When I started homeschooling sixteen years ago, I never realized exactly how perfect it would be for my family down the road. At the time, I was homeschooling two healthy, rambunctious little boys. A few years later, I added a healthy baby girl to the mix.
Fast forward to two years ago and I had a graduate, a high schooler, and a middle schooler. I also had a child battling health issues that were impacting not only our daily lives but our ability to complete a full day of school.
Written by Tara Mitchell of Homeschool Preschool
Homeschooling a Child with a Chronic Illness
In October of 2016, my daughter was diagnosed with a connective tissue disorder called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS). For her, EDS manifests as GI issues, anxiety, and chronic joint pain.
For the two years leading up to her diagnosis, she missed a TON of school (at home). She was either too sick to her stomach to sit up and work, or she was in so much pain that she spent days on end in bed or on the couch.
Following her diagnosis, our weeks were filled with doctor and therapy appointments. Some weeks we had five appointments scheduled. Some days, we had as many as three appointments, because I tried to stack appointments as often as possible.
As you can imagine, it was very difficult to follow a “normal” homeschool routine during that time. While we do still have appointments that crop up, they’ve slowed down considerably for the time being.
You may be wondering how we managed to continue with school in spite of her down days and appointments. If you, too, have a child with a chronic illness, I hope you find encouragement in the tips I share today.
CHANGE YOUR MINDSET
I’m a pretty traditional homeschooler. For most of our homeschool years, we followed the public school schedule because that’s what worked best for our family. So, when my daughter’s symptoms began to interfere with our school days, I was more than a little stressed out. I always felt like we were behind.
I stressed. I fretted. I did neither of us any good! It took me a few months to regroup and refocus, but I finally learned to let go. I had to let go of our regular routine. We could no longer school M-F, 10-2.
I had to remember that we have freedom in homeschooling. We have the freedom to be flexible without consequence. I let go of what school “should” look like and embraced the freedom to work with her good days. We started doing school work when she felt well (or when we were home) – even if that meant Saturday and Sunday.
EXPLORE YEAR-ROUND HOMESCHOOLING
We were never year round homeschoolers in the past. I enjoyed summer breaks, and the kids enjoyed being off when their friends were off.
After my daughter missed 40 days of homeschool last year, we adopted the year-round method. We had to. Doing so allowed me the freedom to not stress out about what we were missing while she was sick or at yet another appointment.
It allowed her to stay involved in outside activities when she felt well so that she was still connected to her “normal” life. She was able to stay in co-op and ballet, because we made plans to work on Algebra on weekends and through the summer.
LET THEM STAY CONNECTED
Speaking of co-op and ballet… Let your kids stay connected when possible. If they were heavily involved in a sport, youth group, dance, or another social group, help them stay connected. It was so very important for my daughter to stay connected to her friends and mentors at co-op and ballet.
Being part of a group helped take her mind off of her symptoms – even if for just a little while. Her friends helped her feel “normal” when she felt well enough to leave the house.
After a while, I learned not to tie my daughter’s social time to her school work. If she felt poorly in the morning but was well enough to go to youth group in the evening, I let her go. We both knew that the schoolwork would get done eventually, but it was important to me for her to stay involved when she felt well enough.
It was important for her emotionally. She needed an escape from my watchful eye. She needed to be in a place where she could just be a kid instead of being the patient.
MAKE THE BEST OF SICK DAYS
Make the most of sick days. Have a plan for the bad days. Decide how you will determine a light day versus a day off. Preplan which subjects you’ll tackle on light days. Can you save history movies or movies based on favorite books for a day off?
On days when she didn’t feel well, my daughter and I watched historical movies and documentaries. If there was a movie based on a book we read, we saved it for a sick day. We did “easier” things like vocabulary and spelling. She read – a lot. I read to her, too.
When she had doctor’s appointments, we listened to audiobooks. She saved her workbooks for the car, as well. I tried to stack appointments when possible, and we’d sit in the hospital cafeteria or Panera and do some school between appointments.
Honestly, I have no idea how we would have made it through the past two years if she had been in public school. I would have had to send her feeling sick, or I would have had to battle the school over her absences. I would have had to worry about homework and her falling behind. Thankfully, those things never became an issue. I’ve never been so thankful for homeschooling than I have been with her.
DO YOU HAVE TIPS FOR HOMESCHOOLING A CHILD WITH A CHRONIC ILLNESS?
This is day 16 of my Homeschooling 101 Blog Series … I’m so glad you are here! Don’t miss all the other posts. Oh and don’t forget to join the exclusive Facebook group to chat it up with other homeschooling mamas in our amazing and growing community!
Tara is a former teacher turned homeschool mom of three. She has successfully homeschooled her oldest two and is currently homeschooling her youngest. Tara has always had a passion for preschoolers and early learners, and she enjoys creating educational activities and content for that age group. She blogs about homeschooling, preschool activities, and other educational topics on her blog, Homeschool Preschool.