are different. I will walk through a grocery store and I would rather die than ask for help to find an item or to return something. I just don’t. Man, this homeschooling life has been a death to myself in learning how to receive and ask for help in healthy ways. I think the faster you can learn that, the faster you can come together and work really well as a family unit.

Find Amber Smith Online

Amy: That is a great encouragement. Thank you, Amber. I’m so glad that we’ve been able to chat today. Could you tell everyone where they can find you all around the internet?

Amber: Yes. Well, I blog at 200 Fingers & Toes, because I have 10 kids. I’ve got 200 fingers and toes that I am cleaning up after and helping make a difference in the world with. You can find me there. They’re pretty much on all social that’s 200 fingers & toes is my Instagram and Facebook as well. The blog is a great place to find anywhere that I am speaking.

I’ve been speaking at a lot of online homeschooling conferences because people are new to homeschooling and they want to know more about how to get started. We have just been really intentional about trying to get help and information and encouragement in front of parents.

That is just my heart’s desire, is that no person ever stops homeschooling because they didn’t get the help they needed.

That is the worst reason to stop homeschooling. If you’ve met your goals, if your child wants to go back to school, those things are acceptable. If you stop because you just didn’t get the help you need, then we as a community have completely failed you. It is my heart’s desire to help the people find the tool and the help and the resources to have a successful year there.

Amy: I love that. I will have links to those things in the show notes for this episode over Thanks so much, Amber.

Amber: It’s a pleasure. It’s nice to talk with you.

Check out all the other interviews in my Homeschool Conversations series!

Homeschool Conversations Video Interviews Podcast Amy Sloan
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