Circling the Wagons

by Doreen Blanding

Much has been written about homeschooling a challenging child or a child with special needs but little has been written about how to homeschool when you, the parent, are the one with the 'special needs'. I never intended to be an expert on that subject but now life has thrown our family a curve ball and I find myself in that very position.

When our family studied the Western Expansion I never realized just how some of the principles and practices which kept a wagon train safe while it was crossing the continent might someday apply to our own family. Every day they did three very important things: they would circle the wagons at night (or at any time they needed for protection and safety); once safely gathered in, they would hold a council to assess their needs and desires and formulate a plan; then they would put their plan in action, adjusting as needed.  The wagon companies that followed these three vital, yet simple steps usually made it to their destination. It didn't take the hardship out of the journey, but it made them better prepared for any danger or hardship that might arise. 

Just like those wagon trains that traveled across the plains, our family has started a grand adventure full of mishaps, trials and hardships. Our family has recently needed to "circle the wagons".  In August of 2009 I was diagnosis with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma.  That night my husband and I circled our wagons and counseled with each other on how we should move forward. We knew we couldn't do it alone. We would need the help of our children. When we had gathered all the information we needed, we presented the plan to our children in a council and then put the plan in action.  Like the pioneers, we used the same three simple steps: we circled the wagons, we assessed our needs and we moved forward with a plan.

Circle the Wagons:

Any time a company of pioneers would stop for an extended time they would park their wagons in a circle for safety. When the doctor told me I had cancer, my first thoughts were of my family. I wanted my family to circle around me and envelope me in their love and arms. So that night after my diagnosis that's what we did. It was one of the most difficult family councils we have ever had. I found a few things interesting. First, our family was united and they rallied around me. Second, my kids quickly thought of the unit we had just completed on biology and chemistry.  They were quick with questions and answers as we discussed what cancer was. But the most interesting thing I learned in that council was that we had forged loving bonds that were going to get us through this. I found great comfort and a feeling of safety during one of the most difficult times of my life.

This wasn't last time we would circle the wagons. We counseled together often. During those times we discussed and strategized how we were going to continue to accomplish our goals. 

Assess Needs:

Our family is not a stranger to family councils. We have been holding them weekly for at least a decade. We discuss anything and everything. We had already spent many councils during the summer discussing what topics we wanted to study during the school year. I had already purchased materials and had begun planning lessons. The kids were excited about the course of study we were going do be following. Now, after much discussion, it was decided that we would stay the course of homeschooling.  We didn't know what treatment would be like since the prescribed course of treatment would be flexible and fluid.  We needed to strategize about how we were going to handle any surprises we might encounter during this journey.

After much discussion, it was agreed that since our course could be changed at a moment's notice, we would all need to be flexible and adjust our attitudes so we could stay positive.  We also agreed that at any time we could hold a family council or a student conference if a member of the family didn't think what we were doing was working. We agreed that we would revisit our decisions as often as needed so that we could continue to homeschool our family.  We also agreed that at any moment we as parents could put forth the option of sending our children to public school and as parents we hold the final decision. Thankfully all of our children were in agreement.

We have had a few revisions to our original plan and we've also made some minor changes to the method of schooling as my treatments have depleted my energy.  We even had to do a last minute unit change, as it wasn't discovered until the last minute that the Botany unit we were preparing to do in the spring would actually be dangerous to my health.  We convened an emergency family council and decided that we would study weather instead. When chemotherapy started we once again adjusted how we were schooling as my energy was even more sapped.  Because we had all agreed that flexibility and adjustment were going to be necessary, we were able to make these changes in short order and press forward.

Move Forward With A Plan:

Every day the wagon trains moved forward moving ever closer to their destination.  We also take each day at a time and move forward towards our goal.  There are days when it seems that we only get a mile or two further down the trail and other days we seem to travel much farther. We have learned that we must press forward every day. We have set a bare minimum, we do our best to accomplish that and celebrate when we are able to do more. 

This is truly the hardest part of the journey: every day putting one foot in front of the other and pressing forward.  We are making progress and we see that over the past year we have made great strides.  We see that we have learned a lot about education, medicine, health, and living together as a family.  We see that, with hard work, every day we are making progress towards our goal. 

Our journey is not finished.  My treatment isn't over yet and I may be fighting this the rest of my life but we have learned how to managed the family through this crisis.

You can leave your thoughts, comments or suggestions here on my feedback page. Thanks!

- Doreen