single homeschool mom and daughter

Homeschooling as a Single Parent

When most people set out to homeschool, they envision a traditional family arrangement with a working father and a stay-at-home mother. While this is well-suited to homeschooling since it has one parent devoted entirely to home education, it is not the only way to homeschool. Life isn’t always tidy, and many families do not fit into the traditional mold.

Single parenting presents unique challenges from a homeschooling perspective. For single parents raising children without the support of a spouse or limited resources, issues of cost and time allocation become pressing. In some cases, the logistical difficulties can seem so overwhelming that many don’t believe it’s even possible to homeschool as a single parent. While I would never deny that single-parent homeschooling is difficult, it is certainly not impossible.

This article will discuss a few best practices for homeschooling as a single parent. (While recognizing that single parent households have many different arrangements, this article will be geared towards single parent households where only one parent assumes responsibility for homeschooling, either in a full or part-time custody scenario where the other parent is not actively involved in homeschooling.)

1. Clear Vision

A popular quote attributed to St. Joan of Arc says, “All battles are first won or lost in the mind.” The same is true of homeschooling. When going into any homeschool situation, having a clear vision of what you are doing and why is important. This is especially true if you are homeschooling as a single parent.

There will be tough days ahead. It is important to have a strong resolution, a crystal-clear vision for why you chose this, so you can draw strength from your vision when the going does get tough. Write out the reasons why you want to homeschool and the benefits you believe it will bring you and your children. This is an admirable practice for any homeschooler, but it is especially helpful if you are single-parent homeschooling. It will also keep you grounded in the face of unhelpful comments from friends or family who disagree with your decision.

2. Routine, Routine, Routine!

Time management will be particulalry important, especially if you are also trying to homeschool around a full time job. There are many different and equally valid ways of structuring a homeschool, from meticulous planning of each daily session to unschooling. In my experience, it is very challening to successfully homeschool in a single parent household without a detailed daily routine.

Free time is scarce in single-parent homes, so time must be managed with discipline. I recommend a regimented daily schedule that is predictable. Everybody gets up at the same time each day, eats, does family prayers, and begins classes simultaneously.

You can structure this in various ways, but the key is to create a schedule where everybody knows what is expected of them at any given time. A lot of time is wasted by kids shuffling about, not knowing what they are supposed to be working on. This is also stressful for you. So make sure you create a regimented routine that gives your children structure throughout the day. If it is being implemented well, if something comes up and your attention becomes divided, the kids can still execute the routine without your immediate oversight.

3. Develop Habits of Collaboration

Homeschooling in a single-parent environment requires collaboration between children and the parent. Think of ways to leverage your childrens’ abilities to help in the homeschool. For example, have your 12-year old sit down and help your 6-year old with reading practice. Having one child teach another is an incredibly beneficial and wholesome practice that both educates and builds bonds. This also frees up time for you to attend to household duties or work with another child.

Another form of collaboration is developing a team routine for household chores. For example, establish a routine where each morning you prepare breakfast, a child clears the table and puts the food away, while another does the dishes. Many hands make light work.

I should mention, however, that you want to avoid parentifying your child. Parentification is any situation where a child is compelled to assume parental responsibilities in the household. Single parents are in particular danger of parentifying their children, It can be a temptation to distribute one’s own duties onto older children, treating them as a substitute parent. Parentification of children can negatively affect their ability to form meaningful relationships in adulthood, so it is important to avoid this.

A good rule of thumb is that asking children to help perform a chore is okay. However, making them entirely accountable for managing some aspects of the household is not good. For example, it would be fine to ask a child to read to their sibling on certain days, but it would be wrong to make them entirely assume the responsibility of homeschooling that sibling. Or, while asking a child to clear the table or help cook dinner is fine, it would be wrong to expect a child to assume complete responsibility for meal prepping.

Assuming you keep these boundaries in mind, getting children to collaborate on homeschooling and household chores is a great way to keep things moving slowly and use time most efficiently.

4. Curricula: Structured and Simple

Single parents may find it advantageous to make use of pre-packaged homeschool curricula that have assignments and daily lesson plans laid out. (Review our article “Homeschool Options: À La Carte vs. Boxed Program” for the pros and cons of using ready-made boxed curricula.) If you are utilizing a boxed curriculum, you want to consider something that is structured yet has relatively simple reporting requirements, if any at all.

Not all curricula are created equal. Some curricula are extremely structured—You will see a very organized breakdown of assignments along the lines of “Week 1, Day 1, you should be doing this,” etc. Others are much less structured, allowing for a more flexible and self-paced approach. It is probably in your interest to select the former, something you can take out of the box and start using without much prep work. Most curriculum providers usually allow you to view samples of a Table of Contents or syllabus to help you understand the program’s structure, which is a great help. (See also “Five Steps to Evaluate a Homeschool Curriculum.”)

5. Plan Your Days Around Active and Passive Work

One of the greatest challenges of homeschooling as a single parent is if kids have to spend part of the week at the other parent’s home when that parent is not engaged with their homeschooling. This can be incredibly frustrating—homework gets undone, lessons untaught, and education neglected for days. This can cause deep anxiety about your children’s education.

If you have to deal with a situation like this, it’s best to structure the homeschooling week around it by distinguishing between active and passive work. Active work is instruction that requires your active engagement. You are teaching, explaining, reviewing, demonstrating, etc. On the other hand, passive work is instruction the child can do without adult supervision. This includes reading, studying, reviewing, completing a worksheet, practicing writing, etc.

If you don’t have your children for a full week, plan your week so that all active work is tackled when they are with you, while passive work is left for their other parent’s house. For example, I homeschool my son in German. We learn new words and concepts on Monday through Wednesday, practice dialogues, and review homework together. When he goes to his mother’s for the rest of the week, I send him there with three worksheets that reinforce what we learned earlier in the week. He does not require any new instruction or adult supervision to complete the work. This is passive work.

Now, obviously, your children’s other parent needs to at least give your kids time to work on their school. And your kids have to actually do it. This may be as simple as the other parent agreeing to tell the kids, “Alright, go work on your school for a few hours.” This method works extremely well if the other parent is on board.

Remember, too, that it is okay to homeschool outside the box. You don’t need to keep a 9-to-5 schedule. You can structure your homeschool in a way that works for you and your kids, even if the schedule is unconventional. I recommend reviewing our articles “Why Homeschooling Takes Less Time” and “Homeschoolers Don’t Need to Mimic Public School” for more food for thought.

6. Get Help! 

Finally, don’t feel like you have to do everything alone. One piece of advice universally valid for homeschoolers is seeking out community. There are thousands of other homeschooling families out there in every conceivable situation, homeschooling in a plethora of different arrangements. These other families are your greatest asset! Seek out local homeschoolers to build community.

Is there a co-op you can get your children involved with? Online classes? A private tutor you can hire for certain subjects? Can you collaborate with another parent to pool your resources? Or just speak to someone over coffee about your challenges? I strongly encourage you to find your people You might also want to consider homeschool mentoring. (Check out our article “Options for Homeschool Consulting and Support” for more details.) The takeaway is you don’t need to go it alone!


There’s no doubt that homeschooling as a single parent can be challenging—and honestly, there are some situations where there are so many adverse factors in play homeschooling may not be possible. But don’t give up if you haven’t even tried! You may find that homeschooling as a single parent is way more manageable than you assumed. With some planning, ingenuity, and support, homeschooling may still be on the table for you as a single parent.

If you’d like to continue this discussion, I invite you to join me and other Catholic homeschooling parents at our Homeschool Connections Community or our Facebook group.

Lastly, Homeschool Connections offers a wide variety of online courses for 3rd to 12th grade to help you homeschool. See our Course Finder to learn more.

Resources to help you in your Catholic homeschool…

Catholic Homeschool Classes Online

Homeschooling Saints Podcast

Good Counsel Careers

The Catholic Homeschool Conference

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