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Single Parent Homeschooling

Let’s face it:  single parent homescholing intensifies the challenges of homeschooling.

As a single parent homeschooling, the number-one question people ask me (usually with a breathless air of amazement) is “How do you do it all?” Single parent homeschooling is increasing and those single parents who choose to educate their children at home testifies that it can work. Tips from a veteran, Mary Jo TateSingle parent homeschooling is increasing and those single parents who choose to educate their children at home testifies that it can work.

In most two-parent homeschooling families, the dad takes primary responsibility for earning the living while the mom takes primary responsibility for educating the children. The labor is divided, and the support is multiplied. Although there are also many two-parent families where both parents contribute to the education and the finances—occasionally through a family business—a single mom (or a single dad) is solely responsible for both. The labor is multiplied, and support may be nonexistent.

As a single parent homeschooling, the number-one question people ask me (usually with a breathless air of amazement) is “How do you do it all?”

My answer comes in two parts: 1) I didn’t, and 2) I redefine “all.”

 

Don’t Be a Lone Ranger

None of us, whether single or married, can homeschool by relying on her (or his) own power. However, God’s grace is sufficient for us, for His strength is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t confess that some days I really didn’’t know how I was going to make it. There just wasn’t not enough of me to go around! On those days I wrestled with exhaustion, discouragement, loneliness, and frustration. I have discovered, though, that I struggle hardest when I’m focused on my circumstances and inadequacies rather than on the love and providence of God. I need to turn my gaze toward heaven and remember to “be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (Ephesians 6:10).

God has indeed always proven faithful: “A father of the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in His holy habitation” (Psalm 68:5). He provided for all our needs through work I did at home, help from my parents, supportive friends, and the loving ministry of a godly church.

A support network is helpful for any homeschooler, but it’s particularly crucial for single parents, who lack the help and sounding board of a spouse. Get involved in a local church and ask folks there to pray for you. Seek out a homeschooling support group in your area. Nurture godly friendships. I frequently consulted a few close friends about choices in training and educating my children and sought advice about business matters from fellow Christian entrepreneurs who share my family-centered priorities.

There Are Only Twenty-Four Hours in a Day

Time is your most precious commodity when you are running a single parent homeschool. You can earn more money, but you can never have more than twenty-four hours in a day. So time management is a critical skill for single parent homeschoolers to learn.

Just as the three most important factors in real estate are location, location, and location, the three most important tasks for single parents are prioritize, prioritize, and prioritize. Learn to say no to the “good” in order to say yes to the best. Limit your outside commitments—too many extracurricular activities can crash an already crowded schedule and steal precious family time. You don’t have to forego such opportunities entirely; just be highly selective.

As a single parent homeschooling, the number-one question people ask me (usually with a breathless air of amazement) is “How do you do it all?” Single parent homeschooling is increasing and those single parents who choose to educate their children at home testifies that it can work. Tips from a veteran, Mary Jo Tate

Routine tasks such as grocery shopping, errands, and medical appointments can easily consume far too much time if you’re not careful. I’ve noticed that I feel most overwhelmed when I’m on the go too much. Try to consolidate any errands that require leaving the house and schedule them for one day a week.

The concept of “opportunity cost” has revolutionized my thinking about prioritizing. Every choice you make has a potential opportunity cost. Although this may seem counterintuitive to frugal homeschoolers, spending an extra hour driving to several different stores to save $5.00 on groceries may not necessarily mean you saved $5.00. If by working that hour you could have earned $20.00, you actually lost $15.00 in order to “save” $5.00. I reluctantly realized that the time I spent running around to yard sales every Saturday morning would be much better used by earning income.

Multitasking is one of my top survival tips. This strategy works well for both parents and children. I start a load of laundry or dust a bookcase when I’m on the phone, and I pay bills or file papers during teleconferences. I have taught phonics lessons in waiting rooms, explained basic business concepts in the emergency room, and discussed history and current events in the checkout line at the grocery store. My boys listened to tapes or watch educational videos while they folded laundry. We redeemed time in the car by listening to books on tape or reviewing spelling, math facts, or grammar rules.

Making Single Parent Homeschooling Work

If you are part of a single parent homeschool, be realistic in your expectations, particularly about how much time you can devote to direct instruction of your children. It simply may not be possible for your homeschool to match your highest aspirations, but you can still make it work. My ideal homeschooling scenario includes hours of daily reading aloud to my children, discussing ideas at great length, intensive one-on-one tutoring, and so on, but the necessity of my earning a living simply precludes much of that. I would love to build my own eclectic educational program from scratch, but it’s much more practical for me to use at least some prepared curriculum. I’ve learned to come up with a realistic educational plan that we can actually implement rather than wasting time fretting over the gap between theory and practice.

For example, it makes sense to teach the children together whenever possible. Skills such as math and phonics need to be taught at individual levels, of course, but most subjects can be taught across multiple ages. We usually began our school time with the whole family coming together for Bible reading, prayer, Scripture memorization, poetry, and classic literature. Then the boys split up for independent work and one-on-one instruction from me.

 

Children of varying ages can all study the same period of history, the same topics in science, or the same region of geography with independent assignments requiring varying levels of difficulty. When we studied American history, for example, we were involved in a weekly co-op where the boys did hands-on activities and presented reports. During the week, Forrest (13) read high-school and adult-level history books, Andrew (10) read intermediate-level books, and Andrew also read easier books aloud to Perry (8).

As soon as my children became competent readers, I encouraged independent learning wherever possible. I would prefer a leisurely family-wide read-aloud time for history, but most of the time it’s more practical to have the boys read on their own and use our time together to narrate, answer questions, or discuss what they have read.

Learning to take responsibility for their own education teaches children important skills that will be useful when they go off to college and/or adulthood. Independent learning also offers the opportunity for each child to pursue his own special interests. Forrest’s passions were history and business. Andrew was a scientist and mathematician, and Perry was a talented artist.

You can delegate some instruction to older children. I took responsibility for introducing new concepts in math and phonics, for example, but Andrew helped Perry review phonics flashcards, listened to him practice reading aloud, and instructed him on his map work. Perry helped Thomas learn his letters and numbers and taught him how to draw simple figures.

You can also delegate to technological tutors, but be sure to keep in mind the hazards of allowing too much computer or video time. Forrest and Andrew are currently learning how to type with a computer-based instruction program, and we’ll soon be adding computer-based foreign language study. Audiotapes or CDs can be great aids for reviewing math facts, history dates, and so on, and recorded books can supplement live read-aloud time. My boys enjoyed listening to Diana Waring’s history tapes and Jim Weiss’s storytelling tapes as they drifted off to sleep each night.

Systematize for Success

Another helpful single parent homeschooling strategy is to establish systems that make things run more smoothly. Some families find that a strict time-based schedule works well. A more flexible approach works better for my family, so I plan more in terms of a routine (things usually happening in a predictable sequence) rather than a schedule (things happening at a specific time).

I have found two systems that work well for my family. Our system for homeschooling involved weekly assignment sheets and an inbox/outbox system. I planned specific daily assignments a week at a time, typed them, and printed out a list for each child. This helped ensure that the boys knew what to do, even if I’m not available. I listed all independent lessons, as well as the studies that require my direct instruction or that we’ll do as a family, such as Bible, poetry, and reading aloud. The boys checked off each lesson as they complete it. Our rule for schoolwork and chores was that it’s not finished until it’s checked off the list!

The assignment sheets doubled as my record-keeping system. Because I typed them on the computer, I made any needed adjustments (sometimes life disrupts the best-laid plans), printed out a clean copy, and saved it in a binder that provides a permanent record of their work.

We kept stackable trays (available at office supply stores) in our school area, on top of a short bookcase that holds current school books, binders, dictionaries, etc. Each child had an inbox where I put his assignment sheet and any papers needed for that week’s lessons, such as maps, worksheets, math tests, etc. The boys put their completed work in the top tray, which serves as their outbox and my inbox. After I checked their work, I discussed it with them, if needed, and then transfered the papers to another stack of trays. The boys then added those pages to their binders or folders.

As a single parent homeschooling, the number-one question people ask me (usually with a breathless air of amazement) is “How do you do it all?” Single parent homeschooling is increasing and those single parents who choose to educate their children at home testifies that it can work. Tips from a veteran, Mary Jo Tate

To deal with the rest of life beyond homeschool, my other system is a chart with an undated four-week grid for each child, listing all daily household chores and personal responsibilities. (I use a simple Excel spreadsheet, but you could draw a basic grid with a pen and ruler.) For example, Andrew’s chart includes the following: Make bed before breakfast, brush teeth after breakfast, read Bible, brush teeth after lunch, complete all school assignments, clean the table after supper and sweep, brush teeth before bedtime, clean the litter box and feed cats, put dirty clothes in hamper, put away clean laundry, and drink four glasses of water. These detailed lists are taped to the refrigerator to remind each child of what he needs to do, free me from repeating routine instructions, and allow me to see at a glance which chores have been completed.

My children did nearly all of our housework. I used two principles for assigning chores: 1) Divide repetitive tasks and 2) assign work to the youngest child capable. Each of the older three boys was responsible for cleaning the table and sweeping the kitchen and dining room after a specific meal, which prevented debate about whose turn it was. When emptying the dishwasher, a taller child put away glasses and plates into high cabinets, and a shorter child put away items that belong in drawers and low cabinets. The two middle boys do most of the laundry folding, and the oldest three all put away their own clothes, plus another category of laundry: towels, my clothes, and the youngest’s clothes. I usually assigned my four-year-old to pick up things from the floor—after all, he was closest to it!

Balancing Work and Family As A Single Parent Homeschooling Parent

The necessity of providing for our families financially, in addition to training and educating our children, often presents the biggest challenge to single parents. Just as some two-parent families use creative scheduling (such as evening lessons) to maximize the children’s time with Dad, single parent homeschoolers can take advantage of the flexibility of homeschooling to meet their families’ unique needs.

Working from home has long been popular with homeschoolers, and this can be a particularly good option for those running who are involved in single parent homeschooling.

I work at home as a freelance editor, writer, and writing coach. Typically, I concentrated my instructional time with the boys in the mornings and assigned them independent lessons, chores, and free time in the afternoons while I worked. I also worked in the evenings, often after they went to bed. (As you can imagine, it’s easier to concentrate when the house is quiet.) Because my boys visited their father two weekends a month, I reserved that alone time primarily for work to free up more of my time when they were at home. I also tried to schedule a relaxing break for myself while they were gone. This might take the form of lunch with a friend, a movie, or a couple of hours with a good novel.

Including your children in your work, when possible, is also helpful. Andrew did all my photocopying for a penny a page, and Forrest went with me to entrepreneurial conferences, where he learned skills that would help him support a family someday. Depending on their ages, children can learn to design or maintain websites, answer calls from customers, pack and ship orders, take inventory, and many other business tasks.

If the kind of work you do cannot be done at home, perhaps you can rearrange your work schedule to maximize your time at home. A family friend who lost his wife to cancer shifted his work schedule as a piano tuner to two ten-to-twelve-hour days a week so that he can be home with his two young sons most days. He hires homeschool graduates to care for his boys and home on his work days, and his mother and sisters help out occasionally as well. Because he is working more efficiently with this concentrated schedule, he is still earning about 75 percent of his previous full-time income.

Finding Time for Fun

Finally, don’t neglect to make time for fun together as a family. Particularly when you work at home, it can be difficult to identify when the “work day” is over. I know just how hard it can be to pull away when deadlines are looming and the electric bill is due, but taking a break is good for you as well as your children, and it can actually make your work time more efficient. My boys knew that no matter how busy I was during the week, on Friday night I was all theirs. Family Night was a firm commitment around our home.

As a single parent homeschooling, the number-one question people ask me (usually with a breathless air of amazement) is “How do you do it all?” Single parent homeschooling is increasing and those single parents who choose to educate their children at home testifies that it can work. Tips from a veteran, Mary Jo Tate

God Is Faithful in Your Single Parent Homeschooling Journey

If God has called you to homeschool your children, He will provide you the strength, patience, grace, resources, and time to do it. Let your family and your life be a testimony of God’s faithfulness.

Even with all the systems and routines I’ve described here that helped me survive single parent homeschooling, things didn’t always go exactly as I’ve planned. But through God’s grace, my children aregrew, learned, and flourished—right here at home with me. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

If you enjoyed this article,  check out Getting Started Homeschooling and the devotional Rooted in Christ and

 


Mary Jo Tate, author of Flourish: Balance for Homeschool Moms, is blessed with four wonderful sons and homeschooled all of them. She teaches homeschoolers, single moms, and work-at-home moms how to balance family life and home business, as well as how to find peace in the space between the ideal and reality. An international editor and book coach for over 25 years, Mary Jo specializes in helping entrepreneurs, speakers, and other experts author books ­–whether or not they can write. She hosts the “Flourish at Home” radio show for the Ultimate Homeschool Radio Network and is the author of How Do You Do It All? Proven Strategies for Balancing Family Life and Home Business in the Real World; Critical Companion to F. Scott Fitzgerald; and Get Started as a Freelance Editor. A lifelong bibliophile, Mary Jo loves to share her passion for reading and writing. She has a heart to help, encourage, and inspire other homeschoolers. Visit Mary Jo’s blog at www.FlourishAtHome.com for a free e-book, From Frazzled to Focused.

 

 

 

 

As a single parent homeschooling, the number-one question people ask me (usually with a breathless air of amazement) is “How do you do it all?” Single parent homeschooling is increasing and those single parents who choose to educate their children at home testifies that it can work. Tips from a veteran, Mary Jo Tate

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