3 Steps to Take to Keep Learning Happening, Strengthen Family Ties, and Come Out Stronger on the Other Side
In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need to know how to homeschool through a crisis. In reality, though, we know that crises do happen. It happened to my family, and I would like to encourage you by sharing our story.
Tears streaming, my husband held me as they wheeled our newborn away. He was being loaded into a helicopter that was flying him to a hospital better equipped to handle his care.
When I woke up that morning, I prepared to take our brand new baby to his two week checkup. I never could have predicted the events to come.
During the appointment, his doctor noticed something was off. His coloring was purple, and his breathing was shallow. I hadn’t even noticed. He was so tiny, only five pounds, and it was February and frigid cold. I had layered him in a onesie, warm sleeper, and hat. He had blankets tucked around him in his car seat. His tiny body covered completely until we got him undressed to weigh him. That moment changed the course of our lives forever.
I may never forgive myself for being so oblivious.
How could I have missed the signs? To this day, I cannot shake the guilt. I can’t stop wondering “what if.” And I can’t help but to thank God that my baby’s checkup was scheduled for that very day.
Things happened quickly from there. Before I knew it, we were in the ER where he’d been diagnosed with the flu. Then he was taken away in an incubator, flown to a hospital where they could make sure he got the care he so desperately needed.
Facing a Crisis
When your family is facing a crisis, homeschooling is often the LAST thing on your mind. That’s OK! That’s perfectly normal.
But at some point, your family WILL need to get back on track. After the initial shock of my son’s medical emergency, we had to keep living life with our other children. These are the steps we took to keep learning happening for our kids, even through a life-altering situation.
1. Take care of what’s in front of you.
So, first things first. When you are going through a crisis, you need to make sure everyone is OK. It’s not going to do anyone any good to power through schoolwork when your family’s well-being is hanging on by a thread. No matter the type of emergency your family is facing, it’s imperative to be certain you get whatever help you, your spouse, and your children need.
If your family is in a financial crisis, this will mean plugging the “leaks,” so to speak. It might mean cutting your spending to the bare minimum. You may have to find a way to bring in more income. It might be necessary to reach out to some local resources for help. During this time, you may be close to losing your home or vehicle. Or you may be struggling to put food on the table. If so, it’s ok to set the books aside for a short time so you can work toward getting your family back on steady footing.
If it’s someone’s physical health in crisis, that might mean your time is devoted to caring for that person or making sure he or she is getting proper treatment. It might mean sitting next to a hospital bed around the clock. When someone’s health is deteriorating, it’s absolutely critical to make sure the caregiver(s) and the rest of the family are getting the rest and emotional support they need. Prioritize sleep, nutritious meals, and loving one another. The rest can come later.
When my youngest was critically ill, it happened so fast. On that fateful day, he seemed fine. Then within a few hours he was being life-flighted to a children’s hospital in the next big city over, fighting for his life. Our family threw some clothes in a suitcase and drove two hours to be with him. We had no idea what was to come. The biggest takeaway here though, is that our family was together.
That is the “luxury” that homeschooling afforded us. We didn’t have to worry about pulling my oldest out of school. We didn’t worry that he was going to fall behind. Because we homeschooled, we were able to pack up and be with our son without a second thought.
We were there for four weeks, and that’s something no one could have predicted at the time. However, I’m so blessed to be able to say that my little guy survived that terrifying ordeal! Today I have a happy, thriving 3-year-old snuggled up next to me watching Mickey Mouse as I sit here writing to you.
What I hope you take away from this is that, when your family is going through a crisis you can catch up later. Whether your crisis is physical, emotional, or financial, the schoolwork can wait. It’s going to be easier to do that later though, if you prioritize making sure your family is stable first.
Be together, love each other, and get enough rest. Fuel your bodies with nutritious foods. But most importantly, lean on God when you feel like your life is falling apart. Trust in Him to walk with you through whatever trial you may be facing.
2. Focus on the basics.
Once your family is in a better place and you are working through the situation at hand, you need to decide what subjects are the most important.
Do what’s most important first.
One thing we do, and this didn’t actually start during a crisis situation but as a way to make better use of our time, is something we’ve dubbed “Breakfast and Bible.” We take our favorite children’s Bible and read one chapter each morning while we eat breakfast. It helps us to slow down and eat a meal together, and it keeps my toddler corralled in his high chair as I read. It’s a small thing, but it helps us be consistent in starting our day in God’s Word together as a family.
Focus on the 3 R’s.
The other things we limit our focus to during a time of hardship are the “3 R’s”-reading, writing, and arithmetic. When my youngest was so critically ill, my oldest was six. For us, that meant we did a little bit of handwriting and letter practice, some read aloud time, and very basic math- counting and simple addition.
While we were living out of town, our time was extremely limited. Our primary focus was on getting our baby healthy so we could all go home. That meant at all times, my husband or I sat at his bedside (except for once in awhile, one of the amazing PICU nurses would stay with him so that we could go have a meal or play at the park as a family).
Though the situation was hard, once we knew our son’s health was in a more stable place, we realized we didn’t know at that point how long we’d be in the hospital or living out of suitcases. Our oldest was already struggling with learning to read, so we didn’t want to forgo all formal learning for the foreseeable future.
So we needed a plan. Focusing on the basics helped us figure out some things that we could do, even in our (then) current situation. The rest of the time we really tried to incorporate learning into our days the best we could with whatever was happening around us at the time.
Our kids loved to ask the doctors who were caring for our son a million questions. And because these are pediatric doctors who work with kids every day, they were so kind and patient and answered every single question our littles asked.
Spend time together as a family.
We also spent a LOT of time at the park next to the hospital. They had an amazing playground and a beautiful duck pond, so we could just put up our tired feet and let our kids run and play for as long as they wanted. Young kids need physical activity, sunshine, and fresh air in a BIG way.
Last, my kids learned how to prioritize family togetherness during a crisis. Never once did we have to consider splitting up our family and/or how to get my oldest back in school. I believe that being together through such an ordeal strengthened our family bond and taught our kids that we draw closer during times of difficulty.
*I should interject here and add that 3 weeks before this happened, my husband had been laid off from his oilfield job (We are from West Texas, where the oilfield has the economy up and down depending on the year.), and we had an emergency fund in place. Had one of us needed to be back at work, or had we not had savings in place at the time, our specific situation could have been very different.
3. Get creative with HOW you teach.
The last point I’d like to make is that, during a time of crisis in your family, one of the most important things you can do is to let go of whatever picture you have in your mind of how homeschooling should be. That may be unrealistic for you at this point. Right now, the goal is to survive and make it to the other side of whatever situation you may be facing.
While living out of town, as I said before, we just threw some clothes in a suitcase and drove to be with our son. We were in a panic, and definitely not thinking about schoolwork or curriculum. I can tell you right now, I sure didn’t think to grab books, workbooks, or school supplies. Once we realized we were gonna be there a while, we had to start getting creative and making use of the resources we had available to us.
Take advantage of what’s available.
One of those things was the child life specialist at the children’s hospital. She took us under her wing at what was, for us, the most terrifying time of our lives. She got our kids plugged into all the amazing things happening at the hospital for patients and their siblings. Our kids were able to enjoy puppet shows, crafting, playrooms, and even live music and performances.
The biggest thing we did though was hit up the local dollar store and put together a “school” bag with a fun character tote that he could carry from the Ronald McDonald house, where our family was staying, to the hospital and back. I filled this bag with kindergarten workbooks, a box of basic supplies, dry erase board and markers, and a few beginner readers. This bag was inexpensive, easy to put together, and was how we “did school” most days. We could be in the hospital cafeteria, at the park, or at a restaurant. It didn’t matter. We had enough basic supplies at our fingertips that no matter where we were, we could pull out a workbook and do a page or two, practice sounding out words with our beginner readers, or work on writing letters and numbers on the dry erase board.
Whatever your situation may be, there ARE ways to continue learning. Even if you aren’t able to maintain your normal routine, afford an expensive curriculum, or dedicate time to lots of sit-down learning, it can be done.
Kids are resilient and curious. Even in less than ideal situations, even if it’s not necessarily like you pictured it might look, education is still happening, Sweet Mama. Make sure your family is stable, prioritize the most important subjects, and then get creative with the resources and time you have available to you.
With a CAN DO attitude, anything is possible!
Today, I have a healthy and energetic 3-year-old who, admittedly, still does have some health struggles. Otherwise, though, he loves life and is a typical toddler- into EVERYTHING! Ha! Our family came out the other side, and though this was one of the most difficult things we’ve ever been through, it made us stronger and closer than we’ve ever been.
No matter what your family is facing today, you can apply these principles and get your life and learning back on track.