Homeschool sidekicks: 6 ways to creatively outsource your life


Written by Lora Lynn Fanning

I heard it in her voice over the phone. My friend was exhausted and sad to her core after a particularly epic meltdown over language arts. She mumbled sadly, “Something has got to give. I can’t … I just can’t anymore.”

She’d hit The Wall.

There’s a brick wall somewhere on this road of homeschooling that most families run into at some point. It’s the one that says, “I can’t do this anymore. I’m not doing anything well. They’d be better off in *insert anything else but home.*”

And what I reassured my friend, in between discussions of international boarding schools, is that The Wall is totally normal. It’s also totally survivable.

But you might need a buddy to help you get over it.

We make the schooling choices we make as parents because we want what’s best for our kids. But those choices come with consequences: sometimes it means we can’t do it all.

Moms and dads get overwhelmed and struggle to juggle all the important responsibilities of homeschooling and keeping a family running. Or perhaps we realize that because of our own weakness in a subject (for me, it’s math), our children are beginning to demonstrate that same weakness.

But we want better for them! We want them to succeed where we have not!

Lucky for us, there are lots of options and lots of ways to help share the burden (and the blessing) of schooling at home!

1. Hire a tutor.

This isn’t as pricey or as unattainable as you may think. There are lots of poor college kids out there who are stronger in the finer points of algebra than you might be.

Look into library tutoring programs, community service programs, or just ask on Facebook. Sarah MacKenzie of The Read-Aloud Revival talks about her experience with a math tutor here.

I’ve learned that my kids pick up my attitudes about a subject, no matter how hard I try to hide it. They could sense my inner turmoil over math lessons. Fortunately, my husband was a math minor in college and fractions get him all jazzed up. So we’ve learned that when the kids reach a certain level of math, he becomes their teacher. (See #4 for how we make up for scheduling issues.)

I hired a Mother’s Helper tutor a few years ago to help me get through phonics with my large brood and to do all the grading of the millions of workbooks we cycle through. Worth every penny, y’all.

2. Use a co-op or online classes.

Farm out the subjects that you feel weak in and let someone who is passionate about microbiology share their wonder with your kids.

But co-ops aren’t just for the subjects you hate. I’m a Master Teacher for Tapestry of Grace curriculum, but when the opportunity to join a Tapestry co-op came along, I found myself out of a teaching gig.

What I learned was that having a group of kids to discuss and do projects with made the curriculum a richer experience for my kids. I provide back-up at home and I stay on top of their assignments and discussions, but the entire burden of the curriculum doesn’t fall to me.

3. Enlist other siblings.

Older siblings can listen to early readers, help check someone’s math or spelling, or even jump into teaching a subject they genuinely love. They say that “to teach is to learn twice.”

There is no better way to ensure mastery of a subject than to have to teach it. What a way to kill two birds with one stone!

4. Utilize technology.

We use Typesy for typing courses. It’s self-paced and entirely hands-off for me.

For my kids with learning difficulties, some of them still get personalized learning therapy, but we’re using a program called Brain Jogging to shore up the processing speed and help with their dyslexia. They do it twice a day and all I have to do is remind them to get it done. 

With seven kids, I don’t always get to each child’s math lesson every single day. Life happens. I’ve found that having a daily back-up math program really keeps the kids’ math skills fresh, no matter what the rest of the day holds. Check out resources like IXL and other math apps.

My personal favorite is Smartick. It’s adaptive, so it learns the strengths and weaknesses of each child and gives them a personalized lesson every day. I get daily emails updating me on each child’s performance and it even gives me specific hints for where I can help them better succeed.

That’s the kind of sidekick this busy mama needs!  

5. Pool your resources with other moms.

If the big co-ops are too expensive or intimidating, don’t be afraid to kick it old school and join forces with other moms. I have friends who co-op their history studies.

They do the readings as families but they get together once a month for projects and crafts that us mamas hate to do on our own. (Sometimes I think these co-ops really shine because mom feels like she’s got back-up if the glitter gets out of hand.)

6. Outsource other chores to free your time for schooling.

Every family is different. You may not feel like you want to hand off the responsibility of schooling to anyone else. That’s okay.

But choosing to do all the schooling yourself may mean you need to let another plate you’re spinning come to rest. Or hand that plate off to someone else.

Sure, you can hire someone to clean the bathrooms, but don’t be afraid to get creative! Make a list of ALL the things you do in a day and circle the ones that are particularly onerous or take a lot of mental energy from the important work of schooling. Those are areas for potential outsourcing!

For me, it was meal planning. I could cook, but thinking of what to make and gathering ingredients? Ugh. Exhausting.

(Please note: I recognize this is a first world problem and I am extremely grateful for the easy access to food and all the many options. My complaint is with decision fatigue, not the actual meals.)

There are tons of services that take care of that now: Blue Apron (for smaller families) or Plan to Eat to name a few.

I actually hire this out to someone who was willing to take the time to learn my family’s eating quirks and grocery preferences. We get a spreadsheet every month with breakfast, lunch, dinner and two snacks per day laid out.

She does my grocery shopping (but check out Shipt or other grocery delivery services – these are worth their monthly charge in GOLD for the busy homeschool mama) and then my husband and I do a big once-a-month-freezer-cooking-palooza to get us set up. 

Get creative: Finding a sidekick doesn’t have to be a costly endeavor, and it doesn’t mean you’ve failed.

It means you’re smart enough to know when you need a helping hand, and then you figure out how to make it happen!

Leave me your best resources for outsourcing in the links! Let’s help each other out!

About Lora

Lora Lynn Fanning blogged for 11 years about her family life with seven kids at Vitafamiliae. These days, she homeschools her growing brood, teaches writing both in person for co-ops and online for Brave Writer, and writes at her new site, LoraLynnFanning.com.

Comments

  1. So happy to read you here. I miss vitafamiliae !
    I keep hearing about smartick, and would love to try it with my kids, but I find it pretty expensive. How can a large homeschooling family afford it ? (I mean, if all my kids were using it, it would cost me over $150/month) We are currently using Matific, but it only goes till 6th grade, and I have to assign the work to each child, it doesn’t automatically adapt to their level. Another option I’ve run into is netmath (also called buzzmath I think). I wonder if anybody has used it ?

    • Heather says:

      Rebecca, we did the free trial with Smartick and my boys (& I) really liked it, but like you said, it is too expensive. I asked the company if they did group discounts or ever had deals and they said no (their response was actually very off putting). They said that the only way I could get a deal is if I referred a friend and then I would get some money off (maybe a month free for one kid). I’ve only ever seen it “advertised” with homeschool bloggers (I posted about it in a big HS group that I’m in and hardly anyone had heard of it), so I’m wondering if they get some sort of deal or free access if they blog about it? Like I mentioned, I like the product, but it isn’t feasible when it costs that much money which is a bummer. Maybe, once the product has been around a bit longer and they see that many people are not continuing after the free trial they’ll think about dropping the price?

  2. Ashley Waugh says:

    I’m interested in Typsey! I am currently using a free program for my 6 year old, but it’s hard to stop and come back. What age did you start with Typsey?

    • My daughter was the youngest we started. I think she was nine? We’ve held the younger kids off until they are strong in their handwriting and can easily transfer their thoughts onto paper.

  3. These are such great tips for homeschoolers who want to give up! Tucking these away for a rainy (I want to quit) day.
    June’s latest post: Why homeschooling is not for everyone (and that’s a good thing)

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