Thursday, February 10, 2011

Homeschooling with Chronic Illness

I hope you will join me tomorrow as I chat with Vivienne McNeny on The Sociable Homeschooler radio program about homeschooling with chronic illness.

Here's an article I wrote last year for Rest Ministries as part of an eBook of tips for living with chronic illness.
10 Tips for Homeschooling as a Chronically Ill Mom

1. Take the time to investigate your options and find what fits your physical needs and your children's learning styles, then put a plan in place. Do you intend to "unschool," use a very structured curriculum package, or find some middle ground style of educating your children. For me, using a curriculum called My Father's World makes the difference between me being able to teach my children at home or not, as it is flexible enough to be easily worked around my limitations, yet structured and well-prepared enough that I can open my teacher's book and go.

2. You may be at home, but you don't have to be alone. Look into local homeschool support networks and connect with other homeschoolers online. You can typically find support groups ranging from regional, to teaching style, to curriculum specific. Rest Ministries Sun Room offers a group just for parents who are homeschooling with chronic illness and Home School Legal Defense Association is a fantastic "clearing house" for state-by-state legal information and support.

3. Be realistic about your limitations and don't hesitate to bring in outside help when needed. We budget for housekeeping help when I get overwhelmed, and I'm currently looking for a homeschooled teenager who might be available on a regular or on-call basis to come be a mother's aid, helping with light housework, playing with kids, babysitting while I go to the doctor, etc. As a homeschooled high school student, I had a couple of moms I helped out at low or no charge, one to earn Home Economics credit and the other in a barter exchange while she tutored me in Sign Language.

4. Budget your time, energy and finances around your priorities. Seriously evaluate the reasons you are homeschooling then use your priorities to set the tone for how you spend you money and energy reserves to be sure you are staying on target and not being pulled in too many directions.

5. It's OK, make that imperative, to say "No" frequently! If this activity or energy expense isn't in keeping with my core reasons for educating my children at home, I should let it go without guilt! Life lessons of learning to work together through chronic illness can be a positive and valuable part of our educational experience that helps us keep our core values in proper priority and perspective.

6. Your school day doesn't have to look like anyone else's. I frequently refer to our style of homeschooling as "bedschooling" because, more often then not, I'm laying on a couch in the school room or the kids are all piled in my bed for hours of reading delight. Find what works for you to produce joyful, well-educated children, then work toward the desired outcome without being so concerned about perfection through the journey.

7. Teach your children to be self-motivated by setting attainable goals together and enabling them to learn to work independently at times you are not able to be as hands-on as you would desire. My oldest is going into 6th grade and my youngest is just starting K so I've taught the older two how to read lesson plans for their younger brother and for themselves. This week I was able to guide our kids through lessons the first two days of the week, then I spent the next two solidly down hard in bed, but the kids independently completed three days of school work with only minimal supervision from me, finishing their school week a day early!

8. You don't have to defend yourself. Your choices as a parent are not something you are required to explain to every Nosy Rosie who feels you either can't possibly be as sick as you claim to be because you wouldn't be attempting homeschooling if you were, or that because you are so sick, you are not making wise choices in quality education for you children by keeping them home. The decisions are ultimately between you, your spouse and God alone, so please take other's criticisms lightly!

9. While it really is none of their business, there are times you might want to have a realistic discussion with others about homeschooling while living with health challenges. Take time out to think through your reasons and potential responses ahead of time so you are prepared to give a rational explanation to those who matter to you. The following point is an example of the answer I give in such situations:

10. When people ask why we homeschool when I'm so sick, I tell them that not only is it important to my husband and I that our kids are getting the quality of education we want for them by having the freedom to select our own curriculum and overseeing their learning at home, but honestly this is the "easiest" choice for my health situation since I do not have to get kids up, dressed, out the door with lunches, then managed hours of homework at the end of every day too. I believe that parents who send their children away from home for school still have to work just as hard with their kids, only have far less time to squeeze it all into after kids have already given their "best" hours of the day to an outside teacher. I would much rather spend my limited energies on homeschooling than on parenting on someone else's schedule.
Edited in 2013 to add one more tip: 
Know when to say when. If health issues dictate a change, don't be so married to your desire to homeschool, that you can't let go of the dream if it ever comes to that. When people would question our dedication to home schooling or plans for duration (I was homeschooled through high school, so that seemed a viable plan for us as well), my answer was, "We will keep homeschooling as long as it remains the best option for our family." Little did I dream there might actually come a day when it was no longer our best option. With mixed emotions (but amazingly more God-granted peace than I would have ever thought possible), here's why this part of our lives has taken such a dramatic, and yes health-related, change.
 (c) Copyright Jennifer Saake, 2001

"InfertilityMom" Jennifer Saake graduated from high school at home in 1990 and is now a homeschooling mom of 3 long-awaited miracles, ages 5-11. She has lived with XMRV-Associated Neuro-immune Disease (formerly known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) for the past 20 years, with a significant relapse of aggressive debilitation when her youngest was just a year old. She is the author of Hannah's Hope: Seeking God's Heart in the Midst of Infertility, Miscarriage & Adoption Loss (NavPress, 2005) and is currently working on a book on the life of Paul to offer encouragement for living with chronic pain and illness.
Would you like more tips on living life to the fullest with chronic illness? Check out this two part blog-series and my related interview with Lisa Copen of Rest Ministries, about Coping with Crisis on Top of Chronic.

More Homeschooling with Illness Resources:

Homeschooling Through Chronic Pain (part 1) - Gricefully Homeschooling

Homeschooling With A Chronic Illness (update) - Gricefully Homeschooling

Homeschooling with a Chronic Illness: 10 Tips to Help You Succeed - Ben and Me: the delight-directed homeschool

Homeschooling With Chronic Illness (podcast) - Savvy Homeschool Mom 

Homeschooling When Mom Is Sick - Home School Enrichment Magazine

Parents with a Chronic Illness - Special Needs Homeschool

Homeschooling through Illness and Disability - Home School Heartbeat

Why I Decided to Homeschool My Kids Despite My Illness - Rest Ministries

Homeschooling With Chronic Illness - Professor Mom

Homeschooling With a Chronic Illness - Not in Kansas Anymore

Homeschooling with Lyme disease - Lymeade Homeschool

Homeschooling: What about Socialization - Homeschooling, Chronic Illnesses and Other Daily Events: Living a Special Needs Life

His Grace is Sufficient - A Catholic Life

Homeschooling Through the Tough Times - Home Educator's Family Times

Homeschooling When My Child Is Chronically Ill - Uniquely Gifted

HSLDA Defends Homeschooling for Sick Children

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