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Fighting the Winter Blues: Literacy Style!

By Dr. Kenneth Kunz, NJLA President & Gina Schiano, NJLA Board Member


Many Garden State dwellers with Jersey-strong backbones will admit that the winter blues can leave even the strongest of folks feeling depleted and quite lethargic during the darker and colder days of winter. In this article, we share tips that literacy changemakers can use to battle the winter blues and refocus the joy of reading and writing for students of all ages.

Tip #1: Spend time by the light of the sun and the fire.

Research and science consistently show that folks who read at least 30 minutes a week (that’s less than 5 minutes a day) are happier, more likely to feel creative, and less likely to feel depressed or anxious. Developing a habit of reading every day can also enhance your sleep and mood in general. Combining the benefits of sun with light, we suggest carving out just five minutes a day to read (or write) in a part of your living space with natural sunlight or even by the light of a fire or favorite candle. To beat the winter blues, some have also turned to light therapy solutions. Whatever you choose, see if you can combine time by the light with literacy and reflect on how it makes you feel. The combination might just be the nudge to bring you from feeling “okay” to great!

Tip #2: Balance synchronous (live) and asynchronous (on-demand) learning.

Consider the first tip from a synchronous (live) and asynchronous (on-demand) perspective. Build in a five-minute screen break with your students and encourage them to cozy up with a good book by a source of natural or artificial light. A colleague recently reminded us that even YouTube has multiple “fireplace” screen displays that you can now choose from, bringing that feeling of warmth to the television backdrop. By now we know that many distance learning resources emphasize a balance between live and on-demand content. If athletes are expected to practice to perform, then independent reading is certainly part of every reader’s daily regiment. You might just find the students begging for more time to read.

Ken: “In addition to getting outside to walk the dog and engaging in a daily virtual spin class or run, I have also enjoyed learning something new: how to play the piano! A few of my literacy buddies have even learned that it is not out of the ordinary to get a random video clip of me playing a short pick-me-up. Occasionally I even get requests from Board Members like Brian Benavides who want to hear me learn to play salsa. For now, it is mostly classical (but I’ll be Bach)!”

Tip #3: Take care of yourself.

Airline attendants say it so well! If there is a loss of oxygen on the plane, we are told to place the oxygen mask on ourselves first, before we help others. We have certainly hit some turbulent times and NOW is the time to take care of ourselves, our minds, and our bodies.

Planning for instruction can certainly be time consuming, and if we do not give ourselves regular breaks from our workspaces, we are certain to feel fatigued and stressed. Meditation apps have become very popular and have improved the mindset of many. Find ways to connect socially. Zoom with friends for a virtual book club discussion, cooking class, or for some good ole conversation. Set SMART goals for moving your body: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. By definition these are small, reachable goals, which many find motivational. Create smalI SMART goals for yourself like taking a twenty minute walk each day, observing nature, and noticing changes. It can be very relaxing!

Tip #4: Surround yourself with other literacy changemakers.

In Literacy Changemakers: Bringing the Joy of Reading and Writing into Focus for Teachers and Students, Kunz, Hall, & Lella (2020) suggest reaching out to colleagues who are as passionate about literacy as you are. This does not mean you have to connect to take on a monstrous project. Something as simple as a small “surprise and delight” type of activity could bring joy to your inner circle. For the month of February, this spark of joy at NJLA comes through the heart cartography project inspired by our circle of changemakers. Ask yourself: What does your inner circle bring to you? What can you bring to your inner circle?

Tip #5: Even if it’s a really cold day, get outside.

There are a multitude of reasons for spending time outdoors, especially in the winter. Bodies burn more calories in the cold weather trying to stay warm. There are benefits for our mental health as well. A surefire way to beat the winter blues is to spend time outdoors. A simple task like taking a short walk or observing birds from a park bench can help improve moods drastically. Here in New Jersey, many groups, including the Raptor Trust in Long Hill, have bird watching guides and programs. You can also research the types you find. Studies have found that spending time outdoors in any season can increase creativity and improve focus. It is amazing to think what a little time outdoors can do for our spirit, mind, and bodies!

Gina: “One thing I have greatly missed are my regular yoga classes at the gym. I have never been a fan of indoor workouts; however, change is good! I take my yoga mat to my family room and engage in virtual classes. Sometimes, I am on the beach, a side of a mountaintop, or just in a studio. Whatever the backdrop, I am continuing to gain strength, relaxation, and lower stress. Namaste everyone!”

How are YOU fighting the winter blues? Let us know on Twitter @NJLiteracy!


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