I’ve talked about this before on the site, but I thought it might be good to touch on it again.
When your kids go to public school, and you work somewhere outside your own home, there are some clear lines drawn between work, home, and school. The distinct boundaries make it easy to know when to do what and when to let go of something for the day.
But when you homeschool, and you work from home, it can make it a bit harder to find the balance you need. Maybe your work still has a strict schedule you have to stick to, or maybe without the structure of school ending at 2:15, you find it all too easy to “just finish up this one last thing” every day, until school that started at 9 ends at 7 because you kept finding one last thing to finish up. Or maybe you are trying so hard to keep school and work balanced with home that you’ve set your own strict schedules on everything, and so you’re finding that things are suffering because you stick so rigidly to your schedule.
I’m far from being an expert, but I have learned a few things over my years of homeschooling my own kids. A few tips from my own experience:
- Figure out what can’t change. If you work from home, but it’s for someone else who has a specific schedule they require you to follow, then you should schedule homeschooling around that. On the other hand, if your job is incredibly flexible, requires few hours, or can be done in small spurts between other things, and your kids do better in the morning and getting all of school done at once, then planning work around homeschooling might be the better way to go for you. The key is to figure out what you can’t change and work around it. Make that thing the center of your schedule and fill in the rest around it.
- Make a plan. I’m guilty of a complete lack of organization myself, and I have seen the consequences of it. When I don’t have a plan, I feel lost, confused, stressed, and unaccomplished. Without a plan, no matter how much I actually get done, I still feel like I did nothing. But when I make a plan, and I lay out a list of things we’ll be doing, I can see the progress that’s been made and I feel good – even if we didn’t get everything one that was on the plan. For me, it also helps because my writing can be fit in around other things (to a point), and by laying out a plan for the homeschooling day, I can then see where I have time to do some writing – bringing us back to the first point of figuring out what can’t change. I have 2 planners for myself, and one for each of my kids. In their planners, I lay out each day’s assignments, so they can see what they need to do, and they can see it for the whole week. I have a lesson planner, where I plan out the homeschooling week (which then gets transferred to their planners), in conjunction with my personal planner. My personal planner is where I keep track of everything that needs to be done. From blog posts I need to write, plans with friends, homeschooling group field trips or park days, or even errands like grocery shopping, I put everything that needs to be done in my personal planner (seriously – I even put doing laundry on it!). This allows me to see what we’ve got going on outside of school so that I don’t overwhelm our day with more than we can do, and allows me to estimate how much time the school day will take, and how to put together their lessons in a way that gives me chunks of time during which I can write while they work independently.
- Prepare and organize. Getting ready for the week (or weeks, if you want plan two or more weeks at a time) ahead before things get started can be incredibly helpful. Personally, I get our lesson plans all finished on either Saturday or Sunday (depending on the rest of our weekend plans), and anything that needs to be printed, written, read, recorded, colored or otherwise made ready for my kids to work with it gets printed, written, read, recorded, colored or otherwise made ready. Any worksheets, notes, or other things like that get put in their planners, behind the page for the day that the things are for. By having everything ready to go before we even start the week, I not only take a load off of myself, but I also don’t have to worry about forgetting. I’m less rushed, so I can take plenty of time to ensure that I’m getting everything we need.
- Be flexible. I know, it seems to go against everything I’ve already said above. But stick with me, okay? Sometimes, for all that you plan out the week, and schedule time for homeschool, for work, for cleaning the house and cooking dinner, sometimes it’s just not going to work. A kid will get sick, you’ll get a deadline that has to be met right now, or maybe all of you just don’t feel like doing school today. Whatever it is that happens, be flexible enough to flow with it. Be okay with tossing out the schedule that day and skipping school, or setting work aside, or having pizza for dinner instead of the steak and potatoes you’d planned. You’ll find that it’s easier to balance everything when you can be flexible enough to let go of that balance for a day here and there. Losing balance for one day will help you keep overall balance in the long term.
- Consider alternatives. If you’re not yet working from home, but you want to, consider alternative ways to make it happen. Look for out of the box ways to make money from home. Some people sell things on eBay or Amazon; some work for businesses like Avon, Thirty-One, or Scentsy that allow them to make sales at parties and through a website to make money; others will babysit other children in their home or start errand running businesses. There are so many ways that you can work from home (even if some of them do take you out of the home on occasion), it doesn’t have to be working for someone else on their schedule. Look for ways to start small – maybe you can start selling or babysitting in your spare time (yes, I know, you have none. But you can find a few minutes here and there to start working on it, especially if it will give you more time and freedom later, I promise.), and build it into something big enough to be able to quit your day job. It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition right from the start.
You can also look for ways to free up some time while still getting things done (you know, like how you can use the dishwasher to get the dishes done while you’re doing other stuff). A few ideas:
- Clump together independent work. Schedule the kids’ schoolwork so that you clump together whatever you can that they can do independently. This will give you a larger chunk of free time to focus on work – you’re still available to help or answer questions, but you won’t have to be so intensely focused on the kids and their work during this time.
- Look into co-ops. In my area, I’ve yet to find any that work for us, and though I’d love to try to create one, I just don’t have the time. But if you live in a bigger area, you might have co-ops that you can utilize. Some require you to teach a class or otherwise volunteer to use them, while others only require you to pay a fee for your child’s class(es) – a tuition of sorts. Money may be tight, but if you can put your kids in a co-op class or two, you might find it’s well worth the money spent. This can actually serve two purposes – one, if you have a class that you’re not so good at, your child can take it at the co-op and you’ll feel more confident about what they’re learning; and two, the time they spend in class at the co-op is time you can spend getting work done.
- Trade services. If you don’t have any co-ops, look into trading time with another parent. Maybe you can work out a trade that you’ll take all the kids on Monday, teach all day, and she’ll do the same on Tuesday. While this will take up more of your time on your days to help her out, it will give you some concentrated, completely uninterrupted time to focus on work on your “off” day. If you’re motivated enough (and to homeschool and work, you must be), this concentrated time can be more effective than getting just an hour or two here and there every day.
- Say no. Sometimes we say yes to things we shouldn’t. Whether it’s because we feel obligated to someone, or we think our kids need it (field trips, park days or other things like them for “socialization”), or because they guilt us into saying yes, there are probably a lot of things you say yes to that you really don’t need to. In particular, say no to requests that are obviously coming from people who are aware that you are home – neighbors who want you to wait for the cable guy, phone guy, UPS delivery, or pest control guy. It’s unlikely that you will need them to return the favor in this way (since you can schedule your things when you’ll be home), so as much as you might want to help them, know that it’s okay to say no, you’re just too busy. Despite what they might think (or what you might even think sometimes), just because you’re home doesn’t mean you’re not too busy to help them out. Say no to field trips that are bad timing or won’t benefit the lessons you’re currently teaching, or that you can’t afford. Say no when you really just want to say no.
- Say yes sometimes. I know, I know – I’m contradicting myself again. Once again, I’m asking you to give me a minute to explain myself. See, here’s the thing: we often say yes to the things we shouldn’t, like waiting for the neighbor’s cable guy or watching someone’s kids when we really need to be working or teaching our kids. But we’re also guilty of saying no to things that we ought to sometimes say yes to: an evening out with friends, an invitation to a barbecue (kids included!), or an offer from the grandparents to take the kids for the weekend (or even just a night!). Sometimes we say no out of guilt, sometimes because we feel we don’t deserve the break.There are lots of reasons we say no. But it’s okay to take that time for yourself. Chances are, if you get that break (whether it’s you enjoying some adult time, or you enjoying some adult conversation while watching your kids run around with your friends’ kids), you’re going to feel more refreshed and ready to get back into the swing of things.
Naturally, everyone’s situation is different an not all of these tips would be helpful for you. So my final tip to you would be to take what works, from whatever source, and ignore anything that doesn’t work. One of the unique, and supremely helpful, benefits of homeschooling and working from home, is your ability to tailor it all to what works in your house, in your situation.
I’m still looking for parents who work from home and homeschool, who are willing to talk about what they do, for a future blog post. If you’re interested, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org