by Marie Stout

“Vanity of vanities,” says the Preacher, “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” What advantage does man have in all his work which he does under the sun? A generation goes and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. All the rivers flow into the sea, yet the sea is not full. To the place where the rivers flow, there they flow again. All things are wearisome; So there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one might say, “See this, it is new”? Already it has existed for ages which were before us. There is no remembrance of earlier things; And also of the later things which will occur, there will be for them no remembrance among those who will come later still.

Ecclesiastes 1:2-12

As I read this, I didn’t know whether to feel discouraged or to feel like my life is normal. I always find that January is the toughest month for our homeschool. I feel like everything is futile! Yes, the “sun rises and the sun sets” and I’m still behind! “All rivers flow into the sea, yet the sea is not full.” Isn’t that a picture of not making progress in our curriculum? “All things are wearisome” is exactly how I’m feeling about now!

As a homeschool mom for 25 years, and now a grandma who teaches science, literature, and the Civil War to her grandchildren, I know that January is the very hardest month for me to homeschool. The excitement of the holidays is over. I still have Christmas decorations partially up. And as I’m assessing where everyone should be, I’m feeling behind! But I’m not really. That is a standard left over from the brick and mortar days! The PSP we belonged to wanted a progress report at the end of January, and I worked hard not to compare us to other families.

We’ve just finished the holidays. The adrenaline rush is over. But our January start date is coming and I need to get back to schooling, and my home is still looking like “old” festive. Some days, when it isn’t all put away, I can see the cob webs creeping into the corners of the garland, and my home reminds me of The Haunted Mansion decorated for Christmas. 

Another reason for feeling discouraged is that my student isn’t as far along in his curriculum as I had planned out last August, and semester reports are coming up. And we definitely develop bad habits over Christmas break. There is just something about having siblings home from college and having them START a movie at 10:30 p.m.! 

When the days are dark and dreary, and there is too little recess time for energy-filled boys, here are some things that have helped me cope:

Do a Unit Study

Instead of doing your regular schedule, do a unit study! Throw out what you have been doing, just for the month of January, and teach about something you would love to learn. What interests you? Your excitement is contagious. Some people do these year round, but I found doing them in January really broadened their education, and I only had to plan for January. Here are some of the unit studies I have done: one sense for each week. Nothing like blindfolding your children and teaching them Braille, and how to get dressed, eat breakfast and brush their teeth while blindfolded. Plus it gives them empathy for those that do this on a regular basis. Or putting ear plugs in their ears and working on sign language and lip reading. Again, they learn empathy, along with more about their senses. We’ve also done unit studies on Martin Luther King Jr., Lincoln, Washington, Reagan, rain, St. Valentine, etc. My best resources for fun activities for these unit studies are Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers.

Since we’d do that in the morning, after lunch we would sit by the fire, drink hot chocolate and study spelling words. Or read a good book out loud. For good tears … and four boys … we’d read about animals that end up dying: Charlotte’s Web, Marguerite Henry’s books, Where the Red Fern Grows, Old Yeller. You get the picture.

Creative Math

For younger kids, we’d do math in sand, salt or shaving cream. Fill a cookie sheet with one of the aforementioned items and do all of the math that way. You can fill in the pages for your student after he/she comes to the correct answer. We also used dice for “flash cards”, and match box cars for classification.


Play all of those games that you got for Christmas. Most games have great learning properties.

Movie Afternoons

Are you reading good literature out loud? You can get great ideas from Honey for a Child’s Heart. And after you have finished a book, watch the movie adaptation.


One particularly stormy January, we experimented with all different kinds of muffins and baked a different kind every afternoon. The leftovers were great for breakfast the next day.

Tea Time

Do a formal tea in the afternoon. Fine china, clotted cream and scones are a lot of fun!  Somewhere after teaching Geography in 2001, we started taking a British Tea in the afternoons in January. I’d get the clotted cream, we’d make scones (or if I didn’t feel like it, I’d buy them), and we’d sit for about 20 minutes for our afternoon “snack” of scones and berries and talk about manners.

And we put a little bit of Christmas away each day.

Encouragement for You

I turn further in Ecclesiastes, for my encouragement: 

There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven— (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

Ah, there is a time for everything! A time to bond with family. A time to get extra PE credits playing golf with the brothers. A time to do Bible study in front of the fireplace, in our pajamas, with hot chocolate and leftover whipped cream and sprinkles. A time to see the latest Hobbit movie.

In 30 years, I’d rather have my son remember the time he spent making memories with his brothers, rather than me being uptight about the school schedule.The month of January is just kind of that way. And sometimes, January is the time to teach our children to be grateful that there is a time for everything. And we can be grateful God gave us seasons to celebrate what we can do differently to bring peace to our home.