I first learned about Amber through my interview with Terra. Ever since, I’ve been devouring Amber’s meaty Instagram posts: they’re delightful snapshots — honest, vulnerable, and insightful — into the ups and downs of parenting (and so I’ve sprinkled a few throughout the post).
Hi! I’m Amber, and I live in Georgia, nestled among the pine trees, hammocks, and ziplines, with my husband Scott and our four children: Nina (11), Sasha (9), Beckett (7), and Brooks (5).
Tell us a little about yourself.
My happy place is the back porch on a rainy day, preferably with a giant mug of hot tea and a good book. Although I was raised in the air conditioning, somehow the woods is where I feel most at home these days. I have a small business called Heritage Mom where I write and speak about homeschooling, homemaking, and adding multicultural mirrors and windows to our children’s education. I also write and speak for the Wild + Free homeschooling community, which is an organized group of mothers and homeschoolers who want their children to not only receive a quality education, but also to experience the adventure, freedom, and wonder of childhood.
Do you have a homeschool philosophy?
I usually describe my philosophy as “Charlotte Mason with an afro.” We swim in literature, history, poetry, music, art, nature study, and narration along with math, science, geography, and other interesting ideas and subjects. We also spend time learning and engaging in handicrafts and life skills of all sorts: cooking, sewing, leather work, wood carving and burning, cross stitch, beading, clay modeling, etc. With short lessons and a good rhythm, we’re able to enjoy these riches along with plenty of free time to visit with friends, explore our community, and just hang out at home. Since this is all my children know, it doesn’t actually feel like we’re doing a “thing.” Our days flow, and this is just how we do life.
Instagram (1/24/20): If I make her do it, the project is no longer hers. In September, I shared how my oldest chose a queen-size quilt for her first ever quilting project. She was on a roll and then progress slowed before coming to a dead stop. I told her not to pick such a big hairy pursuit in the beginning, but once she started I REALLY wanted her to complete it. It’s taken everything (and I do mean EVERYTHING!) to keep my big mouth shut, but I’ve been silently mourning the incomplete process. And then I walked into the craft room and saw this. She easily and happily picked up right where she’d left off after abandoning the crumpled strips on the sewing table for months. When will I learn??? Our lessons are scheduled into weeks and terms, but our children are not.
What do you most enjoy about homeschooling?
That’s easy. I love spending so much time with my children. My years as a mother have been the best and most fulfilling years of my life, and I’m just soaking in this time of mothering and homemaking. This is exactly what I dreamt of, and although it can be challenging, I wouldn’t want it any other way.
At what point did you realize you wanted to homeschool your kids?
My husband actually researched and recommended homeschooling before it was ever even a thought in my mind. After he brought it up repeatedly, I met a mom at our local playground who was homeschooling. We would run into each other frequently, and eventually she invited me over to her home during the day to see what homeschooling was like. It was AMAZING. I just loved everything from the materials she used to her routine and the vibe in her home. Even the tea and cookies she served were wonderful. My conversations with her and the time spent in her home led me to take a more serious look at homeschooling. I paid my deposit for Pre-K for my oldest but she never made it to the program because, before the summer ended, we decided to try homeschooling. It clicked with me immediately, and I’m so thankful for my husband’s vision and my park friend’s graciousness and generosity.
Where do you get your support?
That’s a good question. I reluctantly started a homeschooling support group in my area back in 2016 because my family wasn’t getting the support that we needed in some aspects of our journey. As I look back now, it was probably the single best decision I’ve ever made related to home education. The families in our group are amazing, and we spend a significant amount of our free time with them. The children are all friends and the parents lean on each other for encouragement, camaraderie, and support.
How did you start the group?
I was planning to have a small group of about five families, so I didn’t do much to get started. I put up a basic website, started a Facebook page, and announced the group on social media. Four years later we’re going strong with 90+ member families. Even so, my family still participates in other groups including the very first homeschooling group we joined when my oldest was four. For us, all of our needs are not met in a single space, but the combination of groups (which changes from time to time) has been a great thing for our entire family.
What are Georgia’s homeschool requirements?
We have to submit a simple form declaring our intent to homeschool once a year, homeschool for 180 days (or the equivalent), cover a minimum of basic subjects, and test every 3 years. Aside from the form, none of these things have to be submitted — they are requirements that we are to keep in our personal records. Georgia is an awesome place to homeschool!
What have been some of the challenges?
My biggest homeschooling challenge is balancing the needs of all my children. They have wildly different personalities, abilities, and desires, so I spend a lot of time trying to make sure everyone is getting what they need and that they feel valued and heard in our home.
My biggest personal challenge is sleep. When the house is finally quiet at the end of the day, I need to go to bed so that I can be fresh, well-rested, and patient the next day. However, those silent nighttime hours are so precious to me because I can just sit and…be. I can work on projects, read, write, listen to podcasts, or whatever I want. I am constantly battling between being fulfilled and tired, or frazzled and perky. Tough choice!
Instagram (12/4/20): We have moments of sparkle and wonder during our weeks, and sometimes I remember to capture it in a great photo. This is not one of those times. Our furnace is out so all of the day’s magic is happening an arm’s length from the fireplace. The one wrapped in the red cocoon stayed up too late so he fell asleep as soon as he stopped moving. The other boy is eager to listen to and narrate ANYTHING with enthusiasm if it means delaying copywork. Mismatched socks, layers of clothing, holey fur-lined slippers, and a sleep cap. I asked Hubby why on earth he took a picture of this mundane scene, and he said, “This is real life. This is what you should be talking about.” So here I am talking about it. There are ornaments to be made, great books to be read, holiday goodies to be baked, candles to be lit, and so much more. But usually homeschooling is just…being.
How are your kids different?
Oh boy. How long do you have? Generally speaking, my oldest is a free-spirited creative who starts talking when she wakes up and puts a period on that very first sentence when she falls into bed at night. She’s usually still talking when I slowly back out of the room and turn the light out. She excels in language arts and is quite good at math but does not enjoy it at all.
My second is a tender-hearted peacemaker with a sensitive spirit and a strong sense of justice. She enjoys gobbling books of all sorts, including fantasy books, animal stories, and old-school Peanuts cartoons.
My oldest son is a straightforward supercharged leader who fancies himself a nerf gun ninja. He is independent and able to do his own thing, but he’s also the only child who runs to me for a hug and a big kiss every single day of the year. He’s a numbers guy who is very particular about what he reads. He enjoys books about boys solving mysteries or going on adventures. He’s also a daddy’s boy.
My youngest is 100% about his mama. He comes to my lap for a cuddle multiple times during the day. He has not started formal lessons, but his favorite things are helping me in the kitchen, storytime, and playing in the creek. He wants to be an astronaut fisherman in space when he grows up.
What has homeschooling taught you?
Homeschooling has taught me to slow down and smell the roses. I have always been very driven, and when I started homeschooling I realized that everyone, including me, is so much happier when I just take a chill pill. I value my children’s free time and ability to learn more than I value organized activities and my ability to teach. I guess you could say that I’m much more of a wildflower now, and I really like it.
Some people mistakenly think that a lack of rigor equates to kids being allowed to do whatever they want, however they please, in any old crazy kind of way. I don’t know any families like that. Whether they unschool or have specific learning styles/plans, all families have their own flavors and rhythms. I think more and more families are finding that they want to slow down, savor childhood, spend time in nature, and keep a feeling of wonder in their homes.
If you could start over again, what would you do differently?
I have been so happy with our journey, so there are few things that I would change, but there is one area. In the beginning, I was following plans for a curriculum that included many wonderful lessons, but it entirely lacked diversity: there was NONE. I wish that I had infused more of myself and our culture into our daily lives from the very first moment. We remedied that issue pretty early on, but it was a blind spot born of ignorance and insecurity that I wish had not been there.
How did you remedy the issue?
One of the ways that I began infusing more of ourselves into our days was by putting together my own reading lists and videos that highlighted different aspects of African and African American culture and history. Once my kiddos got a little older and I had some room to breathe, I took the time to write up all the notes scattered throughout my notebook so I could offer them to other moms. I started a book club for our local homeschooling community and began sharing many of our favorite books. My Heritage Packs are available on my website and are designed to help round out other booklists and lesson plans that are often missing Black voices.
Instagram (5/12/20): Nope, not Laura and Mary. “Meet” Stella and Naomi Tann, daughters of Dr. George Tann — the black doctor who delivered Carrie and nursed the Ingalls back to health when they had malaria. “Then the doctor came. And he was the black man. Laura had never seen a black man before and she could not take her eyes off Dr. Tan. He was so very black. She would have been afraid of him if she had not liked him so much. He smiled at her with all his white teeth. He talked with Pa and Ma, and laughed a rolling, jolly laugh. They all wanted him to stay longer, but he had to hurry away.” (Chapter 15 “Fever ‘N’ Ague”) Dr. Tann (records show a different spelling that Wilder used in the book) was a real person — a neighbor of the Ingalls family — and learning more about him has helped the girls connect to Little House on the Prairie in a new way. They never used to role-play from those books despite the detailed stories with so much to draw from and imagine. After seeing how much they’ve taken to it AFTER learning about the Tann family, I suspect they hadn’t connected to the story in the same way as some of their friends because they couldn’t see themselves in it. It all matters.
Can you recommend some favorite titles?
My children and I really enjoy historical fiction, especially books covering the late 1800s and early 1900s, and some of our favorites are:
- A Picture of Freedom: The Diary of Clotee, a Slave Girl, Belmont Plantation, Virginia 1859 (Dear America Series)
- Running Out of Night, by Sharon Lovejoy
- Forty Acres and Maybe a Mule, by Harriet Gillem Robinet
- Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred D. Taylor
- Stella by Starlight, by Sharon M. Draper
- Sounder, by William H. Armstrong
How do your kids feel about being homeschooled?
They love it! I’m often asked whether I would allow my children to attend school if they asked, but that’s just never something that comes up. We have a tight-knit community of homeschooling families that they’ve grown up with, and my oldest is well-aware that many of the freedoms she enjoys most would be the very first things to go in a school environment. My children don’t think school is a bad place; they just aren’t interested in it.
Instagram (11/29/20): Our neighbor said, “It’s too bad you can’t have a party this year, buddy.” But my son quickly corrected him. “I DID have a party…with my best friends!” I started to clarify so the neighbor wouldn’t get up in arms about us gathering during this time, but I decided that it wasn’t worth contradicting my sweet boy who feels like the plainest of plain homemade cake surrounded by siblings is a “party” with best friends. 2020 has been a doozy, but my little guy has remained happy as a clam with all his peeps. And that is all this mama can ask for.
What advice do you have for parents who are considering homeschooling their children?
The primary caregiver or teacher — usually the mom but not always — ought to spend some time figuring out what she can do and how she works best. I think moms often jump in with grand plans of exactly what they think will be perfect for their kids, but they fail to consider if they will be able to remain consistent with waking up early, following a schedule, reading aloud, etc. In the families I’ve seen, consistency and passion seem to be bigger indicators of homeschooling success than the type of homeschooling. Find something that works with your beliefs about family, community, and childhood, and pursue it with gusto — whether it has an official name or not.
Also, don’t feel like you always have to stick with the same thing. We’re always rooted in certain ideas in our home, but the way they play out varies from year to year, and sometimes month to month. Have a plan of some sort, but hold it loosely.
Be kind to yourself and your children, and try to have fun!
Thank you so much for sharing yourself with us, Amber! Your family is lovely, and it’s been such a delight getting to know you a bit more through this conversation. xo!