Keeping Your Head Above Water: Homeschooling in Survival Mode

One of the beauties of homeschooling is the ability of the parent-teacher to weave together life and lessons. For some, creating that integration and balance comes naturally. For others, like myself, it is a constant work in progress.

But many of us, at one time or another, face huge waves of life that overwhelm our lessons.

Maybe it is a cross-country move, extended out-of-town visitors, caring for an elderly parent, home remodeling, early pregnancy nausea and fatigue, the birth of a baby, or an illness in the family.

We can use these waves as opportunities to embrace life (and all of its challenges) as a family and show our children that learning can happen anywhere and under any circumstances.

Don’t be afraid to let your children see and experience the waves of change within the context of a supportive family. I believe this will help develop their coping and problem-solving skills, give them a healthy understanding that life is not one long stretch of straight highway, and build strong family relationships.

There are several ways of shifting the balance to reflect our educational priorities, even when life seems to be up to our chins.

Photo by Heidi Scovel

1. Choose your essentials.

Is it math with which your child struggles? Is it history on which your son thrives? Is it the fresh air, play, and discovery time that keeps your family sane? Evaluate the circumstances, choose a manageable number of essentials (it may be one or five), and make them your priority.

2. Be willing to let go.

Of overwhelming commitments. Of extra-curriculars. Of expectations. Not an essential? Let it go if the water is closing in over your head.

Photo by Heidi Scovel

3. Be flexible.

Change your routine. Try lessons in the evening or in the car.

Change your location. Is your house a natural disaster zone? Go on a drive and listen to educational CDs. Do lessons at the library.

Change your lesson materials or approach. Maybe it’s time for science programs on DVD. Listen to your history lessons on CD. Do you have a teacher-intensive spelling curriculum? Workbooks might be a short-term novelty.

Does your child read independently? It’s time to fill the house (or car) with fascinating books about various subjects and let your children feast on their own.

4. Eat a frog.

Tackle your most difficult task (or your highest priority) first thing in the morning. Tsh has a great explanation on this over at Simple Mom.

5. Discover the lesson in the moment.

Often, you’ll find that life is the lesson. Wherever you are ask questions, introduce discussions, and model curiosity. Experience cements facts and ideas in ways no book can duplicate.

6. Enlist some help.

Asking for help is hard. I know. But often, people around you are just waiting to be asked. Waiting to be involved and show that they care. Let them.

Photo by Heidi Scovel

7. Take care of yourself.

Try to eat well. Get as much sleep as the situation allows. Exercise or at least stretch and breathe deeply for a few minutes every day. Make time to be alone and recharge, even if it is a simple hot bath after the kids are in bed.

Waiting at a doctor’s office? Read a book that entertains or inspires you.

8. Have some fun.

Pack school bags with books and a snack; have a picnic at the park. Visit a museum. Put on some energetic music and dance like crazy or sing in the car at the top of your lungs.

Have your children teach their lessons to their stuffed animals or act out the book they read.

Photo by Heidi Scovel

9. Keep household tasks simple.

Need to get some fresh fruits and veggies into the kids, and fast? Make smoothies. Add a piece of whole-grain toast, and I call that dinner. Remember, the slow-cooker is your friend. Make extra soup and freeze some for later.

Don’t hold out for perfection. Give your young children a soapy rag and let them mop the floor. Make household tasks a family project.

10. Keep your perspective.

Life’s seasons come and go. Hug your children. Tell them you love them. Take a deep breath. And face adventures and challenges together.

To live is so startling it leaves little time for anything else. ~Emily Dickinson

When life begins to overwhelm lessons, what strategies have you successfully used to prioritize education?

About Heidi

Heidi documents Living Lovely at her blog, Mt. Hope Chronicles. There she celebrates (in words and images) her journey as wife, homeschooling mother of three rambunctious boys, photographer, book collector, and lover of the little things.


  1. Wow! I needed this! Our crisis is going on 1 year this next month and our lives have been turned upside down. I’m struggling with homeschooling in survival mode right now (while working outside the home!) and this was just the encouragement I needed. THANK YOU!

  2. Hello! I just started subscribing per recommendation of one of my blog readers. I am considering homeschooling next year and I look forward to your posts!
    .-= The Lumberjack’s Wife’s last blog: Please hold. Your call is very important to us. =-.

  3. Definitely being willing to let go of extra activities. Sometimes we need to pare it down to the essentials just to get through 🙂
    .-= Angela @ Homegrown Mom’s last blog: Wednesday Workbox Day =-.

  4. Really needing to hear that right now! We’re living in a hotel, waiting to make a cross-continent move and I’m trying to school through it. 🙂

  5. A very timeous post!!! We have “bare minimum school days” for days that are just not going to go well and plenty of times they have turned out to be “bare minimum school weeks” I think it really helps to know that whatever space you are in it isn’t forever. Babies aren’t newborn forever, grannies needing help when they are ill isn’t forever. Inevitably when we are doing the bare minimum in school we are learning the absolute maximum about life. Life lessons are hard to learn and difficult to teach, you have to be living!!! And these times will pass, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse… but they will pass!!!
    .-= se7en’s last blog: Saturday Spot: A Celebratory Dinner and a Snippet on Knysna… =-.

  6. fabulous post! I think it has a lot to do with letting go of the guilt and just enjoying the process. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  7. I have no guilt when cutting out some or even all of a day’s lessons when life gets too hectic.
    .-= Laura @ Getting There’s last blog: One stitch at a time, taken patiently. =-.

  8. What a beautiful Emily Dickinson quote! I’ve copied it to add to my commonplace book.
    .-= caroline starr rose’s last blog: Critique Honesty =-.

  9. Can I tell you that we just went through an extremely stressful March and April and I’m a little disappointed with how we managed it with the kids. Everyone is so out of whack and throwing the family off like that just doesn’t fix instantly–we’re now sifting through the aftermath and readjusting. I guess that’s okay too, I just think this is great to think about before you enter into a big change/stressful time.

    Great thoughts!
    .-= hillary’s last blog: flowers13: my brother joined the peace corps RT @flowers13 Goodbyes + Good Deeds =-.

    • It is amazing how much effort it takes to get ‘back on track,’ isn’t it? I think that is a great opportunity for rediscovering what works and what doesn’t work for your children and your family.

  10. Great article. We just went through a big move and it’s been a crazy month or two. I’ve actually found that homeschool has been an anchor for my kids. It’s helped with the transition because it’s one thing that has stayed the same and one area where they didn’t have to make a major adjustment. In the midst of it all I hung on to math and handwriting and let everything else go. During the actual move, we put it all away and just kept out some fun books. I love your advice here.
    .-= Leslie’s last blog: Learning to swim… Jude style =-.

  11. I find it really helpful, when everything seems out of control, and guilt sets in that I might not be giving the children the best education, to remember that the one on one time, even if for a short time, and the extra focus they get from mom teaching them instead of a teacher in a full classroom, and the practical life lessons they are getting daily, is already much more than I ever gained at public school. This was a great article, and I love the overall feeling that loving them and using everyday life as a lesson is the most important thing.
    .-= Annie’s last blog: Teaching Lifelong Lessons From Everyday Life =-.

  12. Such great advice, thanks!

  13. What a fantastically insightful article! I homeschool my 8 year old son who has ADHD and I feel that sometimes our “waves” happen on a daily basis. It can be a struggle but it’s crucial to remember that it’s truly our perspective of the situation and how we choose to deal with it that makes the difference. We all have the power to turn our struggles and negative experiences into positive ones. For me it just takes some encouragement and inspiration. THANK YOU Heidi !!!

    • I have a similar son, and our waves often come on a daily basis, as well. I keep reminding myself that this is a marathon, not a sprint.

  14. Felicity says:

    Thank you! And by the way… what’s in that really great looking green smoothie?

    • I don’t know what is in hers but I put dark leafy greens (like Kale or collards) and a banana and whatever other fruit is around (frozen blueberries, strawberries, or even apple) and a little water. The kids love it!
      .-= Annie’s last blog: Reflections on Family: 20 Quotes =-.

    • I use one or two bananas, OJ (occasionally canned pineapple and juice), lots of baby spinach, and frozen berries. Sometimes I add a new ingredient or two, but that is our basic recipe. Yum!

  15. When my daughter was diagnosed with leukemia, our homeschooling suffered considerably. I had to learn to let it go and change from being a Classical-based to almost entirely Unschooling. Your article highlights many of the things I learned while on this journey.
    .-= Julie’s last blog: Noticing a Pattern =-.

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