Kids are awesome. Let’s get that right out in front. But they can be very distracting if you have to work and they are around. Unless you train them otherwise. A few shifts in how you see things, a few boundaries laid and gently, but firmly enforced and you can set up an environment where you can get your voiceover work done with the kids in the house, and they can get their work done too.
How do I know? I homeschooled my two daughters for nine years while working. My business grew steadily during this time and my kids got the education they needed (all grown now, the oldest has a thriving voiceover career like her mom, and the youngest is pursuing a PhD in Social Psych at a top university). When they were little, my voiceover career took me out of the house to various sound studios for about ten hours a week, and the rest of the time I divided between teaching them, leaving the tasks to complete, and time to play, and managing my work. The key to success for us all was breaking this down into managing my time and teaching them how to manage theirs. Here’s how I set it up and what I learned from this amazing experience. (A time which I look back on now as one of the sweetest in my pretty happy and very fulfilling life)
Managing Your Kids’ Time and Work
Before I could spend a second dedicated to my work and business, I had to manage the kids’ time and work first. If I hadn’t organized them and laid boundaries down, they would constantly interrupt me and all bets were off. I pulled my oldest out of school in grade one because she was not getting the services to properly deal with her dyslexia. Upon leaving, the principal told me, “Give yourself time, be gentle on her and yourself as you restructure your parent-child relationship to expand it teacher-child.” I especially appreciated the advice to be gentle with myself and my daughter. But as we spent more time in our new situation, I realized I’d already been her teacher in everything from how to walk to eat to tie her shoes and pick up her toys. It was a natural progression to teach her how to add subtract, learn about temperature and the history of the world, and eventually (‘cause dyslexia) read and spell as well as anyone else. In fact, if you fast forward to when my kiddo eventually graduated with her BA and it was cum laude.
In my first year of homeschooling, I relaxed the rules, tried a few things, kept what worked, and ditched what didn’t. I read out loud a ton to both kids which they loved. This actually counted as craftwork for me as a voice actor. It helped me further solidify my cold-reading skills as an actor while packing cool info into their expanding minds. Sometimes we cuddled, during reading time, but often they either kept busy coloring or playing with playdough or doing simple tasks I assigned for them to do while I read to them, like folding their own laundry or making peanut butter sandwiches for lunch. What I incorporated early on was the idea that in order for homeschooling to work they (and I) had to shift from seeing them as “kids” to “adults in training.”
The times when I actually had to teach them things, like addition, or grammar, or later, a history or science or geography lesson took very little time. One-on-one teaching is much quicker than classroom teaching. And the easiest way for me to evaluate whether they understood something was to get them to teach it back to me (or each other). So we all took turns playing “teacher.” Also a great self-confidence builder.
Managing Your Time and Voiceover Work
Once you have the kids organized and working well, you can organize yourself. (I recognize early in the pandemic when kids and parents were suddenly thrown together at home, the time required to sort this out was unfortunately missing) But here are things that might help. Assess your own work needs. What must you do alone, what can you do while you’re supervising your kids but not interacting with them, and are there any of your work tasks you can do with them? Make lists. Lists rule in homeschooling. Scheduling kids (and yourself) takes on new meaning. But it doesn’t have to be done alone. As soon as you can, get your kids involved in creating and managing their own schedules and building and checking off their own lists.
Incorporate quiet time and use it for when you have to have full attention to your work. Keep them on independent tasks. They do their work while you do yours. Give them (and you) a timer so they won’t interrupt you and while you’re on task, don’t allow anything else to distract you. Or this is when you allow movie time. We had a mix of documentaries and pleasure viewing. When watching documentaries, they always were challenged to come away with three new facts they could share at dinner. We called it a movie review. SIlent reading or audiobooks are also great for keeping them busy while I worked. And projects. We had long-term projects that they could go work on themselves. Lego villages, train sets, crafts, forts, a fairy village, puppet shows which they created and rehearsed. In order for this to work well, we had to give them time to show us what they achieved each week (and be interested in the outcome). Free time could also happen in the backyard to play and incorporate phys ed goals too.
Supervising them but not interacting with them – when they did what we called “sheets” – this was book-work from writing stories to drawing pictures (and sometimes art galleries of pictures), to coloring, to doing math problems. Again this was my modeling doing my work (writing, accounting, researching, or prepping marketing) while they did their work. If there were ever any complaints, my adults-in-training phrase and perspective always seemed to mollify them. Instrument practice – a good activity for them to do, while I worked on my own “sheets.”
Work I could do with them. As a voice actor, I do craftwork every day and some of this I could do with my kids. We could play improv games, I could work on accents, I could teach them theatre arts. If I had to make deliveries or go to the studio, occasionally I brought them with me and they learned how to behave in an adult arena.
Boundaries for Your Kids and Yourself
By nature, I am not an organized person. But creating my own business drove me toward better organizing skills and homeschooling sharpened those skills to a razor fine point. Part of being organized is setting boundaries for your kids and yourself. Time boundaries of when to work, and when to play and respect both. One difficulty we have in an always-connected, always-on world is respecting time boundaries. Emails come in at all hours, work bleeds into fun time. We may resent that and a craving for “free time” leads to our work time. Allowing for work time, playtime, clean-up time, alone time and family time helps develop well-rounded people and keeps sanity in check.
Once you sort out something that works, consider extending your homeschool-work time. I was riddled with self-doubt every August I would dissolve into a worry-wart of “Am I doing the right thing by my kids?” While we went through it I noted my kids were different from others in a few ways.
They didn’t see the world through age restriction. They were as comfortable talking and visiting adults as they were kids their own age and they never fell into the traps of limiting their relationships by grade or age. When meeting with other homeschooling kids, if the personality of my nine-year-old resonated better with the six-year-old in another family and my six-year-old seemed in sync with their ten-year-old, ok. Whereas whenever our kids played with others on our street or in community groups (swim team, Scouts) age mattered to the others.
Making Voiceover Work and Home, Work
Learning was fun. My kids were always learning and loved it. When they transitioned into “regular” school they had to squash their enthusiasm for learning in order to “fit in” with the rest of the crowd. But ironically, outside of “regular school” they fostered that love of learning in other ways.
My kids are independent thinkers. They listen to instructions, opinions of others, and information that is presented as factual but do not stop at taking that info at face value. They dig for the truth, or other opinions to weigh the “facts” against. This has led them to continually think outside the box and often see the bigger picture.