As a new homeschooler, I expected challenges.
I was a teacher’s kid and had grown up tutoring in my parents’ classes; I knew how hard lesson planning, finding the right resources, and teaching a child to read could be.
What I didn’t know was how much homeschooling would actually stretch me – or how much God would grow me while homeschooling through challenging times.
You see, I thought the logistics of educating my son would be the hard part. I was one of those moms that kind of fell into homeschooling “by mistake.” I never really thought it was something I would want to do, but found it was the best option for my son – so I jumped in and never looked back.
I made the same mistakes that many of us do, especially at the start. Our first year, I went through no less than 4 full curriculums, looking for the one that would be a good fit. Because there weren’t really many online resources back then (we started homeschooling the same year Facebook came into being), I didn’t know that I could buy used curriculum. Instead, I spent over $2,000 on books and workbooks for my 6-year-old, most of which didn’t work.
(Yep, I was that homeschool mom.)
After a while though, I got plugged into a local community and figured out what I was doing. I found a curriculum consignment store and saved my budget. (My husband was especially appreciative of that one!) I figured out how to teach my child to read, write, and master the other skills he needed to learn.
It turned out that those weren’t the big challenges after all.
Keeping Up with Your Homeschool
Now, don’t get me wrong…finding a schedule and a curriculum that work for both you and your child can definitely be a challenge. Figuring out how to truly cause your child to learn (especially with subjects they think they “hate”) isn’t easy.
The real challenges came when life hit.
When my husband lost his job, our sole income.
When my son contracted a critical illness that nearly killed him and left him immunocompromised.
When I came down with a mystery illness that left me exhausted and sore 24 hours a day.
When my son and I both learned that we’re autoimmune and needed to change almost every facet of our lives to try to stay healthy.
These are the challenges that left me asking, “how do we keep homeschooling?”
There were a few important lessons I learned. At the time, it felt like I was the only one going through them, but I know now that’s just not true.
Because I know I’m not the only one – and because I would have loved to know that when I was in the trenches – I would love to share what I learned. I hope it’s an encouragement to you!
Lesson 1: Give Grace and Be Flexible
I can’t stress this one enough, so I’m putting it right at the top.
When life throws challenges your way, you have two options: fight them off or roll with them.
When those challenges are outside your control – when it’s something like the loss of a job or a severe illness in the family – give yourself grace.
When my son was younger, he had not one, but two critical illnesses. Both left him fighting for his life, and both left him unable to do a full day of school for months on end.
All of a sudden, my plans went down the drain.
Being a teacher’s kid, I really only knew how to teach in a structured environment. When that structure was no longer possible because my child couldn’t keep up with it, I had to learn to adapt to his needs.
For a time, our homeschool looked nothing like school. But honestly? I learned that’s ok.
Lesson 2: Reassess Your Priorities
This one was hard for me. As a teacher’s kid, I had a strong attachment to objectives and lesson plans.
Unfortunately, there were times when holding to those objectives just wasn’t an option.
When my son couldn’t stay awake for more than an hour or two at a time, there really wasn’t a way to plan out how many pages we’d get through. There were times when an audiobook was the entirety of our school day – and thankfully, he was even awake for some of it.
Other times, I planned out a unit and we just did as much as he was able to each day. I had no idea if the unit would go for a couple of weeks or a couple of months; we just rolled with it.
When I was sick, I made sure that I had plenty of activities on hand that didn’t require me to prep or teach. Between library books, documentaries, movies, and projects that my son could handle himself, I could reserve most of my energy for discussion.
And when we were extremely short on funds, I turned to resources I could use for free. Back in those days (my son is now 22), they were a bit harder to find…now, there are tons of great free curriculum materials available!
I came to understand that there were far more important things than memorizing math facts and finishing the science book, though. During that time, both my son and I learned some amazing lessons.
We learned to value our time and discussions together, because they turned out to be far more valuable than worksheets.
He learned to value his friends that came over just to sit quietly and listen or watch a movie with him so that he wouldn’t feel so alone. When he recovered, he learned to look for quiet ways to be that incredible blessing in someone else’s life.
Most of all, we learned to value prayer and our trust in God, since so much of it was outside our control. That’s something that both of us have held dear to this day.
Lesson 3: Realize Your Blessings
Although I can’t say that I’m thankful for the challenges we’ve been through, I can honestly say that I’m thankful for the blessings that have come from them.
We did plenty of academics during his healthy years, and he’s doing incredibly well today. Thankfully, once he recovered, he jumped right back into the academics and made up everything he’d missed. (He had missed at least 2 years of school by that point, so this was a feat in and of itself.) He’s currently a senior in college and doing great.
In addition to his studies, he’s also very involved in two ministries. One takes him around the world while the other allows him the chance to mentor and minister to teens across the country. As challenging as both are at times, he loves it!
Because my son has faced more in his 22 years than most people face in a lifetime, he’s not afraid to get out there and make a difference. He knows for a fact that his life has purpose, and he’s determined to make the most of it.
To me, that’s worth every bit of challenge we went through. Today, I don’t look back at the hours I spent trying to figure out how to modify school or get materials on a tight budget…I look at the amazing journey God brought us through.
I hope that the tips and strategies I’ve offered above are helpful if you’re homeschooling through challenges, but more than that, I hope that you’re encouraged by the fact that it’s completely worth it. The challenges won’t last (even though it might not seem like it right now), but I promise you – the blessings will.
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Jen Duncan is a Jesus-loving mom, wife, and semi-retired homeschool mom. She is also the co-owner of Life Beyond the Lesson Plan, where she strives to help busy moms not only thrive at homeschooling their kids but also thrive in parenting, cooking, and mom life. You can also find her on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.