Let Mothers Go Out to Play
Updated: Feb 7
By Judith Jolma
If January and February had an anthem, it would be “I’m so burned out!” Homeschool mothers everywhere sing the mournful hymn in chorus. Why? Year after year, we fail to learn the lessons of the season.
Let every day combine the beauty of spring, the brightness of summer, the abundance of autumn, and the repose of winter, prayed Thomas Aquinas.
The phrase “repose of winter” always strikes me. In our age of artificial light and noise, we seldom experience the profound lesson of death nature teaches in winter. But if we connect with the stillness of the season we learn that all creation invites us into rest. Cradle your mug and settle in by a window, thankful for indoor heat. Beyond that glass, all is brown, gray, gloomy and cold. At first glance it appears hostel to life. Dead grass. Trees stand naked -- barron sticks without leaf, fruit or flower. Looks are deceiving.
Just under the surface of the frozen earth, the dormant roots gain strength. Sap rushes beneath the
bark flowing with the season’s sweetness. Snowy blankets prevent man’s planting and toiling, “Be still,” it would say could the season speak. No time is wasted. Not even rest. Not even death. Under the snow, the earth drinks a gentle, steady melting drip. Rest. Rest. It is dark. The days are short. Creation itself prevents labor. Rest. It is the only way to prepare for the rebirth of a fruitful spring.
Invite this lesson of rest -- the repose of winter -- into your home and see how it transformers your homeschool.
“If mothers could learn to do for themselves what they do for their children when these are overdone, we should have happier households. Let the mother go out to play!” --Charlotte Mason.
Oh, the wisdom of Charlotte Mason who knew how much better we would be for our children if we would only embrace a laughter-filled life and rest when our bodies are fatigued. When a small child fusses, rubs his droopy eyes or tantrums with over stimulation, we cradle them, put them down to rest or send them out to the fresh air. But mothers do the opposite for themselves.
Over generations the Scandinavian cultures have learned this lesson well. After all, nature’s lessons are hard to escape in far northern countries.These rugged people who live where darkness dominates the frigid, barren landscape, have learned a culture of “hygge.” Being far more than a word, “hygge,” (or “hyggelig”) is Danish for “cozy.” It is a whole philosophy of life. Encompassing a feeling of contentment and well-being found through cherishing the little things. This ancient way of a cozy life has sustained the Scandinavian cultures teaching them to create comfort, pleasure, and warmth in simple, soothing things. They know that in the dark repose of winter mental health depends upon a cozy atmosphere or the feeling of friendship.
Here are a few practical tips to embrace hygge and overcome winter blues:
1) TAKE A LONG WINTER BREAK
My secret weapon to overcome burnout is -- quit! Okay, not really. But we do take a long winter break. Why? Because nature itself is telling us to rest this time of year and we are wise to pay attention. In the holiday rush, there are plenty of learning opportunities packed into every-day life. Baking cookies offers training on executive function, use of fractions, reading and following instructions. This exercise alone is a living story problem. Why should I feel pressure to do what is in the textbook when I already did it in the kitchen? The same is true with crafts (if you are the crafty sort). In fact, every holiday activity that I can think of, offers an academic opportunity. With all this real-world learning at your fingertips, why not put the textbooks down for a month?
Often, I will arrange our school year to begin in September, “break” from Thanksgiving through New Year, and resume again in January -- those cold dark days when it is good to spend hours indoors reading by the fire.
We take another long break for Lent. This usually begins in March and continues for 40 days. Like Advent, Lent is filled with non-textbook learning opportunities. Our church offers many special services throughout the whole 40 days, and we try to attend as many as possible. There are crafts for the kids, charity outreaches, discussion of iconography, opportunities to learn new Greek and Latin phrases related to the religious season, and so much more. Although it appears we are on break because we are not cracking the books every day, we are piling on the knowledge. We resume textbook work again with renewed energy after Easter (Pascha as we call it) and work through the spring rains. Some years we then work through the summer. Other years, we consider our garden or other outdoor activities our education.
This routine is very effective in preventing burnout from taking hold. Why? Because we are not white-knuckling the textbook grind for nine months out of every year. We are living in cooperation with the natural rhythm of life and it often does not even feel like work.
2) BEAT CABIN FEVER: WORK AT THE LIBRARY
But even with the long breaks, January and February are still difficult months simply because of the cold, dreary days indoors. My magic weapon to combat cabin fever is to work at the library at least once a week. It does wonders to inspire focus and end squabbles among siblings. After all, kids tend to be better behaved in public. So before bed, pack up their backpacks, wake early and feed everyone a nutritious breakfast, then brave the cold drive to the neighborhood library.
Find a child-sized table and get to work. You'll be amazed by how the kids think this to be a delightful adventure and are far more willing to cooperate and engage. If you have a toddler, it is especially helpful since many libraries have a toddler section filled with age-appropriate toys. If you can sit at a table with the older children and work out of your textbooks while the tots explore all the new plushies and puzzles available for them, you may be surprised by how much focused work you are able to accomplish before lunch. You will probably even be home in time for naps having completed all assignments.
3) PHYSICAL ACTIVITY IS KEY -- IN-DOOR SWIM LESSONS, ANYONE?
Another cause of the winter blues comes down to a lack of physical activity. That is why indoor swim lessons in January is such a great activity -- especially when mom can soak in the hot tub while the kids enjoy lessons. But if you do not have an indoor rec center nearby, do try to find one physical outlet for the family -- rock climbing, gymnastics, ice skating. The opportunities are out there. Keep their little bodies in motion to keep their attitudes in tune.
4) THE WINTER SURPRISE BOX
Plan ahead for burnout. When buying your school material in July, pack a small suitcase full of dollar store goodies. Put it away until you see the kids burning out on spelling tests and essays -- usually in January or February. Then pull it out and offer to let them choose one treat for each passed test, completed paper, or mastered arithmetic concept. It’s renewed motivation and the kids love it.
5) STORY TIME AND GAME NIGHT
Nothing embraces hygge culture like playing games or telling stories by the fire after a comforting meal. We all know how important it is to read to our children, but games are equally beneficial to their critical thinking skills. I use board games as an after-lunch “break” activity. The kids don’t know that I am actually putting the work they do on “break” on their work plan. It is also a wonderful evening activity to enjoy by the fire. This is when you simply hang out. Some family members opt to draw, some opt to read, others are building LEGO, or you may all be cooperating on a long strategy game. Who could get burned out while relaxing? If you have older kids whose social development demands more time with friends, invite several families to join you for a game night on a regular basis -- once a week, twice a month or maybe just once a month. These are powerful learning opportunities and create rich memories, too.
7) PLAN A PARTY
Hospitality is an important skill and it sure can create good memories. So plan a party for no reason. Let the kids get involved in who to invite, what to do and planning the menu. Don’t make it just a kid’s party. Invite whole families. Let the kids play with their friends while mom and dad satisfy their own social needs. Fill your emotional and social cup! There is nothing like having the house buzz with the din of conversation and laughter.
8) EMBRACE THE KITCHEN LOVE
If you have the disposition to be patient with messes and mistakes, cooking with children is an ideal winter activity to fend off burnout. Fill the house with the comforting smell of simmering stew, baking banana bread, or chocolate chip cookies. The lessons learned in the kitchen are every bit as important as what is in the textbook and far more tasty. Food is at the heart of community, family and comfort. Let it heal your gloom and form the family culture.
Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned over the years about overcoming burnout is that self-care is so much more than a bubble bath. While it can be nice to get away with the girls and leave the family with a sitter, our greatest comfort and strength comes from finding joy in the work itself. Transform the mundane, cooped-up grind of winter school into a cozy, laughter-filled space wafting with soothing aromas from the kitchen and the warmth of the fire. You may find the repose of winter becomes the best part of the year.
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