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Homeschooling While Dad is Deployed

By Drue Porter
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #10, 1995.

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Drue Porter

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 separated.

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 time-wise.

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 stability.

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 home.

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 teach.

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 too thin.

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 success.

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 your children.

Keep Him Involved

One final ingredient for success: stay close as a family and help Dad stay involved.

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 call.
  • 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 traveling.

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 returns.

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