Originally published May 2010
There are several keys to mixing work and home school. At least in my experience, these are some of the ones I need in order to successfully juggle my life:
- my job must be family friendly,
- our home school must be scheduled,
- our curriculum needs to be low maintenance and easy for a sub (my husband) to use,
- our extra curricular activities should be non-invasive to the rest of our life, and
- we have to operate as a family.
Family Friendly Job
Family friendly jobs are the buzz word of working mothers. It often includes such perks as flexible work schedules, work from home time, job sharing, etc. I have a different take on family friendly. It means the people I work with need to be family people. I don’t bring my children to work, but when I get calls at home, clients cannot be irritated about a screaming child in the background. When I get calls after work hours, they need to understand I might put them on hold to take dinner out of the oven.
I mean for my service to be a win-win for both of us. I go out of my way to make up for the time I can’t be in the office at the drop of a hat. I am available after hours and on weekends at no extra charge. I remote in to the office computers to troubleshoot and tweak settings. The client does not pay exorbitant fees or sign long-term contracts for a business relationship with a company that may send a different technician in for every other call. They pay a reasonable hourly rate for someone who knows their network and who will coordinate all work, whether I do it or someone else does.
Scheduled Home School
Many home school advocates tend to gloss over the need for a real commitment to schoolwork. Yes, home schooling involves learning in real life, but washing the dishes and changing a diaper will not teach the area of a parallelogram. I want my children to be skilled at running a household and capable helpmates for their husbands (obviously, I have all girls). The next generation will probably do far better being self-employed than working in a cubicle, so I want my daughters to know how to run a business alongside their husbands. I am not only setting an example for them, I want to train them to do an even better job than I do.
Just like I can’t get from Austin to Houston without a map and a plan, I can’t get through a year of home school without a plan from start to finish. It is so easy to blow off a lesson in phonics or even a whole day of schoolwork, then another day, then another. Suddenly, 30 weeks later, we’re only halfway through the grade. What happened?!? I was lazy, and I let my children be lazy. That’s not teaching diligence, much less produce a child who can read, write and do math. So, I schedule our lessons in Homeschool Tracker. I use the free version because I don’t have to produce special reports or grades for state standards. I schedule some subjects by the page and the day, like phonics. Other subjects, like math, can be scheduled by the unit. For example, we work on a unit per week, so the targeted completion date per unit is each Friday.
Likewise, I schedule our days to include school. We have a get up time (7 a.m.), start school time (9 a.m.), lunch time (noon), and afternoon school time (2 p.m.). These times have to be somewhat flexible to account for my work and other life interruptions, but school must get done or we have weekend homework to catch up. No one, including myself, wants to do school on the weekend. We also do school in eight week blocks with a week break between blocks. I’ve tried various schedules, and this seems to be the one to best fit our needs. Six week semesters are a little too short. We just get in a groove and then take a break. Nine week semesters are too long. That last week is torturous. So, I settled on eight weeks. We may have a few weeks at the end to finish up, but if we’re done early, woo-hoo!
Low Maintenance Curriculum
When we started home schooling, I liked the idea of unit studies. Tying all aspects of a subject together seemed like it would be fun and interesting. At least for me, I was wrong. I tended to be too much of a perfectionist to ever get it done right. If I was missing one thing, I just could not improvise. As my family has grown, I’ve lost some of the perfectionist tendencies, but I’m even less able to improvise. This was obviously going to be an even bigger issue if my husband had to substitute teach. So, I chose a mixture of textbook, workbook, and classical methods.
For textbooks, we use Apologia for science and Mystery of History. You can take a creative lapbook approach with Mystery of History, but I don’t. It fits right in with the Bible we use, Grapevine Studies, so I let the two support each other. Our workbooks include Abeka for phonics, MathUSee, A Reason for Handwriting, Spelling Workout, Learning Language Arts through Literature, and Rand McNally Geography. Finally, my oldest does copywork from Proverbs, memory verses, and narrative to tell me about the many, many books she reads.
With the assignment sheet in hand, my husband can pick up and make a valiant effort to substitute for me. He at least knows where everyone is supposed to be in their work and can make sure no one snowballs him with less work than assigned…not that my kids would ever do that. Ha! This method gives us a clear plan for schoolwork, is easy to schedule, facilitates independent study, and correlates well with skill and grade level.
Extra Curricular Activities
Extra curricular activities are important to children for many reasons. They foster friendships based on similar interests and develop confidence. However, extra curricular activities tend to take on a life of their own and suck up free time. Many sports require several nights of practice during the week and game(s) on Saturday. That’s just one sport for one child. If you have multiple children, you might be lucky to see them face to face. We have chosen to limit our activities to ones that do not take a large chunk of time, allow all the children old enough to participate, and build desired character and skills in our children.
Our physical activity of choice is ballet/tap. The girls start around age 3 at a very family centered dance studio. The teachers are wonderful with the children, and our children learn grace, poise, and confidence by working in a small group setting and performing at a year end recital. Each class is 45 minutes to one hour, so it’s not a significant amount of time. We can all attend classes together and sit in a comfy waiting area. However, I must confess that my oldest daughter’s class is at 6:30 pm, so I come alone and have a whole hour to myself. It’s quite a treat.
Our goal is for each child to take piano lessons and possibly move on to another instrument when they are ready. My oldest daughter has taken piano for three years, but we opted out this year due to financial considerations. Hopefully, next year we’ll be in a better position to continue piano, and our second oldest will begin lessons. All in all, we spend about three hours attending extra curricular activities, with an additional two if we add piano.
We joined a co-op this year that meets on Fridays. Each child takes three classes, and I help in two of them. They are learning subjects I would probably not teach them simply because I don’t have the expertise. For instance, one is taking Spanish, another handicrafts. They make friends with children from mostly like-minded, Christian families. We all enjoy it immensely.
Operate as a Family
Finally, one of the goals of any family, but particularly a home school family, should be operating in all aspects as a unit. We are not lone rangers. We go places together. Eat meals together. Spend time together. Laugh, cry, get mad, and get on each other’s nerves together. That’s called real life.
I know first hand what happens when a parent ignores or remains detached from their children’s lives, especially as teenagers. We know all our children’s friends and their families. We know where and who they are with at all times, and if that means putting a GPS locater application on a cell phone to track them, sign me up. Yep, I’m invasive and nosy. I try to overcome my natural aversion to confrontation by talking about everything. We take experiences, good and bad, and talk about what was right and wrong and how to do it better next time. For instance, when some friends shunned another set of our daughter’s friends, we told our children that such behavior was unacceptable. We set out guidelines for how to play with both sets of friends and what to do when inappropriate comments or behavior is displayed. This helped them navigate an uncomfortable situation. How’s that for socialization?
So, if you’re looking for a job to help make ends meet, don’t take the first offer that comes along. Think it through and put it to the test.
- Is the management family friendly?
- Will the hours and work requirements fit your family’s goals and lifestyle?
- Does your home school curriculum mesh with the other demands on your time?
- What extra curricular activities conflict with school and work?
- Make sure everyone, especially your spouse, is on board and supportive.
- What changes need to be made to operate as a unit?
Above all else, don’t let anything divide and conquer your marriage, your family, or your commitment to God’s call on your life.
“Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.” Ephesians 6:13.