The Christmas parties ended, the gifts unwrapped, and the holiday decorations stowed in the attic all signal that January has arrived. It is time to start the long slog through deep winter to joyful spring. While some relish the cold and pearly glimmer of the frozen ground, not a few families need a recharge for their homeschool, mine especially. In the infant year’s short, dark days, where can refreshment, inspiration, and direction be discovered? Often I look to food, friends, and good books for help. My household, heart, and head require some light and cheer while waiting for the ground to reveal its plans for the spring and summer.
Each winter I usually begin with cheering the household environment to battle the bleak winter days. In the Butler home, food is an integral feature of our day-to-day life. I have found that preparing and eating colorful foods lifts our moods. Pickled beets, roasted carrots with ginger, and steamed green peas invite our minds to remember warm spring and summer days when we harvested the veggies. We also like to experiment each year with a new cookbook that highlights a foreign country; it is hard to decide if the pictures of the faraway lands or of the exotic spices and ingredients are the most encouraging. This winter we have been learning how to cook with fire-engine-red peppers and lemon grass. Not only does the Thai food look beautiful on our plates, but the odors in the kitchen excite even the most starch-fatigued belly! One other way to care for our home has been to focus on deep cleaning one room in the house each month of winter, that way our spring cleaning is a much shorter task and we can spend more time outside warming ourselves in the sunlight.
Sometimes loneliness makes the short winter days seem longer than they are. Fellowship with friends over a short good book works on the emotions like a warm fire on cold toes. One of my favorite short books right now is Something Beautiful for God from Challenge II. Something Beautiful for God opened the door for my friends and I to talk about some deep heart issues that we had each been wrestling with alone over the past few months. Now we wrestle together. January also presents the perfect opportunity to begin a new Bible reading plan. Have you and your family tried reading a chapter of Proverbs a day? With thirty-one chapters, you and your children can be filled with Solomon’s wisdom regularly and repeatedly for the entire year. Finally, to lead our hearts to warmer days, we begin planning the spring garden. Conversations about choosing among the many strawberry varieties or planting the perfectly spherical variety of carrots are sure to ignite a lively discussion about the propriety of genetic engineering. If gardening is not your interest, perhaps beginning to plan a vacation or creating a summer activity wish list would also warm the heart. Often, the most important aspect about these conversations is the reminder that it will not always be cold, wet, and silent. Spring is coming.
The third area where we try to introduce a little cheer is our minds. In the Butler home, we love to read book series, especially in the winter when barefooted outside play is unfathomable. Consider starting a family read-aloud of a book series, perhaps the Little Britches series from Challenge B for younger listeners. For older listeners, you could try the cosmos trilogy that begins with Out of the Silent Planet from Challenge II. As the lead teacher of our homeschool, I have two tasks that I try to accomplish in January’s winter stillness. The first is to implement one new teaching strategy that I might have heard about or seen from the summer or fall. This year I plan to start using a teaching journal to help me improve my self-assessment. The journal process looks like this: after a day of teaching, quickly jot down one thing that went well and one thing that could be improved next time. To further reflect on the bit of improvement, I might brainstorm a few specific ways to do something differently. Finally, contemplating a plan for the semester with some specific goals and assessments will close out my time waiting for the garden to show me it is time to plant again in the spring.
Some folks need watering in the heat of summer, while others of us wilt in the cold. In these days of intense homeschooling, I am most grateful for those good things God has given me on this journey. While tending and keeping my household, heart, and head, I am thankful I do not have to wait for my friends, family, and favorite books to rise from the earth. They are living and growing all winter long.