Some families are hesitant to homeschool, because homeschooling is traditionally associated with at least one parent staying at home, and not all families can afford that. However, homeschooling is possible even for working parents. For example, both my husband and I run our own full-time businesses and homeschool our kids without any external help. Nowadays, working and homeschooling present more options and flexibility, and they are no longer mutually exclusive.
It’s easier to understand how homeschooling can be reconciled with work, if we look beyond the traditional meaning of these two things. Despite its name, homeschooling does not necessarily mean “school at home”, with a curriculum, rigid schedule filled with classes and activities, and with full-time parental oversight. Our homeschooling lifestyle is largely based on the “unschooling” philosophy. We provide our children with adequate learning resources and inspiration opportunities, and we don’t overschedule their days with too many adult-directed activities and structured classes. Our kids learn naturally, mostly by themselves (with occasional help from us), at any place and time, and on their own pace. This approach gives our children the freedom to learn as they are naturally inclined to, and it also gives us, their parents, more flexibility when it comes to scheduling our own working hours. Because our kids learn and play mostly on their own, we can work alongside them and provide only minimal supervision.
Nowadays, work no longer means sitting in office nine to five. Many companies have started to accommodate their employees’ work-life balance, so you may be allowed to do some work remotely. At my last corporate job, I worked from home 2-3 days every week, and I know many more people who telecommute part-time or even full-time.
With the workplace becoming geographically diverse, remote workers are often allowed flexible schedules, depending on what works best for them, their clients, employers, and team members. You may be able to work during morning or evening hours, weekends, or holidays, while your daytime hours can be devoted to homeschooling activities.
If you have to be in the office, homeschooling can still be an option for you, if you can bring in external help or swap with your partner/spouse to take turns staying with the kids. I once heard of a single mom who had a full-time day job and homeschooled her kids in the evenings, while the grandparents stayed with the kids during the day. Though you may have to make lifestyle or career adjustments, many situations are manageable if you believe it’s worth the effort.
My husband and I chose to start our own businesses, in financial planning and web design, respectively. Running your business gives you the ultimate control over your life and career. It gives you a sense of great accomplishment, pride, and independence. It provides your family with income. And it presents unmatched learning opportunities for your kids, which is the exact point of homeschooling.
But with great freedom comes great responsibility. As a small business owner, you are no longer following someone’s orders, you are walking your own path. That means a lot more involvement, a lot more thinking, risk taking, and decision making. It also means that you have to get your hands dirty at numerous other things beyond your primary line of business: accounting, marketing, hiring, client and team relations, project management, proposals, and growth planning. In other words, you have to always push yourself outside of your comfort zone. Running a business may be overwhelming at times, especially if you are also homeschooling. But to me, it’s so rewarding personally and professionally, that it’s worth every minute of it.
People often ask me how I handle this lifestyle. It may not be suitable for everyone, but here are some basic principles that work for me:
Team up with your partner/spouse
My husband and I complement each other by working on different schedules, so we can take turns spending time with the kids during the week, and weekends are spent together. It takes coordination and teamwork, and there are occasional fluctuations in schedules, depending on our workload. Nethertheless, it’s the most reliable solution for us because it helps us stay self-sufficient, without depending on our extended family or babysitters for help. Best of all, it makes both parents equally involved in both breadwinning and raising the children.
Hire a team
When I had my first baby, I could barely accomplish anything. Now, a couple of kids later, I feel like a powerhouse compared to those earlier days. My business has become much more productive, even though we have more kids and their educational needs have increased with age. This is because I am not a lone freelancer anymore, I’ve grown into a company. I’ve hired a team of highly skilled web developers and expanded my professional network. By delegating work to my team and by tapping into my extended network for specialist talent, I can accomplish more within a similar amount of time as before. Having a dedicated team allows my business operations to scale, without infringing on my homeschooling commitments.
A big portion of my work is done when I am away from the computer and with the kids, but not directly involved in their activities. Parenting young kids involves plenty of “idle” time periods, when my presence is necessary, but I don’t have to actively do anything: nursing, cuddling the kids to sleep, waiting during a lesson, or sitting at a playground while the kids are occupied with their play. I take advantage of situations like these to stay efficient and to increase my productive time.
Different tasks can be accomplished at different times, with whatever device I have in my hands at the moment. I take my lightweight iTouch with me anywhere, both at home and outside. I use cloud services such as DropBox, iNotes, and Google Docs, so I can access and modify files even offline. In addition to the phone, I use a variety of email and virtual communication apps to stay in touch with my team and clients. If I wait for my kids at a class, I take my mini laptop, because it has a bigger screen and a better keyboard, so I can sketch wireframes, research solutions to my clients’ needs, check out some design inspiration, or write drafts for proposals and business plans. Then the work is transferred back to my main computer to get completed. Ability to take advantage of my “idle” time and to use it for work helps me stay productive and keep my projects progressing quickly and smoothly.
My work involves a lot of careful thinking: creative production, website and content planning, solving programming problems, proposal writing, and so on. Just like with working on the go, a lot of my thinking is also done when I am away from the computer. In addition to eliminating distractions and noise that a computer environment presents, it helps me stay mobile and perform a major part of my mental work while I’m shopping, doing chores, or during those “idle” hours I’ve mentioned.
Homeschooling multiple young children is not a quiet endeavor, so I’ve trained my mind to multitask, to keep brainstorming and generating thoughts and ideas in any situation, even amidst noise and distractions. Such mental multitasking often helps me stay composed and productive even during unpleasant parenting situations like kids’ tantrums or potty accidents – I simply think about work. If, during my work, I encounter a problem that needs to be carefully thought through, I often put it on my list to think about later, when I am away from the computer and occupied with parenting or household tasks. That way I can keep my workflow flexible and mobile.
Being away from the computer and out with the kids facilitates some of my clear and calm thinking, which then generates great ideas. Some of my best ideas come to me during those mental multitasking times. I always have my iTouch or a notepad nearby, so whenever I get a spark of an interesting idea, I jot it down and have a peace of mind knowing that my idea is “saved”, so I can move on and think about something else. Later, when I get some quiet time, I review my notes and elaborate on my ideas further.
Work in sprints
My day consists of interchangeable intervals of work and of time dedicated to the kids, and all this is continuously rolling throughout the day. I stop working when I need to attend to my kids or to take them for a walk, then resume work where I left off, and so on.
Before kids, when I worked full-time at an office and had all the opportunities for quiet and uninterrupted work all day, I was not nearly as productive as I am now, when I work in intervals and schedule my own time. I’ve learned to organize my time more efficiently, to focus, to prioritize, and to set goals. During the day, I create a list of tasks I want to complete, then look for windows of opportunity to complete a task or two out of my list. That way I accomplish things incrementally throughout the day, without the need to sit down for long periods of uninterrupted work.
Have a To Do list
It’s the simplest yet one of the most effective tools. Whenever I get overwhelmed with what seems like a lot to do, I quickly create an itemized list, which helps me get organized, clears up my mind, and calms me down. I use ToDoist app which works like a charm. Items can be color-coded so I can distinguish which tasks are for work and which are for homeschooling or chores, and then prioritize by rearranging or by creating separate task lists. I can also schedule tasks to manage my time. In the end, it feels so good when I check tasks as Completed and watch them get instantly erased!
Of course, in addition to a simple To Do list I also use a robust project management system, where I keep track of every task for every project my team and I are working on, as well as an account management system for tracking client requests and communication.
Define your clientele
In order to stay in control over my time and resources, I pre-screen potential projects to make sure it’s feasible for me to get involved. That way I can properly direct my company’s operations towards projects that are important and rewarding, without spreading myself too thin. Such approach allows me to maximize the value of my working hours and still have time left for other things, including homeschooling.
Involve the kids
Our kids express occasional interest in our work. They often sit next to us and watch, and we are always happy to show them what we do. Our oldest daughter gets fascinated when she watches me create artwork for a web project, or when she sees Daddy plot his mathematical models and charts. Sometimes we bring her along to client meetings, where appropriate. We often discuss business operations and principles of entrepreneurship with our kids. All this presents awesome homeschooling opportunities. In addition, working with the kids gives us a greater flexibility with our work schedules, because we don’t always have to divide our time between kids and work.
Our children have become accustomed to us working alongside them, and they learned to respect it. They know that sometimes they need to wait before I finish my work to play with them, or that they need to be quiet if I am on the phone. I often ask for their direct help. For example, my oldest daughter watches her younger siblings and keeps them quiet and entertained when I am on a call with a client.
I have always been inspired by women like Licia Ronzulli of the European Parliament, who is known for taking her daughter to sessions for two years. I keep thinking that if she could work with her child at the European Parliament, I can certainly do it at home! And it’s exactly what I have been doing all this time, with all my kids by my side.