My daughter is 3 almost 4 years old, and I have been looking into homeschooling. However I have no idea where to start. I’m not even sure if I can be the one to do so or if I can pay someone to homeschool her because I can’t afford not to work. (I’m a single woman with two kids, so without my income we have nothing.) I could really use some advice or any guidance you can give me. — Joanna
Thank you for writing, Joanna.
This is a great time for you to start thinking about how you might want to approach homeschooling. Let’s face it, sending your daughter to public school or public pre-K would be the easiest choice. Free childcare! Someone else taking responsibility for her learning to hold a pencil, read, add and subtract. All that invaluable “socialization.” Oh my goodness, that sounds tempting. But there’s a reason you’re not counting down the days until someone else can take over. I’m thrilled that you’re considering homeschooling.
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In your follow-up email, you shared that you are currently living in New York, which is one of the most heavily regulated states in regard to homeschooling. Thankfully, you do not need to be a certified teacher, but you will need to submit an Individualized Home Instruction Plan (IHIP) to your District Superintendent, among other bureaucratic requirements.
For more information about New York’s homeschool regulations, start here. Be sure to take a look at several sources to make sure you have a complete understanding of the requirements in your state. They may seem overwhelming, but….
What I want you to keep in mind is that you absolutely CAN do it. There are single working moms out there right now doing it. You can too. They’re not all superwomen. They’re just like you. They are your tribe.
Here are some ideas for connecting with them for support and advice:
- Search for local homeschool groups or co-ops to join on Facebook
- These local groups will be wonderful for helping you navigate the intimidating bureaucratic requirements in your state and providing reassurance
- Local Facebook groups often allow B/S/T (buy, sell, trade) of used curriculums or other great homeschool supplies
- Use Pinterest to find blogs by single working moms who homeschool, and follow not only their Pinterest boards, but their blogs:
- Check with your local library and museums, etc. for activities geared to homeschoolers
- Follow hashtags like #homeschool on Instagram for fun and inspiration
One of the best things about homeschooling is that you don’t need to recreate the public school experience at home. Some parents choose to do just that, and they buy school desks, set up homeschool rooms, purchase expensive curriculums and even have their children raise their hands to ask questions and call them Mrs. So-and-so. Phew. That sounds exhausting and artificial to me.
The average public school day is filled with so much wasted time and bureaucracy that you can shave off hours from your daily homeschool schedule. There’s no waiting in lines, waiting for 30 kids to quiet down, waiting for each child to raise their hand and ask a question, waiting in the lunch line, waiting for worksheets or homework to be passed out, etc. etc. etc. At your daughter’s age, several 15-minute activities mixed into a day filled with active and imaginative play is all she really needs!
How can you fit homeschooling and work into your days?
Homeschooling doesn’t need to happen during specific hours of the day. In the early childhood education years, you don’t need to spend more than 15 minutes or so at a time on a specific activity. You could practice phonics over breakfast, play a counting game between lunch and naptime, do some tracing or letter writing before making dinner, and then read 2-3 stories before bedtime.
The key is just to be consistent with your schedule, whatever it may be. If your work schedule begins later in the day, you could do most of these activities in the morning with breaks in between to get the wiggles out while you throw in a load of laundry. Some families find that their most productive hours are in the later afternoon or evening. It really depends on where you can consistently find the time. Because you’re lucky enough to have a relative providing childcare, maybe some of these activities can also take place while you’re at work if you provide the schedule and materials.
I’d say that the most important thing you can do is to begin and end the day together with an enjoyable learning activity, whatever that may be.
One great tool that we use in our homeschool is a Kindle Fire Kids Edition, which came with a free one-year FreeTime Unlimited subscription. Bryn uses her “iPad” every morning to play educational games (like Teach Your Monster to Read and Elmo ABCs) and videos (like Daniel Tiger or Octonauts). It has been an amazing tool for helping her independently learn the alphabet, counting, colors, the concept of tracing, and even social skills and emotional regulation. I’m not a fan of junk TV and shoot-em-up video games, but through this particular device, she has access to an entire world of age-appropriate fun and educational activities.
Netflix can be another great resource for homeschooling. Bryn can tell you all about domestic cats from watching The Lion in Your Living Room while I’m making dinner in the evening. Documentaries are a great tool for busy homeschooling parents and curious kids. One day when Bryn’s grandpa was visiting, he was saying something about a siphon on a rain barrel, and Bryn interjected, “Octopuses have siphons, Grandpa, so they can go whoosh really fast in the water!” Guess where she learned that? It was either one of her Netflix documentaries or her recent activity box about octopuses from Ivy Kids.
How can you afford it?
Homeschooling doesn’t have to be prohibitively expensive. When you first start researching different curriculums, you will see plenty of costly grade-level packages that can run thousands of dollars per year. But there are plenty of other options out there that can get you started much more cost-effectively:
- Look for wiggle room in your budget. Back-to-school clothes and classroom supply lists? Just pick out one cute outfit for that obligatory back-to-(home)school photo each year. There’s no need for a whole new wardrobe to impress the other parents. Of course you will want to stock up on school supplies when they go on sale each August, but you don’t need to worry about that classroom supply list of extra glue sticks, tissues or hand sanitizer.
- Shop Target’s Dollar Spot, Dollar Tree and Walmart, especially in August, for great inexpensive workbooks, flashcards and lots of other awesome educational activities and learning tools. You can build an entire early learning curriculum really inexpensively.
- Invest in an inexpensive home printer and download free printables and lesson plans. Pinterest is the motherlode of homeschooling ideas, but it’s easy to become overwhelmed. I’d take no more than an hour a week to research and print just a few activities that your daughter can work on fairly independently.
- There are also a ton of free homeschool planners available for download on Pinterest. The key is finding one that fits your personality and planning style. If one doesn’t work for you, just try another! Luckily, as a homeschooling parent, you have so much more freedom than a public school teacher. You can tailor everything you do to meet the needs of you and your children.
- Reuse everything you can. If you buy an inexpensive laminator, you can protect some of those worksheets or workbook pages and use them again and again. I particularly like to print do-a-dot worksheets, laminate them, and then have Bryn apply little stickers from the dollar store to each dot. You can also use a dry erase marker on laminated worksheets for tracing, spelling, pretty much everything else!Dry erase markers are your friend.
- Books, books and more books. I’m a huge believer in the power of literacy to fuel a lifetime of learning. You can never have too many books, and they don’t all need to be specific to your child’s age. I recently scored 98 books for $20 at a local used bookstore, and you can bet I grabbed interesting looking chapter books, a book about the French language, half a dozen history books, everything. The more books you can fill your home with, the better. She will grow into them all eventually, and even just flipping through pages before she’s able to read independently has value.
- If you have family that buys toys for gifts, ask for memberships or give suggestions for educational toys and activities instead. Some ideas might include the local zoo or aquarium, petting zoo, gymnastics studio, community center classes, monthly activity box subscriptions (like Ivy Kids or Koala Crate), etc.
- Check out your local library. They may have a calendar packed with activities that are free or low cost. A few weeks ago, we spent two hours at our local library for a science discovery day event. It was awesome, and they had plenty of toys and activities for the kids to do that didn’t cost a cent!
What about when she’s older?
The big question you’ll need to think about is what you’re going to do for childcare when your daughter is old enough for public school. Is her grandmother willing to continue to provide childcare? From a safety and legal standpoint, age 12 is generally considered the earliest a child can safely be left home alone. But really, it would be very isolating for any child to spend the majority of their days home alone, expected to study independently. That’s when public school can suddenly seem like a good answer. The only answer, even.
What else can you do? Start NOW to lay the groundwork for a work-at-home career that allows you to be home with your children every day. Ideally, you want to have lots of flexibility to go to the library, explore local parks, visit science museums and other “field trips,” but even an hourly virtual assistant or customer service job can work.
A book I highly recommend is The Four-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss. He has some great ideas for creating a lifestyle that allows the most possible freedom to pursue your real passions — in this case, homeschooling your children. Based on what you shared about your current job, I would personally urge you consider becoming a virtual assistant (VA). You could start by working for a VA company or find your own clients and do it as an independent contractor or small business. There are plenty of examples of homeschooling moms making this work, and they’re easy to find on Pinterest.
I’ve given you a lot to consider, I know. And no matter what, it’s going to be daunting. But single working moms are some of the strongest, most resilient people in the world. When you feel like you’ve hit an insurmountable obstacle in your path toward homeschooling, take a deep breath and remind yourself that there are always new, undiscovered options. If you clear your mind, they will come to you. Be patient with yourself. You can do this.
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