Homeschool Makeover: Is It Possible to Homeschool and Be a Working Mom?
Lauren’s excited to go back to work—but she’s not ready to give up homeschooling her two kids. We help her find a way to have it all.
“I’m going back to work part-time, and I’m struggling with how to make our new schedule work with our homeschool life. Help!”
“I feel so lucky that I got to be a stay-at-home, homeschool mom for so many years, but it’s just not feasible for us financially anymore,” says Lauren*. Lauren has been homeschooling her 10-year-old daughter Bree and her 12-year-old son Adam their whole lives, using what she calls a “project-based, Waldorf-type method.” After twelve years, Lauren is reentering the workforce as a part-time administrative assistant—she’ll be working from home, but she’ll have firm office hours from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. three days a week. “Even though I don’t do a lot of hands-on instruction, I am available all the time right now,” she says. “In a few weeks, that won’t be the case.”
As usual, we asked Lauren to track her homeschool time for a couple of weeks so that we could get a clear picture of how her family’s homeschool works before she started her new job. Lauren noted that she spends a couple of hours a day with Bree doing math and readalouds (Lauren uses the Build Your Library reading list as the spine for their homeschool, but they rarely do any of the recommended activities or projects) while Adam works on his Minecraft building project for a couple of hours. After lunch, they switch, and Lauren reads and does math with Adam while Bree tackles her own project time. (Lately, she’s been making a leaf identification guide for the leaves she’s collected on family nature walks.) Lauren is very hands-on with both kids—she frequently pauses reading time to answer questions about project work as they come up. Both kids use separate science curricula three times a week. (“I try to remember to prep for labs, but sometimes we end up just watching an experiment on YouTube,” Lauren says.) Adam and Bree have riding lessons on Saturdays and attend a weekly homeschool park day once a week.
“It doesn’t sound like we do that much, but with one thing and another, we really are going until dinnertime most days and sometimes beyond,” says Lauren. “I’m just not sure how to successfully condense what we do into two days a week.”
It’s obvious that for Lauren’s new work schedule to work, Adam and Bree will have to fill in some gaps with independent work. Since readalouds are one of Lauren’s favorite things about homeschooling, we made keeping reading together time a priority, even though Adam and Bree read well enough independently to keep up with Build Your Library’s daily reading schedule on their own. Here’s how we suggested Lauren shake up their routine to suit her new schedule:
Think university model. Most college classes meet twice a week, giving students the rest of the week to tackle assignments and pursue other interests. Since Lauren has two open weekdays for homeschooling, we suggested that she condense as much hands-on instruction and learning as possible into those two days. These two days are the days to do science experiments, tackle new math concepts, etc.—anything that requires introducing new ideas or hands-on assistance from Lauren. On the days when Lauren’s working, Adam and Bree can solve practice problems, update their science notebooks with charts and definitions, and do other solo work.
Set up a Hey Mom station. Lauren’s new job requires her to be available during her scheduled shift, so Adam and Bree can only interrupt her during working hours if there’s an emergency. We suggested setting up a whiteboard in a convenient place where the kids can jot down questions that pop up during the day. That way, nothing important gets lost.
Reconfigure readalouds. The Build Your Library curriculum has more readalouds than the family can comfortably squeeze into two mornings a week, so we looked for other places in the family schedule where readalouds might fit in. We suggested moving the literature readings to bedtime on the days when Lauren’s working. Lauren can also add a couple of extra chapters to books on the two days when she’s actively homeschooling to help them stay on track with Build Your Library’s weekly schedule.
Bundle science classes. Bree and Adam are close enough in age to tackle the same science curriculum—and sticking with a single schedule of experiments and assignments is much easier to keep up with. Since Bree and Adam are covering the same material, they can also help each other answer tough questions or understand tricky concepts while Lauren is unavailable. (We talked about the possibility of bundling Build Your Library, too, but Lauren didn’t think it would work to jump Bree up two levels and Adam has already covered the grade in between them.)
Take advantage of “dead time.” The family is in the car for a little more than an hour every weekend taking Bree and Adam to and from their weekly riding lessons. Not all the books in their curriculum are available as audiobooks, but quite a few are—and Lauren can also record the poems Bree and Adam are working on memorizing so that they can practice as they drive.
Two months into her new job, Lauren says they’ve found a rhythm that works. “We’d always homeschooled a certain way and it had always been such a happy experience, so there was a part of me that kept trying to squeeze the way we’d always done things into our new schedule. It helped so much to have someone to help me see the big picture and to recognize that we could keep the spirit of our homeschool even if we changed some things.”
Lauren says the Hey Mom board has become an essential part of their homeschool and has really helped manage her own guilt about not being available. Condensing into two days has worked even better than she expected. “I’m so impressed by how Adam and Bree have taken the reins of their education,” she says. “They were definitely ready for this even if I wasn’t.”
This homeschool makeover was originally published in the fall 2016 issue of HSL. *Last names omitted for online publication.