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Homeschooling with Chronic Health Issues

You CAN be Successful at Homeschooling!

Below are first-hand testimonies of mothers who have been able to continue homeschooling despite health challenges to themselves and other family members. Their stories show you that there are disappointments, set-backs, and delays, but in the end you CAN do this! Thanks to the HomeschoolChristian.com message board participants for their candid stories about overcoming health issues to homeschool successfully.

Spinal Arthritis and Chronic Fatigue

Allie: I suffer from severe spinal arthritis and related chronic fatigue and depression. And actually, if I HADN'T homeschooled, I'd be in much worse shape. If the boys were gone to school all day, I'd just sleep.

Homeschooling is flexible. If I had a rough day, we just didn't do school, or it was an art day and I'd clean up the next day. Or I'd read to them. I was always very organized, making my lists for school, chores, and meals for the week every Saturday. Curriculum that organized for me was crucial - trying to use Charlotte Mason, or Sonlight, where there was a lot of teacher work was very difficult. Now the boys use self-tutoring curriculum, and even correct their own work.

As soon as I could, I taught my boys to make their own breakfasts and lunches. That way, I only had to deal with dinner. And with my menus set up, I always knew what we were having for the month, and what to shop for. Everyone had their own chores, but I learned the hard way to do school FIRST - when we first started homeschooling, everything had to be spit-spot before we could start, and we'd end up cleaning half the day. I was a clean freak. I had to relax my standards, and put school first. De-cluttering helped a lot - no knickknacks in my house, I need to save my energy for better things. I don't have much of it.

I believe the secret is being organized. Make lists. Assign as much as you can. Everyone who lives in the home should have chores, sharing the upkeep. Pick 30 meals that your family likes, and rotate them so you always know what you're having. For chores, break them down into daily, weekly, and monthly, chart them out, and make assignments. Take time on Saturday or whenever dad is home to watch the kids for doing this, you don't want to be distracted.

Another thing - my hardest problem has been that I have severe insomnia, and over the years it's gotten worse. Dh was on afternoons for many years, and we simply adjusted to his schedule - now he works from home, and we're still on it. It suits ME. The boys get up earlier than I do - they get right to the showers, breakfast, and schoolwork. When they were younger, we started much earlier, but it's been such a struggle for me. There aren't any morning police around here, thank goodness, so we just sleep however long we need to. The boys have shown that they know to get to bed early and set their own alarms if they need to go somewhere the next day. I do believe that my health problems have been a blessing in disguise - I don't think they'd be so independent if I were totally healthy.

Hyperthyroidism

Susie: I have hyperthyroidism that has effected my heart. I have learned how to control it with natural methods and we have schooled all along. I did make a full recovery from it a few years ago, but had a relapse about 4 months postpartum (very common). I am just about past it again. It can be a struggle at times because I refuse meds that just mask the symptoms and insist on natural methods that actually address the problem. It can be hard, but it is worth it and we have lost only about 2 or 3 days of schooling over the years due to it.

Auto-Immune Problem

Renee: I have an auto-immune problem probably triggered by my metal allergy. So I've been slowly having all of the metal eliminated from my mouth-- including root canals and having bone grafts and implants to replace. I was in quite a bit of pain for a couple of years-- but am on the upswing now that most of the metal is out. Not a problem with homeschooling. The kids just bring their math or whatever to the dentist office! Whatever works. As far as my occasional bad day-- I think its taught my kids self reliance-- they have learned to help each other and to cook and clean-- as well as the power of God through prayer! I can't imagine how it would have been to juggle the pain, dr. appt.'s, etc., and taking and picking up from school... and all of that mess!

Parents' Health

Rhonda: We've spent a lot of time over the years schooling in waiting rooms at hospitals, in the car long distance driving, and just learning how important health is and what science does to improve health. Also, it was a time of reflecting on our own personal spiritual walk, knowing the person in the hospital wasn't saved. It gave us a good shot in the arm for personal evangelism.

Type 1 Diabetes

Liz: My girls have learned a LOT of good science due to my Diabetes!

Heart Issues

Shelly: Started with pain in right side, with tests that all came out negative. Then went through severe fatigue and after about a year was diagnosed with Pulmonary Hypertension - through which I suffered many many many tests! Became local expert on human heart and it's functions! Then had a heart cath that showed it was not PH after all, but a hole in my heart. (Atrial Septal Defect) Another gallbladder attack, then gallbladder surgery, finally! (explains pain in right side). Had tooth pulled and two weeks later Open Heart Surgery to close hole in heart. (a year after diagnosis) I didn't listen to all those people that said I needed to "put the kids in school so I could rest". Ugh. I heard that SO many times, like it was the "answer" to every problem I was having.

I learned to do everything important in the morning. We had a set time for school and usually were finished by 1PM every day, because usually by 2PM I was wiped out and needed a long nap. With a bad heart, I slept a lot more than normal people. The children knew that I needed those naps so they would play quietly together. (of course, there were days when things didn't go so well.. but I digress!)

Chores got done on an "as needed" basis, really. And also my husband did a lot when he came home from work every day. He also did the grocery shopping. (I was unable to push a buggy or load groceries for several years.)

My children learned a lot about prayer. They learned a lot about the heart and it's functions, they learned compassion for those who are struggling with their health. They learned to wait patiently and quietly in doctors offices, also. Many, many office workers have commented on how well my children behave in a doctor's office. They've had to. I would take books for them to look at, magazines like Ranger Rick, Highlights, etc., something that most offices don't provide. We learned "car games" to play during our drives.

On those days when others had to watch my children for me, they had a day off from school and we would make up that day later. If my husband was home, I'd leave assignments and he would oversee them.

They also learned how to take care of themselves. I vividly remember teaching my children how to wash their own hair, how to shower, how to cook, etc. I didn't know how long I had to live and I didn't want them left helpless without me. They were ages 6, 8 and 8 when I was first diagnosed with a heart problem and a year older when I underwent open-heart surgery. Of course, I had been ill for a few years before my diagnosis, only we didn't know what was wrong.

I'd had gallbladder surgery 6 months before the heart surgery. Then there was the recovery from the surgeries when the children became my "nurses." I guess in a way, this became "school" for them. It was a LIFE lesson.

I've had several of my relatives comment on my children's ability to do things for themselves. One lady asked me (jokingly) if she could sent her children to my house so they could learn how to cook!

Migraines

Cindy Sotelo: I homeschooled for years in intense pain with a rare form of migraine which was also robbing my sight. I know what it is like to homeschool when you are sick. Please know that God understands and that being with your kids is the most reassuring thing you can do for them right now.

Here was my Very Cheap emergency plan:

  • Do math everyday-This is where I put my money. Whatever works for your kids, Sell off stuff that takes too much effort on your part. We did video, computer cd's, everything, until we ended up with Saxon of all things! Beginning with the 87 level, (and perhaps 76) they sell COMPLETE solution manuals that show step-by-step how to do each and every problem in the book! Well worth the $25 extra bucks! After I teach their lesson, I leave them alone with the open solutions book to do the problem set. They are responsible for checking each answer and tracking down their mistake. They can do this 99% of the time without my help. Only on "tests" do we test their ability to do it on their own-homework time is for LEARNING! They learn best by tracing every step against a correctly-done problem until they discover their goof them selves and correct it, writing out each step. The other great advantages to this approach is that they always get A's, which boosts their confidence, and I don't have to grade papers and record grades when I'm lying flat in a dark room. They really can't go through this process without actually learning the stuff, so their test scores shot way up.
  • For other subjects: Outsource anything you can (science clubs, co-ops, anything), but only if another family will give your kids a ride. Ask! Others to pick up your kids-people love to help, Really!!!! They just don't know how until asked for a SPECIFIC thing, like driving.
  • Bible: Count Sunday School and Church as "Religious Education" if you have keep records in your state, and bag the official "Homeschool Bible Curriculum." Pray with your kids instead-all the time-when you hurt, when you are scared, when THEY are scared for you. Go to the Bible when there is a real, relevant question that comes up from real life or reading. Kids can be confused about, or skeptical of, Bible teaching when their mom is so sick, so keep it relevant and real. They don't need a structured Bible class right now-they need to see how God responds to you and how you respond to God when faced with hardship. Ask yourself, is this the time I want to be preached at and have Scripture "bytes" flung at me? Or is this the time I need to focus on a few key "chunks" of scripture that reassure me? I can't tell you how many times we read the 23rd Psalm, the Ten Commandments, the Lord's Prayer, and NOTHING ELSE for a long, long time. These passages were meaningful, essential, and relevant. No, my kids did not earn their little memorization pin at church for a year, but they delved deeply and often into the reality of having their Shepherd go with them "through the valley of the shadow..."
  • Now for the core of it all- Read aloud and discuss historical fiction and biographies, reading at least five books about a given era. A website called A Book In Time (do a google search for the official URL) gives recommendations for books on every grade level for every time period and it is a Christian site. Edhelper.com, ABCteach.com, and Enchantedlearning.com all have worksheets to fill in the time periods with historical facts. So do lots of websites, if you feel the need. My advice is to save that for later. If you read several five or more biographies and historical fictions about any given era, that is a great foundation! It's easy and it's joyous and it's cheap. Spend your money on dinners, housekeeping (dream on!), medical care, tutoring or supplemental classes. Core curriculum doesn't have to cost a lot.
  • For English: Glencoe literature library has online literature guides with writing, reading comprehension, critical thinking, author bios, etc. (They have many if not most Newbery's) Newbery books that are morally acceptable (not all are,) are a good bet because they are easy to find used, cheap, and have study guides abundantly on the internet. These are also the books that we read in school (if we were lucky) and the same books that their kids will read in years to come, creating a common ground between generations. If you have your kids do two to four studies a year you'll have a solid English Lit. foundation. If you choose book studies to go with your history theme, they usually include historical documentation. If your kids are too young for these guides or formal studies are not your thing, just talk and write about the book. Lots. Write a postcard to Grandma from the point of view of a book character, describing the setting. Make a newspaper article using the 5 R's about a historical event. Act out an alternative ending to the book. Have each family member tell what they think the plot of the book will be after reading just the front cover. Give a small prize to whoever gets closest. Describe a character with one word for every letter of the alphabet. Se how far down the alphabet you can get before you run out of descriptive words! Compare two biographies of the same person. Was one fictionalized? Which was more factual? (research required.) did the longest one necessarily give the most information? which one did you like best? The key here is simply to interact with the text, whether with a formal study guide or by the means just described. This covers more scholastic content than any other single thing you can do. AND... you are sharing yourselves with each other at a vulnerable time, making memories, laughing together. How healing is that?!
  • English and Spelling-yes, they need it, unless you just can't (and there were seasons I just couldn't.) I taught them how to give each other their daily Spelling Power routine (One book covers every person in the family until graduation and takes about ten minutes or less per kid.) By giving each other their routine, the two kids are practicing their sister's words too, without knowing it! (Shhhh.... don't tell them they're learning twice as much-they'll never know!) One year I signed up for Daily Grammar.com's FREE daily email and my kids had a straightforward grammar lesson waiting for them each day on the email , with review quizzes each Friday. If your kids are younger, a few basic lessons from edhelper.com on punctuation and capitalization will do nicely. Heavy grammar can wait for middle school.
  • Geography - By investing in a Geosafari and buying every card set I could get my hands on and requiring 15 minutes of drill a day on it, I added geography and lots of great information to their knowledge banks with no effort required from me. I had them drill on the geography that went with our history.
  • Want art? Buy Dover coloring books about the time period (or Presidents, States, etc.) and have them do that as you read. Dover also sells coloring books of great masterpieces to color. Now that my girls are older, I set a couple of drawing books out that feature things related to our reading (animals from around the world, American Indians, famous buildings people from different cultures...) these books abound at craft stores and are inexpensive, and free at the library, but when you are sick sometimes it's better to own a few basic good books that you will use over and over. Michael's craft store has 40% off coupons in most Sunday papers, and we built up a little library of drawing books in no time.) Younger kids can benefit from Draw, Write Now books that fit in with your chosen time era or geographical region too. Now you have art, history, geography, reading, and English all tied together, Can you say "unit study?"

Now that I'm well, I spend more time on the finer points of English, the details of history, and formal science courses. But the plan I described allowed me to basically only "teach" one class per day- math, and spend lots of time cuddled up with hot cocoa on the couch and read or have my kids read to me. It was very doable. Perhaps one or more of these ideas will ease your load and free you to be "MOM' more-which is what your kids, and you, need most right now. Nurture yourself as you trust in God for help, whether in healing or grace to endure illness. Nurture your kids and know that they will get a truly wonderful, god-centered, family/security-intensive education.

Mental Health Issues

Tracy C.: I just wanted to say a few things IN CASE you are resistant to taking meds. As a mom to a child with a severe mental illness, I can understand a person's resistance to taking meds. Why? I have found so many people (many Christians as well) that accept illnesses such as diabetes, seizures, asthma, and the like, but have a very difficult time accepting a mental illness whether mild or severe, as a real illness. Why is it that we can believe that the body can have imbalances, but not accept that their can be chemical related ones that affect the body's ability to regulate mood? There is a stigma attached to meds even in the year 2006, and it completely amazes and has often angered me. I think it is very sad! As long as there is breathe in my body, I will speak up about these types of illnesses. They are real, and need to be acknowledged. Since mental illness runs in my family, I can tell you that I have seen psychotropic meds change lives. So, if you continue to struggle even with all you are doing homeopathically, I would encourage you to consider meds. There is NO shame in this, and other than your husband, and doctors, no one else need know. Also, I am not sure if you have tried meds before, but there have been many new meds that have come along in the last couple of years with very few side effects.

As for homeschooling... I would encourage you to look at some options which may make schooling easier for you during this difficult period of your life. I use and love Landmark's Freedom Curriculum. It is a curriculum designed to be used independently once a child is able to read well. It is very thorough, thought provoking, and there is NO teacher prep necessary. Someone else mentioned ACE Paces, and this might work for you as well. I think that if you are able to find something that helps to take the burden off, and yet you can feel confident that the child is learning all they need, you will be encouraged. You can always add library books at the child's reading level to enhance the child's lesson if you felt it necessary.

Lastly, please know that you are not alone. Most people do not talk about this, but it is out there. People just like you who are hurting and trying to find their way out of it. It can be very lonely, and can often times feel desperate. Not to mention the guilt you can lay on yourself because you do not feel good about your choices. However, that is the depression talking, and not the reality. Please hang in there. Try something different, and keep going.

Fibromyalgia, Hypothyroidism, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Heidi H.:

The main issue I personally have to deal with is accepting that I am weak, can't do everything, nor do everything well, which is hard for this independent and perfectionist woman, and dealing with all the feelings of guilt for disappointing everyone else in the following ways:

  1. I have definitely had to learn to pace myself. We can do school and an activity or we can do school and housework, or we can do housework and an activity, but I can't do it all and the house looks like it, disappointing my husband.
  2. We have to say "no" to a lot of activities and field trips. Sometimes I really really want my children to do something; so I have to find a trusted friend to take them along with her and her children while I stay home so I don't get too tired and unable to serve my family throughout the rest of the day and evening.
  3. Money for extras (lessons, team fees, field trips, classes, dyslexia therapy, etc ) is also a major issue too because of my many medical bills, disappointing my children and making their reading progress slower and harder.
  4. We can't get every credit/class/topic/subject done during the school year--we have to do some during the summer--I just can't cover it all for every child each day, disappointing my children with no real summer vacation.
  5. I'm just not the fun homeschool mom my kids had when we originally started homeschooling, disappointing myself and my children.
  6. When I am having a bad day--we do just the bare basics (math and reading) after I've had the naps I need; all extra lessons, activities, clubs, co-ops, etc are cancelled disappointing my children and others.
  7. My oldest child must do most of her work totally independent because I just don't have the time nor energy to give to her while her sibling needs so much attention and one-on-one because of his dyslexia. Disappointing to her and myself
  8. I have to say no to teaching co-ops in case I have a bad day and can't make it; which many co-ops don't appreciate and so we can't participate if I can't teach or carry part of the load. Disappoints others, myself, and my children.
  9. We have to borrow a lot of used curriculum because we can't afford new curriculum because of my many hospital bills, lab bills, meds, supplements, etc. It can be embarrassing begging to borrow curriculum.
  10. When we do go on field trips, I have to plan plenty of rest stops so that limits what kind of field trips we can do, disappointing myself and my children
  11. I worry I'm hurting my children's potential and future with my weaknesses by not being able to let them do, join, go to everything they are interested in --just because of my low energy level, all the money spent on my medical bills, and how my body feels and what it can endure. Guilt, guilt, guilt!

Cancer

Martha R.: My husband was diagnosed shortly after we began homeschooling, and many people said at that time, "So, you're putting the kids back in school, right?" We chose not to. Instead, the children spent time with their dad when he felt well enough. He read to them, explored the great outdoors with them, and played with them. On bad days, the children knew that they needed to be quiet because Dad was resting. When my husband went through massive surgeries, did chemo, or had radiation, the children helped as much as they could around the house and watched me do the primary care of Dad. We decided to try some experimental treatment and went to Houston in what ended up to be a ten week trip in our pop-up camper. Because we didn't have to concern ourselves with the public school schedule, we made a family vacation out of this, touring the many sites of Houston and driving all the way to California during a waiting period of his treatment. The following year, my husband's condition worsened, but still the children could crawl into bed with Dad and read to him. We did all his final care, and he passed away at home with our oldest son (12 at that time) holding his hand. My children spent more time with their father than most public school children do during their twelve years of school, even though the Lord chose to take him when the children were still young. Homeschooling brought our family closer during this difficult time. In fact, I think difficult times are when homeschooling shines most. Your faith grows through challenges, and your family can grow together only when all the members ARE together. If we had sent the children away during my husband's illness and departure, they wouldn't be the people they are today.

HomeschoolChristian.com Resources Related to This Article

Out of the Comfort Zone, Alexa's story of overcoming personal challenges to homeschool.
Review of Becoming Whole: Eating Your Way to Bountiful Health, book by a Christian mother who was healed by following Biblical eating principles.
HomeschoolChristian.com's Support Section for articles to encourage you with homeschooling.
HomeschoolChristian.com's Testimonies Section to feel lifted up by others' successes!