Kids Are Always Learning (Even on a Sick Day)

I love autumn. The older I get, the more I prefer autumn to my previous favorite season, summer. Apple picking, cider donuts, colorful scenery, veggie garden harvests and cozy sweaters on crisp fall days…. yes, there’s a lot to love about this season! 

Except, of course, the inevitable cold or flu that someone catches and brings home to share with the family. 

It definitely puts a damper on the seasonal excitement when your preschooler sneezes on the apple cider donuts… or wipes their cute-but-slobbery face on your newly-purchased, cozy fall sweater. 

*sigh*

But despite the obvious unpleasantness of a child being sick, I’ve found sick days (the kind where your kid is too sick to go anywhere but not sick enough to sleep all day) can still be productive days. In fact, I’d venture to say that sometimes they learn just as much on a sick day as they would’ve on a regular school day.

Take this past week for example. My three year old was sick with some kind of unpleasant bug – stomachache, lethargy and I’ll spare you the bathroom details – you get the idea. It was bad enough to cancel our plans and stay home but she still had enough energy to get bored if she was just laying on the couch for too long.

On her first sick day of the school week, I realized she was probably learning just as much as she would’ve if she wasn’t sick. No, I don’t mean I put her to work despite her illness (at age three, she doesn’t have much planned schoolwork to begin with). What I’m saying is that whenever she got bored of resting she found something to do. And through those child-led experiences, she kept right on learning – sick day or no sick day.  Here’s three examples of what I mean…


The Original Plan:  I had planned on having her talk about rectangles with her older brother who’s learning how to find the area of rectangles.

What Happened Instead: We talked about hearts and circles as we made heart-shaped apple fritters for our snack.

I’d say we analyzed shapes even more than we would’ve since the heart shape I tried to pour with the batter wasn’t accurate enough for her. I had to cut off lumpy edges until she was satisfied that it really was a true heart.

heart shaped fritter snack

The Original Plan: I was thinking we’d sound out a couple of words in her phonics book.

What Happened Instead: While eating lunch, she sounded out the word “Nuk” on her sippy cup all by herself. Then she spelled out “G-e-r-b-e-r” and tried her best to read that word, too. 

We’re surrounded by printed language. Who cares if a child sounds out a sippy cup brand instead of the word “cat” in their phonics book? If they’re joyfully blending letters then they’re learning to read and to love reading! Isn’t that the whole point of reading instruction?

Toddler Gerber NUK sippy cup with phonics flip book
Sippy cup phonics

The Original Plan: While her brothers worked on a history map assignment that used colored tissue paper, I thought she could make a tissue paper collage as a craft.

What Happened Instead: She had a short burst of energy and wanted to do some crafts so she found the stash of tissue paper that her brothers were done with and still ended up making the collage project. After that she decided to draw and label a picture for me. 

Without any pressure to do certain “work” she simply created until her little burst of energy passed. Part of her ideas happened to overlap with the original plan.  And the drawing she did on her own included writing out “mom” which I didn’t even know she could do yet!

Tissue paper collage made by three year old
Tissue paper collage
Preschool drawing of mom
That’s a pretty accurate likeness of me…

The lowered expectations on a sick day allow us to experience more child-led learning and take a more unschool-y approach to the day.  If they need to rest, they rest. If they want to engage with a book or craft or lesson, they’re free to do that, too.

Keep in mind, this looks a little different for older kids. When my older boys have this kind of down day (not well enough to “do school” but too antsy to just sleep), they typically spend hours reading or listening to audiobooks. They watch YouTube videos on their favorite topics or do maze and puzzle books. Even just watching nature out the window or observing me taking care of the house can be a valuable learning opportunity. 

Of course, we don’t wish for anyone to get sick – but when the inevitable minor illness comes your way, don’t feel bad about taking off the time your kids need to get well. Forced downtime is good for healing and it can also lead to natural learning and life lessons we often miss when we’re rushing along on non-sick days.

Your kids might not get through every lesson (or any lesson) you had planned for them – but they’re still learning all the time!

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Kids are Always Learning (Even on a Sick Day) title with sick boy reading in bed