What to Do When Our Plans Won’t Work

How to homeschool when the unexpected strikes.

There is beauty in a well-organized homeschooling schedule. Planning our days helps us get things done and track our progress. But we all have days, weeks, months, and seasons when the schedule gets overwhelmed by real life. What should we do during the times when sickness or relocation or unexpected disasters upset our homeschools?

In times of crisis, we need to evaluate our schedules the way hospitals evaluate patients. Patients are triaged, which is a way of evaluating and assessing the need for intervention so the most critical patients receive treatment first. We need to triage our schedules and determine what to focus on when very little can be accomplished apart from surviving the day. These priorities fall into three categories:  relational, practical, and scholastic.

Relationships are of primary importance when life is hard. If you are a task-oriented person like me, you might be hard to live with when your schedule explodes and nothing is getting done the way you planned. Yet the truth remains that our relationships with God and with people should be taken care of first.

Often there is not a chance for a normal devotional time when the day is going wrong. But in these times, we should always cry out to God for help and strength, and this can be done with every other breath even on the worst days. It’s when things are the toughest that it is the most important to make the effort to be thankful and to worship.  We might not necessarily feel thankful for the difficult circumstances, but we can always thank God for His presence and power in the midst of the storm.

Our second priority should be our husbands and children. I have a friend who has lived with chronic pain for decades, and on days when her pain is incapacitating, her number one priority is time with her children and with her husband. When she can’t get out of bed, she makes the effort to snuggle and talk with her children on her bed. It is also a family tradition for children and husband to dogpile on the bed at night and pray about their days and the special people in their lives. She sums up her priorities this way, “I believe connecting my children’s hearts to God is more important to me than making sure they know all the grammar rules. As they grow up they can teach themselves all the things I missed, but I will never get back time not spent with them and God. Homeschooling is not only about educating. It is mostly about relationships – all of us with God and all of us together.”

After making sure we’ve sought God and our children and husbands feel loved, the second priority should be keeping everyone fed and clothed. Most chores that we do regularly will not suffer from being done less regularly. The bathroom cleaning, vacuuming, and dusting will wait until the crisis has passed. But people must be fed and clothes need to be kept clean.

There are ways to simplify food. My family typically keeps a couple of easy meals in the freezer for days when home cooking is impractical. This can be planned for in advance by taking a favorite meal, doubling the portions, and putting half in the freezer. Crock pots are also great for allowing a family to put a meal together early in the day so it is waiting for them in the evening. 

Laundry is another necessary chore. Some families will pay children to do the laundry for the family. At my house, my oldest two children wash, dry, and put away almost all the clothes. We have two days a week that are designated for laundry. However, when life is difficult it might not be possible to have a designated laundry day, but doing a load a day might keep everyone in clean underwear.

After relationships and necessary chores are taken care of, one can begin to think about academics. After facing a season of crisis in my own homeschool, I began training my children to study independently. Their schooling pretty much runs without me, with the exception of my younger children who are learning to read.

There are still times when the normal school schedule must be suspended and school takes place in doctor’s offices, on airplanes, or in hotel rooms. I always had an emergency lesson plan folder when I taught high school science at a Christian school, and it’s nice to have emergency plans for my homeschool too. I never knew who would substitute for me, so I kept my emergency plans simple. They normally involved educational videos.

During my homeschool emergency lesson plan days, the only normal academic things I make sure get done are math and, if the students are in high school, science. These two subjects have a very strict scope and sequence and it can be very frustrating for the students to fall behind. But I have no trouble having a non-traditional day of homeschool when the demands of life make the rest of the curriculum beyond math and science impossible. I also try to keep a few vacation days in my back pocket to use for emergencies so we can cease school completely and not feel like we’ve fallen behind.

No one likes times of crisis while homeschooling, but God has promised to use these times for our good and His glory as He makes us more like Jesus (Romans 8:28-29). I spoke with a group of homeschooled teens and graduates and asked them what good did they see come out of times of disaster during their schooling. They said their faith grew as they were forced by difficult circumstances to lean on God and then find Him faithful. They learned independence, and they learned how to deal with emergencies by observing their parents. By keeping our priorities straight with relationships, practical household cares, and academics we can survive and even thrive when the unexpected turns life upside down.

Cindy Puhek

Cindy Puhek is married to Peter. They have six children and have been involved in home education for almost two decades.  She has been privileged to chronicle her homeschooling journey through speaking and writing in the hopes the lessons she’s learned will encourage other homeschoolers. 

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