Working from home while simply parenting took years to hone. Years. I was angry a lot. It can be frustrating when you have two simultaneous incompatible priorities. Then there’s the guilt of not giving enough to either. And that’s pretending there are only two things between which my focus is shifting. A video conference while trying to keep a nursing infant and clingy toddler out of frame is not a task for the faint of heart. Enter homeschool.
Just as it took me time to learn to work from home, so did it take time to learn to work from homeschool. With behavioral science as a foundation, I made several adjustments to make for a more efficient and enjoyable educational experience for my family. Of course, no two homeschools are the same; this is what we learned worked for ours.
Tips for working from home while homeschooling
Keep a routine, not a schedule
Routines keep things moving without constant parent/teacher direction, but adhering to a rigid schedule can be devastating. I quickly discovered it was a mistake to think the baby would nap just because I scheduled a meeting during nap time. A strict schedule did little more than evoke panic, frustration, and a complete sense of failure when life happened. But a routine worked. Think quiet time. The big kids know “quiet time” means a quick clean up, outside to play, then an option to watch a show while the littlest sleeps. Quiet time comes when I need it to. If I have a meeting at 12, quiet time is 11:30. If it’s a conference call at 2, quiet time is 1. Being able to say “snack time”, “work time”, “playtime”, and not have to lead those transitions allows for invaluable flexibility.
Facilitate, don’t dictate
Structured lessons can be fun, but managing work from homeschool is a big task. Many families start by emulating the classroom, fully governing the instructional tasks and materials, and quickly shift to a less structured, less curriculum-led day. When I build-in structured activities, I hold steadfast to the role of facilitator. A budding artist learning to read may eagerly acquire this information through drawing their phonetic alphabet (tiger as letter T, caterpillar as C). Meanwhile, kid two is developing handwriting skills by making a list of the items they want or writing down the much-anticipated results of a science experiment. When the children are engaged in fun and exciting activities (i.e. activities they selected), their focus is improved and we can each be working on our individual tasks together.
There are few things I find more important in our day to day than teaching in the context of ongoing activities. In fact, it’s the reason I love homeschooling. I can teach my children what they need to know through life. One thing behavioral science tells us about embedding instruction is that the skills taught during these activities last longer than those taught outside of the situation in which they would be used. Learning fractions on a worksheet is not a skill that generalizes as well as learning fractions while managing money, shopping, or cooking. Okay, if you’re having children cook with you for the sake of eating, cooking with kids is inarguably anxiety-provoking. But if you approach cooking with a mindset that you’re teaching all of your children their lessons for the day while you make food, then you’re done? Cooking with kids is a lifesaver. The key is knowing what skills you’re trying to teach, giving them opportunities and support, and reinforcing when they get it. Whether it’s identifying categories (fruits, red things, spices), problem-solving (how to get salt from the top shelf), social skills (choosing a recipe everyone enjoys, sharing, waiting), reading (EVERYTHING), any math task (circumference of shepherd’s pie), motor skills (stirring, chopping), handwriting (make that shopping list), labeling, requesting….what skills can’t you teach?
There’s no reason homeschool has to happen for two consecutive hours. In fact, we’re likely to see fluency develop when skills are practiced more often, not longer. So short and frequent practice results in an increase in learning. Rather than block out a time period for that schedule which will fall through, technology can be used to hit those learning targets that need a little extra practice. Whether it’s colors, letters, sight words, math facts, timelines, when that timer beeps, we take a minute or two to review. And if I’m stuck on a call? Snooze it! Then when I’m finished and the timer sounds, we get another opportunity to practice.
Work from homeschool is an adjustment. Adjusting the right pieces can make space for both an effective employee and an empowered educator.
The spouse of Marine turned DoD civilian, Danielle is a board-certified behavior analyst, professor of behavior analysis, and a work from homeschool mother of four (ages 7, 5, 3, and 2).