How to homeschool as a single parent

The question of how to homeschool as a single parent is actually how to make money and homeschool at the same time. Because of course it only takes one person to homeschool.

1. Homeschooling gives you more time.
If you have to run your family life on someone else's schedule, you have less flexibility in your life. And we know that the more flexibility you have the more you can make time work in your favor. Think of it this way: An inflexible trip to the grocery store at 10 AM is much more costly, in terms of time, than a trip to the grocery store that you can do on the way to dance class.

This means that school is the ultimate time suck for parents. Homework, go-to-school nights, bring-food-to-school days—these are all inflexible commitments that school needs you to make. You get rid of all the inflexibility when you homeschool.

2. If you tell yourself you must work from home, then you will.
You know the women who say they never meet good guys? Well women who refuse to date losers meet good guys. Because their standards are unwavering. The same is true of work. If you tell yourself you must work from home then you will.

For me, this meant years of living in poverty in New York City while I tried to figure out how to support the family from home. We were late on rent all the time. We ran out of food on occasion. But I told myself that there was no way I was going back to an office job because I'd never see my kids. I made a huge career change, going from $150K/year to $30K/year. Almost overnight. It was traumatic and hugely disappointing. But after five years of doing that, I make plenty of money from home.

I am not different than you. If you tell yourself you have no choice, then you'll figure it out.

3. Examine trade-offs closely.
If you force yourself to learn to work from home then you will have five years of financial difficulty while you figure it out. You will probably not do a lot of things normal people do.  You can save money by never eating out. You can save money by living in a school district with low test scores. You can scale down your lifestyle so you don't need to earn a lot to support it. My oldest son didn't have a bed until he was five. We never took a family vacation until he was eight.

Sure, those are sacrifices, but if you send your child to school, you are basically selling you child's time in order to buy that stuff. And you're kid's time is worth more than that. To you and to your child.

4. You have way more control over your life than you realize. You are not trapped.
You're not exceptional. Everyone has to make difficult decisions in life. If you are parenting and single, then you decided not to compromise on things that could get you a partner. So you will have to compromise on other things. (Or, compromise deeply and go get a partner.) Having a partner or not having a partner is not luck. It's a choice. You decide that you don't want a partner enough to give up what you'd need to give up to get one. So you give up other stuff.

When I was a single mom, to get partner who would be a great help with my kids in terms of both time and finances, I had to move to his farm, which caused me to have twenty-five hours of driving each week.

5. Stop reading homeschooling blogs.
If you know you want to homeschool and you're a single parent, you should be reading career blogs. We get good at what we try to get good at. Surround yourself with people who are working really hard to grow a business from home. Learn about entrepreneurship. Learn about financial failure and bouncing back. Get a vocabulary for talking about your dreams as something that earns money instead of just your dreams.

Homeschooling as a single parent takes a leap of faith and then a lot of hard work. But really, all good things in life require that.

Posted in Parents
44 comments on “How to homeschool as a single parent
  1. Daphne Gray-Grant says:

    I really like the practical nature of this post and I agree with everything you say. I unschooled my triplets (all three are now in university and doing really well) and, early on, I decided I did not have an "education problem, I had a "babysitting" problem.

    There were times when I needed to work so I hired a babysitter; this allowed me to work from home while they were cared for. I never felt guilty for this because I knew I was still getting 75% more time with my kids than most other moms.

    Yes, it's a leap of faith. And it gets easier with every year you do it.

  2. Amanda Tinney says:

    "but if you send your child to school, you are basically selling your child's time in order to buy stuff. And you're kid's time is worth more than that"

    Genius.

    You should package some of these sayings into an ebook titled "100 Comebacks When People Challenge Your Unschooling" by Penelope Trunk

    • Kimberly says:

      Agreed, I recently became single and while my kids aren't school aged yet, I fully intend to homeschool. So I'm glad to see this article on one of my favorite blogs.

      My parents boast about both of them working and sending me to school because, otherwise, they wouldn't have afforded to survive. When I consider all of the wasteful spending and luxuries they had, it's really a kick in the pants.

      I'm sure it's like the socialization talk that people love to use in favor of school to soothe their consciences (hi, mom in law!)

  3. mbl says:

    To elaborate on the "gives you more time" theme, we only go to museums, aquariums, and zoos during school hours. Some offer HS discounts, which is great, but the fact that we have the place to ourselves and the kids can spend all the time they want on one exhibit without worrying about crowding or waiting in line to glimpse at something. The very best part is that knowledgeable employees are absolutely thrilled to answer their questions–offering up in depth answers that border on private tutoring. I love that my daughter hasn't yet learned that instructors tend to find lots of questions a logistical bother. (At home it's a whole 'nother story when my head is about to explode, though . . .)

    • mh says:

      mbl,

      We had this experience traveling to Civil War sites in September of this year. The places were EMPTY of school children (except mine). Not once did we have to wait to have a question answered. My kids were in heaven — we felt like movie stars, seeing things most tourists don't get to see when the places are crowded.

      One of my sons has in-depth knowledge of ironclad submarines, and found a guide with similar expertise. They spoke for an elaborate amount of time and had the time of their lives. The rest of us doodled around the site and figured things out as needed.

      It was a great trip, partly because we were free to travel on our schedule, instead of when the school let us have vacation.

      • mbl says:

        mh, I had heard that September was the HS vacation sweet spot. Kids are in school, but field trips haven't kicked in yet. A couple of days before the Navy Yard shooting, we were in DC and had museums to ourselves. Outside of the Discovery Room in the Smithsonian Natural History Museum there is a sign that says the maximum capacity is 35 kids. My daughter was in there for about 2 hours and there were never more than 6 kids with her. It was a Friday and they guessed they might have 150 kids that day. If school were out, they would have expected 1,000 kids. And my daughter wouldn't have been one of them. Yikes!

        Ironclad subs you say? Awesome!

        • Penelope Trunk says:

          September is the homeschool travel sweet spot. So smart. I wish I knew that this year. It makes total sense. I wonder: what are other homeschool sweet spots that I haven't thought of???

          Penelope

          • Bostonian says:

            Mid-week skiing.

          • mh says:

            music instruction from 9-3.

            athletic coaching from 9-3, when the facilities are mostly empty.

            I have a friend whose daughter homeschools until 10 am or so, then goes over to the stables and helps with the chores and fun all day until the after-school classes start. Her stable time is no-cost to the family.

            Mid-day hockey and swim are very big where I live.

        • mh says:

          Right, and the other nice thing is interacting with all the adult tourists at these spots. Most of them are huge history buffs who take joy in interacting with (and fascinating) my children with their impressive knowledge.

          The world is full of excellent teachers, and most of them don't work at schools.

          • Olutimehin Adegbeye says:

            'The world is full of excellent teachers..'
            Such a great quote! This is me officially asking permission to borrow it henceforth when I defend my decision not to send my daughter to school (I'm a young unmarried Nigerian mother whose family practically invented traditionalist conservatism – I think they are the Nigerian equivalent of WASP lol).

          • mh says:

            Olutimehin Adegbeye, you need not ask, but permission granted. I just wanted to type your awesome name, that's the reason I had to reply. :)

  4. Mark W. says:

    "Homeschooling as a single parent takes a leap of faith and then a lot of hard work."

    If the single parent is currently working at a business away from home, then the sentence should read – "Homeschooling and entrepreneurship/freelancing as a single parent takes a leap of faith and then a lot of hard work." That's a really big leap of faith. So I'm thinking a two step process of first transitioning over to a work at home career and then starting homeschooling so that the leaps of faith are smaller and incremental.
    I recently came across an entrepreneur who blogs. I looked over her site and I thought she gives some good advice on entrepreneurship. Her name is Laurel Staples and her blog is named 'Go Fire Yourself' at http://www.gofireyourself.com/ . Then I noticed she recently blogged at Brazen Careerist. So there's a whole bunch of blog posts at Brazen Careerist listed under the category of entrepreneurship at http://blog.brazencareerist.com/category/entrepreneurship-2/ . Somebody's got to pitch Brazen Careerist. :)

    • Penelope Trunk says:

      This comment makes me smile, Mark. You know, when I have a company, in the back of my mind I'm always thinking: Can I link to my company here?

      But I can only really do this for one company at a time. So I really appreciate that you are doing it for my last company!

      Penelope

  5. redrock says:

    I always find statistics about income and school success, or another measure of apparent success interesting. However, this one really stumps me: it says that being in the 0. school test score percentile means that your median home sale prize is below 180 k$?????? I think this graph is bogus – it just wants imply that something increases if you get a more expensive house…. What is a 0th percentile anyway?

    • Mark W. says:

      redrock, I think Penelope is merely pointing out a trend here from the sentence and accompanying link in #3 – " You can save money by living in a school district with low test scores." which goes to the Redfin blog. The Redfin blog post has more details and sources.

      • redrock says:

        I wasn't wondering as to the purpose of showing the statistics, but about the statistics itself. Will check out the source.

        • Commenter says:

          The correlation of wealth to standardized test performance is well known. The R^2 is about .95 for the SAT vs family income.

          When you compare elementary school test scores to median house price among communities you'll get something similar. Higher SES is correlated with higher test scores.

          This does not mean that the school in the richer community is causing the higher test scores. Noninstructional factors explain almost all of the variance.

          The phenomenon perpetuates itself in a vicious cycle, as strivers pay extra to move their families to more wealthy neighborhoods and towns "for the schools."

          The savings from living in a cheaper neighborhood or town with "worse" schools can be significant.

          Moving to the next town, less than a mile from my current house, would cost me more than 28K a year in additional mortgage and taxes for the same sized house. But my homeschooling beats their school any day of the week.

          • redrock says:

            so what is then the "0 school test score percentile" for a mean house prize below 200 k$? Nonen of the kids pass? None of them take the test?

          • Commenter says:

            Maybe this graph only makes sense to someone who used to make a lot of graphs as part of his job.

            The data includes 10,811 elementary schools, and 407,509 homes. Each school has been given a percentile ranking based on its test score. The totality of schools have then been divided into ten tranches based on percentile ranking, and compared with home sale value. The bars representing these tranches on the graph have been labeled with the lowest bound of the tranche. In the case of the first bar, this is 0. This first tranche would be selected from percentile ranking 0 to the highest value less than 10, or the first 10% of the schools.

            You've got to divide up somewhere. It would be more customary, but less correct, to label the first tranche as 10. It would be more accurate (though not customary) to label the first tranche as 5. It would be most helpful to label it as 0-10, but the numbers would be too small.

            Ah, graphs. Include this one as a lesson in your math study. They have two requirements: to be right and to be easily understood. I believe this graph passes the first and fails the second.

            For me, a bigger question is does each tranche include 10% of the schools, or does each bar represent whatever quantity of schools fall between the upper and lower bounds (presumably a normal distribution). And an even bigger one is if they punted on the data for my city (Boston), highlighting a district that's all the way outside 128, did they mess it up for other cities too?

            I doubt the underlying study would meet my standards. But the graph itself is fine.

          • Mark W. says:

            Commenter, very good assessment of Redfin's data and graph. I didn't like how they presented the graph when they didn't include the actual data. Basically they just said here are our sources with the minimal (and perhaps inadequate) methodology. This sentence is included the blog post – "The percentile rankings are based on test scores for each of the schools in this report.". So I would say each bar represents a different number of schools. Each bar is located midway between the unlabeled hash marks so I couldn't agree more with your assessment of their labeling deficiency of this graph. Actually their whole presentation of the data makes me suspect of their "handling" of the data to be honest. So I would probably not reference their data. But, then again, maybe it is OK to point to their graph with a "warning". The short answer is to contact Redfin for clarifications.

          • redrock says:

            Actually this graph is meaningless without a lot more information as to how the numbers were scaled. In that sense, while I don't doubt the data, it is a really poor attempt at showing them. It does a disservice to the purpose.

          • redrock says:

            The problem is that the percentile in true results obtained from the tests could span the range from 90 to 99% – thus the 0 percentile would be 90% and the 100% would be the 99% testgrade. In my view this is problematic – and as I said the non-scaled data would be much more powerful and allow for a meaningful interpretation.

          • Mark W. says:

            So who's going to contact Redfin? We can go back and forth on this all day.

          • redrock says:

            indeed – I thought the back and forth is part of the fun….I actually had never heard of redfin before. Isn't there a book about how to fake statistics?

  6. Priscilla Wood says:

    I love this post BUT what about if you have a stubborn ex that opposes home schooling? My ex raising my son is not an option either. I do feel trap.

    • mbl says:

      Last night a friend was telling me should would love to unschool her daughter, but her ex husband would go nuts. In order to ease into HSing, she got him on board with a virtual school and then was able to make a convincing case for choosing a curriculum. FTR, she has remarried, so she is not doing this as a single mother, but the strategy might still work. Best of luck to you!

    • Shawna says:

      Priscilla-
      My ex didn't like homeschooling either. Said it would make her weird and she would not know how to talk to people. So I had her in school a couple years–( I compromised and I still hate that word)

      I watched her go from a bubbly, interested and fun kid to biting her arms so badly (leaving big red bruises) on Sunday nights knowing School was the next day. She would beg to not go. She got bullied by students AND the teacher! ( Yes teachers favor kids)

      WHole different child she was. I couldn't stand by and watch her natural outgoing talents be extinguished. That to me is child abuse in the worst form. I began to count the days when I could take her out of school. And I finally did

      And guess what? I got my little girl back. She got her confidence back–but it took a while. This was the best gift I could give her. My ex–became my ex. I had to leave him because he would not and still doesn't see the benefits of how this helps this child.

      He lived his life–I am here to save this childs life. She only gets one childhood. YES its hard—but I feel empowered to see this child thriving.

      This is what we signed up for—to produce the best human being we can. Nothing is ever easy. Children come first.

      • Nerissa S. says:

        In response, yes we did sign up to produce the best person we could… A parents it is our responsibility to guide, protect and care for out little ones (even when they are not-so-little).

        Currently, I am experiencing the dilemma of figuring out a way to homeschool and keep my working relationships with key "center of influence" folks a part of my not-so-corporate life. But as stated, the children are most important! They are only children for a short period, you know.

        While in school, my eldest son was constantly alone and always felt rushed, and my youngest felt inferior when he had to ask questions to gain a better understanding while in the school… With me, they were both comfortable and embrace learning. I just have to find alternative ways to stay up later to get my work done once they are asleep! Any ideas here?

  7. Sadya says:

    " Get a vocabulary for talking about your dreams as something that earns money instead of just your dreams."

    You need to do a whole blog post based on that statement. Really. I want to hear more about that

  8. Chris M says:

    This article couldn't have been written/posted at a better time. Thank you for your helpful encouragement to all those who try to do so much against seemingly impossible odds.

  9. Elizabeth says:

    In the middle of divorce and starting a new (home) business; great to read this.

  10. Angela says:

    Number five caught me by surprise, but I feel is right on the money. Many of us have limited resources – time, money, etc… And the window of opportunity with our kids is fleeting. Thank you for pointing out the not-so-obvious, Penelope.

  11. Trina says:

    I'm so appreciative and blessed I found this blog post. I have been so conflicted about my decision to homeschool/unschool for months. My family & friends have not been very supportive and have even berated me to the point that I enrolled my children back in public school (much to my chagrin). Due to financial hardship, I've relocated to Nevada recently from California & I am faced with the same nagging feeling that my decision to homeschool is best, but what will others think or say? It's really depressing to be in bondage like that. After Christmas break I'm wondering, should I just re-enroll them back in public school? How will I find time to leave my WAH job to pick them up? Your words inspired me & helped me stand on my own again! I can work from home as well as be my children's teacher. God bless you & thank you!

  12. Angie says:

    Thank you for this article. I am a single mother, and full time student. I graduate in 2 months and my daughter will turn 5 in February. I want to home school her. There isn't' a single person that has offered me support as a single parent who wants to home school.

    I don't want to send my daughter off and miss her biggest moments in life. I am fortunate that where I live there are several home school groups who get together for group discounts, etc.

    I will be finishing my business degree so I intend to either start my own business or find someone who hires work from home personnel. I am very excited and a little nervous about this adventure, but I've been a single parent since the day I found out I was pregnant so I know I can do it.

  13. JJ says:

    I home school now, but am about to be forced to give it up. I fully agree that many people can home school and also work from home. However I always get the impression that most of the women who make this journey are well educated and have a solid career before making the switch. I have neither. The last time I received a pay check was over 10 years ago and it was for stocking shelves- not something you can do from home. Just wandering how those of you who have lower incomes make it?

  14. Melanie says:

    Hi
    I am a single mother to a 6 and 3yr old. I am currently homeschooling my 6yr old. My question is this..how can we do it financially??? I was operating a home day care to make ends meet, but it is an unstable job and almost impossible to budget that way. I desperately want to homeschool, but what job can I do from home that will allow me to make enough money to pay the rent and all the bills!! Twenty bucks here and there doesn't cut it! Is there something I am missing? What home businesses are parents doing? Where can I sign up! lol Seriously..I'm almost to a point where I am going to have to go get a job outside the home and my heart will shatter. I need advice. Home business ideas and advice!
    Thanks!

  15. maddy rae says:

    My only problem with this article is that it fails to recognize that not every mother is capable to work at home. That every mother is not suited to work from home. I am not that kind of woman and I will never be that kind of woman and I don't think I should compromise my work in this world to make myself believe that in order to homeschool my children that I also to work from home. I guess I am just wanting to hear the voice of mothers who worked outside of home and homeschooled. It seems more practical for me. I am

  16. Leah Ueltzen says:

    I found your site in hopes of finding helpful solutions for single moms like myself looking for a better alternative for their children. In my case child. I am a single mom of one perfect son who is entering middle school this coming year. Now by single mom i mean i get no financial support nor does my son see his father. In fact he lives 1500 miles away with his new family. I am not a fan of what our public school has to offer. I would love to provide my son with a different approach to his education. Which, again, is why i stopped at your site. However, you began by saying if you want to work at home you will. I am a nurse. I work a minimum of 50 hours a week so that i may provide a life for for my son. Please tell me how i can "work from home if i really want to". How can i be a nurse from home. I came looking for real solutions and instantly was met with condensention. Maybe you should gear a site titled "home schooling for single parents" toward actual single parents. Thank you for confirming what i already thought true. Home schooling is for children of affluent families only.

    • mh says:

      Leah,

      It sounds like you are doing a great job as a single mom and a great parent. I really admire you.

      I don't think working 50 hour weeks as a nurse disqualifies you from homeschooling. It's clear you are raising an independent son. Going into junior high means he is 11 or 12 years old.

      Consider that homeschooling does not take all day. It certainly does not take a 7-hour school day. It does not even need to be a daily activity. Your junior high son is old enough to be home alone around your work schedule and to learn how to get to community activities that interest him.

      I think an independent and resourceful Mom like you could certainly make homeschooling work. I was a latchkey kid growing up. Homeschooling can work in your situation.

      Thanks for your post. I hope you find encouragement here to look again at homeschooling as a positive thing for you and your son.

      • Trina says:

        That was an excellent response to Leah's dilemma. I for one am "not" an affluent parent. I have a salary of 9.00 and hour at present and homeschool my 3 children as a single mother. I scaled down, I moved from a large 2 story home to a $500 a month apartment, removed cable, use public transportation, have meal planning with very simplified menu's, and we use 2nd hand stores for clothing and the like. My children are 8,7, and 5. I made those sacrifices because homeschooling to me and adherence to our faith was far more important to me. We use the public library for story time, as well as free engagements at the local university (plays, botanical garden, and cultural fairs. We have also participated in our local community center for swim lessons and day camps during summer. Churches most often offer free vacation bible school where your child can make new friends and learn new things. If secular homeschooling isn't for you, there are plenty of free printable available on homeschooling blogs.
        I took a huge pay cut when I decided to work from home. I have a split shift and we homeschool during my break as well as weekends. I hope that you can be encouraged Leah. If I can do it, anyone can :) I'm not sure Ms. Trunk reply's to this blog post any longer…I'm sure she would have some even better innovative ideas. Best wishes!!!

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