Tips for Homeschooling with Chronic Illness

November 15, 2021

chronic illness and homeschool

Life can be unpredictable. You can have a great homeschool routine, the perfect curriculum for your family, homemade meals every night, then boom. Disaster strikes. A chronic illness can easily derail an otherwise perfect schedule.

I’ve had digestive issues most of my life. In my 20s, I convinced a doctor to run tests, and she basically told me that I had a “sensitive stomach” and to make friends with Imodium. So I did. I got to a point where I ate Imodium and Advil like candy just to get through the day. In 2017, when I was 37, I got sick during Christmas. I did what I usually did, pop some Imodium and wait for it to go away. But it didn’t. It got worse and worse until two days later I had to go to the emergency room in extreme pain. They admitted me, ran all the tests, and I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis and anemia. The sheer relief of finally knowing what was wrong with me was immense.

It was weeks before I fully recovered, and then I had to make so many adjustments to my life. New meds, a new diet, accepting that sometimes I would just have to live with the pain. My previous go-to remedies of Imodium and Advil were only making things worse.

But in addition to that major life change, I had another major shift to deal with. How do I juggle my health while homeschooling? Some days I was perfectly fine. I could manage things the way I always had. But then there were days where I basically lived in the bathroom and was too exhausted to do anything but lay on the couch. How do you manage to continue homeschooling (and run a business) under these circumstances? Living with chronic illness is always challenging, but let’s discuss some ways to get through.

Tip #1: Let Go of Your Expectations

I quickly learned to let go of my expectations. My house is going to be messy sometimes, and we just have to live with that. If I use my energy to clean everything, every day, there may be no energy for anything else. So, it became necessary to delegate. Laundry became my husband’s task. I used my crockpot when necessary to make cooking so much simpler. Were they gourmet meals? No, dinners were pretty simple and easy, but we were all fed and satisfied.

My kids started picking up a lot of the slack so the house didn’t fall into ruin. You need to look at your day and figure out what you do and do not have the energy to manage. Pick your battles. Grammar lessons or a clean carpet? Which is more important today?

Tip #2: Screen Time is a Must

Screens are not your enemy. There seems to be a faction of homeschooling parents out there who are very anti-technology. I can understand where they are coming from, but if I don’t allow screens, then I need to be able to be 100% present at all times. I can’t do that every day. Maybe on a good day, we can find fun things to do that don’t involve screens. But if I’m having a bad day, those screens become a lifeline.

This falls under the same idea of letting go of expectations, but you need to have things your kids can do so that you are able to rest as needed. My youngest loves to make digital art and can spend hours working on her tablet. She plays Minecraft or watches television. Sometimes we watch documentaries or movies together.

You can still place limits if you need to do that, but your kids are growing up in a very different world than we did. Screen time isn’t going to turn them into a zombie, and it may help them better navigate the future if they learn to become tech-savvy now.

Tip #3: Audiobooks  are a Great Alternative to Reading Aloud

Piggybacking onto the last tip, give audiobooks a go. This is actually the first year in which I’ve really used audiobooks in our homeschool. I was very uptight when my older kids were younger and I felt that I had to do all the reading aloud. I enjoyed it, and my kids always liked when I would get dramatic and do voices, but this last year has been a huge challenge for me.

Recently I have also been dealing with a lot of dental issues. Unfortunately, there are times when reading for extended amounts of time is just not possible. Enter the audiobook. Now we can still read together, we’re just letting someone else do the reading. I still read aloud during our schooling, but when I can find good audiobooks, we definitely make use of them.

I really like Scribd for audiobooks. I’m not affiliated with them at all, but I love their service and it’s a great price for what you get! They have tons of audiobooks, ebooks, and more, all for just $9.99 a month.  But if you have a library card, you can access Overdrive where you can download audiobooks for free!

Bonus Tip: Work Towards Independence

This one can be a bit tricky depending on your kids and their ages. But if you can work towards some independence, even just one subject a day. That can go a long way towards making your routine work more smoothly. On a really bad day, I’ll strip our schooling to the bare minimum. As homeschool parents, we are in charge of the schedule. We listen to our audiobook, get a math lesson done, do a spelling or writing lesson in a workbook, and do independent reading. That’s it.

Those workbooks are lifesavers when I don’t have the energy to do a formal lesson. I love Evan Moor workbooks. We use 6-Trait Writing and Skill Sharpener Spell & Write. My daughter can do those assignments independently. I just have to check over her work when she’s finished.  I also love Teaching Textbooks for math. The lessons are all done on the computer, which is great as math is a pretty hands-off subject for me. The older she gets, the more she can take on by herself.

It can, and will get done. Chronic illness doesn’t need to be a showstopper.

Homeschooling is always hard, but it can feel impossible when you are also dealing with chronic illness. But having the right tools in place can help you keep going on the bad days. Having a good schedule can keep you on task, and see what is coming up. But it is not carved on a stone tablet.

Worst case, take a day off in the middle of the week. It will be fine. Make up the work throughout the next couple of days. Keep an eye on the big picture of your homeschool year without dwelling on just the day-to-day, or week-to-week.

I hope you found this article helpful! What is your best tip for getting through your homeschool day when dealing with illness? I’d love for you to share in the comments down below if you have any advice!

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This topic was also discussed during a recent YouTube Video “Tips for Homeschooling with Chronic Illness“:


Emily Cook is the author and creator of the secular homeschool curriculum Build Your Library, a literature-based K-12 program infused with the teachings of Charlotte Mason. She writes full-year lesson plans as well as shorter topical unit studies. Emily has been homeschooling her four children in Southern NH for 18 years. She is passionate about reading aloud to children of all ages and loves to share her love of literature with others. She and her family also make incredibly dorky videos about homeschooling, books, and more on Youtube at ARRRGH! Schooling. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. You can also check out her author page on Amazon.

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Have you been looking for a literature based homeschool curriculum that is secular? How about a way to incorporate narration, copywork, dictation and memory work into your child’s education? Or art study that ties into history?

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