Developing a Work-life Balance in Homeschooling
Practical Solutions for a Persistent Problem
If you read a lot of homeschooling blogs (and I do!), you’ll notice one thread of complaint come up again and again: homeschooling parents consistently have a hard time separating the work of education from their lives outside of teaching. Either they’re letting their lives come first or letting their educational work sprawl until it’s consumed everything else in their life. The first scenario is probably more familiar to homeschoolers: it’s the nightmare situation in which kids get out of bed at noon, stroll downstairs for breakfast at 2 pm, and never get any work done because their parents are busy with other things. The second scenario might be more unpleasant, though, at least for the students: days that drag on and on, with no well-defined breaks, in which kids are constantly resentful and parents are constantly anxious about having to teach.
Every homeschooling parent has to think about heading these problems off. Learning how can be a challenge, for reasons that have to do with the structure of the homeschooling relationship. But it is doable, and in this post, we’ll provide actionable solutions for the problem of boundaries.
Work-life Balance in Homeschooling
Work-life balance is a buzzword right now—there’s a growing awareness that employers, who can call, text or email at any time, have gained too much control over the lives of the people who work for them. That’s a pretty clear-cut problem, but the issue is a lot fuzzier for homeschoolers. Who works for whom in homeschooling? Where does work end and life begin?
The sticking point is that many people choose homeschooling precisely because it lacks the artificial divisions between life and work that conventional school has created. There are no bells, there’s no passing time. You don’t get sent to the principal’s office for tardiness. Families come to homeschooling specifically to escape the strictly regimented world of conventional schooling. So while the solution to work-life problems in the outside world might be reducible to a strict time past which employers are not allowed to contact their employees, the problem with homeschooling is murkier. Many parents have the sense that their kids’ innate creativity simply can’t flourish in a heavily regimented system—so why would they want to create regimentation in their own homes?
There are no easy answers to this as an ethical argument. However, in practical terms, if your homeschooling days are either endless or nonexistent, you are probably going to need rules and boundaries. It’s a bitter pill, but it’s important to at least set a clear start and end time to the day. Clear times for snacks and lunches help too. And if your homeschooling is more elaborate—if you’re a member of a co-op, for example—you might also need to develop classes that start and end at specific times.
That might sound bleak to parents who have been imagining blissful days of education with no regimentation, but don’t be afraid. In the next section we’ll give some simple solutions and explain how to create flexibility in your homeschooling life.
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Learning the Rules in Order to Break Them
My Latin teacher in high school told me that it was always better to learn a set of rules first and then break them later, as opposed to experimenting first and then trying to build discipline out of that. He was talking about learning the convolutions of Ciceronian rhetoric, but if you’re a beginning homeschooler the statement applies to you as well. If you set rules and enforce them early, you’ll be more confident when the time comes to break them later.
The same goes for homeschooling. There’s a great list of suggestions in this post from More than a Homeschool Mom, but the gist of it is that you need to set clear times for snacks and lunches, and banish everything that’s not pedagogy to within those boundaries. That means when class is in session, there’s no snacking for the kids, and no calls, emails or social media for the parents. Everybody is completely focused on the task at hand. Then, when the timer goes off (the blog suggests you use an egg timer or other machine, to make sure you don’t get too flexible with snack breaks), all those things are allowed again.
Learning to fit your teaching into those timeframes will, in turn, teach you to design more elegant lesson plans. You’ll develop a sense for what can and can’t be taught within a given timeframe. And as you get more confident doing that, maybe the need for regimentation will start to fall away. But you need to start by being strict with yourself. In the end, it’ll be to the benefit of you and your students.
photo credit: sean dreilinger reading ten little zombies aloud – to two little boys – MG 1064.JPG via photopin (license)
photo credit: sean dreilinger nick, rachel, sequoia and newfound friend in the children’s library – _MG_9322 via photopin (license)