Catholic Homeschool Articles, Advice & Resources

Couch School: Tips For When Your Student—Or You—Are Sick


One of the blessings of homeschooling is the parent’s flexibility to decide the best strategy for those days when their school-aged children are sick.

A Wednesday morning in January, and 8-year-old John wakens pale as the sheets he slept on, complaining of a headache and cramps in his tummy. Soon he’s spending most of his time in the upstairs bathroom.

Meanwhile, 10-year-old Jenny is ready to start school, but the 6-year-old twins, Bridget and Beckett, are complaining of headaches and are hacking away with coughs as well.
Worse, the kids are all up, dressed, bright-eyed, teeth brushed, bouncing around and ready for morning prayers and school, but you feel as if you’ve been steam-rolled by some new form of the plague. Your head is throbbing, the muscles in your shoulders and back are tight as a spring, and you’re coughing away into a handful of tissue.

Your spouse has already left for work, and there you are, bleary-eyed and red-nosed as Santa Claus, with four kids awaiting your instructions. You’re still in your PJs and those tattered slippers with the pictures of reindeer, and you can hardly push yourself off the sofa, much less teach math, reading, and history. Plus, you might be contagious, so close contact with the children is out of the question!

What to do?

Seton Home Study School recently asked parents that same question. It’s Facebook Survey Question of the Day read: “What is your strategy for sick days in your homeschool?”

A number of Seton moms jumped to answer this question. All offered encouragement to moms with sick children or who were themselves ill. Let’s look at some of these responses.

Allison wrote, “We have only had one child completely miss a day. We use “sick days” to cover work that I can read aloud, do review work, and spend a little more time with the other children. But we never cancel. I have even had days that I was sick as a dog and my kids brought their books to the couch, completed their main subjects, and I found a show on TV that reinforced lessons we were discussing.”

Others seconded her strategy. Some mothers had the students who had fallen sick read a book rather than follow the normal school routine. Some suggested read-aloud stories, and others brought out videos they had intended to show for specific subjects. Jennifer recommended “Cartoons, weak Gatorade with a bendy straw.” Caroline wrote, “I can just read to them. Most of the time they can still do some type of relaxing learning, even when they are sick.”

Abigail offered advice that my wife and I long ago followed in our own homeschooling: “Depends upon the sickness. If they’re able to work still, we work. If they just need a break for a nap, we work around it. About the only time, we cancel school for sickness is if it’s high fever and can’t focus or throwing up….otherwise, they often just stay in pajamas and keep working!”

Many of the moms stressed that the flexibility of homeschooling makes it easier to work around sick days. Kerri Ann commented “This is one of the reasons we end up basically doing school year-round. We’re very flexible with our schedule and I don’t like feeling overwhelmed.

If we’re sick (which isn’t often – but when we are, it’s usually pretty severe), we rest.” Other moms wrote about “Saturday school” to make up for sick days, or simply cutting down the teaching and learning load until the illness passes.

Several moms mentioned the value of television. Michelle wrote that her children when sick “stay cuddled up watching history documentaries.” Liz wisely advised that “If mom is sick, it is a TV and make sure everyone stays alive kind of day/week.”

A few Seton moms face long-term health issues with their children that go beyond a common cold or a bout with the flu. One main reason Suzan homeschools her daughter is that she has “some big health issues” and is “immune-compromised.”

Nearly all those who responded to the survey question mentioned their appreciation of the freedom to adapt the academic schedule to the child. For students in schools outside the home, that adaptability is compromised by the demands of the classroom and the schedule.

In other words, if seventh-grader Amanda misses three days of public school because of some stomach bug, or ninth-grader Jeremy misses several weeks at his private academy because of pneumonia, those two students have fallen behind in their academic studies. They’ll have to play catch-up when they reenter the classroom.

Not so for homeschooling students. These young people can’t fall behind because of illness. They should catch up on the work they have missed, but they should never feel behind. They can make up that work by extending some school days, studying on Saturdays, or using some of the summer to finish up their lessons.

The schedule belongs to them and their parents, to decide what is best.

This flexibility is one of the great advantages of homeschooling. As Jo wrote, “That’s the beauty of homeschooling… if your child is sick, you can take the day off until the child feels better. No brainer. Love it.”

Even Amanda, who is new to homeschooling, recognized the “blessing of homeschooling is flexibility.” As she noted, when a parent is confronted by illness, her own or that of her child, “Curl up and accomplish what you can.”

Excellent advice for all.

And special thanks to Charlotte, who provided the title here by her response: “Couch school. We do what we can in those days.”

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