By Jen Snyder, President | Homeschool New York
I know of a veteran homeschool mom who asked her husband if they could set aside an evening and head over to the diner, just the two of them, because she needed some clarity about how their homeschooling was going. Almost as soon as they had taken their seats across from each other in the booth, Mom started unloading about how one kid was behind in a certain subject, some of the curriculum choices they had made didn’t seem to be working out, it was difficult to stay motivated, and she felt like a total homeschooling failure.
Dad took this all in, peered down at his watch, and declared, “My, my, is it February already?!”
Can you relate? Did you start this school year out all gung ho? Were you excited about the lessons you planned, the books you were all going to read and discuss, and the wonderful meals and desserts that were going to be made for the holidays because, after all, cooking counts as school? But, has your reality been that you’ve experienced days where it’s been hard to get anything done? Do your little ones need so much attention that you can’t get the older kids focused on their lessons? Or, maybe you have a child that just can’t seem to get that one math concept down? You now realize that if you want to finish your curriculum, you’re going to have to add in Saturdays and maybe even all of July? Like our mom in the story above, does this seem to happen every year around this time?
January and February are dull and dark, literally and figuratively. The days are cold and short. The excitement and cheer we experienced through Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s is long gone. The kids may be feeling pent up from being inside so much. It is so easy to feel discouraged and critical of ourselves.
So, how can you turn things around and inject some life and excitement back into your routine? Here are a few suggestions that our family has tried and found to be helpful in breaking up the winter doldrums:
Have a Game Day!
You can do this just among yourselves or invite your friends over to break out those games that you never seem to have the time for (Monopoly, anyone?). Maybe your friends have games that you’ve never played before and vice versa. Set up a day where everyone gets one or two school subjects done in the morning, and then spend the rest of the day playing. There are lots of real learning opportunities with board games: money, counting, strategizing, problem solving and teamwork, just to name a few.
A game like Scrabble can promote spelling skills! Many popular games also come in Junior versions for the younger kids. Consider splitting up into different age groups, or pair older kids with younger kids to learn and play together. Setting up a fun day like this can help to lighten everybody’s spirits.
It’s tempting to make excuses about how cold it is outside and not wanting to be bothered with all of the effort it takes to bundle up and go somewhere. But, our bodies are craving sunlight and fresh air! There are so many things to see in nature that just aren’t around in the warmer months. Walk through a park to search for and identify animal tracks that can easily be seen in the snow. Snowy owls visit many areas in our state. Where we live on Long Island, there are many places we can go to see seals who visit our area in the winter. The beach is a very different experience in the winter than when we go in the summer! We have a favorite park we visit in December or January where many birds spend the winter; they will come and eat right from your hand! Because of the cold, they are much hungrier and eager for the sunflower seeds we bring. We have often gone and been the only visitors to the park, making us feel like we have stumbled upon a secret haven for these little creatures. The weather usually guarantees that we can’t be out for much more than an hour, and I always make sure we pack a carafe of steaming hot chocolate to warm ourselves back up when we return to our vehicle. My daughters are now experts at identifying nuthatches, chickadees, downy woodpeckers, and many more species. These outings give us a greater appreciation for the habitats around us, make us better stewards of God’s creation, and give us a much-needed break from the dreary winter routines we tend to fall into.
Look at the Calendar!
Did you know there’s a national celebration day for just about everything? Use those days to create your own special days! Our homeschool group gathers every year on or around January 29th for National Puzzle Day. Jigsaw puzzles line every available surface in my house, from easy toddler puzzles right up to the challenging 1000 piece that ends up staying on our dining room table for a few more weeks because it takes so long to do! Each family brings a snack to share, and we enjoy each other’s company and conversations. We’ve also gathered for National Scrabble Day (April 13th) and (my favorite) Pi Day on March 14th, where we play math games and eat pie! For some other ideas, go to nationaltoday.com and see what kind of fun learning activities you can build around one of these days.
Dig Into a Good Book!
I’ve found winter to be the best season for finally setting aside the time to read those great books I’ve been meaning to get to. Those days when it really is just too cold or icy to go anywhere provide the perfect reason to curl up on the couch with a cup of tea and the kids gathered around and start reading out loud. Consider having the kids take turns reading with you to strengthen that ability. Sometimes, we’ll listen to the audiobook book version while we get out a Scripture-based coloring page and listen while we create, instead. Audiobooks can be borrowed and downloaded from your local library through services like Overdrive. Librivox.org is another free resource of books in the public domain that are recorded by volunteers from all over the world. It can be both fun and challenging to listen to the different accents. And, if you find you have a favorite narrator, you can look for other works they have recorded, which may lead you to a literature choice you may not have known about otherwise! We discovered Louisa May Alcott’s lesser-known works by using Librivox.
Virtual Field Trips
YouTube provides lots of opportunities to learn about places you might never get the chance to visit. And, because of how widespread remote learning has become, many venues are creating online interactive activities. In recent months, we “visited” Mount Vernon, the Liberty Science Center, NASA space launches, and many others. If you have a platform like Zoom or WebEx, you could share these other activities remotely with your friends by logging on, sharing your screen, and experiencing it together. If you are a Homeschool New York/LEAH chapter, we have a Zoom account that is available for your use. Of course, the kids in your chapter could also just use it for a hang out time, too! Playing Mad Libs online counts as a grammar lesson, right?
These are just a few activities that we have participated in over the winters that have helped to bring some variety and excitement to the long cold days that sometimes seem to go on forever. Building relationships around these types of activities is probably more important than the workbook pages that aren’t getting done. There are many other ways to encourage learning that don’t have to happen from a curriculum! Give yourselves permission to go “off the plan” from time to time to keep your kids engaged, and to enjoy the God-given gifts that they really are!