Homeschool Compass Homeschool Conversations podcast Aimee Otto

Finding Our Unique Homeschool Path (with Aimee Otto)

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Today’s Homeschool Conversations guest has a unique homeschool perspective to share. Aimee Otto and her husband, Nick, equally share the loads in their family when it comes to both homeschooling and work. They’ve faced challenges along their journey, but have found an approach that works well for their unique family. Aimee also shares some pretty fabulous tips for creatively collaborating with your children when they’re struggling, some fun family read aloud suggestions, and some encouragement for those hard seasons of homeschool family life.

Be sure to listen to the full podcast episode for a sneak peek into Aimee’s new podcast project with The Homeschool Compass! Since recording our conversation, The Homeschool Compass Podcast has launched, so I’m excited to share a little preview trailer from Aimee at the end of this week’s Homeschool Conversations episode.

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

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Homeschool Compass Homeschool Conversations podcast Aimee Otto

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Who is Aimee Otto?

Aimee Otto is married to her high school sweetheart, Nick, and together they homeschool their two children, ages 7 and 9. Aimee is passionate about encouraging other parents on their homeschool journey and helping them find the path that is right for their family through her work at The Homeschool Compass.

Homeschool Compass Homeschool Conversations podcast Aimee Otto

Watch my interview with Aimee Otto

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Planning to Homeschool

Amy Sloan: Hello friends, today I’m joined by my friend, Aimee, another Amy, and I am so delighted to get to share her with you today. Aimee Otto is married to her high school sweetheart Nick and, together, they homeschool their two children ages seven and nine. Aimee is passionate about encouraging other parents on their homeschool journey and helping them find the path that is right for their family through her work at The Homeschool Compass. Aimee, thank you for joining us today.

Aimee Otto: Thank you so much for having me, Amy. You are someone that I have looked up to and admired in the homeschool space for a long time so it is such a treat she gets to talk to you.

Amy: Oh, thank you. Well, I’m looking forward to our conversation today and if we could start just tell us a little bit about your family and how you guys came to start homeschooling?

Aimee: Sure. I’m Aimee and I live in a cozy little cottage in the North shore of Massachusetts with my husband and our two kids. It’s kind of a dreamy place to homeschool honestly, because we have the beach really close by, the mountains are just a short drive away, and then we have all these awesome landmarks from early American history. It definitely is a fun place to get to raise a homeschool family.

As far as how we got started with homeschooling, I feel like I have always been one that is really interested in homeschooling ever since I was quite young.

I didn’t grow up being homeschooled but pretty early on that was something that was really interesting to me. I went to a public school for the first couple years of my life and my parents just intuitively created this very rich-learning environment in our home. I’m not sure they knew entirely what they were doing when they set out like that, but I always saw both my parents reading for pleasure and our house was full of books. I trotted off to kindergarten already knowing how to read and it quickly became clear that the public school setting was not going to be the place where my brothers and I were going to find what we needed.

I remember in second grade, my teacher was scolding me in front of the class because I’d read all the books in the classroom and she didn’t have anything else for me to read and she was so frustrated with me. Things like–

Amy: It’s heartbreaking.

Aimee: Yes, it’s terrible, right? My mom was like, no, this is not going to work. She gradually transitioned us over to the sweet little classical private school that was nearby. That is where I stayed for the rest of my education, K through 12.

There, I ran into kids who had been homeschooled in their early years and I noticed, hey, these are the kids that are like me, these are the kids that are really hungry to learn and they love reading and they’re very interested and engaged. So that started in my mind, homeschooling sounds like a really fun thing to do, I would really like to share this with my kids someday. As my husband and I met each other and started dating, I remember early on, we had a conversation where I was like, “Well, I’m planning on doing this homeschooling thing, are you going to be okay with that situation?” He wasn’t thrilled with his education in the public school either so he was totally open to that way of doing things.

That started us on this path of homeschooling. Before we even had kids, I was reading all these books and planning out what we were going to do. The first one I found was the Well-Trained Mind by Jesse Wise and Susan Wise Bauer and I probably read that thing cover to cover maybe 10 times, I had marked it up and highlighted it. I would sit around in my free time planning out what our homeschool days were going to be like long before we had any kids.

Every once in a while, I open a box and find some little piece of paper where I wrote out, “someday I might have a fifth grader and a first grader, I would do math with this one from this time to this time,” it’s totally ridiculous. Like you should never do this, it’s a bad idea, but it was my hobby. Other people would watch television and I guess I was just homeschool planning and dreaming about what our days would look like. I’ve always been headed in that direction I think.

Amy: I love that so much and I’m glad that I’m not the only person who did that.

[laughter]

Amy: I look back at that young woman with compassion and joy. She didn’t know what she was talking about and she had these perfect children and perfect plans and she was such a perfect homeschool mom, but I’m really thankful. I think that love and excitement and enthusiasm, even as things change and you learn and grow with your actual real-life children over the years, that love for learning and for books that obviously you had at a young age and that enthusiasm for communicating that to your children, that could only have stood you in good stead as you pursued homeschooling.

You got all excited and you had all these thoughts and you had this hobby of thinking about homeschooling… and then you had real children.

Aimee: Yes

Homeschool Compass Homeschool Conversations podcast Aimee Otto

Mom and Dad Sharing the Homeschool and Work Load

Amy: How is your homeschool in real-life with these precious little ones? How has it grown and changed over the years?

Aimee: Yes, it’s almost like there was this ideal and then the crash, I think. We started out doing a very traditional, I guess you would say, set up where my husband was working full-time and I was staying at home with the kids all the time and we each had our different spheres so to speak. After a couple of years of that, we just came to the realization that neither of us were really thriving in that arrangement. The kids seemed to be doing fine with it but my husband was really feeling the stress of having all the pressure of providing for the family on him alone.

He is a mental health counselor and so he was trying to get his career off the ground and working lots of long hours, making not very good money, trying to get all the hours that he needed for licensure, and just trying to provide for our family was feeling really stressful. He felt the stress of that.

Meanwhile, I had a bumpy transition to motherhood. I had what I discovered later was postpartum depression.

Then that ramped up again when our second child was born. My husband would leave for work early in the morning with a car and I’d be stuck at home with these two little ones and dealing with anxiety and depression and feeling very isolated.

Then he would get home super late and not get to see them very much and it just wasn’t what we had longed for our life to feel like. We were in the roles that we thought we wanted to have, but we weren’t thriving in that set up. My husband suggested, well, maybe it would work well if you looked for a little something part-time. I was resistant to that at first, because I had in my mind this picture of how it was supposed to go, I was supposed to be the one that was at home, doing all these things.

The reality was it wasn’t working well for me either but I was holding so tightly to this idea of what I thought I wanted God to do in our family. I really had to release that and I started just working a little tiny bit at night, a couple hours and found out I really loved the work that I was doing. God provided me with this wonderful job where I got to help other homeschool families, so it was something that I was super excited about but also had that time, kind of a way outside the home, which was really nice and we were able to gradually come to a place where we were dividing things more, half and half.

Now we have a more balanced setup where we’re both sharing and are providing for our family and we’re both getting to invest in the homeschooling side with our kids. It’s been a little bit more of a balanced setup for our family.

Amy: I love that you were able to find what was going to work best for your family because sometimes we can hold on to these ideas that we have in our head of the way it should work. That may work for other families, but each individual family is going to have to figure out what their homeschool and what their family life is going to really need to be for them as an individual.

I think that’s really important. Also, to model for our kids having other interests is a good thing. Whether it’s work or a project or a hobby or service, no matter what it is, it’s good, too, for our children to see us as moms that we’re full human beings as well, I think.

Aimee: It was almost a little bit of a grieving process I feel like to get to that point because I had this thing that I had always wanted and I wasn’t thriving in that. I had to let go of what my idea of what homeschooling was going to look like and let God lead us to this place of healthier dynamics for our family.

Some of Aimee Otto’s favorite parts of Homeschooling

Amy: Aimee, what are some of your favorite parts of homeschooling?

Aimee: I would say I love being there when my kids have that spark of discovery or when they figure out how to read or how to solve some math problem and everything just clicks for them. You see their eyes light up. I love being able to be a part of that and to be there when that happens.

I love that my kids get to spend so much time with their dad. I feel like that is a really, really big benefit of the way we ended up doing things.

He really is pouring into them for a huge chunk of the day. I think that’s going to be a big benefit to them, especially as they continue to get older.

We just love, love being able to set things up so that we’re together more. I can’t imagine sending them off to be with someone that I’ve never met or never seen for such a big chunk of the day, but knowing that we get to be the ones to pour into them is really, really satisfying and fulfilling.

Some of the Challenges of Homeschooling

Amy: Definitely. How about some of the challenges of homeschooling? Is there anything that’s been a little bit harder and how have you sought to overcome some of those challenges?

Aimee: Yes. I think the biggest challenge and also maybe a big growth area, those things I think go hand in hand for us at least, is just the sanctifying that comes from homeschooling so closely together with your spouse.

Homeschooling can be a really sanctifying thing that God uses to bring us to greater holiness. Marriage is definitely a sanctifying thing. I feel like when you put those two things together, it’s almost like this crucible, you can really be refined in that, but it’s not always easy. We’re bumping up against each other all the time and God is rubbing those rough edges off.

I feel like a lot of times people when they hear that we homeschool together in this way, that it’s not what most people think of when they think of homeschooling. I think they often say, “Oh, I could never do that. You must have such an amazing marriage to be able to make that work.” I want to be like, “No, nothing could be further from the truth.

We should not be elevated as the poster children of what a good marriage is like, because we have struggled. We struggled a lot. We’ve been through lots of painful seasons in our marriage. We got married really young and we both came into the relationship with a lot of unprocessed trauma from childhood that we hadn’t dealt with. We came with some really not great communication patterns from our families of origin. We’ve had to work hard to get to a place where we can do this.

I feel like for me, especially, it’s been very humbling, doing this with my husband, especially because I can be very opinionated and I can think I know the way that this should be done. I have a lot of ideas about how this ought to go. The Holy Spirit is constantly reminding me my husband has perfectly good ideas about how this should be done too. Just because I have my ideas doesn’t mean that that’s necessarily the right way to go.

There’s times where we bump up against each other in the middle of the homeschool day and we have to stop everything and just pause and send the kids off, sit, and talk to one another and work through what has happened. Deal with any resentments that are coming up and come to a place of repentance where we can get back on the same page. That’s not always fun work to do, but it is good work and it’s important work.

I feel like that’s been one of the biggest challenges, but we just keep coming back. I feel like I keep coming back to this place with the Lord almost it’s like Jacob wrestling with God. “I will not let you go until you fix this in our marriage. We want to see Your healing and we want to see Your Holy Spirit work.”

We want to chart a new path for our family and give a new legacy of faithfulness to our children. just continually bring that before the Lord and continually being willing to let the Holy Spirit speak into our relationship. It’s challenging at times, for sure.

Amy: That’s going to be so encouraging for other moms and dads to hear because I think there can be this false idea that it’s the naturally patient ones who homeschool, or the naturally just sweet and kind and gentle souls who are these perfect homeschool moms or perfect homeschool dads. We just have these idealized families with no sin. That’s not true. In fact, as a homeschool family, like you were saying, you’re always with each other.

You’re saying not only are you just as sinful as everybody else, but it’s always right in your face and you’re putting yours right in everybody else’s face. Just because it’s challenging and hard, and you’re having to work through those relationship challenges with your spouse or with your children, it doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong in your homeschool. It could actually be God’s good work to show you those places that need to be changed and grown.

Then I loved that encouragement you said at the end, holding on to God and to His promises. I often think of the verse where it says that” God cannot deny himself” because if I had my hope in my own ability to fix things, that would be pretty bad hope. To know that I can say that these are the promises of God. This is who God is himself and his character and I can cling to that and that does not change. That gives so much hope and peace and for my family in general, and especially in our homeschool adventure.

Aimee: Yes.

Favorite Family Books

Amy: I know that one of the things that we share in common besides having the same name in different spellings, the same name, it’s a good name, is we both love books. I would love to hear some of the favorite books that you have either read aloud as a family or some favorite books that your children have enjoyed.

Aimee: Yes. I would say probably the number one book that our entire family, every single person loved is The Mysterious Benedict Society series. Do you know those books?

Amy: Yes. Such a fun one.

Aimee: Yes. We’ve read through the whole series. I think it’s four books. We’ve read through the whole thing twice as a family and then my son who’s nine has read it, I think certain ones a couple more times or something like that but that is just a really sweet one. It’s about these four kids that all have special abilities, and they have to work together to figure out these challenges. They’re very clever. I liked that the kids are very supportive of each other. There’s no bickering and bad things that you wouldn’t want your children to emulate really. Even my husband would not really consider himself a reader. He wouldn’t say he loves books. He loved The Mysterious Benedict Society series. That is one that all of us have wholeheartedly endorsed, I would say.

Then I have lots and lots of favorites personally but we love The Trumpet of the Swan. That’s one that we’ve read a number of times. It just has such beautiful nature writing.

The Secret Garden is another one that we’ve been through a couple of times. We have lots and lots of favorites.

Amy: I love the audiobook version of Trumpet of the Swan because the narrator is actually E. B. White. Have you listened to that audiobook?

Aimee: Yes.

Amy: I love that one so much. I just about cry every time I read that story or listen to it. I never get tired of it. With The Mysterious Benedict Society, my kids who have especially enjoyed that series also really enjoyed The Westing Game. Then the book, Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library. Have you guys tried either of those series?

Aimee: No, we have not. I’m taking notes here, Amy.

Amy: That’s your library hold list. The Westing Game, I think is an older one but I had never read it before I listened to it with the kids. Then this Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library I did an audiobook read-aloud with the kids last year and it’s hard because I have a wide age range of five to 15. It can be hard to find a book that everyone is enjoying at the same time and that was one that everybody enjoyed. They’re in a library. It’s all about books and solving a puzzle and having to learn to work together. I would recommend that one to you.

Aimee: That one sounds excellent.

What is Aimee Otto reading lately?

Amy: Well, Aimee, here in season three, I’m asking all of my guests the same two questions. The first one is related to the same topic about books but it’s what are you reading lately?

Aimee: Yes. So many things, Amy. If you were just following me on Good Reads, you would see my currently-reading shelf has probably 20 books. I have a stack, different stacks that I pull from at different times of the day. I have a stack on my nightside table. That’s all devotional books and I pick one of those to read usually in the morning before I get too far into the day. I’ve been reading Mitten Strings For God. It’s by Katrina Kennison, I think her name is. I usually read that one at least once a year but it’s very cozy. It’s all about being present in the season of motherhood that you’re in and appreciating the joys and the heart’s things. That is a favorite that I keep coming back to.

Then I have another stack that’s more challenging reads ones that I need to be a little more intellectually engaged with that I pull from usually in the afternoon. If the kids go out to do their screen time, I’ll try to quick have a few minutes to get through a chapter. I’ve been reading Stamped From The Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi in the afternoons and that’s history. It’s a big thick book. It’s taking me forever to get through it just a little bit at a time but it’s about the history of racism in America. That’s been a really challenging but really informative book to read. Then I usually have some fiction going that I’ll read before bed and I also have an audiobook going through that I’ll just turn on if I’m going to wash dishes or be folding laundry.

There’s one that I’ve been listening to a ton these past couple of months. It’s called Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmer and I really liked that one on audio because the author’s voice is very soothing. If I’m frazzled or feeling I have to get all this stuff done and I turn on this voice and she is a native American professor of biology. The book is all about plants. I’m learning all these interesting things about the natural world but it also has native American wisdom and some of her own story woven into it. Anytime I turn that on, it’s just very much about stillness and sustainability and I feel myself calming down a little bit. That’s an audiobook that I keep coming back to as well.

Amy: Oh, those are some fantastic sounding ones. Every time I have one of these conversations, I always end up adding more books to my library hold list. To see if any of those are here locally.

Tips for the Homeschool Day Going Wrong

Well, my final question is what would you say to that homeschool mama whose day just seems to be going all wrong?

Aimee: There’s so many different ways you can go depending on what’s going on. I would say one of my probably default things to try is to just bundle everybody up and go outside for a little fresh air. That’s probably my go-to strategy for when the day is going off the rails. Inevitably it takes us a while to find all our hats and gloves and coats and nobody really wants to and everybody’s grumbling. If we just get out the door, it seems like walking around a little bit in the fresh air helps everybody’s mood to settle somewhat. That’s something that we turn to a lot.

I also rely pretty heavily on just if I have a particular child that’s having a hard time asking them what’s making this hard for you or what would make this easier right now?

Just trying to collaborate with them because often they have ideas that I wouldn’t have thought of. Sometimes they’ll say, “well, if we never had to do math again that would have fixed everything” or something like that which is not what we’re going to do but sometimes they have really helpful insightful ideas about why it’s hard for them. My little second grader is working through her math facts right now and she has this page of math facts she’s supposed to do every day. We hit this phase where every day when it was time to do this page of math facts she was crying and “it’s too hard. I can’t do it”. At times we’ll just set that aspect aside for a little while and then come back to it but in this particular thing, I said, “Okay, what would make this easier? What’s really making this so hard?” “It’s just too many problems. There’s too many problems”.

I was like, okay, well. She’s still learning to write and her pencil grip is not that strong yet and doing a whole page of these and trying to do it fast probably is a little challenging for her. I started taking the page and cutting it into different shapes so that some of the problems would get cut off which she thought was hilarious. Sometimes I’ll cut eyes in the middle of it and so those problems that are right there will be taken off. She doesn’t really know that I started with a small number and every day I’m gradually adding more and more problems based on how I’m cutting the paper. She just knows it’s not the whole thing. I’m getting a little bit of a break here. She’s not getting so overwhelmed. I think where you can if you can just collaborate with them a little bit and see if they have any insight into why you’re hitting this bump in the road, that can sometimes be helpful.

Amy: That is such a fun idea to cut the math page, make eyes, or do fun shapes. I could just see that really diffusing the tension, too, just because it is like, Ooh, what shape is it going to be today? That is really clever. I love it. Nobody’s complained about math this week anyway but I might just cut the math page, or maybe I’ll save that for a bad day. Maybe that’s a better idea. Well, Aimee, where can people find you all-around at the end of the day?

Find Aimee Otto Online

Aimee: Yes. I would love to connect with any of your audience. If you look on Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, we’re at Homeschool Compass you can also visit us at homeschoolcompass.com. We have an online community of homeschoolers there that’s run by Christianbook. We have different people that are contributing, some whose kids are grown. They’re looking back on their homeschool years which is always really nice to get the wisdom of those who have gone before. Also, there are those of us who are in the trenches with little guys and everywhere in between. Homeschool Compass on Instagram or Facebook. We love connecting with you, homeschoolers.

Amy: Fantastic. I will have all of those things linked up in the show notes for this episode at humilityanddoxology.com. Thank you so much, Aimee, for chatting with me today. It was really fun to get a chance to talk to you in real-time.

Aimee: Yes. You too, Amy. Thank you.

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

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