Ah, the winter homeschool rut. You come down from the merriment and flurry of December and find everything waiting for you back on solid ground. Everything. The math books, the phonics lessons, the list of activities that were pushed to the side in mid-November, and the half-finished Read-Aloud anxiously perched atop the pile.
Sometimes we embrace the familiar rhythm and purpose that waits in that pile. Many times though, we find ourselves dragging along by the end of January, completely uninspired and in need of something fresh. This can be a dangerous time for our bank account, as we begin researching shiny, new curricula in a desperate attempt to pivot mid-year.
The truth is, there’s no need to jump ship on a curriculum that was working fine two months ago—that’s probably not the issue. The winter rut is normal, and it’s almost always temporary. Instead of scratching everything and spending tons of time and money trying to right the ship, why not take a playful side-trip instead?
A rabbit trail is a delightful way to breathe new life into your homeschool. You can play with new topics, get fresh perspective, and have fun. When it’s over, you can return to that trusty curriculum with new energy--it will be there, waiting patiently for you. Rabbit trails can also be incredibly easy to implement. Here’s how in 6 simple steps:
1. Choose a Book
Pick a book, any book, that inspires you. It can be a picture book, a chapter book, fiction, non-fiction, a graphic novel, anything. You can even enlist your children to submit a favorite and vote together on which one to use.
2. Uncover the Possibilities
Now that you’ve got the book in hand, write down two or three topics this book inspires: science, history, math, social studies, art, music, nature, or STEM. Maybe your book touches on birds, the history of flight, and the aerodynamic properties of a feather. Or maybe the book inspires a look at the life of Mozart and the instruments of the orchestra. The possibilities are endless.
3. Brainstorm the Opportunities
With your topics nailed down, now it’s time to brainstorm ways to explore them. Make a list under each topic of all of the activities, field trips, movies, and cooking projects you can think of to dig into that topic. Don’t hold back—write down everything that comes to mind. Pinterest is a great tool to use when making this list.
4. Choose the Best Line-Up
Once you’ve got your ideas drafted, comb through the list and choose the best options for your rabbit trail. Use a highlighter to mark the ideas that are:
The most exciting to you and your children
The most realistic for your budget and schedule
The most opportune for your current time and place
For example, maybe for a horse-related rabbit trail, you highlight going on a trail ride together--your daughter’s favorite idea on the list. And maybe you highlight watching Black Beauty, an inexpensive and time-efficient option. Finally, it just so happens that the stock show will be in town during this rabbit trail, so you highlight that tailor-made field trip option. Boom—you’ve got a plan.
5. Make a Checklist
Write down your top choices; this will be your checklist for the rabbit trail. Make note of any supplies or supporting materials you’ll need to gather before starting. It’s important to note that this checklist is a loose guideline, a list of suggestions. There is no pressure to do everything on the list, and new opportunities may pop up that aren’t even on it. Once you’ve got the checklist, you can dive right in.
6. Plan Backward at the End of Each Day
During your rabbit trail, plan backward. This means that instead of writing out your specific plan at the beginning of the week, you log what you actually did at the end of each day in your planner of choice. Of course you’ll want to have a general idea of which things you’ll want to do on which days, and you can write them on a sticky note or next to your checklist. However, the logging method will allow you to record all of the fun stuff that happened that you didn’t plan. It will also give you the flexibility and freedom that a proper rabbit trail deserves.
That’s all there is to it. In half an hour, you can plan an entire rabbit trail from start to finish. A rabbit trail can last a day, a week, or even a month—it’s totally up to you.
There is no faster cure for the winter homeschool rut than a literature-inspired deep-dive into new and exciting content. There are millions of possibilities, and it’s so easy to plan. Best of all, you can return to your regularly scheduled programming when you’re finished—hopping back in with renewed energy, and your wallet intact.
About the Author
Kristina Garner is an artist, a writer, and a homeschooling mom to her two young daughters. She writes regularly on her blog Blossom and Root about secular, nature-based homeschooling with a focus on STEM and the arts. She also enjoys traveling, making a fantastic mess with paint, exploring the beautiful Colorado Rocky Mountains, rock climbing, and reading.
Kristina’s top tip for homeschool planning: create a weekly, running checklist of all the things that you hope to get done. Each night, write what you actually did into a planner, including things that weren’t on the list. Move any lingering tasks into next week’s list. This allows for just enough organization and structure while allowing for interest-led learning and inspired activities to happen.