One question I get asked a lot is how I manage to homeschool and work. For me, it’s really pretty easy. As a writer and photographer, I work for myself and thus, can set my own schedule. That ability to set my own schedule gives me a huge amount of freedom and makes it incredibly easy for me to both work and homeschool.
But not everyone has that luxury. Some single parents work outside the home and have to be at work from 8am to 5pm. Others might work varying shifts depending on how their boss schedules them that week, and maybe don’t know their hours until just before the workweek starts. Even the parents who work from home may not be able to truly set their own hours – they might do customer service that requires them to be available during set hours, or maybe they have to be able to communicate with others in the office and so they need to work during specific hours as a result.
So, how do you make it work? Planning is the key here. Being organized and having a plan that is clear but flexible will help you so much.
The first step, particularly if you are just starting to homeschool, is to check the laws for your state (or country). Confirm what’s required of you – how many days and/or hours you might be required to spend homeschooling, what kind of tests/portfolios/paperwork you’re required to keep/submit, any curriculum specifications or subjects you’re require to cover, etc. You need to make sure that you can live up to any legal requirements your state has before you get started, because that will make a huge difference to how you do everything else. Look into alternative options as well – umbrella schools, for instance, can take away a lot of requirements that you would face with traditional homeschooling, giving you more freedom to work within the restraints you have as a working parent.
Take some time as you create your plan. If your kids are currently in public school, and you’re not wanting to homeschool because they’re being bullied or in some kind of physical danger, consider leaving them there for a few more months as you work out all the details. Give yourself time to research the laws, research curriculum options, figure out your schedule, etc. If you’ve already pulled your kids or you need to pull them now, that’s okay, too. Deschooling can take at least a month or two, sometimes more, so you still have time to do some research.
So you’ve looked at the laws, you’ve chosen your curriculum (or decided to put together your own, or unschool, or whatever), you’re ready to start, but you’re still a little nervous? It’s okay!
Start with this:
- Pick a day of the week, ideally your least busy day, as your planning day. Use that day to take the time to plan everything out for the week ahead: what subjects you’ll cover, what topics you’ll cover within those subjects, what days you’ll be doing these things. Print out any worksheets or other paperwork you’ll need, mark pages in books, gather any games that will be played, make sure you have everything you need. Make notes (in a lesson planner or a notebook for this purpose) to remind yourself of all this, and to be able to refer back to what you did the week (and weeks) before. Use those notes to determine when you need to bring something into this week that was covered last week or the week before because your child struggled with it, or it’s a topic too big to cover just once.
- Make notes as you begin. Each day, while you do school (or immediately after – just make sure you do it while the day is still fresh in your mind), make notes about how it went. What went well and what didn’t? Did you get through everything you planned? Did your child grasp everything quickly or did they struggle with something? What did they struggle with, and what thoughts do you have about why they struggled? How can you help them? Jot these notes in your planner/notebook so you can refer back to them in the coming weeks – this will help you see what to go over again, but also to see progress that might not be immediately obvious to you otherwise.
- Start out slowly. Your first week or two (or even three or four!) should be scheduled somewhat lightly. Whether you’re just starting to homeschool, or just starting this homeschool year, it takes time to get into the rhythm, and if you overschedule, you’re just going to frustrate and burn yourself out. My best advice would be whatever you think you should cover in the beginning, cut it in half. As you begin to find your groove, you’ll be able to increase the workload without it taking a whole lot of extra time or making anyone feel overwhelmed.
- Be flexible. Have a plan, but be a bit flexible. Let’s say you work in an office from 8-5 Monday through Friday. Your plan might be that you’ll come home, cook dinner, and then everyone will settle in to do their schoolwork before bed. But you might find that doesn’t work. You might find that what works best for all of you is to get up early during the week and knock out most of it before you go to work, and let them finish up during the day. Or maybe you’ll discover that doing two long days on the weekend is easier, and leaves you all more relaxed overall for the week. So have your plan for what you want to try, but be willing to try different things if it doesn’t feel right once you start.
- Don’t give up too quickly. Sometimes it’s tempting when you’re struggling to find the right curriculum, the right hours, the right way to teach your child a specific skill, to just throw up your hands and say, “Screw it! I can’t do this, they need to go back to school.” But if you stick with it, I promise you’ll get past that point. If you need to call it a day early one day and start fresh the next, do that. But don’t give up on the whole idea of homeschooling just because it’s tough right now. It can get better.
- Think outside the box (even more). You’re a single parent. You’re homeschooling and working. In case you didn’t realize it, you’re already doing something that isn’t really considered “normal.” So why not think outside the box even more for how you’re going to homeschool? Maybe it’s worth considering unschooling. Maybe it’s time to let go of the idea of a more traditional 9pm bedtime. Maybe you need to admit that the boxed curriculum you are so in love with just doesn’t work for you and your kids, and you instead need to buy the one you thought wasn’t going to work – or you need to make your own. Whatever it is that is presenting an obstacle to you, whether it’s not working or it’s stopping you from starting, think about other ways to approach it so that it works for you. Look back over your notes that you’ve made and look for patterns that might help you see how to make something work – maybe you’ll see that he grasps math when you use manipulatives, but when you do worksheets, he never gets it.
No one will ever tell you that homeschooling as a single parent is easy – if they do, they’re lying. But you can do it, with a little thought, planning, and flexibility.
What tips do you have for single parents who are trying to both work and homeschool?