How can I work and homeschool too?

The most frequent question I get from people is, “How can I work and homeschool at the same time?” For example:

Just recently got turned onto your blog and am seriously considering the homeschool path for my three, yes three children-ages 9 and 6 yr old twins.  Neither my husband nor myself want to give up our work–thankfully I work at home as a researcher and writer for a non-profit, he is less flexible.  So please direct me on your blog or elsewhere to how, if it is possible, to work and homeschool.  Do I have to give up working to manage the day?  What resources can I access to start to figure this out?

I should have sent her the picture above of my older son reading while I meet with my banker.  But I wrote this answer back:

I work about 60 hours a week, and I homeschool. So my whole blog is about how to do that. You can look at specific posts about work, like Day in the Life of a Homeschooler, or How to homeschool if you love going to work.

But probably the best thing to read about on my blog is why you don’t need curriculum. Why you don’t need to teach math or science. These are the things that cause fights and suck time and energy and make both kids and adults unable to be their best selves during the day.

In a household where everyone is doing what they are passionate about and everyone is helping each other get the tools and resources they need, parents do work that engages them and kids do work that engages them. You have plenty of time in that scenario.

This arrangement requires, most of all, you being okay with whatever your kids choose to do. My kids play video games a lot. They play musical instruments and I find that most of the time I’m not working, I am practicing with them. It’s not at all the life I imagined for myself, but I think that’s a good measure of if you are following your kids instead of leading them – if you are doing a life with them that surprises you.

So that was my answer but afterwards, it nagged me for days. I realized that the person asking the question – and it’s a new person every day, really – never really wants to know about homeschooling specifically. It’s really a sociological question:

“How can I work and . . .?”

You fill in the second word. How can I have an interesting job that allows me control over my hours and who I work with and allows me to care for my personal relationships? It’s a huge question that research shows that 80% of people are asking. And believe me, it’s not just women. Men want to do the same thing, just not at as high a rate.

There is no secret path to getting work that allows for other aspects of your life. We know that you will not get to the top of a ladder working and [fill in the blank]. We know that corporate jobs go to people who show potential to climb ladders. Imagine it: you are 35 with two kids and you are competing for a job with someone who is 27 with no kids. Who gets the job? The 27 year old, of course. You have roughly the same experience, and while the 35 year old has a little more, it’s clear that if the 35 year old is competing with 27 year olds then their career is stalled, and people don’t like to work with people who have stalled careers.

So you will probably have to work from home. In some capacity. You will probably have to create your own work, based on your own skill set that is special to you.

The question how can I homeschool and work is really about freelancing. How do I freelance while I raise my kids? It’s a great question, but the first step is knowing that that’s what you’re asking.

You don’t want to have your own company – it’s a huge burden to be responsible for peoples’ paychecks while you’re building a company and raising kids. The pressure is insane. And you don’t want to help someone else build a company because startups require long hours. So what’s left is freelancing. (And you should start doing it before you have kids, if you can.)

It’s a great way to scale up or down, depending on your time availability. And it’s a great way to control your own learning curve by taking easy or difficult work, depending on how much energy you have. Freelancing gives you a window to the rest of the world, and you open it as wide as you want or you just crack it a bit for some fresh air while you’re at home.

I’m surprised that more homeschoolers aren’t asking about freelancing because that’s the question they should ask. If you have a freelance business, homeschool will make a lot more sense to you.

So I’m offering a course: Get the Guts to Start Freelancing. And everyone who wants to figure out how to work and homeschool should take this course. Freelancing could be the key to making your family life work. 

Enroll now!

25 replies
  1. karelys
    karelys says:

    My specific life experience taught me to just do according to what I could afford (time, money, environment, etc.).
    Just in late 2010 I learned to shift my thinking to being a constant problem solver: “I want x but have no money/time, how can I get around it.”

    It’s amazing how life has opened up.

    My first experiment was a fancy trip to Cancun, MX. We had no money for that so we figured out how to get money for it. And everyone would think we’re crazy because it’s stupid that poor people go on such fancy vacations. But it opened up our lives.

    When I started looking for work after having a baby I made sure to instead look for a good boss I’d like and that he/she knew I needed the opportunity to bring my child with me.

    And I found it.

    I pretty much used all the advice on P’s career blog. And it worked.

    I have no idea what I’d freelance.

    I figured out that I can afford daycare and that it comes roughly at the same price of private school (in my town). So if my kid really wanted to go to school I’d do that because it’s private school so he can take whatever time off is needed for other activities and self education.

    And if he decided no school, I’d use that money to pay someone to take him places while I have to work. The beauty of homeschool is that it doesn’t have to be a parent all the time who is around the kid. That’d be crazy. But for roughly the same cost of daycare in my town I can pay for private school (that is also daycare for older kids) or someone that make sure he’s safe while I work.

    On the topic of freelancing, what if you don’t have an idea. I have no idea what I could freelance. Is this included in the seminar?

  2. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    The only thing I really can add to this particular post is that before you begin freelancing only, have six months of expenses saved up otherwise it could be a financial disaster. Having 6 months of expenses gives you a nice cushion to begin freelancing, whatever that may be.

    Karelys, I’m curious what you do? Freelancing could be as simple as starting your own music lesson business. Our piano teacher travels to her students homes and makes very good money. It could also be starting your photography business, web design, editing works of fiction/non-fiction etc.

    • karelys
      karelys says:

      Right now I am an office manager. So I do everything except business decisions (like buying properties, etc.).

      I am bilingual and still have an active insurance license (but never really been good at selling. Maybe I’d be now in this stage in life).

      And I study Psychology. That’s why I am so interested in sales all the time.

      I am good at selling concepts and talking to people when my livelihood doesn’t depend on it.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        I wonder if part of your office manager job could be done at home? Then when you need to go into the office you could schedule one day a week for that and hire an in-home sitter for that day, that way you could homeschool? :)

        With Freelancing you need to have a skill or product to freelance, I’m not sure what that would be. I’m also very poor at “selling” when my livelihood depends on it. I’m sure Penelope could easily find something, she has microscopic insight to this type of stuff.

  3. Kelly
    Kelly says:

    We just started homeschooling our 7 and 10 year-olds. My husband works full time (from home, and always has) and has some flexibility in his day, but he does not freelance. And, he travels roughly 2 weeks a month.

    I’m a homeopath, and have a private practice. I can’t see my clients after my kids go to bed, or in the middle of the night, but I can work on cases then and do research and return emails. I take appointments after dinner, and currently I have one office day every other week and I pay someone else to be with my kids then. And, he’s awesome and has a great background of having worked in a kid-centered school in the past but really believes homeschooling is best. So- that’s a win. As my 2 days a month book up, I will add additional ones as I can pay for them. I also take an advanced training course that takes me to Europe 3x a year, for the next 3 years. My husband takes vacation time then, or one of our parents will pitch in.

    I’m giving all these details because I know for me, it’s helpful to how people really do it, not just generalizations. I don’t have good scheduling skills naturally, but I am needing to create and hone them because otherwise, this won’t work. I don’t love getting up at 5, but if I want this life, some days I need to. I have about 4 calendars I actively use: a big one on the wall in the kitchen, google calendars I share with my husband that sync with my online scheduler for clients, and then a paper planner that i leave open all the time where I write everything and schedule in things that are important to me. Some of them actually happen. Some get bumped (exercise, of course).

    This is how we do it. We live rurally, and so we have to drive everywhere. That sucks, but it is.
    I had no plans to homeschool until this past summer, but here we are doing it.

  4. Heather Sanders
    Heather Sanders says:

    Reading through the course, I noticed Day 3 covers “Manage your time, so you don’t hate your life. You can’t work 24 hours a day. Know when to say enough is enough.”

    I work full-time from home, homeschool and jointly run a local homeschool cooperative, as well as teach three writing courses; a few weeks ago I hit a wall, and my family bore the brunt of my meltdown.

    Freelancing IS freedom; but, it can also be all-consuming, terrifying, and the stress can be debilitating.

    Having a plan and disciplining one’s self to work the plan is absolutely integral.

    The last 3 years of my life were spent working around the clock to help my family reach a financial goal (My husband also works hard, and his steady salaried position is an essential part of our plan). Along the way, as is nearly always the case, life threw a number of curve balls that turned a year-long plan into a 3-year plan, and I didn’t let up during that time. It nearly broke me.

    I’m hoping those who are interested in STARTING freelancing will strongly consider this course; for no other reason than to get an idea of the realities before they FACE the reality–which is wonderfully fulfilling and yet, completely overwhelming all in one fell swoop.

    I am still working at home and homeschooling. I still would choose no other route, but I am making different decisions now.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Thanks for the dose of reality, Heather. I wonder, though, if really anyone trying to raise kids and work is going to be exhausted by the end of it — no matter what kind of work it is. Because taking care of kids is really really hard. It’s not like having a second job – it’s like having a second, third, and fourth job.


      • Heather Sanders
        Heather Sanders says:

        Valentina – Your comment made me smile this evening, thank you! The internet certainly is a small world–especially when we narrow it down to the homeschooling niche. :)

        • Valentina
          Valentina says:

          Heather! It’s is so small! I’ve been following you since the beginning through Ree’s blog and dreamed of hiring you to do my website! I love your perspective and hearing about your homeschool days. I’m in Texas too, Austin, our paths may cross sometime ; ) glad I made you smile!

  5. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    Love the timing for this post. I spent nearly all of last year trying to figure out how I could work outside of the home and it was just impossible, not to mention no one would give me the time of day when I applied. Then I spent a few months trying to figure out if I could get a babysitting job, but I already have four kids. It was only in the last month or so that I began to see myself as someone who could do freelance work.

    So I signed myself up for a class and starting my own education. I feel lucky because my husband already works from home, so there is always someone here if I need a little bit of time to finish something. As far as the kids go, we don’t follow any curriculum. We read a lot and work around the house together, but for the most part they are following their passions and I now I’m following mine.

  6. Daphne Gray-Grant
    Daphne Gray-Grant says:

    I homeschooled all three of my triplets from K to grade 10 and one of them until university. (Two of them demanded to go to school at grade 10 and I decided it should be their decision at that point.)

    Here’s what made it possible:

    1) I worked from home (writing and doing communications consulting.) I set up my fee structure to encourage clients to let me work from home. I was an experienced writer/communications consultant before I started this so my learning curve related entirely to running a business, not to writing.

    2) My husband (who works full-time) had a flexible schedule and was here three mornings a week (although away for dinner three evenings a week — a tough tradeoff.) This gave me time to work in the mornings.

    3) I hired childcare for when I worked, even when I was home. This allowed me to work undisturbed.

    4) I did a lot of my work in evenings and weekends, when my husband was here. We wanted to raise our own kids rather than have babysitters/nannies do it.

    5) We did NOT follow a curriculum. Madness that way lies. I have counselled many other parents and the ones with problems were always following a curriculum. The problems were always fixed as soon as the curriculum was dropped.

    Yes, there were things that were less than perfect. But it worked well for us. I think having a partner who is truly involved and NOT following a curriculum are the keys to making it work.

  7. NC
    NC says:

    Been following your blog for a few months now. I agree with you on so many things. I’ve been homeschooling my boys for four years. Yesterday at lunch, my friends and I were discussing this whole math issue that you reference in this post.

    I wish I could just write it off the way you do, but I can’t. If your child plans to go to college, they must have math. They have to take the SAT, right? Students are required to “play the game.” How do you reconcile this? Just don’t go to college? Even in today’s world, isn’t a person’s earning potential less without it?

    I would love to hear your thoughts.

  8. mh
    mh says:

    I must agree with regard to curriculum.

    I know many homeschoolers who start off with the best of intentions and who buy a big, all-encompassing curriculum in a box. Some of these even go for the mail-in-your-exams-to-be-graded-by-actual-teachers route. You teach this lesson on this day, complete this assignment on that schedule, etc.

    I have only seen this work among two types of families:

    1) the mom is an actual teacher before she begins homeschooling, and this feels natural to her

    2) there is only one child in the family

    Otherwise, using BIG CURRICULUM means either the children are totally frustrated or the parents are.

    Letting the children lead means you get weird happenings: one kid is doing WWII air war in Europe; one kid is reading manga and drawing obsessively; one child rides his bike all day with his friends; one child is doing athletics; one child is reading non-stop about ancient Greece; one kid is forming a rock band and wants to use the garage; one kid is starting a business so he can save to travel overseas. Any or all of the above is generally going on simultaneously, and guess what: the parents don’t have to control it, or evenmanage it very much.

    Once you drop the mindset that education is something that is DONE TO children, you get the freedom that comes with homeschooling.

    Many states have dropped the requirements that homeschoolers must match the state education curricular guidelines or take state standardized exams. The rest of the states should hurry up and do likewise.

    • Heather Sanders
      Heather Sanders says:

      mh – I have never been an actual teacher in the sense that I have not taught in a public or private school classroom. I have three children, and I utilize Sonlight, which many consider curriculum-in-a-box, but it offers a smorgasbord of choices, so each family customizes it to meet their needs.

      It is true that the “way” we use it has changed over the years, but it has saved us money as each kid advances through it at a different rate (our kids are not all on the same path as their ages and interests vary widely).

      Whereas our curriculum’s schedule used to set the emphasis, it now serves more of a backdrop role; however, it took several years for me to “see” clearly how that could be accomplished.

      That said; I believe it overgeneralizes to say that the use of curriculum of any kind means that education is being DONE TO children. For instance, in our family our curriculum provides a foundation for each of my kids to build upon in their own area of interest. Sometimes portions are chucked, sometimes not, but either way, nothing is set in stone.

      Clearly yours is an Unschooling approach to homeschooling, which I believe can work beautifully. Our approach to homeschooling happens to be more structured than yours, but not without “give” and “freedom”; it has been successful so far, so I had to chime in and offer a different, yet parallel, view.

      I am thankful to live in a state with a hands-off relationship with homeschoolers. We contribute annually to our state’s homeschool coalition for the purpose of supporting their efforts to keep it that way. We also contribute on a national level for the same purpose.

      • mh
        mh says:

        Heather Sanders, I agree with you.

        I should have been clearer that I was making a point about people who can comfortably use the in-the-box curriculum straight as-is.

        • Heather Sanders
          Heather Sanders says:

          mh – Ahhh, I see. :)

          You know, when I first started using Sonlight I stressed about completing ALL of it — the full 36 weeks.


          Okay, I had to laugh about that because we have YET to finish all 36 weeks in a single year, and I don’t even think twice about it now.

          I had the “get through it mentality” I preach against now; in fact, I’m pretty evangelical about viewing any curriculum as anything more than a buffet of choices we can pick up or put down.

          I’m structured. Two of my three kids are structured. They help me map out plans that work for them.

          mh, do you blog anywhere? If so, and if it isn’t private, will you email me a link? I notice you don’t have anything linked here.

  9. Jessica
    Jessica says:

    I was homeschooled for one year during age 9-10, 4th grade. My mom did not unschool or teach or even be around during that year. I sat in a room with my brother and did curriculum based schooling out of a work book in which I ‘taught myself’. (Reluctantly, but ok) I went back to school that next year and wasn’t at all behind or ahead or wherever. I just adjusted to what was being taught and got on making good grades. I wanted to share this because if you pull your kid out of school and fear that it may or may not work, I wouldn’t worry. Kids are flexible and resilient.

  10. Alex
    Alex says:

    oh, how I agree 100% on “you don’t need curriculum” and “This arrangement requires, most of all, you being okay with whatever your kids choose to do” !
    But in France (where we plan to homeschool our 1 and 4 years old daughters) an academic inspector comes every year to check that your kids are “properly” educated… One of the main reasons why we decided to homeschool is that we don’t want our daughters to learn through a curriculum, we don’t want their day to be scheduled… We know it will clash with the authorities as they can’t see how children’s heads can be filled, if we don’t force feed them… (now thinking about it, I might do a powerpoint presentation comparing school-education to force-feeding geese for Foie Gras, it might speak to French inspectors…).
    Anyway, coming back to the subject, it makes homeschooling more time consuming and therefore more difficult for parents to work and homeschool at the same time…

  11. Alyssha
    Alyssha says:

    I just found your blog and I am loving ALL of it. SO much information. I am researching homeschooling, and interviewing for a promotion (tomorrow) that would give me a LOT more time during the day to actually do it. From what I have learned so far Unschooling or hackschooling is what I am most interested in, but in reading the NYS regulations I got very overwhelmed. If I am not using a standard curriculum what do I send them? I am sure I have a million more questions, and your blog is answering many of them, but I thought someone might see this and have some insight for me. Thank you SO much for this blog! It’s a godsend right now!

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      Alyssha, I have an acquaintance that unschools in NYS and she has offered to help you with the paperwork, but I don’t want to broadcast her information on here. If you send Penelope an email so she can contact me directly I’ll give you my friends information. I hope it works out for you, good luck with your interview!

      • Alyssha
        Alyssha says:

        Thank you SO much! I am sending out an email now. And just for the record, I read a TON of the career info before my interview yesterday, felt super prepared, and may have just landed a job that will make homeschooling a reality! Amazing!

  12. Kim
    Kim says:

    Great point, Penelope. A stable, successful and satisfying career will never let you devote any time outside of it, unless you’ve got a really powerful union (thanks IBEW for at least a piece of my childhood).
    Running a company is probably less flexible than a job. Kids (including myself) who’ve come from business owners understand that parents have the tendency to put their kids up for adoption while adopting their new baby, their business. It is very rough on the kids.
    My suggestion is to invest all you can into freelancing. Even if it means going for a credential or learning a really difficult skill. If you need to work, it may be your only option out. Stop thinking of ways to convince your employer that you need to be devoted to your children.

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