How to Homeschool and Still Get Your Work Done

Like many of you, I’ve found myself with my 3 kids at home for the next month, with an email from the school informing us that my kids were to “continue their education at home until the status of the Coronavirus changes.” 

My first reaction was panic; then stress began to creep in. Wait.a.minute! I’ve done this before! I’ve homeschooled our three kids for 4 out of the last 5 years, and this was the first year that two of them returned to traditional school. 

Fuentes kids homeschooling - is homeschooling the right thing for your family?

My friends, who are well aware of our homeschooling adventures, began to message me on social channels and via text seeking help. 

This post will cover:

This isn’t a blog post about how to select the right homeschooling program for your kid; your school or school district should have sent some information about how to best continue their learning at home. If not, check out K-12 online. It’s a program that most states recognize.

In this post I want to address what most of us parents fear most: how am I going to manage to have the kids at home, getting them to do their school work, preparing meals non-stop, and still get some of the things (or work) done myself?

How do you homeschool?

From our experience, homeschooling is not about standing up in front of your child, with a whiteboard and dry-erase marker on hand and becoming their teacher for each and all subjects.

Homeschooling is about guiding your child’s learning through a set curriculum so that they can continue their educational process. 

Think about when your child stays home for a few days and the teacher sends home a “make-up folder.” It’s more work than regular homework, but less than going to school all day.

How long does it take to teach my child?

Over the years, my husband and I have experienced just how efficient homeschooling is when it comes to teaching our kids. After the first couple of days, you’ll be asking yourself a different question; more along the lines of “what do I do with all this free time?” More on that below.

Homeschooling is a very efficient way of learning. Your sole mission as a parent is to keep your child focused on the task at hand, so each subject and assignment can be completed quickly.

You’ll soon find that you get through math in about 20 minutes, social studies in another 15-20, and so forth. 

My biggest advice when it comes to teaching your child (or children) a subject, is to not spend too much time on each subject. Limit each subject to about 20 “focused” minutes. Then a quick bread or recess.

Keeping kids on track at home

Of course, kids will be kids and they rather play X-box or watch television than do their school work. As parents, we know this so we wonder how can we keep our kids on track at home so they get all their schoolwork done?

Here are some tips:

  1. Create a “flexible” schedule you and your child can follow
  2. When beginning a new task/subject, have your child read the directions out loud and tell you what they are going to do. 
  3. Come up with a reward for their focused time. This means “when you get X done, you can do Y.”
  4. Remind them that they need to ask for help when they are “stuck” since the clock is ticking.
  5. Begin with the least favorite tasks first, and finish with what your child looks forward to doing.

How to balance work and emergency homeschooling

Maybe you’re a little like my family during this emergency homeschooling situation. You have the kids at home and are also working your regular job from home.

This requires a balance between your child’s needs and your own; because let’s get real, your job (and your spouses) is what pays the bills, right?

It’s important that you make it clear to your kids that when mom or dad are on the computer (or on the phone doing client calls), that is your “work time.”

When my kids were younger, I would schedule my focused work time around their nap times, playtime, outside time, electronics time, and so on. Basically, if my children were “free” from their school work, that is when I went to work myself -and yes, sometimes… I had to step outside.

laura fuentes working

The working time is reversed. During their learning, you supervise them and do things like fold clothes, prep food, or put away dishes -only when they don’t need your help.

While they are “having fun” that’s when you switch gears, stop doing anything and everything that has to do with cooking/cleaning/housework and get to work.

Of course, if your kids are older and are more self-sufficient, you’ll be able to work while they work. I didn’t find this the case when my kids were younger.

Making Your Homeschool Schedule

Your child’s days at school are extremely structured, so the more structure you can give them at home, the better! This doesn’t mean you have to set up an alarm or a bell that will ring when the “period” is over, but it does mean that work must be done during their best hours, which generally means in the morning.

Typical at-home school schedule:

  • 7:30 am – 9:00 am: wake up, breakfast, change clothes, make beds.
  • 9:00 am school begins
  • 12:00 pm lunch
  • 12:30 pm school resumes
  • 2:00 pm school ends
  • 2-5 pm free play
  • 5-6 pm chores
  • 6-7 pm dinner
  • 7-9 pm evening routine (showers/chores/etc)

You’ll notice that I didn’t break up the 9 am to 2 pm schedule into subjects. I only made a set time for lunch. This reminds kids that the kitchen isn’t always open (so you don’t become their cook) and that a break is coming.

I always pack a small snack by each child to enjoy in the morning between 9 and noon while they get work done as well as a large bottle of water filled with water by their side.

At first, kids will ask to go to the bathroom, get up endlessly to check on something, and whatnot. The more you remind them that all work must be completed during the scheduled school time, the more they’ll get used to this new schedule. 

What happens when schoolwork doesn’t get finished before 2 pm? Then, it’s up to them to finish it during their “free play” time. Free play is outside time, electronics, crafts, or reading, for example.

crafts at home are part of homeschooling

The first thing my kids loose is their electronics time since this is their most coveted time block!

Remember, to keep your child working for 20-30 minutes at a time on the same subject, and then take a 10-minute break in between to clear their head.

Should you find yourself and your child with “free time” before 2pm, check out the list of board games and other activities below.

How long does it take to cook meals?

It’s important you set up a kitchen schedule. All meals are to be eaten during those times. The rest of the time, the kitchen will remain closed. 

My kitchen schedule (roughly) looks like this:

  • 8:00 – 8:30 am breakfast
  • 12:00-12:30 pm lunch
  • 4:00-4:15 pm small snack
  • 6:00-7:00 pm dinner

It’s my responsibility to either delegate or meal prep some of the other meals while the kitchen is already messy so that when the time is up, everyone can be focused on what they have to do for the day. 

meal prep fridge

If your family has been roaming the pantry for years, this might be an adjustment; but it’s important to communicate that being home is no different than being at school; there are set hours for meals and activities. 

If you’re thinking, there’s no way I can make food and clean up lunch in just 30 minutes! I get you. I can’t either. This is why I also pack lunches or prep them (for the most part) so all I have to do is minimally assemble or heat up.

Taking a few minutes to prep will be one of your biggest time savers each day! Trust me.

How to Work From Home

Some of us are now in full “remote work” which means we have to work from home. However, not all of us have a home office from which to work, right?

One of the biggest keys to work-at-home success is designating a working area. Nope, you can’t just work from bed (though PJ pants are allowed), you need to find a place in your home to set up your computer and get in a good space mentally to do your best work.

If you don’t have a special office room, that’s okay! A corner of the dining room table will work! We currently have my husband on one end, one kid in the middle, and my stuff on the other end.

We built makeshift desks in my boys’ room for them to work and moved all electronics out of their bedrooms and into the living room.

Kids need to know that boundaries are in place and that when you’re in your working area, they shouldn’t bother you unless absolutely necessary. Working areas are like the library, when you see someone there, you know they are working and they should be respectful.

The truth is, that many mornings I wake up early just to get some work done before everyone is up. With coffee in hand, I’ll sort through my email, get organized for the day, and tackle the most important stuff only.

laura fuentes working home

Working in Batches

When you start working from home, productivity is going to be the most important thing. Especially when your kids are home with you, every moment counts!

Batching work is a massive productivity hack that working parents can take advantage of. Batching is when you group similar tasks together so you can get them all done at once.

When kids are home, this looks different than it might in an office. I will save my most difficult tasks to get done in one chunk and give my kids something fun to do while I tackle those projects.

For me, these are jobs that require the most creativity like writing posts or strategically planning content. Depending on your job your hardest tasks that require kids to be the quietest might be different, but the strategy can be the same!

Find a new movie, or board game they’ll love, give them a break from school, so you know they won’t need your help and tell them you need the next hour or two you need them to be quiet so you can work.

This will help make sure your hardest, most important work gets your best hours of the day, and you won’t be dealing with homework help in the middle of an important work project.

What to do with all that free time when homeschooling

I’m not going to lie, the first week is an adjustment. After that, you’ll soon notice that there is a lot of “free time” gaps that need to be filled in between study time and in the afternoon.

You’re probably wondering how to keep your child from hitting up the electronic devices -this seems to be the default for many of our kids- so here are my tips:

image: two boys on bikes outside
  1. Fill the time with a quick outdoor activity. Whether its walking the dog, throwing the ball with the dog, washing bikes with the hose, and more, get the kids outside in 10-minute breaks in between learning times.
  2. Fold laundry. Gasp! YES. I’m looking at you. The parent that does everything for their kids. Quick household chores, like folding or putting away clothes, are done during those short breaks too.
  3. Fill the dishwasher. This is not your job. It’s everyone’s job. With everyone at home, there will be more meals made from scratch and therefore, more cleanup. Again, it’s everyone’s job, you just have to ask.
  4. Household chores. Clean the bathroom, Windex the mirrors, dust, vacuum one room… these are all short tasks that can be done in less than ten minutes.
  5. Prep meals. There are a lot of things that can be done during the day, that are age-appropriate, where your child can assist. The more they do, the less you’ll feel overwhelmed.

If you’re thinking, there’s no way my kids are going to help with household chores, then there’s no way you are preparing your child for their future. Harsh, I know. My friend Melissa told me these words when I asked her “how do you get your kids to help out at the house?”

Your job during this time is to be the leader of your home -along with your spouse- so everyone knows what’s expected. Leaders lead their teams (and families) through tough times by establishing guidelines and set expectations, your job is no different. 

By taking the lead, your child will feel more secure about what is happening around them, even during times of uncertainty.

More educational resources

If your school hasn’t assigned official homework, there are still several resources you can take advantage of to help your kids stay on track learning at home. 

  • Drive-thru libraries: Check your local library to see if they offer a drive-thru option. Many will allow you to order books online and pick them up at the window to help with social distancing. 
  • Online reading: You can also download Overdrive or the Libby app to get free ebooks and audiobooks straight from your local library. If your library doesn’t have what you’re looking for, you can grab an audible membership to get access to even more audiobooks for kids and adults! 
  • Online Games: There are so many free educational resources online now, and you can find lots of games and activities for kids to do that are both educational and fun! ABCYA is a great one for younger kids who may not be assigned a lot of homework from your school district. The games on this site are categorized by grade level so you can be sure your child is playing at the right difficulty for their age.
  • The Family Learning Company: Whether you’re homeschooling or just looking for a great program to supplement what your child is already doing at school, check out the family learning company. With focus on learning to read and working together as a family this is a fun positive family-centered program with materials in both English and Spanish!
  • Take an online museum tour: Lots of museums allow you to take virtual tours of their facilities and this is a great way to see some important historical sites, even if you are stuck at home for a few weeks! 
  • Youtube Channels: For kids who want to watch something fun, try an educational youtube channel Two of our favorites are Mystery Doug (for younger kids) and SmarterEveryDay (for older kids). Both channels are clean and kid-friendly. Your kids will have a lot of their Science questions answered on these channels with fun videos! 

Fun & Educational Board Games

image: mom standing in front of game closet

Dots & Mazes – These re-useable game sheets are a great way to keep younger kids entertained while the older kids do homework and you get some work done. When they finish a sheet, they can always erase it and start over!

Sneaky Squirrel Game – This is a cooperative board game, meaning your kids will work together to beat the game. Why is this important? Because you won’t be called away from your desk to settle any rules disputes or accusations of cheating. They’ll work together, so you can get work done!

Pandemic – This is a fun, cooperative board game for older kids. It’s also a great way to teach them what exactly is happening in the world right now, without scaring them or making them watch the news.

Minecraft Strategy Game If you’re worried about screentime taking over the next few weeks, get the kids offline with this Minecraft board game. It’s strategic, fun and completely different every time you play, so they won’t get tired of playing it, even if school is out for a long time!

I hope this post was helpful when it comes to managing your time and getting started. If there’s one thing I want you to remember from this is that you can, and you will get through this time. 

Your children need you to lead them just as much as they need love. You’re doing a great job so far. Remember, every day is different so take it one day at a time.

Tell me in the comments, what are you struggling with when it comes to managing your time and homeschooling?

March 16, 2020

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