There is something about January that sends our homeschool into the doldrums. (And February. Don’t get me started about February.) I’m not sure exactly what it is but every January finds me questioning our curriculum choices, convinced that if I only change history programs or find the perfect spelling program all will become peace and harmony. I focus on the things we aren’t doing (nature study, any kind of music appreciation, artist study) and dismiss the things we are doing as inconsequential. One bad day leaves me convinced that I’m a failure as a homeschooler and my kids would be better off in any other kind of school setting.
I’m exaggerating just a bit. But it is true that something about this time of year seems to leave me questioning all the choices I’m making about education; both the small (spelling curriculum) and the big (to homeschool or not). I think maybe it has something to do with the fact that January brings a New Year which makes me expect to feel all shiny and new and excited like I do in September with the start of a new school year. But really we’re just picking up with where we were before winter break and it doesn’t feel so shiny and new. It also probably has to do with grey cold winter days and being more cooped up indoors.
Based on recent conversations with other homeschoolers, I don’t think the mid-winter doldrums are unique to our house. In fact, a few years ago one of the best pieces of advice I ever got was to never make any major decisions about school in January. So I thought I’d share here some things we’ve done lately to help shake off the blues.
1. Go outside
Yes, it’s cold. Yes, it’s winter. But it always helps us to go outside. It helps even more to get some exercise. I’m a homebody. I much prefer to curl up on a sofa with a blanket and a book than go out for a nice brisk walk. Making myself get out there requires effort. But it’s always worth it. Visit a favorite place. Go for a walk around the block. Be the only people on the playground.
2. Cook something special.
Ruth and I made cookies last week for our homeschool co-op. She loved being my helper. We also have been having consistent teatimes lately. My Mom gave each child a special tea for their fall birthdays and they love picking which tea they want to have with a small snack. During teatime we do “Ruth school”, read poetry or a read-aloud, or read whatever other extra books I’ve set aside for history or science for the week. It never feels like school and it’s always a welcome break to the day.
3. Watch a movie.
Twice in the last week we’ve popped popcorn, curled up under a giant comforter and had a movie lunch. There are tons of great videos you can get from the library or watch on Netflix/Hulu/Amazon. We recently bought the entire Magic Schoolbus video collection, the Where on Earth is Carmen SanDiego? series and the Schoolhouse Rock collection. There is also Bill Nye, Mythbusters, Reading Rainbow, and documentaries (Planet Earth and Blue Planet are favorites here).
4. Play a game.
I’ve posted before about some of the math games we enjoy. But we also have a good collection of other board games that are great fun to play. Chess. Settlers of Catan. A Ticket to Ride. The Scrambled States of America. Clue. Monopoly.
5. Change what you need to change. (But keep everything else)
Stick with me here. Yes, I did say not to make any major changes in January. But sometimes these times of unease can be a good way of looking at things from a different perspective.
Some homeschoolers may find that come January they’ve gotten too far behind because they are always off schedule and it may be a good time to introduce more structure to their days. For me, I tend to stick too much to my lists and checkboxes. January is a good time for me to remember that one of the main reasons we homeschool is so that we can be more flexible and have more time for fun things. In the past week we’ve gone on two fabulous field trips (the Building Museum and then today to the Naval Musuem). It’s meant we’ve done less of other things and are “behind” in some subjects but those kind of field trips are the kinds of things I envisioned us doing regularly when we started this journey. Somehow though I always end up pushing them to the back-burner because we “don’t have time”.
6. Remind yourself why you are homeschooling.
We homeschool for lots of different reasons. I find this time of year I especially have to remind myself what those are. And I have to remind myself that it’s working. Overall it’s working. They are learning. They are thriving. They are happy.
I love this photo because I find it really funny that John (age 9) is doing Ruth’s hair. Especially since she adamantly refuses to let me put any kind of barrette, bow, headband, ponytail or other hair accessory in her hair.
We homeschool in part for moments like these. Even in the mid-winter doldrums it’s good to remember that. And savor them.