Homeschool in the Polar Vortex

When I saw the news reports that a second wave of the polar vortex was heading for Chicago, I knew that school would be cancelled again.   The third and fourth days in January alone that have been given up to frigid temperatures – an unprecedented experience in my husband’s lifetime as a Cook County resident.

It was fun the first time we entered Chiberia, but this was getting crazy.  Our nanny lives a distance away, and she takes two buses and an el train to get to our house (including some walking).  I feared for her safety traveling in temperatures of 30 below zero, so I told her to stay home, just as I did when this happened a few weeks ago.  The right decision, yes, but it meant I had to do what all working parents do when school is cancelled: frantically rearrange commitments and prepare to hunker down at home with the kiddos.

Once we got past all the logistical details, I told the girls my plan.  We were going to do homeschool.  “Awesome!” one of the girls yelled.  “Noooo!!! Why can’t it be a day to play like all the other kids get???” another girl moaned.  “Mommy school!  Mommy school!” the toddler chanted.


A look back at the first day of our homeschool:

Early morning: 6-yr-old makes 3-yr-old chocolate milk.  She runs out of milk (after spilling the milk on the counter) and substitutes heavy cream.  “This is the best chwocowate miwk evuh!” the 3-yr-old exclaims.  She doesn't ask to eat again for hours.  I've finally found the answer to her 90-minute cycle of hunger.

Daddy comes down, as does the 10-yr-old, and they make homemade orange juice.  I discover more milk in the basement fridge. I make pancakes and eggs, fruit, yogurt, sauteed zucchini.  And, yes, most importantly, coffee.  The 6-yr-old eats pancakes until she can't move.

Mid morning: time for P.E. class.  The entire family tromps down to the basement. Everyone except for me is still in pajamas.  We launch into jumping jacks, wall sits, push-ups, crunches, chair step-ups, squats, triceps dips, planks, high knees running in place, lunges, push-ups and rotations, and side planks.  Some of you may recognize these from the 7-minute workout.

After P.E., we stretch and relax.  Everyone heads upstairs to clean up and get dressed.

Late morning: time for science class.  We place several ounces of the following liquids into different bowls: wine, salt water, water, lemon juice, orange juice, kefir, 2% milk, corn oil, Hershey’s syrup, and raw egg.  Then we carry the bowls outside and set them on the porch, where the temperature is hovering around four below zero.


The girls make a chart and we start a timer.  Which liquid will freeze first?  Which will freeze last?  How long will it take?


The lemon juice and the milk are the first to freeze, turning into solids at the 17-minute mark.  As of the two-hour mark, only the corn oil and the Hershey’s syrup are still liquid.  (WTH is in Hershey’s syrup??)

In between checking on the state of our science project, the girls pursue their own interests.  The 10-year-old has just received a new Star Wars Lego kit, so she sits at the kitchen counter and busies herself with the assembling and building of a toy.


The 6-yr-old has just received an Abraham Lincoln paper doll book, and she sets out to dress Honest Abe in various outfits.


After lunch, it is time for a history lesson.  We read a book about the history of various inventions.  We learn about anesthesia for surgical procedures.  Early methods involved clubbing patients in the head until they passed out or getting them drunk, followed by laughing gas parties, ether, and eventually modern-day anesthetics.

Then we snuggle onto the couch and the girls watch – for the first time EVER – an episode of Little House on the Prairie.  Well-timed, too, because it involves little Mary getting an operation, and we see how the nurse places drops of ether onto the cloth covering Mary’s face.  “Look!!! Old-fashioned anesthesia!” shouts my 6-yr-old.

When Little House ends, the girls erupt into crabbiness.  They fight and moan and wail.  Fortunately, I know a solution for what ails them.  It’s feeding time.

After a “snack” that uses enough dishes to require yet another running of the dishwasher, we all embark on a family game of hide-and-seek, continuing a game we started during the last set of snow days.

I curl myself horizontally along our bed, hiding between the headboard and the pillows. I win.

In the late afternoon, it is time for arts classes.  The girls decide to put on a play.  The 10-year-old announces, “I’m stage crew,” and to my astonishment, she begins to voluntarily clean up the basement to make room for the stage.  Half an hour later, the basement is spotless.  I didn’t know she had it in her, truly I didn’t.

The six-year-old puts herself in charge of costumes.  She disappears with the three-year-old and a bag of markers.  “They are washable,” she shouts over her shoulder to me, as I start to protest.


Rehearsals fall apart when the youngest refuses to do every last thing her six-year-old sister orders her to do, and the six-year-old screams that she is no longer part of the show.  “Fine,” her dad and I say.  “But even if you quit, we will still watch the show.”

The 10-yr-old announces that no pictures or videos are allowed and holds up a sign reinforcing her rules.

Then she dims the lights, starts the music, and beckons the 3-yr-old onstage.  The 6-yr-old has a change of heart and rejoins the show.  The two little ones sing and dance to “Let It Go” from Frozen, the oldest wielding two different flashlights as spotlights from her position as stage crew.

After the show, we cobble together a dinner of pizza and ice cream.  It’s only 5:30 pm.  Lord, will this day ever end???

Bath time, a family viewing of Dolphin Tale (great film), and finally, oh thank God, they go to bed.

Someone hand me a chocolate bar; I need to fortify myself for tomorrow.  Then I see the forecast by Tom Skilling for February.


You've got to be kidding me.

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Carrie Goldman is the award-winning author of Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear.

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