by Robyn Dolan
The Working Parent’s Guide to Homeschooling will inform and empower working parents with tools and resources to homeschool. Working parents will explore time management, child care arrangements while working, how to teach and more, with real life working parents’ solutions to each of these issues. Written specifically for working parents, the author’s own experience peppers every chapter and she also draws upon several other families’ experiences to illustrate solutions to succeed when combining working and homeschooling.
Introduction: Whatever Possessed Me?!
“I noticed that the most successful homeschoolers had a few things in common: scheduling, supervision and consistency.”
This homeschooling adventure all came about because, a few years after my husband and I divorced, my 3 children, then ages 10, 8 and 6, and I moved across town and they began attending the “other” elementary school. Immediately they began coming home with stacks of homework. We began a ritual of sitting down at the kitchen table right after school for two hours, taking a break for dinner, then spending another hour, struggling to finish up homework that seemed never to have been explained to them during class. Finally, I would fall into my old lazy boy rocking chair, in front of the fire, cuddling up with my first grader and his reading assignment. The next thing I knew, he was waking me up with a despairing “MOM!” and anguished eyes. His older brother and sister would be snickering in the background.
It didn’t take long for me to decide that if I had to be the teacher anyway, I might as well bring them home and cut out the non- essentials. Non-essentials like having the children at the bus stop at 6:30a.m.; scrounging for lunch money; hundreds of dollars worth of school clothes, backpacks and supplies. Not to mention the parent-teacher conferences, where, after months of the above scenario, I would be informed that my children were not doing as well as they could because I was not “actively participating” at home.
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The only problem was I didn’t know how to put a homeschooling plan into action. I didn’t know any other homeschooling families. I was selling vacation homes and doing property management during the day, and waiting tables at night, but still not making enough money to afford the expensive curriculum packages that seemed to be necessary. Family members enthusiastically pointed out to me that I lacked a college degree and demanded to know who would watch the kids while I was working. What would my ex-husband, the children’s father, say? I grew increasingly frustrated and discouraged.
I gave up. The kids and I moved from Southern California to Northern Arizona. I put the older children in what I thought was a “charter” school, but was really a last-ditch effort to corral kids who had gotten expelled from the middle school and high school and keep them off the streets for a few hours a day. My youngest son was ensconced in the local elementary school. In a few weeks, I had discovered my folly with the “charter” school, and my youngest son’s teacher was calling me at home, complaining that he was doodling in class. Really?!
I brought the kids home. I purchased a pricey curriculum from a private school, which allowed my children to be legally “enrolled” in school under their “umbrella”. These are known as “satellite” schools. In exchange for a hefty tuition, they agreed to provide record-keeping for validation by the state and teacher assistance if we called in long distance.
We were all bursting with anticipation when the lesson plans, textbooks and workbooks came. I spent hours going over everything before we got started. I very nearly needed a translator to interpret the lesson plans for me. I gave each child their textbooks and assignments, sat them around the kitchen table and waited for the joy of learning to begin. What I got were blank stares. I found I had to read nearly all the texts and do almost all their work with them. School was taking up most of the day. How could we possibly live on child-support alone? Where was I supposed to get the time necessary to pound the pavement and burn up the phone lines to build my fledgling home business? I couldn’t keep up with correcting one day’s schoolwork and getting the next day’s lessons prepared. I was sure the kids could hear my agonized sobbing over the noise of the washer and dryer when I locked myself in the laundry room.
I knew the kids needed a social outlet, and as we were embarking upon a new life of homesteading, “living off the land”, I signed them up for 4H, an alternative to scouting and other youth development programs. The 4H program tends to be more common in rural areas, where people still farm, ranch, and/or raise backyard livestock. 4H originated as a way for public universities to introduce new agricultural technology to rural communities through their youth. It was there that I met Kate. Kate was a confident, energetic mother of 5. She was the leader of the local 4H goat and sheep project. Her children were intelligent, friendly and seemingly well-behaved. They lived on fifteen acres way out in the country, as we did, and they were homeschooled. I marveled at this family. I had to get to know them better. What was their secret? How could Kate, who wove beautiful rag rugs on a handmade floor loom in her “spare” time, be so content, living such a frugal, difficult life, and homeschooling all 5 of her children?
After several weeks of getting acquainted and observing each others’ families, Kate sat me down and gave me a good talking- to. “You’re heart is in the right place, but you have no clue what you’re doing. Homeschooling is not about recreating the school environment at home. Homeschooling is about teaching your children to learn how to learn.” I gave her a blank stare. I knew she was right. Obviously what I was doing wasn’t working. I just didn’t know what I was doing wrong.
Over the next several years our families spent quite a bit of time together. We also got to know quite a few other homeschooling families, all of whom did school a little bit differently. We watched them, learned from them, and imitated them. They encouraged us, kept company with us, and patiently shared their successes and failures with us. With Kate’s help, and the help of other homeschoolers, I learned that homeschooling methods are as diverse as the families employing them. I noticed that the most successful methods had a few things in common:
Scheduling – not necessarily a rigid schedule, but certainly a fairly consistent routine, in which schoolwork figured prominently.
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Supervision – though the most successful homeschooling methods tend to foster independent learning, a parent or other adult was always available for companionship, assistance, and if necessary, teaching students to have self discipline with reminders and reasonable consequences.
Consistency – school is every day, even if bookwork isn’t. Life is a learning experience, and the brightest pupils will continue to pursue self education in their “free time”, through crafting, experimenting, observing and reading. Hands-on time is important time to fully internalize the subject matter being studied in books. The first half of this book deals with scheduling, child care, paying the bills and working from home.
Once you make the leap into homeschooling, you will find that there is no shortage of suppliers of materials and curriculum. Finding what works for you and your family can be a full-time job and cost a fortune in itself. I learned quite a bit about locating free and affordable resources and integrating them into lesson plans. In the second half of this book, I will address how to locate free and low cost resources, and how to set up a basic lesson plan. I will also describe the various “styles” of homeschooling I am familiar with, and provide several links to helpful resources for each style.
Eventually, the daily battle of wills subsided into a contented routine of study, work and play. With Kate’s helpful guidance, we left behind the rigidity of textbooks and assignment quotas, and set about the wonderful adventure of exploring literature, history, and science through living books and hands on experience. Math, possibly the most challenging subject to teach, became a friend once time constraints were removed and the children were free to proceed at their own pace and to make use of it in their daily activities. Our curriculum no longer cost a fortune. The children could do most of their work on their own, and I had plenty of time to build up my business, in addition to holding down a part time job. The lessons flowed, rather than needing strict planning and implementation. Resources sometimes presented themselves, and I no longer felt overwhelmed and despairing. Rather, I felt more balanced than I had in years. Most important of all, my children were learning, and they knew it. Now, let me introduce you to my family.