Deployments, hardship tours, temporary duty assignments. Long or short,
family separations are a fact of life in the military.
Homeschooling lends flexibility by providing the opportunity to schedule
family time before and after a separation. In some cases, it’s possible
to break up the separation or avoid it altogether. Since homeschoolers
are free from the constraints of a traditional school schedule, a family
may travel overseas to meet Dad at a port-call or accompany him on a
temporary duty assignment.
Even with this flexibility, separations are difficult. I often find it
difficult to maintain the balance necessary for productive schooling
while Dad is gone.
How can a family homeschool successfully during a separation? There is
no tried-and-true formula, because each family and situation is unique.
You and your husband must work out the method that is best for your
family. However, I have discovered some general principles that will
help you to prepare to homeschool effectively while your family is
Prepare Through Prayer
“Prayer is the first ingredient for success,” says Janna Gilbert, who
homeschools Lindsey (age 9) and Taylor (age 7) in Virginia Beach, VA,
while her husband, Jeff, is stationed onboard the U.S.S. Roosevelt.
Let’s face it, separation causes stress. Your husband may be discouraged
by the increased workload and the decreased fellowship at his temporary
work situation. You may feel overwhelmed taking on the additional duties
of home, children, and school usually handled by your husband. The
children are unsettled while Dad is gone.
Family prayer is essential, but takes on new importance under family
separation. It is crucial for the family unit to depend on the Lord and
His strength during this time. Being in the Word and worshipping with
others at a local church provide stability and accountability for your
family while Dad is gone.
In short, prayer provides peace for a family undergoing the hardships of
a separation and draws its members close together.
Planning for Change
A second ingredient for success is planning.
Anticipating some of the homeschooling challenges you’ll encounter
during your time without Dad allows you to face them with confidence.
Developing a plan before he goes is the best way to prepare.
Several factors control the direction of your plan: the number and ages
of your children, the length of your separation, the time of year it
takes place, the curriculum you use, and your educational philosophy.
Some families find relaxing their schedule to be advantageous, while
others are more comfortable tightening it up.
Our family concentrates heavily on the academics during a separation
because it helps maintain structure and discipline. Other families shift
to a more activity-centered approach, which works well if all your
children are older—out of the infant/toddler stage.
The Gilberts try to make the most of their time apart by planning
activities that are difficult to do when Jeff’s ship is in port and they
are constrained by his work schedule. When Jeff is deployed, Janna plans
less book work for Lindsey and Taylor and schedules more day-trips and
open-ended projects. She and the children can be more flexible
Even with the increased flexibility of their schedule, Janna quickly
points out that activities have to take place within the framework of
the normal routine. Keeping bedtimes, naptimes, and mealtimes consistent
comforts children and gives them a sense of security. Continuing regular
family activities, such as family worship, also helps maintain
In recent years, our family has been faced with short separations, shift
work, and a commuting situation rather than long deployments. Because we
have toddlers and an infant, we keep our daily routine consistent while
my husband, Scott, is out of town. Evenings, however, are more flexible
for the older children. They might play a board game or work on a
special project after the little ones are in bed. These are activities
that Scott’s normal commuting schedule would make impossible.
If you are anticipating long term homeschooling, consider the
possibility of year-round schooling. At first, schooling all year sounds
overwhelming, but it actually gives you the most freedom in adjusting to
your husband’s schedule.
If your husband will be gone over the summer, why not school then and
take a break in the fall when he returns? That way, you can take full
advantage of his leave time. Even doing some extra work for a couple of
hours on Saturdays can put you ahead so you can relax a bit when Dad is
Whatever your situation, plan your schedule to maximize your time
together as a family.
Ways to Fill the “Teaching Hole”
To achieve educational success, you must anticipate academic hurdles and
find creative solutions. Your husband will leave a “teaching hole”—you
will have to figure out how to fill the subjects he used to help with or
Co-oping with another homeschool family may be an option for
labor-intensive subjects such as history unit studies. The local support
group may offer classes or activities that can supplement or replace a
subject in your curriculum.
However, be realistic about the number of outside activities your
children will participate in during this time. “Be careful to pace
yourself,” reminds Janna Gilbert. You are only one person and you have a
lot of responsibility. Use your energy wisely and don’t spread yourself
If your husband instructs your children in courses that you feel unable
to take over in his absence (upper-level math or science, for example),
consider doubling up in other areas you’re more comfortable with while
he’s gone and then plan to concentrate on those missed subjects more
after he returns. You might also explore the option of employing a tutor
for those courses while he’s gone.
“Now Hear This!”
Maintaining order is the fourth ingredient for successful homeschooling
while Dad is away.
Dad is responsible for setting the rules for behavior and discipline and
making sure they are understood before he leaves. You are responsible
for following through with the appropriate discipline.
This is going to be hard. The combination of fatigue and not having Dad
there to back you up will tempt you to give in for the sake of peace.
But if you throw in the towel, you’ll pay in the long run. Maintaining
your authority right from the beginning is crucial. You cannot
successfully homeschool in the midst of chaos.
Be sure not to make Dad the “bad guy” while he’s gone. Don’t discipline
by threatening to inform on a child during Daddy’s next phone call. Be
especially protective of the relationship between your husband and your
children during this time. Remember that while Dad may be able to give
some verbal chastisement over the phone, there’s no opportunity for
immediate resolution of the discipline process (forgiveness and a hug)
and your child may feel insecure at this lack of closure.
Stay on Track!
Discipline yourself, as well as your children.
I find it hard to be disciplined when Scott is out of town. I’m tempted
to stay up later at night and not get up quite so early in the mornings.
Cooking balanced and healthy meals seems like such a chore. It’s easier
to fix something quick, even if it’s not as nutritious. About three days
of this kind of laxity results in a disastrous day at school. Then, I
have to force myself (and the children) to get back on track. It’s much
easier to be disciplined from the beginning, and stay disciplined, than
to regain lost ground.
You may find some free time in the evenings after the children go to
bed. Be careful—the television is often a temptation. “I’m just going to
watch the headlines” turns into several wasted hours. Avoid falling into
this trap by planning to do something productive each evening such as
Bible study, reading worthwhile books, or completing a project you’ve
been putting off.
Also resist the temptation to let things around the house slide too
much. You may not feel the pressure to have the house picture-perfect
since your husband won’t be there, but massive piles of laundry and
herds of dust bunnies are not conducive to learning or morale.
Don’t let your children slack off on their chores. You need their help
now more than ever. Remember to praise them for jobs well done and let
them know what a help they are to you.
“If Momma Ain’t Happy . . . ”
Having the right attitude is sixth on the list of ingredients for
Your attitude will set the tone for school, so keep it positive.
Remember that old saying, “If Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”
Spend time in the Word each day, get plenty of sleep, and exercise
regularly—even if it’s just a quick walk around the block.
You may be tempted, on occasion, to give in to the “I have it so rough,
he has it so easy” mind trap. If this happens, think for a moment where
your husband is, what his living conditions are, and consider the daily
regimen he must submit to. You will be thankful that you have the
privilege of being at home with your children.
Don’t forget that wherever your husband is, he’d rather be home with you
and that he is undergoing hardships and making sacrifices for you and
Keep Him Involved
One final ingredient for success: stay close as a family and help Dad
Prayer has already been discussed as a vital part of family closeness.
Here are some practical ideas for keeping the relationship with Dad
close and keeping him involved in what’s going on at home and
homeschool. These are just a few ideas meant to get your creative juices
flowing. Start jotting down ideas and you’ll have a folder full of them
before it’s time for your husband to deploy!
- Write letters to Dad—lots of them. Stuff them with drawings and
photographs. And send along samples of outstanding school work. There’s
nothing better for Dad’s morale than receiving letters from home at mail
- Have Dad write individual letters to the children. Jeff Gilbert
sends Lindsey and Taylor each a personal letter on alternate weeks.
Janna says getting their very own personal letter from Dad has helped
maintain their close relationship with Jeff.
- Have Dad make some audio tapes before he leaves. He could record a
biography that you and the children are going to read for history, or
another book you will be reading together.
- Study about the countries and areas of the world where Dad will be
Successful homeschooling during a military separation certainly isn’t
limited to the areas discussed here. No one knows your family as well as
you do—your needs, your strengths, your weaknesses. Pray and develop a
plan to meet the challenge of homeschooling your children during a
family separation. Focus on a disciplined performance of your
responsibilities as parent and teacher and the result will be a
well-ordered and successfully homeschooled family when your husband
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