Homeschooling in a crisis is not a topic that one intends to be able to write about. I don't want to be an authority on this subject, but life happens and sometimes less than ideal circumstances become the reality. The same ingenuity and flexibility that serve homeschool moms well in any situation becomes even more essential. Since I do have some experience on this topic, I'd like to encourage other moms who might be dealing with a crisis of some sort now. It doesn't have to mean the end of homeschooling!
First, let's define "crisis." I think that this can be anything that upsets your normal routine for an extended amount of time. This could be a major move (we've lived in 5 different states in 8 years), the birth of a baby (I had 2 in 2 years while homeschooling Big Sis), or health problems (I have several autoimmune diseases and Lil Sis is autistic). Things like job loss/job change, death in the family, or loss of home due to fire or natural disaster are all things that have happened to homeschooling families that I know. Although commitment to homeschooling can be difficult during these times, it is possible to continue. I'll share some ideas that I used at different times in our homeschool experiences.
Homeschooling during a move
When we moved from state to state, I knew that I wanted to keep up with Big Sis' homeschooling no matter where we lived. We've schooled in hotels and in the car when necessary while traveling. Even once we move into a new place, there is always the initial process of sorting and unpacking until we find everything and get settled. I recommend the following things to help with homeschooling during a move:
1. Keep a separate backpack and/or plastic storage bin for your essential homeschool books and supplies. Keep this handy in the car, rather than lost amongst a jumble of boxes in a moving van. This will save your sanity and allow you to school immediately, even while you're traveling, without having to frantically find everything once you reach your destination.
2. Make use of media during this transition time. This is an excellent time to listen to audiobooks in the car or watch educational DVDs on a portable DVD player. Learning doesn't always have to look like a traditional textbook/worksheet method, especially during a crisis or major life change. I recommend Jonathan Park CDs for science, classic literature that you can download for free as mp3 files, and fun educational DVDs like Leap Frog or Drive Thru History. If you have a laptop and an internet connection in your hotel room, you can make use of educational websites and even Netflix programs covering every subject you might want to study for kids from preschool through high school.
3. Take advantage of the travel time to see new sights and make it a field trip! There is history to be found everywhere and odds are that there will be some type of educational stop you can make on your trip. Many are free or low cost, too! We've seen old one room schoolhouses, revolutionary war cannons, locks on a waterway shipping line, old mills, and other small historical sites of interest. It doesn't have to be a huge tourist attraction like Niagara Falls (though we saw that on one of our moves) to be fun and educational.
Homeschooling with a new baby
I wouldn't say that having a new baby is a "crisis" in the bad sense of the word, but it is a major life change that requires an adjustment period for the whole family. My last two pregnancies were high risk and required c-sections, so they were a little more difficult than the average birth experience, but I continued to homeschool Big Sis. Becoming a big sister after five years of being an only child is adjustment enough without giving up on our homeschooling way of life! That is part of the beauty of homeschooling -- because it's a lifestyle of learning, crisis doesn't have to derail it. It simply means finding a new normal together.
1. Take advantage of your nesting time and energy and prepare as much in advance as possible. I generally tend to be a more relaxed home educator, taking a laidback approach to my planning since we're always following rabbit trails in our studies. However, when I was pregnant and knew that my time, attention, and energy would be compromised once the baby arrived, I got as much ready as I could. This meant planning out simple lessons to do in the first two months after the baby was born. I gathered books, organized printables, stocked up on supplies, and kept a special plastic storage bin for those things so it would all be ready. This made it simple for Big Sis (almost 6 when Lil Sis was born, almost 8 when Baby Girl was born) to look through the materials and help choose what she wanted to work on. Giving her that responsibility with a few options made her feel special during those first days when being a big sister was a brand new experience and there was a little bit of jealousy.
2. Do a lot of reading together. I have some wonderful memories of sitting with the girls on the couch, nursing a newborn, and reading books together. This is some awesome quality time, as well as educational. If you want to do some literature-centered lessons, I recommend Five in a Row, which uses classic children's books as the basis for gentle unit studies that can be done (even if you're on bedrest!).
3. Try lapbooking! Or notebooking if your kids are older. I pre-printed lapbook components for Big Sis before her sisters were born so they'd be ready. We sat on the couch together cutting, pasting, coloring, and learning. This is a fun and easy way to learn that even the littlest ones can help with. You can find any subject through places like Homeschool Share (they're free!), In the Hands of a Child, A Journey through Learning, and Currclick.
Homeschooling with a chronic illness
This has been the toughest of all for us because it is the least predictable and has no end in sight. Babies grow up and you eventually get settled after a move, but chronic illness never goes away. I have lupus, fibromyalgia, thyroid disease, migraines, PCOS, and lately some new concerns that have cropped up and are in the process of being diagnosed/treated. I have chronic pain. At times it leaves me dizzy and makes it difficult to concentrate. Pain also affects mood, so I have to work on not being grumpy even when I'm not sleeping well. The fatigue can be overwhelming. Even the weather can affect my pain level, believe it or not. On top of that, Lil Sis is autistic and has special needs that can be unpredictable at times. She is also affected by things like growth spurts, seasonal changes, changes in routine, and sensory input. The recent time change was enough to throw off her sleeping schedule, causing her to wake up during the night and be awake for several hours before she could settle back into sleep. All of this together can wreak havoc on the best laid plans. Rather than panic, we make adjustments as necessary. Here are some suggestions that have worked for us:
1. Have a literature-rich environment. Books, especially living books, are the key to our homeschool success. Whether they're audiobooks, library books, or our own growing collection, books are the heart of our learning. Even when pain hits me like a baseball bat, I can still read aloud to the girls. We can still enjoy our time together learning about history, science, math, and more, because of our shared love of reading. Even when it's Green Eggs and Ham for the hundredth time, my girls are learning about reading, rhyming, and having a good time. Big Sis even takes turns reading aloud to us now that she's older.
2. Be flexible. If we plan a field trip, but discover it's a bad pain day or Lil Sis has a meltdown, we know that we might have to leave sooner than we expected and come back another day. Sometimes we simply reschedule. We know that part of serving God is serving others, so we take things in stride and make the best decisions for the family as a whole. I've been blessed with daughters who go with the flow. I'm especially proud of Big Sis, who knows that Lil Sis just isn't able to handle some situations, but we make the best of it.
3. Don't discount the life lessons. As I mentioned above, Big Sis has learned a lot by having a sister with a disability. Children learn life skills like compassion, patience, and perseverance through crisis times. Try delight-directed learning or even unschooling for a time if necessary. Look at trials as an opportunity for growth.