July-August 2007 Selected Content
Full-Time Work - Full-Time Homeschooling - Kate Frishman
We had been homeschooling for three years when the bottom fell out of our world due to the layoff of our sole breadwinner two weeks before our fifth child was born. We struggled through with savings and credit cards for a few months while he made a valiant effort to find another job, then came to the realization that changes were needed. I was going to get a job, he was going to get retraining, and we were going to continue homeschooling.
I had always thought homeschooling required at least one parent available all the time. Four years and many changes later, I have figured out what many homeschool families have always known: full-time work and full-time homeschooling aren't mutually exclusive.
I think of homeschooling as a fluid process. Rarely does it look the same from one year to the next for us. As we and the children grow and change, learning has to change with us. Looking back on this particular metamorphosis, I think we made several choices that helped us find our way.
The first thing we did was help the children feel invested in the process. When the changes began, we sat down as a family and discussed why we homeschool, what our options were and what changes were coming. Our children said they were not interested in going back to public school and were willing to take on more responsibility for their education and the household in order to continue homeschooling.
We took help when it was offered. Although we have worked hard to dovetail our schedules, family and friends have filled in when necessary. One semester my husband, Alan, was free on Fridays except for a two-hour class. A homeschool friend of ours kindly offered to keep the kids during that time period for the whole sixteen weeks and to oversee the kids' work while they were there.
We try to keep some sort of schedule. Chores and any topics that are done regularly, in our case math and handwriting, have specific times assigned to them. Since my work days change, I make out schedules monthly. Another use for the schedule is to help the children know who will be home when. We keep a family calendar posted with work schedules and kids' activities, as well as notes like "Grammy here today." This was especially important when transitioning from "Mom always at home" to "Mom at work."
Flexibility is magic for us. What works this week may not work next week when busy season hits at the job or a child suddenly hates her math text. I have a time, at least weekly, to reevaluate and regroup. We consider all the alternatives when solving a problem. Some of our unusual solutions have come in the area of scheduling--we have made weekends our primary schooldays when necessary, and extended our school year through the summer when college finals and term papers cut into school days.
Another point of flexibility can sometimes be in the area of career. In my case, I was an executive secretary before homeschooling, but chose to work as a nurse's aide while I attended nursing school because I could work three 12-hour shifts instead of Monday through Friday. I also chose a nursing school that offered many classes online.
I try not to lose sight of the goal. When we began our homeschooling adventure, I was the one and only facilitator and educator. We have always been child-led learners, and planning was done whenever the next "Hey, Mom, how does it work?" came up. Usually I would find a website or book to fill the urgent curiosity then put together a unit study of sorts to catch the moment. This became a challenge when I began working twelve hour days. Instead, I taught them how to use a search engine--even my seven-year-old can "Google it" with a little supervision. They find the basics themselves, and I help them "fill in" with interesting activities when I am home. Two of them are now teenagers, and they plan their own studies with minimal supervision.
Turning over the reins to other people was difficult. The first time my husband took them to a science museum while I was at work I felt like a failure. Field trips had always been my domain. After listening to the kids' excited explanations of the science behind the exhibits, however, I realized I had been underutilizing an asset, since my husband is a science wiz. Since then I have made a point of turning more hands-on science projects into "Daddy time." In either situation, if I had been stuck on maintaining my role as chief, the kids would have missed out.
My mantra is don't let the laundry get in the way! It can be a challenge to work full-time and keep up with the house. It can be an even bigger challenge when homeschooling beckons. The solution I've found has two parts. One, I remind myself that relaxed standards go hand in hand with homeschooling. Two, multitasking is my favorite word. We listen to classical music or language CDs while cleaning, preparing meals and sometimes while eating. We also make full use of resources like Carschooling by Diane Flynn Keith (Three Rivers Press; ISBN-10: 0761536841) for travel time. When it comes to laundry, I can suggest the "laundry room laboratory" in Linda Dobson's Ultimate Book of Homeschooling Ideas (Three Rivers Press; ISBN-10: 0761563601). It takes getting the kids involved way beyond folding socks.
Most important, I don't expect to get it all right. Homeschooling has always been a trial and error process for us. I focus on the progress, the little signs of happiness and growth and the magic moments--at least most of the time.
© 2007, Kate Frishman