Friday, February 3, 2012

A Fresh Start in the Middle of the Year


For those who homeschool on a more traditional schedule, January is the middle of the school year. And no matter what the calendar says, I’m convinced that February is the longest month of the year. Nevertheless, we can take steps towards a fresh start even at this juncture. Now is a great time to refocus on our objectives—while our minds are all ready focused on losing the same ten pounds we lose every January, and we’re in the starting-over mindset. Let’s take a look at three areas in which we can reestablish our beginning-of-the-school-year goals: curricula, clutter, and character.

Let’s tackle curricula first. Yes, I mean the new math program we were sure would turn our little darlings into Albert Einstein miniatures. Is that new math program really working or would it be better to pull out the good old standby that has a proven track record? While it may not be the easiest time of year to try to sell used curricula, it is the right time of year to start a to-sell bin. If it didn’t work this year, chances are that it won’t work next year.

What about all those cool extras that we were sure we would be able to squeeze into our already-overcrowded academic days? If it’s still collecting dust on the top shelf, put it in that to-sell bin. Don’t think of it as wasting money, think of it as seed money (after you sell it, anyway) for next year’s curricula list.

Next we’re ready for my favorite category to organize: clutter. Some people have every stray Christmas hand towel and ornament tucked away in matching red Rubbermaid bins by New Year’s Day. Others of us are still finding turkey fridge magnets and glittery bows as we get out the Valentine’s Day decorations—not to mention must-have toys that turned out to be not all that.

The perfect time to declutter our seasonal decorations is when we’re boxing up our them up. Trash the broken ornaments, the ugly centerpieces, and the faded wreaths. This time of year is the most cost-effective time to invest in new storage, if need be. Mass retailers currently have season-specific storage solutions on, which is the only reason that my Christmas decorations are all stored in red and/or green plastic containers. As a side note, color coding makes it easier to figure out which bins need to come down from the attic for each season. When you’re shopping for storage, though, don’t give in to the urge to purchase all new decorations just because they’re on sale. That defeats the purpose of decluttering!

“Out with the old, in with the new,” goes the old saying. If your kids’ grandparents are anything like mine (my in-laws at least), then you know that Christmases and birthdays bring in a plethora of new toys, games, and DVDs. While some of the new items lose their appeal the day after the wrapping paper has been ripped off, some of them really do earn a spot in the limelight. Now, while our kids’ attention is on their new stuff, is the time to weed through their old toys and games. Start a yard sale bin for things in good condition, a give-away box for items that can go to the less fortunate, and a BIG trash bag for toys that are broken, games with missing pieces, and videos that got eaten by the VCR.

While we’re in the decluttering mode, let’s go through our papers, too. First the obvious: trash old invitations, expired coupons, and finished magazines. Next the less obvious: academic papers that multiply like dust bunnies. Remember those portfolios that we were going to set up in September for samples of our children’s school work? Now’s the time to start them for real. Can’t remember the details? Review my column in the July/August 2011 Home School Enrichment magazine. The basics are to just keep a few of each subject, to sort them by child and by topic, and to file them in a binder every few weeks.

Last, but certainly not least, let’s talk about making a fresh start with our character development. Like Paul in Philippians 3, I do not count myself as having arrived. I start each new school year with good intentions of being more patient, more flexible, and more godly as a homeschool mom. About this time every year, though, I find myself exhausted and ready for June. The problem is that June is still six months away. Instead of letting this area slide—again—let’s regroup and start over. It’s the perfect time of year to take a deep breath, say yes to an unscheduled field trip, and to start each school day with devotions—again. Let’s say with Paul, “I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me” (Philippians 3:12, NKJV). We need to practice what we preach to our kids in this department. I don’t know about you, but I’m guilty of holding my kids to a higher standard than I want to impose on myself. We just need to remember that good character traits are caught more than they are taught.