Welcome back to my ongoing series of posts for anyone considering homeschooling, and for homeschooling parents who need a fresh perspective. Today I’m writing about a type of homeschooling I’m especially qualified to write about: homeschooling through difficult circumstances. Now, of course there are many horrible tragedies my family has not undergone, but we’ve experienced enough that I think I can offer some unique advice. This is probably my only post of advice I hope you never need.
For new readers, some quick background. In my 14 years of homeschooling we’ve moved twice, had two high risk pregnancies, one that required bedrest from the second trimester onwards and the delivery of my son at 34 weeks and a couple weeks in the NICU. We also dealt with the layoff of my husband (during a high risk pregnancy), the surprise diagnosis of two children with a rare genetic disease, and subsequently so many hospitalizations for my two special needs sons I’ve lost count- including Fulton’s spinal fusion surgery and eight week recovery. So while I don’t have a monopoly on challenging events we’ve homeschooled through some stressful “adventures”.
Turn to God.
First and foremost in any challenge, you ideally want to turn your fear and anxiety over to God. I’ll be the first to admit that’s easier said than done. If you’ve made your faith the cornerstone of your family, and homeschool, then difficult circumstances are simply a very hands on way of practicing your faith. Educating your children is an extension of your vocation as a parent and if you’ve prayerfully decided to shoulder that responsibility yourself, then you can rest easy and know that God’s got your back. He wants to see you succeed in this endeavor and He will offer the graces you need to persevere no matter what. If your family is faced with uncertainty, turn to Him in prayer, even if just to share your worries or anger. Keep the lines of communication open and if you haven’t before, make praying together as a family, or praying during your homeschool, a priority. He may not eliminate your suffering, but He may help you find the strength to be a better teacher and parent than you imagined, and He will help your children grow through adversity too.
One of the key things I’ve stressed in all my previous posts is the importance of having a mission statement, and “big picture” goals. At no time is this more important than when your family falls into survival mode. You know the kids can’t just become feral, but keeping up with all. the. subjects. is simply not possible due to circumstances. When our family has faced adversity, I knew what to focus on, and what to set aside until later, because we had a mission statement. Subjects and activities that were fun, but not crucial to our overall goals, could be put on hold, while things like math and reading moved to my bed (during bedrest). During periods of financial hardship, we focused what money we had on the most important subjects as determined by our mission statement, and borrowed or used free resources for less crucial subjects. You may have state requirements to think about, or if you’ve enrolled in a specific online school, outside deadlines. Look into what contingency plans your online school offers should you encounter problems, and if you need to scale back, make sure you can still document necessary subjects for the state you’re in.
Periods of change and craziness don’t need to equal radical changes to your homeschool. You can often stick to your goals with minor changes, tweaks, and deletions, rather than huge overhauls. It’s helps to keep in mind that a bad day, week, month, semester or even year doesn’t equal a bad education. Even during our most stressful seasons, I could look back at the end of each school year and see where we’d made progress; maybe not as much as I’d hoped, but we got the job done. If your family hits a rough patch and you worry your children’s education is lacking, remember than in the grand scheme of things, that as long as you’re meeting those basic goals you’ve set for yourself (or the state has set for you) your kids will become happy, well educated adults (regardless of how much 3rd grade science you skipped).
Another way to be prepared is to teach your children to work independently. I’ll have specific tips for making this happen in tomorrow’s post, but choosing curriculum with an eye towards independence means that if you need to step away from instruction for a few days, or a week, school doesn’t come to a stand still. I can sit with one of my sons in the hospital and check work through Google Classroom because my older kids know what is expected of them and how to complete assignments. When you make this a goal early on, the benefits will really shine if/when the unthinkable happens.
Homeschooling by it’s very nature is flexible, that mean you can move education to your bed, a hospital room, your van, or a new home entirely. Yes, you may love your perfectly organized schoolroom, but that’s not the only place an education can happen. You also have complete control over your schedule. Give yourself a long “maternity leave” and pick up lessons in the summer if that works best for your family. If a child winds up in the hospital, it’s your choice to keep schooling, or maybe take a break so everyone can process what’s going on. Maybe what your children need for that week is more read alouds, science specials on TV, and hugs; and thankfully- you can do that. When a crisis arises don’t become a slave to your lesson plans and lofty ideals (which are different from your mission statement). Adjust your homeschool as necessary, without guilt, to weather the storm and come out on the other side less exhausted.
Outsource some of the work.
You don’t need to do it all. There are so many wonderful online teachers and classes who can step up and educate your children if you need them to. You may even have friends in your homeschooling group, or in your family, who would be willing to step in and oversee certain subjects if you are distracted by a crisis. Or maybe it would be more helpful to have people to assist with housework, babysitting, or transportation; all you need to do is ask. If your family is undergoing difficult circumstances people have probably said “Let me know if you need anything.”. Ask them, and allow them the opportunity to perform works of charity for your family. Compile a list of specifics that would help you and let your family, parish, and homeschool community know. Accept help humbly and gratefully and know that when your situation improves you’ll be able to do the same for others.
A special note: if you are a homeschooling parent or a retired homeschooling parent, consider homeschooling the children of families who must work but will need to continue distance learning this year. So many working parents do not know how they will manage even another semester of having their children home from school. If you can provide room for their child(ren) in your homeschool consider doing so. If you are a parent who needs to work but wants to educate your child at home, reach out to your local homeschooling groups and families and see if someone will help you out. It is being done.
And while it may not help you this year, know that depending on your circumstances, you may need to enroll one or all of your children in school for a bit, and that’s okay. You are not a failure. If you experience a situation in which homeschooling seems impossible, then consider school for a year. You can always pull them out and homeschool again at a later time if you’re able. Take it a year at a time. Multischooling families are more common than you might think. Multischooling families have kids at home, in private school, and/ or public school. Every year they decide who would benefit from being at home and who would do better in an outside classroom. If this approach helps you manage through a tough time, go for it! And don’t feel like you’re less of a home educator because you need more outside help than usual for one year. You can always supplement what your kids are learning in school with afterschooling. Afterschooling is simply enrichment activities that you do with your child outside regular school hours. It’s meant to be fun and focus on things, like say the liturgical year, nature study, interest led projects, etc., that may not get covered at school. It’s a great way to keep learning with your kids, even if you’re no longer in charge of the core subjects.
Care for yourself and each other.
Amidst all the struggles going on, make sure you are caring for yourself. If you’ve built time into your schedule during the planning phases, you’ll hopefully be in good shape to tackle whatever is going on. Likewise, you’ve hopefully been making time for you and your spouse so that during a crisis you can rely on one another. Continue to make time alone as a couple and if the current circumstances start to take a toll on your marriage, seek professional counseling. If reading this makes you realize you’re not taking any time for yourself or your marriage, remedy that fact immediately so you’re prepared when the unexpected happens. You don’t want to deal with your own health problems or marital problems in the midst of another crisis.
Listen to your kids, and talk to them about whatever is going on in an age appropriate way. Try to keep a routine in place for them, even if it’s different than their normal routine. Know that your behavior during difficult circumstances will bleed into theirs. If you notice radical behavior changes, changes in sleep, anxiety, etc. chances are they’ve picked up on your fear and these are its manifestations in them. Make sure you’re sharing your frustrations with other adults, away from little ears, and sheltering your children from adult problems and concerns. If one child’s health is demanding all of your attention, make an effort whenever you can to spend time one on one with your other children, even if you just let them crawl in bed with you and tell you about their day while you lay there.
Keep a sense of humor.
Lastly, look for the good in each day and keep your sense of humor. There is always something to be thankful for, and something to smile about. Those ideals were the starting point of this blog when I was a struggling to return to normal after the back to back diagnosis of my two youngest children. No matter what your circumstances are, you will return to normal again. It may be different from how things looked before, but it will contain all of the same joy.
Tomorrow I answer the seven most common homeschooling questions I get asked by readers- much of which can also help you if you’re trying to homeschool during trying times. Swing back and learn more on Friday!