Homeschooling through a crisis


The following is a guest post by Annie Reneau of Motherhood and More.

This spring, our family’s life altered drastically. We were already in the midst of a big change, ending our year of traveling around the country. But then we were hit with a difficult change, one that we didn’t choose.

In early March, my healthy, vibrant mother-in-law, Judy, was diagnosed with advanced stage IV pancreatic cancer. The oncologists gave her a prognosis of three months. She passed away eight weeks later.

During those two months, my husband and I and our three kids moved into a new house in a new town to be near my in-laws. My husband — who has worked from home for many years — took over his mom’s duties at his parents’ business to help salvage their livelihood.

I started babysitting my nephew so my sister-in-law could care for Judy during the day without a 4-year-old clamoring for her attention.

Put all of those changes together, then toss in the emotional turmoil of watching a loved one lose a brutal battle with cancer, and you have some idea of what our life has been like.

Homeschooling during this time? Tough.

At first, I stressed about how upside-down our lives felt, how establishing any solid routine was practically impossible under the circumstances, how my energy levels just weren’t up to the tasks at hand.

So I prayed and struggled and prayed some more, and finally came to some realizations that helped me chill out and keep our relationship with homeschooling — and each other — relatively healthy.


Now that we’re on the other side, I thought I’d share some tips that might help others homeschool through a crisis.

Rely on community

Whether it’s the homeschooling community, your faith community, neighbors or other friends, don’t be shy about reaching out for help. I had a fellow homeschooling mom offer to take my kids whenever I needed her to, and I took her up on it.

If someone offers to make you a meal, say, “Yes, please, and thank you.” Allow people’s words of comfort and support sink into your heart. People really do want to help. Let them.

Keep schooling simple

If kids can read, write, and think critically, they can learn anything. So during a crisis, stick to the basic building blocks of learning and let the rest take care of itself.

My reluctant reader started delving deeply into a long book series during that time. Rather than worry about what she wasn’t doing, I let her read — sometimes all day. And you know what? Her vocabulary, spelling, reading speed, and understanding of literary structures improved dramatically during that time.

My eldest is writing a novel, so I encouraged her to work on that more frequently. I had our older girls read to the youngsters more often. I relied on electronic learning more than I normally would, but sometimes you have to let things go a bit.

My kids do better emotionally and educationally with a little external structure, but we kept it short and simple. I can’t say I never worried about what we weren’t doing, but looking back I can see that the worry wasn’t necessary. They were learning the whole time.

Honor the “other” learning that’s happening

When you face a major life challenge, you inevitably learn important life lessons. Through this process, our kids learned a lot about health, medical science, and cancer. They also learned that family steps up to do what needs to be done, the importance of lending love and support, and how trusting in God’s wisdom trumps all else.

They learned things I’d never learned in my 39 years, about the dying process. They saw the end-of-life stages first hand, as we walked with Judy through them together. What they gained through that experience was invaluable.


Make space for joy

A crisis is hard on everyone. Even if the adults are the ones bearing the weight of it, kids feel the effects, too. So take a break from it all sometimes.

Go to the park. Have a movie night. Visit beautiful places. Find ways to laugh together. If you can’t find joy in the present, reminisce about a fun family vacation or other happy memory.

Joy is not only okay during a crisis; it provides necessary balance.

Make time for rest, too

Stress is tiring. Emotional upheaval is tiring. Homeschooling itself can be tiring, even under normal circumstances, much less during tough times.

So make sure you’re taking care of yourself. Adrenaline can make it feel like you have more energy than you actually do, but it will catch up to you. It’s not lazy to put off the laundry or eat more meals out during a crisis — it’s self-preservation.

Remember that this too shall pass

As hard as things might get, no state of being is permanent. Keep moving forward and know that this hill will not last forever.

Even if it’s a crisis that permanently changes the landscape of your lives — such as the death of a loved one — life is still a landscape.

There will always be ups and downs, and some will be extreme. Remember that pain helps you appreciate joy, and hills help you build stamina and endurance for other climbs you’ll encounter.

And trust that your children will learn in the midst of — and because of — all of those experiences.

Have you ever homeschooled through a crisis? What tips would you share?

About Annie Reneau

Annie Reneau is a homeschooling mom of three, who somehow convinced her family to store everything that wouldn't fit in their Honda Pilot to travel the U.S. as digital nomads for a year. She writes about the hilarity and horror of motherhood and her family's traveling adventures at Motherhood and More.


  1. This is a great post, thank you. We homeschooled through crisis last year. My dad collapsed with a perforated ulcer and had to undergo emergency surgery. He was 82, has COPD, and Alzheimer’s/dementia. My 8 yr old son was there to help when EMS arrived, held the door as they wheeled Grandpa out of the house… We thought for sure this was the end for my Dad. I spent the first 60-70 hours at the hospital with him, then most of the days for a month after that. Then it was moving him into a memory care facility where he is still living today. Fiercely independent, I relied heavily on friends to help with my son. My husband had a business to run and couldn’t be home for our son all the time. I turned to “Post It Note” homeschooling. I would jot down what I’d like to cover each day and what got done went into the log book. I learned to be more flexible and trust in the process. We finally caught up over the summer and now we are back on track, but those many months were rough and stressful. Thankfully, crisis, like the hills on a hike, don’t last forever. We just have to take them one at a time.

  2. Thanks for sharing, Carol. Alzheimer’s is so tough on families. I love the term “Post-it Note” homeschooling. It’s amazing to see what you can do when you have to. The fortitude and flexibility you gain during those kinds of “hills” are really valuable. And yes, “trust the process.” That one I think can be the hardest.
    Annie Reneau’s latest post: Why Yes, I Am SuperMom. And So Are You.

  3. Thank you, Annie, for your encouraging post.
    My father died a month ago today. We haven’t come close to sticking with our usual schedule, and I’ve been pretty ok with that. Most of my kids’ schooling right now is their doing what they choose: my 7 yo is a great independent reader, and my kindergartener loves to do math and copywork. I let them play as much as they want, which I know is good for their cognitive development, too. I feel kind of guilty that I don’t have more to give them right now, but they really are learning the whole time, as you say — and this is just for a season. Homeschooling is a marathon, not a sprint, and when faced with a hill you’ve got to go slowly. Thanks for the encouragement.

  4. Peace and comfort to you and the family. Sorry to hear the news but grateful that you chose to share how to ‘be with’ someone during the final stages of life… and how it’s okay for children to learn that rather than avoid or be sheltered from it.

    • I was honestly so happy for our kids to have gone through that experience. Our youngest won’t remember it, most likely, but the older girls will. As sad as it was, so much of the experience was really beautiful. She was an amazing soul, and she died a beautiful death, surrounded by love, at home.
      Annie Reneau’s latest post: Why Yes, I Am SuperMom. And So Are You.

  5. I read through this with a tender heart. I am so sorry for your loss. Losing someone so important is heart-wrenching. It feels like it is impossible that life can go on . . . and yet it does. Relentlessly. It is so hard.
    We lost my BIL to cancer last spring and found our little homeschool completely derailed for two months. I didn’t have the emotional energy to continue “as planned”. Instead we played a lot of UNO in the afternoons and partly due to tallying winning totals, my oldest had a “math bloom” where he went from little-to-no understanding of many math concepts to a very sound comprehension in so many things: time, money, the calendar, adding and subtracting large sums, etc. It was a nice byproduct of an otherwise extremely sad time.
    I had read enough about homeschooling throughout the years to not stress about the detour, but just allow ourselves to grieve. It was rough. So hard to even “feel”. School-wise, we are back on track and doing just fine. We are also still grieving, though the gut-wrenching intensity has diminished a bit through time. It is still hard to believe he’s gone.

    • Yes, your situation and feelings throughout sound very similar to what we experienced. It all happened so fast with Judy, it feels like it’s just starting to hit now (probably because we’re inching closer to Thanksgiving—we always had big family dinners at their house, and she loved to cook and bake. It’s going to be hard this year). But even the grieving is a learning experience—all part of being human, which is really what education is about.
      Annie Reneau’s latest post: Why Yes, I Am SuperMom. And So Are You.

  6. SoCalLynn says:

    Two years ago my dad was killed by a man who ran a stop sign and then fled the scene, leaving my dad to die of his injuries alone, on the side of the road. My then 13 year old daughter and I spent a month with my mom and extended family, who live 2000 miles away, grieving, comforting, and helping my mom navigate through the paperwork and all the things necessary to begin living without my dad. I then traveled back and forth several times through the next nine months for pre-trial hearing and the final sentencing hearing for the man who was caught and eventually plead guilty of the charges brought against him. Trying to “do school” at home in between all those times was a welcome distraction, but also not a priority. Sometimes you have to step back and just do the best you can. I was surprised when at the end of that school year I looked back at all that really was accomplished; the most important thing of all though was taking the time I needed to get through the most horrific tragedy I had ever experienced.

    • I’m so sorry for your loss. All through that experience with Judy, I kept thinking “at least we have some time.” I can’t imagine losing a loved one suddenly like that. That would add a whole other level of chaos and difficulty, I’m sure. But you do what needs to be done, when it comes down to it. People are amazing, really.
      Annie Reneau’s latest post: Why Yes, I Am SuperMom. And So Are You.

  7. Thank you for sharing your thoughts! We have had a kind of crisis lately that no one knows about but our little family. I learned to be okay with whatever people might think we’re up to. It’s wonderful to take care of your family, in whatever form it comes (whether it’s a crisis or a mundane time when we push for academic achievement or character improvement). Kids need to learn that they have security in the family. They need to know that you *do* stop everything to do what needs to be done to care for one another. It’s kind of odd that anyone would expect any different or pressure themselves to do otherwise, but in these times, most send kids off to be cared for by others, keeping an eye on test scores and athletic achievements in the midst of all sorts of drama. But as homeschoolers, we live differently, and I like some of our “clannish” ways! 🙂 Our kids watch us care for our parents and will know what to do when we are old and feeble ourselves.

  8. So very sorry for your loss – and thank you for sharing your story. My kids were homeschooling right alongside my father as he died. Having been a public school educator during his working days he proved a teacher to the end, reading Shakespeare with one daughter literally from his bed and helping the other kids with their essays when he had the strength. They learned so much that year about grace, patience, service and love. Yes, bookwork was compromised, but we caught up later and the bigger lessons are so much more important. The only thing I would add to your wonderful post is to keep on processing the experience with your children. It is two years later now and especially as my (now) seven year old begins to have a greater understanding of what was going on then she needs to talk/write/draw about it more than I would have expected. It is hard for me sometimes, to talk about my Dad, but so important I think for the kids to see that his love lives on.

    • Thank you, Leslie, for that wisdom. I will definitely take that to heart. Our five-year-old said the other day that he couldn’t remember what Grandma looked like. We do need to talk more about it and process it with our older girls especially, I think. It’s hard to fully process it at the time. Thanks. 🙂
      Annie Reneau’s latest post: Why Yes, I Am SuperMom. And So Are You.

  9. My three year old son lost both legs below the knee in a traumatic accident this past June. I was full term pregnant with our fifth child and she arrived two days before we all left the hospital to go home to our new normal. Three months out from getting home from our month at the hospital and I would say I’m still very much homeschooling in a crisis! I can relate and agree with all you have written. I’m not always able to keep perspective – prone to worry that they are getting enough or I’m not doing enough, etc.- but I can get up each day and start anew. It’s pretty crazy and I have to be much more flexible than I’m naturally prone to but we are still chugging along. Jesus is enough!

  10. Yes…. I’m homeschooling through a crisis right now. This, my 7th pregnancy, is high-risk (after 6 perfect, uneventful pregnancies). I started off with bleeding episodes weekly, then my water broke (called PPROM – preterm premature rupture of membranes) at 21 weeks. I’m currently 26 weeks along and will be heading to the hospital Monday. So homeschooling through all that – bedrest, hospitalization, thrice-weekly Doctor appointments, the emotional turmoil of having thought we lost this baby several times… it’s been tough. What got me through it was my general life philosophy of simplicity. The kids are doing fine with their schooling, as I’ve taught them to be independent.
    I linked to your post today because this month I’m doing “31 Days of Minimalist Homeschooling”. Great ideas here 🙂
    Carrie Willard’s latest post: Homeschooling through a crisis

  11. Well said. I say a double Amen to ask for and receive help. I live in China and realized that we Americans are way too independent. Community is precious and we need to be more transparent and open I think My wife struggles with depression for example and I am too insensitive and independent. Thanks so much for sharing. We are not homeschooling now but I often read the rss feed.

  12. Heather Dunham says:

    We homeschooled through the several months leading up to my grandmother’s death at the age of 99. While I fretted over the lack of “schooling” that happened, I rejoiced at the time we all were able to spend together. Memories of my older child reading to her great grandmother while in palliative care, our littlest curled up on the hospital bed with her will last forever. When I took what I thought was our rather meager homeschool review material to our assessor and chewed my nails over whether we would move along to the next grade, she very nicely reassured me (as she always does) that life learning is as important as book learning and my children learned more in those months than they have probably learned in the entirety of their homeschool journey.

  13. Amen! I homeschool a medically fragile child and this month we have had more sickness and chronic pain days than homeschooling. I do a lot of the things that you mentioned. Focus on activities that are easy for her, do things that bring joy, and even got Daddy to do a day! I m new to homeschooling so it was great to see I’m not the only one who does this.
    Have a great day!

  14. We lost both my father-in-law & father this past year. I am so thankful that my sons, who are older (12,14,&16), were able to be around their grandfathers more because we homeschool. They were able to spend so much more time with them than if they went to public school. We were at the hospital so much that they acted as nurses’ aides to their grandfathers. The time together was worth any “schooling” they missed.

  15. Thank you…Your article was answer to my prayers. We are currently homeschooling through a crisis. My mother has been in the hospital since March 29 of this year. She is now semi-responsive and on a ventilator. While dealing with this my husband lost his sister. We buried her this Tuesday, Oct. 21.

    Homeschool was reading a book, watching a science show on television, or Teen News. It’s been very difficult to find those moments to laugh. My daughter is especially sensitive to my emotional state, which hasn’t been good. I truly needed these words of encouragement.

    Thanks again, Inetha

  16. Great article! What an encouraging read this was. Homeschooling through a family crisis allows you to react, response and tailor your schooling and life to what your family needs most in those moments. Rely on routines to sustain you, flexibility to empower you and trust yourself to know when each of those is needed.

  17. My husband’s dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and two weeks later, a day before his 9th birthday, our oldest of our then 5 children was dx with leukemia. Dad passed away an incredible 14 months later. Our son had his ups and downs but went through over 3 years and 3 months of daily chemo and is now almost done with his first year off treatment. He still has monthly checkups, going down to only 6 check ups in 2017. We can empathize with anyone homeschooling in a crisis. We are all still recovering in someway or another. We took it one day at a time and enjoyed as much time with each other, not knowing how long we’d have with either one of them. Thanks for sharing and allowing me to share.

    • God bless you and yours, Colleen. My own dad died from pancreatic cancer, and I can’t imagine going through that on top of your son’s leukemia as well. One day at a time is a good reminder for any of us…

  18. Just finding this post. We are starting our homeschooling journey this fall, and my husband was just diagnosed last week with cancer (early /Stage 1 Multiple Myeloma). Not sure what this fall is going to look like for us with these two big transitions…and there’s fear, but we have a ton of support right now, which we’re grateful for. *deep breaths*

  19. ElizabethAnne says:

    We’ve home schooled through several major health issues of mine, andI totally agree with your post! I would say that we just try to do our best, and I try to trust that God will complete what is lacking. We aim for hitting math and spelling and thenI came up with a very basic binder system for handwriting, phonics, and map work/ geography. If we can’t do that even, I read aloud or listen to an audio book, we pray, they practice piano, and we get out art stuff or legos or something without a screen. I find myself leaning on screen time too much (as in, I see my kids getting really crabby and uncooperative), soI try to go as long in the day as possible without screens. Then, on the days when we do have a day with more screen time, I cut myself a break.

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