Dear Homeschooling Mom: February Is a Time To Refresh
February is here. Any homeschooler knows what that means. Burnout season. I choose to view it differently, and after 18 years of homeschooling, this February time of reflection has come to be one of the most important times of our year for considering some of our habits, routines and spaces anew – and refreshing!
By February, here’s what is usually happening in an average homeschooling family (and I’m definitely including my little family in this grouping)…..
- Somewhere from a smattering of disorder to all out chaos in terms of “stuff” (usually attributable to the happy influx around Christmas)
- A real erosion of habit training (usually also a direct result of holiday scheduling and the garden variety of normal, everyday happenings)
- An awareness that we planned a bit too much over the summer months in terms of lessons, and books to be read, and projects to be accomplished, and reports, and field trips, and, and, and…
- An awareness that we haven’t accomplished nearly as much as we thought we would have by this time for various legitimate reasons
- The subsequent dislike and/or complaining from the children associated with lesson overload or acting out due to boredom and lack of opportunity
- The sinking feeling that something/everything isn’t working
- The overwhelming sensation of drowning in a sea of laundry, lessons, life, and littles
What do you do when this hits? And, it hits every single February like clockwork.
Homeschooling is a lot like walking into the closet and choosing clothes. Some days we walk in, put something on the children and it fits. This works for a while, but then our children grow or seasons change and we need to make adjustments. Too much in the closet and a lot is wasted and never worn. Too flashy often equals too flashy and we always tend to the well fitting and comfortable. Too much and you’re overwhelmed with choices.
Keep it simple, keep it realistic and join me and the rest of the moms in the homeschooling world and let’s refresh – weed out the ill-fitting, simplify to fit our family, add a touch of the beautiful and know that we’re gonna have to do the same thing as each child grows and as the seasons change.
- Lessons and your general family educational philosophy
- Season of life
- Children’s needs
I try to freshen by getting back to a simpler, gentler, more realistic plan and space – one that meets the needs of *my* family and *our* needs at this time. In this time of social media and vast homeschooling resources and support (all good!) it is easy to lose clarity of vision. Unplug for just a little while during this refresh process!
An often forgotten component, but an integral one is the beauty and relaxing you nurture amongst your days. Take a deep breath, relax your shoulders, grab a cup of tea and make a plan of prayer and action that takes into account where you are, where you want to be, and introduces a little sunshine. Your kids have likely grown since August/September when you started school…let’s refresh!
Lessons and our general family philosophy
Every family has one, whether you tend more towards workbook pages and texts or learning in the context of real life and more living books. Get back to your basic philosophy if you’re feeling overwhelmed. It’s a safe space.
**Side note** Would it be helpful if I shared a post on the main home education philosophies? If you’ve been a reader here for some time, and many of you have, you know that I consider myself a classically-minded Charlotte Mason home educator. CM’s 20 principles animate our days and have for 18 years – from preschool to high school…and beyond. But not all of you embrace that philosophy and some of you are quite new to homeschooling, so this idea, which is really at the core of who you are as a homeschooler and will animate your days, is so important. It’s foundational. Would you like to chat more about that? Ok…let’s get back to refreshing…
If you’re really feeling the weight of burnout it’s time to get back to absolute basics – reading – and this is universal regardless of the educational philosophy you embrace because it’s THE oldest curriculum. Here are three posts of mine for your consideration while you read and consider and freshen. These are three of my favorites!
- Two Simple Ways to Prepare the Soil of the Imagination For An Education
- Good to Great: Teaching Literature From Grammar to Rhetoric
- Let Them Wonder
Read out loud. Read outside if it’s nice. Read on top of pillows piled in front of a sunny window. Read in the morning and before bed. Just let them read. You read too, and pray. Do some soul searching. Discern where your own teaching philosophy and abilities mesh with your children’s learning needs. There will always be opportunities for growing and stretching in both of these areas, but for the most part where these two abilities intersect is where you’ll spend the majority of your energy and time homeschooling. This is home.
Have I tried to incorporate too much? Scratch everything but the basics.
Am I overloaded and overwhelmed with a myriad of learning philosophies? Simplify down to the core philosophy….and read, read, read.
Are my plans languishing because of a lack of time to accomplish them? Time for a reality check – did I plan too much or am I not offering my presence enough to accomplish a realistic amount?
We can make plans and live them, but when reality makes it abundantly clear that we’ve gone off the path somewhere, be flexible enough to recognize it, accept it and make some changes. Plans are a roadmap – a tool. Don’t be afraid to make that tool work for you! Those plans aren’t driving this – you are! The beauty of homeschooling is that we can custom tailor a set of plans and curriculum to fit. Don’t get stuck in the “check every box” trap. Look at your plans with an eye toward each child and the reality of life right now and then…refresh it.
SEASON OF LIFE
Are you expecting another little one? Taking care of an aging parent? Meeting the needs of an illness? Learning how to nurture a high needs child?
Consider your season of life.
Different seasons require different approaches. Give yourself permission to let your lessons reflect the challenges you face in your current season of life! Trust that God’s timing in all things is PERFECT. He placed your family in this season with great thought – to draw you and your family closer to Him. So stay close. Stay focused on Him and He will provide you the graces to meet this season of life with gentleness and grace. Be patient with His timing. Remember, His Yoke is easy and His burden is light. If your yoke and burden are neither easy nor light, you’ve likely added a few too many expectations/ideas/to-do’s/plans/errands/expectations/projects to your days. (Ask me how I know this.) Lighten up. Step back and gain perspective. (This often/always requires unplugging, too!) Live out this season and trust that there are many lessons in it for your children that are far more valuable in the eternal and supernatural sense than any algebra lesson or book report could ever be.
Life in the trenches is often overwhelming with its fullness. Sometimes the children re-direct. Sometimes my husband does (this usually happens at the end of a sentence of mine listing a litany of my current projects and his integral involvement in them, whereupon he quietly, or sometimes playfully, reminds me of my human-ness and suggests/insists that we redirect
our my focus toward the important stuff) And…sometimes God redirects. The quiet moments are always just a precursor to suffering and climbing back on the Cross. If you’re not there now, you will be. If you are there, you’ll soon be offered a respite. This is the way of the Cross. If we’re following Him, this is the way.
The habits I exercise either serve to help smooth my days or they can frustrate grace. It would be hard to give a list of habits to add to your “adopt this” list because some habits really should be at the service of your season. For example, I could tell you how the habit of early rising has helped me so much, but if you are a mommy of a nursing infant and a toddler and a couple of preschoolers then this is NOT the season for early rising – this is the season for claiming as much sleep as you can, when you can.
Habits often stretch us toward virtue, and that can never be a bad thing. Consider areas of self discipline that could use some work on your part. What are your pain points? (Make a simple list) Now, brainstorm within that knowledge! If there is a pain point, stretch in virtue, grow a new habit, and refresh the stale pain point of your day!
Think individually of each of your children and their specific needs…then think of ways you can address that need with something in your own home that lives on your shelf already. Imagine you are a pioneer and you are educating with a Bible and the family farm – put some of that ingenuity and imagination to use and harness it. Don’t let your knee-jerk reaction to, “this isn’t working” be “what new thing/book/curriculum can I now buy to fix it?” It may be that you will decide to prudentially purchase something after further research and exploration and discerning, but seek first to meet a need with something within your own home or with a better use of your time. Look for opportunities and answers from real life, from the everyday where most learning takes place.
Let’s quickly address the idea of a learning space. As homeschoolers we may have a dedicated room or a desk or table or even bookshelves, but none of that is necessary! And it’s one of the reasons I love Charlotte Mason’s idea of education is atmosphere as opposed to an emphasis on a physical space!! If you’re homeschooling out of canvas bags at the kitchen table, you’re in good company. When we remodeled our home, we homeschooled out of 3 bags we moved from room to room each day – and it worked. For months!! After 18 years, I have the benefit of a homeschool room which I’m so grateful for and appreciate. But is a dedicated space necessary? Nope. And the reason I need to emphasize that is so that you will look at your spaces as enough and know that they truly are!
Wherever you spend most of your time, let’s call that a “learning space,” although – in all serious, learning spaces are everywhere. Because education is life. (Bonus points for you if you recognize a Charlotte Mason principle sneaking in!) But ok. For practical reasons, let’s confine this brainstorming to the physical spaces you’re working in – your kitchen table, a homeschool room, the couch in the family room. And regardless of where you are spending most of your time homeschooling, let’s take a look at that space.
Is it overstuffed? Is a learning space feeling suffocating? Stand inside that room, or open that homeschool bag or cabinet – look around. Have things been living on that shelf, in that corner, stuffed in that pocket, for months…for years…since you moved into the house? Does it belong there or would it work better somewhere else grouped with other like items? Is the room working for you or are you working constantly to keep that space? Find a way to restore a little bit of order in your spaces by sorting belongings and categorizing them.
- Keep your books together and organize them (I organize my books by age/grade/form, but I also have a home library organized by genre, too).
- Give each child their own space – a bag, a shelf, a bin. Let them have ownership of that space and let their books and pens and supplies live in that space.
- Set up a space in your home that invites creativity and fosters a love of nature.
- Children need spaces that are beautiful and that communicate learning opportunities and connections.
- Do you have little-little people? Get down on your hands and knees and crawl around…have you made little spaces for them down low that are attractive and safe? Book corners, baskets of blocks, small groups of toys set about.
- You need a LOT LESS than you think you need. Do not attempt to duplicate a schoolroom at home – it will be too busy and forced. Instead, focus your efforts on creating a beautiful, light, and open space. It will be easier to tidy and children will appreciate the few quality items they have access to far more.
Learning in the winter months can take on a touch of the drearies. It’s cold and harder to get outside. If your space is languishing, look for the light! Find a sunny spot, usually a southern facing room with windows and set up a reading corner – turn a chair around, relocate a table, bring a basket of books from the learning room…but find the sun. I orient my entire learning space around a sunny room for this very reason. The sun just encourages cheeriness and bathes the space in light.
Know that your learning space, your plans and strategies – will need a little tweaking, a little tidying. Give yourself permission to take a day or two to freshen your spaces, brainstorm your habits, consider your lessons and educational philosophy, bend to your season, and address your children’s needs. Seek out the sunny, the cheerful, the simple, and the gentle. And instead of feeling stale and languishing – refresh!
Oh how I’ve missed these kinds of homeschooling posts! You have always been such a source of inspiration for me! As my homeschooling days are drawing to a close with my youngest heading off next year, it makes me so nostalgic for those younger years of learning, what a treasure they are! Enjoy all those little moments. ❤️
Every year when I set up our school calendar, I block out a “February Blues” week. Over 15+ years of homeschooling I learned that something always happens… we all get the flu, we are off track for whatever reason, or we just hit a plateau. So now I plan for it. We are off next week, and we can take time to tidy up the house, take stock of where we are, go on a random field trip, whatever. Some years we have had to use our February Blues week to catch up on time lost due to illness, so I always write “catch up or free,” just in case 🙂
Your post comes at the perfect time to inspire me to really refresh and start the next term with renewed energy 🙂 “February Refresh” definitely sounds more positive than “February Blues,” so I might rename my off week!
God bless you kindly sharing your journey with us!
Jennifer, this was a great post! Thank you, and hope your health is looking up! I agree with Heather’s post, and am fighting the sadness sometimes associated with nostalgia for the early and sometimes idealized “younger years”!
I do know exactly what you mean when you talk about that nostalgia. Wasn’t it just yesterday all our kids were little? Life was intense but so sweet. It’s completely understandable that we would mourn those sweet days. I still have young kids and I guard an atmosphere of wonder VIGOROUSLY! But even as my young kids grow up (my youngest is almost 6), I see how an atmosphere of wonder is so important to the atmosphere of home. Brainstorming within that has shown me ways to nurture that wonder and has helped tremendously with my own sense of mourning and loss of those sweet early years! Not sure if anything there is a help but I do completely understand that nostalgia!