Is it hard to be enthusiastic about homeschooling this time of year? It usually is for me and it's hard to be enthusiastic about life in general when the winter blahs set in. This is the Homeschool Sanity Show, the episode where I'll share an idea for maintaining your homeschool and life enthusiasm–an idea that's already changed my life.
Why We Lose Our Homeschool Enthusiasm This Time of Year
January doesn't drag me down the way it did in my childhood. I grew up in South Dakota where the cold and snow had a profoundly negative effect on my mood–an effect I didn't understand until spring when I felt like someone had changed my batteries. Winter where I live now involves regular breaks from the cold and gloom. The occasional 60-degree days keep me going.
But winter isn't the only thing that can make us meh about homeschooling. It's also back to the regular routine. The excitement of Christmas break is over. There is a lot of school left before spring. So what do we do?
I used to make curriculum and routine changes for the new year. And these changes helped. But soon the enthusiasm I had for those changes waned too, and we were all fairly bored, hoping to muddle our way through to spring. The seasonal change can make symptoms of depression worse. (Help a son or daughter with depression.)
The Power of Novelty
If you can relate to any of my experience, you may be someone who enjoys novelty as I do. In fact, research suggests that many of us with attention-deficit traits are high in novelty seeking. But it turns out that God created all of us to seek new experiences. When we encounter something new, we get an increase of the reward neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine not only improves symptoms of depression but helps us learn. There are clear benefits of novelty, but we also benefit from the structure of a homeschool routine. I've discussed this on the podcast many times. If we tried to homeschool in a completely unpredictable fashion, we'd be stressed and our kids would be unhappy.
So, how can we enjoy the benefits of both novelty and structure? Recently our local Christian radio station mentioned a woman whose resolution is to do something new every day this year. Wow! I was instantly sold on this idea, but I had no idea how life-changing it would be from the get go.
Let's break it down. Something new. In Isaiah 43, God proclaims that He is doing a new thing. If God does new things, why shouldn't we? We can enjoy newness in curriculum and schedules and our school space, but as I pondered this woman's resolution, I realized that newness can be so much more.
We can try new activities–especially once. It's low commitment and easier to fit one class or activity into the schedule than a six-week class. I signed up for a one-time, online Native American cooking class and an in-person bookmaking class with a friend this month. I found these activities by searching for class offerings in my area. With YouTube and free online classes and apps, you could try dozens of new activities with your kids. If you find out they're not for you, you've still benefitted from the novelty.
New Options for Activities
We can also try new options for an activity we already enjoy. I like to cook, exercise, and go out to eat. I made scalloped potatoes and ham in my Instant Pot and was astounded that the potatoes need just two minutes cooking time! I am signed up to do a free workout at Row House this week. It's a gym with a guided rowing and strength training workout. I have been to two new restaurants since starting this challenge. I liked one of them a lot and had a delicious dessert at the restaurant I wasn't as crazy about.
If you love music, listen to new genres. Like foreign language learning? Try out another language for free on an app like Duolingo. Enjoy art? Try a new technique.
We can go new places. I started walking outside in colder temperatures this winter for the first time. I am cold phobic, but friend Barb Raveling told me that I just wasn't dressing warmly enough. She was right! I've maintained a positive mood by walking outside even when the temps are in the 30s. This positive experience got me to agree to play tennis with my family in these same cold temps. And I loved it.
When I thought about doing something new daily, I realized that my walks are always in my neighborhood. I started searching for walking trails that aren't far from me. I was surprised to learn that there is a walking trail in a park I've been to dozens of times. But my jaw dropped when I walked the trail and discovered the beauty of a flooded mine. Check my story highlights on HomeschoolSanity on Instagram to see it.
I looked up the popular attractions near me and I've been to most of them during my 20+ years of homeschooling. But there are some I've missed that I can't wait to check out. There are also many events I've never attended. And even before I was seeking out new experiences, I have wanted to take time to go to new hole-in-the-wall places, new shops, and new parks. Now I will make the time to do it.
You can play a sport you already enjoy in a new location. Take a new route to church or co-op. See what Yelp recommends for your area and check out a new place.
Doing something new can also mean new people. The same old activity feels fresh when someone else joins you. My husband agreed to go with me to Row House early in the morning this week. He has never worked out early before and I'n excited to have him join me. Friends of ours who have never played pickleball would like to join us this winter. It will make it a new activity for us, too. I just read about a couple who restored a 305-year-old farmhouse and has been inviting people over. Their guests have raved about feeling welcomed and connected. I realized that inviting new people over for dinner would be a blessing for all of us through the ministry of hospitality.
But new doesn't have to take up more of your time or money. It can also be an attitude. I used to dislike shipping books to customers after my kids were employed elsewhere and couldn't help. Then I started playing funny shows that I've already seen while I shipped. The laughter became associated with shipping and now I enjoy it.
As I walked along the trail that had been right under my nose all these years, I wondered what else I was overlooking. I was reminded of the sign my late sister-in-law had that now hangs on my wall. It says “Some people live like nothing is a miracle and some people live like everything is.” My sister-in-law was the latter and I want to be, too.
You've done the laundry a million times, but have you ever done it while praising God for the blessing of family and clothing and laundry machines and hot, running water? Have you done it while singing your heart out to your favorite praise song? Have you gotten up and danced? Have you turned it into a game with your kids? If not, that can be your new attitude. Are there things you've been afraid to try? It can be as small a matter as being willing to try anchovies or as major as speaking or performing in public. Either way, your new attitude will slowly chip away at your anxiety, giving you a new enthusiasm for life.
Daily, Weekly, Seasonally
That's the new–new activities, new options for old activities, new places, new people, and a new attitude. But what about the every day part? A couple of my friends said it would drive them crazy to come up with something new to do every day. Me? I love it. It's a challenge which also motivates me as a strong-willed person. I have something to look forward to every day, which improves my mood significantly. I have a list of options on my phone that I add to daily. If one option doesn't work out, I have plenty of others to choose from.
But you don't have to do something new daily to enjoy the benefits. What if you had a goal of a new activity every week? If you choose that approach, my advice is to plan it early in the week or early in the weekend, so you're more likely to do it. Or have a set day of the week for the new activity with backup options.
Yet another approach is a seasonal bucket list. I recommended creating a Christmas bucket list on an Instagram reel and advised posting it where your kids could see it. I took my own advice and posted mine on the fridge. My kids who were home for Christmas are 17 and up and they were all interested in the list and wanting to check off the activities. They were more excited about it than I was! Whether you do something new daily, weekly, or seasonally, get your kids involved. They will look forward to it, be more enthusiastic about school, and will make memories with you that you'll all treasure.
I have some guidelines for my approach. I won't count new clothes, books, or exercise routines in the usual places. You'll want to create your own guidelines. I plan to do something new every day in 2023. I don't know if I will continue in 2024, but I may not have to. I've already noticed a new curiosity and enthusiasm for life that I think will be a lasting result of this challenge. I would love to have you join me. I'm posting in my Instagram stories daily with the hashtag #neweveryday. I would love to see the new things you're doing and be inspired by your ideas.
If you're interested in a new curriculum, a new approach to productivity, or a new organizing plan, I can help.
Have a happy homeschool week!