In the Pak household, as the school year progressed and we would all get entrenched in our daily studies, no matter how exciting our topics might be, each day would begin to blend into the next. We would find ourselves looking for a way to shake up our schedules and break away from the mundane. We found that each month shared something in common worth celebrating—a holiday. As each holiday came upon us, we questioned what to do with it!

Over the course of a few years, we found that each holiday deserved a small topical study of its own, and while some are simple and have a minor amount of history behind them, some have so much history they had the potential to become a larger unit study if we had the time. There are many kinds of secular and unofficial holidays, such as Labor Day and Clean Up Your Room Day (May 10 for those who want to mark their calendars!).

To illustrate how a unit study for a holiday works, let’s use Independence Day as our example. In the United States, Independence Day is also called The Fourth of July, for an obvious reason—that’s when it takes place! Now we will take each subject area and see how it relates to the topic. Some subjects will be utilized more heavily than others and some perhaps not at all.

History: There is so much written about the topic of America’s independence that tracking down the history will not be hard. In addition to articles found on the Internet, your local library should have books in several age ranges. You will want to encourage your child to identify what was happening in history that led up to each event, as well as the outcome. In this case, it was the desire of the people of the thirteen colonies to become free of British rule that led to a Revolutionary War and the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

You can also study the history of how and when that date transitioned from an anniversary to an actual federal holiday. You may wish to include video and audio media for learning as well.

Geography: Incorporate maps of the colonies and the date when each one was granted statehood. You might want to focus on Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as that was where the Declaration of Independence was signed and the Liberty Bell was rung.

Science: One thing is highly associated with Independence Day—fireworks! How do they work? Where are most of them manufactured? Research the chemistry of a variety of fireworks and learn how to make your own sparklers!

Health: Talk about the dangers of handling explosives. If you choose to focus on the American Revolution in your unit study, there are many ways to incorporate studies of health issues and medical practices during the war.

Bible: Many of the Founding Fathers were strong Christians and believed that the hand of God was prevalent in determining their path to create a new nation. However, modern writings have not only diluted facts, but they also have rewritten history to give a distorted view of these men and their faith in God. Show and read aloud the words of the men themselves, and point out their reliance on God to lead and protect them.

Physical Education: Include a study/survey of games of the Revolutionary War period, such as tag, hopscotch, marbles, horseshoes, and bean bags. Have the children dress up and reenact battle scenes.

Music: A number of patriotic pieces have been composed since the inception of the United States, many of which are played at parades and celebrations. Some of the most popular include “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “Yankee Doodle,” “My Country ’Tis of Thee,” and “America the Beautiful,” to name a few.

Art: Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze’s “Washington Crossing the Delaware” and John Trumbull’s “Declaration of Independence” are examples of well recognized images. Art can also be covered with crafts and projects your child creates! Have your child stitch a small flag or make a papier-mâché version of the Liberty Bell. There are many scenes that can be portrayed by the creation of a diorama, or perhaps your map of the colonies could be made out of salt dough.

Reading: Look into authors such as Ingri and Edgar Parin D’Aulaire for books written for young people about Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and “The Star Spangled Banner.” For older children, Charles Coffin wrote several texts about the beginning of our nation. Visit your library and ask for assistance in locating the best resources for your students as you study Independence Day and events during the Revolutionary War.

Writing: If you are in need of penmanship practice, use the words of the Founding Fathers for copy practice. For creative writing, have your child journal as if he or she was there when the Liberty Bell was rung for the first time, or ask your student to journal as a Patriot or Tory during the war. How did the news of a Declaration of Independence affect him or her?

Math: Several numbers are associated with the American flag. Have the child research the flags—from the first, with thirteen stars, to the flag we use today. What did each flag represent? What about the number of stripes?

Now you can see how your topic can be approached through a study of various subjects. Our study of Independence Day focused on a United States holiday, but you might want to choose a topic or holiday that encompasses many cultures, such as Thanksgiving Day, which is celebrated in many countries around the world. If you are interested in finding out what holidays other countries celebrate, do a search on the Internet and you’ll find all kinds of lists and the history behind them.

Although we share many holidays with other countries, it’s amazing how our ways of celebrating can vary widely. Let’s take a look at some ways to learn about Christmas:  

History, Geography, and Bible: This is the perfect time to share the story of the birth of Jesus from the Gospels. For Christians, Jesus’ birth is our focus at this time of year, but this is not necessarily true around the world. Throughout the centuries, pagan traditions have become common practice during the Christmas holiday. How did this situation come about? Research with your child several of the traditions, such as the yule log, mistletoe, or Tannenbaum. Even the history behind Santa Claus is different in various cultures! Keep a notebook with sections that designate different countries and their practices.

Science, Health, and Physical Education: Have you ever seen a snowflake up close? Use this time to research the nature of snowflakes, and make one yourself! If you are in snow territory, plan a snowball war, make a snow angel or snowman, and collect snow for making snow cream. Is it okay to eat snow? Why is snow sometimes powdery and at other times easy to pack? Or perhaps you’d like to study reindeer and what makes them different from other deer. How are they used in other countries, such as those in northern Europe?

Art and Music: Classic artists and composers have created a wealth of pieces that pertain to the birth of Jesus. From Schubert’s “Ave Maria” and Handel’s “Messiah” to Michelangelo’s “Pieta” and Raphael’s “Madonna,” inspired art and music abound. There are so many ways to incorporate both into Christmas! Go caroling as a family or with friends, but research each song first. Create Christmas cards that mimic the masters who have gone before us. Research a “Jesse Tree” and make one of your own as a way to incorporate Bible and celebrate Advent during your unit study.

Reading and Writing: Assign books such as Dickens’ A Christmas Carol or Moore’s classic poem, “A Visit From St. Nicholas.” Have older children read well-loved favorites to the younger children, such as Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Writing skills can be practiced by having your child organize or contribute to a family newsletter to be sent to others at Christmas.  

Additional studies can involve practical living and community. There are many ways to help during the Christmas season, and getting your child involved with an act of compassion is a wonderful way to teach character. Of course, food is a staple at this time, and there are many tasty recipes to choose from. Think of the elderly and widowed or those without family. You can take cookies or shovel a walkway or driveway. Learn to knit and make a blanket for a pregnancy center to give to a new mom, or make mittens for the homeless. You can volunteer to serve a meal at a homeless shelter or offer to babysit for a couple with young children so they can get their preparations done without little eyes watching!

Learning the history behind the holidays through mini unit studies allows for a break from our regular studies and gives children something to look forward to. It also gives us a better understanding of the holidays we celebrate annually and offers an opportunity to develop new traditions that will create memories to come!    

Federal Holidays

Holidays that are shared in one way or another by many countries around the world are called national holidays. In the United States, these are designated as “federal” holidays. In the United States, we have ten federal holidays:

  • New Year’s Day January 1
  • Martin Luther King Day Third Monday in January
  • President’s Day   Third Monday in February
  • Memorial Day Last Monday in May
  • Independence Day July 4
  • Labor Day First Monday in September
  • Columbus Day Second Monday in October
  • Veterans Day November 11
  • Thanksgiving Day Fourth Thursday in November
  • Christmas Day December 25

Ed and Amy Pak have been homeschooling their four children since 1996, establishing Home School in the Woods in 2002. With their younger sons still in high school, they employ their oldest children, Jaron and Hayley, full time. Their focus is developing a love of learning history through hands-on materials. To view their “History of Holidays” Activity-Study, visit homeschoolinthewoods.com.

Copyright 2012, used with permission. All rights reserved by author. Originally appeared in the April 2012 issue of The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, the trade magazine for homeschool families. Read the magazine free at www.TOSMagazine.com or read it on the go and download the free apps at www.TOSApps.com to read the magazine on your mobile devices.

Publication date: July 4, 2013