“So did you work before you started homeschooling?”
That was the question that was set before me from a well-meaning member of my church. It was obvious that she didn’t see anything wrong with homeschooling. She had been surrounded by it enough to know that it had become relatively mainstream. She just assumed that because my children were homeschooled, I was now a stay-at-home mom. It was really a casual, conversation-filler question.
“Oh, I still work now,” I replied.
I still remember the look on her face. I think she would have been less shocked if I told her I had a child with a third arm. She couldn’t keep her jaw from falling, and she was speechless.
That used to be the reaction that every homeschooling parent faced when families began returning to home education in 1970’s and 1980’s. Thanks to the pioneering parents of the earlier decades, we spoiled homeschooling parents of the 21st century are more likely to get frustrated from too many curriculum choices and activities than stunned reactions. However, a new group of pioneers is developing in the homeschool community: working and homeschooling parents.
I joined this growing group of multi-tasking home educators in 2009. I still remember how scared I was to get started, like standing at the top of the high-dive looking down. The water looked refreshing - yet intimidating. It took me two years of serious deliberation to actually take the plunge, and it felt more like jumping off a cliff on the way down..
The Tipping Point
By the time I got started, I was desperate to homeschool. A business environment fine-tunes your skills to review data and predict trends. I could see what was happening to my kids every day in school, and I was worried about where the trends would lead if I didn’t make a change. I wanted more for them. I wanted what I saw in the homeschooling families that I knew.
I was already spending enough hours each night helping with homework to fulfill my state’s homeschool requirements. It felt like double-duty already, and I had absolutely no control over the curriculum or pacing. Our lives were consumed with school and the stress of it all. My limited evening time was spent following someone else’s agenda. There was no time for enjoying my kids or teaching them life skills. They were growing up and I was losing time.
I kept thinking that there had to be a way to live that didn’t suck the joy out of everyone’s life. The fact that anything could be better than what we were experiencing gave me the confidence to step off the edge and go for it. And you know what? It was so worth it. I thank God everyday that I took the chance.
Hope and Guidance
In my story, I didn’t have much guidance about how to homeschool with a job. I want your story to be different. I was “lucky” enough to lose my job and have a period of unemployment to get started. I had some room to figure out a few things while I was interviewing.
Then, when I started my new job, I worked in an office full time Monday-Friday. I did this for two school years before starting my own business, and I earned my graduate degree while doing it. So if you were worried that this isn’t really for traditional working parents, that I might be trying to sell you on the latest “investment” for working at home, you can breathe now.
It takes bit more work and planning on the front end to start homeschooling while you have a job. However, homeschooling can be a BETTER fit for your family when you are working. This guide is all about confidence. I will share with you the benefits that my family gained once we stopped following someone else’s program and agenda. I will give you a glimpse of the rewards that come in the midst of this challenging task. But first I want to tackle some myths that might be making you feel like an outsider when it comes to homeschooling.
More Common Than You Think
One of the biggest myths about homeschooling is that it is a luxury for rich families with a working dad and a stay-at-home mom. Let’s unpack that statement a bit, because it has three assumptions:
1. A two-parent household
2. Only one parent is working
3. A high household income.
The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports data on homeschoolers in the United States. The most recent study is from 2016, estimating that 1.69 million students were homeschooled.
Of those students:
• 427,000 lived in a household with two working parents
• 189,000 lived with a single working parent.
Think about that for a minute. There are at least 616,000 families working and homeschooling without a traditional stay-at-home parent. That was in 2016, and those numbers are always believed to be low because reporting requirements are different in each state. You are not alone in your desire or plans to homeschool as a working parent. The idea that you could do this is not so crazy and far-fetched as you might have thought.
Are homeschoolers all wealthy?
But now let’s tackle this “rich” thing. Want to take a guess at which income bracket holds the highest percentage of homeschooling families? It’s actually $20,000-$50,000. Not exactly the income you think of when someone uses the word “luxury.” Now I do have to pause for a moment and acknowledge that by global standards, that qualifies as extremely rich - the top 4% or less, in fact (don’t believe me? Visit http://www. globalrichlist.com/ and enter $20,000). However, the idea that the U.S. homeschooling population is made up entirely of physicians, dentists, and lawyers with stay-at-home wives just isn’t accurate.
Benefits of Working and Homeschooling
Now you know that homeschooling is a possibility - but why would a working parent want to do this? When I started homeschooling, it wasn’t perfect. There were definitely adjustments to be made. However, I noticed some immediate benefits.
Homeschooling immediately made our lives less stressful. When I was working and my kids were in school, I never knew what to expect to be on our plate when I got home. I remember getting in the car to go home most days, tired and worn out from the work day and dreading that school agenda.
How much homework would there be? Would my child understand it, or would I have to spend an hour teaching the concepts? Will we be anxiously studying for a quiz? Is there a project due tomorrow that requires me to get back in the car and buy an odd list of supplies?
In reality, I was headed to my second job, and it was one in which I had significantly less control over events than I did in my day job. My kids were coming home to the same stress after a full day of school, and they had little time for anything else. That just seemed very unhealthy to me. Throw softball or basketball practice or church into the mix, and we had a sure recipe for burnout. No one had any freedom to live. Before the sun came up, 98% of the day was prescribed.
When I started homeschooling, it felt like we had thrown off the burden of that lifestyle. When I got in the car to go home, I knew exactly what to expect. I had assigned everything, and I was just going to check it and review the things they needed me to correct or explain. My kids could do a lot on their own, but what I did need to help them with was not done in a panic. We could work together at the pace that was necessary to learn the material. We had time for sports and church and other activities.
There were still tense times and frustrations. We still had arguments, and I still had challenges. But the pressure of letting an outside agenda control our family’s every waking minute was gone.
No Middle Man (or Woman)
If you have more than one child, you probably have one who is not so motivated to do school work. Well, I had one like that, too. He had mastered the art of “pleasing the middle man.” It actually takes some genius insight for a child to do this.
When a teacher has a room full of students, she can’t possibly require mastery or full potential from the students who don’t care. She just doesn’t have that kind of time. There is a certain amount of mediocre work quality that a student can get away with at school before crossing the threshold that causes a teacher to call home. My son would work at figuring out that threshold and then stay under it. Every once in a while he would go too far, but for the most part he could skim through the school year without giving much effort.
When mom is your teacher, there is no middle man (or woman) to hide behind. Mom sees your effort and work quality on every single assignment that is completed. Suddenly the unmotivated student has to give more effort. The best part about this is that it is handled directly between you and your child. Your authority is strengthened and you don’t have to waste any time sorting out the details with a teacher and deciding if your child needs discipline or advocacy.
In short, it is parenting. Which brings me to the next benefit.
Stronger Parental Influence
It’s really hard to be a strong influence on your children when they spend the majority of their hours under a different authority. There are things you want to teach them and things you try to teach them - it doesn’t always work out. The hard truth is that when they are in school all day and most of the remaining hours are spent responding to school, it’s difficult to find the time to really be a parent.
It’s not impossible. I’ve seen great, influential public school parents. It’s just harder. It’s a lot more work, and with your busy schedule, it would be nice to have one less challenge. When you homeschool, even when you are not physically present, your authority is. You can work in all of those important values that you want to instill.
It didn’t take long into the homeschooling journey for me to feel like I had regained my strong position as a parent. This is just another area where a burden is actually lifted for working parents, as the task of teaching and parenting are seamless.
Beyond school instruction and formal parenting, it was really nice to have more time to enjoy each other as a family. This goes hand in hand with parental influence, because you are developing the foundation to be able to exercise that influence. This time can overlap with your school activities.
For, example, I used a curriculum that kept my kids on the same period of history week by week, even if they were studying at different levels. It also included audio summaries of each week’s topics that I would listen to on my iPod while I was at work. When I came home, we would discuss history as a family, because everyone was on the same page.
Again, I don’t want to paint an unrealistic picture of the Waltons at my dinner table. There were a lot of sighs when I opened the history book. But we still had a family conversation that gave us connection.
Another great activity that strengthened this time was reading through classic books together. Your students are never too old for read aloud time. Somehow we have started to equate reading out loud with toddlerhood, even though this was an adult activity in parlors everywhere before the invention of the television. Some of my best memories I have with my kids are reading through classics and having many discussions around the book. When we read A Tale of Two Cities, I could see my daughter engaging with the story, and I even cherished my son’s eye rolling as I struggled to get through the last lines without crying.
I don’t know how things work at your school, but when I would ask my kids what they were studying in history, their answer was always “definitions.” They might pass the test, but they couldn’t tell you what they were learning if there was money in it for them. In this test-driven atmosphere, they would get worksheets with important definitions and fill-in-the-blank questions. The poor time-pressed teacher would walk through the worksheet, giving them the answers to study. So they would memorize key words that would help them match up answers on the test, and then they would start all over again with a new topic and a new set of “definitions.”
You can get rid of all of that nonsense when you homeschool and actually teach your kids history. (What an innovative concept!) Let them read a whole book about the topic instead of soundbites in a textbook. Have them choose a biography or watch a historical movie together. Have real discussions about what the time period was like and what challenges people faced. In fact, we usually lined up our literature reading with the historical period we were studying, which really helped us learn. (Notice I said “us.” You will get the best education of your life when you homeschool.) That time we read a Tale of Two Cities? We were studying the French Revolution. No textbook could have given us what we learned in the process
Better Preparation for Life
Go online and look for books that are written for high school graduates to teach them how to navigate “real life.” It’s a hot market. You know why? Because our high school students spend their entire existence in the realm of school and the pressure that exists under that schedule. There is little time to learn how to do laundry or prepare meals or balance a checkbook. It’s like they spend their entire student life in an artificial environment being drilled on academics, and then we expect them to learn how to be real adults who manage households and shopping and budgets and car maintenance by taking a week to read a book.
I am happy to say that I have raised two adults who are not disillusioned about what real life is like. They can do the work it takes to keep up a home. They don’t need me for clean clothes or a hot meal. They know how to look other adults in the eye and hold a conversation. (This was the compliment I received the most). They are more comfortable with real life and it shows.
Time to Socialize
If you want to get a group of homeschoolers hot stinking mad, ask them about socialization. It’s a silly question that that usually makes the person asking look like they have been hiding under a rock for the last decade. However, when you are a working parent, this can be a valid question. Your kids might not be able to get out as often during the day as other homeschooled kids. So is this a concern?
I still found that my kids had more time to socialize as homeschoolers than they did at school. They were able to complete most of their work during the day, so they actually had time to go outside and play. The efficiency of homeschooling meant that we could commit to more scheduled activities and more informal time with friends. This was an advantage that they appreciated after years of too much homework to have fun.
A Better Life
Homeschooling brought more time, control, and breathing room into our busy lives so that we could live life a bit more and enjoy time as a family. If your family life is suffocating while you try to respond to school needs, you might find that homeschooling reduces overall stress and gives you the control over events that make a busy life easier, more fulfilling, and more productive.
If you are a working parent who wants to homeschool, you might have already discovered that it can be an overwhelming process to figure out. There is so much information out there that a simple online search can lead you in circles and lost on side roads until you just have to give up and step away from it all. At Working Homeschooler, I provide resources to help you get started homeschooling as a working parent.