If you’ve been homeschooling a long time, chances are you’ve homeschooled through some challenging times and some major life changes. The thing about homeschooling is that it is about lifelong learning and relationships, not just about bookwork. In fact, the bookwork part of homeschooling is only a small portion of homeschooling. Homeschooling is about learning. And that includes learning through all phases and stages of life.
During our homeschooling journey, we have had a lot of ups and downs in life. We’ve dealt with special needs and all that accompanies having kids with special needs in a family. We had a baby. We moved halfway across the country. And my mom died. All of these had a major impact on our day-to-day lives - especially the death of my mom and the grieving that went along with it.
So how do you manage to homeschool through those big life changes? Do you have to just give up and put your kids into public school? No, you don’t. Homeschooling gives you the flexibility to change things up whenever needed. You can do your bookwork together when it works - whether that’s in the evening or on the weekend or whenever it works out. There will be plenty of time for bookwork later; it does not need to be an additional stressor during a challenging time in your lives. Instead, this can be a time of learning even more outside the box than normal.
Here are some ways we’ve dealt with big life changes in my family while homeschooling:
Birth - when my youngest was born, my “big kids” were 6 and 8. I read to them A LOT from the couch while I nursed the baby. I had printed out some free unit studies about holidays, community helpers, animal classifications, outer space, etc., and I’d grab one of those and we’d chat about the topic, read books about the topic, watch videos about the topic, draw a picture about the topic, act out part of the topic, etc., and the kids could do the packet at the coffee table or on a clipboard on the floor. It usually included things like a coloring page, pages to cut/paste answers, matching up words/ideas/pictures, word searches, mad libs, etc. We could spend a week or more on each topic and include both kids in learning.
While the baby was sleeping or was in her usual place in my sling, we cooked and baked together, did laundry together, did chores together, played games together, and had fun doing big projects for art/science/history.
Having a baby didn’t mean we couldn’t learn together, it just meant that a lot of our learning took place while I was nursing or changing diapers on the floor next to my big kids.
Death - To say the months before and after my mom died were stressful is a gigantic understatement. During that time, there wasn’t always consistent bookwork, but there was always learning. Some days my kids did their sit-down work nearby so I could answer any questions or help with directions/comprehension. Some days we worked on a novel study, so one of us would be reading aloud, or they would do a painting to accompany the book, or do a writing prompt to go along with it, or do a hands-on project associated with it, or we’d watch the movie that went along with it while I dozed off.
Some days their learning consisted of doing online Math and English apps, or other educational apps, or playing outside. Some days it was doing chores and yard work and laundry and playing board games together. Some days it was just reading and playing together, and that was okay, too.
The days all included learning more about taking care of others, about cherishing time while you have it, about serving others, about supporting others during hard times. My husband and kids helped A LOT during this time, doing much more than their normal share.
Our kids learned a lot during this time and during the grieving time that followed. Their compassion was deepened, their sensitivity to when somebody was struggling was deepened. Their understanding of the grieving process was deepened.
Did they get nearly as much bookwork done as they would have if we hadn’t gone through this, no, definitely not, but they didn’t stop learning and growing during that time. It was okay to take a break and just be together and learn life away from bookwork.
Moving - We made a huge move - halfway across the country this past year. We did long road trips several times out to our new state in the wake of my mom’s death because I was struggling emotionally. I knew I didn’t have to stress a bunch over schoolwork (although my son who was still in high school and doing dual enrollment at the time did have to keep up online with his community college classes). We didn’t have to worry about missing school. We didn’t have to worry about starting at new schools when we moved to our new state for good. Instead we were able to spend our time getting acclimated to our new state, getting acquainted with local groups, co-ops, classes, and resources, and starting to make new connections. We spent a lot of time struggling with the emotions of leaving our life/family/friends/community behind and being a support to each other as we started over.
I’ve tried to think about how we’d manage some of these big life changes if my kids were in public school. How would I have gotten them to/from school while my mom was living with us and needed constant supervision/care? How would I have had the energy to help them with required homework if I hadn’t slept for weeks because of the round the clock care/houseguests/appts while my mom was sick? That feels like it would have added so much stress on top of an already super stressful time - a time when we wanted to be able to cherish the little things, snuggle up together when I had a moment, grieve together when we were sad. When we had our third child, would I have had to wake the baby to run to school drop-offs/pick-ups? Or sit in long lines at the school waiting with a baby each day to do the drop-offs/pick-ups? In my opinion, all of our big life changes were made easier by the fact that we homeschool, not harder.
And let us not discount the learning that my kids have received during these big life changes, and the time we have been able to cherish together when things were hard or stressful. I’m so grateful for the flexibility homeschooling affords us, especially during big life changes.
Remember, homeschooling is about lifelong learning, not just about bookwork.