We hear a lot about the flexibility of homeschooling, but people usually mean that the curriculum or approach to homeschooling is flexible, or even that the daily, weekly, or yearly calendar is flexible. However, in addition to how homeschooling is done and when homeschooling is done, there is also flexibility in where homeschooling is done.
One way this is evident is when parents work and homeschool. Taking that a step further is something I'm running into more frequently and have started calling office schooling -- where parents bring their children to work and use their office as the children's place of learning. Of course, this option is only available to people who own their own businesses, work in extremely family-friendly jobs, or have unusual work arrangements that allow children to accompany parents to work in a safe, enriching environment for the children.
In spring of 2015, I met Angie Cutler at the VaHomeschoolers Conference, and she told me she would be office schooling her daughter during the 2015-16 academic year. I caught up with her just before the 2016 spring VaHomeschoolers Conference, and I was able to interview her about how their first year of homeschooling at the office has gone.
Angie began homeschooling her nine year old daughter at her office in September of 2015.
Her office is at their family-owned business -- a commercial and industrial electrical contractor in Hampton, Virginia.
Angie says, "We are a second-generation woman-owned business that was started by my parents in 1975. My husband and I purchased the business in 2004. We are thankful for the flexibility and freedom that the business brings to our family."
Here are some of my questions and Angie's answers about their office schooling experience so far.
What is it about your work situation that makes office schooling a possibility?
My husband and I own an electrical contracting business. The office is outside of our home, so we do our homeschooling at the office. I turned the back half of my office into a classroom with a partition wall to block the school area from customers seeing it. We do not have a lot of walk-in customers, so I am able to do the homeschooling without impacting the professional environment of our office.
Most of my contact with customers is through email and phone, but occasionally we do have visitors, so the partition wall is necessary. I also feel that it gives us some separation. Since we spend the entire day and night together, we need a little space. My daughter likes to communicate everything to me, so I feel like the wall helps to decrease that while I am working and while she should be concentrating on school work. Interestingly, I’ve tried to hide the school area from visitors, yet I always seem to brag to most of them that we are homeschooling.
I am the one who primarily facilitates my daughter’s school work because her dad’s job is much more demanding. He does come in for reinforcement and support. He also exposes her to special skills, such as Intro to Welding and how to use an infrared heat gun.
How do you make office schooling serve both your work needs and your child's learning needs?
We have had many approaches to this. Initially the plan was to do school in the morning, and I would work in the afternoon while she had free play or completed tasks as an employee. I found that school and my work were happening on and off throughout the day with long breaks in between. At first it bothered me because I wanted to knock out school and then get into work mode, but I began to relax a little and realized that as long as it gets done, it’s fine. So we spend our day doing school on and off, and I work on and off. Like all new homeschool moms, I worry if I am doing enough with her. I’m always looking for better ways to do it!
Do you get any criticism or pushback from anyone regarding your choice to have your child learn at the office? Customers? Co-workers? Employees?
I have not heard any negative comments about us homeschooling at the office, but I suspect that there have been some unfavorable thoughts about it by employees. They don’t say it to us because we are their bosses, but I wonder if they think I’m not focusing on the business enough because I’m homeschooling.
The office employees interact with my daughter several times a day. If we don’t have any visitors, I let her roam around the office and play in the conference room. Customers and vendors seem to be very impressed and interested in the fact that we homeschool. Our family is very supportive, and the grandparents love our flexible schedule so they can spend time with my daughter.
How has office schooling worked out compared to how you thought it would work out when you started? What adjustments have you made or what change has taken place since you started?
Overall homeschooling has worked out great for us. As I mentioned above, the daily school schedule has relaxed quite a bit, and we accomplish school all throughout the day. I have learned that I need to be stricter and more structured, which is not my personality. My daughter does not seem to thrive in a relaxed environment. It seems that homeschooling is an ever evolving process, and we learn and change as we go.
How does your child respond to office schooling? Does she like being there? Does she interact with customers or employees? Does she become involved in any aspect of "the work" or does she "play office? Is she learning as well as she did when she was in school?
She is happy to be homeschooling. She has begged me to homeschool her since kindergarten. Every morning my husband, our dog, and I would go to the office, and my daughter didn’t like that she had to go somewhere different (public school).
We are a very close family, so we want to be together as much as possible. She likes being at the office instead of public school, but she wishes that we could do school at home like other homeschoolers. She does interact with employees, some customers, and vendors. My daughter is also an employee,and we have given her optional duties to do to make money such as opening mail, shredding, sweeping the shop, organizing, restocking the kitchen supplies. She doesn’t choose to work as often as I’d like, but the opportunity is there.
Her dog is by her side all day, and she loves it. They have recess together sometimes. My daughter does miss having friends to interact with at school, especially at recess and at lunch. She chooses homeschool though. When we discuss possibly going back to school, she says that is not what she wants. My daughter plays outside in the evenings and weekends with neighborhood friends. She takes some homeschool classes once a week, and she has play dates with a friend who also homeschools. She ice skates three times a week and is on an Ice Production Team, so she has friends there too.
What physical adjustments have you made to the space to accommodate office schooling?
As I described above, we’ve divided my office in half with a partition. In her area we have a desk, bookshelf, and classroom posters. She has a rainbow rug and wildly colored bean bag chairs. She has American Girl dolls with furniture, duct tape, Legos and other toys in her area. She calls it her "office.” I am considering changing this arrangement because I find that she is distracted by all of the fun toys and isn’t staying focused on school. I might pull her computer and books out to a desk in the front half of my office, and she can do school at that desk and the back area can become a playroom. There are some days that she does school on the couch with her tablet.
What is your approach to homeschooling? How is your approach especially compatible with office schooling -- or have you made changes to make it more compatible?
We have made changes along the way. I started out with Moving Beyond the Page. It’s a wonderful curriculum if I had five or six hours a day to teach and a highly motivated child. That is not the case. I returned it within the 30 days for a refund. We use Time4Learning online, and it works out pretty well. She still prefers me to be very involved and would like it if I sat with her the entire time.
Unfortunately my job does not allow for that, and she is old enough to work independently on most things even if she doesn’t like it. She does like it better than the thought of going back to public school. But I don’t love Time4Learning. It doesn’t seem to excite her or make her want to learn. She’s doesn’t want to do anything that I don’t make her do. Maybe that will come as she gets older. I sure hope so!
How do you divide your work time and your time homeschooling your daughter? How does it play out that you are both responsible for her and responsible for work-related tasks? Do you ever worry that she is not getting the attention she needs? Or does this help her get more attention?
I have an office manager who works part-time, and I would struggle to have time to homeschool if I didn’t have her! Even with help, I have a lot on me, but somehow I seem to get it all done. At times I do wish that I was a stay-at-home mom because I could give my daughter more attention during school time, but I think she is getting as good of an education as she would in public school and we all reap the huge benefits of homeschooling.
It definitely allows for more family time which was a major complaint we had before homeschooling. We wake up together, have breakfast together, go to school/work together, have dinner together and go to sleep and start all over again. We spend all that time together, and she still wants to be in our bed at night and we have to make her go to her room. My husband and my marriage are amazing, and we are very appreciative that the business allows us all to be together so much.
What makes office schooling harder or easier than regular homeschooling? How about harder or easier than having a child in public school?
We would love to be at home to do school. It would be nice to stay in our PJ’s and only have to focus on school, maintaining the home, social events and extra curricular activities. But… that’s not our life. I’m not angry, but I am envious of “regular” homeschoolers sometimes. Homeschooling is a lot better than having a child in public school.
Homework (when our child was in school) was the death of our family time. Every night the evenings were full of stress and arguments in an attempt to get the homework completed with a child with a fried brain! We all felt much more stressed out! We found that we hardly ever had time to do what we wanted as a family because school demanded so much of our time. She was in a third grade classroom with 27 children, and it’s impossible to properly teach children in the manner in which they learn best with that many kids.
The straw that broke the camel’s back for us was when they spent only 3 weeks on multiplication before moving on to division. My daughter didn’t catch on to it that quickly. You can’t do division if you don’t know multiplication. Eleven out of 27 kids were being pulled out of class for extra help memorizing their times tables while the other kids had recess or did other subjects that she loved, such as social studies and science.
Another major factor in our deciding to homeschool was the exposure by other kids to bad language and content that we do not agree with. I had no control over who my daughter associated with. Surprisingly there were some pretty inappropriate things going around the third grade, and I am glad I got my daughter out. Now, with homeschooling, I can choose who we associate with, just as we do as adults.
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