Tuesday, October 26, 2010

HomeSchooling Through a Family Crisis

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My kids learning Chemistry with Daddy with the "Dangerous Things for Boys Chemistry Set" that Alex received for his 6th Birthday.

My baby girl, Tess got super sick the first week back for public school kids around here. I had some shocked comments from neighbors that I was continuing to home-school my older kids after Tessy's illness. I wasn't thinking clearly in social situations during Tessy's time in the NICU--so I missed coming up with some snappy comebacks. (Such unintended meekness on my part was probably for the best!) Still, I wanted to share how amazing homeschooling worked for a family coping with a severe medical crisis.

First, with a newborn in the NICU, childcare was an immediate crisis. I was so thankful that I didn't have to coordinate multiple school drop off and picks up with three older children. Who ever was free for the day, could easily pick up all of my kids at one time and keep them together for the whole day. Eventually, my older kids ended up spending over 10 days with their grandparents in another state. This would have been impossible if they were in a traditional school setting.

Second, I think it was really important NOT to make my older kids sit still at a desk and do traditional learning tasks while their little sister was had a severe medical crisis. Before Tess, I would have followed conventional wisdom that said older kids need "structure" during a crisis. Going through it, however, I can't imagine asking my kids to sit in a new school classroom on concentrate on difficult material. This wasn't a time to stress phonics or multiplication tables. Instead, my kids needed to look forward to going to the Smithsonian with their beloved Aunt Emily.

Third, hanging out with relatives was a win/win situation for everyone. My parents and my siblings were freaked out by Tessy's medical condition. They weren't the type to sit still in a hospital waiting room praying the rosary during Tessy's multiple surgeries when her outcome was so uncertain. Caring for my older kids allowed my family to do something intensely practical to help me during a very scary time.

Fourth, my kids LEARNED stuff this Fall. I didn't expect that. I worked my older kids hard this summer because I thought we'd simply take off for a long "new baby break" this September. That's why I had absolutely zero guilt about my kids "missing school" during Tessy's time in the NICU.

Yet instead, my kids learned so much stuff during Tessy's NICU stay. The National Air and Space Museum is near Tessy's hospital room, so the kids took in multiple viewings of the planetarium. We now talk about "super novas" and "wormholes" at my house. Their grandparents took them spelunking. Aunt Emily taught them Geography and French. Of course, thanks to Baby Tess, everyone now has advance knowledge of the digestive and circulatory systems!

Now that Baby Tess is home, we're back to our more familiar routine of Reading, Writing and Chemistry. (We're science geeks in the Benjamin house!) I'm so grateful for the flexibility and family solidarity that homeschooling lent us during Tessy's NICU crisis.


  1. This resonated with me. I have always homeschooled my children (ages 21, 11, & 8). This summer, I was found to have a brain tumor and had it removed … now I'm dealing with disability due to the tumor as well as the surgery. I've received some shocking comments about continuing to homeschool my kids! For me, homeschooling is a family lifestyle -- a childrearing philosophy: why would I alter how I raise my kids, just because of a health crisis? Crisis hits all of us, we are none of us immune to the changes and challenges of life … homeschooling my kids means we get to be together, no matter the length of our days, or the difficulty of them.

    Peace to you ~ Ellie

  2. I'm glad it is working out so well. I am at a point in my life when I would love to homeschool but my husband isn't on board with it.

    One point -- in a traditional school setting, it is not alwyas impossible to miss 10 days of school (or even 15, in my son's case, when I pulled him out to go to English camp), even if the school system doesn't approve of it. Sometimes, a flexible approach to an inflexible system works best!

  3. I'm so glad that this worked so well for your family! A wonderful family I know just had their 10th kid, all under the age of 12. They homeschool and have a "long baby break" with each and every child.

    If people are concerned about this lack of schooling time-they simply need to look at the fact that they kids are learning how to take care of a baby, how to manage a household when mommy is out, and how to rely on each other! Not to mention that they are all reading several grades above their level-so I dont think the breaks are hurting them too much.

  4. Sitting at a desk would have probably been completely useless for your older children in terms of learning during Tess's NICU stay. I'm not a homeschooling mom (though I think it is awesome and am considering for next year since my Catholic school is shutting down) but it just seems self-evident to me that the kids would be best-served by field trips and other outings where they could be distracted as well as burn off some of the stress they must have felt through physical exertion.

  5. Truly, homeschooling through a crisis brings some of our greatest lessons in love...

    We lost many school days this past month to attend & participate in 5 funerals (for ages 2-96).

    I wouldn't have traded the opportunity to pray for the dead (and for the boys to serve the Masses) for any advances in their "education."

    May God continue to bless your family abundantly!