12/05/2012 02:46 pm ET | Updated Feb 04, 2013

Homeschooling and Working: Could it Work for You?

For Women & Co. by Laura Vanderkam,

Think of homeschooling families, and you probably envision more traditional households where one parent (often Mom) stays home in order to do teaching duties. But, while many homeschooling families fit this image, not all do. A report from the National Center for Education Statistics found that about 25 percent of homeschooled children lived in two-parent families where both parents were in the labor force. Another 16 percent lived in single-parent families where that parent was in the labor force. "Most of the homeschooling families I know are two-income families," says Catherine Gillespie, a homeschooling mother of three elementary school-aged children. She also works as a copywriter and consultant.

Many homeschooling families have at least one parent with flexible hours, or they have the ability to work from home. When Gillespie started homeschooling, she was working with a consulting company. She asked for (and got) a schedule where she could do about 25 hours on-site at the client's business, and do the rest at home. As she points out, with 168 hours in a week, she could work 40 hours, homeschool 30 hours, sleep 55 hours, and still have 43 hours to do things such as exercise, read, go to church, and hang out with her husband.

However, some families make it work with more traditional schedules, where, for example, Dad is a physics teacher and Mom is a nurse. To make that work, families need to get over the idea that school happens from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. A homeschooling day in a family like this might only feature five or so hours of actual instruction time, or 25 hours per week. That's doable in a three-hour shift at whatever time a parent is free each weekday (e.g. 4-7 p.m.; 7-10 a.m.), plus a long shift on Saturday.

The question is: when they're not in school, what to do with the kids at other times? "The single biggest obstacle for working parents who don't work at home is, of course, the daycare issue," says Pamela Price, a homeschooling mother who runs the blog Red, White & Grew. Her book on homeschooling while working will come out from Gifted Homeschoolers Forum Press next year. "But daycare is the biggest issue for all parents until children are of an age to tend to themselves."

While parents who send their kids to traditional schools still need daycare to cover summers and holidays, homeschooling parents have more days to cover. Some rely on relatives, while others join co-ops where parents take turns doing activities with the children. Others hire sitters, just as they did when the children were pre-school aged. A few families hire sitters with education backgrounds who do some of the schooling themselves (serving more of a governess function). Others hire tutors to come do subjects they're not strong in during work hours.

But if, per NCES data, over 1.5 million children are homeschooled, and north of 40 percent are being taught by a parent who also works for pay, lots of families seem to make it work. Says Gillespie, "I see education as part of life, not something that has to happen on prescribed days within prescribed hours. I think that's a mindset you have to have if you want to work and homeschool at the same time, but it can be done," she says. "And it can be done well."

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