The Sane Way to Plan Days for Working Parents Who Home-School

(Bloomberg Businessweek) -- You know what’s alienating? The daily agendas that pop up in the search results when you Google “home-school schedules.” So complex! So pastel! So different for each member of the family! These packed-to-the-gills plans won’t work for you, business-minded pandemic home-school leader. You want the most streamlined schedule around.

Zara Fagen, author of Minimalist Homeschooling: A Values-Based Approach to Maximize Learning and Minimize Stress, says the trick to settling into a home-school groove while working is getting a grip on your own time. She educates four children age 4 to 12 from home near Chicago while running real estate and wholesale flooring businesses with her husband. You might have previously compartmentalized your time into work, home with kids, and, hopefully, me time. Now you need to reconfigure your days into categories such as playing teacher, here-but-not-here because I’m working, and hiding my head in my child’s backpack (kidding—sort of).

The special sauce is to set clear expectations with your kids about your availability for each time block. “I am undistractedly available to my kids approximately 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. daily,” says Fagen. She suggests framing it as “this is when I’m available to help you with schooling” and “this is the time we’ll do cool stuff together.”

Let your work schedule dictate the home-school schedule, remembering that evenings and weekends are options. Two days a week, Fagen’s husband runs home school while she works. On home-school days, she works for two hours each afternoon and also in the morning or after the kids go to bed, as needed. “Some nights that means zero work, and sometimes I work until the wee hours—it really depends.”

You can’t go wrong with these time blocks:

  • Independent learning and play: 60-90 minutes. Writing projects and daily reading assignments from non-textbooks: The youngest reads to herself for 15 minutes; the oldest reads from four books. Online classes fit in here, too.
  • Table time: Two hours. All kids sit with a parent at a table for subjects such as math, handwriting, spelling, or Japanese, sometimes rotating in something such as map drawing. Fagen sits between the youngest two. “I peel them off,” she says. “First I work with the youngest, and then she goes off and plays, and then the next youngest, and then the next one, who has by this point saved all his questions for me. Then he goes and plays with the youngest while I work with the oldest.” Twice a week, a foreign language tutor comes, lengthening table time. “When I needed time to work, I decided to hire someone who is good at something I’m not good at, so it would be to the kids’ advantage,” she says.
  • Group time: One hour or more. The parent chooses an activity for during or after lunch. It could be a topic discussion, a science experiment, art, baking, or reading aloud. “Cookies or popcorn go a long way,” Fagen says. If she needs to work, a documentary is an option; if everyone’s antsy, a hike or swim.
  • Quiet time: Two hours. Kids can finish work, pursue interests, or play. Snacks are self-serve. Fagen works.
  • Chores: The house gets gross with everyone home all the time. Schedule two to three sessions a day.
  • Kid activity time: 90-120 minutes in the late afternoon. Scouts, sports, dance, etc.
  • Family time: This is essential for bonding, when such a big portion of the day together revolves around tasks.

The key is to set priorities. “You have to be really good at prioritizing what has to get done, and that’s true for both work and home schooling as well,” says Fagen. “Pick and choose what’s most important for them to learn. The rest can wait.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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