Finding Stability

Homeschooling Tips for Children Undergoing Cancer Treatment

Coordinating with teachers and tutors can help keep kids from falling behind on their homework during a hospital stay. Find more homeschooling tips here.

When a child is diagnosed with cancer, there’s a lot to think about. School and homework will obviously be on that list, though it may seem cruel to make a child do homework after a diagnosis and procedures. For many kids, something to do (and think about) other than treatment is a welcome relief. You can make this educational transition as seamless as possible, so your kid can focus on getting healthy while not sacrificing his education. These homeschooling tips for adapting education to this new reality can ease the process.

How to Transition Out of School Smoothly

As soon as possible, let your child’s teachers know about the diagnosis. This will allow them time to process this information on a personal level, as well as start thinking about plans for adapting lessons to be completed in the hospital or at home. Then you want to create a schedule you can stick to as much as possible. For instance, set a specific time for working on homework each day (include plenty of breaks to accommodate reduced attention spans). Maintaining normal routines as much as possible — and creating new routines — helps kids adapt to the stress of living with cancer. The routines establish a pattern where, most of the time, the kids know what’s expected of them and what’s coming next.

You may have to slow your child’s pace through school for a while if the treatment becomes particularly intense. You want your child to continue to grow and expand her understanding of the world, regardless of her diagnosis, but sometimes a break is necessary.

Homeschooling Tips for Hospital Stays

Most children’s hospitals have a designated person on staff who’s responsible for coordinating education issues. If your child’s hospital stay will be for more than a couple days during the school year, ask to speak with the education coordinator. They should be familiar with the local school districts and their rules and processes for continuing education during an illness. As well, bring your child’s books and homework to the hospital as soon as possible after she’s admitted. This will keep them handy for quiet times.

Planning Your Child’s Return to School

You want to start planning this step well in advance. If your child will need additional accommodation, such as a shorter school day or elevator access, discuss these needs with the teacher and school administrator. Talk to your child about their privacy and how much information they want to share about their hospital stay. Most likely, the fact that your child was hospitalized is common knowledge, but the details may be altered by rumors, especially after a long stay. It may be easier to return if the teacher tells everyone in the class the facts about the diagnosis and the student’s health. Other students may prefer to tell people on their own rather than have the teacher share the information. Try to think ahead, and avoid any surprises prior to your child’s first day back in the classroom.

Many things aren’t going to go according to plan, and you’ll have to make changes. Even the schedule mentioned above shouldn’t be set in stone. Go with the plan when it’s working, but if something else comes up, adapt. Cancer is such a life-changing diagnosis, and it’s difficult to overestimate its impact on a child. But your child can find ways to thrive in this new environment while continuing their studies and advancing through school.

The University of Virginia Children's Hospital provides education services for long-term, school-age patients, so your child can keep up with her studies while she receives treatment.

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Judy Schwartz Haley
Judy Schwartz Haley