Thursday, February 22, 2007

Homeschooling with a chronic illness

I had an e-mail from a very special blog friend, asking how I have managed to homeschool with a chronic illness. I knew there were others who read this blog in similar circumstances (and everyone has seasons when there are challenges, even if it is not a day to day chronic illness) so I thought I'd respond here.

For one thing, I had to work within my own limits and my son's severe ADHD symptoms. If I was homeschooling my daughter, I'd have used a mixture of Classical education and Charlotte Mason. However, I knew with my son from the start that the Charlotte Mason way of educating children would work best for both of us. I read everything I could by those who were writing about CM at the time to give me the knowledge needed to incorporate whole books instead of (or in addition to) textbooks. Christopher was a late reader but once he got the hang of it, he was a good reader. It was easier for me to work with and put together.

We used the Sonlight Curriculum (which is also literature based) a couple of different times, which worked very well. Otherwise, I read homeschool catalogs until I had them memorized and put together what I thought would work within our budget. Most of the time they worked but everyone who homeschools eventually purchases books and items that don't work (which can either be sold or do as I did and passed them on to other families). I have to admit, I loved reading homeschool "curriculum" catalogs (realizing many of them sell books and materials and not only put-together-for-you curriculum).

I do know of some families who deal with challenges (illness with a parent, a child, or who are homeschooling many children) who have chosen to go with a program like Calvert and it worked well for them. Each family has to decide given their own circumstances, the way their children learn, etc.

What I realized as far as elementary school was concerned was to keep it centered around the "3 R's" of Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic, while working within my son's favorite studies in History. When energy, money, time, whatever, is forces us to focus on what is the most important.

For most of the homeschooling years, all of our reading and writing was History related because it was something we both enjoyed and he would read books about what he was interested in (we spent entire years in Medieval History, WWII, and later in Sonlight's program which studies the history of different cultures). My favorite year was centered around the American Revolution, which is also my favorite time to read about in history.

My biggest error during this time was using math books that were not good for ADHD kids, they had too many colored pictures in them. I loved the look but he was so distracted, he couldn't learn. Saxon could be boring at times but it worked best for him until he reached Geometry. I also found the Making Math Meaningful series good in the early elementary years. I probably should have stayed with it rather than switching to the math textbooks that had all those pretty pictures!

Our Science during elementary years was a combination of nature studies, nature walks, visits to the Zoo, colorful picture books about science, and TV shows. Don't ever feel guilty using videos, DVDs, The Discovery Channel, Science Channel, etc., as long as you monitor the content. He has an amazing amount of information which he's learned through these shows. Especially for ADHD children, they seem to be able to concentrate on video and take in what they hear/see very well this way (which is why they can also get addicted to video games!).

In our first year of homeschooling in second grade, I listened to a series of tapes which included an interview with a schoolteacher who worked with public school students studying at home. She said in that state (at least at the time), all that was required for students (who were home for reasons of illness, etc.) to keep up with the others in school was a tutor for TWO HOURS A WEEK! I remember thinking I can do far more than that, even with a husband who worked long hours and traveled a lot.

I'd say our actual time spent at a table going over books and such (mostly math and grammar) was about 45 min. to 60 min. a day in the early elementary years, increasing as the years progressed. If I had it to do over again, I would have purchased a lot more fun workbooks for him to do, though. He enjoyed them and it would have helped him prepare for junior high work a little more. (It is SO easy to look back and see what I would have done differently.)

However, if someone asked me how much time we spent homeschooling, I'd say every minute we weren't sleeping. It became such a way of life that everything was there for learning. As he grew older, I looked for curriculum that required less of my work and more of his learning.

So, how did I do it with a chronic illness? I would nap on the sofa while he was watching the TV shows or a video! Also, we did not take part in a co-op until the high school years. That's a very personal decision just because both my son and I found it easier to work at our own pace due to both of us having health issues. He had plenty of social contact with kids his own age except for our years in Detroit during the junior high years (and that worked out just fine).

So...when we went to the small zoo in our town, we would take a little sketchbook with us and spend time there until I became too tired (sometimes thirty minutes, other times a couple of hours). Then we'd combine it with a trip to McDonald's or get share a small pizza as a treat (and no kitchen duty for Mom). We had a favorite park to go for most of our nature studies and I almost always took an easy picnic (french bread, cheese, fruit, sodas, or sandwiches). It was good for both of us to get out in the fresh air when we could and those walks on the trails are among my best memories...ever!

Another thing I wish we could have done differently is use the years before High School to visit more museums, parks, historical sites, etc. in other places. It wasn't possible due to circumstances.

There were the bad days when one of us was having a tough day so nothing of the usual "table time" learning was done. When he was very young, I'd read good books to him while laying on the sofa and he played with his Lego's. Sometimes he just played with Lego's alone, lots of Lego's. Perhaps that is why he is interested in architecture today?

We went on this way until our high school studies we are doing now. Except instead of Lego's, he developed an interest in computers. Now I work with him to plan his studies but he does a lot of the actual work on his own. I went from teacher to facilitator. We spend a lot of time in conversation about what he is learning, from books and from life. I've often called our homeschooling experiences "one long conversation".

Starting around 8th grade, I was able to get more "curriculum" which required less of my attention. One we enjoyed was Starting Points from Cornerstone Curriculum. (I recommend their materials, while not officially "Charlotte Mason", they use whole books...very good.) I worked with him on the literature, film, etc. part of it and my husband took the theology and Bible sections. However, as in so many things we used, we "tweaked" it and turned it into a two year curriculum. We also skipped a few things that didn't work for us and expanded others that did. We also expanded the last Sonlight Curriculum used to three semesters, too.

It hasn't been perfect but it is working. Last year we joined a co-op so he could take part in Debate and he was able to take a few classes through it for two years (and I teach a class this year in Literature and Worldview). I guess the biggest difference in homeschooling high school with challenges has been incorporating all the extra assistance possible, whether it is a homeschool co-op, the junior college/community college, lessons offered at the Community center, curriculum that can be self taught, etc. We will be ordering a very good Latin DVD course soon, one that he can work with on his own (although my husband took four years of Latin in high school so he can help).

Because he is homeschooled, he has been able to take part in fencing, first as a student and now as a student/teacher. He plans to get back into "serious" tennis lessons soon, concentrating on tennis for the remainder of his high school years. Taking part is sports covers more "phys ed" than is offered in any school I know of today.

I should also say that during our homeschool years we have had; four major moves, two years of no income, watched my husband go from having major allergy problems to having to go on Disability, been thirty minutes from being homeless, went from a beautiful home in a very nice neighborhood, to a rental home, to living in a hotel room, and then a townhouse in a dumpy apartment complex, and back to a charming home of our own in the country. We've had major family "issues" from dealing with my husband's physical illness, which affects him emotionally.

My son once remarked that living in this family has made him a "good forgiver". Hmmm...I had to think of that a bit but it is true. Our circumstances have also caused the "Fruit of the Spirit" to grow deep in both of us. I think he's also seen a mother who did not leave a marriage when the struggle became overwhelming at times but who is following through on those "in sickness and in health" vows. I hope he has taken with him more than academic lessons.

As with anything He asks us to do, it is taken one minute and one day at a time. If I wake up even now thinking of everything there is to do from now until Christopher graduates, I'd immediately go back to bed! I deal with constant fatigue and in these past few months, constant pain. However, when I look at the very next thing that must be done, whether it is going over a report with my son or cooking dinner, I can do it...the very next thing.

I've learned to take full advantage of "good days", especially when my husband is feeling well enough to do something together as a family....knowing there is an ebb and tide of dealing with illness...learning to utilize the good days and make it through the difficult times.

God puts children in families. He knows all about the circumstances. Whether he calls parents to homeschool, to place their children in public schools (as our daughter went through), private schools, Christian schools, gerbil schools (just seeing if I still have your attention), etc. He never asks us to do anything He doesn't equip us to do. His idea of what we need is usually different than ours but He will see us through!


Anonymous said...

This is funny Brenda, we sometimes are on the same wave link on posting topics! See, kindred spirits!
I don't home school..but my motto for survivng living with chronic illness is "space and pace". I space my activities and then carefully pace myself. Also, as you said, do the next thing. It has to be what works for can't be what anyone else thinks will work for me. I know my energy and pain levels. I have tried so many different ways of making things work for me. I now what works best for me and my family.
I so enjoy you, Brenda!
Blessings, Patty

Anonymous said...

Gee, my head was ahead of my hands...or brain fog this morning! I KNOW what works best for me and my family!

Stephanie said...

hey, I want to know how homeschooling with a chronic illness is any different than homeschooling while always pregnant or nursing??! :)

Alright, so she's only doing kindergarten work...

Mom, don't forget to add that accepting help when it's offered and sometimes even having to ask for it is important and often necessary...but that's what the body of Christ is about :)

:) me

Brenda@CoffeeTeaBooks said...

Very true...asking for help a really important...

and I've mentioned before that stressful times include pregnancy, hehehe.

Yes, I think the poor girl in definitely ready for this baby to arrive. :)

Mrs. Darling said...

Its interesting to read what you would have done differently. It gives me ideas for my own homeschool. Good post.

Anonymous said...

< My favorite year was centered around the American Revolution, which is also my favorite time to read about in history. >

I should be used to this by now...chalk up another thing we have in common. :)
THANK YOU for this post.

Heather said...

I love this post Brenda! Thank you so much! I plan to print it and reread it if that is permissable! So often I feel like my illness is a disadvantage to our children, but the Lord is teaching me about His strength in my weakness, and I am just now seeing how He is using it for His glory! Blessings! Heather

smilnsigh said...

For some time, I've wanted to say... you could/should write a book on the topics of this entry. It seems there are people 'out there,' who would love to find such encouragement.

There, I finally said it. :-)


Lymeade Lady said...

Thanks for sharing this. I am currently chronically ill and homeschooling. I just started blogging about it myself. It's not a real common thing, but it's been so worth it!