Sometimes the bleak midwinter can really drag. But this year, January fairly whizzed past. It seems no time at all since we were celebrating the New Year, and here we are, more than halfway through the winter. So far, this year is simply full of surprises.

Of course, we have some big plans coming up, and the bustle of activity has been both enlivening and demanding. January is also a big birthday month for our family, so there were a lot of parties and celebrations. Time flies when you’re having ice cream.

We’ve also seen some drastic seasonal variations, including some stretches of mild weather—complete with sunshine—punctuated by two snowstorms. The variety in temperature has been interesting, to say the least. But weather has not been the biggest surprise of this new year. That occurred in the Home School Department, otherwise known as Winter Break: The World Turned Upside Down.

By way of background, we exercise flexibility during most of the school year, but especially during midwinter lulls (or midsummer doldrums, or spring cleaning, or time change). We know that there’s plenty of time to make up later if we fall behind schedule, follow a detour sign or two, or wander off on a tangent. Some days, we are really on a roll. Other days, we’re barely rolling out of bed.

Naturally, I’ve always tried to motivate my kids to succeed, to achieve, and to excel, while striving to balance speed with comprehension. Quality AND quantity is my goal. The important thing, I’ve thought, is that we pace ourselves. Education is a marathon, not a sprint.

Or so I thought. Apparently my kids had other ideas. In between alternating snowstorms and spring–like thaws, one child hatched a plan to whiz through a year’s worth of lessons in under a month. After finishing up her 6th-grade math book—due to be completed in May—at the end of December, she set herself a grueling pace of 14 pages a day and finished 7th grade barely a month later. This in turn motivated the others to speed up their game: the next child up jumped ahead in her math pages, the next child down finished up her math book ahead of schedule, and two others are outdoing themselves with reading and extra credit writing.

This has astonished me no end, as I have a motley collection of eager learners, diligent plodders, reluctant scholars, and procrastinators. Their determination to stay ahead of the curve was an astounding and welcome development, at a time when so many other factors were demanding my attention and school was in danger of falling by the wayside for a time.

It occurred to me that I can trace this newfound enthusiasm back to a day last year, when I found myself craving peanut butter pie. One child had just completed her schoolbook, so I made a pie and announced that we were celebrating her graduation from that grade.

“Will you bake ME a pie when I finish my book?” asked another child.

“Of course!” I replied. Why not incentivize accomplishment? And so a tradition was born. After all, pies are special. Birthday cakes run strongly to chocolate, with occasional peanut butter, penuche, or strawberry flourishes, but pies were hitherto a relative rarity.

In the past year, we’ve eaten several pies to celebrate a grade completion. But just in the past month, chocolate silk pie, cheesecake, peanut butter pie, baklava, and rocky road fudge have all put in an appearance. We’ve gone from pie in the sky to pie in school.

So, when people ask me for our secret to success in schooling, perhaps I should glibly answer that it’s as easy as pie.


Photo Credit: iStock. Following images courtesy of author.