Homeschooling was once a venture primarily tackled by stay-at-home moms who had no intention of working for income, whether inside or outside the home. Working homeschool moms were relatively rare. But, as homeschooling grows in popularity, more homes experience the juggling act that comes from trying to combine employment and homeschooling.
Every situation is unique. Some children need more attention than others. Some parents work from home while others work outside the home. Some jobs fit into a solid routine; others require flexibility. As a result, there is no one-size-fits-all response when a desperate mother asks for help balancing work and school. But shared experience and wisdom from other work-at-home moms can still offer valuable assistance.
Here are some tips I have gleaned from my own experience as well as through wisdom and advice from fellow work-at-home moms:
- Set boundaries. It is easy for work, homeschooling, and general life to all flow into one big mass without lines or distinctions. That is a good way to burn out very quickly. Even if each aspect of life does not fit into a specific time slot, do not be afraid to walk away from school or work and call it done for the day, or even for the week!
- Time management is critical. Establish a work flow. Determine ways to keep yourself from getting caught up in insignificant details that take up more time than they should. Even if you have an unstructured personality, structure is critical to successfully balancing work and homeschool.
- Make good use of extra hours. Are you a night owl? Be assertive about your children’s bedtime and use the post bedtime hours to work. Are you an early riser? Postpone the start of school and put in some work time in the morning. Have a set chore time in which you work while children do independent chores (always making sure there are times for family chores as well). Work while the kids are doing independent school work, letting them know you are available if they have a question.
- Rework the schedule regularly. No schedule remains permanently effective, and clinging to an ineffective schedule only serves to increase frustration. Even a fifteen-minute tweak here or there can work wonders for the overall flow of the day.
- Be willing to make sacrifices. While we need to take care of ourselves with “me” time, balancing work and homeschooling means we have to be very selective in our downtime choices. Be sure to schedule downtime so you do not neglect it, but also be sure to selectively choose activities that make best use of your free time.
- Limit extracurricular activities. When doing this, keep in mind that the “one activity per child” rule might not be limiting enough if you have to go in a separate direction for each child. Consider offering one or two options that multiple children can enjoy together.
- Independent work and play are okay! We will not scar our children when we say, “This is Mommy’s work time. I will be with you when it is our time.” In fact, this distinction just might teach them lessons in time management! And don’t be afraid to use workbooks and online or computer courses to enhance the independent work experience.
- Discard what does not work. Is a curriculum taking more time than you have to offer? No matter how good it is, don’t be afraid to change to something that fits your schedule better. Is an elective too intense for this stage in life? Postpone it. Is a regular family activity currently more stressful than bonding? Find something that is a better fit for this stage of life.
- Plan ahead. While this is optional for many homeschoolers, planning is much more critical when adding work responsibilities into the mix. Even if you have to flex the plan, having a plan in the first place allows a higher level of efficiency.
- Consolidate errands. Do as much as possible on a single day of the week. Of course, this is much easier when you do plan ahead!
- Give concentrated attention first. Children are much more likely to work well independently if you take a few minutes first to preview a math lesson, grade the previous day’s language arts and discuss struggle points, or enjoy some read-aloud time. This practice also reduces the constant “Are you done yet?” question.
- Let your children work together in as many subjects as possible. Keep your children on the same general topic for history or science, using independent assignments to make the lesson challenging for each age.
The greatest piece of advice that I have ever received, though, is this: Do not compare yourself to anyone else. Your situation is unique.
Above all, though, make a commitment to listen to God’s wisdom. He can guide you to take the advice that works in your situation, discard the rest, and find the balance that works for your family!