As you read this column, a large segment of the country is dark and cold, and kids are sick and tired of being cooped up in the house. Lesson plans indicate that students should be finishing up the second quarter but shopping, Christmas, and company certainly tend to push school work off the tracks. The kids are in the house way more in the winter than in summer, and the wear and tear is starting to show. Once again, mom is questioning herself: how could she possibly believe that she could home school and still retain her sanity? These feelings are common in many home schooling families this time of year, but veteran home schooling moms and dads know that there are solutions that work. The key is to get a grip, identify particular problem areas, and put together a plan of attack.
Those of you who live in Florida, Arizona, and Louisiana can skip ahead a few paragraphs while the rest of the shivering country discusses winter life after the Christmas lights come down, and the decorations are stowed away for next year. At times it seems like the world turns from a bright, sparkling winter wonderland to a cold and dingy forbidding place where children have just a short time to play after school time before night descends. Where I live on the prairie, there are some days that are just too cold for the children to play outside at all. Stuck in the house, without enough room to blow off excess energy, the kids get cranky with one another and mom goes stir crazy. Well, as the old saying goes, you can’t change the weather, but you certainly can make a few simple plans that will tide you over until the return of sunshine and warmth.
Many of you live close to larger cities where there are zoos and museums. Try to schedule a class trip every week if the kids are in the primary grades, and at least every two weeks if you have older students who need more time with the books. Call first and ask them if they have any special programs open to home schoolers; increasingly, institutions are offering unique educational opportunities directed at our children. Take advantage of them! If your family lives in a more rural area, you can still find opportunities to get out of the house. Virtually every community in the country has access to a public library. Once again, call ahead and see if they offer any programs directed to youth. Many do; however, even if they do not, a trip to the library can include a search for quality literature which will not only enrich your children’s lives but have the secondary benefit of keeping them busy when they cannot go outside to play.
An often overlooked resource is your local community college. Many have terrific exhibitions that are open to all local taxpayers. The community college in my home district has a state-of-the-art planetarium that shows educational “Omnimax” type films, and astronomy programs. Other community colleges have historical museums, art exhibits, and very high quality dramatic or musical performances. Check out the websites of colleges and universities close to your home.
On the other hand, wait just a bit before planning any outings. Most home schooling families start the school year with the best of intentions. Family members will be up early and begin school work on time. Real learning is going on. Then Wham! The holidays hit and family members devote hours and even days to decorating, shopping, wrapping, baking, and picking up relatives at the airport. You realize the nine weeks you allowed for second quarter have passed and your fourth grader hasn’t even read the book he needs for his book report, and spelling and math are weeks away from quarterly exams. Moms in this predicament foresee with dread sunny summer days locked in the house finishing the school year. Can anything save them from this fate?
Although flexibility is considered a great advantage of home schooling, now is the time for a school schedule set in stone. Plan a three week “jump-start” for your home schooling.
- For the next three weeks, participate in as few activities outside the home as possible.
- Set alarms all over the house, so that every family member gets up on time, even if mom is nursing the baby. (Don’t forget, your cell phone has an alarm.)
- Set up schoolwork the night before, so that each student has an assignment to begin, without mom’s help, promptly at start time.
- Make a list of absolutely, positively, must-be-done assignments for each child. Check that list daily to make sure that progress is being made.
- Double up on less complex assignments. For example assign two penmanship or spelling pages per day, or two sections of vocabulary. The kids may complain at first, but will be delighted to test out of lessons more quickly.
- Although I do not recommend skipping sections of any subject outright, consider giving half the workload if your child grasps a subject easily. For example, you might allow a math whiz to do only the even numbered problems in a lesson to move more quickly. If your students readily understand grammar, assign the top half of the page only.
- Add an hour of “homework” each evening after the babies go to bed. This is an ideal time to work on assignments such as book reports that flow more smoothly without distractions. Declare evenings during this three week period to be “TV free” and have your students catch up on reading for book reports, history, religion and science before they turn in for the evening.
- In a similar way, schedule a few hours on Saturday to catch up.
Explain that this is just a brief three-week jump start to get schoolwork back on schedule. Family life can be more relaxed at the end of the three weeks.
Finally, like many of you, I am always just a bit blue when the Christmas decorations come down. Windows are closed due to the cold, darkness descends hours before dinner, and my home looks dingy and unwelcoming. I notice the fingerprints on the walls, and every closet seems to be filled with junk. Again, a plan of attack will cheer us all up. Set aside two 30 minute cleanup sessions each day, where any family member old enough to walk has an assigned chore. That should be enough to keep the house reasonably tidy.
Identify bigger projects by triage. For example, if your hall closet is so filled with goodness-only-knows-what that you can no longer close the door, plan to devote a week to it. (If you wait until you have a full day to tackle a multi-hour project, that closet will never get cleaned.) Each day, set aside some time to organize. On day one, you might move garments from the floor to hangers. The next day, you might purchase more hangers to take the overflow and a few baskets for gloves, hats, and scarves. The third day, you might finish putting everything in its place and donating garments that haven’t been worn in a while. One job down, now choose another to tackle the same way.
This simple return to the basics of housework and schoolwork, with a plan in place, allows the family to move ahead with class work, catch up on household projects and hopefully beat the winter blues.