HOW TO HOMESCHOOL WHEN YOU HAVE TO WORK
Can you work and homeschool? Yes – if you’re willing to sacrifice and think outside the box.
You want to homeschool. But you need to work. How do you do both?
This is a question more families are asking themselves as homeschooling increases in popularity but it gets increasingly difficult to live on one income. And because it is the main reason why so many families I speak with haven’t yet started homeschooling, I wanted to put some ideas out there that might help.
This article has a lot of layers, because this is a problem that is not always easily solved. There are a lot of things to think about, work through, and wrestle with. And while I know the temptation is strong to just dive straight in to the “how to make it work” ideas, I implore you to stick with me for a few paragraphs first.
First Things First
Before diving into the ways you can juggle working and homeschool, we need to talk about a couple things.
The first is your reason for homeschooling in the first place. Some major sacrifice might be necessary to make it work for your family, so it’s important to be sure from the start that the benefits are going to be worth it.
In some cases, the answer is obvious. For example, your child’s mental, physical, or emotional health may be at risk. Or maybe they have a diagnosis that makes it extremely difficult to succeed in a conventional classroom, despite the assistance the school provides (or because the school can’t or refuses to provide the help your child needs). When parents see their child’s education suffering – or their child him/herself suffering – there’s often very little they won’t do to try to fix it.
But these aren’t the only reasons that are worth sacrificing for. Your personal values can be just as important and just as motivating. Like a desire to pass on your family’s religious or philosophical values without having them contradicted by public school curriculum. The opportunity to travel, or live off the grid, or build a family business.
Whatever the reason, it needs to be strong enough to withstand the potential frustrations of the initial transition and the strain created by the sacrifices required. “I hate sitting in car line and making lunches every day” isn’t likely to hold up under pressure. “I want my child in an environment where he won’t be bullied and living in a constant state of anxiety” is.
How do you determine what your “foundational whys” are? Clients in my Confident Homeschooler program are walked through an exercise that helps them clarify their foundational homeschooling whys (as well as learning how to find the right curriculum and local/online resources, identifying potential homeschooling obstacles and solving them before they happen, and a whole host of other things that set you up for long-term homeschooling success), but if you’re not in that program yet, spend some time asking yourself why – why you want to homeschool, and then why your answer is what it is, and then why again…as far down as you can go until you hit the bedrock, foundational reasons for homeschooling that are rooted in the values that drive your life. Those are the reasons that will keep you going when the going gets rough.
The second thing you need to come to terms with is that working and homeschooling at the same time may require you to let go of some of your homeschooling dreams for now. While working and homeschooling at the same time are absolutely possible, not every method of homeschooling can be executed well and properly if, for example, you’re at work and your child is with a relative during the day.
When you’re transitioning into homeschool and you have to continue working a job that makes homeschooling difficult, then there are three phases you’re going to go through:
Phase 1: This is the “get your child home” phase. The focus here is on creating what I call an MVP – minimum viable plan – to get your child out of an environment that may be toxic or dangerous, or to just get things kicked off.
Contact your local or state-level homeschool advocacy group and find out what your state requires you to do in order to withdraw your child and start homeschooling. (HSLDA’s website is also an excellent place to look.) If one of the things you need to do is provide the name of the curriculum you’re using or a general overview of what you’ll be covering, then see if something free like Kahn Academy or Easy Peasy homeschool will do. Your local homeschool group can help you find other free or low-cost options that you can take advantage of while you’re just getting started. (This is also something I can help you do as one of my Confident Homeschooler clients!)
Your MVP may include a short-term childcare solution – like a relative or neighbor who is willing to watch your child – while you work on the financial side of getting yourself or your spouse either home full-time or into a job that better positions you to homeschool. Be sure to set a deadline for yourself so this person, whoever they are, knows how long they need to commit to helping you – and then make sure you honor that deadline so you don’t burn any bridges. (I’ll give some suggestions for how to make this work later in the article.)
Your MVP should be very simple and straightforward: get your child home. Forget figuring out your methodology or extracurriculars or even which curriculum is going to be the best overall – those are all Phase 3 decisions. Phase 1 is all about prioritizing your child’s health and keeping food on the table at the same time.
Phase 2: Once you’ve completed Phase 1, then your next step is to come up with a long-term solution that allows you to start moving toward your homeschool ideal and keep your bank account in the black every month.
The work-from-home recommendations in my free download are meant to help you with Phase 2. Whether you need/want to stay in your outside-the-home job or you want to do whatever possible to be able to work from home, Phase 2 is where you implement those strategies.
You may need to keep your homeschooling ideal on the back burner during this phase. But, depending on your current job, your childcare arrangements, and your child him/herself, you may be able to start working in some of the facets of your homeschool dream. It all comes down to your own unique situation.
Just make sure your priorities are straight: everyone’s emotional and physical well-being comes first, then keeping food on the tables and bills paid, and then fulfilling your MVP in a way that keeps your homeschooling legal.
Phase 3: Once you have figured out a long-term solution that allows you to remain financially stable and homeschool the way you’ve always wanted, then you can start working on the specifics of achieving that homeschool dream. Depending on how (and how long) Phase 2 went, you may have already figured out many of those specifics already, but if not, then this is your chance to take a deep breath and look at how you want to rework and overhaul things so they’re more in line with your homeschool values. (Not even sure what your homeschooling dream is? I’ll give you three guesses as to what will help you figure that out!)
Whew! Okay, now that we’re past all that, let’s dive into the Really Good Stuff!
Transitioning Into Phase 1
Fitting your homeschool MVP into your current work schedule may take some creative scheduling. But luckily, while some states require homeschoolers to do school for a certain number of hours each day, quarter, or year, there are NO requirements in ANY state that specify what days and times you have to homeschool.
Afternoons and evenings are free game. So are weekends and early mornings. If you have a night owl, then there’s no reason why you can’t start homeschooling after dinner, and if you have an early riser, then why not do some lessons over breakfast?
Another homeschool benefit is that it usually takes far less time to do a day’s worth of lessons than it would to teach those same lessons in a conventional schooling environment. In fact, it’s very common for homeschooling families to only do school for three or four days a week instead of five, because they’re able to fit an entire week’s worth of curriculum into a shorter amount of time.
Here’s another thing to consider: Very few states require that you homeschool from August/September to May/June. In the majority of states with time requirements, you’re allowed to spread your teaching over twelve months in whatever way you choose. (And literally half the states have no time requirements at all.)
So, knowing all this, here’s your first assignment. Check out your state’s requirements to see if you have to homeschool for a certain number of hours or days each year. If you don’t, then you have loads of leeway in how long you take to work through curriculum, which will make things much easier for you!
But if you do have requirements, then divide those hours or days by 52 – the number of weeks in a year. Now take a look at your schedule. Can you find those hours or days anywhere in your schedule? Mornings, evenings, weekends – keeping in mind that you don’t even have to keep the same schedule every day or week. Remember, too, that you can choose curriculum that you child can do independently so you specifically don’t have to spend as much time on it. Do you see a way to carve out that time?
If you do, then congratulations – you’ve solved one big piece of the puzzle! And if you can’t, don’t worry – we’re just getting started.
If your children need supervision because both you and your spouse need to work during the day, then your next step is to find a place where your children can go during that time.
The key here is to think about combinations. If you can’t make one option work for every day of the work week, that’s okay. Instead, consider each option listed below (or any other options you think of) as one part of a potential solution. Can you utilize two options twice a week and a third option once a week? Would one option cover four days and a second option cover the last remaining day?
Or, alternately, can you change your work schedule in a way that allows these ideas to work?
Here are some possible options you can combine to cover the whole week. Remember, not every day has to look the same – we’re thinking outside the box so you can educate your child outside the box!
Take Your Child to Work Days: Is there any way your child can come to work with you, even just once or twice a week or even just part of the day? If they’re old enough to work independently, then they can do some of their schoolwork while they’re there and you’ll kill two birds with one stone. If they’re not old enough to work on schoolwork alone, can they rotate between reading books (which totally counts as school, by the way, regardless of what they’re reading), playing games on a device or computer (educational or not), or crafting?
Outside Classes and Hybrid Programs: Because homeschooling has grown so much in the last twenty years, there are hundreds of in-person programs out there that cater to homeschoolers. Some are programs that offer a la carte classes, but scheduled in a way that allows you to sign your child up for an entire day’s worth of classes. (Here’s an example.)
Hybrid programs (sometimes called university-style programs) provide instruction in all the core classes and sometimes even extracurriculars, but only meet two or three days a week for the full day. They’re taught by teachers who provide the actual instruction, then provide homework checklists for students to work on at home on the other days of the week. (Here’s an example.)
Google your town or county name along with “homeschool classes” and see what options are available near you. (Can’t find anything? Get on Facebook and join local homeschool groups and ask for recommendations!) Even if you’re only able to enroll your child in one day’s worth of classes, then that’s one day you have covered, and that solves part of your puzzle.
The Obligatory “Can Your Family Help?” Question: It seems like an obvious option, I know. But many people initially discount it because they assume it would be an all-week commitment, and they know their mom/mother-in-law/sister/whomever wouldn’t be able to watch their kids all week. BUT, could they watch your child once or twice a week? The added bonus here would be that your child could also do some schoolwork while they were there!
If Not Family, Someone Else: If your family can’t help, is there someone else who can – like a neighbor or a friend or fellow homeschool mom who wouldn’t mind making a little extra cash by letting your kiddo hang at their house once a week? (If they homeschool and have kids around the same age, it’s even better – they can do their schoolwork together and then go play together!)
Send Your Child To Work Days: No, I’m not advocating that you break child labor laws! But if you have a preteen or young teen who is responsible (and likes children!) but not quite ready to be home alone all day, you might be able to find another family or informal daycare provider that would be willing to watch them in exchange for your child helping out with their younger children in a mother’s helper role.
Homeschool moms with toddlers and preschoolers often struggle to homeschool because the younger child needs (or just wants) so much attention. Moms who have a small child might appreciate having a mother’s helper in the house once or twice a week so they can take care of household chores (or get a little peace and quiet!). A mom who watches other children to earn some extra money herself might appreciate having someone to help with activities and snack times. If you have a child who is responsible and likes little kids and helping out, this could be a great win-win arrangement. (It’s also a great way for them to make connections and gain experience for future babysitting gigs!)
There are, however, some important caveats with this one. First, and hopefully obviously, you don’t do something like this if your child doesn’t want to. Personally, I would have LOVED something like that as a child – I knew early on that I wanted to work with children someday, and I desperately wanted to be homeschooled and would have done anything to make it work. Your child, however, might not feel that way. Second, you wouldn’t want to do this with a family you didn’t know well. And third, you’d also want to make sure clear boundaries were in place for what your child was expected and allowed to do – and what you did not want them to do.
Charlie in Charge: Do you know a homeschooling family with a teenager you trust who could do their homeschool work at your house while they keep an eye on your kiddos while they do their work? How about a young adult who goes to the local university or community college?
Hopefully these suggestions sparked some ideas that will help you bring your child home and start homeschooling. It might not be the most ideal situation, but remember that this is just Phase 1. Once those details are figured out, you can start working toward your long-term homeschool ideal by moving into Phase 2.
Transitioning Into Phase 2
Once you’ve figured out a short-term solution to homeschooling and childcare and you’ve gotten your child home, it’s time to start evaluating your spouse’s and your current jobs/careers and your family budget to see where things stand and what you can change for the long-term. (Don’t forget, dads can homeschool too! My husband was our primary homeschool parent for the first two years and it worked perfectly for us.) These are some questions you and your partner can ask yourselves to identify potential changes you can make:
Do you have to work at this particular job in this particular location? Are you willing to change either of those factors
Would a different location give you more flexible hours?
Is there any way to do your job remotely with your current employer? If not, would a different employer in the same industry give you that option?
Is there a way to job share with someone else so you retain some of the income but work fewer hours?
Are you willing to look at a different job altogether?
Is there any way you could do what you’re doing as your own business instead of working for someone else?
Is it an option to move to a less expensive area so you don’t need two incomes?
Would simpler living (not eating out, driving a smaller vehicle, downgrading your wardrobe choices, smaller birthday and holiday celebrations, not taking annual vacations, getting rid of cable/satellite TV, doing your own lawn maintenance, going down to one car, etc.) allow you to save enough money each month to justify you or your spouse quitting your/their job or even downgrading to part-time?
Don’t panic if none of those are options – or if you can make some of those changes but it still wouldn’t free up enough money in your budget to either quit altogether or go part-time. This is just the beginning of the process and an indication it’s time to start getting creative and thinking outside the box.
For many families, it’s not about the job itself – it’s about the paycheck. Think about how much money you’d need to bring in monthly to quit your job entirely or move to part-time. Let’s say it was $3000. There are a number of ways to approach that amount. One way is to think like this:
What service can I offer that I only have to do X times a month to get $3000?
What good can I produce that I only need to sell X of a month to get $3000?
What am I already doing/making for myself that I could also do/make for others X times a month to get $3000?
Which of the above options can I combine to reach $3000?
Or you can look at options that would provide it in pieces. For example:
Enormous job done once a month for $3000 = $3000
Huge job done twice a month for $1500 = $3000
Really big job done three times a month for $1000 = $3000
Not-quite-so-big job done six times a month for $500 = $3000
Somewhat smaller job done 10 times a month for $300 = $300
Even smaller job done 20 times a month for $150 = $3000
Really small job done 30 times a month for $100 = $3000
Remember, too, that that monthly $3000 (or whatever amount you’re aiming for) can be cobbled together in a number of ways. Maybe it’s one “really big job”, one “huge job,” and one “not-quite-so-big job.” And you might be able to do more of one of those options in certain seasons, and more of other options in different seasons.
Do you see where I’m going with this?
Entrepreneurialism and homeschooling go hand in hand. Both allow you to be flexible, to do things the way you want to do them, and to do both concurrently to save time and create synergy. (A family business that teaches your children valuable life skills could lead to a self-supporting career straight out of high school!)
Once you have determined the amount of money you need to make, it’s time to look at ways to actually make that money. And since this article is already enormously long and we’re not even done yet, I’ve created a free download you can get here that lists:
over 30 companies that provide work-from-home positions in a variety of different fields and industries,
over 20 creative business ideas you can launch based on your current skills and hobbies,
and my personal Ten Commandments for Joining a MLM Company.
Making Phase 2 Work: Juggling Your Job and Homeschooling
Once you have figured out a long-term work solution that will allow you to eventually homeschool the way you’ve always wanted to, you need to figure out how to actually do that job and homeschool. With some jobs it will be obvious: you’ll have set hours you have to work and will homeschool around those. With other jobs, particularly if they’re DIY entrepreneurial opportunities, you’ll have to determine for yourself how often and for how long you need to work.
Most of our own homeschool journey has taken place while both my husband and I worked from home on our own businesses. Over the years, we’ve come up with a lot of hacks that have helped us balance working from home and homeschooling. We’re still a work in progress, but these strategies below have helped us, and hopefully they’ll help you too!
1. Don’t try to multitask.
This might seem to go against conventional wisdom, but hang with me. Studies prove over and over that multi-tasking is not nearly as effective as we think it is. When you’re not 100% focused on a job, it takes longer to complete and you’re much more likely to make mistakes that cost you even more time to fix. You’re actually working against yourself rather than getting ahead.
So when it’s homeschooling time and you’re working with your kids, make sure you’re fully present. Turn off your phone, shut the laptop, put away that paperwork. Make sure the people you work with know that you won’t be immediately available during whatever your homeschooling hours are each day so you’re not subconsciously concerned about missing someone who might be trying to reach you.
If it’s hard to stay focused because your home office is calling your name, pack everyone up and head to the library, a coffeeshop, the park – whatever locale will allow you all to stay focused on the task at hand.
If you simply must engage with your business in one way or another, wait until your kids are on a break instead of squeezing it in while they work. They can sense when you’re not really paying attention, and their own focus is more likely to wander.
2. Use block scheduling.
Block scheduling means doing multiple days’ worth of a subject on only one or two days of the week, rather than doing a little bit each day. When you eliminate transitions from one subject to another and allow your brain to stay in the same “mode” you can often get more done in a shorter amount of time. And since you’re spending more time on the subject at once, your brain has more time to absorb that information, making learning easier overall.
Here’s an example: Let’s say you typically do one workbook page a day for math and it takes about 20 minutes to go through it after teaching the lesson. Instead of doing one page a day, what if you did three pages twice a week? You wouldn’t necessarily do every single problem, particularly if the program provides lots of practice for each concept. You’d start with the first page, observe which problems your child struggled with, then on the next page have them focus on problems that were similar to those so they got more practice with them.
If they have a concept down pat already, then there’s no reason to beat a dead horse by making them do twenty more problems. Have them do five or ten, and if they get them all right, skip the rest. And if there are practice problems that review concepts from previous lessons, pick a few for them to do and see if they need more practice or not. If they do, have them do more, and if not, then move on.
Because their brain is staying in “math mode” for a longer period of time instead of going from math to English to history to science, they’re able to let those skills “soak in.” And because transitions from one subject to another eat up time, you’re saving time by staying with one subject.
Remember, too, that it typically takes less time to go through a day’s worth of lessons when you homeschool than it would take to do that same amount of content in a conventional school setting. Having only one or two children to teach versus 30 makes a big difference! And the younger your child is, the less time they need to spend on school in the first place.
By using block scheduling and doing school for a full day as opposed to the half-day homeschoolers often do, you can do a week’s worth of lessons in three or four days (less depending on your children’s ages and/or your methodology). Just remember that the brain and body both need breaks, even if you’re staying with one subject. So work for 10-15 minutes, then change what you’re doing, either by moving to a new activity within that subject or by taking a 5 minute breather.
3. Have a very clear routine.
If at all possible, create a clear work schedule that you enforce with your children. Drifting in and out of “work mode” will not only hinder you from getting much done, but it will send the message to your children that “work time” is a casual thing that can be stopped and started at any time.
You don’t have to set specific hours for it (unless you do, for your particular job) – you can just establish that it happens in a certain part of the day – for example, “Mommy starts working after lunch is cleaned up.” By setting that expectation and following through on it regularly, it becomes expected and understood that this is part of your family’s daily reality.
But the kids need a routine for your work time, too. Maybe that’s when they take a nap or do “island time” (quiet time on a bed or a big blanket on the floor that they can rest alone on with a few quiet toys/books). Maybe that’s when they do their chores or have free play time. You can even have a set of activities, crafts, and toys that they’re only allowed to use when you’re working. (Pinterest has loads of ideas for toddler “busy bins” and other activities for young children that they can do independently.) And, of course, there’s always good old fashioned popcorn and a movie! Regardless, make sure they know exactly what they’re supposed or allowed to do during that time – and what they’re not allowed to do.
It’s important for kids to know when you’ll be done, as well. Leaving it open ended – “I’ll work until I finish everything” – doesn’t give them a way to track for themselves when you’ll be finished, which means you’re going to get a lot of “Are you almost done, Mommy?” interruptions.
So make it clear when you’ll be finished and give them a way to mark the time. For example, “Today I’m going to make five phone calls, write three social media posts, watch one training video, and write an email for my mailing list,” and then write those on a whiteboard outside your office or on a window somewhere where you can cross them off as you finish them – that way they can see where you are on your list and how close you are to being done. Or, better yet, “I’ll stop working at 3pm.”
4. Involve your kids in your business.
Learning doesn’t happen only with textbooks and worksheets. (In fact, many would say the best learning happens without textbooks and worksheets, but that’s a topic for another blog.)
There are plenty of life lessons (and even academic concepts) children can learn by helping you with your business. Every task has educational value of one kind or another, so there’s no way I can list every possibility. Here are just a few to get your creative juices flowing:
If you can talk a lot faster than you can type, use the voice recorder on your phone to compose correspondence and let one of your older kids type it up for you. They’ll learn keyboarding skills, and you can use the results of their efforts to teach editing and proofreading.
Filing, sorting, and organizing can be big time-sucks that take you away from income-producing activity. For younger kids, there’s great value in learning to alphabetize and categorize. For older students, there’s great value in getting a glimpse “under the hood” of business ownership by seeing the grunt work that goes into it so they have a more realistic idea of what entrepreneurialism looks like. (While they’re still learning, don’t let them actually place things into files – if they’re misfiled you may never find them again! Instead, let them make piles that you can easily shuffle through to confirm everything is where it should be, then they – or you – can file them.)
Older students can text or email customers to confirm meetings, schedule pre-composed social media posts (even create the social media posts!), enter customer info into your CMS, help with packing and shipping, calculate/sort/organize inventory, label or stamp correspondence…the list goes on!
One of the keys to this, however, is remembering that there’s going to be a learning curve for your kiddo at every age. Don’t think that the first time you give them a task they’re going to immediately get it. Just as with an actual employee, you need to train them and expect that they will mess up.
You also need to expect that it will take longer for you to train them than it would take for you to just do it yourself. That doesn’t sound appealing, I know, BUT the patience is worth it for two reasons: one, because you’re teaching them life skills that are going to come in very handy later on (and which, if practiced regularly and built upon, will look great on a resume someday), and two, because you’re spending time with your child that you normally would not because it’s “work time.” (Plus, they may become your partner one day!)
5. Coordinate your work time with their activities.
I am the queen of the mobile office. I’ve worked on my business at the pool, at the trampoline park, at the dance studio…you name it and I’ve probably had my laptop there. I’ve also been known to bring projects I’m working on, like labeling postcards and writing thank you notes.
I don’t have a choice – there are only so many hours in the day, and if I’m going to be a wife, and a mom, and homeschool, and run a business, then some of those activities are going to have to overlap.
Your children do not need your undivided attention as they do every little thing. There is no reason why you have to stare at them the whole time you’re in a place where they’re being supervised or engaged in an activity that does not need your personal attention. Take them places where they are safe running around (or whatever it is they do there) without you – and then let them know when you will come watch them at a specific time.
And no, you should not be multi-tasking! I’m not proposing that you take them places where you’re actually supposed to actively supervise all their activity and then work while also trying to keep your eye on them. That’s just flat-out dangerous. (But those types of places are a great place to go with a mother’s helper who can supervise the kids for you while you work and occasionally check in to make sure things are going okay.)
Don’t have a job you can take on the road with you? Try trading time with another working parent – for example, you take their kids for an afternoon twice a week and they reciprocate on two other days. You can also look for extracurricular programs for homeschoolers (or the hybrid-type programs I talked about earlier in the article) that allow you to drop your child off for multiple classes. That’s the kind of multi-tasking that works: your child is engaged in classes that cover some of the academic subjects so you don’t have to teach them, and while they’re there, you’re working at home (or in the car, or the library, or coffee shop down the street…).
I know this can all be incredibly overwhelming. But if your “Homeschool Why” is strong and your goals are clear, then trust me when I say you can do this. (And if you want some help figuring it all out, this is exactly the kind of thing I can coach you through if you become a Confident Homeschooler client.)
It will probably take a while to find your groove in each phase, but don’t let that throw you – transition always brings chaos, even when it’s a good transition. Set your expectations low when you’re first starting out, and give yourself and your child lots of grace. It will all come together eventually.
Remember that it probably isn’t going to be easy – but it’s going to be worth it. (And if it stops being worth it, then you need to reassess.) Keep your Why in front of you. Get support around you. Reach out for help when you need it.
And most importantly: never forget who you’re doing it for.