We were so excited to host an Instagram LIVE with special guest Amber O’Neal Johnston of @heritagemomblog last weekend! We have long admired Amber’s commitment to culturally inclusive home education, and we were especially excited after reading her new book, A Place to Belong. Written for parents and homeschool families (or really, anyone who wants to learn how to be a good human), Amber’s book explores how each family can create a unique, authentic environment that embraces their culture while also celebrating those who may be different.
In our LIVE, we chatted with Amber about how to bring this mindset into our homeschools and beyond, fostering an open dialogue with children and teaching them to appreciate humanity through books, explorations, and studies of history.
Here are the top 7 things we learned during our LIVE with Amber:
1. Try to be an “askable parent.”
We loved this phrase from A Place to Belong, and we love what it means even more. As an askable parent, we make ourselves our child’s first stop when they have questions about how to better understand the world around them. So how do we do it? “I tell them straight out, there is nothing in this world that you cannot talk to me about,” Amber said. While the philosophy can lead to some embarrassing moments, the results more than speak for themselves when it comes to an open, unbreakable relationship with our children. “If they can’t talk to us, someone else gets to teach our children―or they form their own narratives,” Amber said. “And maybe it’s good, and maybe it’s horrific. Lots of people walk around with their own invented narratives because they weren’t under the guidance of wise people.”
2. But training is still needed to learn when it’s appropriate to ask certain questions.
Obviously, there are certain things we might not want our child to ask us in front of any kind of audience. For these moments, Amber recommends training our children to recognize what might be a “car question,” or a question they ask once you’re alone back in the car. In these instances, it’s important to emphasize that there is nothing wrong or shameful about their curiosity or question, but just that it is best discussed when you get back to the car. She even recommends using the code “car question!” in moments when your child might be about to ask something potentially awkward or embarrassing in front of other people.
3. It’s possible to teach honest history in an age appropriate way.
There’s no way around it: There are some ugly moments in human history. But we do our children a disservice when we simply ignore these moments or try to present them in an inauthentic way. “History is the story of man and it’s not our right to withhold the stories from children,” Amber said. “By learning about themselves and other people, bad things that happened in the past, it helps prevent those things from happening again. [Children] learn the capacity man has and to not let that happen again. And it helps us all grow closer―when I know your story, it helps me feel closer to you.” Of course, Amber pointed out, the key is to keep what we teach age appropriate. She recommends a “drip drop” approach, where we slowly and consistently start providing our children with the information they can handle from a young age, gradually filling in more details as they can handle it.
4. Bringing world culture into your home doesn’t require extensive travel.
While actually seeing the countries and cultures you’re learning about is often an unforgettable experience, it’s not always possible for every family, every time. Instead, Amber recommends finding simple ways to weave other cultures into your own home environment through music, art, books, and food. “What your children hear and see at home is what they will learn to think of as lovely,” Amber said. She encourages parents to take stock of the music and art in their home―have they been made by diverse creators? Consider the guests you invite to your home―do they have diverse backgrounds and stories? Learning to cook the food of a particular culture, especially if you’re able to find cookbooks that share the stories behind the chef’s creation, can also be a beautiful way to share culture with your child. “Travel is good, but most of the time you’re home, so you need to live with that mindset,” Amber said.
5. A good home library is like a well-balanced diet.
While Amber encourages families to assess their book shelves to see if they present a variety of backgrounds and cultures, she says it’s equally important to make sure the overall content feels balanced as well. She encourages parents to stop evaluating their book choices book by book. (“You end up with a library of single great books…and shelves are trash. It’s woefully incomplete.”) If we are only ever filling our shelves with one kind of book, we’ll just end up with more of the same. Instead, consider the library as a whole and ask yourself if there’s a balance of classics, novels, picture books, biographies, etc. to provide our child with balanced views of the world around them.
6. And your library needs “mirrors” and “windows.”
In her book, Amber describes books that reflect a child’s experience back to them in a validating way as “mirrors.” “The message is that’ I’m important enough that someone wanted to write about me. Here are people that understand this part of my culture and who I am’,” Amber said. Books that give them a peek into a different kind of story or or to learn about someone else’s life are “windows.” And they’re both extremely important in raising a well-rounded child with an empathetic view of humanity!
7. Family read alouds don’t have to end just because your child begins reading freely on their own.
In fact, Amber says her family’s regular read alouds are some of their most cherished time together. It can also be a great way to get them interested in a book they might not immediately think they’ll like. If you’re having a hard time getting your child interested in a book that you feel confident they will love, Amber recommends getting started reading it together for a chapter or two, and then passing it on if the child is interested in reading more.
These kinds of important family traditions also go a long way in building your family’s legacy, or the sence of security and groundedness your child will carry for the rest of their life. “Don’t shy away from who you are,” Amber said. “Your children need to feel rooted within your home. The best ideas for what to do with your children are going to come from you. What was missing from my home wasn’t research, it was me. I wasn’t showing up―the real Amber. And when the real Amber started showing up, my children blossomed. Every parent has that. Ultimately, it’s you. That’s what your children need.”