15 February 2016

Day 53 / 105 - Surviving the February Doldrums

I remember talking to a friend of mine, a veteran homeschooler, the very first month I began homeschooling.  "It's going great," I boasted.  "We're accomplishing so much!"

"Good to hear," she responded.  "But just wait until February."

In my seven years of homeschooling, I've learned that surviving February is crucial to the journey.  It's the month where all curriculum seems undoable, and all motivation has slipped away.  Children are uncooperative, and the weather is miserable.  It's the month when schools plan their open houses. Naturally, it seems reasonable to visit (and possibly enroll) your child(ren) for the upcoming fall because everything at home is heading downhill.

I can say, from experience, that if you enter the February Slump for a day, a week, or even a season, you are still more than qualified to homeschool your children.  Have the confidence to continue on this journey.  Be prepared for times to be difficult, but have a game plan in order to face the difficulties of the season.  Like everything else, I don't think it has to be an elaborate plan.  Simple is always far more productive and enjoyable.

I am eager to share with you ten simple and enjoyable ways that we've kept the learning alive and the joy in the journey all while surviving the February Doldrums.

1.  Spend Time Outside

This post is for you, Mama.  You need to go outside.  Everyday.  Even if it is - 4 degrees with 12 inches of snow.  You don't have to stay outside long, but you need to have direct daylight exposure every day.  I will admit to you that this is a fairly new development to my routine.  You might be thinking it's easy for me to suggest because I now live in Charlotte, North Carolina.  But before I lived here, I lived in the frigid Appalachian Mountains, and on the snowy shores of Lake Erie, and in the rainy Pacific Northwest.  And observing how my life has changed this year, just as a result of spending significant time outside daily, I know I should have implemented this even more so in areas that depressed me during the winter months.

Natural Vitamin D is essential. You probably already know this because there is countless research showing the benefits of spending time outdoors every day.  This school year, I have attempted to spend at least 30 minutes outside every day.  Even if it's raining.  Or snowing.  Or really quite cold.  I take a brisk walk preferably in the morning because the morning light is even better for us.  Everything about me has changed.  Trust me.  Ask my husband.

I know it's easy to put your children in their snow pants, parkas, and boots and shove them out the door in order to finish the laundry before everyone comes back inside and makes a bigger mess with sopping wet snow pants, parkas, and boots.  But I'm encouraging you, for a few minutes daily, to don your snow pants and join your children.  Even if you only stand in the driveway for five minutes.  Your life will improve, and you will find joy in the journey.

2.  Do Math

I'm not suggesting you continue instructing lessons or teaching skills and concepts.  I know you are probably sick and tired of your math curriculum at the moment.  I am.  I'm merely proposing that you do something math related each day.  Set a timer, and shoot for 45 minutes.

My blog is full of games and quick drill activities, and I simply could not link them all to this post.  Here are two of our favorites: Equation Complete and Card Countdown.  If you search math card games on Pinterest, hundreds of options appear.  Have your children measure the area of their bedrooms.  Or find 10 circular items in your house and equate their circumferences.  Then, convert the feet to inches or the inches to centimeters.  Square and cube every single-digit number you can find in the kitchen.  Last winter, we turned our Candy Land board into a multiplication game.  Check out the 24Game I recently posted about.  A regular activity I do with both my children, especially this time of year, is to pick a few problems out of a math text and race them to see who can correctly solve the problems the fastest.  I do not always win.  The possibilities for Math fun are endless.

The key to this system is to not spend any time dwelling on how far behind in the curriculum you are.  Instead, celebrate the learning (and fun!) that is happening.

3.  Read

This is such an obvious one, but if you don't feel like doing anything else with your children for the rest of February, just read aloud.  My children and I have been reading aloud much more than usual this winter, and it has been an incredible blessing.  They are never too old to be read to.  Read a new book, or revisit an old favorite.  After Alan Rickman's passing, we restarted the Harry Potter series, and I'm so glad.  Read poetry, read scripture, read plays, read short stories.

Last Friday, my 14-year-old son needed to read The Elephant's Child, by Rudyard Kipling, for an online writing course.  He hemmed and hawed for several days and ultimately was running out of time to complete the assignment.  Finally, I said "Sit down.  I'm reading this to you right now."  So, I read the new-to-me short story (which was incredibly delightful) and used my most expressive and animated voices for all the characters.  He laughed with excitement and was thoroughly entertained.  Plus, he and I are both excited to check out other stories from Kipling's Just So Stories.  Win.  Anne - 1, February day - 0.

If you do not have a vision for reading aloud to your children, I would invite you to spend some time reading Sarah Mackenzie's blog.  She will cast that vision for you along with encouraging your soul.

4.  Write Something

This does not need to be a multi-page essay.  It could be a thank you note, a Valentine's Day card, or a grocery list.  It could be a haiku or a limerick.  You could encourage your children to keep a journal.  They could copy a poem, a prayer, or a psalm.  They could make a list of their favorite books or toys.  Whatever you decide on, daily, put a writing utensil in their hand, and have them practice their penmanship.  For many years, my daughter and my husband have written each other daily notes in a spiral notebook.

Honestly, I could stop here.  If you did nothing but read, write, solve some math problems, and play outside for the next couple weeks, you will survive.  And, you might even enjoy it a little bit.  But I have a few more ideas, so I'll continue .....

5.  Look at Art

Art is beautiful and breath-taking.  There is much to learn about the world simply from observing a piece of art daily.  Take advantage of appreciating it, especially when your life is feeling quite gray.  Ideally, if you lived somewhere that houses a phenomenal art museum, February is the month to visit it regularly.  However, if the closest art museum is a mere eight hours away, you will need to improvise in your home.

Check out an Art History book from the library, follow an art museum on Facebook, or download an art app.  I recently download DailyArt, and it has been an excellent resource.  My children and I look at one picture daily.  We discuss the work of art and the artist, along with where and when they lived.  Perhaps we'll mark where they lived on a map.  We may also discuss what other world events were happening at the time the artist created the work.  On days that we're really motivated, we may recreate the piece ourselves.

6.  Use Maps

I have posted repeatedly on how much our family loves Geography.  How can someone possibly learn about an event if they are unfamiliar with where it happened?  Knowing Geography is essential.  But, it is not necessary to roll out a brand new Geography curriculum in February.  Instead, use what you have.  Color maps, draw maps, look at maps, trace maps.  Have your children draw a map of their bedroom or your backyard.  Or draw Florida.  Or Italy.  Color in a map that shows all the countries in Africa.  Blackline maps are easily downloadable online.

An activity that we enjoyed last winter (and still) was following National Geographic on Instagram and identifying all their photo locations on a map.  I love it when National Geographic posts a picture from a lake in southwestern Bolivia, and in my mind, I know exactly where that is!

7.  Play in the Kitchen

I know this seems like an obvious one, yet if you're like me, it's the one you constantly avoid because of the mess that ensues.  Plus, our home now has a tiny kitchen compared with our other homes, so the mess seems even larger.  But children of all ages love this.  Your children do not have to cook anything terribly fancy.  My daughter is always overjoyed when I come home from the store with a box of cake mix or prepackaged cookie dough.  Scrambled eggs, French toast, popcorn, grilled cheese sandwiches, and homemade pizza are all easy enough to make with just a few ingredients that you probably already have in your home.

However, the key to this concept (just like I said above regarding math) is not to think about what else could be getting accomplished while your children are making a mess in the kitchen (also, try not think about the mess!).  Instead, relax and enjoy the blessing that your children have the opportunity to learn life skills at home.

Over the weekend, my son was responsible for the menu and the cooking for a camping trip with his Boy Scout troop.  Friday, he was a little nervous because this was to be his first camping trip with this troop.  So, he spent most of Friday morning perfecting his pancake-flipping and bacon-frying skills.  I expected him to finish in 15 minutes.  He was still enjoying himself in the kitchen well after an hour with piles of pancakes and bacon to show for it.  At that moment I thought, we're just going to change the schedule for today because I'm allowed to do that.  He can play in the kitchen all he wants.  Plus, this was the same day that we read the Rudyard Kipling short story so the day really ended with Anne - 2, February day - 0.

8.  Explore an Outside Interest

My children and I have had the time this winter to invest in taking a few extra-curricular classes.  My son is taking an online writing course along with a local computer-coding class.  The three of us are perfecting our math skills in a Logic class.  These classes have been a welcome addition to our schedule and a breath of fresh air in a usually dismal season.

As a result, my advice to you is to make February your month to try new things.  Perhaps it's an outside art class.  Or your YMCA is teaching sign language.  Maybe the library has a book club that you can join in on for a few weeks.  Maybe your child has always wanted to learn how to play the drums.  Does the martial arts or gymnastics studio offer three weeks free?  Take your teens to the local CrossFit box. Use February as your month to try out a few new activities or classes.  Approach the class knowing that it is only a short-term commitment.  If you find something that really wows you, and it fits into your budget, then sign up.  Otherwise, celebrate that learning has happened through this new brief experience.  Your children have gained confidence walking into an unknown situation to learn something new.

9.  Netflix and Chill

Yes, it's ok.  Sit around and watch movies all month.  We have all been there.  But rather than binging on Friends episodes behind closed doors, (I'm guilty!) include your children as much as possible.  Have Documentary Mondays or Classics Tuesday or Musical Wednesdays.  Explore a genre that is new to you, then integrate what you learned from the film elsewhere.

My husband and I have discovered Longmire this winter (I highly recommend this if you love police dramas AND cowboys and Indians).  Interests I've researched further as a result:  Native American mysticism, Wyoming, Custer's Last Stand, the Cheyenne, white buffaloes, life on an Indian Reservation, etc.  All of this leads to research and learning and discussion with my children.  THAT, my friends, is learning.

10.  Buy New Supplies

If you've tried everything above, and you are still not motivated to school through February, go buy yourself new dry erase markers.  Pick up a new pack the next time you are at the store, and throw the other ones away.  While you're at it, get yourself a new Magic Eraser also.  We recently replaced our dry erase markers as well as the lead in some favorite mechanical pencils.  As a result, we are new people around here.  Seriously.


  1. These are great tips! We have been thoroughly enjoying The Great British Baking Show. Delightful, educational, and better than any American cooking show ever thought about being. The kids beg for another episode...I oblige.

    1. Brilliant! I just told Allison to look it up.

  2. This is a wonderful post. And the cool thing is, I am already do all of them--except getting outside 😜 Thanks for the encouragement--this February genuinely hasn't been too bad

    1. Good to hear. Enjoy the rest of the month!

  3. I stink. Thanks, Anne, for the lift!! -Andrea Flohr