Making the Best

of an Indoor Situation

By Ellen Kramer

 On this page:

Always on the Go

Brightening the Dreariness

Spiritual Education is a Priority, Too!

A Season to Study Nature?

Opportunities for Spiritual Growth

Homeschool is at Home


This article reprinted from the Spring/Summer 1995 issue of

The Catholic Family's Magnificat! Home Education Magazine

Copyright. All Rights Reserved

 The words "cabin fever" just are not a part of my vocabulary. Maybe it's because I'm such an optimist. But then, it could have a little to do with the fact that I'm really not the outdoors type. Sometimes I joke that I wear mittens from September to May because I'm so sensitive to the cold. More realistically that that, however, is that my outlook could be the result of the eight-and-a-half years that I spent virtually confined to bed with severe pain from pinched nerves in my neck (and the dozen or so doctors we consulted while dealing with it all). Being "physically challenged" or dealing with any kind of long-term health problem can lead a family to "be content with what they have" (or accepting of whatever situation they are facing) as is mentioned in Hebrews 13:5, Philippians 4:11 and various other places in the Holy Bible.


Always on the Go


Our usual contentment was really put to the test with the weather we had last winter. As long as we could get to daily Mass, we all were much happier. But even that was impossible at times last year. The snow was so deep that the children couldn't even play in it. Sometimes we had no choice but to stay home- which is where a homeschool is, anyway.


Generally, however, the winter months have their share of running our children to various activities. One year we had art classes and the Jr. Legion of Mary. Last year we had our son's community basketball team practices and games. This season we have our daughters' ballet classes and the Jr. Legion of Mary again. Quite often, I take advantage of those moments to teach at least one child while another is preoccupied with an activity.


We usually plan to take the children on at lest one field trip during this time of year. Even if these trips require touring an indoor facility, it still adds diversion to our homeschool. This year more variety and "recreation" will be added to the schedule.


For example, when our son won tickets to a professional soccer game, I made arrangements to take our daughters to a community theatre production. After locating free craft classes at a fabric store for our older daughter, I asked my husband Larry to check into the possibility of having our son attend some regularly-scheduled free classes offered at a building supply store. There is so much available to our children if we just look, and the Holy Spirit will enlighten us to it at just the right time.


Visiting other Catholic homeschooling families, of course, is truly an uplifting opportunity for both children and mother (father, too, when possible). So we work that into our plans periodically as well. Physical activity is a real boost to the morale. To supplement our "physical education," we like to bounce on a rebounder, use a two-by-four as a balance beam, exercise with a video, or take the children bowling on occasion. On less cooperative days, we get out the stopwatch and time simple household tasks, especially if a task includes running from one floor of the house to another. It's amazing how interested the children become with the introduction of such a simple item as a stopwatch!


Brightening Up the Dreariness

With the Simple Things of Life


Most people say that they begin getting spring fever about February or March. Before spring fever ever sets in me, I begin "spring cleaning." It never fails that as soon as we begin taking down the Christmas decorations, spring cleaning the living room seems to be a logical next step. After all, the furniture and everything else in the room is completely disrupted anyway! To keep the motivation going, I usually reason that if I get my cleaning done gradually over the winter, I won't have to be stuck inside when the weather gets nice again. Our children love to see the house take on a new perspective, so they join in the effort, too. Sometimes they will get so carried away with one of my projects that I am able to turn over some aspects of it to them. They also like the occasional break from the books while they work for a brief period during the day on what we call "life skills/home economics."


Making new curtains for one room last year completely revived us all. This year we have another room targeted for new curtains and a possible paint job. Our children always like to be assigned some kind of "grown up" task to do when home repairs, etc. are being done.


Another super reason for spring cleaning during these months is that it unearths a variety of toys and games which the children had forgotten about. Suddenly, we see them engrossed in playing with their lost treasures after the newness of their Christmas presents has worn off.


Simple changes in our surroundings (even just rearranging the desks in the schoolroom) make such a difference in their attitudes.


Spiritual Education as a Priority, Too!


Of course, the main focus in our home is the education and spiritual formation of our children. We cherish our domestic church and do all that we can to give it top priority. Everything else takes a second seat. At any other time of year, there can be one subject or another which seems to have lost its excitement or ability to be grasped. At those moments, we interrupt the usual routine of homeschooling by adding in "non-textbook learning."


First, we reach for the resources we have already acquired for help. We look through the videos, cassettes, workbooks, library books, encyclopedia, card and board games that we already have. Sometimes creativity allows us to design a homemade teaching aid. I do my best to predict trouble before it happens, so I try periodically to page through catalogs, making a mental note of books in the library, or I try to visit an educational store or Catholic shop. I like to continually be on the look out for at least one idea to keep fun in our educational process.


Children need to enjoy learning so I attempt to sprinkle those opportunities throughout the school year. Since only one child can work at the computer at a time and our children generally prefer to do the fun things together, we tend to go more toward family-oriented materials. Educational songs on cassette and other types of materials work well for our children, too. Sometimes it takes something as simple as a video or book from the library to put that spark of interest back into a child before returning to the text book.


One challenge, however, with "non-textbook learning" is that our children can get so caught up in the games that it's hard to pry them away to return to the books. So that is usually the incentive to get the rest of the work done without procrastination.


A Season to Study Nature and Science?


Yes! Everyone gets an equal opportunity for a change of pace, too, when we start contemplating and preparing for the spring time science fair projects. This avoids the last minute rush. Again, that good old spring cleaning effort often allows hidden art supplies to surface which can be used on those projects. Our children also like having their projects around for a longer period of time to share their efforts (or stages of progress) with family and friends.


I like having the time to put some forethought into ways in which the children can put a "Catholic or spiritual twist" to their scientific masterpieces. A Catholic science and education fair last year meant that we were able to prepare projects for other subject areas as well. This took even more preparation time and also included our preschooler. Our regular science curriculum is also "kept alive" with a little bit of creativity during these challenging months.


Last year when our son was studying plants, we got a variety of fresh cut flowers from a florist. We used a sharp knife to cut the stems and flowers into various cross-sections to examine the stamen, pistil, etc. For the first time ever, even I was finally able to learn to identify the various parts of a flower and to understand pollination. This winter we will be discussing flowers again, and our son has excitedly informed me that he is looking forward to another opportunity to dissect those flowers.


Other "experiments" are also fun so we occasionally get out the science kits that we purchased as Christmas presents. The easiest and most frequently performed "experiment" last winter was calculating how many days it took a bucket of snow to melt inside while inside the house. We also tried to come up with "ways to be good stewards of the bountiful snow that God gave us." We discussed how some uses (such as pouring it into the washer and tub were not practical, but others might not work out.


This past fall I saw a newt (a small lizard-like creature) at a nearby pet store which we hope to add to our fish aquarium. I also found a catalog from a mail-order company which has several live items among their inventory. We are considering purchasing frogs eggs to watch them hatch and to witness the development of the tadpoles.


I did rearrange our children's science lessons for the year, however, when it came to studying insects, spiders, etc. We chose to do that last summer so that we could have some of God's creatures donate their bodies to science. This year, however, we will be doing final preparations on our well-preserved insect collection to enter it in the science fair.


Opportunities for Spiritual Growth


This might make these months sound as busy as a freeway at rush hour. But my husband and I work diligently at keeping a pleasant pace. By taking advantage of the situation as we do, it prevents our family from experiencing boredom in the winter and exhaustion from the overload of activity in the spring. It might be rephrased as "pacing ourselves." The many opportunities for spiritual growth can be used to keep the peacefulness about our pace.


Last year we had our daughter's First Holy Communion to prepare for, which was definitely the highest point of the entire school year. This year our son is finally old enough to begin serving at Mass. He is so thrilled that he has requested that his relatives attend a Mass and mark the occasion with a celebration.


When we missed the schedule of basketball practices in the newspaper, Timothy reasoned that possibly he wasn't supposed to be on the team this year because it would have conflicted with his altar boy schedule. We doubt that such a conflict would ever have occurred, but we were pleased to see Timothy put this special opportunity for spiritual growth above basketball. Then, of course, there is always Lent, Easter, the Feast of Divine Mercy and many other feasts in the liturgical calendar to look forward to. We usually vary a little bit in the way with which we deal with the liturgical calendar. We plan, however, to repeat some aspects of our preparation for Divine Mercy Sunday (the Sunday after Easter).


Using Father Lawrence Lovasik's book The Works of Mercy, we covered a different "Work of Mercy" every couple of days during Lent. We discussed how the children could possibly perform any of those works. We also frequently sang the song "Whatsoever You Do" which incorporates the Works of Mercy. Even our three-year-old benefited so much from it that she would fill many an otherwise silent moment in our house with the few segments of the song that she had mastered. Our parish is very devoted to the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, as well as St. Faustina's messages from her book, so our children were already somewhat familiar with the message of mercy. Through their work with the Jr. Legion of Mary, they also were able to learn the compassion and love of a merciful heart. This is essential to comprehend the need for repentance and the ability to forgive that is so necessary during the Easter season.


Although the children didn't grasp the concept on the same level as an adult, the seeds of understanding have been planted and are beginning to grow.


Homeschool is at Home


Since homeschooling takes place at home anyway, accepting this joyful challenge from God means that we expect that most of what we do will be centered around the family and our home. It seems that as long as both my husband and I maintain a positive attitude, then our children are better capable of handling the situation as well.


If we complain about cabin or spring fever, then it gives the children permission to do the same. We try to use everything, even changes in the weather, to teach our children to trust God and to discern and accept His Will in our lives. Hopefully, in this way they also will be more optimistic in life. God has, however, blessed us with usually staying content. The Holy Spirit, too, has been generous in enlightening us with ways for our family to avoid experiencing that "couped up feeling."


Variety in activity, exploring fun ways to learn, working to keep our surroundings clean and/or rearranged, and getting a head start on spring science projects can help to avoid cabin fever. Taking advantage of a season when we are not as likely to be out-doors can help to alleviate a frantic rush of activity in the springtime. Simplifying life, slowing down to spend quiet time as a family, and preparing for Easter and springtime can keep the concentration on raising a family with not only healthy attitudes but holy ones as well.


Ellen Kramer and her husband Larry reside in Myerstown, PA, with their three children. The Kramers coordinate a statewide network for Catholic families, host an annual Catholic home education conference, and edit the "Catholic Homeschoolers of Pennsylvania Newsletter."

Back to Articles
See our Flash News
Back to Home Page

LinkExchange Member