13 Things to Do This Winter

As soon as the weather settles into winter, I can breathe a sigh of relief. According to the calendar (and sometimes nature), there are 13 weeks each in winter, spring, summer, and fall. I’m going to focus on winter because it’s my second favorite season, and because…here it comes!

Week 1: Short Stuff

The shortest day of the year, also the first day of winter (December 21) is a great day to talk about length. Everything on earth can be measured. Spend every day this week exploring one system of measurement (metric, imperial, liquid, weight, time, etc.). Waking up before the sun and marking times for sunrise and sunset can also be fun.

Week 2: Garland Games

In elementary school we used to have something called the Turkey Olympics the week of Thanksgiving, where the classes would compete in Olympic-style games that were all Thanksgiving related. While the family is together for the holidays, create some fun games and put the brains and bodies to use in a healthy competition — indoors and out!

Week 3: NEWsletter

It’s a new year, and so much happened in the last year that children can find it hard to keep up. Instead of holiday cards, consider writing a NEWsletter with your kids. Leave a section on each letter for your kids to write something in their own handwriting or to draw in a box. Send it to everyone you love.

Week 4: Snow and Ice

Even if you don’t live in an area that gets “winter weather,” it’s a great time to explore the water cycle. Go outside and make ice, or make it inside and watch it melt outside. Shoveling snow for family and friends to earn some money is a practical way for your kids to spend this week. Create an opportunity for ice to expand and bust (this is surprising to kids, even if they’ve read it in a book).

Week 5: Animals in Winter

What is hibernation? How do animals cope with the cold? Are there animals that change their eating/hunting habits during winter? What type of animals are in your neighborhood? This is a great time to visit a zoo or nature center.

Week 6: Winter Gardening

Visit the grocery store and show the kids the types of vegetables and plants that can grow in winter. Onions, beets, carrots, and cabbage are only some of the cold weather veggies that you can grow in winter. Find out why they grow in the cold. Start a garden, or plan one for next year.

Week 7: Art & Science

You don’t often see art and science combined, but this will be a week of fun! Dissect fruits and stamp with finger paint to compare shapes. Make homemade flarp or Oobleck, and then use food coloring and glitter to jazz it up however you’d like.

Week 8: Community Service

There is something that needs doing, and you’re going to do it! Before this week begins, ask the city office if there is a need. Many food banks will allow supervised children to volunteer. Animal shelters often ask for children to come in and pet the animals. There is a lot that one family can do for a community in one week.

Week 9: Stargaze

If you live within driving distance of a planetarium, this would be a great winter field trip. If not, this is the best time of year to view the stars. If you live in the city, drive out for a night in the country and enjoy an endless starry sky — maybe catch a glimpse of Mercury, Venus, and Mars while you’re at it.

Week 10: History and Commerce

Valentine’s Day happens because of a historical event. Do you know it? Maybe you don’t want to explain the gory details to your kids just yet, but there are many historical reasons that we have the things we have and do the things we do. Why do we have clocks in our houses? What did the first clock look like? Explore Valentine’s cards and how mail was sent in colonial days.

Week 11: Making Museums

Science fairs are big in the public school scene. It will be fun to build your own museum exhibit this week. Choose a theme, collect specimens, arrange a display, and go public! Maybe your church will let you display your exhibit in the fellowship hall. (Sample ideas: Waldenses, creation, science God’s way, etc.)

Week 12: Creative Cooking

During cold weather people like to eat hearty meals — comfort food. It’s a great time to utilize your crockpot. Most the time we don’t let our kids help us in the kitchen because of the hot surfaces and sharp utensils. When you cook in a crockpot, the kids have an opportunity to work with cold ingredients and still feel ownership when the meal is served.

Week 13: Spring Cleaning

Is cleaning really a homeschool activity? Yes! And, making a spring cleaning plan that includes family members, goals, rooms, and workdays is basically a math question waiting to be completed.

By the time you’re finished with this list, the weather will start to warm and the school year will be winding down to the last weeks. Keep up the good work!

Good luck to us both!

 

Practical Lessons: Working With Tiny Hands

Usually when the homeschool co-op semester begins, I choose classes that the kids will enjoy, classes that I’m too broke or bored to teach. Lego Art, Messy Munchkin Crafts, Edible Science, and Cupcake Decorating are some of my boys’ favorites. Since I’m trying to monopolize our school time this year, I am opting for more practical co-op classes this semester, classes that I can’t teach and that might help the kids after this year and beyond. These type of classes can be taught with YouTube videos and a few supplies as well.

American Sign Language (ASL)

I cannot teach my kids sign language because I don’t know any language besides English. I jumped at the opportunity to put my first grader in an ASL class, because it is practical, affords the opportunity to interact with other kids, and can lead to career choices later in life. When a hearing child knows sign language, they can be an unexpected blessing to others, so this is a great opportunity.

Hand Sewing

I don’t sew. My husband learned to sew in the Army, so he does all of our family sewing repairs. It’s an incredibly positive influence on my boys. Since Daddy can sew, my eight-year-old was more than happy to take on a sewing class (with a needle and everything). At an age where they cannot do a whole lot to help, how wonderful will it be for him to contribute by sewing on buttons, hemming his pants, and making minor repairs? He’s already excited that his first project is nearly finished and, after missing two weeks of class, he can move onto the next one to catch up with his classmates!

Idle Hands

What are your homeschool kids doing with their hands? As parents and homeschoolers, we so often depend on art to keep our kids’ hands busy. Scissors, penmanship, crayons, paintbrushes — these are all a necessary means to help children develop. As they grow, there are other practical tasks they can do with their hands, skills they can learn.

  • Make crafts to sell for a “book fund” or “field trip.”
  • Build bird houses, towers, or feeders to help the environment.
  • Dust the furniture to help Mom and Dad.
  • Wash dishes (correctly) to help Mom and Dad.
  • Fold laundry.
  • Plant an herb garden to contribute to the pantry.
  • Take up an instrument.
  • Learn to type (stories, letters, news, etc.).

I believe there is a reason that God opened the Bible by proclaiming Himself as Creator. As God, there are many ways He could have described Himself. Jesus Christ worked with His hands as a carpenter, creating. God the Father created the heavens and earth from nothing. We’re created in their image, and I’ve found that no matter what learning type, personality type, or age humans are, they still create. Starting this semester, the Ashworths are going to work with our hands. Starting with sign language and hand-sewing, the sky will be the limit.

 

Outdoor Activities You Can Fall For

My boys are outdoor country boys through-and-through! They wake up and beg to go outside before breakfast is warm and table is set. We coax them into waiting until their bellies are full (and mom and dad are dressed), and in the summer we have to debate about the usefulness of clothes on a young boy as well. When fall swings around, there is no damper on the boys’ excitement for the outdoors, but we do have to change the experience slightly.

Less Sun, Still Fun?

The sunny, warm summers meant the boys could run free morning, noon, and night. They’d come in the house with crickets, grasshoppers, beetles, roly-polies, caterpillars, lady bugs, frogs, lizards, and handfuls of other cringe-worthy organisms. They knew just where to look to find the best critters.

When fall comes around the leaves die, the tiny bugs and reptiles seem to hide, the wind is cold, and the boys grow…bored. Where we used to coax them into staying inside during the hottest parts of the day, now we have to convince them there is something worth finding outside after the first run of the morning. We don’t get much snow in even the deepest months of winter, but in October? Nothing but gusty, brown cold. Mom and Dad have to put on their thinking caps when the seasons change.

Routine, Routine, Routine

The R-word is one I hate, and I’m not fond of that word either. The only thing routine about our family is the places we go through the week at the same time every week: church, taekwando, Celebrate Recovery, my mom’s, repeat. During the winter, if we don’t slip outdoor play into our daily routine, it just won’t happen.

This year I’ll be talking a lot about practical life schooling, which is my focus in my homeschooling with my boys. They’re using an online curriculum for their main academics, which means Mom’s role is practical life application. Part of the challenge will be to include outdoor activities during cold months!

Practical Outdoor Play Made Easy 

First, make sure you know what your kid likes to do outside, how they like to learn, and how they burn their tiny-human energy. If it’s looking for critters (spatial, logical), then maybe they’d also like to look for other forms of wildlife — or proof of wildlife (nests, scratches, tracks, droppings). If your kid likes to dig in the dirt (kinesthetic), maybe he or she would also like to stack firewood, rake leaves — and jump into them — and paint a fence.

Here is my list for this October/November:

  1. Yard Work: Clearing trash, brush, weeds, leaves away so that next year our yard can flourish (and we can enjoy the snow more thoroughly this winter).
  2. Nature Hikes: To find nuts, nests, bones, turtle shells, etc., that point to life in the woods. Also bird-watching is fun this time of year because some leave, and others arrive.
  3. Building and Maintaining a Bird Feeder: Build a bird house or feeder for those winter birds that stick around. Let the kids photograph the birds and make a book that they can add to as seasons change.
  4. Stacking Firewood: Mainly because the kids unstacked our firewood this summer, playing, they can stack it this fall. Discuss fire, responsibility, safety, and gain a little exercise.
  5. Fun Play Ideas: Dodgeball, catch, freeze tag, Olympic competitions, leaf/finger painting, and an internet’s worth of other outdoor activities to choose from.
  6. Star Gazing: I don’t know one kid that doesn’t like a bonfire on a fall night. This is a great time to star gaze with your students. If you have a telescope of your own: BONUS. If you don’t, your local library may have some to check out.
  7. Local Nature Excursions: Our regional Nature Center has fantastic programs, and many specific to homeschoolers. They also have backpacks full of themes activities for two-week check-out. If you live near to a nature center, conservation area, or zoo, there are many similar programs for homeschoolers. Also, many regions have fairs, fall festivals, and orchards with regular programing.
  8. Camping: My family loves to camp, and unfortunately we didn’t have the opportunity this summer. So we’re planning one fall campout before the weather turns too cold for our littles. If you are a camping family, plan ahead, and choose a camping area that has some educational programming during you stay.
  9. Have Fun: Your outdoor play may not be part of your specific schooling, but it is part of staying healthy! Set an example by spending time outdoors, and do something you love to do outdoors. Your enthusiasm will show.
  10. Include Others: Activities can be more fun when you include people you enjoy to hang out with. Spend time outside, then come in for some hot cocoa and popcorn by the fire.

Fall Semester: Building Blocks

When I began homeschooling my seven-year-old last year, it was a slow start. We attempted a few methods before finally landing on what worked well. At the end of winter, Mickey should have been completing kindergarten. Instead of reading like a first-grader, he read at a .03 reading level. For those who may not know, that number means he was reading as if in the third month of kindergarten. Now, I’m no stranger to changes mid-game, and this was another time when I had to stop, assess, and reroute our homeschooling journey.

New Plan
We planned to school year-round, but as my son still struggled so with letters, phonics, and penmanship, my husband and I discussed our upcoming plans. Since Mickey was excelling in math and science, we decided to only work on reading for the summer. He has been working on his daily challenges and assigned lessons three days per week through the summer, and he has exploded with excitement, reading road signs, subtitles, and books (unassigned). As his excitement has grown, so has mine. I saw him experience a whole new world that I remember discovering, and still love: the world of reading.

Progress Report
I haven’t kept a close eye on Mickey’s grades this summer, mainly because teaching my kids to read has always been a point of serious anxiety for me. I know Philippians 4:13, though — and I claim it, and I think it, and sometimes I may shout it: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

Because of my anxiety over it, we didn’t monitor his progress through the summer. When I began to plan for Mickey to begin first grade, I had him take the reading assessment offered by the academic program we use. He tested at a 1.08 reading level (almost second grade). This was a shock to me. Even though we read together, even though he reads everything, and even though he writes stories and letters and cards, it was a shock that he improved so much so fast. It was a shock, even though I’ve prayed over it and fretted over it, and God has given me the tools to teach my children.

Building Blocks
It turns out that since Mickey’s reading has improved, he is able to excel in the other subjects. He doesn’t have to ask me to read the questions every two minutes. He doesn’t have to click on the little microphone that prompts the computer to read to him. He can read, sound out, and understand everything I put in front of him!

It was hard for me to admit that I couldn’t teach my son to read, when I love to read and have always been a reader. Reading is the the first building block for the rest of first grade in our house. Now that he can read, the possibilities seem endless.

And, now that I remember that God answers prayers, the possibilities are endless.

Screen Time or Scream Time?

Screen time in the Ashworth house waxes and wanes. We have had periods when we didn’t watch more than two hours of television per day, and periods when we don’t watch any at all, but there are times that we watch too much television. Even if we limit TV time, when combined with one to three hours of online schooling and 45 minutes of video games after dinner, it adds up! My three boys’ eyes, attention spans, and indoor volumes suffer when the screen inches too far into our schedule.

Think About These Things

When we watch television we are in a trance. It’s hard to clean, read, write, anything. It’s difficult to multi-task while a TV is on. That’s because you have to watch it. You can’t watch two things at once, and what we watch will have our attention. During a school day I try to keep my kids focused on school, behaving, each other. I want them to get along and to learn so that they’ll someday be good men with a work ethic and a conscience (among other things). If they’re looking at other things, can they focus on growing and learning?

Philippians 4:8 instructs new Christians in just what kinds of things to meditate on: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.” Humans, especially children, are like sponges. We take in everything that we meditate on, and then we share it either through our behavior or because of our testimony.

Scream University 

I am not anti-TV. We are a TV house. I just recognize what screens are doing to my children. Television shows make them overdramatic. Screens make them fight. They bicker over turn-taking. They suddenly forget how to share. They get frustrated and angry when they can’t make the mouse do what they want. They may think about throwing the tablet, TV remote, or themselves across the room as a result of screen time. They may scream; I may scream. It’s not fun for any of us.

Tips to Keep the Volume Down

  1. Keep the screens out of sight.
    Start the day with the TV hidden. Put the tablets in a drawer. Keep the computer in a separate area unless they’re being used for school. That goes for parents too…
  2. Set rules for time, volume, channels, games, and apps.
    Setting boundaries on devices is still teaching your kids skills: listening skills, coping skills, technological skills, etc.
  3. Keep a routine. If the kids know when they’ll get to use their favorite devices, when they’ll have to do school, and when they’ll have to share/turn off, the screaming decreases.
  4. Supplement with paper and pen. It may not be enough to have paper and pen. At my boys’ age, that would be enough for them, but mama likes them to read from actual books, color, and create. If it was all on the computer, I’m afraid they’d be bored anyway.
  5. Practice what you preach. I have a bad habit of watching Netflix on my laptop while I wash dishes. My seven-year-old asks me if he can help me in the kitchen at least daily. This is good. It’s a skill he needs, it’s helpful, and it’s quality time. If the TV is off in the living room, it should be off in the kitchen. It should be off everywhere.