Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Combating the January Blahs

My Uncle Max always had the “January Blahs.” As a child, I remember him calling after Christmas and asking, “Do you have the January Blahs?” Little did he know how apropos the term would be in my life 30 years later as a homeschooling parent. The question really is: does anyone not have the January Blahs? Is anyone really gung-ho (now there’s a weird word, and by the way, it comes from the Chinese word gonghe, meaning “work together,” and was adopted by U.S. Marines during WWII) about re-starting everything in January?

January is made for reading books by the fireplace after playing in the snow. Candlelight, afghans, warm bread and hot soup. That sounds lovely; however, the reality is my children don’t want to sit by the fireplace and read all day (also, the fireplace is currently out of commission); candles make me nervous when children are bouncing around; my kids really don’t like soup; and I don’t bake bread much. We don’t have snow, but it’s too gray and dismal to be outside half the time. I long to be snowed in.

I’ve found that the best way to combat the Blahs is to add some serious variety into the school day. All the regular diversions are great, such as Play-dough, pattern blocks, and puzzles, but here are a selection of other activities that help us all ward off the winter doldrums:

1. Random science experiments. Forget your normal science guides and just do experiments. We get the Sonlight science kits each year, and we always have leftover supplies. I just let them spread out the stuff, which might include everything from cotton balls to circuit systems, and let them do their own thing. Also, my younger ones love to just mix stuff up: baking soda and vinegar, plus food coloring, dish soap, etc. Here’s a fun one: cover the bottom of a pie plate (preferably glass) with milk or cream (doesn’t work as well with skim milk). Put in a few drops of food coloring. Now, very carefully, add a few drops of dish detergent –and watch the kaleidoscope

2. Army guy rescue. Fill a plastic cup (preferably clear) with water, and drop in an army guy or other small plastic toy. Freeze until solid. Send the kids outside with a chisel or paint scraper (or other such tool) and let them chisel out the army guy.

3. Marshghettis: Give them a bunch of uncooked spaghetti (regular works better than thin) and mini-marshmallows and challenge them to build a bridge, an animal, a building, etc. They’ll get carried away with this one. You’ll even be able to write a blog, read a book, or—if you must—prepare dinner while they create. Also serves as snack time.

4. What’s that Smell? Put a few drops or sprinkles of several strong-smelling substances (e.g., vanilla or lemon extract, garlic, various spices, chocolate, tea bags, perfume, etc.) on Kleenxes and put them into individual Ziplocs. Let the kids guess what they smell is. (Make sure you’ve coded it somehow so you’ll know.)

5. What’s that thing? Put an object into a brown lunch sack or pillowcase. Have the kids feel it and try to figure out what it is.

6. Games. Board games, card games, whatever. Inserting a game into the middle of the school day does something wonderful to their whole day. It doesn’t have to be a 2-hour game of Monopoly; even a 10-minute game of Crazy 8s somehow lightens up the Blahs. See my post on games for a few of our favorites.

7. Field Trips. Just one special field trip in the midst of winter can satisfy for weeks. Too many field trips stress me out, but we all look forward to an out-of-the-usual-realm outing every few weeks. (I don’t count regular activities—Scouts, enrichment classes, sports, etc.—as field trips!)

8. Order of the Queen: This is a special edict issued by the Queen, whereas the day is declared “Game Day,” “Baking Day,” “Movie Day,” or such. No regular schoolwork is allowed. Print this out in an Old English-type font and roll up as a scroll to be opened at the usual start of school (if you have such a thing).

My goal is to add a few of these blah-combats during the week. One a day is overly ambitious for me, and I've learned to set my goals at a more realistic speed. Too much fun, after all, can become mundane...

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