This is a topic I've pondered quite a lot this summer as I faced the reality that our summer and fall would be different than we anticipated.
The blessing is that we homeschool, so we don't have to be away from our children at all during this time.
The challenge is that we homeschool, so I am responsible for their educations whether cancer strikes our family or not! This can feel like a lot of pressure, especially since Finn is at middle school age.
Earlier in the summer we completed our state-mandated standardized testing and Finn came back in the 98th percentile for his composite (math + language) scores. He always scores in the 90s. Standardized testing is a terrible way to measure a child's "academic achievement" (I agree with Charlotte Mason, who wrote that the question was not so much what the youth knows, but how much he cares), but at the same time, it provides a measure of comfort to me. Because it reminds me to relax. I wrote a bit about what I've done so far here, and if you read between the lines, it's clearly....not a lot of formal work.
I love habits and crave routines, but during this season of life our habits and routines are not the usual ones. It helps to remember that we are learning all the time. I try to think of our entire day as a time to learn, not just the hours from 9-12. But, as with habits, I find that a scaffolding for learning is still helpful. So I've dialed my thinking back from curricula and schedules to underlying principles.
Charlotte Mason's principles are the basis of my own, and I find that I can implement them without as much structure as one might think. (Her method requires a certain amount of structure, planning, and time-keeping. But I am focused on principles!) She wrote that a child needs knowledge of God, knowledge of humanity, and knowledge of the natural world. So when I think of what my children need, in terms of their education, I can see how we can pursue these things without necessarily imposing a formal structure on our everyday school lives.
How can we obtain a knowledge of God? Through reading the Bible. Through talking about the Bible. Through the narratives of our own lives and the lives of other people. Through praying together as a family. Through singing or listening to hymns together. Through talking about religious allegory when we encounter it. Through discussing popular culture through the lens of Christian life. (And I'm not talking about simply moralizing.) Sometimes through poetry, art, and music.
How can we obtain a knowledge of humanity? Reading the Bible works here, too. :) Biographies, history stories, looking at the globe and talking about how people live, family history, discussing why people do what we do (the intersection of religion and psychology), current events, social interaction. Read Shakespeare!! Read literature. Read lots and lots of good literature.
How can we obtain a knowledge of the natural world? Get out in it! Look--really LOOK--at an insect, animal, tree, flower. Maybe draw it. Talk about the trees. Read engaging stories about the natural world (Herriott, Burgess). Subscribe to an interesting, age-appropriate science magazine (my son loves "Ask" magazine and has nearly memorized every issue he has received). Find engaging documentaries. Take care of a little veggie patch or garden flower bed. Grow some basil and eat it. Taste and see that the Lord is good! When a child asks questions, wonder with him or her and try to find the answer.
All three of these things are intimately related, of course. We can't separate the knowledge of God from the understanding of His created world or His human creatures. The science of relations is unavoidable and that brings beauty and richness into our lives.
Practically implemented in our lives, this is how we are homeschooling through our hard time:
*do some math, read some [good] books (both read-aloud time and independent reading), and write something every day (flexible as to when these things happen, as long as they DO happen)
*talk a lot, play a lot, go outside!
*have an undistracted mother who is willing to learn alongside the child, answer questions, and seek out resources (SO hard and yet SO essential--I think this is the most essential thing of all)
*maintain a consistent bedtime and of course keep to consistent and healthy meals
*create peace and order in the home not simply through a fairly orderly space but also through human interactions. Cultivate emotional maturity and peace! A peaceful, stable home life is good for everyone.
That's it. That is all I am doing during this hard time, and I am confident that this is a solid approach: find the principles that make sense to you, and implement them as simply, holistically, and consistently as possible. It's not just a good approach for homeschooling during a hard time--I think it may also be a good approach for living life.