Homeschooling With Chronic Illness


Today was a hard day.  I needed the inhaler plus the migraine meds, and I nearly wiped myself out on a field trip trying to do too much.  As I drove the family home while fighting a migraine and low blood sugar I decided to blog about it.

Because, as you know, this blog has turned into Mishaps-of-Homeschooling already.  Might as well bare all and tell you everything.

So here we go:  “Hi, my name is Mary, and I parent from the couch a lot.”  Not because I’m sitting there eating bon-bons and watching Judge Judy, but because I’m physically whupped.  I have two confirmed auto-immune diseases, migraines, and what looks a lot like asthma at this point.

Life goes on.  I have to function, kids have to learn.

Here are some of the tips and tricks I’ve learned that help when homeschooling (and life!) is a challenge.  Keep in mind we’re doing Kindergarten – I’m sure older kids could probably fend for themselves better than my brood can.

1. Learn your limits

I love this analogy: The Spoon Theory by Christine Miserondino.  The analogy is simple – you have to carefully choose how to spend your energy (i.e. spoons.)  On a good day I have more spoons (energy) and I can do more, but if I push that limit too much I pay for it the next day or 2 or 3.  Realistically, this means that if I have a big day planned I need to allow some down time to recover.

For someone with good health, it’s hard to picture deciding to spend your energy on taking a shower vs playing with the kids.  For me, and many like me, it’s reality.

2. Be flexible

I never know day-to-day what things will be like.  If I’m having a bad day, then I need the ability to change our plans or even cancel if things are really bad.  Some days I’ll have a great school idea planned and it just didn’t work out.  I have to remind myself that independent play and Lego building are just fine for Kindergarten.  I also have to remember that learning can happen any time.  If my husband can step in and read the next math chapter or work on ordinal numbers with the Engineer then I don’t have to worry about it.

3. Know your body

I can tell when I’m getting a migraine.  I know when I need the inhaler (now that I know I need it!)  This one goes back to learn your limits – if I ignore things and let them build up I need more time to recover, more rest, and the next few days are harder.

If I wait until I’m pulling a kid-loaded wagon up the ginormous hill at the zoo to use my inhaler, then I might not make it up the hill.  Using it while sitting at lunch and resting means I can handle the hill better.  It’s still a big hill!

4. Have a “sick day” plan or routine

I’ve learned to save some learning tools for sick days.  Things like ABC Mouse, puzzles, and How It’s Made videos help keep the kids busy and learning and still allow me to rest.  For bigger kids, that could be reading assignments, puzzle solving, Minecraft, or craft time.  Whatever it is, set a list of ideas and aids aside and use it as an emergency solution.  Encourage independent learning and play as the norm, so that if you’re having a bad day it’s not a sudden jolt in their routine.

I’m not saying ignore the kids.  Just give yourself a little wiggle room and time to rest.  On one of my recent bad days we sat down with the musical instrument flashcards and identified some.  We picked out a few we liked and spun up YouTube to find some music featuring those instruments: pipe organ, Chinese gong, and bagpipes (their choices, not mine!)  Amazingly they liked the bagpipes – must be the Scot in their DNA.

5. Take care of yourself

I’m the worst at this one.  I’m struggling to find a balance between the family’s needs and mine, because sometimes they clash.

Common sense ideas: find a good doctor to manage your care.  A great doctor.  Get enough rest.  Try to eat well and avoid trigger foods.  Be aware of your stress level and know how to manage it.  Go read a book or watch a sunset. Build a good support network that can help you deal with everything.

Sounds easy.  Reality – this is the hardest thing for me.  I’ve learned that if I don’t take time for myself (for simple things like enough rest or eat better) then I pay for it.  Stress in particular is a trigger for my flares, so getting that under control is crucial.

And please don’t feel guilty for not exercising.  I almost never have enough spoons to use for exercise.  Why would I waste my spoons on pointlessly expending energy when I need everything I have just to change a diaper or do the dishes?

6. School year-round

This one is probably controversial.  It won’t work for everyone.

Right now we’re schooling year-round without any sort of schedule like the 4 weeks on, 1 week off type thing.  We do school on the weekends and evenings sometimes.  It works.  Learning when we can helps to offset the days or weeks when I simply can’t function well.  No one said that learning absolutely has to happen at a set time each day only on weekdays, right?

I’m keeping a running tally of school days to meet my goal of 180 learning days, but it’s not really going to affect what we do at this point.  If we pass 180 then we’ll keep going.  If we’re under 180 and the Engineer knows his stuff, who cares?  Our state doesn’t require us to keep records of school days so we can be a little more flexible with that.

It’s tough trying to deal with everything, but it’s not impossible.  So if you’re contemplating homeschooling and it just seems so daunting, don’t stress.  Work with what you have and along the way you can teach your kids some empathy and kindness.  The world certainly needs more of that.

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