Monday, March 16, 2009

Homeschool Sick Days


"As homeschoolers, we all have 'one of those days' every now and then. Sometimes there isn’t even a sickie in the house. Sometimes mom is drained or burned out and feeling run down. Sometimes there are other medical or health issues that are interfering with our best laid-out plans…

So do we give up and give in? Do we change the plans to make them more flexible?

I’d love to hear about the ideas that some of you have, the stories that you all can tell - about days that were less than perfect because someone “came down with a bug”, but successes anyway. Are you a “carschooler” when there are doctor appointments to attend? Are you a “bedschooler” when life lays you up? Or do you have a “sick day” schedule that you follow - a “rainy day idea can” that you dip in to?

What happens at your house when life throws a schedule curve?

Share your story with all of us moms who need a little encouragement."

I’ve been thinking about doing one of these Homeschool Memoirs for a while. This one seemed appropriate to start with since we’ve had a lot of sickness so far in 2009, and last fall I had a terrible time with nausea in my first trimester of pregnancy. So I have lots of experience with sick days this school year.

When I was pregnancy sick (I prefer that terminology to “morning sickness” b/c mine is not confined to the morning at all) in the fall, it was kind of a bad deal. It came on right after we got home from a trip to Chicago, and it really hit hard. I wasn’t prepared, either – I’d been foolishly living in denial hoping I wouldn’t get sick this time (you’d think I’d know better by now – I ALWAYS get sick first trimester). So it took me a bit to get with it and realize I was going to have to live with this for a while so I’d better do what I could, and what I could wasn’t much for a while.

Then in February we got hit with two different ‘bugs’ which slowly worked their way through the family and took about a month to completely leave us alone. Thankfully, we’re all recovered now. But it was an exhausting month in more ways than one for the whole family, and if I do say so myself, it was probably the worst for me. As if I wasn’t already tempted to stress about our schooling with regard to number of hours due to my nausea in the fall! (We live in MO, where homeschoolers log 1000 hours per year for their records, in case they should ever be needed as proof that we’re actually doing school. For more info on this, go here.) And the house – it was starting to look pretty scary and feel like there were germs lurking in every corner by the time we were done with all that!

A few things I can share that have helped me (mostly not in any particular order, except the first one is top priority):

1) Of utmost importance, for any day where nothing is going “right” and you’re perhaps tempted to be frustrated – remember that God is in control.

During the worst part of this past month, when I admit I was complaining to God about my misery, I was humbled and corrected when James 1:2-3 came to mind. “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.” And when my perspective changed to be more in line with this verse, I realized that if I gained something in my character because of this (even if I really couldn’t accomplish all the things I feared I wouldn’t be able to), it was worth it, because becoming more like God and growing spiritually is really what it’s all about. So I needed to put aside my own ideas about what was needed, and realize that God might have something different in mind. Simple concept, but easier said than done, and apparently a lesson I stubbornly refuse to learn for good. Yet, I felt there may have been a breakthrough here for me. I’d like to think I’ll never view this sort of thing the same way again. We’ll see.

So, my #1 tip for any crazy day of trial – remember your Creator. He knows what you are capable of. He could remove you from the trial if He wanted to, but it may be that there’s something important for you to learn from it, or some other thing He has in mind that will ultimately work together for good for you, if you are a child of His (Romans 8:28). So, really, it IS something to rejoice about, even though it doesn’t seem like it at the time.

2) Be flexible. Establishing priorities for the day and trying to follow a routine instead of a more rigid schedule works better for us when days aren’t ‘normal’ for whatever reason (almost our entire year has seemed to be that way, ha). If it’s sickness, I prioritize based on what’s most important for that day and who feels well enough to participate (certain things we do together, certain things require more individual work).

3) I am thankful for educational toys, like our LeapFrog globe that talks and sings and drills them on geography without being overly obnoxious (toys that make noise can really get on my nerves quickly but I don’t usually mind the globe).

4) I let them watch a few more educational videos than usual when they’re sick, or when I am – that’s something that doesn’t require too much effort, or even sitting up, and they still learn. Mostly we watch nature videos. We like the BBC Planet Earth and Blue Planet stuff, and also some National Geographic videos, although there is evolutionary content and a little bit of alarmist we’re-destroying-the-earth stuff now and then. We talk with the children about these things. We do have a couple volumes of Incredible Creatures That Defy Evolution which are also very interesting. These are of course presented from a creationist perspective.

5) I also – gasp! – let them play some educational computer games, which we also usually minimize but do allow occasionally even when they are well (we do think there is some value in limited use of this sort of thing, of course depending on what the program is). Some days they spent quite a while doing this, I admit! A warning: computer games can be like candy -- addictive, and they might want them more than better food for the mind! Some would spend all day on the computer if we let them (or video games, no doubt, but we haven’t let them play those at home – we think they get more than enough exposure to that for now when they visit others’ homes). I don’t allow them to even ask me to play the games, because at least one of them would ask a lot more than I like. I tell them when it’s time to play, so that it remains a treat to them and it’s not something they nag me about. And, anybody who whines when it’s time to stop has obviously been doing too much of this sort of thing, and needs to change his/her attitude.

6) Reading is an important and nice quiet, still activity (as long as a toddler or preschooler isn’t crawling all over you!). Bethany is doing much more independent reading of late, which has been good for her and also for her hours. We do a lot of read-alouds also in many subject areas, as we school in a Charlotte Mason/classical/eclectic style and have found this worthwhile, as well as enjoyable.

7) Music CD’s/tapes. Not obnoxious ones, please (see #3). Mostly classical or gospel, or CD’s of the Bible being read, or a tape of memory verses I made, etc. They’ve learned a lot about classical composers from listening to classical music, and they like it. We also like a series about the stories of the lives of composers called "An Introduction to the Classics: The Story of [insert composer name] In Words and Music." Oh, and don't forget audiobooks. We haven't a whole lot of these, but we like many of the Smithsonian ones on animals for young children (Oceanic Collection for instance), and have enjoyed some others we've checked out from the library (Rikki Tikki Tavi was a big favorite).

8) Playing outdoors is a good thing for those who are well enough. I’m thankful for a privacy-fenced yard (we live in the suburbs).

9) Let them (as much as they can responsibly and safely) help in the kitchen. Bethany probably got more opportunity to do more somewhat independently in the kitchen than she might have otherwise while I was having pregnancy sickness. I was happier than usual to let her try new things if it meant I could escape the kitchen, where my hyper-sensitive nose picked up way too many smells that would cause me trouble. She really does well with cooking and such, AND enjoys it. I’m glad for her, and for me!

Of course they can help lots of other ways too, besides the kitchen, and they do like to be helpful (not that they ALWAYS help with cheerfulness, but then, who does?).

10) Personalized notebooks for ‘independent’ work. This has been helpful for more than one bout with pregnancy nausea (when I did some of the above-mentioned "bed-schooling"), and we’ve also discovered that they are great for travel, other times of sickness, keeping things more together and helping them be more responsible for their own stuff, helping them see their progress more, helping the younger ones feel more involved, etc. Lots of benefits. I could write more in detail about the notebooks, but won’t here. This is getting very lengthy already. Perhaps in another post?

11) Yes, I do have something similar to the “rainy-day idea can” mentioned above, but I don’t really have an official name for it like that. I have just a little box with slips of paper on which have various activities written on them that they can usually do independently. This is something I use if I don’t need something for all of them at once, usually. Whoever needs something to do will either choose a number of strips of paper from the box or I’ll choose for them, then they or I will decide which activity or activities they can do for a certain time (if they choose I have to check first to make sure I know where that particular activity is located at the moment, and that it’s not going to interfere with anything else going on – if that activity isn’t doable just now, it just goes back in the box and doesn't become one of their choices).

12) Last thing, I promise. This I came up with in a time where I was feeling desperate to get some work done around the house that I couldn't involve all the children in at once very well (I think when I was coming out of my pregnancy sickness and realized how much the house had been neglected while I was focusing so much on eating and trying not to puke), and the children were having trouble coming up with productive things to do on their own without bickering or constantly interrupting me for insignificant reasons. It could get a bit hectic and overwhelming to come up with individual activities for 4 young children on the spot, even with the method mentioned in #11, and then having to do it again in 20-30 minutes or less (toddlers have the attention span of a gnat), not to mention the inevitable interruptions that always come anyway, made it hardly seem worth the effort. I finally came up with what I call “sessions” for them (I'm very creative w/names, huh?), which are preplanned activities for everyone already lined out, which often don’t involve me. Whenever I decide it’s “session time” for whatever reason, I grab the chart and see which session we’re ready to pick up with, and then I can get some work done and keep them occupied at the same time more easily, and they usually enjoy it, too. The sessions are varied -- in some they work with Mom, in some they play or do something else by themselves or with siblings.

The focus when I made this was on my own work getting done, but it could be adapted for use when you need focused time with children individually, or other uses perhaps. We haven’t used it much DURING a sickness episode, b/c it involves everyone, but it could be used that way with someone omitted who wasn’t well. We’ve used it mostly post-sickness or at other times when I’ve really felt that I needed some more focused work time, be it for cleaning or school planning or whatever. Again, I could write more about this in another post if there’s interest. Sometimes I think that these things that take me a long time to formulate and work for me would either be unnecessary or come more naturally to others, though, so I don’t even know whether more detail would be useful for anyone else or not.

That should do for an update on some of what things have been like during some of our maladies. This past time we did use many of these some, but we persevered with what I'd planned for school as much as possible while various ones were non-participants due to illness. I probably would have taken it a bit easier if we weren’t expecting a baby in May, but I know how much we’re all going to want/need a break when he/she arrives! I think we got at least something in about every day, not for everyone, but when all was said and done we actually did okay hours-wise, and we did well with regard to material covered. So overall, I’m pleased. Not thrilled, but pleased. We still have more hours remaining to tally than I’d like at this point, but we’ll be okay as long as we keep on keepin’ on. Baby’s coming! There’s motivation! Everybody wants that break when Baby comes!


  1. good thoughts, sister! the second best usage of the term "mother earth" was from a brother who began his prayer: "Our Father in Heaven, we bow our heads to mother earth, from whence we came, and to where we shall return someday ..."
    Keep up the good work!

  2. You've got great ideas for sick days - and any day really! We've had a ton of sickness too, this winter, but hopefully we're done with it.
    I'd love to hear more about the personalized notebooks. Thanks for sharing your ideas.
    Congratulations on your upcoming arrival!
    Shannon @ Song of My Heart