Tips for Creating a “Bad” Homeschool Day Routine

A note from Jamie: My family moved to a new house and town over the weekend, so the only school currently on our minds is the school of life (the most important one, after all). Enjoy this replay from last October while I unpack boxes and get settled. I’ll be back next week to share my biggest homeschooling mistake.

Ever have one of “those days?” I bet I’m not the only one! In spite of our best intentions, not every day of our homeschooling life will end up winning us Teacher of the Year.

You’ve probably spent a significant amount of time brainstorming and planning how the school day will flow in your home. You may have even created a flexible schedule of the order in which you’ll tackle specific subjects.

Maybe it looks something like this:

    • Breakfast/Cleanup
    • Reading/Phonics together on couch
    • Math with Suzie; Jim works on Language Arts
    • Math with Jim; Suzie works on Language Arts
    • Spelling together
    • Prepare for lunch

But what about the day when you find yourself sick with a cold? Or your child woke you up three times last night and you feel as though you’ve been run over by a truck?

How about the day when Suzie declares, “I hate math” and Jim declares “I hate Suzie!”?

What to Do on a Bad Day

Of course you could lock yourself in the bathroom for a few moments–as I’ve written previously, that’s a technique I implement on occasion. But let’s face it, one cannot spend one’s entire day in one’s bathroom!

In a case like this, a bad day routine just might be your saving grace. By taking time to develop it before a crisis develops, you’ll have a plan in place to rescue you from utter despair on days that just do. not. go. according to plan.

For the mother of Suzie and Jim, a bad day routine might look like this:

  • Breakfast/Cleanup
  • Snuggle on couch reading novel to kids
  • Play a board game
  • Watch a historical documentary together
  • Bake some bread for lunch

Ahh, don’t you feel better already?!

Sir James Dewer, a British scientist, once said, “Minds are like parachutes. They only function when they are open.” A stressed, tense mind is a closed mind, but with a gentle change in direction on a bad day we can help our children’s minds open once more.

Let’s hear from you–what are your strategies for turning a bad day around?

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About Jamie Martin

Jamie is a mama to three cute kids born on three different continents. She is the co-founder and editor of Simple Homeschool, where she writes about mindful parenting, intentional education, and the joy found in a pile of books. Jamie is also the author of a handful of titles, including her newest release, Give Your Child the World.


  1. I love the quote from Sir James Dewer, it’s proved true in my life. Sometimes the best way is to quite fighting it. You can go with the flow and then later redirect it at the appropriate time.

    It can be so easy to just push and try to make it happen just to keep the schedule.

    Thanks for the excellent tips.
    Trevor’s latest post: Jason Oโ€™Neil- Business Bugs Can Bite Hard

  2. If our day is going downhill, I often declare an “art day” and pull out all kinds of art materials onto the dining room table. We can all still be together, while relaxing into some focused project time. Or, we just grab a huge pile of books and read, read, read… ๐Ÿ™‚
    Amy@Let’s Explore’s latest post: Ham It Up Video Contest

  3. Last week we were inside all week from the rain, and growing weary of each other. On Thursday, as part of our Math lesson, we decided to have a scavenger hunt inside the house. My three year old found a roll of toilet paper for her “circle” shape. My five year old though was the funniest thing in the world, and it helped to break the tension. We ended up telling creating a story about the shapes we found, drawing pictures and showed it all to Daddy when he came home. We ended up doing our phonic and handwriting on Friday,
    Mary @ A Simple Twist of Faith’s latest post: What a Perfect Day

  4. I tend to use humor to diffuse things. This works especially well with upper elementary kids and middle schoolers. Just being silly can make the situation more bearable and it takes very little energy on my part.
    Sometimes discipline is in order. Other times, we chunk the academic plans and, like you, work in the kitchen or clean up a bedroom.
    Jimmie’s latest post: Banned Books Week

  5. I really like the bad day routine….We added a new baby to our family this year, and our good little home school routine went out the window….a happy relaxed family is a better environment for learning than a stressed out mother screeching at everyone to ‘Sit down at the table and Do Some SCHOOLWORK!!!” Believe me….I know ๐Ÿ˜‰
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  6. We have bad “scheduling” days so often I like to have several back up emergency plans. Love this post Jamie! My easiest go to idea is music. Sometimes just a few minutes of dancing or a few minutes of classical music while we pretend to be rocks really changes the atmosphere of our home.

  7. Taking things outside, weather permitting, sometimes works well enough for us that can continue the lesson – the change of scenery being enough to calm nerves (or maybe just provide distraction for the toddler and preschooler so I can focus on my 3rd grader in relative peace LOL)

    But, if that won’t work, yes, sometimes you just have to call it an “art day” or a “reading day” or even just pull out the puzzles and board games. I have a few things as a back up plan for those homeschool “light” days, too:

    Good day, Jamie. This something that I think comes up for everyone at one point or another.
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  8. I have to first discern the cause of our problem. If it is a lack of perseverance, then we have to push through it trying to be as cheerful as possible. Prayer helps immensely. If it is something outside our control, then we may just stop for a while and do our read aloud book, or go outside. Structured flexibility works best for us. But knowing me, I really have to be committed to our schedule or there would be many days when we would get off track for reasons that weren’t really valid.
    I Live in an Antbed’s latest post: Moab

  9. Excellent strategies! We have had MANY days like this. Often they include just reading our current read aloud all day long. But, what a great idea to have a planned, back-up plan.

  10. Hello,
    We are not having a bad homeschool day today, but just reading this makes me feel so good (thank you). It can be very difficult to ‘let go’ once a rough day has begun. It feels like giving up and turning around when you are lost on the road. I’m in my second year of homeschooling and I’m finding it more difficult to ease up this year. (I cut myself a lot of slack in my first year, but now feel as though I have to be very consistent with our routine, even though I don’t like how that feels most of the time.) I will try to remember your sensible words the next time I find myself pushing through!


    • I could have written the above comment, Jen! It feels like defeat to give up. Bad days can be turned around with some patience (from the adult), but patience sometimes runs too low and then it’s best for the kids to shift gears.

  11. We have our bad day moments too, but even like today. My husband and I just returned from out of town and I am no where near ready to get back into our regular routine so today is hands on day. The kids play games quietly together or pretend play with their stuffed animals. We will have stories after lunch and they will probably go outside in a bit for bike rides. That way I can regroup and get my thoughts together for the rest of the week.
    Rana’s latest post: Dads doing his part

  12. On those days when things aren’t going how I planned, we bake!

    I clear off the dining room table and we pour and mix and stir and make a pretty big mess, but at the end there is always something nice to eat.

    That resets things for us!

  13. I love this post. Thank-you for the reminder to enjoy something different on those hard days.
    Rachel at Stitched in Color’s latest post: done Good

  14. Your “bad” day seems like our typical day- however we can still have days that go a little crazy. We stop. make popcorn and watch a movie .
    Rosemarie’s latest post: Sunday Smiles- creating

  15. With a new baby in the house *she’s already one but we still can’t quite fit a routine around her for some reason* we have lots of meltdown days. Not always by the baby either. When we have a really frustrating moment we tend to go for a nature walk. There are lots of farm animals around where we live and we will go a visit a few, to feed grass to a horse or to just walk a dirt path and observe whats around us for a while. If we can’t do that, even just playing a game of soccer with our dog can work out a few of the grumpies and help us to take time off so that we can get back on track a little later.
    I’ve often noticed that these moments are times that my kids love and look forward to and it also helps them to see why we learn what we learn; that many of the things we learn in the classroom can be seen around us as we walk and our education can enable to us better connect with things and appreciate what we have around us. This helps me to remember why I want to take my time with their education and make sure it’s done right. It’s a win win for everyone.

  16. were you peeking in my house today!? I love that parchute/mind quote…I was just thinking today…”why am I making them sit here when we are all grumpy and I know no one is listening to me?” i arrived home @ midnight from a 4 day- SOLO trip to visit my sister in KC…so wonderful but No One was ready for mommy to jump back into school…tonight we baked bread ๐Ÿ˜‰
    Thanks jamie…I just wished I read this yesterday!

  17. I really needed this post today. We’ve had a lot of sick days lately and I had no idea how to stay on top of it all. Awesome. Thank you!
    Bethany’s latest post: Things That Are Hard To Teach A Toddler

  18. we definitely have “bad day” schedules, but so far they’ve just been for bad days in general. (put off the grocery store, stay in pjs, watch an extra cartoon, read an extra book, eat an extra cookie) i’ll definitely look into more specific ideas for a bad homeschooling day… find something semi-stimulating and educational but maybe one that involves lounging on the couch.
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  19. That sounds like a lot of our “good” homeschool days too. ๐Ÿ™‚
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  20. I love how so many readers bake on an ‘off’ day. I can totally relate! I also head outside with my pre-schooler and that clears both of our heads.
    Great post, Jamie!
    Aimee’s latest post: Simple Chilled Pumpkin Cheesecake Recipe vlog

  21. When things start going awry at our house (which is somewhat regular) we just take a break–I get out our yoga cards or we take a walk/run/race around the block or just play outside for a few minutes. A few minutes of activity is usually enough to focus all our moods back on what needs to be done.

    And then I drink an extra cup of coffee, ’cause usually a truly bad day stems from me. . .and I need the fixing.

  22. There are so many great ideas here!

    The days when I wanted to stay in bed all day and hide were always the hardest on our family. To help my mood and bring some fun back into things I would declare a dress-up day. We would each dress in costume for school. Nothing brings a smile to your face faster then superman doing math, or mom (teacher) as a pirate. A little silliness can go a long way.

    I have 2 in college and one on his last year now. They each have great memories of homeschooling. The blessing is they don’t seem to remember the bad days. Hang in there it is worth it!

  23. We’ve been having a bad year, not a bad day. LOL Taking care of a VERY BUSY budding toddler that loves to WRITE (with Sharpie) on EVERYTHING, EAT school supplies, and hide things under the couch is challenging for any school day routine. Not to mention this year my elementary kids magically turned in to tweenagers and puberty devoured my sweet 11 year old daughter. Hormones in my house reached an all-time high (mom is pregnant again). In the midst of all these changes and the heavy weight of a now JUNIOR HIGH level of school with high school just around the bend… my daughter was diagnosed with mild scoliosis and has suffered severe back pain which has put her on the couch for the past month unable to help with baby, chores or get her school done.

    I have felt like we have been driving full force in to a brick wall… every day… for a very, very long time.

    And so… I’ve been praying a WHOLE lot. That would be my #1 tip. I’ve also been reading a lot of inspirational and how-to books on finding the joy in homeschooling, housekeeping, being a more productive and focused mom. Getting good advice – and even accountability from women you admire who have been there before is a huge help.

    Then, I would say that THANKFULNESS – counting your blessings even when there is some pain and difficulty attached to them – does amazing things for your mental state. After all, the distractions and interruptions in your life will always come… it is how you handle them that matters. It all boils down to attitude and the state of your heart. If your heart is right, not much else matters.

    Imagine what life would be like if today was the last day you had with your kids and act likewise. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Beautiful thoughts–thank you for sharing! (And God bless you and your home!)

    • Do you try to give your toddler his own school time. My toddlers have loved that I sit sown with them and “do school”. Most often it is reading a book of their choice and doing a related coloring sheet or craft. Sometimes it is just a creative outlet time, baking or moving/outside time. We do it after I get the older ones started on something they can do for a little while by themselves (they like to join us sometimes, too). This helps to give them a sense of accomplishment and they function better at the individual play I give them afterward, so I can focus on the older kids school.
      Suanna’s latest post: Its Finally Time

  24. Great concept! Thank you!

  25. I have an almost 4yr old and a 9 month old, and we are getting ready to homeschool our 4 year old, it’s great to know that you don’t have to feel guilty because you can’t “school” everyday! I love the routine above ‘snuggling on a couch and reading’ on those days when I’m sick or tired, or the weather outside is lovely for snuggling!
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  26. On bad days (and we see them coming very early) it’s reading a lot, games and either play doh or paints. As messy as paints can get, it calms their gripes and buys me time to get over myself!
    Amy B’s latest post: Project 2011

  27. On a bad day I have to take a look at myself and get rid of my selfishness, then we try to do something fun together. Sometimes it only takes an hour and then we can successfully get down to business. Other times we might do some of the “fun” school and save the other stuff to double up on the next day.
    Suanna’s latest post: Its Finally Time

  28. We are in a virtual school program which does have semester deadlines so when a bad day starts I really try to keep it on track. However, when there is just no recovery I search Netflix for anything related to what we are studying. We pop some popcorn and settle in bed or on the couch and watch the movie. We’ve taken a break, but at least my son has learned something relevant. The next day we pick up where we left off in much better spirits.

    Thanks for the great ideas!

  29. Various people in every country take the home loans in various creditors, because it is simple and comfortable.

  30. This is a really helpful post! I think that sometimes, instead of it being a “bad” day, where we do not learn anything, I try to reclaim the day and make it a learning day, but in a different sort of way. Baking becomes the reading and math lesson as he has to multiply the numbers and read the instructions. It is also something tangible, which is something sometimes frustrated boys need, a reason for why he needs math and reading.
    Martha Artyomenko’s latest post: Ella Finds love again by Jerry Eicher

  31. Great post. Kids can learn a lot from art day and games. Drawing is a great way to build penmanship. As long as my son works hard Monday-Thursday then we declare Friday to be fun day. We read a lot, do art, and play games. Having that carrot at the end of the week really helps the motivation throughout the week.
    Heidi’s latest post: Home Based Business Moms

  32. Everyday could be a bad day here if I went for that. ๐Ÿ˜€

    I could really identify with Sprittibee’s post and I’m going to go bookmark her blog!

    I have a chronic illness, have a firstborn with many serious medical issues, have had 1-3 in diapers for the past 11 years, miscarriages, stillbirths, hormones related to all of that, along with cross-country and cross-world moves, etc, too, and it would be so easy for me to just call it a bad year, or a bad decade and slip into a bad day routine every day, and in fact, I have done so for months at time during the “survival mode” seasons, so I really have to guard against it in my life and just learn to be THANKFUL for all the good parts of life. I do need to remain in prayer a lot, and I long for accountability… someone who encourages me to keep on going, fighting the good fight, to run the race, strive for holiness, etc. I have to avoid the kind of people who tell me it’s okay to just wallow because “life is hard” and I “deserve it”, because I’d so be tempted to agree with them and I’m not sure that would benefit my kids.
    Heather’s latest post: What We Use for History & Geography

  33. Love this!!! The kids have been sick all last week, and I’ve finally caught it! ๐Ÿ™ I think I’m going to pull out a few of these tricks! ๐Ÿ˜‰ Sometimes we bake, and my kids like when I pull out the flashcards! ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m going to head to Netflix to see what they have too! Once we watched a bird documentary, and our house sounded like the Forrest, as it was all about the different bird calls! ๐Ÿ˜€

  34. P.s. We have 5 kids, so we had lots of “birdies”!

  35. Katie Leonard says:

    I especially love the quote at the bottom. In 4th grade my teacher called me waterworks because I would cry during math. I hated math and was no good at it. My daughter and I just finished her math lesson for the day. It’s not difficult for her but takes her “forever” to get through each three page lesson. I find myself turning into my 4th grade teacher at times, never calling her names, but becoming frustrated with her, which always makes her shut down more. The times when I stop mid lesson/frustration and pull her into my lap and just hug her and remind her of my love for her, make the lesson go much smoother and bring resoration to our relationship in that moment. May I always remember that a stressed/tense mind is a closed mind, and be able to find gentle ways to bring change and an open mind that is ready to learn.

  36. it usually takes me awhile to realize that our day is headed downhill. i am stubborn i guess. i want to keep forcing it in a direction it doesn’t seem to want to go…last week though i woke with a wrenching, gonna vomit kind of headache, i knew the day was going to go nowhere fast. so we watched tv. me in my bedroom watch last seasons oprah’s while the kids watched wild kratts on PBS learning about animals. sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do and it was great. i don’t know why guilt always keeps me from taking ‘a day’, but it usually does.

    jen‘s latest post: Mindful About A Life Well Lived

  37. after SUCH a day today, i knew coming here to SH i’d find encouragement. thank you once again jamie for your insight. helped turn this day around for me! xo
    angie’s latest post: art for congo.

  38. Perfect timing! I had company over the weekend, woke with a cold this morning, and my son needed x-rays. I’m glad all days aren’t like this.

  39. Just found your website. Love the all the comments on this blog! For us too, the “bad day” plan sounds a lot like our regular good days!

    I like the ideas of art day, music break, baking day… don’t we all believe this variety is good for the kids anyway. Academics is NOT all there is to life, or even education.

    Lately, I’ve been trying to remember to put “my” favorite music on to play, for the chore time, or break times. I made a my favorites folder on Itunes, so I can just click with the mouse, and wander around doing stuff to music. It helps me a lot to sing, I just forget that in the middle of managing kids and house…

  40. This “bad day” routine looks like an awful lot like our everyday routine! ๐Ÿ™‚ Relaxed.
    Liz’s latest post: Almond Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies, Gluten-Free and Dairy-Free

  41. I like the art day idea and have used it myself. This year we started a month later than usual. My youngest spent two weeks in the hospital with complication from a bacterial infection and cause severe ulcerative colitis. We didn’t have all of the materials need and we were also dealing with the death of my mother. School this year was the farthest thing from my mind. But my wonderful children found a way to turn even the worst of my days into learning days. We learned about the workings of hospitals, about the causes of ulcerative colitis, why it is important to grieve and through it all my sick child wanted to know what was for school work today. Now when we are finally able to put the last two months behind us I am thankful for the wonderful documentaries we found at the library that really helped my future vet and free online classes that my girls utilized while I was trying to sort out life. I am a big fan of turning anything into a school day. If they learn something important it’s a school day for me. We just go with the flow most days anyway but this year even more so.

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