Seven Tips for Homeschooling While Working from Home

Since our family began our homeschooling journey, almost three years ago, we (both parents) have also been working full-time jobs (alternating between working from home and the office). No, we are not entrepreneurs nor do we have the complete flexibility to set our own schedules, but this homeschool/work situation is what we have decided is currently best for our family. We’d be lying if we said that this has been an easy task and we definitely understand the angst from many families who are being forced into this situation! We were fortunate that we had the opportunity to think through our decision and figure out what worked best for our household. Now that we’ve passed many of the “potholes” in our path, we want to share some tips that have worked for us, in hopes that they also work for you..

Here are Seven Tips for Homeschooling While Working From Home:

  1. Adjust your homeschooling schedule

If you are homeschooling your children, there is no rule, law, or “best practice” that says you must homeschool on specific days or at specific times. Do what works best for your family. If evenings are the best time for your family, then evening school it is! If you have a 5-day workweek then you just found two days to dedicate to homeschooling (there’s nothing wrong with learning on a Saturday or Sunday or any other day).

If you are “schooling from home”, unless your school or district has specific rules on when you have to provide instruction (or participate in virtual sessions), the same advice applies to you. If your school does have specific rules for schooling time, I am curious of how they enforce this, given the varying schedules of parents and/or guardians. This sounds like an excellent time to research your state’s (or country’s) laws for homeschooling and file that paperwork!

  1. Focus on one child per day

Many families, with multiple children, are concerned about how they will teach children, of varying ages and with different levels of need. This can be especially scary for parents/guardians of children with learning or behavioral disabilities. Instead of attempting to teach all of your children, every day, try teaching one child per day. On a child’s “non-instructional” day(s), they can spend their time practicing/applying the lessons that were discussed during their instructional time or participating in a fun activity, of their choosing or yours.

I know that many families are determined to implement as much structure as possible, but learning can literally take place anywhere and with anything (for example, both of our boys love to read and play board games but they have also learned to spell and/or define words by playing Roblox). Please don’t stress out yourself or your children by trying to recreate school at home. Smaller class settings, which your children have now, are what every school advocates for or advertises so this can be the time when your children truly flourish!

  1. Rearrange your work hours

If (and this is a big IF) you have the flexibility to change your work hours or days, this could help with juggling some of your instructional vs telework time. Some employers allow their employees the opportunity to spread their weekly shift across a 6- or 7-day schedule (instead of the “traditional” 5-day work-week). If you have flexibility in what day(s) and time(s) you work, I would highly recommend utilizing this option. An example that I sometimes implement is waking up early and working on “work stuff” until my sons wake up, then dedicating a large chunk of the mid-morning to early-afternoon to them, and then going back to “work stuff” until I have finished either all of my tasks or hours. Another example, if you co-parent and there are specific days where your children are with their non-primary parent, maximize the time that you work on the days that your children are not with you so that you are able to dedicate more time to your children when they return. There are a multitude of ways to make this work, if you have flexibility in your work schedule.

  1. Outsource some or all of the lessons

If this fits your budget, this can be an excellent way for your children to interact (virtually, during this pandemic) with other adults and/or children. This is also helpful for parents that are concerned about teaching subjects for children at higher grade levels. If you conduct a quick search, you can find a plethora of online homeschool co-ops, virtual classes (e.g., Outschool), online tutors (e.g., Wyzant, Varsity Tutors), or homeschool pods.

If these resources do not fit your budget, you might still be able to particpate! Have you considered bartering your services? You might be able to lead or tutor a math class, in exchange for a Science or Language Arts class. If you’re a social media influencer, maybe a tutoring company will offer a certain number of tutoring hours in exchange for you advertising their services to your followers. You might be able to build or update a homeschool co-op’s website, in exchange for classes for your child(ren). Or, you might be able to offer other services such as: cleaning a home, providing child care, cooking meals, etc. Don’t overlook your skills and abilities and others’ willingness to “pay” for them by educating your child.

  1. Set it and “forget” it

Don’t actually forget your children, but, provide them with the instruction and/or tools that they need, either the night prior or the morning of, and allow them to work on their tasks while you are working on yours. This strategy can be applied well with older children because, at a certain point, children are able to navigate their electronics, read/follow instructions, and work independently.

  1. Have realistic expectations!

I have seen many families set their homeschool schedule and allot an outrageous amount of time to every single subject, every single day. Please do not attempt this schedule!! Many families are concerned about their children “falling behind” but this tactic will only lead to stress, anger, frustration, and/or burn-out. Homeschooling does not have to last all day! Every subject does not need to be taught every day! Your children will not become experts on a topic on the first day that topic is introduced!

Childhood development experts have determined that a child’s attention span is approximately two to five minutes per year of age. For example, a 5 year old should be able to maintain focus on a task for at least 10 minutes; a 10 year old for at least 20 minutes. Of course, that length of time increases as the child gets older; varies if the child has an interest in what is being shared or presented; and can potentially be affected by attention (or other) disorders.

  1. Try Unschooling

Last but not least, if your method of homeschooling (or schooling at home) has not been successful, try Self-Directed Education (aka Unschooling). Unschooling is a method of home education where children take control of their learning. It is not a specific curriculum; it is not highly-structured; and it requires a large amount of trust in the fact that your child’s natural curiosity, along with some of your guidance, will allow him to learn all of the subjects he’s “supposed to know” (and so much more)! For more information on Unschooling, please check out our posts here or here (or read this website or try this one).

Although every situation is unique, we hope that these tips can provide some relief for your family. We realize that many children have already begun their school year but there is still time to adjust, if needed. If your children have not yet begun their schooling at home, this is the perfect time to set your plan.

(To Go) To School or Not (To Go)…??

With all schools, in the United States, starting within the next month or so (if they haven’t already begun), families still having opposing opinions on whether or not they want their children to attend in-person school. We have heard from those who are completely against their children participating in any activities that involve being in the presence of people that do not live with them. We have seen parents/guardians creating or inquiring about learning pods because they want their children to “socialize” but they do not like the idea of a large class setting. We have read comments from parents/guardians that are essential employees and need in-person schooling because, otherwise, they have no idea what they will do with their children (or their job). There are families, for other varying reasons, who are adamant that they want their children to attend school in-person when the school year begins. And, of course, there are the teachers who do not seem to have a “say” in choosing what they feel is best for the protection of their health/safety and that of their family.

Although the school districts surrounding us are starting the 2020-2021 school year completely virtually, there are many districts in other parts of the country that are either conducting a mix of in-person and virtual schooling, doing “business as usual” (i.e., completely in-person), or offering families the option to choose which method they prefer. As a parent or guardian, it is typically your choice to do what you feel is in the best interest of your child, but what happens when your choice doesn’t align with the option(s) available?

Administrators spent the late spring and summer months trying to decide what is best for teachers and/or students. The U.S. president and many parents/politicians/administrators want children back in school immediately. While many others still do not feel as though it is safe. Ultimately, none of us know the short- or long-term effects of opening schools but we do know that this global pandemic is not yet gone.

To go to school or not to go? That’s a simple question that’s probably been asked more times this year than ever! As homeschoolers, our opinion is a strong “Nah” (but that’s not just because of this global pandemic). We know that everyone is concerned about socialization and wants their children to return to “normal”. We feel the effects too. We won’t be meeting up with friends, visiting our beloved museums and libraries, randomly sitting in tea shops, traveling to places that spark an interest, window-shopping, or attending in-person coop classes. But, we also realize that the response to that question isn’t as simple for essential workers or people whose jobs are requiring them to physically return to work. This whole situation is sad/crazy/unknown/scary!!!

For the schools that have decided to open, especially for those that did not offer the option for students to participate virtually, I hope that their decision does not become a textbook example of “What Not To Do During a Global Pandemic” or that they are not the reason that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the World Health Organization (WHO) are forced to reverse their guidance on the impact, of COVID-19, on children. Let’s all pray, hope for the best, and/or follow safety guidelines and check back in a couple of months.

What decision(s) has your country/state/school district made? What does your family plan to do? What are your opinions of this whole pandemic situation? Please share your comments & opinions with us.

Homeschooling Resources

One of the biggest lessons that we have learned, from our own trial and error and tips from others, is to not make things more difficult than necessary. Below is a list of resources that have helped us (in the past, present, and hopefully future) in our unschooling journey.

Note: This list will continuously grow. We only list resources that we have read, watched, listened to, etc. If you have a book, website, podcast, or anything else that you want us to check out, please share it with us in the comments or send us an email at unschoolingindc@gmail.com.

Books:

Podcasts:

Websites or Social Media Pages – there are so many websites/social media accounts that we follow and love but this is a list of the ones that spark the most joy

  • Living Joyfully – by Pam Larrichia – “…an online resource for parents wanting to live joyfully with their children through unschooling.”
  • Abundant Freedom – formerly, Hip Hop Homeschoolers (check out their website and Instagram Page)
  • Sandra Dodd – there is SO much useful information on her page!
  • Honey, I’m Homeschooling the Kids – I like her Instagram page and her website has some good resources (I haven’t yet listened to the podcast but the topics sound interesting).
  • Google
  • Pinterest
  • YouTube
  • Netflix; Disney+

Academics:

  • Outschool – Outschool connects motivated learners, parents, and teachers together to create great learning experiences
  • Varsity Tutors – “Our vision is to seamlessly connect experts and learners in any subject, anywhere, anytime.”
  • Sankofa Homeschool Collective – The Sankofa Homeschool Community is an intentional community for African, African-American and homeschoolers of color. Our mission is to create a community from which family and educational relationships will be built and resources will be shared.  Sankofa is homeschooling community of families who want to grow, learn, and build together.  Sankofa Homeschool Community is dedicated to creating a rich, supportive homeschool community through a combination of social outlets, enrichment programs, access to co-operative courses, and the sharing of academic resources.
  • DC Public Library (or your local public library) – we are fortunate that our local library provides a lot of amazing, free, online services. We hope yours does too!
  • Kamali Academy – Afrikan-centered curriculum; Homeschool coaching; Online courses.

If you have experience with anything on our list, what are/were your thoughts?

Homeschooling…Unschooling…Pandemic Schooling. What’s The Difference?

When the whole world shut down last spring and every family with kids was forced to school at home, you may have been bombarded with the terms homeschooling, unschooling, and/or pandemic schooling and wondered, “Is there a difference?”. To many, these terms might have the same (or a similar) meaning and, to a certain degree, they are [kinda] similar. Although these terms seem similar, there are several differences in these methods of learning.

Of these three terms, the one with the most name recognition is probably ‘Homeschooling’. Whether you directly or indirectly know a homeschooling family or just know of the concept, most people have some knowledge of homeschooling. According to Merriam Webster, homeschooling is the act of teaching school subjects to one’s children at home. In other words, homeschooling families have made the decision to forego “traditional” school and educate their children at home. Families decide to homeschool for a myriad of reasons, including: escaping bad experiences with traditional school; to continue the homeschooling tradition in which they were raised; a lack of trust in the education system; because their child has an illness or is a professional athlete or actor; or for many other reasons. The overarching term, homeschooling, can include choosing one of the “popular” homeschool curriculums, utilizing a homeschool program that is offered as an alternative to your local “brick and mortar” public school system (e.g., Connections Academy), educating your child(ren) at home while using your own compilation of curriculums, or educating your child(ren) with no set curriculum (see unschooling below).

Unschooling, or self-directed education, involves teaching children based on their interests rather than using a set curriculum. Although this is the method of homeschooling that we utilize (and the method that most adults use when learning a new skill or hobby), we feel it is a lesser-known or appreciated method of educating children. Since unschooling can take many forms, it is challenging to give an exact definition or to describe exactly what unschooling looks like but we will share some messages from a few people who have been helpful in our journey:

  • According to Akilah Richards of Fare of the Free People, “…unschooling is a tool for decolonizing education and liberating ourselves from oppressive, exclusive systems.”
    • According to Pam Larrichia of Living Joyfully, ” With unschooling, learning is not focused on the skills as it is in school (learning to read, to write, to calculate, and to memorize) but on pursuing personal goals and interests and the needed information and skills are picked up along the way. Learning has real meaning and connection to their lives in that moment so it is understood in a way that a random piece of information presented by someone else is not. And because that learning is strongly connected to a real and immediate use for that information or skill, it’s much more likely to be remembered.”
    • “It is as true now as it was then that no matter what tests show, very little of what is taught in school is learned, very little of what is learned is remembered, and very little of what is remembered is used. The things we learn, remember, and use are the things we seek out or meet in the daily, serious, nonschool parts of our lives.”  ~ John Holt

If you are interested in examples of how we homeschool, please click here.

In stark contrast to homeschooling and unschooling, Pandemic Schooling is what all families, with children enrolled in private or public “traditional” schools, experienced this past spring. Although some schools and/or districts were better equipped to adjust to those abrupt changes, due to the pandemic, nobody was fully prepared for the immediate switch to 100% worldwide, virtual education. As challenging as this shift was for schools to coordinate, no group of people (my opinion) was more impacted than parents with children in school. As a homeschooling/unschooling family, we’ve (as a homeschooling community) had the time to plan how, what, and when we will teach our children and to coordinate our work and/or personal schedules (Disclaimer: this is not meant to imply that homeschooling families were not also impacted. We were and I fully acknowledge that). Non-homeschooling families, unfortunately, were immediately forced to educate their children at home, while also unexpectedly working from home, becoming unemployed, having their work-hours reduced (i.e., less pay), or being deemed an essential employee (and left scrambling to figure out alternatives for their children). This version of schooling at home is not homeschooling, it is pandemic schooling! Families are/were in crisis and scrambling to figure out what to do and how to do it. It is unfortunate that this was the first experience with “homeschooling” for many families but I assure you that homeschooling is so much better than this!! Now that we are quickly approaching a new school year, and many school districts are announcing a virtual start to the year, it is my hope that more families will do the research needed to be able to move from pandemic schooling to real homeschooling or unschooling.

Have more questions about this posts, other posts, or homeschooling in general? Feel free to leave a comment or reach out to us on Instagram or email (unschoolingindc@gmail.com).

What is Unschooling?

Do not train children in learning by force and harshness, but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.” -Plato

Self-directed education – or unschooling, as it’s commonly called – is a method of home education where children take control of their learning. Unschooling is not a specific curriculum; it is not highly-structured (i.e., stress-inducing); and it requires a large amount of trust in the fact that your child’s natural curiosity, along with some of your guidance, thought-provoking, and question-answering, will allow him to learn all of the subjects he’s “supposed to know” and so much more!

All I am saying can be summed up in two words: Trust Children. Nothing could be more simple, or more difficult. Difficult because to trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves, and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.” – John Holt

Have you ever forced your child to learn something (or to complete homework) that he did not seem to understand or in which he showed no interest? What was the outcome of that experience? My guess is that it may have included tears, frustration, aggravation, raised voices, and a lack of learning. After this terrible experience, your child probably developed long-lasting negative connotations towards that subject. What do you think happens when these same feelings, towards a subject, occur at [traditional] school? Same frustration…potential behavioral issues (as a means of avoidance or frustration)…classification as “behind grade level”…and probably the same negative connotations! Sound familiar?

Learning is not the product of teaching. Learning is the product of the activity of learners.” -John Holt

Children are not the only ones who can benefit from self-directed education. Have you ever had an interest in a specific topic or subject? Let’s use the topic of ‘learning to cook a spaghetti dinner’, as an example. In order to learn this lesson, would you prefer to (A) be forced to sit through several hours of class for 5 days per week where an instructor lectured on the history of noodle-making, forced you to memorize the 3,000+ species of tomatoes, assigned homework that included graphing a sample population’s preference for meatball versus meatless spaghetti, and then found a way to “Common Core” the whole lesson? Or, would you prefer to (B) stumble upon an interest in learning how to make this spaghetti dinner and then discover relevant cookbooks or online recipes, “pick the brain” of friends who have experience making and/or eating spaghetti, peruse the social media pages of popular food influencers, and try a few experiments in order to perfect the taste and/or appearance of your spaghetti? Which option sounds more exciting? My guess is option B (option A is representative of traditional school and some homeschools). Which option do you think your child would prefer?

Contrary to the beliefs of some naysayers, unschooling is not a “set it and forget it” method of learning. Although there is a high degree of flexibility and trust in your child, your involvement is also required. Below are some examples of how we unschool (there are an infinite number of ways):

Big Bruh (currently mid-elementary aged): We discovered that, not only is he a huge fan of playing Minecraft (his generation’s version of Oregon Trail, in my opinion), he enjoys teaching others how to play (i.e., socialization, public speaking, evolves into research about hunting & gathering). Since Minecraft is very popular, it has been easy to find books about Minecraft (i.e., incorporating reading, vocabulary, and reading comprehension lessons) and Minecraft math workbooks. We also found a Minecraft coding class (which he loved!), and, of course, there are the “extra-curriculars” such as: drawing Minecraft characters (i.e., art), learning how to safely use the internet, and so much more!

Little Bruh (currently preschool aged): LOVES cars. We fill his space with various size, color, and type of toy cars. We purchased (and borrowed from the library) books about cars, at various reading levels. We watch YouTube videos about cars. From just his interest in cars and some involvement from us, he can describe the similarities and differences between his cars; he is learning to read and practicing comprehension, utilizing books that he is interested in; we practice math skills by grouping cars (early multiplication) or adding/removing them; and the YouTube videos allow him to practice pencil-holding and learn how to draw cars or learn about the parts of a car.

Want more info on our unschooling journey? Follow our blog, follow us on Instagram, comment on this post, or send us an email (unschoolingindc@gmail.com).