How To: Home School on a Down Day Part One

Aloha friends! There have been a lot of friends in both our local and online circle down and out with some kind of yuckiness lately, so the question has been floating around “how do we home school when the parent is down?” We have a tendency to skip official “school” more often than most, but we’re also typically busy running hither and yon to various education related activities, so when we do have a down day in our home school I don’t worry too much. However, I understand what a valid concern this is to families that need more structure, implement more of a “school at home” routine, or let’s be honest, when you’re down and feeling like your failing at the home school thing, skipping school is only going to exacerbate the feeling.

So here it is, the Happy Home Guide to Home Schooling on a Down Day (part one, because it turns out I have a lot to say on this topic)

Step One: Evaluate why you’re having a down day. Are you sick? Are you just burnt out? Has the week been too busy with other stuff? Is your mental capacity for work avoiding shenanigans just not up to par today? All of these answers work, but the reason can sometimes dictate the necessary steps. 

Sickness (parental): If you’re sick enough where you would call into work, you need to call into home school. Today is not the day for crafts, Mary Poppinsesque adventures, or hands on activities. Today is a day for you to rest, and focus on healing. In the list below you’ll find ideas with one star next to them, these are the activities with the least amount of parental support required, and those are the activities for these days. If you’re just sick enough that you find yourself lacking patience or motivation, try some of the 2 or 3 star activities.

Burn out: This is a big one, and it requires some hefty intervention. Burn out doesn’t just go away like a cold or a full calendar. It’s one of those things where the harder you push, the the worse it gets. Personally I find that feeling burnt out is the time to pull out all the stops and drag out the crazy, in no way related to current content but really fun Pinterest activities. This is the time for me personally to take a step back from being the teacher and instead let myself be the fun parent.  It involves things like random donut outings, making a giant mural, spending the entire day outside, or going crazy with a huge involved project that’s at least 90% mess. However, if this isn’t what recharges your batteries, then I find board games, read alouds, baking, or an all day errand-free outing is a really good quick charge too. If you’re feeling burnt out and you need an actual break from the small people to recharge, then consider treating this the same as physical illness.

Overscheduled: I find that when we’ve been on the go non stop a recharge day for everyone is in order. This is a one star activity day all around.

Lacking mental capacity for shenanigans: This is a tough one. You’re not really in the mood to fight with your kids over school work, but you also don’t want them to sense your weakness. This is the time to sneak in learning activities and pretend it was the plan all along. two and three star activities are fun, or you could arrange a some sort of a really fun four star surprise for after school work is finished if you have a need to still do the actual pre-planned work.

Step Two: Estimated length of down time. Is this a short term sinus issue? An extra busy week followed by a return to normal activity levels? Are you expecting a baby? Are you counting the days till the next break? The length of time you’re going to be down definitely needs to be taken into account.

Short term: Less than a week. Coast by! Seriously, rock those one and two star activities. Get rid of busy work stuff that needs to happen. Let them work on something easily independent.

Mid term: A couple weeks, but under a month. This requires a little more involvement, but pace yourself. Schedule shorter amounts of school time and take advantage of breaks when you can.

Long term: The foreseeable future. First off, take a couple one star days to get yourself in order. Do some forward planning, and make sure you have a good stash of all different levels of activities to intersperse with the work you feel is absolutely necessary. Do you need your kid to do math every day? Then be prepared to sacrifice language arts some days. Find ways that your learner can work independently on MOST things.

Step Three: What type of learner do you have? This is such a great thing to know as a home school parent anyway, but super important to understand in times like these. The more you can feed into the learning type, the less resistance you’ll have, and the higher chance your learner can work independently. 

So, now to the activities. Keep in mind that these are going to work differently for every family. This is a general list of ideas, and you know your tolerance for noise, mess, and slacking off better than I could.

*Documentaries: To me this is the ultimate of the one stars. Lay on the couch, snooze, rest, and wield the remote control. AND bonus, they are still learning something, even if it’s not what was on the agenda. For smaller ones, pick a show that makes you feel like it has some educational value, whatever that threshold is for you. An alternate to a documentary is a movie based around a book you’ve recently read, do a compare and contrast when you feel better.

*Youtube videos: There are a LOT of great youtube videos out there, but let’s be honest, there are a lot of not great ones too. This one takes more parental involvement and planning than the Netflix ones, but if you find a good channel you can coast for a while on that one.

*Independent workbooks: These can be either your normal workbooks, or ones you keep around for emergencies. The important thing is that they be INDEPENDENT. Skills review is great for this purpose, so even just using up extra practice pages you skipped before will work.

**Independent crafts or experiments: Parental involvement will be necessary to find supplies and probably for cleanup, but just turning them loose with your tinker box or your stash of construction paper and stickers will buy you some quiet rest time while they practice planning and fine motor skills, and exercise their creative processes. (you like those words, right? That’s what education is, applying fancy labels to things people do).

**Family independent reading: Snuggle down on the couch, or in the big bed, or toss a blanket on the living room floor. Grab pillows, beverages, an easy snack, and get to work on that stack of books from the library. Picture books for the younger ones, chapter books for the older ones, and you read your own book too. Keep a stack of post its or book marks handy for them to mark things they want to come back to with your help.

**Guided crafts: If you’re looking for something that fits in with what you’re currently learning, try a craft that you wouldn’t normally have time for. A diorama, collage, or storyboard based around your science, history, or current book can take lots of time, and you’ll love how much detail comes out as your learner works on it.

***Lego challenges: Look on Pinterest or Google for ideas on Lego building. Print off some directions, or just print off the pictures and let the kids figure out how to make them work.

***STEM Challenges: Google “easy STEM challenges home” and find a few activities with items you already have. Print them out and send the kids to work.

***Board games (or card, dice, or other table top games): There are games that involve goal oriented learning out there, but lots of things can be learned from games that aren’t intended to teach a specific skill too. To see some of our favorite games, read here: Happy Home Game Shelf

***Baking: Depending on your exact malady and it’s contagion level, this may be a bad plan, but if you’re not contagious, fairly mobile, and feeling brave, bring the kids into the kitchen and have a baking/cooking day. Bonus: You have yummy treats at the end.

***Read aloud: Assuming you can stand it, reading aloud is a great option for days you want the connection and to feel like you’re doing the usual school thing, but you need a change of pace, or to keep things low key. Pull out an old favorite, or dive into a juicy classic.

****Big project: Warning, this is seriously the mother of all homeschool commitments. This is the kind of thing you pull out when you desperately need to be the “yes” parent for a while. We’re talking paper mache, box forts, and thousand piece lego builds. Pinterest or google will have ideas, you just need to bring your courage.

I’m super excited to bring you guys the next installment of this where I tackle some more specific ideas, but for now I’d love for you to share with me, do you have any great go-to ideas for when parent’s aren’t feeling the home school thing?

Let us know what you think. Reply here!