Once in a while for some reason or another, homeschooling has to take a backseat to other parts of life. Now, this definitely shouldn’t happen often because, well, the children keep growing up faster than humanly possible whether you are teaching them or leaving them to their own devices. Nonetheless, some days, the laundry really is more important than spelling.

In my life, the issue is not so much laundry but my job. I work from home as a medical transcriptionist, and most of the time I am able to balance work and homeschooling fairly well. It isn’t easy, but it is possible. Every once in a while though, one of my clients catches up with a lot of work all at once–or several clients do–and I am swamped with work.

For others of you, it may be work or it might be laundry or it might be a sick baby or, best of all, it might be the perfect day to go fly the new kite on a breezy spring day. On days like that, in my family, we do what we call triage. The children bring me their homeschool lists, and I start crossing things off. I cross off the things that are not imperative, the subjects where missing a day now and then really isn’t going to change the world, the subjects where catching up later won’t be a big deal or won’t be necessary at all because the children can just pick up where they left off on another day without a problem.

What those subjects are vary by child. Older children should be able to do a lot more of their subjects independently. Younger children who are just learning to read may not be able to do much independently. There are 2 kinds of triage days: The ones where I am busy with other things, and the ones where we all have other things to do. On triage days when I am not very available, I cross off nonessential subjects that require me and leave the subjects that can be done independently or with the help of an older sibling. On triage days that involve kites or field trips or minor illness among the children, I cross off everything that wouldn’t cause one of the children to fall behind in a subject with deadlines.

This too depends on the child. Since I started planning the whole year at a time, I am loathe to cross off a chapter of history because if I do, I’ll have to rework the spreadsheet for the rest of the year, which is a time-consuming bother. For the child who is learning to read, daily reading practice is really important, so I avoid crossing that off. For my 2 teenagers who are taking a science class at the local community college, obviously I can’t triage their college homework. I can’t really go to the professor and tell him the kids couldn’t do their homework because we decided to go fly a kite, now can I?

On the other hand, skill subjects like handwriting, typing, computer skills of various sorts, and occasionally phonics or spelling are all ripe for the triage list depending on the day.

I don’t do this more often than I have to, but this is one area where homeschooling is different than school. School is a separate world from family life–one where you leave your kids for the day and go about the rest of your life until the end of the school day. Homeschooling means the kids are with you and a part of your larger life. Hopefully, homeschooling is very high on the list of priorities for that life, but flexibility is just one more life skill homeschoolers have the opportunity to learn, and the occasional “triage day” can certainly be part of that.