Working from home while homeschooling at the same time, even with children who are older and fairly independent, can be a challenge. There are as many ways to work-and-homeschool as there are different kinds of families. Here are some tips and tricks:
- Maximize flexibility in your work situation. When possible, organize your work around your family’s needs and child care opportunities. Save less critical tasks for times when distraction is likely, and reserve more high-stakes assignments for when you are distraction-free. If you share parenting and homeschooling responsibilities with a spouse, divide and conquer – one works while the other parents, and vice versa.
Embrace a relaxed homeschooling style. Roll with whatever each day might bring. Time often feels short when you’re working and homeschooling. If things don’t go the way you planned, make the most of what you are able to accomplish and pick up any dropped threads the following day.
- Expect the unexpected. Take regular breaks from your work to check on your child and assess how things are going. Expect interruptions and unanticipated shifts in priorities. The hot water heater will leak and the dog will get sick and the entire bin of beads will get tipped over and you’ll discover you’re out of easy lunch options — all in the same day. A big deadline will get moved up, your wifi will mysteriously stop working, and your inbox will be flooded with “ASAP” requests. Breathe, prioritize, give your child a big hug, and do the best you can. Some days will be harder, but some days will feel easier, too.
- Manage interruptions proactively. How can family members best communicate with you to minimize distraction while you are working? For older children, a spiral notebook can be turned into an “Ask Me Later” book, where questions and thoughts can be written and kept safe until work time is over and you are able to address them. Teach them your parameters for urgent vs. non-urgent situations, and give them a helpful way to remember when it is okay to interrupt you during a focused work period. Remind everyone of how you would prefer they get your attention if it is unavoidable. (Stand at the door and wait for your attention? Say “Excuse me…” Write a note on a slip of paper and hand it to you?) Of course, in a true emergency, all rules go out the window. Help your children understand how to tell when it really is a true emergency!
Offer your attention and presence whenever you can. When you are not working, be as fully present as possible with your children. Let them know that they are the priority during your non-work times, and make the most of it for everyone involved. Celebrate when you are done working for the day. Put away your phone and laptop, and go about the very important business of reconnecting as a family.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate! Calendars, homeschool planners, chore charts, and reminder lists can help ensure that everyone knows what to expect each day. At breakfast or dinner, check in about the upcoming day’s plan so that everyone is on the same page about what needs to happen. Review the times when an adult will be available to help them and when they will need to be on their own. Discuss which tasks are expected to be done independently, without much or any adult help, and which may need a collaborative effort. Be clear about your expectations and encourage suggestions from all family members about how to make things go even more smoothly the following day.
- Give your child tools to use when they must wait for your attention. Be clear about when you are working and not working. If possible, stick to predictable “work hours.” Set a timer or alarm so your children will know when you will be all theirs once again. Younger children might need a clear visual, such as a specific hat on your head when you are “at work.” Older children might appreciate a list of go-to activities (such as free-reading, art projects, or journaling) to do when can’t move forward without your help or when they are waiting for your attention. Let them know how much you appreciate their patience.
Help children learn how to help themselves. As soon as they have developed the ability to prepare food for themselves as needed, give them access to easy-to-manage breakfast, lunch, and snack food. No-cook options and healthy pre-prepped food are ideal; make them in advance with everyone’s help if possible. Set up routines and systems so your child can independently handle situations like replacing the toilet paper, sharpening a pencil, or feeding the family pet. Encourage siblings to help each other first before calling for your help. Responsive helping skills can take some time to develop, so start now.
- Divide household responsibilities in a predictable, easy-to-follow way. Everyone can be responsible for something important in a way that balances their capabilities with the needs of the family. Routines and loving reminders help everyone get their jobs done. If something is falling through the cracks, have a family meeting to sort it out and find a solution. If an older child has responsibility for younger child while you are working, factor that in as you find a fair way to balance things.
- Keep craft materials, games, books, and toys within easy reach as much as you feel your children can handle without supervision. Leave OUT the things you want them to access and use, and put AWAY the things you don’t want them helping themselves to or using without supervision. You will learn through trial and error which things need to be stored out of reach until you can help with them. Be sure to have plenty of clean-up tools and materials handy if your children like to create with wild abandon! Plan for family clean-up time each evening to tidy up anything that they weren’t able to handle on their own.
Work smart! Do your very best to be organized and efficient. Set some time aside each week to plan. Keep an effective planner and a working to-do list (such as a bullet journal). Minimize distractions in all reasonable ways. Plan more work time than you actually need to get the job done. Have a comfortable workspace and an efficient routine for getting back into your work if you’ve been pulled away.
- Lean on others. Negotiate swaps and playdates with other parents to help create some kid-free time each week that you can use for long stretches of focused work. Look for win-win situations. Two friends and I have a recurring arrangement where one mom teaches three children for a few hours while the others work. A tutor might be a helpful investment. Engage a “mother’s helper” for children too young to be left unsupervised. Drop-off activities for older children can help create pockets of work time. And, of course, naptime for younger children can be a helpful time to get work done.
- Take good care of yourself. Put your own well-being high on the list of priorities. Working at home with children around requires a lot of patience and flexibility. Take care of yourself by getting enough exercise, eating right, staying hydrated, and making sleep a priority. Ask for and accept help from others. Take time off to recharge in whatever ways make sense in your situation. Give yourself due consideration!
- Remember why you are doing this. You have undoubtedly made home learning a priority for good reasons. Revisit those reasons when you are tempted to reconsider. Working from home is not for everyone, but it can make learning at home possible in families where the at-home parent must also be a working parent.
Do you have experience with working at home while homeschooling? What would you add to this list?