A New Kind of Winter Wonderland

I had a fresh thought come to me yesterday: We’re going to take a real winter break in our family learning lab process. I’m still unpacking what I mean by “break,” but I think I mean that we’re entering what will be a several months-long reset process. It feels in some ways like a gentle hibernation, and that we’ll emerge renewed in our practice just as the first days of spring begin to thaw our outside world.

Growing up with the school calendar system, I got used to “winter break” being the fleeting two weeks that happened from just before Christmastime to just after New Years. No matter how the cold, snow, or sleet made us feel, we were still expected to resume our regularly scheduled program that first week of January. I realize that part of the beautiful autonomy our family learning lab gives us is that we can change our rhythms as needed. We can match the flow of our days to the flow of our heart spaces.

Right now, I feel this overwhelming pull to be inside, and I am enjoying how it feels to, for once, not resist that intuitive directive. In the past I would have been trying to override that sensation, telling myself I still need to take the munchkins on fascinating field trips to museums, and other faraway places requiring more complicated logistical maneuvering than the effort it takes to walk to the neighborhood playground. I would flip and flop through the mental gymnastics of figuring out how to bundle everyone up against the frost, how to pack snacks, diapers, and extra clothes and still have arms free to hold hands and a back free to carry the baby. When it’s good weather it can take 2 hours to get all the munchkins ready and out the door. In wintertime that prep time can easily double.

Even before my moment of clarity about slowing down and softening our to-dos, I had already been having these spontaneous, mental, year-in-review conversations with myself, combing through the ups and downs and all-arounds of the developments in our family learning lab throughout 2018, making little notes about what worked well, and what needs to change. I also started imagining new spatial realities in our home, spending a few days in the last weeks of the year deconstructing and reconstructing different parts of the house.

My current project is making “Mommy’s Library,” a creatively designed corner and wall spot that I hope feels inviting for my daily writing practice. And I need a place for all those books I just checked out from the library! I’m also looking for some minimalist shelving options to install on different walls that will help me keep the bulk of our materials relatively accessible for day-to-day use, but also easily organized by whoever is facilitating an activity (read: I need to keep EVERYTHING out of reach from the busy-busy 18-month old!)

More than a physical reset button, I see this winter pause as an opportunity to go deeper with really tapping into what we individually need right now for our personal learning journeys. Bloom is more curious about handwriting and wants to spend time tracing and making letters everyday. Wonder is articulating more analytical thinking by the minute. His arguments are quite clever; I’ve started calling him our little lawyer. Jubilee is really into doing puzzles, which is exciting to watch because I don’t remember her brothers being that interested in puzzles when they were her age. The boys are working together to invent these dynamic and fun movement-based games that their baby sister can play too. We’ve got books in every room and solo reading times and group storytimes are happening all the time. And of course we’re dancing and playing capoeira throughout the day too.

Being mostly indoors right now is actually pretty cool. We’re finding a cozy vibe with each other and it’s nice. We have friends still visiting, and programs for TheFamily Dances still happening, but the momentum to hold space for the community to engage in our family learning lab has quieted down. It feels really natural to take this breather, to focus less on gathering the village every week, and put more of that energy toward gathering ourselves.

Sweet, slow, and subtle, I love the true gifts of this season. I can now really spread out my thoughts, ideas, and visions, some of which have been waiting in the wings for more than a year. Over these next few months, I am going to immerse myself, and my whole family, in a new kind of winter wonderland. One that gives me ample room to stretch out all we’ve accomplished in our ongoing experiment to be a family that is learning all the time, to unravel the many tangles of what’s possible and what we might need to finally let go, and to lovingly and meaningfully reflect on the intricate layers of discovery and challenge that will lead to more growth in the new year.