In the majority of homeschooling families, it is Mom who does most—if not all—of the teaching, planning, and scheduling. Mom does the cooking and the cleaning and gets up in the night with the baby. Dad contributes, the children contribute, but Mom is the one who keeps it all running smoothly.

So what happens when Mom is sick and not able to do it all? When the illness is something that can reasonably be expected to go away soon, like the flu, you can just coast a few days. Give the kids reading assignments, practice flash cards from the couch, or take a few days off. Homeschooling is not particularly disrupted in this case.

Sometimes, however, Mom is sick for more than just a few days. A difficult pregnancy, serious illness, or the development of a chronic illness can throw the best laid plans and schedules right out the window. Prolonged illness involves a lifestyle change, but it doesn’t mean you have to give up homeschooling.

Some years ago, I was given the gift of chronic pain. Trust me: This is not a gift that I wanted. If God should choose to take it from me, I will not miss it. Nevertheless, it is working out for the good of our family as a part of our total education. Through living with this challenge, I have come up with some guidelines which keep our homeschool moving forward in a positive direction.

Make Two Schedules

Post a regular schedule and an alternate schedule where they can be seen by all family members. Don’t label your schedules “well” and “sick.” Attitude is half the battle! Design your alternate schedule to pick up anytime during the day. That means wake-up time, meals, snacks, nap, and playtime are all the same as the regular schedule. If the morning goes smoothly but the afternoon is a challenge, you can just announce, “We need to go to the alternate schedule now,” or you can pick up the regular schedule in the middle of the day if your morning was rough.

The alternate schedule is just the basics: care for the small children and keep the home in running order. If you can’t do both, just take care of the children. Whether I have to go to bed for a few days or just need to rest a while, my kids know what to do on our alternate schedule, and they kick into gear and do it without me. I am still in the home and available if needed, but they can usually manage to follow the schedule without my help. The older children help the younger. Of course, if you only have very little children, you may need to call Dad or Grandma to help out. If you have a schedule posted, it will be that much easier for them to step in at any time.

Accept Help  

Let family members and close friends know of your needs, and accept help from them in whatever form they offer. If someone has a gift that can minister to you, there is no need to feel embarrassed or guilty about letting them serve you in this way. It is part of God’s grace. You have gifts that you can use to bless others also. Even if you think you can do it yourself, if help with shopping, cooking, or laundry is offered, take it. You may not see this as a part of your homeschooling, but ultimately anything that can lighten your load helps you to homeschool.

Train Your Children 

Teach your children to be as independent as their ages and abilities allow. On the days that you are well enough, take time to show them the proper way to do things that need to be done on a regular basis, like laundry. Instill the practice of doing schoolwork without constant supervision. In doing this, you are training your children to be self-motivated workers and thinkers.

When our oldest was little, she expected praise after every single problem on a worksheet. In order to teach her to do her work independently, I started giving her a roll of nickels at the beginning of each school week. After I explained her assignment, she was instructed to work independently until finished. Of course, if she had a real question or problem, I was there. But whenever she called me over to “help” without a legitimate reason, I took a nickel. When she finished an assignment without needlessly calling me, I praised her ability to work by herself. At the end of the week, whatever was left in the roll was hers to keep, and we started over the next week with a new roll of nickels. She quickly learned not to call me unless it was necessary.

Take Acceptable Shortcuts

Yes, you can figure the answers for 3rd grade math, but if you use a teacher’s key, it will be easier. If that’s not affordable to you, you can use a calculator to speed checking papers. Using pre-made lessons and curricula is not bad. When energy reserves are in short supply, do whatever you can to conserve. Take healthy shortcuts with dinner. Buy salad in a bag, or—better yet—enlist your children to wash and cut produce for dinner. Make more than you need so your lunch for the next day is already made.

There are some areas that you really cannot shortcut, and you will know what those areas are for you: prayer time, for example, or time spent with your children. Just remember that the more acceptable shortcuts you can take, the more well time you will have for your family.

Focus on the Things That Only You Can Do

Use the energy that you have for the special things that only you can do.  Anyone can wash dishes, make dinner, or grade papers. Only you can give that special look to your husband, offer that word of encouragement to your child, or make that corny joke. Only you can rock your child to sleep in that special “mommy” way. Only you can pray as earnestly for your family as a wife and mother. Even when you are sick, your talents and abilities are not limited. They are as God gave them to you. Use what He has given you.

Get Some Sunshine  

“Truly the light is sweet, and a pleasant thing it is for the eyes to behold the sun.” (Eccl. 11:7) Some studies have suggested that exposure to sunlight increases the production of the chemical serotonin in the brain, which helps people feel more healthful, cheerful and energetic. This is always important, but especially so when you are not feeling well.

Nurture a Cheerful Heart 

Proverbs 17:22 says, “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine.” Sometimes when I am feeling especially ill or discouraged, and I retreat to my bedroom, my husband or children will come in and just be silly. They make me laugh in spite of myself, and I feel better. Maybe you don’t have anyone to be silly with you, but I hope you do. You can always sing praise songs—even if you don’t feel like it—out loud or in your heart.  Don’t read the newspaper or listen to world news. Choose to think about happy things.  Listen to uplifting music. It isn’t just a platitude. It makes a difference.

Get Dressed When You Wake Up

If your illness prevents you from wearing your normal clothes, invest in a few comfortable house dresses.  Get dressed, wash your face, brush your teeth and fix your hair, even if you will be in bed for the day. It will help you to feel and function better.

Do Something, Even When You Don’t Feel Well 

Homeschooling, childrearing, and housekeeping are not all-or-nothing callings. Make a conscious decision to spend at least a few minutes every day doing something toward meeting your objectives. If you can watch an educational video and have a discussion with your child, do it. Maybe you can listen to your little one read out loud for fifteen minutes, call out times tables with your elementary student for five minutes, or discuss a civics lesson with your teen. Maybe you can wipe off the counter top when you go into the kitchen for a drink or wipe the mirror when you go to the bathroom. These small tasks take very little time or energy, but they will help keep you moving in the right direction and give you a sense of accomplishment.

Take It a Day at a Time

“Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” (Matt. 6:34) Don’t fret over a few missed days here and there. The standard number of days in a school year is 180. You have 365 to work with your child. Just do today the best you can. If you allow yourself to worry about it, the stress could make your condition worse, and you may end up missing more days, causing more stress. Realize that God has a plan for your child’s education, and that plan includes your current situation. If you have to take some time to rest, just pick up where you left off, and press forward. 

Published on February 23, 2009


Kathryn Frazier lives with her husband in Tampa, Florida. Together, they embrace a lifestyle of learning with their five children, and have graduated their oldest from homeschooling.

This article was originally published in the Jan/Feb ’09 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. Get more great homeschooling help by downloading our FREE report entitled “The Secret to Homeschooling Freedom” by visiting http://HomeSchoolEnrichment.com/resources/report.htm