Thursday, February 28, 2008

Homeschooling with Chronic Illness

I've been out of work for two years now because of my chronic headaches and frequent migraines. During that time, I've taken over the homeschooling responsibilities for our children. I've learned quite a bit during the last couple of years, so I thought I'd try to distill it down to one blog post. I have realized that these tips are really appropriate for life, parenting, and homeschooling.

1. Pray, then pray some more, then pray some more. I have found that praying helps to settle me down, keeps me in line with God's will, and helps me focus on what's really important.

2. Understand and accept your limitations. This does not mean to wallow in self-pity or lie around moaning and groaning. It does mean, though, to accept that you may not be able to work at the level that you did before. In my case, I used to work and average of 8 to 10 hours per day seeing patients, working in the hospital and nursing home, and delivering babies. Now, I need more sleep. I need to rest and relax during the day. When I have a bad migraine, I become pretty unproductive. By knowing myself and learning what I can and can't do, I don't overschedule me and the kids. This makes us all happier!

3. Adjust expectations. I had always thought that, if I was the stay-at-home homeschooling parent, I would be working hands-on with my kids several hours every day. We would go lots of interesting places and do really cool things. We would work together to keep a wonderfully clean home. In reality, I have had to learn not to expect so much from myself. On a really good day, the kids and I will have a couple of hours reading together or doing an experiment. On other days, I spend an hour or so with each one helping them on core subjects. On bad days, we watch movies and the kids work independently. But, now that I know what to expect, I don't stress that our current homeschooling doesn't look like my dream.

4. Set reasonable goals. This probably goes under adjusting expectations, but there are a few other things I have learned about goals in homeschooling. Before we do an activity, I ask if the activity will help us meet our homeschooling goals. I try very hard to avoid busy work and assign things that keep us moving forward. My goals for my kids are end-points of learning. So, a math goal might be to "become proficient with fractions" not to "finish the math workbook". If one of the kids is going quickly through something, I'll skip some assignments. If they need more help, then we slow down.

5. Take care of yourself. I have learned this the hard way. It doesn't do anyone any good for me to do something that will likely trigger a migraine. The whole family is better off if I take my regular breaks and keep our schedule manageable rather than try to go really hard for a few days and then be completely useless for several days when I have a bad migraine.

6. Use technology wisely. My kids use the computer for Spanish and typing. I also have Wild Man using The jury's still out on how useful it is, but I'm happy to give it a try. I'm also planning on using an on-line program to help Ga'Hoole Girl with her writing. We also use some electronic devices for math fact review. DVDs are a big part of science and history for us. We have a Netflix subscription where I get science and history documentaries as well as relevant historical (and other) movies. Sometimes, we watch educational things on TV. Did you know that Mythbusters can be science?

7. Limit media. Sounds a little like I'm contradicting myself? Let me explain. We use technology when it helps. Otherwise, I don't let the kids watch TV or play video games indiscrimately. The rule in our house is that the kids can earn 30 minutes of media for every hour of math or language arts workbook work that they do. They can earn an hour daily. The nice thing is that even if I feel bad on a given day, they can earn their media. Most of the Wild Man's playtime is spent now with Legos, cars, and other toys. Ga'Hoole Girl enjoys computer programming, playing outside, and making things (food and crafts). So, there's a balance. If the kids get too much media, their behavior and attention span get atrocious. But, I don't mind some media. And, our system works well so far.

8. Don't compare. This is can be a real killer. I get to feeling really inadequate when I go to other people's homes and see that their houses are perfectly clean and their kids are so involved in zillions of activities. It's important to remember that God has called me to take care of my children in the best way that I can. So, it's OK that my house isn't clean. It's OK that my kids are doing the activities that they're doing. We don't have to be the "perfect" homeschooling family for my kids to get what's best for them.

9. Plan, but be flexible. One of the problems with homeschooling while having an illness is that plans seem to go awry regularly. And, I'm a real planner. In a perfect world, I would have a detailed schedule every day that we would follow to the last detail. I used to schedule my study times in college and medical school and loved it. Now, I start the day with a plan and have to change it halfway through because my headache gets bad. Or, I don't make any plans and I feel great and am left flying by the seat of my pants. The lesson I have learned here is to make overall plans, but be flexible about their implementation. We use Sonlight curriculum which comes with weekly schedules. I put this information into the lesson planning portion of Homeschool Tracker Plus and then can make daily schedules based on where we are in the curriculum. So, if we have a really slow day, I just move some assignments to the next day. The main thing here is to have an attitude that allows flexibility. It's OK to not do everything on the piece of paper! Really!

10. Enlist children's help with housework. We've had our kids help around the house since they were little, but I've really stepped that up in the last two years. They do most of the bathroom cleaning as well as the straightening up and sweeping. They can both make their own breakfasts and lunches and clean up (although they have to be reminded to clean up - big shock!). I'm teaching them to cook dinner as well. (When I don't feel well, one of them cooks either a frozen pizza or a Schwan's meal.)

Our life isn't perfect and I still don't have the homeschooling thing all figured out, but we're enjoying the process. I hope this helps you on your journey.

Reading Frenzy!

On our recent trip South, we visited my brother and his family. My brother has a bunch of books that looked interesting and that he let me borrow. I'm in Heaven! Right now I'm working on Black Rednecks, White Liberals by Thomas Sowell. A couple of the books are relatively lightweight conservative political fare, but a few are more in-depth social commentary (like the Sowell book). I'll probably have some reviews up in a week or two.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Our Quest

One of my regular readers (OK, maybe my only one!) emailed me to ask if everything was OK since I hadn't blogged for a couple of weeks. I felt so loved!

Actually, though, my lack of blogging has been because our family went on a quest. "A quest? What kind of quest does one go on in 2008?" you may be wondering. Well, we have been reading the Dragonkeepers series of books (by Donita K. Paul - reviews coming soon) as a family. In addition, we have been listening to Eragon and Eldest. Both of these book series are about characters going on quests. We had a trip planned to see Mr. Math Teacher's and my families down South, so we decided to make a quest out of it.

Ga'Hoole Girl got creative and make Questing Books out of paper and fabric. She had three books and made one for Wild Man. The kids both packed questing bags which included things like binoculars, Questing Books, and mp3 players (don't ask). They were ready to go!

When we got into the van to get going on our trip on Wednesday the 13th, the kids found a letter from someone who had previously done our trip and found some dragon eggs. She included a diary of her trip, but it was in a coded alphabet. The kids had to decode the diary based on the locations that we passed on our trip. We had two days of driving, by which time the kids had completely decoded the diary. This was important because the last page of the diary was at my parent's trailer and it had to be decoded before the kids could find the dragon eggs or dragons. So, they decoded it and walked out on my parent's property to find their dragons! (The eggs had hatched while we were driving, apparently) We got back to the trailer and Ga'Hoole Girl proceeded to explain to my parents the difference between Western (European) and Eastern (generally Chinese) dragons - she has a book on dragons. Too funny!

After the dragons were found, we spent the rest of the trip visiting family. We spent time with my family then went to visit Mr. Math Teacher's grandmother, who is 93 years old!! While we were down South, we also got to have plenty of seafood, including boiled crawfish (despite the fact that it's not really in season yet). Then, we took another drive to visit my brother and his family. The kids had a great time playing. Wild Man is two years older than his cousin, E. They had a blast playing boy things together. Ga'Hoole Girl taught E to play the Zelda game that he has. Ga'Hoole Girl is a Zelda maniac! But, mostly, Ga'Hoole Girl played with her 8 month old cousin, J. It was really fun to see her playing with him. Overall, we had a great time and were really glad to see so much of our family at once.

The one downside was that I had three bad migraines on the trip. We were going to leave on Thursday but decided to leave on Wednesday because a big snowstorm was coming and we didn't want to get caught in it. Of course, I then developed a migraine Tuesday night making packing a real adventure. I had two more migraines on the trip, but I did have the advantage of being with family so I didn't have to worry about cooking or cleaning. Now that we're home, I'm having "withdrawal" headaches. The house is a disaster! But, we are glad to be home. And, I'm sure I'll get around the cleaning eventually. I've got three weeks of blogging to do, so I should have some new stuff up in the next few days.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Cables and More!

One of my goals for this year was to learn to knit cables. Well, I did it! I learned by making wrist warmers for Ga'Hoole Girl. Then, Wild Man wanted a pair, so I found a masculine pattern to make a set for him. They turned out great! Wild Man's wrist warmers were started with blue yarn, but I had to finish the last little bit with some variegated yarn since these are some of my projects to use up leftover yarn. It's also nice to try to use up old yarn because the projects are small and only take a few days each!

I also tried my hand at "entrelac", a knitting technique that has sections of knitting running at different angles. My sister-in-law was doing some of it a few years ago and it was just gorgeous. I found a fun pattern for a hat/wide headband on so I tried it out. It was wonderfully fun and downright addictive. The technique really isn't all that hard. The difficult part is figuring out where to do which type of stitch. Otherwise, it's just knit, purl, increase, decrease, and pick up stitches.

My next project is a vest for Mr. Math Teacher. I'm using a cotton blend yarn so it will be cool. If it works out, then Wild Man wants one. Ga'Hoole Girl loves the entrelac piece, so I'll be looking for some yarn to make her one.


I had an appointment today with my counselor. I also had a migraine. Last week, I actually cancelled my appointment with her because I also had a migraine, but today's was not that severe. My counselor likes to talk about "reframing" things - looking at something negative in a positive light. During our visit, I talked about how today was a "knitting day" because of my migraine. My counselor said that this was a good way to reframe the migraine. So, now the migraine days that were so awful are "knitting days" which aren't so bad since I love to knit!

Saturday, February 02, 2008

But, Mom, he's nocturnal!

At about 10pm, I went to upstairs to bed and heard Wild Man in his room playing. I knocked and looked in to find him on the bed with Monkey (a little stuffed monkey) sitting in a toy that was pretending to be a car. I told Wild Man that he needed to get to sleep. Then, I told Monkey that maybe he needed to come downstairs sometimes during the day to play so that he didn't keep Wild Man up so late at night. Then, Wild Man looks back at me and says (so sweetly), "But, Mom, he's nocturnal!"