Thursday, September 14, 2006

Homeschooling, with a Full-Time Job

Today's Wall Street Journal has a fascinating piece from Sue Shellenbarger on parents who homeschool their children while holding down full-time jobs. While homeschooling and gifted education aren't related per se, my experience is that a number of parents of highly gifted children wind up giving it a go at some point. Perhaps the child is asynchronous, so whole grade acceleration isn't a great option, or the school doesn't allow subject matter acceleration, or the high school is great but the middle school isn't, so the family tries homeschooling for two years....

One of the barriers to parents making such a decision is that it's usually perceived as difficult to homeschool a child and make a living at the same time. Homeschooling has religious roots, and many of the families who choose it for those reasons believe in having one parent at home. But those who choose it for secular reasons may not -- or they may not have the resources to live on one income -- or both parents may love their work. So what do you do?

According to Sue Shellenbarger, you make it work. An entire academic day can be compressed into 2-4 hours (given all the down time kids have in school). So parents stagger shifts -- one homeschools from 8am to noon, for instance, then reports to work while the kids stay with a sitter. The other parent gets home at 5 or 6 and finishes up the lessons. Or homeschooling can be done in the evening (there is the question of what to do with the kids during the day -- some families hire a sitter/nanny who drives the kids to college classes or supervises online learning). A number of people who work full-time work at home to make it work. Shellenbarger profiles a woman named Shari Smith, who works 60 hours per week as a moderator for the website She homeschools her daughter as she works at home, putting young Rebekah on assignments, working for 30 minutes, checking in with Rebekah, going back to work, etc. (Rebekah notes that homeschooling "is pretty cool, because I can be in my pajamas at school.")

Online curricula make this all easier, as the parent doesn't have to be "on" quite as much while homeschooling. Shellenbarger even found one single mom, Amy Garber of Mechanicsville, VA, who makes it work. She goes to her employer's office in the morning while a sitter cares for her two kids. In the afternoon, she homeschools. After the kids go to bed, she works at her home office from 7:30pm until midnight.

Obviously, Garber's schedule doesn't leave her a lot of room for hobbies and such. It also requires an employer who's willing to commit to a flexible schedule as long as the work gets done. But her story shows that even being a single parent doesn't have to be a barrier, if the parent decides homeschooling is the best educational option.


Quiltsrwarm said...

Hey Laura...
Thanks for highlighting homeschooling again, especially on such a touchy subject of when to find the time to teach when both parents have to work. I know a couple of families who make it work, one a single mom, the other a professional couple. The single mom has a simple lifestyle and can afford to work only part-time, and the professional couple overlap their work schedules and take turns teaching. Certainly it is very possible for families to use the homeschool option to teach their children, even if both parents work.

The key is in aknowledging that homeschooling is a LIFESTYLE CHOICE, much the same as both parents making the choice to work to pay for extra stuff for their families (like a big expensive home, regular vacations, lots of toys for the kids, etc...). When dealing with our kids' needs, parents always make sacrifices and oftentimes that sacrifice is in a parent's personal time (i.e., time for a career, time for reading fun books, time for going out to dinner with their spouse -- without the extra income to pay for a sitter, this isn't possible).

Our schooling philosophy is radically different than what is offered in the public school, so we can't measure how much time our children spend "learning" because they really are expected to "learn" all the time! This is another aspect of the "lifestyle choice" part of homeschooling that many people don't consider. Sure, we spend some time each day on certain subjects, and that probably amounts to a couple of hours per day, but our kids learn about life all day long, every day, all year, so trying to measure the length of a school day for our kids is practically impossible! :*)

I do have to take exception to the statement that "homeschooling has religious roots." It doesn't. Homeschooling has been around since the education of our children has been around, for centuries, with religion and without. When families wanted to educate their children, pre-modern public schools, they hired tutors. If they couldn't afford that, they taught the kids themselves or found apprenticeships for them (i.e. Benjamin Franklin was apprenticed to his brother). The roots of homeschooling lie in our history as humans, not necessarily in faith. The faith card gets pulled when families feel their value system is in disagreement with what public schools teach. In our case, we homeschool for secular reasons, because our children are highly gifted, and because the public schools can't handle Mensa-level intelligence.

How do we afford it? My husband happens to make enough to support us quite comfortably, but if we needed to, we could down-size our lifestyle very easily to accomodate our desire to teach our kids at home. Or I could get a night-time job or find one in IT that allows me to work from home. The fact of the matter is, we make it work, and, to be honest, I don't know what I'd do all day with the kids at school besides worry about their needs being met. So for me, the lack of a career is a great trade-off for peace of mind. :)

Chetana said...

Hey Laura

I chanced upon this website in my search for help with my son who is a six year old gifted visual spatial lerner. He has the so called learning disabilities called dyslexia simly becuase he thinks in pictures and the grade 1 curriculum is so abstract coz its audio sequential. We live in bangalore India where the special ed guys have very little or no idea of visual spatial plus our culture is so much pressurizing us to believe our kids are normal that I am having difficulty in making people see his gifted talents. We have no schools here which understand this and I am really worried about my son. Its also difficult to get work at home options and I am unable to make a decision of homeschooling him as we cannot manage with one income.As of now he is learning disabled for 8 hours everyday when he is at school. At home he learns quickly and a lot more.

Do you know of resources that can help me. Are there any scholarships? Is there anyone on this forum who is from India or living in India facing these issues?

Any help will be appreciated.

Laura Vanderkam said...

Chetana: I'm not too familiar with specific resources in India that could help you, but certainly many of the American websites will offer info that you can use -- check out DITD's GT-Cybersource ( and Hoagies pages (see link on home page of this blog) - and search for "twice exceptional" children. It's a common problem -- if you are stuck right now, you may just have to give him extra special attention when he gets home from school, and keep meeting with the school or any local dyslexia advocacy groups to see if there are other parents facing the same challenges. If so, perhaps the school will respond.

DarkTeach said...

I'm a single parent and homeschooled my daughter (GT/ADD/LD) for three years (sixth thru eighth). Since she was older and we lived in an apartment complex, she could stay home while I was at work. We did "instruction" time in the evenings when I was home, and she did independent work during the day while I was at work - teaching a self-contained gifted class in public school.. :-D

As for the time required, consider that as a public school teacher I have approximately 4.5 hours per day with my students (after you take out PE and lunch). On days when we have computer/library/etc. I have even less. Add to that any distractions that come along... and you're doing well to get in four full hours of teaching per day. I thought, I'm home by 4:00, and I'll have no disruptive students.. we could do all her instruction in less than two hours! She had all day to do her independent work.

She also got MUCH more "real world" instruction as she worked with our friend who managed the apartments.. she learned how to fill out bank deposits, figure square footage for paint and carpet, and a smattering of interior design by helping select carpet/tile/paint for the apartments. In the evenings my mom would drop by and they'd make dinner. She learned more about fractions by modifying recipes than she'd have gotten in a classroom.

Homeschooling is a great alternative for "twice exceptional" kids... :)

Charlene, Lucien, et al said...

I am currently home schooling my 9th grade son because he has no high school alternatives in our city. He finished all the math sequence available in our district when he was 12 and he "checked out" in the 8th grade because of a principal who was only interested in destroying the gited program at his school. Anyway, now he is taking some AP English courses through EPGY, continuing on in math at the local community college, and is part of a research team at the university here. How could he have done that at a regular public high school? I am a full-time student myself, having gone back to school for a masters. It's worse than having a full-time job because on top of my class time I have significant homework myself, plus another child who is twice exceptional. Luckily she is in a great school for 2E students. This is the third time I have home schooled. I am a big fan when the alternatives are limited.

GT mom said...

To Chetana -

There are a nmber of on line programs for GT students including EPGY that go from kindergarten through college-level classes. Perhaps those are an option for you in Bangalore. They have worked well for us.

Evan Adams said...

It is important to note that older kids (I would say on average 12 and up, but state laws and individual maturity vary) can be left at home alone for most of the day, and in a safe neighborhood can probably go on their own to the library, tutoring sessions, classes they might be taking at a neighborhood school, etc. In a city, equipped with a bus pass and a cell phone, they might be able to go even further than that (with appropriate check-ins, planning, etc. depending on the area, maturity, and the parents' comfort). Most homeschoolers at this age can self-direct their learning pretty well, and older kids can also keep an eye on younger siblings, and even take a role on their learning.
I was homeschooled by a single mom working full time, and that's how we did it. I was trusted to stay at home by myself for most of the day, and work on learning on my own.