Preventing & Treating the Homeschool Winter Blues

It is time to address the homeschooling trend of winter slumps. Why do I call it a trend? Because it has been popularized, and everyone seems to want to jump on that bandwagon in January, or February at the latest. It allows us to be victims, winter, the cruel tormenter.

Being a victim lets us off the hook, we don’t have to face ourselves in the mirror and be accountable. Not that I think the root of the Ominous Winter Slump is laziness, far from it. Before we can talk about how to banish the homeschool winter blues we need to talk about the underlying cause.

The most common cause of homeschool winter blues

What I see mom after mom fall into during the winter is the exhaustion of an imbalanced schedule. Crazy, wonderful expectations. Planning to cram in all the good stuff that there is, because, well, it’s good! If we really look deep, it is so often trying to do all these wonderful things that make our homeschooling time something less than wonderful. Something we want desperately to avoid.

We cling to our list of must-do beautiful things precisely because it is so pretty. Not because it is necessary and not because it creates beauty in our hearts, homes, and children. I experienced this slump a few times, and have known countless people who experience it yearly, or worse, are in that slump all the time. They want to enjoy homeschooling, but they don’t, and they can’t figure out why.

Are you so attached to the idea of what you should be able to do in a day, that you never stop feeling guilty? You do a lot of great things with your kids, but are you missing out on one of the important parts of being a mom, joy? Being full of joy, loving what you do, and showing our children by example how to be happy is one of the most important tasks of motherhood. We show them how to love the life you’ve got. Even when it is exactly the life you wanted, and also when it isn’t.

Yes, some days are hard. But when every day is hard it is usually a mindset issue. It’s time to banish the homeschool winter blues.

What can we do to change how we think about our winter days?

1. Let go.

Write down a list of all the things you feel guilty about. Then circle no more than three things you want to work on changing. (Hint: any attitudes of not wanting to do school should be on the list and circled). Dig deep, take some time to reflect on what is on the list and why. Is there a big picture issue that is more abstract that you forgot to put down? Making a list of the reasons you don’t want to move forward with your day may help you dig deeper. Don’t forget your kids; are they having attitude issues that are exhausting you? Focusing on the details of what we aren’t doing is usually a self-distracting mechanism to hide our bigger faults. Take a deep breath and let the guilt go, you don’t have room for it in your life. If you really want to have the time and energy to work on the three things you circled, you have to let go of the rest.

2. Create a realistic schedule.

This is the best way to prevent winter schedules, if you can force yourself to acknowledge the realities of time in summer, when you are crafting your schedule or routines for the next year, you can glide through winter without hitting a wall.

Add or Subtract from your homeschool routines as needed

Keeping your guilt list in mind, you can add in no more than those three things you circled. Time is fixed, subtract what you need to. (This may be a lot, depending on how many great things you planned for in the fall.) Take a deep breath and let the rest go.

Quit thinking that the more goodness and beauty you cram in, the better a mom you are. Empty spaces are pretty too. The point is to craft a schedule that lends itself to peace. We cannot expect peace if we don’t plan peaceful days. Days spent trying to do too many things, and also feeling guilty for all the other things we didn’t even have time to try to do, are not peaceful days. Go back to the three R’s for a while if you need to. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are beautiful in and of themselves, and education focusing on becoming great at these three things is not lacking.

Sometimes we need to add in something fun or beautiful, other times we just need to take a few things out or shorten the time spent on a certain subject to get our days balanced again.

3. Be consistent.

Once you have that realistic routine, the one you know that you can complete no matter how bad the day gets, do it. Do it every day without exceptions. Start at the same time every day. It doesn’t matter what time that is, but it needs to be consistent. We get caught up in our own freedom sometimes and hurt ourselves by allowing too many choices. Your routine is your choice. You created it, it is a serene place where what you want to do and what you can do meet and shake hands.

Your freedom was to find and craft that place, now to stay free you need to choose to quit looking at all the other places you could have chosen. Be in the space you chose. It is time to create peace by being consistent with your own choices. Skipping school on a whim creates an unnecessary burden for you because then you wake up every day and must decide if you are going to skip or not. I am not saying you can’t take a sick day. But the magic of consistency is real, peeps. Embrace that magic.

For help creating realistic routines check out Avoiding Overwhelm from the Inside Out.

I was sick just this week and did we all miss two days of school because mom was sick? No, because my older kids (ages 10, 11, 13, and 14) know what to do. They do it every day, so they got up and did everything they were supposed to, not because they are angels, but because habits are really that strong. It was easier for them to wake up and do what they do every day. This meant only my 7 and 8 year olds, who still need direct instruction from me, missed school. This also meant mom could relax while sick. There was no excess pestering and begging, which tend to happen a lot when kids don’t know what to do with themselves. I am not bragging here, I just want you to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and for those of you whose kids are all still young, this is a future luxury to look forward to. So, when you are tempted to skip without cause, just remember what you want your future day to look like.

(Disclaimer: it is perfectly normal if your 10 or 11-year-olds are not working independently yet…it depends on the kid and is not something we can rush them into…it happens somewhere between the ages of 10 and 13, in my experience.)

Avoiding and treating the homeschool winter blues is mostly about being responsible for our time, attitudes, and expectations. We just need to get back in the driver’s seat of our own lives and make our days what we want them to be. The hardest part is often accepting that our days will never be perfect, and that is ok. But even imperfect days can be beautiful and even in the winter, if we start counting all the things that are good, the list of things that are bad will begin to shrink in comparison.

If we want responsible kids, we need to be responsible ourselves. That doesn’t mean feeling guilty when we fail. It means letting go of guilt about things that don’t matter, living within the parameters of time, which is actually a gift, and doing what we set out to do with joy in our hearts.

8 Responses

  1. Roxanne says:

    What great advice! I have definitely been guilty of letting the “winter slump” take over in the past, and it is something I work very hard at overcoming now. I have realized that it is ok to let go of some of the smaller things and focus on the important. I have been sick for over a week now, and my children (10, 12, 14) had a reality check when they didn’t get a free pass! They thought they should have the week off, but realized just how capable they are to complete their work on their own (or with helping each other out a little bit). Thank you for sharing.

  2. Annette says:

    Good advice to such as holding ourselves accountable.

  3. Carol says:

    Being realistic is so important! It’s not usually the homeschool that suffers around here, but the housework during the winter slump. So this morning we called a all-hands-on-deck to get the house back in order. It is so much nicer this afternoon to se the floors again! 🙂

  4. Kristen says:

    Great tips - a simple schedule and consistency are key!

  5. Kym says:

    We call them the “winter blahs” and they usually hit our home in February. We struggle to stay motivated and to persevere. I try to change up our routine a little bit or indulge in a fun break from school to shake us out of the doldrums, and then we pull up our bootstraps and get back to work.

  6. Andrea says:

    Thank you so much for this. I have been in a funk with my child not wanting to do school and it’s getting me down. These tips are just what I needed to see! Especially the part about being consistent. We have had so many interruptions lately that we have completely veered off course. I realize I need to be more diligent in keeping a routine to prioritize school.

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