Q&A Friday: How do you break out of a rut?

Written by Jamie Martin, editor of Simple Homeschool and founder of Steady Mom

How are the days rolling along in your home?

We’ve been unraveling what appears to be a long string of…blah.

Nothing really bad, you know–but nothing really good either.

Just kind of chugging along because that’s what we have to do to make life work…chug along.

When I consider my family’s purposeful words, surprisingly “chug along” doesn’t make it to the top of the list. And yet occasionally each of us find ourselves stuck in a rut.

I think homeschooling families can especially identify. Last year I read A Mother’s Rule of Life by Holly Pierlot, a book about creating rhythm and routines for your day.

Though its main purpose is to figure out how to bring peace and order to your home, I love that the author (a homeschooling mom herself) has this to say:

If the whole family got stressed and developed cabin fever, as can happen when you homeschool, I included as part of my Rule the ability to drop everything, and spend the day doing interesting science experiments or getting out of the house for a change of pace.

My family’s personal needs came first.

Obviously I’m not the only one who has ever found herself in this spot, which brings me to our question for the day:

How do you break out of a rut? Have you figured out a strategy to avoid ruts before they start–what do you do when you find yourself in the midst of one?

The winter weather definitely has had a hand in our rut-making, and thankfully the sun has been peeking its head out more and more often the last few days.

Yesterday we scrapped any resemblance of structure and headed to the hills for a morning of sledding (I feared for my life a few times, but ruts definitely began breaking in front of my wind-blown eyes!).

May this weekend unveil the beauty and creativity we need to shake things up a bit and remind ourselves why we love what we do and who we really do it for.

Be blessed this weekend – and ruts be gone!

About Jamie Martin

Jamie is a mama to three cute kids born on three different continents. She is the co-founder and editor of Simple Homeschool, where she writes about mindful parenting, intentional education, and the joy found in a pile of books. Jamie is also the author of a handful of titles, including her newest release, Give Your Child the World.


  1. I just blogged about this yesterday! I focus on rebooting the atmosphere of my home. Decluttering, refining our spaces, simplifying, adding beauty, remembering to enjoy and savor (not rush or live by the clock or to-do list) and checking my attitudes as to whether I am being filled up or trying to give from depletion.
    Aimee’s latest post: Rebooting Homeschooling

  2. Great question!

    I don’t know that I have a good strategy for avoiding ruts because I seem to have the type of temperament where I don’t really notice us sliding into a rut until suddenly, hello! we’re in the middle of one 😉

    Things that I do to try and shake things up:
    – if the weather is nice enough, have lessons outside. Sometimes a change of venue is all that is needed.
    – have a day of just reading out loud together, cooking together, or even watching a documentary together
    – field trip! 🙂
    – movement and getting active. Doing lessons with bean bag games, writing out our lessons on the driveway (so large we have to move around to write), taking a walk, playing some running/jumping games, taking a mid-day dance break, etc. LOVE your suggestion of sledding, too 🙂

    And, if things just really seem like an uphill battle, I have no problem taking off a few days. It seems like we’re in a better place when we take time when we need to than if I force us to push ahead when we’re spinning our wheels.

    Looking forward to reading what others do.
    Kara @Simple Kids’s latest post: Simple Holistic Helps for the Special Needs Child

    • Ruts really can creep up on us, can’t they?! Love these ideas, Kara. I think our time of sledding was just as beneficial to me as it was to the kiddos.

  3. I wrote one too after experiencing it this winter. A few ladies commented too. Hope you can link to it and find something to take away.

  4. Ahhh yes. The winter rut. We’ve been in a few. Some great ideas already mentioned here. One day, recently, I dropped everything and took the kids roller skating! They were so happy to get out and do something spontaneous.

    Another thing I find helpful is looking ahead. Just this week, as we had a few days of above normal temps, I told the kids: We all know spring is coming, it will get harder and harder to stay in and finish our work. But, if we buckle down and finish our classes now (while the weather is still unpredictable), we can finish around Easter and take a nice long break. We are sooo close!

    This seems to help because the kids can see the end in sight, and I know they like to be “finished” early in the year. Now I have to be realistic, this motivation doesn’t last long, but I think it puts things in perspective, and helps me get out of a rut too.

    So on a daily practical level – lessons outside (weather permitting), fun projects (building a CA mission), nature walks (with a nature journal), a big bowl of snacks at the homeschooling table (goldfish, trail mix, and M&M’s), an educational documentary (America The Story of Us), and even an electronic field trip to a National Park (Gulf Islands National Seashore) are all things that are helping us right now.

  5. Very good timing…as we/I am well into one! We live in Florida, so we really don’t have too much weather fluctuation or cabin fever issues. (I’m originally from WNY where we did have significant seasonal changes.) I’ve come to realize that our pretty consistent weather here actually contributes to our same ‘ole same ‘ole mindset. It’s sunny, mild to hot temperatures, sand, palm trees, blue skies… We fall into a rut because nothing really changes much! I recently read a post about taking that down time. I’m trying to be more accepting of that rut feeling–recognizing that something in me is gently communicating the need for a change–something different. As Aimee beautifully put it I take that cleansing breath, create a clearing in some area of life or home & that seems to open the way for everything to follow. So…off to do some cleansing…of the bathrooms!!

  6. Just yesterday I hit this point of ‘blah!’ The kids were doing fine, but I was starting to lose it a little. So just for my own sanity, I abruptly announced: “Snow Day” and we hooked up with another family for a day out. It was just what was needed, if not for the kids, then for me. I feel much more settled today, and able to give the daily routine a fresh dose of ‘umph!’
    I’m surprised, also, how easy it is to simply rearrange the children’s work to fit around an unexpected day off (whether due to illness or whatever). This is our first year homeschooling, and since my children are ‘middle-school-aged’ they have a steady amount of material to cover. It’s delightful to discover just how flexible we can be with the material, while still covering it all meaningfully and thoroughly. My confidence is growing- as is evident by my ability to call a sudden day off yesterday! Hurray!

  7. Usually when I feel we’re in a rut we also haven’t been doing the “Fun” stuff like art. An afternoon painting to music always helps! Also, going to the park, trying a new game, or just having some homeschool friends over to play!
    Angela @ Homegrown Mom’s latest post: A Prayer for Your Daughter and A Giveaway Day 10

  8. I call this the “February Funk”. It’s still winter, but we are getting closer to spring, but not close enough. We have been trying to get out into the fresh air, but some days it’s just tooo cold. I make sure we get with friends, but lately most of our friends and family have had or are getting over the flu. So I feel like we are quarantined from everyone. I see a much needed field trip in our future.
    Rana’s latest post: Have you seen this

  9. February is definitely rut month! As I read your post, the thought occurred to me: perhaps the secret in all of this is just being comfortable with the fact that life has ruts, and I mustn’t always feel bad about them, or struggle to get out of them. Perhaps I can just accept the rut, plant my feet firmly in it, and carry on with our boring routines. The rut will pass in time. Perhaps part of the learning in our home can be for my children to experience that some days life is just ordinary. In fact, most days life is just ordinary. We can still find moments of joy and grace in the every day routines and tasks of life, but also be comfortable with the idea that each and every day is not full of grand adventures and inspiration; rather mostly full of mundane routines and responsibilities.

    Ruts may be an instance where the modern (and mostly internal) pressures to be an *amazing* mom and homeschooler work against us. I’m sure my grandmother never worried if most days in February were rather ‘blah’ for her and her 6 children. I think from here on I am going to work on developing a more comfortable relationship with our ruts. I know this wasn’t your intention, but thank you for the inspiration, Jamie.

    • I think that is an excellent point, Heather. Life is very cyclical and seasonal and everything eventually rotates if we just stay steady.

      Thanks for sharing!

  10. Great post… As usual!!! I think the school funk is very often mine… My need to pay a little more attention to school rather than expecting my kids to get on with it while I quickly post a blog (it’s never that quick!!!) or just quickly sort the post pile that’s been bugging me and don’t even say chat on the phone… When we get into the rut then I make sure to rest enough and focus on school a bit harder and jot the potential projects that I would rather be doing down on a list… then I can get to them later… it’s my “ME” list… and get on and getting the school work done is more purposeful, the kids rise to the occasion and expectation and we are all better for it!!!

  11. Shelley R. says:

    Two observations regarding ruts for our family: 1) I wish my children and I could agree on the same day to land in a rut. The day my son (age 4) is excited about writing numbers is the day I am mustering up the excitement to encourage him. The day I’ve planned a new project with trash origami is the day my children are speaking only in whines and complaints. The ruts appear larger when my children and I are on opposing ends, yet I do agree that either way is an opportunity to be flexible.

    And 2) Yesterday was an unexpected day-off. No major rut, just boredom and errands. I had no problem removing ‘schooling’ from the to-do list and yet my husband was more concerned about my ease at pushing school aside…. How do you include your husband in the sometime spontaneous solution to “the ruts”?

    • Are you fairly new to homeschooling or have you been doing it for a while, Shelley?

      Typically I notice that those who have been at it for a while grow to see how much learning takes place all the time and that helps everyone in the family feel a bit more relaxed about responding to the details of life when that means loosening up on the schedule.
      Jamie~Simple Homeschool’s latest post: Identifying Priorities in a Large Family Homeschool

      • Shelley R. says:

        Well Jamie, I would say this is our first full year of homeschooling although we did embark through a K curriculum last year when our kids were 5,4, and 2 1/2 (a wonderful year of projects and discovery). Now, we’re in the midst of a unit study with some basics touched upon most days.

        I welcomed your point on growing into the learning that occurs all the time. One way I thought of nurturing that growth is by being intentional in celebrating those moments–whenever they occur. And thank you for the encouragement given and invested through your writing and that of the contributing writers on this site–more than once have I come across discussions and prompts for evaluation that have refined me as a mom and teacher.

  12. The answer for us is always to go outside, even if the weather isn’t the best. I also try to keep in mind that nothing we’re doing in lessons is so important that it can’t be pushed back a day or two, especially when we’re talking about the mental well being of family members.
    Erin’s latest post: Now Youre a Boy

  13. hah! wanna liven things up?! be a missionary! 😉 living overseas (at least for us here, it seems no two days are alike!!) I was just chatting with a friend yesterday and we were both talking about longing for routine and how attractive it sounded to be in a rut! heheheheh. well now, I know that’s not what you meant 😉

    my suggestion (the completely non-routine way we’ve been living out of necessity the last months) is to have a daily/weekly list (toss the schedule) and just work from the list, when the necessary stuff gets done, do something just for fun… something that everyone enjoys… especially mom. when I treat myself to something that is fun for me AND the kids, I feel the weight and doldrums lift. it’s pretty simple really. 🙂 could be a special treat, or just tea in special cups, or could be heading outside, or playing a board game… whatever it is that your family enjoys.


    amy in peru
    amy in peru’s latest post: CM Blog Carnival – vote &amp win!

  14. I like the chocolate idea – and it’s really true, although it works with any snack (even cheese and crackers can liven up a history lesson..) I also like to play new music, or take a trip to the library, get a book on CD and break out the coloring books – almost any favorable change in routine helps amp up the perseverance 🙂

    Yesterday, we went to the beach for the day (gotta love February in FL – 78 degrees and gorgeous).

  15. We have a difficult time this time of year too. One great way we break out of the blahs is to have a board game recovery day. We play as many games as we can and see if we still like them and if we can complete the game with the pieces we have. A large bowl of popcorn and our day is changed for the better. With as many educational games as we homeschoolers tend to collect, they will most likely learn a lot too!
    Jennifer’s latest post: Starting Points

  16. Thank you for the helpful and assuring tips that I too am not the only one feeling like this. I do get those feelings often and it’s nice to have the capabilities to get our family out and about for a day or two. I can beat myself up pretty bad about not keeping exactly to a schedule. So, I feel refreshed knowing that this is the beauty of homeschooling. Just started homeschooling 5 months ago and we have enjoyed every moment the good and bad.

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