How to Homeschool While Earning an Outside Income
20 Tips for the Working Homeschool Mom: How to Keep a Job and Your Sanity at the Same Time.By Maureen Wittmann
WAHM is an acronym for "work-at-home mom". Combine that with homeschooling and life gets a little complicated. It's not something I recommend, but there are times when it is necessary and even unavoidable. In fact, if a mom needs to help bring income into the home, working at home is one way that can make it possible to keep homeschooling. (If you work outside the home, it is still possible to homeschool. These tips should be helpful to you as well. More than likely, you will need to rely more on outside help.)
As a homeschooler and full-time WAHM, I hope I can share my own experience to help other moms in the same boat. I help run Homeschool Connections and I'm still homeschooling my two youngest children. I've been balancing work at home, first as an author/speaker (in addition to volunteer work) and later managing Homeschool Connections, for seventeen years. I've graduated five children so far and the last two are rising tenth- and twelfth-grade students.
There are a number of challenges when a family decides to homeschool. Many families experience obstacles along the way - obstacles that range from learning disabilities to disapproval from family members to serious illness and so on. These obstacles are usually surmountable with determination, outside help, and prayer. When the primary educator in a homeschool is thrown into the workplace, the question has to be asked, "Is this a barrier to homeschooling or an obstacle that I can climb? Can I keep up with my homeschool while taking on outside work?"
There have been times when I seriously struggled to balance the two. When I got to that crossroad, I had two choices: quit my job or reevaluate the situation and find a solution so I could keep working. For me, the choice of giving up homeschooling was never on the table. My family comes first. My job and my community work comes second.
To be honest, there are still days when I become discouraged and need to recommit myself to this endeavor but for the most part it's working. The children are thriving and I'm able to also help other homeschooling parents through my job.
Following are my tips for balancing work-at-home and homeschooling.
1. Learn to manage your time and have set routines. Evaluate the tasks you must complete each day and the time necessary for each task. Keep a planner, writing out each task that must be completed. Don't slack in your time management.
Just like you plan and keep a schedule to serve your clients, you need to plan and keep a schedule to serve your children - don't let your homeschool slide even when you're working on a big project. But if it does slide, use your planner to get it back on track.
If needed, make weekly or daily checklists and be diligent in working them.
2. Give chores to the children. Working at home, homeschooling, AND managing your home is not unlike having three full-time jobs. Teach your children home management as part of your homeschool. This will train them to be responsible and prepare for their adult life, as well as help you in present. Get your husband on board too - his example to the children of tackling housework is invaluable.
3. Get creative with meal planning. How many times have you started meal planning at 4:00 or 5:00 PM? When that happens too often, the temptation is to call Dominos for pizza delivery. Falling back on carryout or frozen convenience foods is not good for your health nor your budget.
Set aside an hour each week to plan your meals and create your grocery list (minimizing outside trips to buy last-minute items). Focus on slow-cooker and pressure-cooker meals. Mark your planner so you don't forget to turn on your Crock Pot in the morning. Your days will run more smoothly, you'll have less stress, and you'll save money.
4. Employ your children. My husband has employed most of our children in his accounting business at some point. By sixteen, all of our girls know how to file and how to work Excel Spreadsheets. They know the difference between FIFO and LIFO. The boys have worked as IT specialists. They know how to problem solve in addition to knowing the inner workings of computer systems. These are all great life-skills that can be taken into the workplace.
I've also employed our children. It's a little easier for me since my work is homeschool-related. For Homeschool Connections, I've had children create memes and infographics for me, render class recordings, review course materials, and more. When I was writing, they were my subjects. When I wrote For the Love of Literature I spent a three to four days a week in the library doing research. My children practically lived in the library in those days. And, they learned a great deal. When I wrote curriculum reviews for Cathy Duffy, the children got to try out all kinds of great new books. When I wrote literature unit studies for Homeschooling Today, they were first used with my children.
I have friends who run Etsy shops, sell homemade soaps at farmers' markets, run farms, own small shops or restaurants. These are all businesses that can involve children. Of course, I'm not talking about child labor. I'm talking about children having a part-time hand in things, earning a little money, and learning a lot of skills. They can learn to keep books (math); help with advertising (marketing); handle customer emails (writing); help with problem-solving (research), and more. Depending on the type of business you run, they may also learn science, art, music, culinary arts, agriculture, and so on.
5. Have older children tutor younger children. This is a win-win for everyone. Studies show that we retain information better when we teach. Enlisting an older child to tutor younger children, helps the older child relearn and retain the subject matter, helps the younger child learn, and helps free up some of your time.
As an example, one of my older daughters tutored her younger siblings in math. She earned a little extra cash and she went on to graduate with a bachelor's degree in mathematics.
6. Encourage your children to be self-directed learners. I believe that children are born with an innate sense of curiosity and a natural love of learning. As homeschoolers, we can nurture that love and encourage children to continue to learn on their own. One way to do this is to simply model it for your children. Let them see your love of exploring. Let them see your curiosity. Let them see your joy of discovery.
One way I encourage my children is to let them take ownership of their education. I include them in the discussion when I am planning our school year. While I have veto power, and make the final decisions, the children do have a say in the direction of our homeschool.
As they get older, help your children organize their time and resources so that when they are ready to learn a new subject on their own, they can do so. Teach them how to plan their school week and stick to that plan. Show them how to take notes. Homeschool Connections offers a FREE study skills course called How to Be an Excellent Student that will help you teach your (7th to 10th grade) children to be self-directed learners.
7. Teach your children how to research and find answers on their own. Organize your home library so that desired books are easily found (your older children or your husband can do this for you). Teach them the Dewey Decimal System and how to find reference materials at the library. Show them how to use the Internet responsibly - and how to bookmark/file their findings.
8. Keep control of the computers. This can be tricky since so much of our modern life depends on media. Set the rules and use a timer. Unplug the router during certain hours of the day. Many children today spend hours surfing online instead of exploring outside. Unplug.
Another concern is online safety. I recommend keeping computers out of bedrooms and in common spaces. If a child needs to go to his room for quiet study or for an online class, insist that the door is kept open. Use parent controls to see what websites children are visiting. And insist on keeping their passwords for email accounts.
9. Keep a calendar, and check it. I can't tell you how many times life happened and I completely missed an important event because I forgot to either write it down or to check my calendar that day. As a homeschooler and a WAHM, you have a lot on your plate. Take the extra 30 seconds to mark your calendar. I use an online calendar so that I'm sent email reminders of upcoming events.
10. Keep a to-do journal. This is a step up from the to-do lists. This is where I keep my long-term and short-term plans and where I take notes in business meetings. I often transfer the notes to Google Drive so I have a digital copy, but I like handwritten notes. It helps me retain and retrieve information.
Similarly, you can keep a journal (or a binder) for your homeschool and your children. Take notes on ideas for curriculum, enrichment, book lists, local resources, keep important phone numbers, and so on. You could also store your record keeping or planning forms if you keep it in a binder or in hanging folders.
11. Take care of yourself. Exercise and eat right. A few years ago I quit going to the gym when I overtrained for a half-marathon (walking not running) and found myself injured. One thing that became evident quickly, in addition to gaining weight, was that I accomplished less in a day even though I was saving three to four hours a week by staying home from the gym. My sleeping habits suffered and I was more fatigued. Eat right, exercise, and, while you're at it, get a good night's sleep.
12. Determine what can go and must stay. What is non-negotiable? What can be let go? In your to-do journal, on page one, write down your non-negotiables. Perhaps it's read-aloud time during lunch. Or nature walks on Saturday mornings. Or weekday Mass.
Then write down what can be removed from your schedule, or given to someone else in the family. It could be that you're doing too many outside activities or assigning mere busy work to the children. It may be as small as having a high-maintenance haircut or changing a wreath on the front door with the seasons. Eliminate the extraneous things that don’t help you reach your homeschool and/or business goals.
13. Find a housekeeper or mother's helper. I have a housekeeper who comes to my home for three hours every other week. As a professional, she is able to accomplish more housecleaning in three hours than I could do in six. I also like that it motivates me to tidy up so that she can focus on deep cleaning.
When my children were all little, I employed a teenager from our homeschool group as a mother's helper. She would engage the children while I worked on writing and special projects. If your children are young and your work hours are set in stone (for example if you teach online classes from 1:00 to 3:00 or meet one-on-one with clients), a mother's helper or babysitter is a necessity.
14. Determine your spouse's role. Can he help more, either teaching or doing housework? What expectations does he need to let go of? If you are working outside of the realm of homemaking and child rearing, it is vital that your husband takes a more active role in homeschooling. If not, he will likely need to lower expectations regarding meals and housekeeping.
If you're a single parent, you have a much more difficult job balancing work and homeschooling. You will likely need to rely more heavily on some of the other bullet points in this list such as paid help or engaging the assistance or your parents.
15. Schedule time just for your kids. Block out certain hours where you take no phone calls and conduct zero business. Giving your children your undivided attention for predetermined blocks of time will free up your time later when you need to get down to business. In the long run, your children will learn that they can't interrupt you during "office hours" and that they'll be rewarded with solid "mom time" later.
Manage your schedule. Work before the kids get up. Work when your husband gets home. But make sure you get enough sleep. When I co-wrote my first book, A Catholic Homeschool Treasury, I worked into the wee hours of the night. I didn't want to take time away from my children, so I waited until they went to bed to work. The problem was that I was subsisting on four hours of sleep over many months. I ended up seriously ill, which wasn't good for me or my family.
16. Seek outside help. Co-ops, private tutors, or online courses can help take the edge off. Note that you still need to be engaged as a homeschooler - making sure deadlines are met, work is getting done, and holding your children accountable - but you'll still save time since direct instruction is being done by a trusted source.
17. Multi-task. What tasks can you combine to save time? One of my favorites is "carschooling". When driving, the children and I can pray a rosary, listen to an audio book, have a Socratic discussion, plug in an educational CD, and so on.
18. Demand respect from your spouse and children. Once my husband came home and asked, "What do you do all day anyway?" Once.
I used to have a bumper sticker that read, "Mothering: A Proud Profession". Raising and homeschooling children is as important, if not more, than working in the business world. Additionally, you are juggling multiple jobs. Being a stay-at-home mom is a full-time job. Being a homeschool mom is another full-time job. Add "business woman" to that and you are stretched. Demand respect.
19. Grandparents. Grandparents can be an amazing resource. They have the wisdom and experience that comes with age. Think about how your parents can engage your children. Perhaps your dad is outdoorsman who would love to spend time in nature with your children. Perhaps your mom is a whiz at science and would volunteer to do kitchen-table experiments with the kids. Ask them if they'd like to be a part of your homeschool.
20. PRAY!!! This could be both first and last on this list of tips. It is certainly the most important. Don't let the busyness of the day interfere with your prayer life. Have a set prayer time with the children. Get time before the Blessed Sacrament. Get to Mass a little early so you have time to reflect and talk with our Lord. And, get those kids praying for you - every day!
If you have further tips and examples of how you balance homeschooling and outside work, please share with the rest of us in the comments.
PS I found a couple of books on the topic of homeschooling and working at home. I haven't read them, so I can't recommend them one way or the other. But, if you want to check them out, including reading reviews, here you go:
Schooling at Home, While Working at Home
How to Work and Homeschool: Practical Advice, Tips, and Strategies from Parents