Top Ten Ways to Handle a Bad Homeschool Day

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I’m getting ready to make a shocking statement. Are you ready? Are you sitting down?  Okay, here goes:  Every homeschooling day is not a bed of roses.

I know, I know.  I can hear all the homeschool moms gasping in a collective shock of disbelief, but it’s true.  Some homeschooling days are better than others and some homeschooling days just plain stink.  So, how do you handle the bad days?  Well, after nine years of homeschooling, I have had my share of bad days, so I’ve come up with a few tried and true ways of handling them.

1.  Pray. I listed this as my first reason here because it’s not always my first reaction at home.  It usually comes after fussing, yelling, or crying…or all three on a really bad day.  When the thought to pray does cross my radar, though, I always wish I’d done it first and it always helps.

2.  Call a friend.  Thankfully, though all homeschool moms have had bad days, you can usually find someone who isn’t having a bad day on the same day you are.  There’s nothing like the listening ear of someone who’s been there, done that, and knows exactly where you’re coming from.  Sometimes just talking it out is all you need to regain a little perspective.

And, hey, if your friend is having a lousy day, too, you can commiserate together…or maybe you’ll find that your day isn’t as bad as you thought it was and end up encouraging your friend yourself.  Either way, you’ll be glad you called.

3.  Reassess.  If you’re consistently having bad days, it may be time to reassess.  If your child is just coming out of a more typical school setting, could he use some “deschooling” time?  Are you expectations too high?  Is your curriculum a good fit?  Do you and your child have some teaching style/learning style differences that need to be addressed?  Talk it out with your spouse or a trusted friend.  Spend some time in prayer.  Sometimes just a few tweaks or recognizing readiness and developmental discrepancies can make a world of difference.

4.  Reconnect.  Some bad days are caused by spending too much time in “teacher” mode and not enough time in “mommy” mode.  Others are just caused by everyone getting off on the wrong foot in the morning.  We have times where we’ve all stopped what we were doing and started over, greeting each other as if for the first time that day.  It usually makes everyone at least smile.  We sometimes even start a “hug circle” in which someone starts a hug and passes it around the circle.  When it gets to the end, it gets passed back.  Yes, teenagers can act like they’re too big for a hug circle…but, they’re not.

5.  Take a field trip.  Bad days are often caused by stress and burn-out, which can often be alleviated with a field trip.  A change of scenery can do everyone a world of good and field trips are great because they meet that requirement without making you feel like you’ve lost a day of school.  Some great spur-of-the-moment field trips include the zoo, a local museum, or a nature walk.

6.  Take a day off. Sometimes it’s just a good idea to know when to throw in the towel.  We all need a mental health day every so often, and homeschooling families are no exception.  Homeschooling offers the flexibility to make up any state-required days at a later time, so don’t compound a really bad day by continuing to push everyone.

Another alternative to completely taking the day off is to turn it into a “life skills” day. I can’t stand clutter and sometimes that’s what’s causing my moodiness and stress, making it worth it to me to take a day off to clean up the house and catch up the laundry, something all kids need to learn to do before they leave the house.  Baking cookies together certainly never hurt anything either.

7.  Do a unit study.  Are you noticing a pattern here?  A lot of bad days can be caused by burnout.  A surefire method to cure burnout is to take some time off the thing that’s causing it.  If that thing happens to be your regular school work, spend a week or two on a fun, interest-led, but still educational unit study.  Everyone is still learning, but also engaged in something that you might not have gotten around to in your regular curriculum, but that might just prove to be one of those really memorable moments in your school year.

8.  Enjoy a Mom’s Night Out. Our local homeschool group has a Mom’s Night Out one night a month.  We meet at a local restaurant for dinner, where we may or may not talk about homeschooling.  It does typically come up since it’s such a huge part of our lives, but Mom’s Night Out is a chance to just get together, eat an entire uninterrupted meal that none of the moms has to cook or clean up, and recharge.  I always come away feeling refreshed.

9.  Call a family meeting.  Maybe there are issues totally unrelated to school that are causing the stress, or maybe you just need to get your kids feedback on what’s causing the bad days.  Sometimes kids need to be reminded of the expectations.  Sometimes it’s not that our expectations are too high, but that theirs are two low.  It often helps to get together as a family and talk through any ongoing problems that may be causing stressful school days, whether that be attitude problems, lack of initiative, irresponsible behavior, or a family crisis that has everyone out of sorts.  This would also be a good time to take another look at number one.

10.  Reflect. Many times just spending some time looking at where you’ve come from and where you are will improve a bad day.  Is your child struggling with reading?  Well, maybe last year he could sound out a CVC word, but was unable to blend them together, whereas, today he can blend them easily and it now working on sounding out multisyllable words.  Maybe your daughter is struggling with fractions, but has mastered long division, which gave her a fit last year.
Sometimes progress is slow and difficult to see, but spending time looking at where you’ve been can bring it all back into focus.

We’ve all had bad days, but, hopefully, the good far outweigh the bad.  I hope that the ten tips above will help put everything back into perspective the next time you’re having a bad day.  I may need to print them off and keep them handy for my next bad day, too, since the tips sometimes escape me in the midst of the struggle.

How do you effectively handle the not-a-bed-of-roses days in your homeschool?

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Kris Bales is a newly-retired homeschool mom and the quirky, Christ-following, painfully honest founder (and former owner) of Weird, Unsocialized Homeschoolers. She has a pretty serious addiction to sweet tea and Words with Friends. Kris and her husband of over 30 years are parents to three amazing homeschool grads. They share their home with three dogs, two cats, a ball python, a bearded dragon, and seven birds.

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  1. We're only 3 1/2 weeks into homeschooling, but we've had a couple of bad days. Some days my almost-4yo is just extra-tired or extra-energetic, and so we just call of school for the day and come back to it later. The flexibility is one of the big benefits of homeschooling!

  2. oh my, I just wrote a post about this too…with less tricks for fighting it though 🙂
    I love your tips, one of the things that saves me is a 'time out' for about an hour. Kids go play instead of learn, I read a book, play with the baby, play with the kids, and then after that hour we all normally are much better off 🙂

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this list! For a newbie (and I'm only into preschooling!) – this will be a great reference!
    Hope you have a great day! 🙂

  4. You've shared some great tips for dealing with those less-than-perfect days many of us simply don't want to talk about. 😉 Thanks for being so honest–and helpful. 🙂

  5. I'll definitely be saving this post in my homeschooling reference – thanks for sharing! Sometimes we just need another person to point us in the right direction!

  6. Sometimes all we need is a change of location. I've had great success with just moving outside. We take a blanket to our neighborhood playground and sit under the trees. The boys usually ride their bikes there. They do one assignment and then they go play or ride their bike. After a set period of time, usually about 10 or 15 minutes, they come back, do another assignment and then go play. We get more accomplished on those days than many other days – so why, then, do I wait for a bad day to do it? Hmmm… I think I need to reassess!

  7. WHAT???? Your kids don't sit perfectly and complete all their work happily.

    Mine do {not}. 🙂

    Today {day two} went fine until the 3 year old started screaming…and he did so through our entire science lesson until he fell asleep since he isn't feeling well.

    My other solution: go to bed earlier. Part of my problems come when Mommy doesn't get enough sleep either. 🙂

  8. FANTASTIC POST!! The other night we I had 3 toddlers screaming/crying (all at once-from fighting), 2 pre-teens arguing, kitchen a mess, with laundry to do. The day was done, but it's a day I'd like to wipe off the agenda list to DO AGAIN!!! LOL!!!

    Yes, I love that you put prayer first. I always have to remind myself to pray so eventually Prayer has become a daily rountine, if not by the hour kind-of rountine.

    I listen to my iPod FULL of sermons that I listen to at the end of the day when I clean…it's my de-stresser.

    Thanks for sharing!! Oh, and I agree with Jolanthe too!! I need my sleep or else I get migraines! Since we started homeschooling again I am getting about 6 hours max.

  9. Thanks for this! These are all great ideas. I am feeling the stress of just starting, and I just need to remember to give it God!

  10. Really fabulous list of ideas! We've only done about 2 1/2 weeks of more formal schooling this year thus far and we've already taken a field trip. 😉

  11. Very awesome post!

    I can't believe you don't have perfect homeschool days every. single. day.

    ROFL! J/K

    I will definitely be bookmarking this post to have on "those" days. Thanks for the encouragement!

  12. It doesn't matter how old your children are, we all have 'those days'.
    It isn't uncommon for me to try and throw something completely different into the routine, or just take 1/2 a day off. (I figure a little of something is better than nothing.)

  13. I drink coffee. Copious amounts of it and then we watch a movie that has something to do with our history topic. That or we take a nap! 🙂

  14. we fall apart a bit when I get cranky…so during that time of the month we watch movies (ones with some sort of educational basis…and eat popcorn. whats 4 days a month that were not going to be productive anyway?

    I have reassessed. That made a big difference. I also have a float day where we break from routine and do things different once a week

  15. Yes, I agree with the comment on sleep too. We're in week 4 and I can see the days where we've all had "good sleep" and days where I'm thinking by 10a.m. "we're ALL getting in bed by 8p.m. tonight!" Usually, our read aloud time in the afternoon gives the older kids and I downtime to put our feed up and relax (while the little ones are napping too). However, on weeks like THIS WEEK, where we ONLY have ONE full day at home w/o having to RUN anywhere (gee, and outsiders worry about "outside contact," lol) I'm actually taking an afternoon nap and giving our big boys "quiet time." It all gets down to balance. We just happen to be having a week w/ appts, sports and meetings that can't be scheduled in my famous DO IT ALL IN ONE DAY events (but more on that in the wrap up!)

    Another thing that helps us is having another family over for a fellowship day @ our house. They're always refreshing!

  16. I loved reading your tips! Thanks for sharing. We started our first "official" year of homeschooling last week and I know this list will come in handy soon. I love your blog, I've been reading it for awhile 😉

  17. Thanks so much for this post! I just started homeschooling this week, and it's been hard. I got custody of her back from my ex-mother in law (it's a long story…she's a bad, bad person), and she's had no structure. They did almost nothing for preschool, and didn't have her on any kind of schedule, so sitting down for school is weird to her. Lots of fights…lots of tears (on both sides, lol). I needed this. 🙂

  18. We are 2-1/2 weeks into our 5th year of homeschooling and it proving to be the most trying, difficult, tear jerker year yet. All of the others have had their ups and downs, but so far this year has been a struggle each and every day. Thanks for the ideas. They help reinforce some ideas that have been floating around my head.


  19. I have definitely done all of these at one time or another. I've also told the kids "I'll be back in a minute" and walked out onto the porch for a breath of fresh air and a fresh perspective. This is particularly effective combined with number 1. In the event of inclement weather, a few minutes alone in a dark room can substitute, especially if accompanied by a cup of hot tea and/or a piece of dark chocolate. LOL

  20. After homeschooling for fifteen years, all I can add is AMEN!!! You got it all right. I used to think having bad days meant I was inadequate, then realized it was just life. 🙂

  21. Thank you very much for the top ten list. It's comforting to know that everyone else has shared in the frustration of burnout and stress. I'll certainly bookmark your blog and come back often!

  22. Thanks for the tips. We start next week and I'm sure we're in for some good days and some bad days.

  23. I did read this before- this time I think I'll print it and put in the front of my binder as a reminder!! Thanks for the lift. 🙂

  24. Wow, I needed that. Thank you. I am new to Homeschooling and I am very excited but have had a few days like that so I needed to read this and see we all have days like this. It was a creative way of doing things too. Thank you.


  25. I'm sorry that your comment means it's probably been one of "those" days, but happy that the suggestions came at just hte right time.

  26. It's funny- I never really think of them as bad homeschooling days, but just as bad days. Learning is so much a part of everyday life for us that I toss it all into the family life category. Sometimes the problem is sloppy work, too many activities or not enough activities, chores (which I would classify as a part of their education if I were classifying) sibling problems, bickering, complaining, not enough sleep, etc.  
    Usually, if I can step back for a minute I can see how attitudes relate to other factors and it's all really connected. When we are having hard days, flexibility to just relax a bit makes all the difference in the world. Then we can come back  refreshed and kick butt at whatever is on our plates at the moment.

  27. THANKFULLY it wasn't one of "those" days for me today, but a fellow hs friend needed this today and I was able to pass it along 🙂

  28. Great list!  Along with reflecting, I like to actually pull out old work.  I have found that sometimes I get frustrated at lack of progress only to look at older work and see the progress has been far greater than I realize.

  29. That's a wonderful point! I've done that before, too. Sometimes in the day-to-day you don't realize how much your kids really are progressing.

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