Friday, January 29, 2016

Surviving February:one homeschooling mom's plan for making it through one of the toughest times of the year

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I know, I know. February is all about love, the colors red and pink, and heart shaped chocolates. It's groundhogs and candy and sweetness.

Yeah, yeah.

But the truth is, I kind of hate February. I don't mean to but I can't help it. This month just gets to me. Despite having a few less squares on the calendar and a holiday dedicated to love, it is a dark, cold, tough month to get through for this mama. It's the "doldrums" as my brother Nate recently lamented, that long stretch of ocean where we all lose the wind in our sails for a few weeks.

“The great grey beast February had eaten Harvey Swick alive.”
― Clive Barker

“February is a suitable month for dying. Everything around is dead, the trees black and frozen so that the appearance of green shoots two months hence seems preposterous, the ground hard and cold, the snow dirty, the winter hateful, hanging on too long.”
― Anna Quindlen

"Well, crap." - Kara Fleck

And yet, I have to find a way to keep moving forward. Tempting as it is, I can't just hide until March. I mean, that's not an option, is it? Seriously. Is that an option?

So, this year I decided to face February will a battle plan of sorts, a list of things to choose from to help make this month a little less dreary and a little easier to get through while we all hold on until spring, when the sunshine finally breaks up the winter, and the trade winds save us from ourselves.

Okay, that might be a little bit dramatic, but February does that to me and melancholy is my natural inclination anyway. See why I need a plan?

Making it through February: a plan

Plan - change up some of the lessons Because if I am getting tired of the same routine it affects my teaching and my teaching affects my kids and my kids affect me, an infinite loop recipe if ever there was.

Luckily, February gives us some opportunities to change up the lesson plan and have some learning outside of our normal curriculum.
This is a good month for doing unit studies and independent projects. Shake up the lesson plan a bit, just for a few weeks, and enjoy the chance to focus on some topics or activities that we might not during the other months of the homeschool year.

BUT, under no circumstances am I putting any pressure on myself or the kids to do it all or make everything picture perfect. And, I need to resist the urge for busywork just for the sake of busywork.

Plan - change up some of the routine Some of our clubs begin again in February, after breaking for the end of the year. I think having this change in our weekly routine will be welcome and I know the kids are excited to be back with their friends and the teachers who lead these activities, too.

I've also been thinking that a dedicated time every afternoon for reading sounds like heaven. We read often, but I think a whole house screen-free book date would be a mindful way to make sure free reading is happening for each of us, whether that is read-aloud time for the littles or independent reading for my big kids (and their mama, too).

I'm thinking something like the mid-winter version of Summer Reading challenges would be nice: dedicated time, a tall stack of books, some fun printed bookmarks, and a blank book list waiting to be filled in over the course of the month with the kids' choice of reading materials. A little white-out over the word "Summer" and we're good to go!

    Plan - take some days OFF I'll tell you another way we're going to shake up the routine in February: we're taking Fridays off. Yes, it will mean tacking on four more days at the end of the year in order to get our required 180, but you know what? Totally worth it for a month of three day weekends.


    Plan - comfort food This time of year I crave soups and crusty breads to dip into them and my kids seem to, too. We want oatmeal with lots of toppings, cookies, and roasted meats and veggies. So, I'm giving in to that.

    I haven't done any official research into this, but it is my amateur opinion that bellies full of warm things lead to warm hearts and happier dispositions. I'm convinced we need a month of field research on this.

    We can even incorporate this comfort food craving into our lessons:
    And, as luck and my lackadaisical housekeeping would have it, we have many candy canes leftover from the holidays. Instead of tossing them, I decided to keep them and then some dreary day in February we will make peppermint bark.

    Plan - follow the sun The long, dark mornings don't make for good study sessions. So, if we sleep in later than usual and our school work doesn't begin until very late morning, or even afternoon, I'm okay with that. As long as we're getting the work done and crossing the boxes off of our lists every day, then it really is fine if we put off lessons until the bright, sunny (well, at least sunnier than the dark mornings) part of the day.

    Lessons go better when the sun is streaming through the windows, at least they do at our house, and even if the sun isn't shining it will be nice to relax our schedule a bit.

    Plan - make our own light  And if the cold days of February don't cooperate with us as far as light goes, and let's be honest they probably won't, then we will make our own light. I purposefully left a strand of Christmas lights up around the window in the kitchen after the holidays. I just wasn't ready to let go of that little bit of sparkle.

    I've got a little strand of lights I left up on one of our bookshelves and I'm re-hanging the colorful paper lanterns in our dining room for some bright pops of color and visual reminders that all isn't dark and gloom.

    Plan - don't fill in all of the gaps in the day, allow for space The list loving, habit stacking part of me gets so tempted to fill in our days but space and free time are both very good things, and February is the last month I should be penning in long days full of activities anyway. So we're keeping some squares on the calendar empty and hours in the day unscheduled.

    Plan - remember that low maintenance doesn't mean NO maintenance I struggle with this every season, it seems. I'm pretty simple in my wants and needs, so it is easy to overlook them in favor of squeakier wheels. But I've come to learn that every time I put myself on the back burner for too long, this whole thing falls apart. I get cranky, I get resentful, and the little things that I would ordinarily be able to roll with become the big things. The VERY big things. No one benefits when I put myself last, so I'm making an effort in February to be good to myself.

    Plan - schedule a low key social activity or two, but then give in to the urge to hibernate. This goes along a bit with not filling in all the gaps and allowing for space: as an introverted mama, socialization exhausts me. And I think it honestly takes me a few months after the super busy and social holiday season to recover. So right now, I don't need to be doing very much. This is hibernation time.

    As much as I love my friends and family, I think part of the problem for me in January and February is that I need some time to myself but common thinking tells us the cure for cabin fever is to get out and do, do, do! Play dates and parties and social functions! And those things might very well be the recipe for finding happiness in February if you aren't an introvert like I am. I always regret it when I pack too much in.

    So, this February I'm planning one or two social events that we all really want to participate in and then we're having free and clear weekends. Weekends that are really days off - no sports, so parties, no meetings, no travel. Just time off.

    And that's it, friends: my plan for making it through what is always one of the toughest months of the year for me.

    What about you, courageous sailors? As we face the February doldrums, what are your plans for coping and making it through? How will you steer your ship?

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