children, homeschooling, illness

What Do You Do When Mom Can’t Do School?

Fall of 2011, I had three surgeries in four months complete with Vicodin and a nine month to a year recovery time.

For a long time, I couldn’t even grasp a pencil to write. It was nearly a year before I could use my hands again without pain. 

Immediately after the first surgery, I was forced to address the issue of “What do you do when you can’t do school?”

My children were engaged in no formal education time at all. They were spending way too much time viewing Hulu cartoons while I slept or staggered around in a vicodin-induced trance. I had a weird narcolepsy-type reaction to vicodin which meant I would fall asleep anywhere –even in the middle of dinner. 

Ideally, I would have hired a sitter to watch my children, but that was not financially feasible. 

My mother, who usually helps, was out of state for an undetermined amount of time to care for my aging grandmother.

I actually wondered if I ought to, for the children’s sake, seek other educational options.

But, then a friend, a mom who had graduated multiple children from homeschool, reminded me that they are learning all the time.


Even when we are not intentionally teaching them.

This got me thinking. 

What I really needed was a way to channel their energies into more productive activities. 

Let me share with you what I tried that worked. This set up a basis for what I would do in the future when my autoimmune disease became debilitating. 

1) I gathered books together from around the house, books which contained activities they could do without my help or that they could read without my help. I kept these in a row on the ground beside my desk or the couch. 

2) I searched the internet for educational videos, games and audio books and stories to substitute for the Hulu movies they had been watching.  

This gave me options other than Batman and Superman cartoons.

3) I made a list of their school subjects, prioritized most important, the 3 Rs, to least important.  Then I listed any possible activity I could think of which was associated with that course.


Download a PDF copy here

I typed it up in a document and printed a hundred. My supply would last me 10 weeks. 

After the 10 weeks, I could reevaluate my system. Adjust if necessary. Or, toss the whole thing if I didn’t like it. 

But, I did like it. 

In fact… I planned to keep using it.

The beauty of the schedule was in its flexibility.

If I woke up one day and I wasn’t feeling so well, I just circled math and English workbooks. The children would do the work, check it off and bring the sheet to me, in bed, if need be. 

If I was up to it, I would correct it. 

If not… well, at least they weren’t finished with all the Superman episodes and watching Spiderman, right? 

But, on days I was feeling well, we could do lots more.

I would choose our classes in the morning. Then the children knew what to expect. 

It was so much easier to get school done if they had an idea of what I actually expected of them.

The best part for me is that the list included classes I wanted to do, but usually forgot about, such as art and music. This sheet allowed me to include them. 

I knew they were getting enough of the various classes because I saved the schedule sheets to remind myself of the progress we have made.

It’s like a schedule for a non-type-A teacher. (Yup, that’s me! I’d really rather go to the beach today, wouldn’t you? I’m sure there is something we can learn there too.)

4) I also made a Bored Board. I hung it in my living room. It had a list of activities they could do. 

Some activities required supervision. All required permission. 

It gives the children ideas of what do so I don’t have to hear statements like, “Mom, I am so bored my boredom is bored!”

5) On the very worst days –thankfully, they were very few, I let my children crawl in bed and read me stories.

Sing songs.

Take a nap.

Or just snuggle.

It was so sweet to see my children offer to get me a pillow to prop up my post-surgery wrist, get me breakfast, or make sure I was warm enough.

This was many years ago and set me on the path of a more relaxed homeschooling style that has served our family well. 


Sarah Forbes

Don’t forget to take a look at the follow-up post with worksheets to help you make your own schedules!

You can read about how we do school –how relaxed schooling looks for us– in this post. 


6 thoughts on “What Do You Do When Mom Can’t Do School?”

  1. Thank you for this post Sarah!! I’ve had migraines and headaches for years and feel tired all the time. I’ve been so down on myself lately, but I’m so encouraged by this post!

  2. At the end of the day, on a “mom’s not feeling well” day, you can pat yourself on the back knowing that your child was not shown how to use a condomn, taught we came from apes, and endured the story “Heather has two mommies”. God bless all mom’s who put God first, and God bless all of us who at least have the value’s thing right.

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