13 Feb 2011

Homeschooling through a disaster

In early September 2005, during the first terrible days after Hurricane Katrina, Ambleside Online's Advisory member, Donna-Jean Breckenridge, posted this on the AO Yahoo Group message board:
Hurricane Katrina has left many thousands of children without schools this coming school year. This is just one aspect of this crisis, but it is one with enormous implications. We know there are churches in Texas and perhaps elsewhere that are setting up ministries to help evacuees begin the process of homeschooling to help these displaced families get through this crisis.

At times like this, we are even more thankful for our Ambleside Online curriculum, our labor of love, which is available for free online. If you know of a church or an organization in the Gulf area or its environs that is trying to help evacuated families get set up to educate their children, please make sure they are aware of this free resource.

For those in serious crisis mode, though, we just put together another plan- this one *specifically* in response to Katrina. Please look at AO-Help.

This is a free, complete, user-friendly curriculum plan for homeschooling families who need support, encouragement and alternatives to the curriculum they've lost in a disaster, and also for churches and other groups needing to set up temporary schools for children who may not have been homeschooled. All texts and teaching materials needed to implement this plan are free online. The only things you need are access to a computer and printer, paper and pencil. And we do know that many people won't even have that much- but we had to do something. We hope to get the word out to those who need it.

We know that there are more important things than missed schooling during a crisis. But sometimes in the midst of disasters, creating a small oasis of normalcy and continuity is very important. In the midst of such a disaster, grown-ups with many urgent details on their minds cannot always focus on thinking up things for children to do, and it is our prayer that this free resource will fill a needed niche. It may not be enough, but we do what we can.
When I began researching Ambleside Online back in early 2006, the Crisis Curriculum was right there on the front page. I remember reading it and trying to imagine how anybody could even think about homeschooling when they had lost all they had. How could they even start to recreate their lives?! I admired them so much, and yet I couldn't relate at all. Not even a tiny bit. Jemimah was only four years old. Grade Prep was still two years away and I was only just exploring the possibility that I might, just might, educate her at home. The idea that I would ever go through a natural disaster of my own was just unimaginable .

It was with a wry smile that I searched for this very same curriculum a few short days ago. The floods that decimated our town, taking with it our home and business and those of most of our friends and neighbours had already resulted in Jemimah having an unscheduled three week break from school - and from us, and just like Donna-Jean suggested above, she was desperately in need of a small oasis of normalcy and continuity. We all were.

Our situation was in many ways quite different from the one that the AO Advisory designed their Crisis Curriculum around. Their curriculum was written for families who have lost everything. We have lost a great percentage of our possessions, but Jemimah's school books, in the main, are not amongst them. We still have our computer too, and in that way we could have continued much as normal. Except that I didn't have the head-space. With so much going on, even normal activities of every day life take incredible effort. Anything extraneous was just ignored. The statement of Donna-Jean's that resonated really powerfully with me though as I read through the introduction to the Crisis Curriculum was this one:
The most important things to do during a disaster are simple things that bring the family together -- special times that build memories and connections. This includes things like singing hymns, folksongs, reading poetry, playing silly but educational games like Mad Libs, telling stories to each other, reading and retelling the old favorites like The Little Red Hen, The Gingerbread Man, and doing silly things like dancing together, playing hide the thimble, and ring around the rosie.
I can relate. It was around this idea of creating special family memories and connections to draw us together as a family that I managed to limp back into homeschooling Jemimah in the first few days of last week. It was, to be honest, mighty hard. Jemimah, distractable at the best of times, had a concentration span of about zero seconds. I had a tolerance limit of about the same length. We had a number of melt-downs over the silliest of things, but I kept reminding myself that the most important aim was to create memories, and so we also spent lots of time cuddling on the (water-damaged) sofa and reading stories together. We read E. L. Konigsburg's most excellent book, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Then we read Thimble Summer by Elizabeth Enright. Then the extremely strange Sophie's Misfortunes. (I'll tell you about this book some time. In the mean time, consider yourself forewarned. Caveat Emptor!) We travelled together as a family to inspect the swollen Murray River and to eat good food. We baked bread, and we began replanting the vegie garden - Jemimah's favourites, cucumber and tomatoes, as well as lettuces and silverbeet. We started knitting a blanket together. We played Monopoly and did jigsaws. We picked bunched of flowers and arranged them on whatever surfaces we could find. We sang songs - psalms for comfort, folksongs for fun, and ABBA just because. We laughed together. And yes, we cried too. But mostly I tried to do what Donna-Jean said I should do. I tried to create some good memories for my daughter. I tried to let her know that even though she has lost so much, she is loved very, very much more. She still has her family, and she still has her friends. God is in control - even when we are not. That's what I tried to teach her.

That's what we will continue to do in coming weeks as we attempt to rebuild our lives. Jemimah came home to stay with us last Tuesday, and on Thursday we slept for the first time in our own home. Now we're working on getting Daddy back to work. That might take a few more weeks, but we're well on the way. The supermarket is open in town. So is the service station and both pubs. The local government school opened on time for the first day of term; the Catholic school should be up and running in a couple more weeks. Those kids, too, will soon be back into their normal routine.

Life in our peaceful town may never be quite the same as it was before it was inundated with the waters of January 14th, but we will create a new normal. Things are already starting to get better. We have forged new friendships and strengthened old ones. We have seen evidence of the Christian love of our church family in a myriad practical ways.

We will be better people after this flood. Stronger and more resilient. The flood has brought us closer together as a family as well. We have relied on each other as never before. More so, we've placed our needs upon God. That's what I'm remembering as I homeschool my daughter. I want her to remember that this flood brought us together. It didn't destroy us. If she gets a bit behind in maths and French then who cares? We don't.


  1. Hi Jeanne,

    What a great post! I am so glad you are back home and starting to get back to normal again. I pray that you will all have the strength and patience you need to do everything that needs doing to fix up your home and business.
    You will definitely be stronger through this experience - remember:
    "...we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us." - Romans 5:3,4 (NIV)

  2. Oh Jeanne{{}} You are so wise. Glad Jemimah is back home with you{{}}

  3. So good to 'hear' your voice again.
    Love Louise

  4. Your arithmetic for the day:

    Peace and grace multiplied.

  5. Glad to hear you are back in your home again and with Jemimah:)
    I must admit I've never even looked at that part of AO but what a blessing!

  6. So glad you are back home and all together.I was so moved to see the pictures of your home and possessions after the water had gone, and I enjoyed reading about the closet reader! May God bless you and sustain you through this hard time.

  7. Funny--I was going to point you to the Katrina stuff.

  8. Jeanne - a fantastic post filled with many wonderful and encouraging ideas. Thankyou. And thankyou for the update - you and your family are never far from my thoughts at the moment.

    ""I want her to remember that this flood brought us together. It didn't destroy us. If she gets a bit behind in maths and French then who cares? We don't.""


  9. Oh Jeanne, thank you for sharing your heart. There is so much strength in this post. xxx

  10. Jeanne, this is such a beautiful, honest post. I've missed you very much, and people you'll never know have been praying for you all. I'm so happy you are back in your home, together. Blessings, blessings on your precious heads. xo

  11. So glad to see you are able to find enjoyable family moments again. Your strength is amazing :-)

  12. It must be wonderful to have your daughter home with you, you must have really missed her. It was very interesting to read about the emergancy school curriculum, what an excellent idea.

  13. So sad to see your copy of Hungry Planet all wiggly like that...:-(... But so glad to hear that you are getting through this.

  14. Hugs. I have been worried about you.

  15. I really love this post Jeanne.

    I have awarded you the Stylish bloggers award. See my blog for details.


I'd love you to leave me a message. Tell me what you like - and what you don't. Just remember that this is what we do in our family - it doesn't have to be what you do in yours...