One thing is for certain. If you home-school long-term, you are going to eventually encounter a challenge that will make homeschooling more difficult. I have been home-schooling for 20 years and have encountered a few of these challenges myself including a natural disaster, the sudden death of my brother (he was killed by a drunk driver in 1997), several moves, building a house, chronic illness, difficult pregnancies, and the deaths of my niece and my father.
I think you get the picture.
I remember after going through Hurricane Andrew in 1992, that some of my home-schooling friends put their kids in school and some, like myself, continued to home-school. Now, I’m not here to judge anyone’s choice in this regard, but I do believe it is possible to successfully home-school, even when circumstances seem to be conspiring against it. The key to dealing with the stresses of life’s challenges while continuing to home-school comes down, I believe, to implement these two strategies:
Flexibility: When life throws you a major curve, you may have to discard your beautifully laid-out plans for what your “school year” was supposed to look like. You may even need to take a break for a while. There is nothing wrong with this, and it will make sense to you if you are taking a long view. In other words, taking a break for a few days, or even a few weeks, is not likely to hinder your second grader’s chances of getting in his or her college of choice.
When my brother was killed in 1997, I was just getting ready to start up our school year. At that time I had three children, two who were home-schooling. My daughter was beginning 8th grade, and my oldest son was beginning 4th grade. Within hours of getting the devastating news I was on a plane to my parents’ home, leaving my daughter to care for her younger brothers while my husband worked. As it turned out, over the next 24 hours or so, she also did everyone’s laundry AND all the packing for her dad, herself, and her brothers for their trip to my parents’ home the next day. (I did not find out that she had taken these responsibilities upon herself until several weeks later. It was at that point that I began to realize that all the hard work and training of my children really was paying off. My daughter was only 13 but managed with the grace and efficiency of many adults!)
During that next year (and for many years after) I was engulfed by grief. I was also very concerned for my parents having to deal with the loss of their oldest son. I took many trips to visit with my parents, by myself, for as much as a week at a time. My daughter was old enough to do her school work on her own and even supervise her brother. But if I had not been able to be flexible – to allow myself to be available to my parents (for instance) and to trust that what really needed to get done, would get done – I would have missed out on, not only the opportunity to be of comfort to my parents, but also the opportunity to see how my years of home-schooling were bearing fruit, especially in my daughter’s life.
Prioritizing: I’m always a little surprised when I hear home-schoolers saying they are overwhelmed with their day and they mention that one of the things on their “must-do” list is home-schooling. Do they not realize that it is THEIR home-school? But I remember a time when I felt like them. It took a few life-changing events to teach me that my children could get a more-than-adequate education even if I cut back on the amount of work I required of them, for a time.
For instance, I remember after going through Hurricane Andrew I put a lot of stress on myself feeling that I needed to keep up with a full curriculum with my daughter. For several weeks after the storm we lived with family while we looked for a new place to live. We found a damaged home that we were able to buy dirt cheap (“dirt cheap” was right within our budget!) but we had to live in it while we repaired it, which was a perfect recipe for stress. On top of that my husband started his own business and then six months into the rebuilding process I became pregnant with our third child. I was so ill that I spent virtually the first four months of my pregnancy in bed.
That year or two after the hurricane was so incredibly stressful for me that I even began to question my decision to home-school. Thankfully, my husband and I went to a small home-school conference about that time and I became re-motivated and re-energized to continue our home-school journey.
When facing later challenges I finally came to the realization that there were really only three things that I needed to maintain in order to make sure my children’s education progressed. I am referring to what is commonly known as the “three R’s” – reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic .
When your children are young, if you will stick with a consistent math program, and a phonics/reading program, your child will be getting what they REALLY NEED. If you have older children, they can certainly be doing the majority of their work independently, but even then, if you scale things back for a little while it won’t do them any harm, and it will help to alleviate stress for you and your children.
Now I realize that in some states the regulations are more rigorous in terms of how many days/hours you are required to home-school, as well as what subjects need to be covered. But I would contend that there are ways to give your children credit for work that does not require them sitting down with books for hours a day. In addition, I am not advocating that you discontinue teaching other subjects -science and history, for example – indefinitely, only that you take a break for a time to allow yourself to adjust to the new challenges you are facing and how they may impact your family long-term.
I do encourage you, if you live in a state that has stricter regulations concerning curriculum and other requirements, to contact your local and state home-school representatives to help you with ideas for complying with those regulations in a way that works best for your family.
Finally, whether the challenge you are facing is the blessing of a new baby in the house, the tragedy of the loss of a loved one, or the stress of a move or some other life event, it is possible for your home-school to “survive” and even thrive, if you remember two things: be flexible and evaluate your priorities. Having done those two things, make the appropriate adjustments. You CAN meet life’s challenges AND continue to home-school as well. And as you do so, your home-schooled children will be learning valuable life lessons that I believe no other educational model can provide.
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