Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Fighting the April Doldrums

April is such a nice time of year. It’s when the change of season kicks in, and somehow everything seems new again……unless you’re a homeschooling parent suffering from the April doldrums. Then April may also bring overwhelming boredom with the routine you’ve been in for months.

To make matters worse, there’s the added pressure of May being just around the corner, with its science fairs, project fairs, scout events, Sunday school ceremonies, graduations…you get the picture.

We can talk about May next month, but for now let’s think about why April can be the pinnacle of hum-drum for the homeschooler. Judging from my own experience and the comments I hear from some homeschooling moms, one major cause of April doldrums is becoming bored with the books and routine that we’ve been using all year.

Let’s face it, the stuff we’re using (with a few exceptions) looked a whole lot more exciting last spring at the homeschool convention vendor hall than it does right now. Our hopes and dreams of how any given book or resource would work with our child has now been touched (or tainted?) by reality. The thrill is gone.

We need to remember that there’s no law that says our children must finish an entire book by May or June. That’s an idea that comes from our school experience, but even the schools don’t always finish the books by summer vacation. That explains why I never learned about World War II during my entire K-12 experience; we always ran out of school year before we got to the end of the history books. Somewhere around World War I, we hit June, and that was that. So if you and your child are bogging down in a boring book, cut it loose! It’s not against the law to do so.

Some homeschooling moms have another problem: their child raced through the textbook already. I’ve had moms ask me what math book I recommend that they buy to keep their child busy through June, now that the child has finished the Grade X textbook. I always tell them not to start with another math book until fall, unless they plan on doing school through the summer (which is not a bad idea, by the way). Instead, I suggest taking a break from math, or whatever the subject is that they’ve “finished.” The child did the work; now let her have fun doing something else.

The April doldrums can be overcome by changing your routine and the books that you use. If you’ve run out of books (i.e. your child is done with them), that’s not a bad thing, but an opportunity. Consider it permission for you to try something new.

What might you try? How about a different type of homeschooling? If you’ve been using a formal curriculum, why not try unit studies for a month? Maybe you’ve always been curious about the Charlotte Mason method; a Google search will reveal many Web sites where this method is presented and discussed. You could try a couple of the ideas you find at those sites.

Or if your children have a full slate of activities planned for May, such as those I listed above, maybe you should try a month of unschooling. Let your children have a break from formal studies for a while.

Spring is the perfect time for relaxed studies. Grab a bucket and a magnifying glass and take your brood to a local park with a pond, or near a river. Scoop up a bucket of water, and let everyone observe what’s going on in it. Check out the changes in the trees and landscaping. Spread out a blanket, have a picnic, and then let everyone sketch their surroundings.

Too cold for a picnic? Declare a free reading day! Bring home an armful of read-aloud books from the public library to read to younger children, and let older children choose something that will keep their attention for a while.

What about a game day? Dig out any fun educational games you have (borrow some from friends if you need to) and spend a stormy spring morning playing them. One of the few thrills I recall from my many years of public school boredom was when our teacher split the class into two teams and we played baseball. The four corners of the room were bases, and we scored runs by answering a math question or spelling a word correctly. You can do the same thing at home if you have several children, or you can import a few of your children’s friends so you have enough kids to make teams. Be sure to ask age-appropriate questions so that every batter has a good chance for a run.

Whatever you decide to do to change your routine is not as important as actually following through on your decision. It will be good for your children and you to try some new activities, and it will help you escape those April doldrums. It will also help you rest up before May, which has become one of the busiest months of the year for many homeschoolers.

And who knows? Maybe by trying something new in April, you’ll decide you prefer your new way of doing things and you’ll want to stick with it. That happens to many homeschoolers; they start out educating more formally, and they slowly become more relaxed. That’s what happened to me, and it’s one of the reasons I’m still at it after nearly twenty years. Maybe trying something new this month will help you and your family in the long run, too.

Copyright 2007 Barbara Frank/Cardamom Publishers

Note: this post was first published in this month's issue of "The Imperfect Homeschooler" newsletter. Free subscription here.

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