Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Home education and chronic illness

Is this for you?

First up, let me tell you who this post is not aimed at. Please know this was not written for you if you suffer from chronic illness, you are satisfied with your schooling choices, and you clicked on this in a state of incipient outrage, thinking "Oh, great. Lady, I am barely functioning and now I'm supposed to feel guilty for not homeschooling my children?!"

You are walking a hard road, I know. Please trust my sincerity when I say that my intention is to encourage and not to discourage.

I am writing this post in response to persistent questions from the following two groups of people:

  • People like my friend with CFIDS who loves the idea of home education for possible future children, but is fearful of her ability to do so due to health issues.
  • Parents who desire desperately to bring their children home to educate them but are fearful of their ability to do so due to health issues.

If this is you, welcome. Now, what can I possibly say that would encourage you? I'd like to make three statements for you to ponder.

  1. You can home-educate your children. 
  2. You may not be able to home-educate the way you imagined. 
  3. Your children will learn from your illness, not in spite of it.
Let me explain myself.

1. You can home-educate your children.

How can I say this? On a personal level, because I was home-educated by someone with a chronic illness, and I've known others who've done so, with wonderful fruit in their own and their children's lives. Read this testimony by Kimberley, a home-educator whose own mother home-schooled through cancer (there's more here).

Now. Here's the important qualifier:

2. You may not be able to home-educate them the way you imagined.*

(*It's worth noting that this seems to be true of every home-schooler I have ever known.)

It's common for people in your situation to believe that they are disqualified from home-educating because of one of the following:

  • You don't have the energy to take your children on field trips.
  • You don't have the time and focus to implement the perfect curriculum.
  • You've forgotten all your high school maths (and maybe also what day it is).
  • Sometimes you have to stay in bed all day.
Because of my mother's illness, she simply wasn't able to spend time drilling me in maths memorisation or doing awesome chemistry experiments, both of which are by nature things she would have enjoyed. Do I feel like I was short-changed by my education due to missing out in these areas? Not a bit of it. If you have doubts, you can read my traditionally-schooled, academically-focused husband's perspective on my education.

By now you are either all upset at me and/or you're wondering how on earth my parents managed to give me what my husband and I (and others) consider to be a first-rate education. 

Two strategies for home-educating with a chronic illness

I'm going to share two key strategies my mother used as she home-educated me through her 15 years of illness, which started when I was about 3.

1. Have simple but significant goals for your children's education.

My mother focused her efforts on teaching me a small number of vital skills. Briefly, they could be summed up as:
  1. Character attributes. The ones my parents insisted on were obedience, respect, cheerfulness, and diligence.
  2. Self motivation. I was never allowed to say "I'm bored". Tasks would be assigned to me if I did, and I usually preferred to come up with my own ways to occupy my time, which suited my mum just fine!
  3. Discernment. This was crucial, otherwise I could have simply become excellent at frittering away my time. I was taught to evaluate my interests and materials for quality, suitability and usefulness, from a worldview shaped by the Bible.
  4. Aspiration. To make big plans/ideas and to pursue them using the above skills.

Investing in these attributes/skills meant that she could be reasonably confident in my use of time and pursuit of my interests, with minimal (but wise) supervision from her.

2. Delegate.

Yes, that's right. This may seem counter-intuitive, but you don't have to do everything yourself. While my education was very much home-based and parent-directed, I received outside tuition in skills my parents didn't possess and which are hard to learn in any other way than in a hands-on context. In my case, it was music (harp, piano, singing), dance, French, and horse-riding/horse care. When I was 14 I experimented with enrolling in Adult Ed classes and used the information and skills I learned there to springboard into further self-directed learning.

If you are too ill to get out much, you absolutely need to avoid becoming a full-time chauffeur to your child/ren. There are good private tutors who will come to your house. There may be trusted relatives or other families who will give your child a lift to a lesson.

Consider this: delegating to family members, especially older relatives, can be richly rewarding for your family. Do you have an elderly relative who knows how to crochet, tat, knit, sew, kickbox? Is there an uncle with an interest in military history? God designed human beings to thrive as they pass on and receive knowledge in a mentoring/discipling relationship. Gardening, cooking, painting, preserving, wood-working, building...these skills are often lost between generations for no other reason than that it just didn't occur to anyone to initiate that kind of mentoring relationship.

I know, I know -- you may have a rotten relationship with your extended family. That may be one reason that home-educating appeals to you - you long to build a better, closer kind of family. It may go against the grain, but respectfully asking a family member to share their specialist knowledge/skills with your child is almost certainly going to be a step in the right direction. The worst they can say is no, right?

A really low-stress and achievable method of delegation is audio books. When I was a child, I listened to many classic books this way. When I learned to read, I went straight to Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey to find my favourite bits for myself which I already knew from the recording. Borrow them, buy them, subscribe to Audible. If you don't know what books to choose, find a good list (like this one or this one from my friend Suzannah).

Ok, here's my third and final thought.

3. Your children will learn from your chronic illness, not in spite of it. 

As Kimberley says,
"Through cancer God taught our family that our focus should be relational, first relationship with God, then with others. We are called to love and care for people, we should work to improve the lives of people, we must appreciate and enjoy people. It seems simple when you read it, but it’s uncommon in this world. It’s much more common to sacrifice people and relationship for a bigger home, a nicer car, a better education and even recognition, or a certificate of completion."
As they are at home with you, your children will learn from watching how you deal with your illness. If you use what energy you have to focus on the big things rather than feeling guilty about what your kids aren't doing, your children will learn from that. If you are a Christian and you are trusting God through the grief, pain and disappointment of ill health, your children will learn from that.

Your children don't need to be shielded from your illness. Just like Kimberley and her family were blessed through her mother's fight with cancer, they can learn lessons through your illness that will teach them wisdom, compassion and courage. I learned that my mother's deep desire to have a close relationship with her only child and to give her a lifelong love of learning could not be thwarted by 15 years of serious and often misdiagnosed ill health. I know that if I face serious health issues in the future, my attitude will be shaped by having seen God's grace to my mother and our family in action.

Friends, if you long to do this, if your deep desire is to bring your children home for their education, and you are bursting with questions, see the links below to women who blog about their experiences in this area, with lots more practical advice than I've given here. I'd also be very happy to put you in contact with people like my mother who can share their stories.

My mother and I climb Marion's Lookout
(in Tasmania's Cradle Mountain National Park)
 in her post-Chronic Fatigue era.

6 Tips for Homeschooling with a Chronic Illness
Homeschooling when Mama has a Chronic Illness
Homeschooling with Chronic Illness
10 Tips to Help You Succeed 

1 comment:

  1. Hi Christina!
    I'm so inspired by this article. While I don't have a chronic illness, I can identify as 'having one' with my current situation (I hope that makes sense!). Love it. Thank you xx