I’m so excited to have this guest post from my good friend Jen Fischer. We have worked together for many years through Multicultural Kid Blogs, and I’ve always been impressed with her thoughtfulness and dedication to making the world a better place. Here she tackles a topic on many of our minds, especially this past year: how to balance a home business and homeschooling.
Balancing a home business and homeschooling presents many challenges any time, but those challenges increase during a pandemic when many of us (myself included) are sheltering-in-place with our children. Some of the normal outings or programs that could aid us in our efforts to balance everyone’s needs suddenly are no longer available. For my family, creative problem solving came to the rescue.
Tools and Tips for Balancing a Home Business and Homeschooling
COVID completely turned our family’s life inside out. My partner and I already worked from home, running our own business. Previously, though, our children were at school. All of the sudden all of us were at home, all of the time, and when the new school year began last Fall, we were in a new home, new city, new state and decided to homeschool our children ourselves. Our company is a media company with an arts education division. Thus, my partner and I have substantial teaching experience: filmmaking, digital arts, music, etc. We felt confident we could handle this transition.
My children thrive in the homeschool setting, so the shift benefited them immensely. Yet, covering their comprehensive schooling needs (Math, Science, Social Studies, English, Computer Science, P.E., the Arts, etc.) while also running our home business stretched my partner and I thin.
In the fall, we took too much upon ourselves and often felt like we were drowning. With the new year (and the Spring semester), we made some pivotal shifts. These adjustments made homeschooling and running a home business not only more manageable, but also more enjoyable for us all.
We quickly realized that both our mental health and our business needs would benefit if we didn’t try to do it all ourselves. Additionally, our children needed connections (virtual) to other students and teachers. We outsourced in two ways: through our extended family and through virtual classes.
My mother was an English teacher for decades before she transitioned to a new career. English Language Arts (ELA) is my younger son’s least favorite subject and doing ELA with me was like pulling teeth. So, we set up zoom sessions with G’ma twice a week and saw his ELA interest soar. He looks forward to these sessions and is open to learning from her because of who she is. Additionally, my sister is a Buddhist translator so she does weekly meditation sessions with both the kids via zoom, and my brother (who lives 30 minutes away) often drops off woodworking projects for them. My kids have strengthened their relationships with their extended family through these schooling experiences.
We found online learning experiences that worked for our kids. Specifically, we’ve used Outschool for socialization opportunities for my younger son and found some fabulous Black Studies courses for my older son (Black History and Black Innovators). We also love WorldOver International School because of their project-based approach. Plus, they offer things we can’t teach, like Japanese. Our kids are taking Japanese and Coding classes and earlier this year my younger son enjoyed a Math Bake-Off class, which combined baking and math, bolstering his hands on understanding of fractions, measurements and fraction-to-decimal conversions.
My sons are in 4th and 5th grade this year. With middle school approaching soon for them both, we know that managing a project, seeing it through and organizing their own time as they work toward completing a project are important skills for them to master. Additionally, self-directed learning projects mean my partner and I can focus on work items for our home business. We check in with them on these projects on Monday and help them set a list of tasks and a schedule for the week based on the tasks they hope to accomplish that week.
Honor Play and Creativity
Children learn through play. This is an undisputed fact. Pediatrics (the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics) states: “Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development.” Being flexible with our school schedule and honoring play makes our day run more smoothly. Our general rule is to never interrupt outdoor play because of our learning schedule, unless the kids have a virtual class or friend meet up that was scheduled. Often, this means their recess after lunch becomes an extra hour of outdoor play for them and an extra hour of work time for me.
An essential aspect to honoring play and creativity includes setting the stage for this. Our backyard features many “loose parts” (wood, rocks, pebbles, tools, recycled materials, etc.) The benefit to loose parts play is that it is child-led and involves lots of tinkering, which means children are solving problems, thinking creatively and learning a lot in the process. Often, loose parts play is associated with early education, but I’ve seen the benefits of continuing to prioritize this type of play even as my children approach tween and teen-dom.
Engage Children With Your Home Business
Since my partner and I do work that is of interest to our children, we often include them in that work in ways that enhances our home business and that provide our kids with opportunities to connect with us around our work. For example, my partner is currently developing a virtual reality learning space for WorldOver International. Our children are able to experience this space, test it out and offer feedback. He even shares the coding with them to show them the “inner workings” of how such spaces are built.
Learning Through Film
Since my partner and I run a media company and one that emphasizes social impact film and gaming educational tools, we firmly understand and believe in the power of film as a tool for learning. While the kids are watching a film, my partner and I know we can schedule in valuable uninterrupted work time, but always with the understanding that the film will truly enrich their learning experience. Sometimes, it’s comparing a book they’ve read with the film version of that book. At other times, we select a nature documentary that compliments their science lessons.
Journeys In Film is a nonprofit that creates standards-based curricula and discussion guides for films. All of their materials are free. I love how comprehensive the materials are. Many of the materials are more appropriate for children older than mine, but I found that I could easily pull out parts of a curriculum or discussion guide to utilize with my sons. Our favorites from their library were The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind and Hidden Figures, which we used as part of our science and social studies curriculum this year. I highlighted my favorite films for global learning available through Journeys In Film on Multicultural Kid Blogs.
Organize and Prepare
Organization and careful preparation make everything more manageable. We have a school schedule that helps us keep track of their online classes, zoom learning with family members and zoom hangouts with friends that we also include in their schedule from time to time. We print this each week and make sure it is posted for everyone to see and reference.
We also pack lunch! Yes, the children are at home. Yes, I am at home with them too, but I don’t always want to stop to make them lunch. They can make some items themselves, but still sometimes need help. So, we often pack lunch the night before. I’ve also worked with them to think through healthy eating so they can make good snack choices without anyone else’s help.
Another essential component to successfully balancing a home business and homeschool is organizing my own time effectively. My partner and I alternate “teaching days” and “work days.” Even on our teaching days, we still manage time for our home business, but it’s helpful for the kids to know who the point person is for them if they have questions. I schedule “deep work” and meetings on my partner’s work days. If you don’t have a partner to alternate with, then try to use virtual classes, family member zoom lessons and movies as opportunities for you to do work that requires intense focus or utilize that time for meetings. On days when I am “on” or more likely to be interrupted, I schedule work that is more conducive to interruptions, like social media, responding to emails, scheduling upcoming meetings, etc.
The most beneficial thing I’ve learned in balancing a home business and homeschooling is the value of taking deep breaths and reminding myself that “it’s fine.” In the U.S., in particular, education is often discussed in terms of children being “ahead” or “behind,” but in my two decades of experience working with children in a variety of settings, I’ve learned that this just isn’t true. If my children are loved, are safe, are reading, exploring, growing, then they are fine. I’ve taken the pressure off myself and have decided that we should enjoy the process of life and learning.
Has COVID changed your homeschooling or home learning style?
What tools help you balance your life?
Jen Fischer is a writer, film producer and teaching artist whose work focuses on highlighting shared human experiences to cultivate empathy and understanding. Her films have screened across the United States and abroad and have been featured by NBCLatino, ABC, Univision, Fusion, NBCBLK, Vice News, etc. with her film “THE wHOLE” premiering at Amnesty International’s 50th Anniversary Human Rights Conference. Her essay “Coffee Can Change” was published in It’s Not All About You: Young Adults Seeking Justice, edited by Julie Richardson Brown and Courtney Richards, published by Chalice Press. She has an essay forthcoming in What is a Criminal? to be published by Routledge press in 2022. Her essays have also been featured in Ms. Magazine, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project and others. She holds a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and enjoys playing the piano and creating unique educational experiences for her two children. You can find her on Twitter @IndieJenFischer.