Teaching children at home is a big job under normal circumstances (if there is such a thing as normal circumstances!) With housework, meals, and school lessons, not to mention church activities and part-time jobs, it’s no wonder that families with some kind of chronic illness are hesitant to homeschool.
Illness, in itself, can make life so unpredictable. Homeschooling with a chronic illness adds another layer of complication to the mix.
I’m not going to tell you that it’s easy, but I would like to assure you that it is possible.
Homeschooling isn’t school; it’s a family lifestyle of learning with the home as the base. When you understand the immense freedom in this mindset, you start to see how a parent can homeschool under almost any circumstances, including chronic illness.
I’ve been homeschooling for 20 years, and have suffered chronic migraines even longer. Being a homeschool mom is already a full-time job. Migraines can certainly complicate this.
Personally, I get the kind of migraines that make it hard to crawl out of bed some days. The pain is so bad that light and noises hurt, and smells make me nauseous. I can barely care for the kids, let alone teach math lessons.
On top of that, each of my five pregnancies came with the exciting gift of hypervaris gravidum, otherwise known as constant morning sickness. For about two months each pregnancy, I could not eat and could barely keep water down. I was too nauseous to move. I was always in danger of dehydration. There was no sitting up or moving around.
So, how can a parent with a chronic illness possibly educate their children at home?
Tips for Homeschooling with a Chronic Illness
Change your outlook
You will need to get rid of your (very natural) expectations of what school looks like. You are a family who lives in a home. You are not a teacher who functions in a classroom. But don’t panic! This is a great opportunity.
Education doesn’t just happen with open textbooks at a desk. It doesn’t just happen during “school hours.” It happens in many ways, at various times, and in all kinds of places. Education doesn’t take 12 years of 7-hour days. It’s a lifestyle that revolves around your family and your circumstances.
Consider a type of year-round homeschooling. It works for us because we are always in learning mode with the flexibility to take days off. Those days off might be one at a time or several in a row. But we never feel behind because we’re always moving forward.
Assess your needs
Depending on your illness and how often it affects you, start with the basics. How do you get meals, laundry, and housework accomplished? Do you have small children who need supervision? Older children who just need direction? Is your illness a daily thing? Occasional? Unpredictable? Start there.
If it’s daily, what are the basics that need to happen every day? Food, supervision, simple lessons? You’ve probably already learned to adjust your homemaking around your needs.
So look at the homeschool lessons the same way. Just like you might create an easy plan for meals, you’ll create an easy plan for education. This could include video, streaming classes, audiobooks, or open-and-go workbooks. The homeschool curriculum options are nearly endless, so take the time to research!
Sometimes we have a preferred plan for homeschooling, but it may not match up with real life. However, with a little tweaking, any style can work. There are plenty of ways to adapt to your preferred style.
If you’re like me and have an occasional and unpredictable illness, think about the basics for just those days. Keep a frozen meal or two handy, determine what kind of supervision the kids need, and decide how much schooling can, or will, happen.
Provide lots of educational materials that your children can access easily, like books, activity sets, games, and puzzles. Keep a set of craft supplies handy that you don’t mind them using.
Create a checklist
For my “sick days,” I have a basic list of things that need to get done. My kids are older now so they are able to accomplish their meals, chores, and some basic schoolwork without my help. They know what to do, and they know that there will be extra free time when their responsibilities are completed.
But what if kids are too young to manage on their own? When my kids were younger and pretty dependent on me for everything, migraine days meant survival mode. I didn’t worry about school work. I fed them whatever could be eaten out of a box. They played with toys in the same room as me. They watched videos. And thankfully they napped!
I learned to collect a list of ideas that not only educated their minds on my hardest days but also kept them occupied and out of trouble. A video or audiobook works perfectly for this.
When you’re homeschooling with a chronic illness, you have to take into account the unpredictability and decide what each child is capable of doing. Take the time to make a list, whether it’s just for yourself or something you hang in the kitchen for them to see.
Train your children
This kind of life experience is an education in itself, so don’t waste the opportunities! Train your children in behaviors that make for a peaceful home and for the needs of your family, including food, household care, sibling relations, and schoolwork.
For little ones, naps and quiet play are key. On my worst days, naps were the best part of the day for me because I could fall into bed without worrying about the kids for a couple of hours. As my kids grew out of the nap stage, I trained them to have “quiet time.” It was at the same time as their naps had been, and this went on until the teen years. It was at least an hour of being alone with a book or a quiet activity. I know some families that do up to two hours of quiet time each day. If your kids have never done this, you will need to train them in increments. Start with 15 minutes every day for a week, then work up to 30, and so on. Before you know it, you’ll have a peaceful hour or more every afternoon (sick days or not!).
Teach them to make simple food, or stock the kitchen with grab-and-go selections. I know this doesn’t always equate to healthy eating, but remember: survival is key! If your kids are old enough to cook, train them to make a few simple meals. They can easily take care of three meals in a day if properly instructed, even if it means a freezer meal, opening a couple of cans, or making bean burritos. But really, it’s okay to have cereal, sandwiches, fruit, and string cheese on these days.
You may not need a full schedule of chores accomplished on your worst days, but there are still some basics that must be taken care of, such as animal care and dishes. Get your children used to having these responsibilities (instead of you) so that they are a normal part of the daily routine. And then slowly train them to take on other helpful tasks, such as laundry and tidying up living areas.
The time you take to train them on good days will pay you back immensely on the bad days.
Sometimes you will face extended periods of illness. Just like my non-stop morning sickness, there are times when your household faces a mom of out commission for more than just a few days.
Let me tell you, this is when you build your own character and that of your children. You will be put in a position to trust completely in God, and if you’ve been there, you know what that’s like. When everything feels hopeless and you feel helpless, you lean into God like never before.
Two scriptures helped me through these times:
Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee. (Isaiah 26:3)
The peace that passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ. (Philippians 4:7)
Trust God with your plans. His ways are higher than our ways, and His will is perfect. If we cannot accomplish all the things on our carefully drawn-up list, it’s okay. Sometimes He wants us to give up control of everything to learn to trust Him.
Trust God with your homeschool. Learn to see that daily workbooks are not all there is to education. Pray for your children. Let them learn servanthood, patience, and flexibility.
Remember that you are not a teacher in a classroom. You are a mom in a home. Consider what’s important in raising humans and focus on those priorities.
In my new book, I have devoted an entire chapter to homeschooling with a chronic illness. I expand on my story and also share the story of a mom with MS who homeschools her three kids. Read my introduction and order a copy HERE.
This post was written by….
Nicki Truesdell is a 2nd-generation homeschooler and mother to 5. She is a homemaker at heart, and loves books, freedom, history and quilts, and blogs about all of these at nickitruesdell.com. She believes that homeschooling can be relaxed and that history is fun, and both can be done with minimal cost or stress, no matter your family’s circumstances. She is the author of Anyone Can Homeschool, available at Amazon.com.
This article is a part of our How We Homeschool Series; a collection of content from full-time, veteran homeschoolers sharing their own experiences on the versatility and diversity of homeschooling. You can read more about the series, and see all of the content, by clicking the image below.