Homeschool moms are amazing at being ON all  the time. But sometimes we need a substitute teacher, am I right? We’re tough but we still get colds, headaches, PMS. We have babies, we move house, we get run down. Sometimes we just need a substitute teacher. That doesn’t mean we have a real, official school marm coming in, but it does mean we can have some tricks up our sleeves for days when we need back up!

If you need some magic tricks up your sleeves, trust me, you’re going to want to keep reading.

For myself, as much as for you, I’ve compiled a huge list of ideas you can hang onto for days you need your kids to keep busy while you rest or work on something else. We need them to stay busy, but also be doing something constructive and educational so we can feel good about our school day, regardless of what was going on with ourselves!

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101 Magic Ideas When You Need a Substitute Teacher

You needed a big list like this.


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Because there’s days that are sunny and the kids can go play outside all day. There’s days that are rainy and they have to be inside. Your kids are older and can do all sorts of things independently OR your kids are smaller and need to have more supervision. There’s days that your kids will be super content with a screen for several hours. But there’s also days your kids have had screen overload and need a break to do something else.

This list will cover it all.

Outdoor play, indoor play, shows, apps, subject ideas, creative endeavors for kids, and how to call in the recruits—help, Grandma!!

I’m so excited for you to get a little break! Read on, my friend.

Outdoor Play Ideas that will Keep them Busy for hours

  1. Grab a NaturExplorer Guide. There’s TONS of ideas in these guides that your kids can totally do on their own.
  2. Build a fort with tree branches.
  3. Pick-up game of kickball.
  4. Blow bubbles.
  5. Draw roads with sidewalk chalk to “drive on” with scooters.
  6. Yard Jenga.
  7. Play 4-square.
  8. Neighborhood freeze tag.
  9. Learn Chinese Jump Rope games. I found THIS great kit your kids could start with.
  10. Rake a pile of leaves and jump in!
  11. Play hide-and-seek.
  12. Build a snow fort.
  13. Play with a bird call. (This one is our favorite.)
  14. Search for birds with kid-safe binoculars.
  15. Fill up the bird feeders or use a kit to build one.
  16. Play catch with a baseball or football.

Audio Ideas Kids Can Do On Their Own

17. Listen to Around the World Stories. These are SO good and my kids get totally sucked in with these. There’s also bonus activities that go with the story which will keep them busy even longer! [Read my full article on how we use Around the World Stories.]

18. Get a subscription to Audible. (The first 14 days are free and you also get your first book for free!)

19. Listen to Amazon Music. There’s lots of options for kids.

20. Have your kids listen to some podcasts. Here’s some ideas:

  • Brains On (science)
  • Story Nory
  • Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls (Not just for for girls! Or nighttime!)

21. Order some picture books with CD’s. Vera (5) loves listening to these during her Quiet Time in the afternoons. Here’s some ideas:

*CD players are still out there and pretty inexpensive. I know having a Blue Tooth player is awesome too, but I love the simplicity of a regular CD player for my little ones.

22. Putumayo CDs are really great too. Often they will feature other languages and singing from other parts of the world.

23. Listen to Around the World Stories! These are amazing and so fun! [Read how we use these stories HERE.]

TV for the win when you need a substitute teacher

24. CuriosityStream, CuriosityStream, CuriosityStream 🙂 We love this option! All quality and engaging documentaries, just $3 a month, can stream from anywhere. It’s just too good to not implement this one! [Read about how we use CuriosityStream here.]

25. TedED on YouTube

26. Crash Course for Kids on YouTube

27. Crash Course on YouTube

28. Netflix Ideas:

29. Amazon Prime:

  • Mister Roger’s Neighborhood
  • The Snowy Day
  • If You Give a Mouse a Cookie

30. Art Hub for Kids on YouTube

31. You Make it Go on YouTube

32. Steve Spangler Science on YouTube

33. Hoopla Kidz Lab on YouTube

34. Kids Immersion on YouTube

Educational Apps when you need a Substitute Teacher

Search these awesome apps in your app store for great educational content in reading, science, history, language arts and more!

35. Mad Libs

36. Puffin

37. Who Was? (based on the book series)

38. Epic! (an e-book service for Kindles or other devices at a really low price)

39. Brain Pop Jr.

40. Bookopolis

41. PBS Kids

42. PBS Games

43. Starfall (great for early readers)

44. Education Minecraft

45. Duolingo (free app for learning a second language)

46. Endless ABC (great for learning to read)

Card Games and Board Games that are Educational (and Independent!)

The whole point of this long list is for ideas that will keep your kids busy, learning, and won’t require a ton of hands-on time from you! These games are easy to set up and figure out AND your kids will be learning strategy and other skills. This list will hit the mark for all these things and I’ve noted how they’ll help your kids learn while you’re busy doing other things.

47. Kaboom Sticks // This is  a game you can make at home in any version you feel like your kids need extra practice.

48. Monopoly // Money and counting; strategy

49. Mastermind for Kids // Strategy; memory

50. Farkle // Math

51. Sequence // Team building; strategy

52. History Timeline // History; Sequencing; Memory

53. Professor Noggin Games // Multiple subjects like art, science, history; trivia

54. Spot It // Matching; Hand-eye coordination

55. Memory Games // um, Memory

56. Battleship // Strategy; Memory

Indoor Play to Keep Kids Busy and Learning

Although, it’s my favorite to send kiddos outdoors to learn and play, some days it’s just not nice enough to do so. These ideas will keep your kids busy and learning indoors.

57. Build a pillow fort.

58. Adapt your own Sibling Preschool

59. Create a sensory bin.

60. Use the Seesaw app to record a how-to video.

61. Practice yoga with Cosmic Kids Yoga on YouTube.

62. Play with Magnatiles.

63. Creative play kitchen or other cooking games. My favorites are this pizza oven set or this pan set. 

64. Have a tea party. We LOVE this wooden tea set with “real” tea bags!

65. Play restaurant. I found this set that would have been my FAVORITE thing when I was little!

66. Play dollies.

Fun Ideas for Language Arts Your Kids can do Independently

67. Stock up on blank books and have your kids write a story.

68. Play with story cubes and record stories in blank books.

69. Declare a reading day! Light a fire, set up a play tent, hand out snacks and let everyone read independently.

70. Story Cards are great to get a story brewing in kids’ heads. Have them record their stories in a blank book if they want to.

71. Copywork.

72. Finger Paint bags.

73. Word play games.

74. Play with Magnetic Poetry

75. Write in journals.

76. Try Rainbow Writing: writing and rewriting the spelling words of week, over and over in different colors. At the end, you’ll have a spelling list, each word spelled in several different colors.

77. Paint Strip Word Families

Math When You Can’t Sit Down and do a Formal Lesson

78. Play Decimal Dice

79. Measure things!

80. Play Yahtzee

81. Play Shut-the-Box

82. Have older kids bake something! They’ll be busy for a long bit, they’ll be learning home skills and measuring ingredients.

83. Play Cribbage.

84. Play a variation of the old card game of War. When the kids flip the cards over, have them take turns adding or multiplying.

85. Zeus on the Loose

More Fun Ideas For When You Need a Substitute Teacher

86. Have kids look up current events.

87. Children can do their own Poetry Teatime.

88. Watch CNN10

89. Create a beautiful Chalk Pastel drawing. 

90. Open a Tinker Crate and have the kids dig in. [Read about how we use Tinker Crate here.]

91. Knit

92. Roll beeswax candles. THIS is a great kit. 

93. Put together a huge puzzle.

94. Do some word brain teasers.

95. Play with some maze books.

96. Extreme Dot-to-Dot books are super fun too!

97. Sodoku Books

98. Gimme 5 Projects: This is a fun idea that could take a child a long time. Have them pick a topic (person, animal, event, etc). Then go research that thing and create some type of report of five different things pertaining to their topic. They could print out pictures or write a story. Draw something or create a booklet.

When it’s time to call in the recruits for help

One of the hardest things for me to do is ask for help. But sometimes it’s absolutely necessary. Here’s a few ways you can call for back up when you need it.

99. Ask Grandma to come over once a week or every other to teach a subject.

100. Ask your husband to take over a tough subject.

101. Use the Seesaw app as your assistant. Give your kids a list of school tasks to do and have them document using the app.

102. Hire a babysitter or a mother’s helper.

103. Do a friend swap with another homeschool mom. One mom takes all the kids for an afternoon and then swap to give each other a well-deserved break!

We all need a little break

Listen mama, there’s no shame in taking some shortcuts. We all need a little break sometimes. Breaks are healthy. Calling a “Sub Day” keeps us sane, gives us a breather, and makes us better homeschool mamas. It’s ok!

Here’s a few more ideas if you’re feeling frazzled and need some encouragement:

In a Treasure Trove of Ideas, you will find a long list of inspirational blog posts for your family and home. Each post features 100 tips, tricks, books, hands-on projects, lessons, games, and ideas for your family and home. #ideasforfamily #familyfun #booklists #homeschoolingmom #homeschoolingideas #familyideas #booksgalore #somethingforeveryone #ideasformoms #momhacks #handsonlearning

Want to see more awesome giant lists like this one? CLICK HERE for more! 


  1. So many great ideas!! I can’t wait to listen to the Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls podcast. We’re such a podcast family, but I hadn’t heard of this one yet. We love the book, so it’s perfect!

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