Juggling Work and Homeschooling

In my last post on what we’re doing for school these days I mentioned that our homeschooling schedule is unorthodox.  This is true.  If you are one of those people who believes school can only happen between the hours of 8 and 3, please avert your eyes.

This summer I started working on a contract through an IT consulting company.  The work is interesting and involves a lot of problem solving and writing and working with people, which I enjoy and had missed greatly in the years I had been home full time.  Plus it allows us to afford homeschooling materials and take occasional trips and not have to stress out all the time about our budget.  That feels good.

But, as August approached and my contract was extended, I wondered how I would balance working and homeschooling, which I’m also passionate about and committed to.  Can it be done, I wondered, working full time and homeschooling in a somewhat rigorous fashion?

If you’ve read this blog for long you probably know that when questions like “Can it be done?” are asked, I usually take it as a challenge.

So I worked out a flexible schedule at work, and compressed my week. I am still billing 40 hours, but I am only in the office for 26 of them and work the rest from home.  Sometimes I work an hour or two in the morning.  If I’m working from home, I often pause homeschooling to take a conference call or call into a meeting.  I work all during quiet time (and I’m very glad that when my kids gave up naps I told them they still had to have quiet time!).  I often work in the evenings and on Saturdays.  I go in to the office on Mondays from noon to five, and Wednesdays and Thursdays are my epic long days.  I get into the office at 7am and leave at 6:30 or 7pm on Wednesdays and 5 or 5:30pm on Thursdays.

It sounds like a lot, but what’s awesome about it is that by having a weird schedule, I get a lot done AND I’m available when my kids are awake.  I track my time on a 24 hour spreadsheet I print out and fill in with half hour increments (more on the great book where I got that idea next week), which helps me know how to bill my work time and also reassures me that I’m putting in enough time teaching, enough time with my husband, enough time exercising, and, believe it or not, enough time sleeping.

So when do we do school? Well, we usually start first thing in the morning, listening to our history songs or catechism songs or addition songs during breakfast.  If I’m at home that day, we jump right into school work and take it one thing at a time in short chunks, maybe 10-20 minutes per thing, varying the type of thinking or writing we’re doing as we go.  If I have to stop to take a phone call, I do that and the kids play.  If they are set up with a piece of school work and don’t need my direct attention, I have my laptop booted up and quickly get in a chunk of work.  I try to keep my work tasks sorted by type into things that require lots of uninterrupted quiet and things that can be done in short bursts.  I’m getting more efficient at that.

We get through what we can before I have to go to work if it’s a Monday, or before lunch if I’m home in the afternoon.  On Tuesdays we’re at Classical Conversations all morning and we eat lunch there, so when we get home it’s quiet time and I start working.  Fortunately the kids want to take a great long nap on Classical Conversations day.

Whenever we are in the car we are listening to our history and geography songs, or to addition facts songs, or Latin songs, or catechism songs.  The kids like the music and I like that they are learning stuff.  They are like sponges for information.  And then later they will talk about it in casual conversation and apply it in a really insightful way and I’ll think wow, this is really working!

On days when I get home around 5:30 or so, I start dinner (more on how I streamlined that process later) and snuggle and read with the kids.  We really like reading.  It’s a good stress reliever for me too.  Sometimes if we didn’t finish up school during the morning, we do some math or something in the evenings.  And we read more before bed time.

But we do take off Wednesday and Thursday from school since I leave before the kids get up and get home just in time for dinner and bedtime reading.  We do school on Saturday and Sunday instead. Yeah, we really do.  But since we try to make school fun and a part of the way we do life, the kids don’t seem to mind.

So it’s unorthodox, and it’s a juggle, and sometimes I wonder what in the world I was thinking trying to balance all this, but overall I have to say I’m really, really happy with how it’s working out. I love that I can have a fulfilling job AND educate my kids excellently AND still have some time for my own interests.  I’m much happier, which is a good thing for our family.  I don’t know how long we’ll continue this way, but for now it’s working.

Next week I’ll spend more time on the breakthrough I had about time management and the book that really helped me out in striking a balance in this phase of my life.

26 thoughts on “Juggling Work and Homeschooling

  1. As a homeschool mom who also works part time I am curious about how you do all this (my boys are older). Does your husband have a flexible schedule that he is home with the kids on the days you work at the office, or do you have a daycare provider? Does school on Sunday affect church involvement?

    1. My husband leaves for work at 8:30, so on the two days that I leave early, he is home until 8:30 and then we have great babysitters who come to our house. That minimizes disruption for the kids, and gives the kids a chance to color and play outside and ride bikes and play games and be read to in their own home. On Wednesday (the day I stay late), my husband gets home at 5:30.

      Doing school hasn’t affected our church involvement. My husband plays and sings in the worship team and I co-teach a Sunday School class. We are in church for a long chunk of time on Sunday morning, but Sunday afternoons are free, and that is when we do school work. Since the kids have “break” days in the middle of the week, I don’t feel like it’s taxing to do school on Sunday afternoon – it’s our family being together and doing what we enjoy (lots of reading, singing, etc as described in the previous post on what we’re doing for school).

      How I do all of this – I’ve gotten much better at time management. I don’t watch TV. I don’t spend nearly as much time on the internet as I used to. I find that by knowing I have to fit in chunks of work and school, I am actually MORE able to do the things I know I want to do – for me at least, tasks expand to fit the time I have.

      We all have 168 hours a week (I’m reviewing that book for next week!), so for me, after I sleep 56 hours, work 40 hours, and do school related things for 30 hours, I still have 34 hours a week for exercise, spending time with my husband, fixing my hair, reading, and so forth.

  2. Ok, you amaze me even more after reading this. Do you feel like it’s something you can continue long-term, or would the packed schedule eventually catch up to you? (If that’s too personal, just ignore it).

    I know that I’m able to keep up a more hectic schedule for stretches, but eventually I need to pull back from it.

    And I am very interested in hearing how you’ve streamlined dinner! And in how you fit in all the other household management type chores, if you’re inclined to share.

    1. Sheila, I put in some thoughts on the juggle in my comment above. But as for household management, I hired a cleaning service to come in every other week (my house is cleaner than usual and I prefer to work an hour to pay for them to clean for three hours). I have cut way way way down on the errands I do (I realized keeping my time sheet that I was spending far too much time driving from store to store to save a dollar or two. Now I go to one store per week and buy everything I need. It has raised our grocery budget a bit, but it saves me 4-5 hours per week. I’d rather work an hour than clip coupons for an hour, and I’d rather read to my kids for an hour than spend an hour in the car – that calculation obviously will look different for different people and at different stages of life. For a number of years it was worth it to me to clean the house, clip the coupons, cut every corner, and squeeze a dollar out of every dime. But I really can’t do that AND homeschool the way I want to. And I am just being honest with myself now that I enjoy the mental stimulation of working and the (relative) financial freedom of working. There is nothing wrong with being frugal and living on a low income, but it’s not inherently more godly.

      All that to say, I’m not in any way trying to make this sound prescriptive. It’s what is working for our family right now, and it’s the work that God has put before me that matches my gifts. It’s probably not going to last for the next dozen years, but few things do, right?

    2. Oh, also I meant to add that other household chores happen little by little here and there. I toss in a load of laundry when I can (usually doing the bulk of it on the weekends). I iron while we listen to school work songs. My husband is doing a TON more around the house which is a huge blessing and really speaks my love language (acts of service) which, to be honest, works well for him too! 🙂 The kids are pretty good at picking up if they are reminded and helped. I have decluttered a lot which helps keep things neat.

      For dinner streamlining – I realized as I kept my time sheet that I was spending a RIDICULOUS amount of time on food prep. Ridiculous. If you are a foodie who loves to make gourmet meals, that might work for you. But for me, spending an hour and a half making dinner is not great when I’d rather read to the kids. So I am being strategic about what foods I buy, and trying to make things in bulk so if I make spaghetti sauce, I make four batches. If I make chicken, I make a huge pan of it. I also have bought some meats at Costco that are precooked like plain bulk turkey breast and ham – it’s a little more expensive than finding it on sale at a regular store, but I save time not going to the regular store and I save time in the evening when I can just get dinner on the table in 20 minutes. We have simplified dinners a lot especially since Sarah has to be gluten free now – so most dinners are brown rice, a vegetable or salad, and a simple meat. No one seems to mind and if I really want to make something fancier, I do that on the weekend.

      Please don’t be amazed. I’m working on spending time on the things I really want to prioritize and not on things I don’t really care about. I’m not doing the things I want PLUS everything else. That was the breakthrough for me: realizing that if I want to do the things that are important, I simply CAN’T do everything else.

      1. Thanks for all of your responses. I’m still quite impressed. 🙂 I do love hearing how other people manage to juggle full schedules, because it often gives me ideas or inspiration.

        I have to keep reminding myself that I *will* have time again eventually to do more than just bare minimums, but even when that happens I want to make sure I spend the time wisely and use it on what is most important for my priorities (hmmm, haven’t we had this discussion in the comments before?)

        I’m very happy for you that you’ve found a position that is allowing you to use your abilities and is satisfying, and is flexible enough to work in homeschooling and everything else!

        I just hope that the blog never has to be phased out of your schedule. I would miss it and hearing from you!
        Sheila recently posted..Updates

  3. I definitely do not believe that school can only happen between the hours of 8 and 3. Homeschooling is a lifestyle. We just started our first year of homeschooling, and it’s going okay. I love snuggling up with the kids and reading books out loud with them, and helping them memorize their verses for AWANA (Bible memory program). Those are my favorite parts. I’m finding it hard to make time for science projects and other things that are more complicated and tedious. I’m also realizing that maybe I need to chill out a little and not expect too much of my kids, who are 5 and 3 (and 1…and she’s the one who complicates homeschooling the most, honestly! She wants to be held constantly, and yet, if I do hold her, she’ll destroy any book or paper that gets within her reach….Hopefully, she’ll learn to play independently sometime this year).

    I’m going back to college starting next month, so I’m a little apprehensive about balancing my own schoolwork with the kids’ schoolwork. Class is only one night a week, but outside homework will be extensive, with tons of reading and papers due every week.

    Anyway, just commenting to say I’m right there with you and…this stage of life is hard. It really is. But it sounds like you are figuring out something that works for your family, and I hope that I will, too!

    1. Melissa, being in a homeschool group this year has really helped me with things like science projects that I normally would avoid. But I think at 5 and 3 the best thing you can really do is read, read, and read to them! The other academics we do are in short stints and are varied in type of work so the kids stay interested and don’t get tired. It’s definitely a challenge to have a toddler in the mix too. I think sometime between 18 months and 2 years is when kids get better about not ripping books and so forth, at least for my kids, and for the baby to grow up hearing lots of reading and knowing that is what your family does is great! For my son, who needed to be more active, I would put down some blocks or cars or Little People animals so he would have something to play with while we were reading. He developed a good habit of attention eventually.

      I hope it works out for you to juggle the class work and the homeschooling and homemaking. I think being willing to experiment and being clear in your mind about what your goals are and what your priorities are really helps. Keep us posted about how it goes!

  4. This sounds amazing! You really are the Queen of time management! I would love to know more about your spreadsheet and streamlined dinners, and I’m also curious about who watches your children while you work. Do you have family nearby to help, or did you find a great daycare?

    1. I’m really not the Queen of time management. I like to read time management books and I get good things out of them, but I’m still learning.

      I think I answered the dinner question in my comment above, and I’ll talk more about the spreadsheet next week.

      My in-laws live nearby but they aren’t able to babysit very regularly so we have found a group of good babysitters (homeschooled girls we found through friends and a post-college girl we know through our former church). I think having sitters is better for sitter to child ratio than a daycare, and it’s much more flexible and cheaper, plus I feel better knowing the kids are in their own house, with their own toys and books, and taking naps in their own beds. Since I’m only gone 2 and a half days a week, it’s been working out fine to have the sitters fill in.

  5. Your schedule sounds more like mine now so it doesn’t sound unorthodox to me! 🙂 Just wanted to mention one tip you had that I would like to implement – listening to CDs during breakfast. My kids take FOR-EV-ER to eat. So on the mornings that I’m home with them, I think we can make better use of that time – rather than me nagging them to “take a bite, then tell me what you were going to say” we can make that time useful without the nagging. Also, I think you mentioned in another post about Jack and writing. That’s been a struggle for us with Dylan. I feel like his lack of interest and frustration with the fine motor stuff been holding him back with some of the reading and math resources I had so made some flashcards and have him to active things to learn numbers and letters. For example, when we were teaching him how to spell his name I had written the letters on pieces of paper and mixed them up on the floor and then he had to jump to letters in the right order. We are doing something similar with counting to 20 now. I’m sure it could be modified for harder stuff too. We are still working on writing but it is a slower process and something I suggest to him but don’t push too hard on. I keep having to remind myself to go back to more fine motor skills stuff with Lydia though since she is good at that. It’s like you start one way with the first child and then forget that just because something didn’t work with the first one doesn’t mean it won’t work with the second one. Anyway, thanks again for taking the time to share what you are doing since it’s helpful even to those of us who aren’t homeschooling per se. Oh, and yea Josh! I often tell people that one of the key reasons I can be a working mom is because of my husband.

  6. Most of my questions were answered through the comment section. Cleaning services, young in-home babysitters, covering bases while eating or riding in the car, a combo of in-the-office and at-home working hours, etc.

    But the one question I do have, based off my own experience with work, especially a job that requires focus and fiery attention, is how do you go from “work mode” to
    “mama mode” in such a flash? (When you’re at home.) Does it raise your ire if/when you’re interrupted by the little ones? I’ve felt such things when working on things that require a lot of fire and attention . . . I get mad when “the little things” get in the way.

    How do you balance that out?

    1. That is a great question, and something I had to deal with quite a bit at first. It hit me one day when I was mentally rehearsing a slide deck I needed to present at a meeting and felt annoyed when the kids woke up early. I have to remind myself that I am Mama first. What has worked for me is being diligent to categorize work projects. Every job has some administratrivia involved – answering emails, making quick edits, reviewing documents – that can be fit into small pockets of time. That is the sort of work I save for when I’m working and the kids are up. I don’t bill full time when that is happening, I just note the chunks of time (and ten minutes here and there does add up) when I work. I save the bigger pieces of work that require more intense focus for the hours when I’m in the office or when the kids are in rest time or asleep. That takes more discipline than just working day by day in an office, but I am more fulfilled by being able to fully inhabit my role as a mother AND my role as a writer. It’s not perfect, but I’m improving.

    1. Jack, thanks for taking the time to comment. I edited your response to remove the longer quote, since it contained some unkind comments that would not be encouraging to mothers, Christian or non-Christian, working or at home, who read my website. I’m sure you’ll understand. Although we disagree on these points, I do appreciate your response and wish you and your family well.

  7. oh, this was great. We had been thinking in homeschooling, but I need to work outside of the home, for almost the same reasons of your family ( and paying off school loans); and it does feel good.
    Your blog is a encouragement to me.

    Ok so when do you do your devotion?, or go on date nights?, or read all those great books?.
    tv and facebook are definitely not my friend. How do you resist the temptation?
    can’t wait for your review in 168 hours.

    Thank you again,

    1. Hi Gladys, thanks for your comment. I do my devotional time whenever it seems I can be focused. Some days that means I do it first thing in the morning, and some days that means I spend time reading the Bible and praying in the evening. To me, it’s more important that my time with God be focused than that it happen at the same time every day. In the past I have really stressed myself out thinking that “good Christians” always have quiet time in the morning. That leads to me viewing the whole exercise as something to cross of a list rather than a means to building a relationship with God. Spending time with God, spending time with my husband, and spending time reading are all things I look forward to and see as rewards and restoring relaxation time. So I fit them in. I usually read for a half an hour or so in the evening to wind down, and often more on weekends.

      As for date night, we don’t actually GO anywhere very frequently, if only because the kids are with babysitters three times a week anyway, but we do make time to talk every night and usually do a “date night in” once a week, which usually means getting a movie from RedBox or something. A lot of evenings we sit around working on our computers or reading together, which is not exactly the same, but it’s a way to spend time together.

      I do still check Facebook, but I see it more as a “filler” than as a “chunk” way to spend time. I usually only check it on my phone and only when I’m in between doing other things. So I don’t see everyone’s updates, and I don’t have time to figure it out every time Facebook shifts around my preferences (then again, I don’t have time to stress out about that like some people do either!). I do think Facebook serves a valuable purpose in keeping me connected with friends I would not otherwise be in close contact with, but I try not to get into that vacant surfing mode with it. I’m not sure if that mode is common or just something I zone out with, but I don’t like it so I try to avoid that!

      TV is not much of a temptation for me because I prefer to do other things. I don’t think there is anything wrong with TV if you’re watching something you REALLY want to watch and it’s relaxing for you. I just prefer to relax in other ways.

  8. I want to give you hugs and cookies and be your new bff! I love love love to see mamas not compromise on what matters – be firm and bold enough to cut out what doesn’t and hold on to what does. Of course that’s different for everyone….and unconventional structures and creative thinking make it possible. You are inspiring!
    Also, I want to punch jack.

  9. I feel so relieved after reading this! I found your blog through an online article about working and homeschooling. I share a contract teaching 4th grade and teach 2 days a week. We really want to homeschool, but I wasn’t sure it could be done with working part-time. This post made me realize that we have the freedom to figure it out. And, honestly, after looking at this schedule, mine does not seem too complicated! Props to you!! Thanks for sharing!

  10. Beautiful! I love your honesty, and this blog and the comments have been a real blessing. There I’d a hiring freeze at the hospital I used to work at, but we are praying through what to do.
    I stumbled on your article looking up the book club book titles and it deeply encouraged me that we can get through this and still homeschool if that’s what God has planned for us.

    So thank you. All you book club ladies and all of your blogs are just wonderful.

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