Educational moments frequently happen when you least expect them—and that’s okay.

Even with the best-laid plans, your day can be thrown offtrack by last-minute trips to the grocery store, fatigue, doctor’s appointments, or a lesson that takes longer than anticipated for your student to grasp. When that happens, it is easy to throw in the towel and give up until the next day—always striving for the “perfect” school day.

One of the joys of homeschooling is the freedom from a traditional schedule. Now, if you’re not careful, “freedom” without a goal can feel like (or become) a freefall into ignorance and illiteracy—which is certainly not bliss when your students will need knowledge and skills to land a job and take care of themselves or a family.

But let’s assume you have a charted course and an established routine; does every bump in the road have to be considered chaos and havoc? In our house, we’re doing our best to take hold of teachable moments as they pop up and remain grateful for the opportunity to learn in real-life settings, rather than stewing over the wrenches thrown in our plans.

Practically, that can look like dividing the last-minute shopping list into four smaller lists so the elementary-aged boys can develop responsibility as they hold their lists, practice reading the items on their list, and exercise problem solving and matching skills as they find the items on the shelf and put them in the cart. This character and math lesson appeared to be a major hiccup when I noticed I was missing a few items necessary for dinner, but it quickly transformed into a teachable moment for everyone: while the boys were learning math and life skills, I was growing in patience.

(Pro-tip: take pictures of each list on your cell phone before handing them out—patience is good, and God’s grace is sufficient, but I’ve found that it is always good to have a backup plan if the toddler is holding an index card-sized section of my sanity as we stroll through the grocery store.)

At our house, we let the children take turns helping me make dinner. It does take a smidge longer, having a little helper underfoot. But while they’re in the kitchen, they are learning the life skill of cooking—and we practice reading, telling time, and counting or adding.

Doctor’s appointments can be used to discuss anatomy, health, or hygiene. The subject matter can be determined by the nature of the doctor’s visit, or by the informational brochures in the office, or by teaching your elementary age student not to pick up unnecessary germs from licking the arms of the chairs or chewing gum from—wherever he found that gum. Sometimes the teaching moments happen on the go at the hospital, and other times, I’ll reinforce the way germs are spread with a book, educational video, and discussion once we’ve come home and don’t have time for our regular afternoon routine.

Sometimes, little teachable moments come when we slow down and answer the questions burning in our children’s minds at that moment, rather than rigidly plodding on to the next task on the schedule. Whether we’re learning about a bug someone spotted on the windowsill, or why shortening doesn’t rinse off your fingers, or where the location of a state on a map is, we are learning and growing and doing so in memorable ways.

Knowing how memorable and fun “hiccup learning” can be, sometimes we choose not to wait around for life to hand us lemons—instead, we schedule an afternoon to make lemonade. Scheduled non-routine, non-curriculum learning can brighten everyone’s mood and inspire their love of learning.

Favorite non-routine learning times in our house range from science kits to field trips, a TV show or video about history, or a planning-intense craft that we wouldn’t have otherwise had time for. This is another area where technology can be your friend: take turns picking a topic to watch informational YouTube videos on, or maybe get the materials to follow along with a science or art project tutorial.

If you love planning ahead, you can make little kits with materials and ingredients necessary for specific activities and pull them out when people are feeling discouraged and frustrated with learning—or when the routine has gone off the rails, and you want to salvage educational value for the day.

Whether you have made grand preparations or not, the most important area to prepare for refocusing or redeeming a haphazard school day is your attitude. If you lead by example and embrace little learning opportunities rather than stress about what might have been, everyone can get on board with embracing whatever comes next.

Homeschooling is not meant to replicate a classroom—and even the best classrooms hit snags. The most important thing you can do is watch for both teaching and learning opportunities from whatever lessons life offers, and ask God to shape you and your family through whatever challenges come your way.


Photo credit: iStock.