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The hardest part of my homeschool year

The hardest part of my homeschool year...homeschooling while working full time at home

Today I’m joining up with Jamie at Simple Homeschool to talk about the toughest part of my homeschool year. There are really so many options that I may have to do my own mini series over the next couple of weeks…

…homeschooling multiple children with a toddler underfoot (and a baby on the way).

…homeschooling as we enter adolescence.

…homeschooling a child with suspected ADHD.

…homeschooling while working full time at home.

Since the one that has been most prevalent struggle our entire homeschool journey is homeschooling while working, I’m going to start there.

I’ve been a work-at-home mom since our first baby was conceived 12 years ago, and in that time I’ve done everything from home daycare (fellow introverts can laugh at the idea of me taking care of other people’s children for 12 hours a day!) to general and financial transcription to legal coding to blogging to my current role as the director of strategic relationships with Ultimate Bundles.

I’ve worked anywhere from a few hours a day to more than full time, and the only time I haven’t worked was during my extended maternity leave when Jack was born two years ago.

Needless to say, we’ve developed fairly good coping skills during this journey: we start our girls on independent school work early and as much as possible; we embrace audiobooks for our read-alouds; and we stay home a lot.

If I were to give myself a grade for homeschooling while working, I’d probably give myself a B—I am confident in what I’m doing and the education I’m ultimately giving my kids, even if it’s far from perfectly executed.

But just as Sarah MacKenzie talks about in Teaching from Rest, being confident and at peace does not mean that it’s easy, and this year more than ever I’m feeling the weight of responsibility and the struggle to juggle work and school.

Part of it is my kids’ ages this year: I have two in Classical Conversations Essentials program, which is a more intensive study of language arts and writing that requires more of my time; our youngest daughter is doing her second year of kindergarten, which means it’s time to tighten things up just a little and be more consistent about school (even if I think kindergarten should be mostly for play); and Jackson is almost two, which means he’s into…well, pretty much everything.

And part of it is that my job, while still very flexible, is more intense than the work I’ve done in the past. I spend more time on the phone, more time in meetings, more time answering time-sensitive emails, and I still need to find time for brainstorming and quiet, focused work on top of that.

Although I’ve known this about myself for a while, one thing I’m working to address this year is my own need for focused work time. I get that during the early morning hours, but it’s not enough for the day, and being constantly interrupted leaves me inefficient and feeling grumpy toward the girls and work.

As I learn to balance my inner needs with the demands of schooling and working, I’m struggling a bit this year to find that “teaching from rest” posture. So for now I just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Here’s what that means for us:

Schooling year round.

While I know many people take a summer break precisely for the rest, I’ve found that continuing our school year all year provides more rest for me (and my kids) because we don’t have to worry as much about finishing the book before our break or racing the calendar. It also means we don’t have to readjust to the school routine, and it’s been a huge help these past few weeks that the start of the new school year has been fairly seamless. This is by far one of the best decisions I made as a homeschooler, and one that I know enables me to work and homeschool.

Independent schoolwork.

As I mentioned, independent schoolwork is the core of what we do. Sometimes that means the girls work by themselves, and sometimes it means they’re paired up to work together, but either way, they have quite a bit of work that they can do without me. (In full disclosure, they still end up having questions or needing help on the simplest and most straightforward assignment, but I can usually answer their questions and then they’re able to work on their own.)

Spiral notebooks.

I am pretty sure I am going to still be raving about spiral notebooks on my death bed. These daily spiral notebook checklists have made such an incredible difference in our school day. In some ways, I use them not only for checklists but to address the issue above by anticipating questions the girls may have and adding notes right to their checklist. It’s made it easier for me to communicate my expectations, and the girls love the routine and that they have control over their own day! (It’s worked so well that on non-school days or days when we need to get out of the house I’ve started using post-it note checklists to keep them on track.)

Using technology…sparingly.

I am hesitant to jump into the use of technology in our homeschool with both feet because I’ve seen my kids’ tendency to become obsessed with the digital world (ahem, just like most adults I know), but I’m not anti-technology either. Using Teaching Textbooks for math changed the entire atmosphere of our home at math time, and this year we’re testing Khan Academy as a possible alternative (the truth is I can’t make up my mind about math curriculum for this year!). In addition, the big girls both started coding classes at Khan Academy, which they’re really enjoying. We also use DuoLingo, Spelling City, and Explode the Code online, and all of these are effective tools that free me up just a bit to work so that I do have time to work more closely with them on other subjects.

Being flexible.

By far, the most important tool in my homeschooling-while-working toolbox is simply a willingness to be flexible. Sometimes I need to take a break from work to focus on the girls and their needs and sometimes I need to declare “school-lite” so I can finish a project at work. I’ve learned (am learning?) to not just throw my hands up in the air and declare the whole day a failure when one thing starts to go wrong or I’m feeling frazzled, and I’ve stopped beating myself up when we have a busy week that doesn’t quite go as planned. We fill our home with lots of good books, Legos for building, supplies for science experiments and art projects, and even when the schoolwork doesn’t get done, I know they’re learning and exploring and discovering.

I have a feeling that homeschooling while working will always be somewhat of a struggle—it would be so much easier to focus on one or the other—but I’m thankful for the opportunity to do both, and I think we’re all learning a lot in the process!