Abbreviated School Days When Life Gets Crazy

Have you planned abbreviated school days to fall back on when life takes a left turn toward crazy? Life does get crazy. Sometimes it’s genuine emergencies like car accidents or trips to the hospital. Sometimes you just have a day when you have to grocery shop, get 3 kids to the dentist, and have invited company for dinner. These are the days when schooling takes a back seat to life. I guarantee these days are coming. By planning ahead and writing down three simple learning activities your kids can do by themselves, you can fit in an abbreviated school day even when life gets crazy.

Crazy days

Life gets crazy for all of us sometimes. It’s helpful to think of this as an emergency plan. The word “emergency” is the key word. There’s a little part of all of us that would like to perpetually school with an abbreviated schedule. After all, it would be much easier than a full school day. Less stress for mom. Less whining from the kids. Done in just a few minutes every day. The problem with that approach is that your kids will not actually learn enough. Create an abbreviated school day schedule and use it infrequently.

Every day life is not an emergency. If you find yourself constantly falling back on getting the just the basics done, you need to make some changes to your lifestyle. Every day life should not be so crazy you can’t get school done.

I can imagine two types of homeschoolers who have frequent emergency school days.

Lazy homeschoolers

The first type of homeschooler is the lazy one. You know, the kind of mom who unschools not because she’s philosophically committed to it but because doing anything more is too much effort. If you constantly have your kids do just a few math problems and then read a book, let me suggest that most days require more school work than that. No judgement. But no matter your educational style you should work hard for or with your kids every day. Save your abbreviated school days for times you genuinely need them.

Over-committed homeschoolers

The other type of homeschooler is the over-committed homeschooler. Maybe you have signed your kids up for too many activities outside the home, and you’re never home to do school. Or maybe you’re a mom with a big heart and you are always on the run helping others, leaving the kids to fend for themselves. Helping others is always a great choice, but not at the expense of neglecting your own kids. Either way, if you find that consistent schooling is being neglected, cut back on your other activities and make time to educate your kids.

When are abbreviated school days appropriate?

Every once in a while there is nothing wrong with cutting back and just having your kids do the basics. Every once in a while you have…

  • an over-scheduled day
  • a sick day
  • a day to help your mom clean out the garage
  • company coming to spend the night

You can keep your kids busy doing their basic school work and still accomplish whatever is pressing that day.

Every once in a long while, you may need a longer stretch of abbreviated school days. Sometimes it’s nice for the kids to have something more to do than run wild and wreak havoc. A little math settles them right down, and they’re more likely to play well afterward. Plus, you won’t fall as far behind in school.

  • after you have a baby
  • when you’re packing for a move
  • when you’re unpacking from a move
  • during an extended illness

Some of you may have family facing terminal illness or you may be grieving. You may need much longer than a week or two off school. It’s okay. Don’t even try to fit in shortened school days. Take the time you need. One great benefit of homeschooling is that we are able to be present with our families at any time. Eventually, you’ll be ready to think of school again and figure out how to make up the lost time. Until then, give yourself a break.

Three components of an abbreviated school day

Choose three subjects your kids can do without you. Three is a memorable number, or you can write these down if your kids are prone to forget. You want to choose subjects they can complete by themselves. You will be busy, and need your kids to work independently.

The 1907 song “School Days” reminds us of the basics: reading, writing, and ‘rithmitic. Reading, writing, and math are the three subjects I expect my kids to complete on their own on the rare days I cannot be there to school them.


Have your kids read a chapter or two of a school book. Or set a time limit, like half an hour of reading. Just remember, you may not be around to enforce the time limit. Your kids are more likely to actually do the reading if it’s a fun history book, or a novel they’re reading as literature.

Kids who are used to screen free school days may spend extra time reading if they get bored later in the day. That’s one more reason to encourage good habits.

If your very young children cannot read by themselves, you can ask them to look at picture books. Another idea is to have an older sibling read-aloud to the little one. Or just skip it. If it’s an occasional day off, little ones will be okay.

On busy days when you’re all running around in the car together, you can turn on an audio book. You can try listening to a school book this way. But it may be better to find a book that will be fun and engaging and listen to that instead. The multitude of benefits from listening to a story will still apply. We listened to hours of Your Story Hour (these must sound so old-fashioned now!) and Jim Weiss. Remember, have something planned ahead of time in the event crazy days happen – because they will happen. But you can be ready.


Writing activities will vary widely based on the ages of your children.

Young children will do well completing a page of a handwriting book, or a few lines of copywork. Have a book in the cupboard they can easily pull out and complete all by themselves. A page may only take them a few minutes, but at least they have the discipline of holding a pencil in their hand.

Older children can still do copywork or write a short narration or paragraph. Writing a letter to friend may also be a good choice on days like these. Remember, the quality of the work will always improve if your kids know you will at least glance at it. Try to make time to look at your kids work at the end of the day, or when the crisis passes.


I try to fit in a math lesson every day. I find it very hard to catch up if we get behind in math. After years and years of living with me, my kids aren’t surprised by my expectations.

If you still teach your little ones math every day, you cannot plan on having them complete a math lesson without you. Train them how to do an alternate math activity without you. A math game, like Math-It, is a good choice. Teach your kids how to do it on days when you have time, then on the busy days they can practice their math facts by themselves. Kumon makes nice workbooks that you could buy and keep on hand. Another idea is to have your kids practice math flash cards with each other. Or, if you’re all in the car together, do some skip counting aloud together.

You obviously won’t be leaving very young children home alone, so you can choose a math activity that requires a little help. Just be sure it is easy enough for an adult who is unfamiliar with the way you homeschool to pick up and use.

From fourth grade on I would expect my kids to be able to complete a math lesson without me. I intentionally train my kids to read the math lesson, do the practice problems, then complete the lesson on their own. Doing a day without me isn’t too big an adjustment. However, like their writing, they’ll only complete the math lesson if they know you’ll be looking at it as soon as you have a chance.

Tell your kids the plan

Once you have created a simple plan, share it with your kids. You could type it up and keep it in a school binder. This way it will also be accessible by another adult who’s helping to take care of your kids. (And, sadly, sometimes when our husbands have a day at home with the kids, our husbands are also strangers to the way we typically homeschool our kids.)  Or, my approach, just repeat the same simple instructions so many times your kids know what to expect. Either way, your kids need to clearly understand the plan.

Next, you want your kids to be able to do each step by themselves. They should be able to find the books or worksheets all by themselves. They should know how to do each of the subjects you have selected. Then tell them where they should leave their work so it is easy for you to check it. For example, if my kids just had one morning without me, I might tell them to leave their work in a stack on the table. Then in the evening, or the next day, I can quickly look through it and be sure they did what I asked. Or if someone else is there to check their work, train your kids how to put everything away when they’re done.

By keeping the work simple, the instructions simple, and the expectations simple, you’ll be able to easily navigate the crazy days life brings your way.

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