How can you successfully homeschool your kids and work at the same time? Is that even possible? Tune in to this week’s Homeschool Heartbeat as Pamela Price—a blogger, author, and homeschooling mom—offers tips and guidance for working homeschool parents.
Mike Smith: I’m joined today by Pamela Price. She’s a homeschooling mom who’s also a journalist, a blogger, and the author of How to Work and Homeschool. Pamela, welcome to our program today!
Pamela Price: Thank you so much, Mike, for the invitation.
Homeschool entrepreneurs [0:31]
Mike: Pamela, in your book, you describe homeschooling parents—specifically those who also work—as homeschooling entrepreneurs. What do you mean by that?
Pamela: Well, in my work as a journalist, I have interviewed and talked with successful entrepreneurs. And they’ve all told me that their independent businesses are really rooted in both a passion for their work and a willingness to take risks and innovate. And as I began to look at homeschooling for us, and then later as I looked at working while homeschooling, I began to see those similarities.
Entrepreneurs, just like homeschoolers, often will run against traditional advice and get a lot of blowback from the choices that they make. But then they dig in and they find ways to make it work. And I see that same pattern happening within the homeschool [community]—and again, particularly within the working homeschool community as well.
Mike: Well Pamela, what can our listeners do to become successful homeschooling entrepreneurs?
Pamela: Well, the most important thing that I see when working with parents and workshops is that taking the time up front to really inventory strengths and weaknesses—both as a family unit and as individuals—and finding out ways to promote growth for the whole “learning laboratory”—what I call the home. Giving people a chance to find ways to make the whole experience enjoyable, rather than feeling like it’s a burden. And so that’s important to note: [having] clarity about why you’re making the choice to homeschool can really keep you on track when life happens, things come up that can push back on our commitment. But if we’re firmly rooted, and we understand what we’re working toward, and where our individual challenges are, we can become much, much more successful.
Every shape and size [2:22]
Mike: Pamela, what are some of the most common misconceptions about families who homeschool?
Pamela: Well, Mike, I’ll be really honest. Before we became a homeschooling family, I had fallen into having stereotypes about homeschoolers. They were all from a particular faith-based perspective. They all dressed similarly. They were all from two-parent families—one parent worked outside of the home, [they were] usually from a fairly affluent background or had a vocation that paid very well.
And as I lived as a homeschooler for several years and also worked with this population and interviewed these parents, I’ve really come to just marvel at the diversity which is even growing. In the time that we started homeschooling, I encountered more and more single parents. I see more and more parents from different faith backgrounds.
I see a real surging interest in two demographics. One is in the African-American community, where a lot of those families are feeling like their students aren’t being served well and are embracing homeschooling as an alternative. And then I’m also an ambassador for the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum, and a lot of the families that come to us for assistance and guidance or are choosing to help their gifted or twice exceptional child who maybe, for example, has a learning disability or another sort of diagnosis that makes a traditional setting challenging for them—they’re choosing to homeschool, some of them for many years, as it looks like our journey is going to be all the way through. But then some of them are short-term homeschoolers who are really dedicated for a couple of years until, say, another educational opportunity opens up that’s a better fit, or placement in another program can happen. But the diversity and the richness and texture is there. I’m just not sure that the media has really fully caught on to it, although they’re starting to, for sure.
Overcoming challenges [4:21]
Mike: Pamela, what are the biggest challenges of homeschooling and working at the same time?
Pamela: Well, obviously the challenges are going to vary pretty widely by household and also by the line of work that the parent is trained in. So there are certainly more occupations that are more conducive to working while homeschooling. But across the board, factoring those differences in, the challenge that I see come up the most is handling day care for those situations when the parent has to have backup. And obviously [for] single parents, that’s going to be their biggest challenge. But the more flexible a family’s schedule can become, the better.
And one of the other challenges is [that] a lot of times parents think that they have to work a traditional 8–5 school day. And anybody that’s been homeschooling for a while will tell you, even if they choose to do it, everybody does it a little differently. In the book I actually give some examples of schedules.
So getting people to break outside of those traditional ideas about when work has to take place or who has to supervise it when, and how, can free up some of those obstacles often, although the reality is sometimes people have to stick with another alternative because they can’t get that daycare situation to work out. So I’m real sensitive to that challenge.
Mike: Well Pamela, what are the characteristics of a successful working homeschool parent that you’ve seen?
Pamela: You know, they’re very inquisitive. They’re curious, they’re always looking for fresh ideas, fresh approaches. They’re open-minded. One of the big things—and this is true of any homeschooler, but I think it’s particularly true of working homeschool parents—is once you’ve decided to do it, resisting that impulse to go buy the “perfect curriculum,” and hand it out.
But the successful working homeschool parent [is one] who sits down and figures out “What way does my child learn best? Which sort of method is going to help him or her succeed in this, and how do I best teach and learn myself?” Having those conversations in a de-schooling period where you back off the traditional model for a little while and get to know one another again, and then making choices—maybe unschooling is a better fit for you, maybe more of a traditional model is a good fit for you and your kid—and then making a choice from there forward.
And then the other thing is [that] working homeschool parents have to engage in self-care. And that’s not just getting a pedicure, although that’s fun. But [it’s] finding ways to reconnect with the part of you that makes you you—whether it’s creating something, or engaging in a mindfulness practice, or prayer—whatever centers you and anchors yourself as a person, can really strengthen all the other work that you have to do.
Mike: Very good. So how many children do you have?
Pamela: I have one, who we started homeschooling—he has a peanut allergy that is pretty significant. And then later as we got into it we found all of the other reasons why we wanted to do it. And he’s very happy with it.
Mike: How old is he?
Pamela: He’s 10.
Mike: Oh, good. When did you start? What year was he?
Pamela: Well, we were going to send him to kindergarten—they call it “roundup” because it’s Texas—we were going to send him to kindergarten roundup, and the week before he had a skin contact reaction with peanuts, and we pulled the plug.
So he’s inadvertently homeschooled since birth. But now there are so many other reasons that we do it that have nothing to do with that at all.
The balancing act [7:49]
Mike: Pamela, working and homeschooling takes a lot of coordination and effort from both parents. Do you have any specific strategies for maintaining balance (and, of course, sanity) in a two-parent family home?
Pamela: You know, balance I think is the great elusive holy grail of mid-life and raising children. I think balance is more apt to come in a household where the adult or the adults have clarity and good communication about what they need and what they want. And I think that negotiation is between the two—between wants and needs. And continuing to make choices that reflect those wants and needs is how balance eventually begins to come closer to reality.
One of the things I talk about in the book is a woman who shared with me how she got all caught up in working and homeschooling and she lost her passion project and drifted away from, again, what makes her feel meaningful and what makes her feel connected. And when the parents do it, they model it for their children, and then the children carry that forth in the world. And I think that in the end, the family unit has that harmony that I think is what people want.
Single-parent homeschooling [9:08]
Mike: Well, that’s outstanding. Now, we’ve talked about single parents and homeschooling. Is that really possible?
Pamela: It is. You know, that’s one of my favorite demographics to work with and talk to: single moms and dads who are committed to homeschooling while working and are able to put into place mechanisms for giving them support when they need it: if they need somebody to watch the children when they go to work, or if they go to pursue a project that’s meaningful to them personally. Assuming you can get to that phase, those parents seem to have a real clear connection with their kids that is nurturing and builds a sense of family that can really help offset any hardship that may come about from being a single parent.
We tend to think of single parents strictly in terms of people who are divorced or widowed. But some of the people that I talk to are actually moms whose spouses are deployed abroad, [who are] military. And what I see them doing—all of those groups doing—is getting a schedule, getting a flow to their week that they really set and they take care of, and also nurturing support, be it in the community if they can get it, or also online, so that there’s somebody else to have that rapport with to get clarity on what’s going to be meaningful for them and how they can refine their skills.
The homeschool paradox [10:32]
Mike: Pamela, it’s no secret that families who homeschool can’t do it alone, and working homeschool parents are no exception. Do you have any tips for getting connected and finding support out there?
Pamela: Well, there is a How to Work and Homeschool Facebook page that I run that has a few thousand people that come and you can ask questions or just share resources, and of course I send information out.
That said, if I look at it from my own experience, I’ve really found that it’s the individual relationships—and this can be in person or online, if maybe you’re isolated in a community where there’s not a lot of homeschoolers—but finding someone who will mentor you or, if they’re starting the same time with you, really walk that journey with you, because there’s just certain questions that no one else can answer. And so I’ve found people through GHF, people can find groups through HSLDA, and eventually you’ll start to know that you’re talking to one or two people often. And then just make the extra effort to reach out to them.
What I’m seeing a lot lately is small groups forming on Facebook. So maybe it’s in a particular part of a state, and maybe they’re not next-door neighbors, but they’re 50–60 minutes away and can get together occasionally—they might have a small Facebook group that they start, just to be able to talk regionally. And then there’s always conventions that people can go to, to look for other individuals. But I find with working homeschool parents, they don’t get to go to the conventions as much, because of the time conflicts—they’re sort of full. So online is really the way to go. Blogs, too—blogs are another way to tune in to the community.
Mike: So Pamela, if there’s one thing that working homeschool parents really need to remember, what would it be?
Pamela: It’s a paradox, because we have to work keeping the end in mind while also living in the present. And our time with our children ultimately is so brief and precious, and we know what kind of adults we’d like for them to become, and we try to set into motion all of these enriching activities, educational activities—we find the right model, the right curriculum.
But the reality is that a lot of times, taking a hike together, taking time to welcome and nurture maybe a newborn child and teach older children how to take care of that child. I had a friend that did that. She took five months off to really talk [to her kids] about nurturing a child, a human being. Sometimes those lessons, those life lessons, are the most critical and important educational contributions we can make that grow adults that we want to see leave our house and start a house of their own.
Mike: Pamela, thank you so much for joining us this week, and for offering the tremendous encouragement to parents who work and homeschool at the same time. And until next time, I’m Mike Smith.