There’s No Substitute

Written by contributor Lora Lynn of Vitafamiliae.

One of the beauties of homeschooling is the flexibility it offers when life throws us curve balls.

We can punt school for a few days in the name of “learning life’s lessons” and then get back on track when we’ve recovered from our interruption.

But there are occasions where we need to plan for school to go on… without the teacher.  New babies, illness, surgeries, or, in my family’s case, an adoption that requires a trip to Africa, all mean an extended absence for the homeschool teacher.

So how do homeschoolers lesson plan for our substitute teachers?

1. Decide what’s important.

Take into consideration your children and their schooling needs.  Will they benefit from a break, or will it do them more harm than good?

In my case, while my young children will still be able to get into college some day if we take a few weeks off, their retention of math and basic reading skills is much better if we don’t take long breaks between lessons.  So I’ve made it my goal to help their caretakers achieve some semblance of math and reading lessons while I am gone.

If your child is older and more self-reliant, they may be able to accomplish everything on your lesson plans.  But it’s up to you to decide what’s important for them to get done in the time of your absence and what would be better left until you’re available.

2. Consider the substitute.

While you may be able to school your children, cook three meals, sweep the floors, do five loads of laundry, and bake fresh bread every day, not everyone is a highly trained professional like yourself.  If there is going to be someone else in your home to help during this “time of substitution,” consider that they cannot run your home as efficiently as you can.

Only ask them to do what is absolutely necessary for the survival and sanity of all involved. While I would love it if my kids could study Ancient Rome and make their own model of the Colosseum while I’m gone, it’s probably not reasonable to expect that of my helpers.

It’s far better to set them up for success by keeping things as simple as possible.

3. Keep the routine… flexible.

Every family has a unique routine.  And we all know that our children function better when they are sticking to the routine.  (Please note, I said “routine,” not schedule.  There’s a difference!)

Make sure everyone in the house has a general knowledge of the daily routine. Make sure everyone knows the boundaries that you have in place to keep the routine moving (consequences for unfinished chores, etc.).

Finally, make sure you give everyone the freedom to be flexible in your absence.  Routine and flexibility seem to be a good marriage in times of “abnormal.”

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We all know there’s no true substitute for a homeschooling mom. How do you plan for extended absences or breaks from schooling? Do you have any suggestions or ideas for making this easier?

About Lora

Lora Lynn Fanning blogged for 11 years about her family life with seven kids at Vitafamiliae. These days, she homeschools her growing brood, teaches writing both in person for co-ops and online for Brave Writer, and writes at her new site,


  1. We just had back to back to back changes in our routine (lots of Autumn sickness) and this was just so tested in our home. Now we are headed to Africa for three weeks. For unrelated reasons we just had to stop by their old school today and I was so overcome with peace (amidst all my stress) about what homeschooling still allows us to do in the midst of life’s “interruptions.” We are still learning so much.

    Love your “substitute tecahers” term. I will be using that! Thank you.
    misha leigh’s latest post: Ella

  2. Last year, hubs and I spent a week away our 10th anniversary. Each of our moms came for 4 days to care for our 4 kids, one of whom was homeschooling at the time.

    I put together a notebook with a page for each day’s routine, a list of emergency contact numbers, helpful information, and a simple map of our area in case they needed to actually drive anywhere (which I aimed to avoid).

    I made plans for friends to pick up my kids for preschool, enrichment, and their extra curricular activities (in retrospect, I would have canceled a few things, that we could’ve made up at a later date, but their soccer pictures were scheduled during this time and how do you miss pictures of your kids and their teams???).

    I divided my son’s homeschooling assignments into manila folders, one for each day, with a check list for him to work through. For that week, he didn’t do anything new or big…just reviews and basic skill stuff.

    I stocked the freezer with meals for them to pull out and heat up for dinner, and lots of easy lunch and snack stuff in the pantry/fridge.

    I also hired a sitter to come every night to help with dinner and bath time. WORTH. EVERY. PENNY! Somehow the parenting gene leaves in the Empty Nest Years and grandparents can no longer find their bearings when it comes to common-sense items, like…eating ALL of the frozen meals in 3 days instead of 7, what to do with all the wet towels after bathtime, how many servings of ice cream is appropriate before bedtime, what? the kids don’t put themselves down for a nap? You get the idea.

    (BTW, I’ve considered hiring a sitter during the bewitching hours for myself when Hubs is gone for work; alas….just can’t justify it because I “know” how to handle it by myself. *SIGH*)

  3. The only person I’ve had substitute for me is my husband. Recently I went on a writing-related trip and he filled in for me with the kids for two days. This actually backfired on me because, although he uttered the words, “I never could do this PLUS keep up with the house,” when I returned, at least one of my kids decided that he preferred having DAD as the homeschool teacher.

    (Mutters to self repeatedly: Must have been the novelty factor, must have been the novelty factor …)
    Hannah’s latest post: Whats all the Grammar Hullabaloo

  4. Great advice! I second the idea to simplify as much as possible. There is very little that absolutely must be done during short times like that, school wise!

    Also, keep in mind that those who fill in will bring their own lessons, even if they don’t realize it. Why not take a break from the regular stuff and take advantage of those things — learning to sew with Grandma, listening to Grandpa’s stories of time abroad, and so on? 🙂
    Alicia’s latest post: Minnesota History- The timeline game

  5. I had to come over and read from your blog. “Trained professional.” I am going to start using that phrase around these parts. 😉

  6. Wonderful post. It’s so important to be prepared.

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