Homeschooling through grief and tough times

You know those times when life is just a total mess and everything falls apart?

We had one of those recently. It involved weeks of caring for a close family member in the final stage of cancer and the inevitable result, bookended by 5000kms of driving.

And did I mention that I had to leave my nursing placement to go there (literally straight from the hospital) and then had to go straight back into 48-hour weeks to make up my hours?

Life sucked. Grief and exhaustion and an overwhelming to-do list meant life got stripped back to the bare essentials.

Sitting down to do bookwork with my kids was NOT happening.

But instead of feeling guilty that they were being neglected I chose to take my own advice from Zero to Homeschool and pay attention to what was actually happening. Not just kick myself over what wasn’t.

While we may not have been doing our normal work, there was still a lot of learning going on – here’s a sample of it.

Our Incidental Homeschooling

5000+kms of driving gave us a lot of listening time for podcasts. We especially liked Off Track, The Long Way Home, Dr. Karl’s Shirtloads of Science, and Myths and Legends (may need censoring for adult themes).

We stocked up on library books and all the kids managed to read quite a bit. Rex and Forrest listened to hours of books on Libby, including books about explorers (I’ve heard a lot about Ibn Battuta lately).

Holli, Asha, and Forrest birdwatch obsessively, and passing through a lot of country very quickly meant they saw a lot of birds each day.

Wedge-tailed eagle in the desert

The kids played hangman in the car for hours (spelling and vocabulary). They also tracked where we were in our road atlas (geography, map reading, and spatial awareness).

We listened to the radio and investigated ideas that caught our interest. One was pumped hydro power, and we spent an hour learning about it and other renewable energy projects in Australia.

We also looked up Sundrop Farms while driving through Port Augusta. We went from ‘Eeww, who’d want to eat food grown here?’ to an understanding and appreciation of their pioneering work growing sustainable food in otherwise barren areas. We’d eat it now!

We stopped off on the way back at the Djap Wurrung embassy in Western Victoria and saw grassroots protest in action.

We also stopped at Lake Hart and walked out on the salt. Yes, we tasted it.

Some regular bookwork got done independently. Gabrielle maintained her Duolingo streak, Holli and Asha continued their current MOOCs, Forrest finished a Targeting Handwriting book and Rex practiced reading with Libby and Khan Academy Kids. We kept running, including parkrun. NaNoWriMo preparations happened. Letters were sent to penpals.

And of course there was all the other stuff, the less pleasant parts of life – learning about death and grief, the discussions about ethics and medicine. The stuff you can’t learn from books.

If I didn’t note all this down I’d think we’d done nothing. But when I look back on it we did a lot in three very busy weeks. And I know that I didn’t notice all of it – I probably didn’t notice half of it.

It’s times like this I’m incredibly grateful that we have a homeschooling lifestyle that isn’t dependent on me for everything. It’s great when I’m able and involved, but things still tick on without me when I’m mostly unavailable.

In school you are taught a lesson
and then given a test. 
In life, you are given a test that teaches you a lesson. 
Malcolm X quote on Fearless Homeschool.

Our homeschool really is life-proof.

As I mentioned when talking about homeschooling with depression I was lucky in that I’d already put a lot of thought and effort into our foundation. We already had a family culture of learning. We were clear on our goals, we knew the activities and curriculum we did and didn’t like, and the children had great habits of working diligently and independently.

If you don’t have a great foundation, start building one right now. You never know when it may save you. If you’re not sure where to start, Zero to Homeschool walks you through the process.

If you’re struggling right now, take a deep breath and give yourself a break. Don’t expect to do what you normally would. Accept that it will take you time to get back to your normal levels of productivity, and reset your expectations to supporting your family and yourself rather than completing the next maths unit.

It’s not a bad thing, and it won’t disadvantage your children. They’re learning to live life, not take tests, and grief and suffering will give them some of the best opportunities to learn about being human.

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