If you are like most parents who work full time, you dismissed the idea of homeschooling before it even took root in your brain. There was no way you would have time to work and homeschool! Now, in these uncertain times, your job may have changed so that you are working more from home. Suddenly, homeschooling has become an option, but you still have a lot of questions about how to balance homeschooling while working from home. Luckily, you are not the first to attempt this feat of time management!
I am one of those parents. Urged by my daughter to leave my stressful at-work job (before the pandemic), I was able to transform my career to one where I could work from home. Then she asked if I could homeschool her! My gut reaction was “no way” since I was still working, but when I looked into homeschooling further, I found that there are plenty of parents doing just that—homeschooling while working full time.
I also found that there are, indeed, some challenges. For example, because you are working from home, and your child is schooling at home, there aren’t necessarily physical boundaries between work and school and “play.” You also need to focus on homeschooling during “school time,” but you have your obligations for both work and home on your mind. The good news is that there are some methods for separating work and school and home, managing your time, and increasing your effectiveness in all of your roles.
Here are four main strategies we, as working homeschool parents, have discovered:
Strategy #1: Flex Your Schedules
Change Your Work Hours: Whenever you are able, flex your own work schedule so that you can devote your attention solely to working for some part of each day. You can get some work done before others in the household are up if you are a morning person, or you can work after dinner if you are more of a night person. Maybe you can split your work time into two or more “shifts” that fit around your homeschool time and other home responsibilities, or you can move some work time to the weekends.
Change Your School Hours: One of the benefits of homeschooling is that you have some flexibility as to when schooling occurs. Although many new homeschoolers model their initial days on traditional school schedules, they quickly learn that they don’t have to. The school day can be adjusted to work around doctor appointments or unannounced visits from relatives or to accommodate some of your needs at work. You can take advantage of evenings, weekends, and traditional school breaks once you have all adjusted to the idea that school doesn’t have to be from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday. You can always push the subjects that your child enjoys to these less traditional times so that you both can be fully engaged when your child needs to work on more challenging subjects during the day.
Plan for Independent Work: In our homeschool, we plan “chunks” of time where my daughter works on reading assignments, essays, or projects across subjects while I do a little work. This is win-win time because you are accomplishing both work and school, but you have to be careful. These chunks need to be structured, not too long or too frequent, and still supported. Your child needs to feel that you are still accessible and that there is nothing missing. Plan the chunks with your older child, if possible, so that your child feels part of the process and can give you input about which tasks are comfortable as independent work. Provide some alternate tasks, if, for example, you need to be a part of an online meeting and cannot respond immediately to a request for help. For your younger child, consider adding inquiry-based learning where your child chooses from a short list of learning tasks. If appropriate, you can have your child of any age join you for some “take your child to work” learning where you share what you are doing on live job tasks.
Strategy # 2: Set Up for Success
Separate School and Workspaces: In order to set clear boundaries, both physically and mentally, try to arrange separate work areas where most work and most school activities occur. For example, have a separate desk area where you do work and another place where your child can focus on schoolwork. That way, you will both focus on school when you are in the school area, and your child will know that you are working when you are in the work area. Setting up a unique school area can help to reduce distractions as well if you consider the locations of computers, video game equipment, phones, computers, etc., when designing the space. Setting up a personalized school area can also be really fun and motivating for your child!
Create a Set of Educational Plan B’s: Even with the greatest planning, there will be times when your work requires unscheduled phone calls or meetings or when you will be pushed to hit a deadline. You do not want your child to waste homeschool time waiting for you. At the beginning of the school year, brainstorm a list of low-support educational activities that are based on the curriculums for that year and will fill unstructured time in a meaningful way. For example, find educational learning apps, video games, documentaries, YouTube videos, independent art or music projects, virtual field trips, online tutorials, or fitness/dance exercises. Post the list, or you can put each idea on a Popsicle stick, and then let your child choose an activity whenever you find yourself unexpectedly busy with work.
Strategy #3: Involve Others
Get Help with Schooling: You may not have to be the only one who provides instruction to your child. Maybe there is another adult in the household (or even online) who can provide the instruction for a particular subject. Is Grandma a retired history teacher, or do you have an uncle who is a great musician? Even older siblings can pitch in to provide help with subjects they have already mastered, or to read aloud, or to just simply guide activities for younger children. Think, too, how to take advantage of some family time to promote learning in different ways. For instance, you can watch documentaries as a family, play educational board games, be audience members for presentations, or take virtual or real field trips together.
Get Help with Household Tasks: You may feel that you can do everything, but you do not have to. Ask your children and other family members to help with household tasks like cooking and cleaning or taking care of young children or pets. Involve the family in yard work and home improvements, and the whole family will benefit.
Strategy #4: Use Your Resources
Use Organizers: Find paper or digital ways to let your family know what is happening when. Digital calendars are great so that everyone can see when you are working (which can reduce interruptions) and also to schedule what needs to be done for homeschooling and around the house. Digital calendars can include automatic reminders so that everything from assignments to appointments will not be missed. Posted paper calendars can work as well, along with the use of timers and other tools. File sharing platforms can be helpful if you create to-do lists that can be marked as complete by anyone in the family, and important household and homeschool documents can be shared and stored in one central place.
Use Homeschool Networks: There are plenty of homeschool support groups and online resources to help you along your journey. Check out the Homeschool and Working Parents–We Can Do It! or Working While Homeschooling or Working Homeschool Mom Club support groups on FaceBook. Find a local homeschool group or co-op in order to share instruction with other families or to pool resources to hire tutors or other professionals. Join homeschool activities where you may be able to access homeschool instruction or peer socialization opportunities while you get some work done. Remember that you are not alone!
Homeschooling and working full time can be done as long as you can “unitask” when you need to and be fully engaged in either role. Mastering how to homeschool when you work full time is tricky, but it is possible. There are many of us out there. You just have to be kind to yourself by not always thinking that you could be doing more. You also have to reach out to others and use your resources, and make sure you schedule time for yourself and time for the family to just have fun together. Homeschool while working is a balancing act. You just need to have good balance!
Are you a homeschooler who is also working? Please share your words of advice in the comments below….