Over the last eighteen years, I have experienced life as a working parent with kids in private school, public school, and homeschool. Now that I have spent ten years of homeschooling, nine of which I was working full time, I can say without a doubt that homeschooling can drastically reduce chaos in the home for working parents.
At first glance, this might sound very surprising. But is it really?
It's not so simple to navigate school life as a working parent. For many parents, the fact that the school cannot consult their schedule for everything that is planned throughout the year can cause multiple problems. In addition to the schedule, parents who have kids in school are constantly working to figure out what their kids are learning and how they are doing and what type of support they need. Sometimes what their child needs does not fit into the larger system well, and the stress of trying to work within that system weighs on parents throughout the workday.
When a working parent begins homeschooling, many things that they previously had no control over are now completely under their control: curriculum, scheduling, pacing, mastery of information, field trips, and simply knowing what in the world your child is learning. Here are a few things that you can do once you start to homeschool.
Guess what? Most Museums and parks and art galleries are open in the evenings and on weekends. You can take your child to various places for documented school hours and spend as much time as you want to on the parts that spark the most interest. You can do it on the schedule that works best for your family (in fact this allows you to incorporate a lot more family time), and no one will ask you to keep track of five other kids who really don't care that you are in charge.
Oh - and the school buses will not be impatiently waiting with a time deadline that rushes your activities. I might be remembering a zoo trip where another chaperone and I had to rush a small group of kids through the zoo and force them to speed-eat their lunches so that the buses could return to school by the required time.
It's kind of a rule that if you are a working mom, then the week you are the busiest or have a big work project, your child will either have a major project due or the school will hold a big event that needs parent participation. Then you get to have the constant guilt of not being able to give your full focus at work and not being able to do as much as the other moms at school.
Plus, you were saving that vacation day for something you wanted to do with your whole family. Well, problem solved. If you are in charge of the lesson-planning, you can plan detailed projects that fit your schedule and use those vacation days exactly as you would like to.
How easy it it for you to take vacation time during school breaks when everyone else wants time off? Do you like going to the beach during the hottest months of the year and paying the most expensive prices for everything? Did you know that Disney World is open in September and the beaches are still warm the day after Labor Day?
Welcome to homeschooling. Take your vacation when it suits you. Get great deals on off-season packages. Make your trips educational and count them as school days. Better yet, arrange for the whole family to attend work trips. Our family has turned several work trips into field trips, including Charleston, Baltimore, Washington D.C., The Great Smokey Mountains, and several historical spots in Virginia. We have been able to consistently visit the beach in early May. We have also taken several camping trips during the cooler and less crowded school year that included fishing and nature walks.
Just the fact that you and your child are not racing against someone else's homework deadline is a huge stress-reliever that can bring the household tension level down several notches. But there are also ways to make your school time double as family time. You can read aloud as a family. You can watch a documentary or historical movie together. You can have family devotions for Bible class.
You can play games together that sharpen vocabulary or problem-solving skills. As mentioned above, you can take field trips together. You can talk about current events and find the places on a map. During the Olympics, we always have a map and a copy of Operation World out on the coffee table to locate countries that are represented (this is really fun during the opening ceremony). Solidify math skills by taking your kids to shop with you or baking something delicious together. Take a nature walk, or just take a break and play outside.
When you are homeschooling, you see the whole picture of your child's education on a daily basis. There is something inherently wrong with a parent getting informed about how a child is doing academically just a handful of times a year. My experience was that many teachers made great efforts to correct this with their own forms of communication and this was wonderful; but still, many didn't. And just one who doesn't care is too many.
I once had a teacher for an elective class call me the day before grades came out to express concern about a significant assignment my child had not completed. Ironically, this was the only teacher who had not sent home a mid-period progress report. She was speechless when I asked if we had missed it.
Another teacher, who relied heavily on participation grades, just sent home a letter grade every week, with no context for what assignments contributed to the grade or how the participation was measured. I happened to have a friend who was a former teacher of the same subject; she explained to me the way it should be recorded and what I should ask the teacher for. I followed her advice, and instead of getting any more details, the weekly report amazingly went up two letter grades each week. Hmm.
There is one condition to all of these things - you have to be in charge. This is why I tell working parents that it is important to understand all options before diving into an online private school or a core-subject co-op that might limit your freedom and flexibility. These programs often have more flexibility than traditional schooling, and our family has at times used online classes or tutorial classes. However, it's the general fear of parental ability and lack of self-confidence that often accompanies these things that concerns me.
Because all of this is really not so much about your schedule; it's about your family. It's about who decides what your child's education should look like and how much control and influence an outside entity should have over your family life.
The families who started the modern homeschool movement did so because they believed in freedom, the dignity of children, and the natural place of parents to direct their kids' upbringing. It is the shift back to the family-centered nature of education that often makes life less chaotic for a family with two working parents who homeschool. A mother who believes strongly in her family role but knows that she must work can find it much easier to have the influence she wants to have by homeschooling.
This is the heart of the homeschool movement: it's not a shift in location, but a shift in beliefs about the place of the family. If you have strong convictions about your family life and want to make that shift, keep all of these things in mind as you prayerfully make decisions about your upcoming school year.