With its ups and downs, homeschooling is like being on a roller coaster. Some moments you rush at high speed as you cherish your children and can’t dream of ever doing anything else. Other moments drag on as you doggedly remind yourself of the reasons you’re doing this in the first place.

Military life isn’t much different. Sometimes the downs outnumber the ups and the rehearsed lines of patriotism are repeated more frequently than the occasions of pride occur. Like 9/11 when our household goods were packed on a boat heading to our new duty station and I’m pregnant, looking at my 3- and 4-year-olds wondering if we’ll be able to cross the Canadian border in three days. Or like the time we awaited orders and found out just five days prior to leaving whether or not we would go with my husband across the country. The first incident was in the early days of homeschooling when it was easy to teach while relocating. The second, not so much.

Of course, not everyone in the military moves quite as often as we did. In just under ten years of active duty, our family saw two technical schools, three duty stations, six homes, and more hotels and temporary housing units than I care to remember. Now with my husband working as a DOD Civilian, we live just outside of Fort Bragg in the heart of Airborne territory. Although many jobs on Bragg move frequently and the various schools on Post keep families coming and going, it’s not unusual to find a few who have been here most of their career. For these active duty families, homeschooling is no more or less challenging than it is for the average civilian. The area is learned, resources narrowed to those that fit the needs of the family, and relationships within the community developed.

But what about the rest of us? 

What if you find out that orders are coming and your RNLT (Report Not Later Than) is mid-January? What if you move every two to three years and have to start all over finding the best park and cool field trips? What if you get sick and have no one to help care for your little ones? 

The neat part about military life is that we tend to have friends all over, particularly if we keep in contact with friends from prior duty stations. These families can be a great source of comfort and strength in stressful circumstances. One of my dearest friends currently lives more than 4,500 miles away, but she is one of the first I turn to when life is too much. And she’s quick to empathize and help me refocus on the fact that God still reigns, even in the midst of my current situation. 

Finding new places to go can seem daunting, but this is one of the best parts about constantly moving. When my kids learn about Lewis and Clark, they remember or can be shown pictures of themselves standing on the very land that these men traveled. They’ve seen with their own eyes the residual damage of the great earthquake of 1964 and stood at the grave of two unknown soldiers buried in the middle of nowhere because they died while Major General Kilpatrick faced Lieutenant General Hampton in the battle for Fayetteville in 1865. They’ve walked on the lands of the Little Big Horn, traversed a glacier, rolled along in a North Carolina railroad caboose, and walked through Independence Hall. 

Don’t let the unfamiliarity of the local area intimidate you! For those of you who don’t mind talking to people, look around the next time you step outside your door. Your neighbors, those you worship with, cashiers at local stores, and the lady who cuts your hair could be a treasure trove of information. One friend of mine loves to talk to the shoppette cashiers, many of whom have lived in the area for several years.

For those of you who don’t find it so easy to talk to strangers, try a simple Internet search for “things to do in [name your city].” Once you arrive at a museum or tourist location, volunteers often will fill your students with great information and need very little encouragement to do most of the talking. At one train museum, a guy sat with us for fifteen minutes telling us the local railroad history, and then one of the kids got to ride with him in the engine as they hooked up to the front of the train. At a fire department museum, a volunteer told us about three other places in town that he highly recommended, including the best place to eat lunch.

When I’m feeling particularly brave, I load the kids up in the car and we just drive, stopping at any place that looks interesting. One of my favorite places to relax at our first duty station was discovered this way, as well as some great little shops near the place we lived during my husband’s second tech school.

Homeschooling while on active duty can be challenging, but don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Learn to focus that same flexible attitude that you apply to your military member’s work hours. Relax. Accept that sometimes the book you want is going to be packed and sometimes you must go on a field trip without your spouse. Make it a great adventure, one that teaches your kids from real life rather than just books.

Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the January 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade magazine for homeschool families. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com  or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.

After almost ten years in the military, Carrie’s husband medically retired from the U.S. Air Force. They now live in central North Carolina with their three children. Carrie stays busy homeschooling, working at her church’s office, and volunteering within its military ministry. Her first fiction book, Crossing Values, will be in bookstores in January. Read more at CarrieDaws.com.

Publication date: November 12, 2012