8 Tips For Homeschooling With A Chronic Illness
How to Navigate the homeschool life while struggling with a chronic illness.
Homeschooling can be difficult to accomplish when you have a chronic illness, it takes up a lot of energy.
As a chronic illness survivor energy is a precious commodity in my little world. I have a limited supply of strength within any given day. Homeschooling my children has often been an overwhelming challenge for me to undertake. I have a deep desire to school my children. However quite often, that desire has been stronger than my true physical ability.
I am what many people would refer to as a veteran homeschooler. Homeschooling is a lifestyle that I have enjoyed for the past seventeen years. I have also been chronically ill for almost nineteen years, so that means that I have always been sick while homeschooling my children.
Over the years I have learned the hard way that more is not always better. Sometimes the simplest approaches are the best way to learn. Even though our school is not picture perfect harboring an environment of love and care is enough to encourage a love of learning.
As a result, I thought I would share a few of the lessons that I have personally learned as a chronically sick homeschooling mother over the years.
Going “by the book,” is not necessary.
When I purchased my first homeschooling curriculum over seventeen years ago, it arrived on my door step neatly packaged replete with a full 180 days worth of pre-written lesson plans. I made sure that I purchased every possible visual learning aid.
Visions of blackboards, colored paper and the smell of paste and scotch tape danced in my head.
I soon realized that these lesson plans did not reflect real life situations. Real life is where most of learning takes place, especially in a homeschool. In reality, the “perfect homeschool” that I had envisioned did not really exist. My children soon became frustrated with time frames and oodles of busy work. Unfortunately it took me several years to realize that “boxed” schooling was not the way to go.
Feeling as if I were constantly being held to someone else’s idea of a school schedule was extremely exhausting and was squashing my children’s natural love of learning.
Little by little I have learned to relax and take bits and pieces of curriculum that worked and set aside the rest.
I started picking and choosing what worked for my family and things began to fall into place. At the same time I was a nervous wreck that I would leave out some important topic or overlook something that was crucial to my children’s development.
Of course over time I have learned that no one curriculum holds the golden ticket. Each curriculum boasts its own strengths and along with those strengths it brings its weaknesses. Now, I am in my seventeenth year of teaching my children. These days I piece my children’s curriculum together one book at a time. I draw from old favorites and find new ones along the way.
As someone who suffers from chronic fatigue, I allow myself plenty of time to gather books for the school year. I usually start planning the coming school year in June and I am finished with that planning by September. Working at a snail’s pace is something that I have grown accustomed to since I became sick nineteen years ago. Although, pacing myself is still something that I struggle with on a daily basis.
What do I mean when I say planning the school year?
When I say planning the school year, I mean choosing which books and curriculum are suitable for each child. Then I order what I need and pull out of storage those things which I already own.
I do not write out lessons plans for an entire year. I am completely unable to write out even one week’s worth of lesson plans at a time. Instead, I keep a notebook with the first day or two of lessons roughly planned out and at the end of each school day I write in a rough draft of what the next day will look like. This way, I am not stuck writing for hours on end and I still get up every morning to some sort of plan!
I have learned to be kind to myself.
In the beginning, I would feel so ashamed if I skipped a subject. We would work on every single subject each day of the school week. It was stressful and I felt like I was constantly running in a losing race with the clock. If we didn’t squeeze in science one morning I fretted. If we didn’t complete every math problem in a lesson I worried. Not a good environment for fostering a love for learning I assure you. It was the definition of pressure with a capital “P.”
In retrospect, I realize how many opportunities for relaxed learning were lost in those early years! Now, if my children express an interest in a certain topic, we will spend the morning exploring it. It is during those times, that the bulk of their learning takes place. It is the fun of an unplanned day that sparks a love for learning.
I am much more forgiving towards myself these days and I do not hold my standard so high that it kills me to achieve it! Being kind to ourselves is perhaps one of the hardest lessons a homeschool mother has to learn. Because, if we are not kind to ourselves, how can we hope to be kind to our children?
I have learned to search for simple hands on projects.
I used to be “The queen of complicated.” When we first began our homeschooling journey, I would plan elaborate projects. Recipes made completely from scratch were the norm at our house. School projects would involve lengthy multi-step processes and often involve weeks of planning. While this is not necessarily a bad thing if you have the energy and stamina for it; it is not entirely necessary to sew your own prairie bonnet by hand and create entire Indian villages from cardboard.
In the end, I was exhausted and found myself falling into bed at night totally drained. It is by necessity that these days if I plan a special project for my children, it has to be something that takes less than ten minutes to prepare and can usually be completed in thirty minutes. Pinterest is a great source of quick and easy projects. Don’t get caught up in thinking that you have to do every project under the sun. Just one simple project can go the extra mile in teaching a hands on lesson.
Today my daughter watched a video on how cranberries are grown and harvested. She is in kindergarten. For her special project, we cut two fresh cranberries in half, stuck a toothpick in each one and she stamped them in red paint to make cranberry prints. Quick, easy and little mess to clean up, that is how we roll these days.
I have learned that our school calendar is totally different from the public school system and that is okay!
Since my health has been in a steady decline for past couple of years, I have learned that I have to take care of myself first.
If I push myself too far, I will not be able to teach my children at all. So, if I feel a flare coming on we will take a free day and just read or do quiet free-style learning activities. Taking a day here and there to regroup and possibly gain a small quantity of energy has become a staple of our “chronic homeschool.”
I no longer worry about finishing school by the same exact day every June. We simply just do what we can do and keep on going! It has taken a huge burden off of my shoulders since I realized that I am not chained to the public school schedule. Although the state of North Carolina requires that I keep an attendance record, they do not require that I school according to the schedule of the public school system.
Keeping my house in order does not have to mean it is spotless.
I am a bit of a clean freak. Realizing that an orderly house does not have to be a spotless one has been a real learning curve for me. I do try to keep things put away for the most part, but I have become much more lenient when it comes to housework. I try to do a thorough cleaning once a month. The rest of the time, I just try to stick to the rule that if you pull out something to use, put it back when you are finished. This goes a long way to keeping order in a homeschooling household.
Laundry is also a bit of a struggle for me. So, each and every morning I make it a point to start a load of laundry. Although takes me the better part of the day to get around to putting it in the dryer, at least I have accomplished one load of laundry for the day. As a chronic illness sufferer, every little bit helps!
Keeping easy meals on hand, keeps my stress levels at dinner time low.
Long days of taking care of children and teaching school, are not conducive to dinner plans. Most days I am completely unable to stand in my kitchen and cook for an hour. So I have a small collection of simple, healthy recipes that I fall back on each and every week. I try to make sure that I have the supplies on hand for those few simple meals at all times, so that on especially bad days dinner always makes it onto the table.
When all else fails call in reinforcements.
I am blessed to have a very understanding husband. Many times during the past year, he has stepped in to do many of the jobs that I am unable to do. He often prepares a meal or washes the dishes. Even doing the simple task of chopping vegetables for me when my arthritic hands are too painful to do so, helps me out tremendously.
Accept the help of others. This is in fact one of the hardest lessons I have had to learn since becoming chronically sick. I am just grateful that I have that option, some are not so blessed. My family is my greatest source of encouragement and help. I could not make it without them.
Homeschooling is a lifestyle. Cultivating a love of learning and making home a warm and inviting place to be takes devotion and lots of energy, it helps when you spread the responsibilities around and share your burdens.
If you are a homeschooling mother and suffer from chronic illness, please know that you are not alone. If I had a quarter for every time someone has told me to give up, I would be a very wealthy woman.
The homeschooling lifestyle can be shaped to fit your life not the other way around. You can homeschool your children successfully while chronically ill, you just have to be kind to yourself and realize that your best is enough. Oh, and a plan is a good idea!
Below is a small list of some of my favorite homeschooling resources.
- Before Five in A Row
- Five in A Row
- All About Reading
- All About Spelling
- Teaching Textbooks Math
- Prairie Primer by Margie Gray (This is a wonderful study of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books)
- Handwriting Without Tears
- Easy Grammar
- 50 States Postcard Exchange
- Writing Strands
There are many others, but these are just a few of our favorites.
Thank you for reading and be well!