How Sick Is Too Sick to Homeschool?

Homeschool sick days
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Homeschooling parents often cite fewer colds as one of the benefits of schooling at home. Because kids in public school may come to school when they're sick so they don't fall behind in their work, homeschooled kids may be somewhat less likely to be exposed to germs. However, homeschooled students don’t live in a bubble. They are exposed to illness at church, the co-op, the store, the library, or any other public location.

Homeschool sick days are inevitable and parents may find themselves wondering how sick is too sick to homeschool. Determining those answers requires a judgment call by individual parents, but here are some tips that may work for your family.

Schooling Through Mild Illness

When my kids are dealing with a mild illness such as seasonal allergies, a cold, upset stomach, or a headache, it's most often business as usual in our homeschool. Because homeschooling allows us to school in comfy clothes, sip water or juice while doing sea work, and take breaks as needed, it normally isn’t a big deal to continue with our regular school day.

If it’s more than just a runny nose or mild ailment, my kids may choose do their schoolwork from the comfort of the couch or in my bed (which, for some reason, is always the preferred spot for convalescing).

In the case of a bed rest day, we may scale back the expectations to reading (independent, aloud, or audio books) and whatever written work they feel up to completing.

(They never seem to mind doing their grammar workbooks, oddly enough.)

The sick student is free to nap as needed. Tasks involving a lot of movement or brainpower such as math, more involved hands-on activities, and science, are postponed.

As with sick kids, if I’m feeling a bit under the weather, school usually continues normally—especially now that I’m schooling only teens who work independently.

When they were younger, my sick days often involved snuggling up somewhere comfy for reading or educational TV.

An older sibling or mother’s helper can be a tremendous help in the case of a sick teaching parent. My oldest often helped prepare simple meals, read aloud to her younger siblings, or played games with them while I rested.

If you have young children who aren’t able to care for themselves in the event that you need a day or two of bed rest, check with other homeschooling families to see if they have a teen who might be able to fill the role of mother’s helper.

Tips for Homeschool Sick Days

Sometimes you or your student are really sick. If you’re dealing with the flu, fever, vomiting, diarrhea, a severe head cold that has left you or your child feeling rotten, or any illness for which you’d keep your child home from a traditional school setting, you’ll probably want to call off school altogether.

At our house, when one or more of us is sick enough to call off school, that usually means a day (or a few) of rest without worrying too much if anything educational is happening.

However, if you need some ideas for occupying minds while some of your family is sick, try the following ideas.

They can ensure that learning continues even when it's not according to the lesson plans.

Documentaries

Look for documentaries on the topics you’re studying. You may be surprised to find that your kids actually enjoy watching them. My youngest grudgingly admitted that the U.S. history documentary I borrowed from a friend was fascinating.

Don’t limit yourself to topics you’re studying. A sick day or two can be the perfect excuse to follow some rabbit trails. Watch any documentary whose topic captures your student’s interests—you might look for one about how illness spreads or how your body fights bacteria!

Educational TV

TV gets a bad rap sometimes, but there are lots of educational shows. This History Channel can make a wonderful sick day solution or check out shows such as How It’s Made, How Stuff Works, or How the States Got Their Names.

When my kids were younger, The Magic School Bus was a regular part of our school day. If you have middle and high school students, you may always want to check out CNN Student News and other educational websites.

Audio Books

Sick days are the perfect time to take advantage of audio books. Give your voice a break, curl up in bed, and listen together or provide your kids with an iPod, iPad, smartphone, or laptop and let them choose their own tales. Remember that fluff books can be comfort food for the brain.

While your kids have the iPad out, check out some educational apps. They can be a low-stress way to wile away some bed rest time, too.

Games and Puzzles

Sometimes when you’re sick but not sleepy, you just want to do something that doesn’t take too much brain power. Games and puzzles can be the perfect solution. Not only are they fun, but they often have an educational component. Puzzles make a great spatial reasoning activity, for example, while games like Scrabble or Boggle are fun for practicing spelling and vocabulary. Yahtzee lets you sneak in a little math. Mad-Libs are excellent for practicing parts of speech. Not to mention these games are plain old fun, too.

Mental Health Days

Sometimes you or your child may not be sick enough to justify a day off from school, but you just need a break. We call these “mental health days” at our house and they are often as necessary for mental recuperation as a sick day is for physical rejuvenation.

When I was in school, a friend’s mom used to allow her three mental health days per year. She could use them any time as long as she wasn’t missing something important, like a test, at school. Because we homeschool, we can always postpone the test if we or our student really needs a break.

We have taken mental health days after stressful events or emotionally draining circumstances in our lives.

Sometimes there is no agenda nor any requirements for a mental health day. We may go out to lunch, go shopping, or head to a park for a day in the sun.

Other days, we may read or choose activities similar to those for a sick day or clean house (because clutter stresses me). Still others may involve binge-watching our favorite TV shows or playing video games all day.

Whatever we do, we invariably find ourselves recharged and ready to get back to school when we pay attention to mental fatigue as well as physical.

Obviously, the solutions are going to be different for chronic or major illness, but these tips and adjustments have worked well for my family when we need a homeschool sick day—or a mental health day.