Friday, September 27, 2013

Homeschooling with Chronic Illness

This is a post I've been wanting to write for quite some time; however, every time I started I just didn't  know where to go with it. As I sit here faced with another bout of pain, I thought I'd share my plans for the day and hopefully show how you, too, can still homeschool through chronic illness.

First of all, my diagnosis. I have a handful of what are considered "invisible" illnesses. This simply means that I most people can't see the symptoms of said illness like you would see the runny nose, cough, and watery eyes of seasonal allergies (which I also happen to have every spring and fall). I regularly fight juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, and Raynaud's phenomenon. The symptoms are always there but don't always effect my ability to school.

My symptoms include:


  • joint pain & swelling
  • stiffness & difficulty moving after sitting or lying for long periods
  • fatigue
  • pain
  • fatigue
  • concentration problems
  • depression
  • headaches (gotta love those migraines)
  • morning stiffness
  • sleep problems (have a hard time getting into a deep, restful sleep)
  • numbness in hands, feet, and legs
  • tender points (all over dull aching with random pinpoint shoots of severe pain)
  • numbness in hands, feet, and nose from poor blood circulation
  • effected areas get ice cold and turn white/blue
  • effected areas turn blue then bright red when trying to warm up often with painful tingling

In addition to my invisible illnesses and seasonal allergies, I'm also pregnant with our fourth child. Each pregnancy has brought on severe morning sickness that lasts from about 8 weeks until birth. This time around has been no different in that area.

As you can see, I face a whole host of obstacles in my homeschool journey. So how do I do it with all of this going on? Well, to be honest, there are a lot of days I don't. School often gets cancelled because I'm utterly exhausted or fall asleep without warning from the fatigue. (Funny story: Just last week Big Girl woke me up because I fell asleep in the middle of reading a science lesson. Big Boy thought it was hilarious!)

In all seriousness, though, here's how many of our "Mommy is sick" days goes and what I rely on to get through.

Netflix of all things has been a blessing! There are so many documentaries on history and science that I can easily put on for the kids to watch while I rest.

School in Bed. There are some days I just can't get out of bed. These are admittedly my worst days, but they do happen more frequently than I'd like. Big Girl will run downstairs and grab all of our materials for a given subject. Then she, Big Boy, and I cuddle under the covers while I read to them. Baby Boy gets to play in his room on these days, so we are often serenaded by the Jake & the Neverland Pirates theme song.

Cut our work in half. We'll start a bit later in the day and only do the basics - reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Just push through. I know this is probably the least helpful of everything I said, but there are days when the symptoms are there but not as severe. Those days, I just have to pray for an extra dose of patience and energy and push through the pain and fatigue. By the end of the "push through" days, I'm often in bed by 8:30pm with the kids.

Do any of you out there face physical obstacles in your homeschooling journey? How do you work through the tough days? I'm always on the look out for new ideas!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Discover the Dinosaurs

This past weekend we had a great trip with my parents to a "Discover the Dinosaurs" exhibit! Although we aren't studying dinosaurs at this moment (land dinosaurs won't happen until next year), I still thought it would be a great educational field trip.

Big Girl had a blast the whole day! She really hammed it up for photos, especially with the meat eaters posing "mid-scream" as if they were about to attack. She had us all cracking up with her antics.

Big Boy started off the most excited about the day, but once he saw how big the dinosaurs were, he wasn't so sure. At one point, when an allosaurus started moving, he ran and hid behind grandma. Poor guy! (I realize the pic below is actually a tyrannosaurus rex. My allosaurus pic didn't come out very well. I figure they're related, so it sufficiently illustrates the scary factor.)

Baby Boy was timid but not in the same fearful way as big brother. He loved looking at all the movement and even the big dinosaurs but did get a little worried the few times we turned his back to them for pictures.

All three kids really enjoyed the dinosaur dig areas and the "Dino-theatre" presentation. They were all excited to see Dr. Scott the paleontologist from one of their favorite shows, Dinosaur Train!

All in all it was a great day and a great break in routine from the normal school week!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Our New Classroom!

I've always had a very hodgepodge classroom (when I've had one) up until this year. I really wanted something a bit more cohesive and fun for my kids. I'll admit that Pinterest had a big influence on this desire!

Of course, Big Girl wanted princes or Monster High or something equally girly, but Big Boy wasn't having any of that! He wanted something that was all boy. I told them we needed something both boys and girls would like. Mickey Mouse was our compromise, and I think I may have gone a little crazy with it!

Much of the big aspects of our classroom stayed the same. It's still set up much like a traditional classroom. I tend to do better keeping the kids focused with this set up. 

First up is our alphabet strip. We had a really nice one last year, but it just didn't go with our phonics curriculum. It was hard for Big Boy to remember his key words for sounds and letters with nothing matching up. Also, Big Girl is starting cursive this year, so I wanted something with cursive letters.

Look below the alphabet strip to the left, you'll find our 100 number chart. We had one that came with our curriculum that I've used for a few years now. It is on a 12x12 sheet of paper, and with my poor eyesight, I wanted something bigger.

Below our number chart is our attendance charts and family birthday calendar. Each day when the kids finish up with their workboxes, they take a sticker and place it on the appropriate day of the calendar. This helps me track their attendance and make sure we meet that 180 day requirement for the state.

Below the charts is our bookshelf of this year's school items. I keep my teachers manuals, student portfolios, student dictionary/thesaurus, box of math manipulatives, library books for the week, and a coloring books for Baby Boy. The Celtic cross on top is both a nod to our faith and our heritage!

Moving right, the next thing you see is our whiteboard and math meeting space. Our white board is used for pretty much everything. The rest is math specific. We use Saxon curriculum, and after writing and re-writing everything on a daily basis for a few years, I was tired. I made up all of our stuff and laminated it, so it could be done with a dry erase marker. You'll see spaces for our pattern of the day, number of the day, problem of the day, calendar activities, our Mickey bank for practicing money counting, and (not pictured) a clock for practicing time. There is also a weather component built into the curriculum, but we don't do this because we tend to hold daily weather discussions when choosing our attire for the day. I see no point in duplicating that just because a curriculum tells us to do so.

Just above our math meeting board is our writing space. I found these great graphics of step-by-step Mickey drawings and thought they'd make a great visual for the steps in the writing process!

The kids' desks sit facing the big wall for easy visibility. You can see my teacher chair and workboxes in the background.

Moving further to the right is our workboxes. Each kids have a set of drawers for organizing their daily school work. Each drawer is labeled with a subject and they work through from top to bottom doing our group subjects first. I printed off labels in the kids' favorite colors with letters in the Disney font to match the rest of the room. Their pictures set on top of the appropriate set of drawers.

As we continue around the room to the right and pass the staircase, it's our fruits of the Spirit display. Big Girl studied these last year and colored a fruit for each one. I thought she did such a great job with it that I decided to put it up in our classroom. I am probably going to make a big label for this wall with the Bible reference before the end of the year.

Next is our Tapestry of Grace map of the humanities. It's honestly not something we reference very often, but I like having it up. For a while my ILs were very concerned that we had spent so much time on world history and none on American history. I found that being able to show them this map, they could see exactly where we were going with our history studies. It has really helped to ease their minds about their grandchildren's education.

Our second map is a large world map because really what classroom would be complete without one! MIL is a librarian and had a couple of these sent to her. She graciously passed one along to me for our studies!

Next we come to my desk, but honestly it's still such a mess I didn't take a picture. Not only does it function as my teacher desk but as a household command center and Big Girl's and my sewing table. It also houses our seriously awesome color laser printer! I thought we wouldn't be able to afford one for many years but hated how much ink we were going through with the old inkjet we had. I'm seriously in love with this printer!

Last but certainly not least is our behavior management wall. The rules posted are basically our usual household rules. I felt that having them posted would help give the kids a visual reminder. Each day the kids start out with the Mickey/Minnie markers on "ready to learn" and are able to move up for good behavior to either "great job" or "super student". If they break any of the posted rules they must move down to first "make better choices" then "talk with daddy". Not only does this help them see how they are doing, but my husband doesn't have to ask how the day went. He can see it when he walks in from work.

So far I'm loving our set up. I know it's only been a week, but it really seems to be working out well for us!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Our First Week

A bit late with this week's post...

We officially started school on Tuesday of this week. I took the first couple of days to really get Big Boy transitioned to having to sit still and listen. I still have lots of activities where he gets to wiggle, but there are also going to be times this year where he just needs to listen to me read material that is a bit longer than he's used to.

Also, with the major room redo I did I really wanted to take time to get both Big Girl and Big Boy used to the new set up. Even though Big Girl has been doing this for 6 years, it was still an adjustment to bring in her brother on many of her subjects.

The first thing we discussed was our schedule. You can read more about that in my Day in the Life post.

Next, I showed them all the new things that have made their way onto our classroom walls before covering my new behavior management system. The rules posted here are just some of our normal house rules, but they are all issues where one or more of the kids struggle. I thought having the posted might help be a reminder for them.

Our second day was pretty laid back as well. Wednesdays will be our "test days" rather than learning days. This is because Wednesdays are also our errands days. I didn't want to completely cancel school on these days, so I thought is was a perfect built in shortened day.

Big Girl and I took some time to set some goals for the year. This is the first year we've done this, but I felt it was important  for both learning self-evaluation and to give us something to aim for beyond "learn our times tables".

Thursday and Friday were our first two full learning days. The older two kids did great! Baby Boy had trouble with the transition. He did NOT like being in his own area even with him being both in sight and having new special toys for school time only. I'm still working on getting some toddler school activities together to keep him entertained. Friday was better than Thursday, though, so I think once we get a couple of more days under our belt, he'll do just fine.

Overall, it was a good starting week. I'm pleased to see how well the first few days have gone and excited to see how our year continues to go using the new things I've put into place. I hope it is a successful year and I can use a similar setup for next year when Baby Boy most likely starts preschool!