This post is contributed by Oak Meadow, the sponsor of our Living Education series. You'll see several "we" and "our" references to Oak Meadow as well as their curriculum and Pinterest boards as resources.
Work and Homeschool
While it's not for everyone, we at Oak Meadow believe that anyone who wants to homeschool can make it work. Several first-timers asked us on our Facebook page: "Can I work full-time or part-time and homeschool my kids? What has worked for people?" Many of our families responded with their own stories and helpful tips about what has worked for them.
They recognize that finding balance is a work in progress requiring flexibility and patience, determination, and a sense of humor! Here are some tips to help you move forward with your decision to homeschool and work full time outside the home.
Create systems and routines that work around your schedule and family needs. For Jen, consolidating all of her daughter's extracurricular activities on one day and sticking to a schedule for housework really helped. Children of all ages can help with housework, cooking, gardening, and other tasks that teach practical skills, cultivate a stronger sense of responsibility, and help ensure that everyone is contributing to the household.
Brigid Ann, who uses Oak Meadow for after school enrichment, suggests "lots of crock pot and freeze ahead meals. Also, include child in food prep–it can definitely be part of their schoolwork." Our From Farm to Table Pinterest board has lots of great ideas for cooking and gardening with your kids.
Check in regularly
Ami works until 3:30 each day, so relies on her kids in 5th and 7th grade to work independently and follow the detailed daily plan she outlines for them. But what pulls it all together is the time she spends with them at the end of each day: "When I get home, we check their work, and after we spend some cozy time together, I do an hour of teaching. Before they go to their rooms to read before bed, we go over tomorrow's schedule." A few hours of additional focused academic time on the weekends helps keep things moving forward. Our Study Skills Tool Kit offers some great ideas for cultivating focus and motivation, time management, note taking, and critical reading skills.
Put the weekends, summertime, and vacations to good use
The opportunities for thinking outside the box when homeschooling are pretty amazing. From rethinking the school year and weekly schedule, to recreating the daily routine, crafting homeschool curriculum, and imagining new ways of learning, families can bust out of the fixed mindset around how we do things (or are supposed to do things) and instead, do what truly works for them.
Jen touts the benefits of having a more flexible homeschool schedule and considers all days of the week fair game. Colleen, who works full time outside the home, makes good use of her time at home with her homeschooled fifth grade daughter: "We do about an hour and a half of homeschool Monday through Thursday, and three to four hours on Saturday and Sunday. We go year round with breaks as needed for life, holiday, illness. We love it!"
Theresa condenses activities to two days a week and tries to have one full day at home, with "no errands or anything." Setting aside time for full focus on academic work and projects can help take some of the pressure off.
Get help, take turns
For the homeschool teacher, who also serves many household roles, getting help is critical to keeping burnout at bay and ensuring a happier, healthier balance for everyone.
Sarah writes, "I work full time and my hubby works part time at home. Our five-year-old is using the first grade curriculum. We split it up over the week (including weekends) and take turns covering the material. Some days we do more than others. We're lucky that our babysitter does the hands-on-crafts with her."
Karon and her husband team-teach their two first grade boys, making good use of the summer months when Karon is on break from her teaching job: "I teach them their first seven lessons over the summer so that we can go slower in the spring and fall when my husband and I are really busy with work."
For Michelle and her husband, who both work full time, this partnership also includes the babysitter, and between the three of them, they have pretty much everything covered for a second grader and 19-month-old toddler: "I have to plan the whole week out exactly, so I have a folder for each day with detailed instructions. My son does simple short assignments with the babysitter, but all new assignments are done on my days off. His father is in charge of reading." Being willing to reevaluate and make necessary adjustments has a lot to do with how smoothly homeschooling goes.
Activate your network
In most parts of the U.S., there are well-organized homeschool groups and co-ops offering opportunities for special workshops, classes, and field trips. Babysitters and nannies, tutors, neighbors, friends, and family members, as well as other homeschooling families, can offer support of all different kinds. Make good use of your networks!
Colleen sought childcare through her local homeschooling groups, Craigslist, and her own family and friends, and "ended up meeting the nicest stay-at-home mom of four. Her school-age kids go to school and my 11-year-old stays home with her and her two preschoolers. It's been a serious blessing to get to know her and she adores my kiddo!"
Simplify and Streamline
There are several things you can do to help streamline the planning and execution of lessons. Oak Meadow's curriculum can easily be extended or modified for an older or younger student, making it possible to use one grade level for two children who are close in age. As Colleen suggests, "you can even switch back and forth: this week, Kindergarten stories, next week first grade stories."
The "bus stop" method can work, too: "Everyone begins together as a group, and the home teacher starts off with the lower grades. As each younger child finishes, they are free to get off the ‘school bus', or go play on their own." Most children are content to play, work on a project, or read independently, allowing the home teacher to squeeze in some essential one-on-one time with each child.
One of the best things about homeschooling is that you can truly do it your way. The Oak Meadow curriculum is designed to be customized to accommodate a certain kind of learner or special interest, used as a helpful guide to offer inspiration, or infused with your own ideas to truly make it your own.
Elvira, who works part time while homeschooling, has enjoyed Oak Meadow for the ideas, but doesn't necessarily follow the full weekly curriculum: "We just choose the projects we like, and for older kids it's great that they can read and choose assignments when they're with other families we co-op with."
Michelle writes, "Sometimes we blow through a week's assignments in three days, sometimes it takes two weeks. I try not to worry."
Finally, we share this well-earned perspective and sage advice from a seasoned Oak Meadow parent, who has homeschooled for many years while working outside the home.
When our children were younger, I did as much as I could before I went to work, did more when I came home, and caught up on weekends. Now that our children are older, they are able to do their own work and also supervise the younger ones with their tasks. I try to make sure their work lists are engaging, which is easy with Oak Meadow's curriculum.
The less stressed we are about achieving our learning goals, the better it works. Remember—the schooling experience is about the whole package, not just ticking off lists! Good luck and enjoy it!
Liz Gardner is a former homeschooling mom, a blogger, a health advocate, and Oak Meadow's Director of Community Development and Social Media. Her four-year homeschooling journey with her two sons was lively, lovely, and tons of fun.
©2013 Oak Meadow; Used by permission