We started back to school cheerfully enough. Our first couple weeks rolled right along, and I started to pat myself on the back for the fact that we had missed the Dreaded Winter Slump this year. Then the clouds rolled in. The kids started fighting. The basement―with its swings, slide, and giant exercise ball―had to be banned because of rule breaking (and furniture breaking). The temperature dropped, then rose, then dropped again, leading to blocks of solid ice clogging the streets and playgrounds. Mama stayed up too late one night, we skipped lessons one day, and the next day the whining “Do we HAVE to do school?!” started up.
In Volume 1: Home Education, Charlotte Mason focuses Parts III and IV on habits. What is a habit? How does it affect our brains? How do we make them and how do we break them? It’s an interesting read, and I would encourage each of us to visit (or revisit) those pages.
I’m working on a two-pronged approach for beating the Dreaded Winter Slump.
First and foremost, I need a thought overhaul. Charlotte Mason reminds us that we think the way we're used to thinking, whether that's grace or resentment. We already know how much our thought patterns―for better or worse―change the way we see and interpret our lives. Instead of seeing the child struggling with her multiplication as an opportunity to encourage, love and show grace, I tell myself that she’s lazy, she should have it down by now, and maybe she’s dawdling on purpose because she just doesn’t want to do it. These patterns of thought can become so habitual that I fall into them without even realizing it.
What’s the solution? It’s simple enough to understand, though not always easy to carry out. “To put it in an old form of words―the words of Thomas á Kempis―what seems to me the fundamental law of education is nor more than this: ‘Habit is driven out by habit.’” (Vol. 2, p.85) In that spirit, there are a few specific thought habits that I am working on:
- Replace the idea of “a slog” by remembering why we decided to homeschool in first place. What hopes and ideals set us on this course? Every time the thought of a distasteful duty comes into my mind, I will remind myself of the truth: that teaching my kids is a privilege, albeit a challenging one.
- Reject the idea of “obligation” by bringing back the fun. What do we love most about learning together? What makes homeschooling a privilege instead of a chore? For us, that means getting back to Morning Time together, with our family read alouds and poetry, rather than jumping right into lessons in the morning. I think it might also mean more music, and even a few folksong dance parties between lessons.
Second, address the physical. Mason reminds us, “And, once more, physical conditions come into force. The puny, feeble child and the sturdy urchin who never ails must necessarily differ from one another in the strength of their desires and emotions.” (Vol. 1, p.102) For our purposes, we might paraphrase this as “a poorly-rested, poorly-fed mother with low adrenal function and a sedentary lifestyle will have a difficult time showing her best self to her family.”
- Get out and play. Mason was onto something when she said the children need to get outside every day they can. Fresh air and movement change my whole attitude, even if we aren’t out for a long time. This week, we have started each day with a walk. In case you didn’t know, it’s COLD in Colorado! Monday I forgot my hat, Tuesday was grey and gloomy, and yesterday Tiger’s scooter kept breaking down. All that said, it’s still been a great way to start our day. Everyone comes back feeling calmer and more agreeable. Although we finish later than we would if we had started school promptly at 9am, the change in attitudes is worth it.
- Take care of me, even when I don’t want to. I get that there are things we can’t control. (I haven’t forgotten, when I had three kids under 5, how tempting it was to smack the next person who told me, “Sleep when the baby sleeps. Laundry and meals will wait.” Yes ma’am, but the toddler flushing my car keys down the toilet won’t wait. Ahem...) But what about the things that I can control? I can turn off the screens in the evening. I can admit that staying up late isn’t doing me any favors, even if it IS the only time I get to be alone. I can prep some quality snacks, so that I can easily choose something nourishing the next time a craving hits.
- Check the schedule. The fact that I made a plan in September doesn’t mean that I am enslaved to that plan in February. Does something need revamping, rearranging, or just plain jazzing up?
- Respect the seasons. I don’t know if anyone else experiences this, but we don’t feel particularly social in this part of the winter. After the Christmas and New Year bustle, I get an overwhelming urge to step back and stay home. It’s almost like we need to recenter around the family unit. Instead of feeling guilty for that, or resentful as I head off to a meeting that I don’t really want to go to, I’m going to lay off on the social calendar a little and give us the down time we need to read, craft, and play in our own front yard.
I laid out my plan, but maybe those tips aren’t what you need. Keeping the principle that “habit drives out habit” in the forefront of our minds, we can come up with limitless ways to tackle the Dreaded Winter Slump. What about you? Has the DWS hit your house? How are you planning on re-energizing for the rest of the school year? Share your tip in the comment section; it might be just what someone else needs to hear!