The first sick day we need to discuss is what happens when you, the homeschool teacher, are sick. You may have thought ahead enough to realize that there are no substitute teachers to call in homeschool. This can pose a problem. But with a little planning ahead, these days can go much more smoothly.
(I am talking about regular illnesses, not COVID-19, which would call for other precautions to be taken.)
When a Parent is the Patient
When Mom (or whoever the main teacher is) gets sick enough to stay in bed, there are several things that can be done. Not all of these will apply to each family. Which options you choose to implement will depend on the age of your children and many other factors. Here are some choices of how to handle school when the teacher is sick:
First of all, everyone's safety comes first and school comes second. If all your children are very young and you cannot get out of bed, someone needs to look after them. If you do not have anyone, it's time to make use of the playpen or at least shut them all in one room with you and safeguard that room as much as possible. This is a good time to call on family, have your spouse stay home, enlist a babysitter, or call on another homeschool parent to help. Have some numbers set aside ahead of time and let those folks know you might be calling in an emergency. Offer to do the same for them.
If you just need a bit more time in bed, but plan to be up later in the day (say with a headache), this is a great time to make use of the T.V. Have some educational or high-interest shows ready to play. If your children are old enough to mostly watch out for themselves, you can lay on the couch while the whole day is devoted to the T.V. Watch a science special together, a documentary on another country for geography, some fun YouTube math videos, and a workout show to get their wiggles out. It isn't ideal, but some of that time spent can absolutely be counted as instructional minutes. You know that teachers show videos in their classrooms sometimes, right?
Older children can continue with a mostly normal school day provided you are organized. As long as they know where to go to get their assignments, they can carry on without you for a bit.
Your older children can take care of little brothers and sisters while you convalesce. And yes, I would consider that school for the day! Home Economics includes child care, food preparation, and taking care of a house. Before you fall ill, lay out your expectations of what should happen on your sick days. Because you ARE going to get sick. It will happen sooner or later. If you want the older children to read to the younger ones and tidy up the house before Dad gets home, include that in your expectations. The older students may also be able to get some of their own school work done during nap time. Again, decide ahead of time what you expect them to try and do. Keeping everyone safe and alive is the number one priority when Mom is down.
Some parents create a "Sick Day Box" full of new activities that can be done independently. Perhaps some new sticker books, a new movie, some easy to open snacks, and a new learning toy can be included. The box might buy you enough time until your spouse can come home early from work or Grandma can get over to help. The trick is to not let them ever play in the box except on those days. The novelty of it all is the secret weapon.
Perhaps you are on the mend or recovering from a foot surgery or something like that. If school can be brought to your bedside, or in your bed, that will work too! You may feel good enough to do some reading out loud while the kids draw or play with simple toys around you. The oldest child can be the runner for snacks and needed items.
Don't feel badly if your children miss several days of school because you are ill. Or perhaps have a whole week of halfway done school. What ever you can do is good, but getting well is better. You can always make up the school work when you are better.
The key point is: HAVE A PLAN AHEAD OF TIME and communicate that plan to your family.
When a Child is the Patient
Now what about when a child is sick? Again, them getting better is the most important thing. As their parents, you can tell if they need to be left alone to sleep or are feeling well enough to listen to a read-aloud. As they mend, they may feel like watching some educational shows (even movies count! For example, the year my daughter studied British Literature she watched several Jane Austen variations.) Eventually, they will feel like doing a subject and resting. Then maybe another subject after lunch and then resting again. Don't push them too hard, but they probably won't be sick enough to do nothing the entire time they are ill. There is a comic where the homeschool Mom is sitting on her son's bed holding a thermometer. The speech bubble says, "Oh good, your fever is down. We can work on school until it goes back up." We laugh at it because it's so true. Poor homeschooled kids. They can't even get sick without Mom trying to squeeze "just a little bit" of school in. Another thing is, not all of your children will likely get sick at the exact same time. So you may have one child in bed, but the rest of the family can carry on with their schoolwork and in that way the whole family doesn't get behind.
One thing that I was unprepared for as a new homeschooler was the fact that you are pretty much with your children 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Yes, that in itself takes some adjusting to, but the real kicker is 1. When you need to go Christmas shopping and 2. When you need to go to the doctor. The first concern has been virtually eliminated by Amazon. No longer do I need to wonder how I'm going to get the kids' Christmas or birthday presents when they are always at the store with me. But going to the doctor, especially the uh...lady doctor? That's a tough one. And no one wants to bring a passel of kiddos to a germy doctor's office when you are sick. Again, have a plan ahead of time. This is a time when a homeschool group comes in handy. Have someone you can call to keep your kids on those days when you truly need to be alone.
Thankfully, since you will be home with your children, feeding them healthy food and making sure they get plenty of rest, plus the fact that they aren't bringing home every germ from school, means that there are far more well days than sick ones.