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Preparing to Juggle Homeschooling & Working from Home

colored pencils against a turquoise background

As a lifelong lover of learning and teaching, I have always tossed around the idea of homeschooling my children… that is, until I was actually forced to homeschool my four-year-old during a pandemic. I know, I know… homeschooling during a pandemic is NOT actually what homeschooling IRL is, just like working from home during a pandemic is NOT what remote work looks like in non-pandemic conditions. I accept that premise. But the strain of the spring cause me to recognize that I cannot mentally segregate working and homeschooling enough to make both longterm experiences.

That being said, we made the tough decision this year to keep my daughter home for another year of pre-k. She has a late birthday and could have gone on to kindergarten, but I couldn’t imagine her starting elementary school under these stressful conditions, especially being young for her grade. I don’t judge anyone’s decision in this regard. I am well aware that primary education can be a critical resource for low-income families and children in abusive situations, and I also acknowledge the very real benefits of socialization. But for us, with a medically complex individual living in our household, we decided that the risks outweighed the benefits. And so here I am…preparing for a year of pre-k homeschool while also being a full-time working parent. *Gulp*

I am a fan of the Montessori method of education, and pre-COVID, my daughter attended a wonderful Montessori school. Essentially, the Montessori method encourages children’s natural tendencies and inclinations, rather than suppressing them. Learning is self-directed, interactive, and collaborative. I have a few books that I highly recommend on the subject (affiliate links below).

The Montessori Toddler: A Parent’s Guide to Raising a Curious and Responsible Human Being (Simone Davies, 2019)

Montessori from the Start: The Child at Home, from Birth to Age Three (Paula Polk Lillard and Lynn Lillard Jessen, 2003)

At first I wondered if it would be feasible to juggle working and providing my daughter with enough educational support, but some light Internet research revealed that preschoolers do not require days filled with lessons; in fact, that approach can be counterproductive. I was pretty surprised by the amount of time recommended for remote learning by the Illinois State Board of Education, who released some helpful guidelines back in March. The chart below, which was republished in POPSUGAR, provides recommendations for remote learning amounts based on grade level. Good news for me: pre-k is only 20–60 minutes a day, which is about the length of time that worked for us in the spring. My current plan is to spend one hour each day on lessons with my kids after lunch. My two-year-old will play on his own for part of that time, but this will give us an opportunity to spend time together learning and playing in the middle of my workday, when my mother (who helps with childcare) is eating lunch and running home to walk her dog. I realize that being able to configure my workday like this is a huge privilege, as I have a wonderful boss who voiced his support and flexibility to help me make this work. I sincerely wish that every organization would reconceptualize the workweek to be more conducive to healthier work-life integration scenarios.

Today I noticed that Zulily is running some fabulous sales on educational materials, including Montessori-specific ones. I thought I would share the products I ordered and am excited to use in our homeschool “classroom” (a.k.a. the office/playroom). Now keep in mind, I have a (newly) five-year-old and a two-year-old, so the materials are catered to those age groups. Zulily has plenty of materials for older children, as well. Here were my picks (note: these are not affiliate links):

Upper Pre-K:

Early Pre-K:

Below is a picture of the kids’ play/work area, which is located (conveniently or inconveniently, depending on the moment) in my office. I really do love this cheery arrangement, though. Our previous house did not have an office on the main level, and so my desk was in the dungeon of a basement we had. I thrive on natural light, which I (and the kids) now have in abundance. So much gratitude for that!

small table and chairs on rug next to bookshelf with kids' toys

Are you planning to homeschool this fall? What materials have you found useful? Please share them below!