This is a topic I really didn't think I'd every post about but today I'm sharing How to Homeschool and Run a Cake Business.
For a long time I figured that being a homeschooling cake decorator was so rare that it didn't warrant writing about. But since I've been asked this question over and over again and I've answered every message faithfully, it finally occurred to me that my situation is not as unique as I originally thought.
In the past year (or a little more) I've joined a homeschooling/cake decorating Facebook group and gotten to know several other cake decorators who homeschool including my friend Anna-Kathryn (she doesn't have a page) and my friend Wendy (Mississippi Sweets) and a couple of others you might know... Shannon Bond who also has 6 kids - 5 boys and 1 girl... I feel like we're twinkies 😉 and Kara Andretta. I've also talked with dozens of others!
Anyway, just recently I received this message (the same one I've seen so often) from Darlene:
I was wondering how you manage to both homeschool and run a successful cake business from home?
I decided it was time to "go public" and share how this works for my family. I guess instead of titling this How to Homeschool and Run a Cake Business, I should've titled it How I Homeschool and Run a Cake Business.
Either way, I'm never quite sure where to start with this question. Homeschooling can look a million different ways depending on the parents, the children (their ages, difference in age, learning abilities or disabilities), the laws in your state, whether you work or don't work, etc. There are so many factors - it's never going to look the same for any two families.
Having said that - let me tell you how it works for our family. First, there's me. Although this might be obvious, I have a real-life cake business (I do 10-15 cakes per month these days), this cake blog (where I earn full-time income), my personal blog, and my blog about blogging.
I guess first I should say that I wasn't always as balanced as I am now. A couple of years ago I stepped back some from my real-life cake business. I went from taking 8-10 cakes per weekend to now only taking 2-4 and at least one weekend off per month. Instead, I spend more of my time and focus on my family and home, growing this blog and helping others.
When I was doing 8-10 cakes per weekend, I was rarely sleeping, always stressed and never caught-up. I felt like I wasn't in control of anything. Our home suffered, my family suffered, my health suffered. It was bad. So I guess my #1 recommendation would be - only do what you can do well.
If you're taking too many orders, stop or cut back. Find a balance that works for you so that you're enjoying your work, enjoying your family, and taking care of yourself!
I chose to do less real-life cakes, spend more time blogging and sharing with you guys, and more time cleaning my house, homeschooling my kiddos, and sleeping. Ha!
Our Family. In addition to my work (that I do from home), my husband works a regular full-time job. He usually works a regular work day, but also has to do odd shifts (working evenings, nights and/or weekends) a few times a year. For his "regular" hours, he works a compressed work schedule where he has every other Friday off (by working longer hours the other 9 days in a 2 week period). *Note: when I refer to "work" for myself, I am talking about blogging and/or real-life cake decorating.
My 18 year old son has already graduated (he got his GED - with Honors in March of 2015 at the age of 17!) and is currently working full-time in an electrician's apprenticeship program. He works 40 hours a week as an apprentice and attends night classes in the program for 15 hours a month. At the end of 5 years, he'll be a Journeyman Wireman Electrician with 5 years of hands-on experience and 63 hours of college credit from the classes.
This is a little off-track, but I'm so proud of him and what he's doing - in addition to learning a trade that will always be in demand, maybe the best part of this program is that it doesn't cost us a dime. Well, he does have to buy books and tools, but he "pays" for the school by working full-time in the program (he also get's paid almost double minimum wage).
Ultimately he's getting paid for his education. Win-Win!! (I should note that if he drops out before finishing, he would possibly have to repay the school for however many years he has completed - so that's great motivation to stick with it!)
Right now (as of April 2016) I have 4 kids that I'm homeschooling full-time (ages 8, 11, 13, and 14). They're currently in the 3rd grade, 5th grade, 7th grade and 8th grade. I mostly use the My Father's World Curriculum which allows all 4 of them to study the same Bible lessons (slightly shortened memorization for the 3rd grader), History, Science (more in-depth questions for the older kids), and Music/Art. For Spelling, Language Arts, Math and Reading - they all work on their own specific age/grade level. I do use a different math than MFW recommends and a couple of other small changes, but for the most part, we love My Father's World!
My 5 year old just turned 5 in January and I'm currently experimenting with starting the Kindergarten curriculum with him. He likes to do math, but is really not keen on learning letters right now, so I'm not pushing. In my experience (and I have a lot of it), when he's ready to learn to read, it will go so much easier than trying to force it when he's not ready.
I'll continue to read and sing with him and "do school" when he asks, but we won't jump in "full-time" for probably a few more months.
How to Homeschool and Run a Cake Business
I've already laid out my cake schedule for you here (see #4), so now I'll give you a little more detail on how our homeschooling schedule works with that. And when I say works "with"... I mean it. While some tasks absolutely have to be done exclusively, as often as I can, my business is a part of our family and learning - not a separate deal.
I should note that Mississippi does not have strict homeschooling laws. I don't have to report hours of attendance, have my children tested, or have any in-home visits from officials. I basically register them with the truancy office once per year stating that they are homeschooled and give the state some very basic information, and that's it.
So... first up, I am not a live-and-die-by-a-schedule type of person when it comes to my kids and homeschooling. I've tried regimented scheduling and it did not work for us. I hated every minute of it and quite frankly, it just made us all cranky and on edge. I'm easy-going, laid back, and relaxed about my kids' learning. That's not to say it's all rainbows and sprinkles over here... it's NOT, but we roll with the punches.
With 6 kids and a cake business, there was always a dentist appointment or doctor's visit or errands to run or a bride to consult with that interfered with "the plan". When I tried scheduling, the minute someone got sick or an appointment interrupted, I'd feel like a failure and I always always felt like we were behind.
I was defeated. I was miserable. They were miserable. So we scrapped that idea and now we're much more relaxed and happy!
Also, we do school year-round. We live in southern Mississippi where summer-time heat and humidity can be brutal, so when it's really too hot and miserable to play outside, we do homeschooling in the summer.
Then when it's beautiful and perfect weather in the spring and fall, we might take a few weeks off. We also take an extended break from Thanksgiving to the New Year. I won't say we don't do any school during that time, but we put a high priority on family time and enjoying the holidays and Advent. So instead of one long summer break, we take several breaks throughout the year.
My Father's World Lesson Plans from Week 1 of our current school year. Note how Friday has only one required assignment and a few optional ones.
Most days, Monday-Thursday, it takes anywhere from 3-5 hours for everyone to get their work done. It may take a little longer for the older kids (it definitely took Joshua a little longer in high school), but that's a good range for us. It really depends on the assignments on the schedule for that particular day.
We don't start at any set time, but it's usually mid-morning. For example - we'll start around 10am, work for 2 hours, have lunch, then 30 minutes of playing outside, then we'll pick back up and finish in the afternoon.... sometimes by 3pm... other days it may be closer to 5pm.
You may notice I said Monday through Thursday... not Friday. With my husband having every other Friday off and since I'm often decorating cakes on Fridays, we generally don't do school on Fridays. Again, that's not a "carved in stone" rule - but it generally applies. If you missed it - I have a rough "cake schedule" written out in this post.
If we happen to miss school earlier in the week due to an appointment, sickness, etc., then we might do school on Friday to make it up... but if it doesn't work out, we let it go and just pick up on Monday again.
I should note that the MFW curriculum works really well with the way we approach school because the Friday assignments are usually very minimal so we can add them to Thursday or finish them in an hour or less on Friday! You can see what I mean looking at the lessons plan page above... Friday is very light in this curriculum! Another reason we're crazy about MFW!
Reading and/or working independently.
I realize this won't be true for everyone, but my kids can theoretically do about 90% of their work independently. I am involved most of the time, but if for some reason I have a business call or blog deadline that I have to work on, I'll get them started, then do my work in the background while they work.
My Father's World is also written so that if I have to go somewhere, the older kids can read the lesson plans, take charge and do their work without me. That doesn't happen often, but it's fantastic that I have that option when needed.
When it is a school day and I have real-life cake work to do, we do school first, then cake work in the afternoons/evenings. Since I'm limiting my orders these days and working less on real cakes, it's much easier to have balance and get everything done without major stress and anxiety.
Yes, school gets interrupted or cut short sometimes on Thursday or Fridays, but I don't panic about it.
These pics were taken a couple of years ago... they were doing schoolwork while I photographed a cupcake. This was also before our kitchen remodel 😉
Because I truly value real-life learning as much as, if not more than "book learning", I also involve my kids in my business and they're always learning new practical skills from working with me. Before Joshua (my oldest) started the apprenticeship program, he worked for me making cookie dough and royal icing, cutting out fondant letters, making deliveries and more.
Currently my 14 year old son Caleb makes all of my frosting and my 13 year old daughter Sarah makes all of my cake batter. They've been doing this kind of work for me for more than 2 years.
I pay them all for their work and my oldest 3 kids all have their own checking and savings accounts since they were 12. They have debit cards for the checking accounts and they're responsible for their own money. They tithe, save and spend - and know the value of a dollar!
Besides just caking, all of my kids can cook, cut grass, the oldest boys change the oil in our vehicles, and they have lots of other chores that give them real-life skills. I strive for them to be learning at all times - no matter what we're doing!
As for my blog work, I try to check email and do a little bit in the mornings before we start school, then I'll often get them started on reading (I'll let one of the older kids do the assigned read-aloud History, for instance) and I'll do some blog work while they're reading.
Or when we listen to books on CD, I have them fold laundry while they listen and I'll blog (like now... that's what we're doing as I write this... they're listening to Story of the World and folding laundry and I'm telling you about it).
But honestly, I probably do most of blog work at night while I watch TV with the hubby or after he goes to bed. I'll be the first to admit - that's not ideal and it's an area I'm still working on. I really believe focused work is best and sleep is important... I just haven't gotten to a great place in those areas myself (yet).
I have a virtual assistant (VA) now (my friend Susan of I Bake, You Enjoy) to help with some of my blog work and one of my goals this year is to get more sleep and have more unplugged time, but so far... I can only say it's a work in progress and I haven't gained much traction. Having a VA is a huge help, but I'm still staying up late every night writing and answering emails and editing pictures, etc. :-p
So one day... maybe I'll be writing about how to have a full-time blog and sleep enough, but for now, this'll have to do!
So that it's ... that's How I Homeschool and Run a Cake Business. Do you have any questions? tips? suggestions? I'd love to hear, so leave me a comment!