Home Educator's Family Times - Home Education & Family Services - Homeschool Support Network
October 2001
Volume 9, No. 5

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Homeschooling Through the Tough Times

Marsha Ransom

Have you ever thought about whether you would consider continuing to homeschooling if disaster struck your family? Recently several people who are considering homeschooling have contacted me and said they really want to homeschool but . . . then they go on to tell me about some crisis in their family which they are waiting to get resolved before they begin. I have been able to share with them the fact that homeschooling does not need a perfect environment in order to thrive.

Quite a few homeschoolers have homeschooled through some pretty discouraging times and have told me that homeschooling helped them make it through intact! Yes, the schedule may have suffered a little, and perhaps their program looked more like carschooling than homeschooling, but, they shared with me that they felt their children learned some very important lessons by being able to share in more of the tough experiences of life. And while these things were going on, their kids were able to be a part of things that were happening, rather than being shuttled off to school each day to worry about what was happening at home. I don't know how many times I've heard institutional school teachers tell about kids who have crisis situations going on at home; they say, "The kids are so distracted, they are worrying about what might be playing out at home; they can't concentrate on their schoolwork. They might as well not be in school." Kids who are homeschooled may find their daily routine a little different, but they know what's happening; kids are much better able to deal with the realities of life than with their imaginings of what might be happening while they're gone to school.

One homeschooling family found themselves in dire straits early in their homeschool experience. First Mom and then Dad ended up in the hospital; then Mom had to be hospitalized the second time. Then grandma became ill and was hospitalized. The parents had their two little girls do some school work whenever they could. Since the girls were in the elementary grades they worried about whether their children were learning anything. They had a tote bag of school books, notebooks, pencils and paper which they carried with them everywhere, and the girls curled up in the corner of a waiting room, or a hospital room to do their school work. At the end of the year, sure they were going to get terrible scores, the parents administered a standardized test. The girls' scores were excellent. From then on, these parents realized that they could relax and work around just about anything.

A few years ago, my father-in-law went through several surgeries, then suffered a heart attack. Congestive heart failure set in and he found himself on hospice. During those two years, I was so glad we were homeschooling. Our four children got to spend so much quality time with Grandpa, way more than his schooled grandchildren did! We could go over, taking some school work with us, and see what was happening. If Grandpa was having a good day, the older kids could work a jigsaw puzzle with him, or we'd sing some songs for him. On not so good days, it was enough just to be there, and work on our school work in the living room, popping in now and then to see Grandpa when he had a better moment. When he was in the hospital, one of us took a couple of the children into his room, while one of us could work on studies in the waiting room with whichever kids were left. I felt that the lessons we learned, with the help of hospice, about life, the value of family, and dying as a natural conclusion of life were experiences that were invaluable and couldn't be duplicated by any curriculum.

A couple years later, our nephew was in a terrible one car accident, when he fell asleep at the wheel while driving home from work. He hadn't been wearing a seat belt and was thrown out of the car. Before we even visited our nephew in the hospital, we took our boys to the salvage yard where the car had been towed. We showed them the intact car; not a speck of glass remained in the windows, but there was no reason why someone in a seat belt couldn't have survived with minimal injuries. One indelible lesson that was learned, especially by our older boys, who were close to driving age, was to fasten their seat belts. It was always a family rule and a law, but now they understood why. Meantime, our nephew was in the hospital with a brain injury; in a coma for over a month. He was burned, became a paraplegic, and wasn't expected to live. He did pull through, and even before he was out of the coma, we began visiting him on at least a weekly basis. Talking to him, playing music for him, just being there and doing what we could to stimulate his brain was important. One night while he was still in the coma, we got out his electric keyboard and lay it across his bed. After turning it on, we played a few notes. To our surprised shock, he lifted his hands, placed them on the keyboard, and staring sightlessly at the wall opposite his bed, played a beautiful trill of notes and then a perfect chord! He also seemed to recognize us that night in some indefinable way.

A little over a month later, close friends of ours, a family with 3 boys, were also in a tragic automobile accident that took the lives of the mother and the 6 year old son. The middle son and father both sustained serious injuries. The injured son, who sustained paralysis on one side of the body and a brain injury, and our nephew mentioned in the paragraph above, were both in the same rehabilitation center. Our weekly visits to see the boys were an hour's drive one way; we took audio tapes (classics, biographies, Boomerang; the audio magazine for kids, Grammar Songs, Wee Sing Around the World, etc.) to listen to on the way there and back. We took a school bag with learning materials for each child and my college textbooks and study materials. (Yes, I was taking a class during this time!) We spent our day at the hospital, packing a lunch, and going with the flow. If we were able to go to therapy with one of the boys, we went. If we weren't, we took our stuff to the play therapy room, if it wasn't busy, and set to work. There was a video machine there which we could use, and tables, as well as books, games etc. We tried to stay out of the way of the staff and patients when it seemed appropriate, but sometimes they appreciated us joining in to stimulate a patient. This was a vital learning experience. Not only were we helping to cheer up and encourage our friend and our nephew, we were learning to accept people where they were. To realize that these were not just patients, but people who had been fine one minute, and now were learning to cope with handicaps, some of which they would live with for the rest of their lives. This on-going learning experience lasted for about a year, and since those three boys were dear friends of our three boys, there were some life lessons learned here that most of us would rather our kids didn't have to learn at such a young age. Still, I was glad that we were able to stay close and be there for them at a level we couldn't have managed without homeschooling.

Even illnesses that would keep kids home from school, don't have to interfere too much with the homeschooling day. Unless my kids are totally out of it, they usually get bored with lying in bed (we don't have television) and do at least some of their schoolwork. This is often a good time to read some books that they wouldn't have time for otherwise, which can be counted for one subject or another. Once they start to recuperate and feel a little better, I often pull out a project that we can work on together, such as scrap-booking, letter writing, or paper crafts. This is the time when the National Geographic collection usually gets some extra use, as well as the encyclopedias. Now and then we have a day when someone is too sick to do anything, but they are rare.

A local homeschooling mother of four recently had to go on bed rest to protect her latest pregnancy. She spent the days in a recliner, supervising the activities of her children, aged eight and younger. Her husband was there in the mornings, but left about 2:00 to go to work. He usually left supper in the crockpot, so food prep was covered, but Mom had to keep track of whether the older kids were helping the younger ones, and supervise the schoolwork. She told me that much of their time was spent reading together, finding ways to amuse the 2-year-old, and just keeping things on an even keel. She was glad when things settled down and she was able to return to normal activities, but was pleased that the family was able to pull together, spend some time learning together, but more importantly, learning to work together as a family. Isn't it a life lesson that families are there to help each other?

Homeschoolers have figured out ways to homeschool through lost jobs, and cut-backs. Sometimes the family has to find creative ways to keep an income coming in. Mom may become the breadwinner for a time, while Dad sends out resumes and oversees activities at home. Unique schedules have been worked out to allow Dad and Mom to share the breadwinning duties, perhaps working alternate shifts, allowing one parent to always be home with the children. Some suddenly single moms (through death or divorce) find themselves working out arrangements to make it possible to work at home and continue homeschooling, or to take their children with them to work. Working from home tutoring, giving private music lessons, freelance writing, running a mail order business, making up unique gift baskets, baking, selling books and other products, and sewing are just a few of the jobs stay-at-home homeschooling mothers have pursued to make it possible for them to be at home while homeschooling their kids.

Think outside the box! Become a creative problem solver! Look on a crisis as a challenge rather than an excuse to give up! Look around and realize that there is no one right way to approach homeschooling! You may have to adapt your homeschooling program, your expectations, and your lifestyle to make it through the tough times, but if homeschooling is a priority and you really feel it's best for your family, you will find a way to make it work! Finally, when there is a crisis in the home, children usually handle it best when they are able to be with their security: Mom and/or Dad!

Marsha Ransom, Mom of 4 homeschooled kids (2 graduated and 2 still homeschooling), is the author of the recently published "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Homeschooling". She is available to speak at your conference, curriculum fair, or other event. Contact her at 10411 68th Street, South Haven, MI 49090 or mransom@cybersol.com

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