Can You Work and Home Educate?

I hear this question a lot from people who are considering home ed. There is a belief that home education is expensive (more about that in a later blog post) and that you won’t be able to work while doing it either. Neither of these are true. Home education is as expensive as you want it to be and you can definitely work while doing it – you just have to be creative.

However, I’m not going to say it is easy – it isn’t – but raising children can be difficult anyway and we’ve managed to do that so far, right?

You will need to make sacrifices. Instead of arranging childcare around your work, you will need to arrange work around your children. Self-employment or freelance work is probably the best type of work for home educators, simply because of flexibility, but it can be done if you work away from the home, too.

In my case, I am self-employed. I work for an hour or two in the daytime, whenever W is otherwise engaged in play or an organised activity, and then I work from the time she goes to sleep until I am falling asleep at my computer, usually at around midnight. I am lucky in that I can be very flexible in the daytime as I don’t have appointments or (many) deadlines in my line of work, but I find that simply fitting the hours in can be a struggle. For example, tidying, cleaning and cooking has to be done in the daytime when W is awake. I don’t get the chance to clean up after bedtime as that is the time that I am working. I very rarely watch TV in the evening, but this is the sacrifice that I made to home educate W. I do realise that it isn’t for everyone. It is difficult – very difficult – sometimes, but I do strongly believe that the benefits of home education far outweigh the costs to my free time (and the loss of the money I could earn by doing something else if W were at school). I get to spend hours a day at the park, in museums or seeing our good friends (see my post on socialisation here), so this ‘sacrifice’ is definitely worth it for us, by a long way.

In a two-parent family, you could tag-team, in that when one of you comes home from work, the other can work from that time. It takes a lot of organisation and again involves unsociable hours, but it can be done. I know of a few families that work in this way, with one partner working two or three nights a week and the other partner working in the day. Again, it involves sacrifice. You will see a bit less of your partner, so the time that you do have together becomes all the more precious. If you find that this is the best working pattern for you, do make sure that you can fit in just a little bit of together time now and then. Savour the moments that you do have.

I have spoken to many home educators on the subject of work. I know editors, people who teach languages online at home, transcribers, bloggers, eBay sellers and many, many other freelancers. I know people who have had high-powered jobs, but have given that up when making the decision to home educate their children. I know single parents who home educate, some working and some not. I also know many people who are fortunate enough to survive on one person’s wage, within a two-parent family. Every family’s situation is different and it is important to make the decisions that are right for you, as a family. It is about looking at where you are now and what you want your future to be.

Questions to consider:

Do you have extended (or nuclear) family support to cover for the hours that you will work?

If your children have grandparents, aunts, uncles or other trusted extended family that would love to have regular time with them, take them up on their offers. Your children will love the time and attention from them and you will have space to work for a little while, when the opportunity comes up.

If not, are there other hours that you can do when your children are asleep or occupied at workshops, groups or lessons?

If your child is old enough, and ready, there are many and varied lessons or workshops that your child can do without you needing to be present (subject to all of the relevant DBS and qualification checks, of course). You would then have an hour or two to do some work while these happen.

Are there working from home opportunities that fit your skill base?

Try searching for local or national jobs that can be done from home. These are very often lower -paid jobs, but can be much more flexible in terms of hours. Be careful to never pay anything up-front and to check that any company is a reputable one before you commit to anything.

Is it possible to work fewer hours at your current place of work, or to ask for more flexibility with the hours that you do have?

Often people think that they cannot change their hours or request to work from home, for fear of upsetting their employers, but it might be worth an ask, at least. Explain your situation and your reasons for doing this. If you have an approachable boss, you might just be lucky.

I do realise that this is not an option for many people, simply because the job that you do needs you to be present at work for all of your hours, or because your boss is not approachable at all….

If you have a partner, can you work opposite hours to them?

Draw up a plan of how that could look for your family. How would you feel about it and how would your children feel about it? Could you trial it for a while and see how it works for you?

Have you researched local groups or lessons locally that your child will benefit from, while you can also work?

Check local Facebook groups and email lists for all the current activities, clubs, lessons and groups that your child could do. At this point, I have to say that it is important to not book in too much, especially if your child has only just been deregistered from a school environment. Make sure you have plenty of down-time and free-play opportunities in between organised activities.

In the end, the decision to home educate and to make a change to your working hours or overall employment lies with your family only. Only you know what is best for you and your family and no-one can tell you what to do for the best. Have a think about what life would be like if things stayed the same. Would things be better or worse with a change? You can’t predict that, of course, but sometimes it is better to make a change, than to keep things the same, for fear of making the wrong decision. Maybe this could be the change that you all needed. Maybe this could be the best thing for you all and you would be a happier and more relaxed family because of it. You will never know until you make that leap….

18th Mar 2018 – transport

With all this talk of the underground and trains last month, I took W to the London Transport Museum. There, we saw lots of old buses and learned the difference between a trolley bus and a tram. Back in February, W asked how the London Underground tunnels were built initially and how they are built now, so we went to look at the exhibit that explains it all. W also learned about the new Elizabeth line and the design of the new stations and why they look like they do.

I mentioned in my post on pocket money that W was learning about saving and also about delayed gratification. For the first time, with no encouragement, W said she would like to save her pocket money and not spend it in the gift shop.

After our visit, we walked across Waterloo Bridge in the rain. W asked why the river was grey when it was raining, so we talked about how rivers and the sea reflect the sky. Then W asked why the Thames is so big and why it is called the Thames (I promised to look this up later..) She was very good at naming the buildings along the way as she loves looking at the skyline and learning them when she sees them from the train.

The next day, we decided to visit a local Home Ed group. It was a fantastic group with educational toys and games dotted around, an outdoor area and a hall for playing in. There were lots of children there, which gave W a chance to make new friends and play new games, which she did, enthusiastically. She also stood on the stage and sang to everyone (!). This group was great for me as well as it gave me a chance to pick up some tips and resources for project learning from the other parents. We shall definitely go back. It is a weekly group, so a good opportunity for W to make links and to see the same friends regularly.

On the train home, we did some phonics learning and W attempted to read the station signs as we passed them. She also enjoyed showing me the way home by following signs. As if all that hadn’t been enough, W later worked on her activity books by herself while I cooked.

The next day, we had a bit of down time. W has been building a house on Minecraft (a brilliant educational game) and wanted to work on that in the morning, then later played ‘vets’ with her Playmobil Farm.

In the afternoon, we went to the GP for a follow-up appointment and played with two children at the bus stop on the way there (they were racing each other). She chatted to the GP confidently about her toys and then learned about blood tests and what they are for.

I bought W an Encyclopedia of Dinosaurs to start our project with. W really enjoyed looking at the timeline from the big bang to the evolution of humans. She then loved learning the names of various dinosaurs and learning why they were the size and shapes that they were.

A trip to the park later had us feeding the ducks and swans. this was a good opportunity to learn what the best food for them is, so we bought some duck food and talked about bread and human food, and explained what ducks can and can’t eat.

To round off the day, we all went to a concert that J and D’s school was involved in. J was performing and W and D loved watching the performance and took it all in. They commented on which dancers she thought were good and which were not so good. W was totally focussed on the performances and loved the different routines and songs.

The next day was a day for a long journey and W had a go at reading the signs to show us the way to the correct train, platform and seat. She did very well, with a few little pointers. When on the train, she did a few maths worksheets with simple addition on them. She was fairly confident with this as she has been adding numbers regularly over the past coupe of months, especially during board games. Next, we played snap and did a jigsaw together.

Next week, we shall visit the Bank of England Museum to follow up on our learning about money from last month. I’m looking forward to it!

4th Mar 2018 – trains

This week, we had a transport theme. W wanted to know all about trains; how are trains made, where are they made, how are tracks put together, what do freight trains do, what does freight mean….. the questions went on and on. Of course, as is usual with these things, W asked all these questions while we were out and not near resources. That was all well and good, since I am a slight train nerd, so I covered most of it with her. I do find, though, that when W is asking so many questions on a crowded train, I feel like I am being watched and like I am under more pressure to get the answers absolutely right… I’m sure people are just chuckling because of the relentlessness of a 4-year-old’s quest for knowledge and not because I am floundering right in front of them….

On a different journey on a different day, W decided we would do maths in the car. She asked me to give her simple numbers to add or subtract from each other and worked out the answers on her fingers. The night before, we had played a board game involving addition, so I think she was just expanding on what she learned.

Then more questions: what are factories for? She wanted lots and lots of examples of things that are made in factories, which was fairly easy as there are so many things to choose from. W was surprised that things that are so different from each other can be made in similar factories. She then asked exactly how things are made, and once we had talked about that for some time, she decided she wants to own a factory when she is an adult…

On the next journey, maths was no longer the favourite – W wanted to practise phonic sounds instead. She likes to do this because I put on silly voices with each sound. It has helped her to learn, though does make my vocal chords sore after a while…

The conversation then turned to prehistoric amber, of all things. W asked if I knew how insects from the time of the dinosaurs were so well preserved. I said I didn’t and she explained how insects got trapped in tree sap a long time ago and how it turned to amber. I have no idea where she got that from.

When we got home, W  wanted to count her money in her money box to see how much she had. She needs help with this as she is not yet confident with adding multiples of tens and hundreds together, but she did do well at sorting the coins into piles of similar sizes and shapes and telling me the numbers on each coin.

On our final journey of the week, we travelled cross-country on a fast train. We played a game where you had to roll a colour dice to collect cards with train carriages on, to make a complete train out of them. W knew how many she needed to collect in total, so I asked her at various points in the game how many more she needed, so that she could practise her new maths skills. After that, it was a game of good ol’ Snap (with cards with pictures of trains on, to carry on with the theme), which she did really well at.

How do you keep your kids entertained on long journeys? Do you have any go-to toys or books that you keep especially for travelling (aside from tablets and magazines)? Do let me know. We travel a lot and some fresh ideas for entertainment in a small space would be welcome!

On top of all of the above, W also made cupcakes and managed to do most of the process herself and in the right order. She had help with the oven etc, but managed almost all of it herself.

She also got to do a lot of her favourite small-world play. We have been building furniture, including shelves and bookcases (yes, still completing the house move) and W decided, along with D, that they would turn our shelving units into giant doll’s houses. In the time that the furniture was just built and waiting for our books and ornaments to go onto them, the children had filled the units up with furniture from the doll’s house and were playing a very complicated game of houses together. It was great to watch and we actually left the shelves like that for a few days as they enjoyed playing with them so much!

18th Feb 2018 – chores

I’m interested to know people’s opinions on chores for children. Do your children do chores around the house? Do they have to, or do they just do it if they want to?

Every day, our whole family takes part in ‘tidying time’, about an hour before bedtime. We tidy everything together and then have play a board game afterwards. It is something I’ve always done with W, even when she was just a year old. It was a game then and she loved doing it. She loved finding the right places for things and putting them all away and then she used to cheer and clap at the end. I must admit that I have always liked tidying up at the end of every day. The children have all said that they really like it when the house is tidy again at the end of the day and when they get up in the morning they like being able to start (making a mess) afresh. I really like the fact that we are all involved in it and so no-one needs to get resentful or cross about having to tidy everyone’s mess by themselves.

It has made me wonder, though, whether I am too strict in doing this, if the children will end up resenting me for making me do it every day without fail (long days when we arrive home late excepted), or if I maybe don’t ask them to do enough. Tidying is really their only big chore. The only other things they have to do is to take their plates from the dinner table to the kitchen after dinner and put their dirty clothes in the wash. That’s it. I must say, they don’t complain about it generally. Obviously, we have had times when one of the children really doesn’t feel like tidying that day, but I get those days too, and I think that is normal for all of us. I think the important thing is that we all pull together to do it and make sure that we help each other so that it only takes a few minutes with 5 of us working on it!

I also find that having the incentive of playing a board game in a nice tidy room is a great motivator. There’s not many things I like more than playing a game with the whole family together at the end of a long day.

So, tell me your thoughts: how much or how little do your children do around the house and how often?

11th Feb 2018 – moving day

We had the mammoth task this week of moving house, so W was mainly occupied with packing and unpacking boxes (or overseeing the packing and unpacking instead….). It is certainly tricky to entertain small children when there is a huge task to be done. With educating at home, there is no option to do the big jobs when your children are at school for a few hours. One thing I have learned with having W with me most of the time is balance. Trying to meet her needs while also meeting mine as much as is possible. It is a difficult thing to do and I find that it is not really something that can be planned for properly because, on the day that we are super busy, our children could also need us more (especially if they are coping with a big change such as a house move) and so the usual activites that they would be happy to do on their own are no longer wanted. Instead they are wanting extra reassurance, or even just wanting to ‘help’ with whatever it is we are doing. I find that the only way through it is to set aside more time. I have found that being in a hurry just adds to my stress and the children’s stress and so less gets done and so we have less time to do it…. and the vicious cycle begins. I personally hate being up against a deadline and much prefer to do things early to get ‘ahead’ just in case of disaster later on. However, sometimes this backfires and I start too early and have to do things later all over again…

What are your best coping strategies for moving house and big changes that require lots of time? What are your go-to activities for the children to do to entertain themselves? Any ideas are welcome in the comments below.

During the move, W kept herself occupied for a short time with one of my notebooks. She wrote lots of random letters, pretending to write words and sentences. It was good writing practise for her and a good quiet activity.

W asked many questions as we were walking to get supplies, such as how dinosaur bones ended up so deep underground, how to tell whether squirrels are male or female, why dogs and cats have more nipples than us and why too much bird food is bad for the fish if it gets into a pond. We also watched some bricklayers and learned how walls are put together and why the bricks need to be wet first. All of this was while walking for about 20 minutes!

Whilst I was busy with packing and unpacking, W played a great deal with her toys. She also did a little reading practice with a short book and then did some activities and colouring in her activity books (this time she chose her Paw Patrol activity books). The removals people had a little friendly dog, so I let D and W walk him with me. They asked how dogs are trained and why, so we talked about dog behaviour for a little bit. They were very calm and gentle with the dog and the dog was very tolerant of them.

The next time we were on another errand, we saw a bus being repaired. W got to look at the engine and asked me how it works and why it makes a noise, so we had a chat about that in simple terms.

Back at home, while we were packing, W completed another lot of activity pages including ten dot-to-dot pages, two colouring pages and one page of matching letters to objects in her ‘First Learning’ books. She read some of ‘Jen the Hen’ again and then identified the letters in her alphabet book.

Midweek, we went to the home-ed social group in our town and played Hedbanz, where she had to ask questions to work out what was on her card. She found it fun and then had more fun playing with the other children. There were all ages there, but W gravitated towards the ones she knows, who were aged between 2 and 6 years old.

On the way home from there, W asked about how fossils are formed, so we watched 3 videos about that on YouTube Kids when we got home. She then asked how the dinosaurs died, so we also watched two videos about that too. There seems to be a theme lately with W’s questions and she is really interested in dinosaurs. I asked if she would like to start a project on dinosaurs and she was very enthusiastic, so that is what our first project will be. Watch this space….

14th Jan 2018 – Our learning diary begins

We begin at the start of the new year.

And we start with a morning bath. W wanted to play with the Foam Bath letters. She named them as she played and then we put them in alphabetical and numerical order. W is used to lower-case letters so far, but these foam letters are upper-case, so she asked me what some of them were and learned a few of these that she didn’t know before.

When we popped out to see friends, W asked if I had a pen and paper. I gave her an old leaflet to write on and she was happy to entertain herself with that for a while. When it was time to go, I realised that she had been copying the words on the leaflet. It was great writing practise for her, and although she doesn’t know what the words say yet, it was good for her to practise forming those letters and numbers.

I love the fact that learning happens so organically when you let it. I do not push W to sit down and learn, but I do try to take every opportunity that I can to assist her with her own learning. My hope is that she will continue to ask questions and be eager to learn, as long as I don’t force the issue. I may be naive in this and it may be that W stops wanting to seek information in this way. If that happens, I will have to re-think my plans, but for now, this is how we roll.

Every day, we play a board game before bed. One of them is this Snakes and Ladders game. Our board games teach various skills and this time, W was able to recognise the number on the dice without counting the dots. She also learned what some numbers up to 100 look like as these are displayed on the game board and we I pointed them out when she landed on them.

At bedtime, D (7) wanted to read her one of her fabulous Lift-the-Flap Science and General Knowledge books to W. These are great books with short sections introducing scientific concepts and interesting facts. The great thing about them is that they are lift-the-flap books, but for older kids. They are a real hit at the moment and W particularly enjoyed the parts on atoms and DNA.

We had to travel to west London later in the week and the conversation was definitely flowing during the journey! W asked about the seasons and which order they occur; how underground tunnels are built and maintained; what the safety features are on the underground; why tall buildings are built; how water pipes are repaired and how builders work. We covered all of this as we were looking at the things around us. I find that when we touch on subjects during conversation, we build on them later in more depth.

W has a collection of Shopkins at the moment, which she really likes. I wasn’t sure about them at first because I couldn’t see any educational value to them or a purpose other than simply collecting them. However, I have seen that W likes to categorise them and arrange them in different ways. This week, she wanted to sort them into colour groups. When she had done that, she decided that each colour group was a class at a school. She then ‘taught’ the Shopkins the alphabet – it was very sweet to watch and I see that most toys can have an educational value when children are just left to play in their own way.

As we had a family birthday coming up this week, I asked W if she would like to write in a card herself, or if she would like me to do it for her (she is having a phase of wanting to do things by herself, so I knew there was a chance she would try to do it herself). I wrote the words that she wanted to write on a separate piece of paper and she copied them into the card. We don’t work on traditional letter formation yet – I am just letting her form letters herself in the way that she wants to. I figured that, if her letters end up looking as they should in the end, then that is great, but if they are not legible in the future, we can work on the details then. I guess, at this stage, I am worried that I might discourage her from writing in the future if we focus too much on ‘perfection’ now.

W really loves her Lego sets and later wanted to set up a ‘world’ with some sets so that her minifigures could have an adventure with the vehicles and castles. I cannot express enough the benefit that W has had from her Lego sets. She has learned so much from simply building them (learning to rotate an object in space and to think logically in order to follow step-by-step instructions). There is also the huge benefit that is gained from the imaginative play with the figures, animals and small-world objects. Her favourite sets at the moment are Belle’s Enchanted Castle and Cinderella’s Carriage.

Another thing that W really wanted to do this week was to make some soap. After a bit of thought, I decided that we could get some inexpensive Soap Base to melt and pour into some silicone ice cube moulds that we already have. To make them interesting, we put a Shopkin into each one, so that as the soap gets used, a little toy appears!

We melted the soap in the microwave (it melts at a fairly low temperature) and talked about solids turning into liquids as they are heated. W picked her favourite Shopkins to go into the moulds and helped to pour the liquid soap in. This is a great activity for small children as the soap sets quite quickly and you can see the results in no time!

At the end of the week, I was quite surprised to see how much learning had happened as we went about our daily life. We are not doing anything formal at the moment (especially as W is not at compulsory school age yet), but learning is still taking place whether we plan for it or not, and before I wrote this down, I didn’t appreciate quite how much there was.

Any home educators reading this who also keep a diary: was there less or more learning happening than you expected? I’d love to hear your examples.