Journey of a Working-Homeschool-Mom

I never set out to be a homeschooler. In fact, I was really proud of our planned education track for my first born. She “won the lottery” and got spot in one of the “feeder” preschools for a very prominent DC-area private school. I was excited for her future knowing that she was on the pathway to a rigorous academic and fulfilling social life. Yup…I had her first 18 years of schooling neatly plotted out by the age of two.

Silly me…you know what happens when you plan ANYTHING way in advance for your kids. Life has a way of messing-up your plans!

So, here I was merrily prepping her for the kindergarten admission test by encouraging detailed stick drawings (“come-on honey…don’t forget the eyelashes”) when I realized something. I really like my kid. And I like spending time with her. And more than that, I am good at teaching her things.

Around that period of my life, I happened to read a short book entitled Unschooling Rules by Clark Aldrich that quickly got to the core of what and how to educate children. Straightforward knowledge-nuggets like these spoke to me:

  • What a person learns in a classroom is how to be a person in a classroom.
  • Animals are better than books about animals.
  • Internships, apprentices and interesting jobs beat term papers, textbooks and tests.

As I reflected on my own schooling experience, I had to admit that I was a mediocre student. I did what needed to be done to get by. Was I inspired by what was conveyed to me in a classroom? Did I ever have a Dead Poets Society moment? Is there a single piece of knowledge that changed the trajectory of my life?

Other than learning the basics like reading and writing, I hate to say that I came away from my first 18 years of life with a little knowledge about a lot of things, but nothing substantially important.

What made the most impact in my life were the values of hard work and self-management that my parents instilled in me. These made all the difference when it came time to get a job. I was the one to stick around and do the hard things to completion. A challenge didn’t scare me; in fact I wanted more work and in turn became someone that my bosses could rely on. This can’t be taught in a typical classroom.

So, back to pining over the educational future of my first born…

At age four, we took the leap and signed her up for a homeschool co-op. We chose Classical Conversations, which for the younger kiddos mainly focuses on memorization of important historical, math and science facts. Through memorization you greatly expand their vocabulary and set-up “tent poles” that additional learning will be built-upon as they get older. They meet once a week and also fit in an art lesson, two science experiments and each child does a presentation in front of his class.

Now at this period of life I worked fulltime and wanted (and needed) to keep working. So of course if you are going to “homeschool” someone needs to be doing the schooling.

If you are anything like me, when I am about to go through something very important or life changing, I do my research. It helps to see how other people successfully handle the same sort of challenge or transition. So when I realized I was going to be a working-homeschool-mom of course I wanted to learn from all the other working-homeschool-moms out there.

There were tons of homeschool mommy blogs and tons of working mom-life balance articles, but I found very little advice from women who balance home education and careers.

I started navigating this uncharted territory by taking a combination of vacation time and also making up time in the evening. This did not last long. Moms of young children know that after a day of work, dinner, bath and bed, your brain is officially mush! So opening up multiple spreadsheets and trying to reconcile numbers at the end of a long day was probably not a boon to my sanity.

When my daughter turned five and would have been entering Kindergarten I knew I needed to step-up my “homeschool game.” Not that I was going to add a ton of complicated lessons, but I needed consistency with reading, writing and math. And that takes time.

After a few months of discussion with my supervisor and coworkers, I decided to take a step down from my role at the nonprofit where I worked. I served as the executive vice president, making sure our operations and many programs were going smoothly. We began a national search for my replacement and once found I transitioned to 30 hours a week, mostly focusing on outreach-type activities.

So where am I now? Life is busy but fulfilling.

Do I get to everything (school-wise, personally and professionally) I want to do in a day? Never.

Are there some days (weeks) where I am providing the bare-minimum of education for my daughter? Oh yeah!

Are the sometimes when schedules are so tight and I have zero margin that one unexpected hiccup can send my nicely organized plans into temporary chaos? Of course!

But given that I am a tad bit type A, my bet is if I went a more traditional schooling option I would be time-strapped due to other commitments. So why not give this homeschooling a whirl to the best of my current ability?

I consider myself so blessed that I have such a hands-on engagement with the foundational education of my children. I get to spend more time with my children than many other parents. Plus I get to keep engaging in a job and with people that I love.

But before you think that this balancing act is a matter of making sure your Outlook calendar is properly scheduled, please let me explain a little bit more.

It takes a village…. Yes, we have a live-in au pair that helps us out about 35 hours a week. I would not be able to have my job and also find time to sit down and teach my kids without someone that is available to tag-team and help with the kiddos. My husband is fantastic with the kids, but he also has a demanding career in construction and can work long hours. With no family nearby, we needed a reliable and trusted option for child care so we have had an au pair for the past four years.

Start small when they are young….Curriculum to a homeschool parent can be like candy to a kid. You want to try out the “tastiest” and most popular options in the store. I decided to keep things really simple. We perfect our reading skills, we practice penmanship, we review our Classical Conversation facts and we learn math. Formal grammar, spelling, social studies, art and other areas will come later. If we really focus, we can get all our lessons completed in an hour a day.

Encourage self-management….At this age they need a lot of hand-holding, prodding and encouragement. So that is why I am putting such a focus on reading so she can do more workbooks (which she loves) by herself. In the meantime, she logs into online lessons once a day to reinforce her reading and math skills. She considers this a treat and it is something that she can do on her own without my help. This hybrid learning model is proven to accelerate learning. We use Smart Tutor but there are a ton of other great resources such as Dream Box, Khan Academy and ClicknKids.   

Not a solo journey…I need community! Strange things happen when I spend too much time at home just with the kids. I find myself getting a little blue. So the ‘people-person’ in me must be fed. I am also blazing a new trail for my family, so it is critical that I surround myself with people who are also on the same type of journey. We have created such an amazing support network. From discussing learning challenges to helping drive kiddos to activities, I love and rely on my fellow moms. If you don’t have them, find some! Be the first person to offer to help someone else, or swallow your pride and ask for help. You would be surprised the bonds that quickly form when you admit you are on a sinking ship and need someone to throw you a lifeline.

Go easy on yourself….When I get in a panic that she has not had a math lesson in eight days, I remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint. I don’t plan on taking the summer off and honestly what sort of one-on-one would the kids be getting in a large classroom setting?

So what is my typical week?

I get a lot of questions about “how I do it all?” I feel like EVERY MOM DESERVES THIS QUESTION. So I offer this schedule just as a source of encouragement that you can do it but it is absolutely critical to understand your limits and respect them. Not everyone has such a flexible work-schedule as I do, or has access to child care in a pinch. So if this type of arrangement peaks your interests, be very brutally honest about the potential scheduling, financial, energy, mental and capacity limitations you think you will face. Brainstorm on how to address them. Find some partners in this endeavor and band-together to help blow the roof off any limits you encounter.

Sunday – Church, meal prep for the week and review progress of homeschooling lessons. Lots of family time!

Monday

  • 8:00 Out the door to take son to his preschool co-op and then spend the morning at daughter’s Classical Conversation homeschool community
  • Noon Pick-up son and bring both kids home for lunch
  • 12:30  Au pair watches kids while I work from home
  • 5:30  Dinner prep, dinner, play, bath, stories and bed (Hubby comes home around 7:00)
  • 8:45 – 10:00 Hubby time, prep tomorrow’s lessons and write for blog

Tuesday

  • 7:00 Kids are dressed and eating breakfast. During breakfast we go over our Bible memory versus and I also introduce character traits  or discus historical facts and people that we might coordinate with a Friday field trip or activity. Then read books to them or play
  • 7:30 Daughter’s reading lesson (100 Easy Lessons) while son plays (this can be difficult because he likes to interrupt and is highly distractible)
  • 8:00 Give daughter math worksheet (Math U See). Spend a few minutes introducing new concepts. She works on it while I work with my son on his letter recognition (All About Reading)
  • 8:30 Check daughter’s work. Give her writing assignment. Sometimes it is copying pages from a book or sometimes she writes a story
  • 9:00 Hands-on art or science project – this is their reward
  • 9:30 Au pair watches kids while I work for a few hours
  • 11:30 Homeschool PE class. Our neighborhood has someone from the YMCA teach a class for all the homeschoolers in our hood.  It is a chance for the kids to play with each other and for me to get some face-time with other moms
  • 12:30 Bring them back home, au pair feeds them lunch while I work. While son is being put down for a nap, daughter gets to work on the computer for an hour
  • 4:30 Take daughter to ballet class. I get some fun puzzle or Lego time with my son while we wait for her
  • 6:30 Home and dinner bedtime routine

Wednesday

  • 8:00 Au pair watches daughter while I take son to his preschool co-op.
  • 9:00 I go into the office for the day and have a friend pick him up at noon. Usually I will leave a writing assignment for my daughter to work on with the au pair and she also gets to work online.
  • 5:00 Home (I take a weekly standing call while driving home). Usually we have a playdate at our house or another house. Then it is the bedtime routine.

ThursdayMorning is same as Tuesdays

  • 7:00 Kids are dressed and eating breakfast. During breakfast we go over our Bible memory versus and other discussions then read books and play
  • 7:30 Daughter’s reading lesson while son plays
  • 8:00 Daughter’s math worksheets while teach son letter recognition  
  • 8:30 Writing practice
  • 9:00 Hands-on art or science project – this is their reward
  • 9:30 Au pair watches kids while I work for the rest of the day. Many weeks I have outside meetings.
  • 5:30 Home, early dinner
  • 6:30 Girl Scouts (Son stays home with hubby)
  • 7:30 Bedtime routine
  • On weeks when we do not have Girl Scouts, hubby and I will have au pair put kids to bed while we sneak out for a date night.

Friday

  • 7:00 Kids are dressed and eating breakfast. During breakfast we go over our Bible memory versus and then read books to them or play
  • 7:30 Daughter’s reading lesson while son plays
  • 8:00 Au pair watches kids while I work for a few hours to finish-up any open projects and to make sure I am working at least 30 hours (if you count evening and early-morning catch-up, I work about 37 hours a week)
  • Mid-morning Educational “Field Trip”. This is a hands-on fun learning trip. Sometimes it is having people over for an educational playdate (like the time we celebrated Ben Franklin’s birthday). Other times is it meeting friends at a museum or other historical site to play and learn. This is my favorite part of homeschooling, and I feel like a lot of what we talk about during the week gets cemented on Friday.
  • 1:00 Home, late lunch and have son take his “nap” (does he sleep…nah)
  • 2:00 I have a work standing call, so I will have daughter work on computer while I finish it up
  • 3:00 Prep dinner (Friday is pizza move night so I am making the dough and sauce)
  • 3:30 Hangout with kids

Somewhere in the midst of this schedule, they work on their Classical Conversations memory work (many times they listen to a recording while playing or in the car), we cook, clean (I have someone else help with deep cleaning), visit the library, I find a few opportunities to work out and have time to build living room pillow forts and have wrestle-mania contests.

At this point in our life, this schedule works for us. The kids are learning their basics, I get plenty of fun time with them and I still get to work. Of course this schedule will need to change as kids get older and their education needs widen. My daughter also needs speech therapy, so schedules will have to rejigger to fit this in.

Hopefully this has been an encouragement if you are considering homeschooling but concerned about the strain it will put on your schedule. We are evaluating how we do things on a year-by-year basis. Even though we are very enthusiastic about homeschooling, I would jump if a different education option was available that would be a better fit. You never know what may be around the corner.

So what is stopping you from taking the homeschooling plunge? Is it a scheduling issue? What about learning difficulties your children have but you are unsure how to address? Maybe your partner isn’t as excited about this option as you are?

All of these, with time, patience and creativity can be addressed. The world is not short of obstacles that get in our way of doing what we feel called to do.

We would love to hear from moms that balance non-traditional homeschooling schedules. What are your challenges and how do you work around (or with) them? What about parents considering homeschooling but not sure if they can do it? What stands in your way?

 

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4 Responses to “Journey of a Working-Homeschool-Mom”

  1. RachelleFebruary 22, 2014 at 2:25 pm #

    I love this! I love your commitment and that your kids come first. I appreciate your honesty. 🙂

  2. Jennifer Butler
    Jennifer ButlerFebruary 22, 2014 at 11:43 pm #

    Thank you!! I am figuring it out as I go along…but I guess that is what all us parents are doing!

  3. Twyla (from ballet)March 4, 2014 at 10:01 pm #

    Jennifer this article is a tremendous blessing to me. I am amazingly encouraged by your testimony, your commitment and your plan.

    I attempted to homeschool my daughter from birth to age 3. I found it really difficult to be consistent. It was more my choice than hubby’s (my grace ran out). My son is now three and after working for about a year and a half of his life, I have an opportunity to do some homeschooling before he enters the school system in the fall. If only for a few months, I would like to spend this time teaching him and your plan seems appropriate for us (sans the older sister part). Janay is in school already.

    Thanks for taking the time to share your approach. I’m encouraged.

  4. Jennifer Butler
    Jennifer ButlerMarch 5, 2014 at 8:50 pm #

    Thank you! We are all doing the best we can! I have to constantly remind myself that it is a marathon…not a sprint. Heck – its not even a race. I appreciate you checking out the blog – see you next week!