Homeschooling Through the Unexpected

By Autumn Burke

I had always heard that homeschooling was a journey, and it was never truer than it was with my family. Sometimes our path has been very rocky and unexpected. Sometimes when I think that I’ve got it figured out, there comes that unexpected wrench thrown into the plans that throws everything out of whack. Little did I know when I began this journey that our lives would take the most devastating turn of all.

Three years ago our journey began. Homeschooling was not even a thought for us then. Our son, now 8, was in kindergarten, and our daughter, now 6, was in preschool. It only took half a year to decide that things weren’t working out for either of them, and my husband suggested homeschooling. It was January when we decided to begin.

We have survived the unexpected death of my father two years ago. We have managed living in a very rural setting where it is difficult to find extracurricular activities nearby. Just when I thought that we had made it through the majority of the difficulties and I had found a path that would work for us, another unexpected hurtle came into our lives. My husband, Dwayne, was diagnosed with cancer in August of 2009.

Of course, when he was first diagnosed, we heard the usual comments and questions. Will we be putting the kids back in school? That was not even a consideration for us. We considered homeschooling an important part of our lives, and the thought of putting them in school because of my husband’s illness was not ever considered. I knew our lives would change, and that would include how we homeschooled.

I gave up a majority of the eclectic mix that we were doing for simpler workbooks. I needed something that could easily be thrown into a backpack every day without weighing us down. We continued with Saxon Math, but I didn’t have the ability to carry the teacher’s manual with me, so when preparing our work I would make notes of what was to be taught each day. History, handwriting, and English became workbooks (American Education Publishing). I wanted these workbooks because they were inexpensive, especially after already having purchased our schoolwork for the year. Also, I did not know how long our situation was going to be like this, so I didn’t want to invest a lot of money in a completely new curriculum.

We were using the Spelling Workout workbook series, so I did not have to make a change there. For science, I ordered the workbooks that went along with the Harcourt science textbooks we already had. That way, in the evenings we could read the science selection, then do the corresponding workbook lesson the next day in the doctor’s office. I also added Bible lessons from Christian Light Publications to our daily schedule. I threw in library books on the topics we were reading about, as well as some general interest books for the kids.

I would group the lessons for each day into a stapled packet and place it, a couple of notebooks, and a few books and pencils into a book bag to take along with us to work on in the lobby of the hospital as we waited. Typically, we followed this schedule five days a week for almost eight hours daily.

It was difficult at first, because being constantly surrounded by people was distracting to an 8-and 6-year-old. It was especially difficult because frequently people would take a moment to talk to us. However, I chose to regard that interaction as an opportunity to develop those socialization skills that people often say homeschoolers don’t have.

My children are now very familiar with a lot of medical terms and procedures that they otherwise wouldn’t be. They also adapt more easily to changes in routine than they ever did before. I’ve also become better at time management. Last year, losing two hours of school time for an appointment would have me calling off the entire day of school.

As my husband’s chemo schedule slowed and we were spending a little more time at home each day, I was able to include the CD program titled Typing Instructor for Kids and Wii Fit for daily P.E., along with our weekly group P.E. activities. Eventually we traded in the workbooks for the online program offered by Time4Learning (http://www.time4learning.com/).

However, as soon as our lives were starting to get back to normal, we were hit with the most unexpected thing of all. We lost my husband, Dwayne, to a heart attack. Our family has been devastated.

One good thing about homeschooling has been that we were able to take off the time that we needed without having to rush the children back to school. Another thing is that we got to spend so much more time with my husband than we would have been able to if they had been in public school during the day.

As of now, I do not know what the future holds for us. I do know that I will continue to homeschool as long as God gives us the opportunity to do that. Right now my focus is just on holding us all together day to day, to get through, leaning on the Lord for strength.

One thing I have learned is that homeschooling truly is like a journey. You always have the final destination in mind, but there are many different ways to get there. Sometimes you get lost, or you break down along the way. Sometimes you take a wrong turn, and sometimes you find a path that is more enjoyable than the one you intended. Sometimes you have to take a moment to stop and regroup. The most important thing is to know that regardless of where the journey leads you, always be adaptable. Try to learn from your mistakes, and never forget to enjoy the little things along the way—most importantly, the time spent with your family.

Autumn Burke lives in Abingdon, Virginia. She is a writer and a full-time college student who enjoys vegetable gardening and preserving food, as well as homeschooling her two children.

Copyright 2010. Originally appeared in The Old Schoolhouse Magazine®, Summer 2010. Used with permission.

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