Beating the Mid-Year Slump
- 2012 23 Jan
I set a goal for myself last summer: to ride a 14-mile bike trail near our home by summer’s end. Although generally active, thanks to my five children, I’m not usually the athletic type. On top of that, I was recovering from surgery and had been on restricted activity for a couple of weeks. I knew the ride would be a challenge for me both physically and mentally, but I really wanted to do it. After my first ride in June—just three miles—I was huffing and puffing, my thighs were burning, and, to say it politely, my seat was sore. The ride had been tougher than I expected, and I was tempted to give up.
On my next ride a few days later, my then 13-year old daughter agreed to bike with me. We made it five miles, and I was thrilled. Her encouragement helped me enjoy our journey and gave me the boost I needed to keep on pedaling. Yes, I was very sore again (even worse than the first time), but her companionship made me forget my exhaustion. I was a step closer to riding the entire bike path.
Homeschooling is a lot like that. Whether you are new to homeschooling or a veteran of many years, there are guaranteed to be peaks and valleys in the experience. When you hit a hard spot, you may be tempted to despair and perhaps give up.
No season is more likely to discourage a homeschooling mom than the dead of winter. Short days and long nights, gray skies and cold weather, days and sometimes weeks without leaving the house, canceled lessons and co-op meetings, the children’s frequent illnesses, the bulk of the toughest academic work, more inside time than outdoor play, the daily routine turning stale—all of these factors and more can contribute to the mid-year slump. To a new homeschooler, a first encounter with seasonal discouragement can seem doubly intimidating.
I’d like to use this time to come alongside you and help you “keep on pedaling.” The journey is long and sometimes tough, but if we ride together, we can come out of the blahs, flourishing with our children till the end of the year. Think of me as a fellow traveler who is helping you pedal just a little bit farther.
Struggles Will Come
In my 10 years of homeschooling, only two things have remained the same: regular struggles and God’s grace. Satan would like nothing more than to use homeschooling to draw you away from the love of the Father. He will manipulate the doldrums of winter to discourage you and make you prone to get off the path. Just knowing that what you are feeling or experiencing is commonplace among other homeschoolers may be just the thing you need to hear. You are normal! Your struggles are typical! Be encouraged by the “cloud of witnesses” surrounding you during your winter slump.
Seasons Come and Seasons Go
It is important to remember that this is just a season in your life; literally—yes, it’s winter—but figuratively as well. God created seasons from the beginning (Genesis 1) and established their rhythms. Apparently this season we call winter, a time of rest and cocooning, so to speak, is necessary for us—or else God in His goodness wouldn’t have placed us in His four seasons. Use this season and its abundant time with your children wisely; it won’t last forever. Busier, more scheduled and demanding days are just around the corner!
Don’t Isolate Yourself
Winter brings colder days, and in some geographic regions, less than perfect driving conditions. This means you may find you and your children are homebound more than you are accustomed to. But that doesn’t mean you need to be isolated or live without fellowship. Make a point of inviting another homeschooling family over for a meal, an experiment, a show-and-tell time, or just for a play date. Reach out to others with the love of Christ, getting your eyes off your own desires, and you’ll find yourself blessed in return.
Virtual fellowship is another option to brighten winter’s long days. For instance, I am part of an online Yahoo! group centered on a history curriculum our family uses. Several times a week I read posts from other Christian homeschooling moms around the country: some ask questions, some offer advice, some share prayer needs. Many other curriculums and teaching styles have similar online groups which you could join. Or why not start a forum based on your family’s interests and curriculums, trusting God to bring folks whose vision is similar to yours?
Some local homeschool associations or co-ops have email loops that serve the same purpose. If yours doesn’t, offer to start one. You could also use instant messaging (utilizing a service such as Skype) to interact with another homeschooling mom far away for encouragement. Skype, and other web-cam Internet-based tools like it, enables you to have a live conversation with a faraway friend over your computer. (A quick note: Instant messaging, like many other online social activities, can have a tendency to eat up more time than you expect. You may want to consider steps to limit your time on the computer. After all, spending too much time online and leaving your regular tasks undone isn’t likely to cheer you up!) Finally, check out HomeSchoolEnrichment.com for columnist blogs, topical forums, and archived articles which could give you the seasonal shot in the arm you may be desiring.
Winter’s weather and shortened daylight hours may leave you feeling stuck, but there are still so many things you can do with your time and family. Since you are home, why not do some spring cleaning now? Wash curtains (and hang them to dry in a heated garage?), clean out the fridge, scrub cabinet fronts and dust the tops, sort buckets of too-small or next-size clothes for the kids, or organize the basement (my dreaded task!). Get ready for your garage sale now, before you want to be outside working in the garden or planting flowers.
I admit it: I’m a planner. I love to organize, make lists, and create structure in our home. Winter seems to be my best time for doing that. Last year in January, I began to think through what was working well academically for each of our four school-age children and what would need to be changed by fall. By February I began to read catalogs and how-to books and talk to other moms for ideas. My biggest challenge was a daughter who’d be entering her high school years, so I read a couple of how-to-homeschool-high-school books from the library.
Making the most of the winter months, by March I knew 90% of what we’d be using the next year. I posted items I’d like to sell and purchased books I wanted to buy from a couple of my favorite Christian homeschool reselling Web sites, with the goal of coming out even financially. Looking ahead somehow casts a vision for me and gives me hope for the future.
Do Something Outside the Box
If you and your children are stuck in a rut on this seasonal homeschool path, why not venture off the tried-and-true a bit? We have sometimes taken the month of January off. What I mean is that we put aside all our usual schooling materials except for math in order to dive into other subjects. We spend a month doing what feels like a giant unit study. One year, we studied seven or eight U.S. National Parks—and in the process got all fired up about the possibility of someday visiting them. We mapped them, learned about how they were founded, studied their native wildlife and habitats, watched travel videos filmed on location, and read every book we could find on them. Some of the National Parks offered online “Jr. Ranger” programs for which the kids earned badges which were mailed to them. It was a different month for us, but learning was abundant. When it was over, we were somewhat renewed to get back into our usual routine, which felt new and fresh all over again.
When the journey really gets tough in the winter months, it’s ultimately time to get back to the basics. If you are really mired in doubts, ask yourself why you started on this homeschool path in the first place. If it’s truly tough to answer that question, talk to your spouse and other homeschooling parents for a reminder. Pull out your journal from last summer or early fall to look at your motivations and early victories. Stay anchored in the best parts of homeschooling: a lifestyle for your family, not a curriculum; lots of snuggling with your children on the couch, reading good books aloud to them; tutoring your children in areas of their strengths and weaknesses; and the Lord teaching and discipling your children through you naturally, day by day.
As I reflect on my previous winter slumps, I recall that some were easier than others, a few were longer than I would’ve liked, but as a family, we’ve made it through them all. Just like meeting my goal of riding the nearby bike trail, keep pedaling on this homeschooling path to which God has called you. Ask the Lord, your spouse, and other friends for encouragement as you pedal through this season.
Published on March 9, 2009
Melanie Hexter lives and homeschools in central Ohio with her husband of 18 years, Matthew, and their five children. Both her oldest daughter and son joined her on the final 14-mile bike ride last fall. She loves helping new homeschoolers, which is why she and Matthew lead a county-wide workshop each year called Home School 101. Feel free to contact them with homeschooling questions at email@example.com.
This article was originally published in the Jan/Feb ’09 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. Get more great homeschooling help by downloading our FREE report entitled “The Secret to Homeschooling Freedom” by visiting http://HomeSchoolEnrichment.com/resources/report.htm