How to home-school your kids and work at home without going stir-crazy

Households with two working parents, or a single working parent, have long struggled to balance careers and family time, but at least one thing hasn’t been on those parents’ plates: school.

Now, because of the coronavirus, many parents across the country (and the world) are doing a whole new juggling act: working from home and supervising their kids’ education.

They’ve taken to social media platforms to share their struggles with schooling—in contrast with far more organized parents (who typically don’t have jobs) posting meticulously color-coded schedules of their kids’ day.

I know it seems like it can’t be done. However, I’m here to tell you that if you’re a working parent, it is possible to do both without going crazy.

I have two boys. I’ve home-schooled my 12-year-old since first grade (he’s now in sixth grade) and my 7-year-old for two years now (he’s in first grade). I also work from home full time as a freelance writer, which affords me a flexible schedule. The past two years, my work has increased to well beyond 40 hours a week, but I haven’t stopped home-schooling my sons. (My husband is also now working from home due to the pandemic.)

And you know what? I’m not ultraorganized, my kids aren’t always cooperative, and I don’t have an extraordinary amount of patience. So, I’ve been asked a lot, but especially over the past couple of weeks, how the heck do I get it all done?

In fact, I’m not unique. I know many parents who run small businesses or work full time plus home-school their kids. Here’s how we make it work.


Allow adjustment time

Don’t expect things to go smoothly right from the jump. Keep in mind that your children recently went from having nearly every hour of their day mapped out to a bit of a free-for-all.

“This is difficult for everyone —home-school families included—because many things ... are closed down and [we have] limited social interactions,” says Carly Nicole, home-school mother of two and small-business owner.

Nicole’s advice is to cut yourself some slack.

“Don’t compare yourself to the pictures you’ve seen in the past of home-schooling friends,” she says.

If you’re worried your kids may fall behind, stop yourself. Missing a few days or even weeks of schoolwork won’t be the end of the world.

Kids are resilient, and you’ll be surprised by how fast they can catch up. If you need a week or two to figure out how to get your work done and teach your kids, then take the time. Your kids will need time to get used to a new learning environment as well.


Be a parent first, teacher second

I’ll let you in on a little secret: Your kids will probably never see you as a “real teacher.”

Nope. To them, you are Mom and Dad first and foremost. They’re not going to raise their hand before they ask you a question, they may pitch a fit over a worksheet, or they might refuse to redo a math problem.

“Don’t try to teach them a concept or have them do an assignment at the expense of your relationship with them,” says Nicole. “If you need to take a step back and find a way to connect with your child, do that. Then attack the worksheet later.”

Remember, you’ve always been their first teacher. Who taught them to talk and sing the alphabet? You did.

Even if you can’t remember how to do the quadratic equation, it won’t loosen the bond you have with your child. You’re in this together now, so learn how to work with each other first, then Google how to solve a quadratic equation later.


Set your own schedule

Here’s another secret about homeschooling: It won’t take all day, and it doesn’t require a rigid schedule. Right now, you may actually have hours added back to your day thanks to a lack of commute as well as a lack of before- and after-school commitments for your kids.

That may give you some flexibility in your schedule. If your job requires you to be available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., then schedule learning time that can work with your needs.

“Just remember it doesn’t have to look the same as a classroom at school,” says Rachel Denning, mom of four and director of a home-school community.

“Have fun. Relax. Make memories,” suggests Denning. “When it’s not a classroom full of kids, school takes tons less time. Don’t overschedule.”

While we watch the clock in the office to time our meetings, meals, and departures, time becomes more abstract when stuck at home. I recommend using the elasticity to your advantage, and home-school parents agree.

“Setting a school schedule isn’t always the best way to go,” says Nina Goss, a full-time pediatric nurse and single home-school parent of eight.

“Sleeping in for certain kids helps tremendously with their concentration, while others prefer to get up early to finish early,” Goss says.

If you’re busy with conference calls or have a tight deadline one day, feel free to push back learning until the evening or even the weekend. There is no school bell mandating when your kids can learn, and you’ll eventually fall into a routine that works for your family.

“Don’t expect things to run smoothly,” says John Grimes, real estate agent and home-school dad of two. “Get back on track without beating yourself up.”


Ask for help

Don’t be afraid to ask for help from your community. Ask your boss for a deadline extension. Reach out to a friend or family member to help with explaining a concept you don’t fully understand. Use technology to your advantage.

I use FaceTime with my sister to help with grammar or math lessons for my nieces and nephews. Online educational tools like PBSLearning, Discovery Education, and are now offering services free or at a reduced rate.

And even if you can’t get your kids to understand a concept, you’re not failing them. Trust me, I’m no expert on everything I teach. I take advantage of available tools and do my best.

“Do the things that are most important for your child, find some things that you can do together, and don’t worry about trying to do all of it,” says Denning.


Take a break

We all hit a wall at some point. Even though I home-school, my kids had weekly extracurricular activities they can no longer attend. Yet I still have deadlines to hit, and they still have lessons to complete.

Sometimes my kids get distracted and aren’t able to pay attention to the task at hand. But it isn’t just the kids who get distracted. Given the daily onslaught of alarming news, it’s understandable if you can’t focus on teaching math or completing your own work.

Trust me: Kids know what’s going on in the world. They sense the anxiety and stress. So what I’m saying is: Take as many breaks as you (all) need.

Even with social distancing, you can still step outside for a breath of fresh air. Take several walks a day. Eat lunch outdoors. Walk your dog. Heck, take a nap. This may be what saves your sanity.

“Have dance breaks when it gets too stressful,” suggests Denning. “When you or they hit a wall ... stop. Step back. Refocus. Get some exercise.”

A little break here and there will make everyone a little happier—and I’m sure your boss won’t mind.


Get creative

With many of these remote learning solutions taking place on a computer or other device, it would be ideal if kids could discover “after-school” activities other than Netflix or video games. After all, this work-from-home/home-school situation may be the reality for months, and for them to spend all their time in front of a screen would be a waste.

Try something new. From my personal experience, I recommend learning a new language together, starting a garden, scheduling daily walks together, or having virtual playdates with friends.

This is also a great time to have kids help with household chores and put them on the path of pitching in. And give yourself a gold star: You’re teaching them valuable life skills!