Tips for Holiday Homeschooling
- Monday, November 17, 2008
As I sit at my computer pondering what it’s like to homeschool during the holidays of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year, it’s the middle of summer and 89 humid degrees. (Editorial deadlines will do this to you.) Sitting on my porch contemplating the holiday time of years, I admit that a slight sense of nervousness is coming over me, and anxiety is beginning to well up within. As I think about the often over-scheduled, demanding time of year that we call the holidays—and ponder how in the world I will manage to add the multitude of extras that they bring to the already demanding task of homeschooling my five children—it’s no wonder that I feel like I’m already running late and a few dollars short.
If this is your first year of homeschooling, you’re likely to face a learning curve as you go through your first holiday season as a homeschool family. Adjustments to your regular routine are almost inevitable, and learning how to balance all the extra demands is something that even long-time homeschoolers have to deal with. I know that as a Christian homeschooling mom, it is so easy for me to succumb to the contemporary American church notion that I must do all the Christmas busyness—for the sake of the Lord. But where is that in the Bible? Whose marching orders am I following when I try to live up to that false notion? Certainly not my Lord Jesus, because His yoke is easy and His burden is light.
If you don’t want the weight of the world on your shoulders as this year’s celebrations of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year draw near, find a comfy chair and join me as I think aloud about an easier and lighter way of doing school with my children during these celebrations, when the world around me seems to spin a few revolutions faster.
Follow the Leader
First of all, I want to join my husband in asking, “Lord, what do You want me and my family to do this holiday season?” In the past, I have all too often allowed my neighbors, extended family and in-laws, church leadership, or dare I say it, textbooks, to dictate the answer to that question. But now I deeply want the Lord to determine the flow of our celebrations, gift giving, and calendar, and show us what our “school” should resemble during the holidays. If I am yoked with God, I must be walking in the same direction that He is headed. As He has led us from year to year, it has meant that our family’s Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations have varied and probably haven’t looked like yours. He has lead us down different paths than He may have led you, working on our inner hearts and characters.
In the past few years, God has answered the “What do You want us to do?” question in a variety of ways. We have sometimes had a Christmas tree, but other years, instead of a tree, we have opted for a life-sized nativity scene and fewer decorations around our house. (A large nativity scene in our living room, I might add, inhabited with stuffed animals from the kids’ bedrooms.) We have sent store-bought Christmas cards to our family and friends, then for a few years, opted for homemade cards designed with our children’s artwork and printed at a local copy shop, and now in recent years, no cards at all—all because we felt we needed to follow the Lord’s leading. We have had years of giving homemade gifts and other years of giving more polished, store-bought gifts, another year with one large gift given to all our children (a game table), and other years with individual Christmas gifts for each of them.
At times my response to the Lord’s leading has been willing and joyful. Other seasons I have been more reticent, because in my pride, I wanted to be perceived as normal, going with the flow, and able to juggle all the aspects of schooling plus the addition of the holiday hubbub. I have also been concerned that my children might miss something if we disregarded “traditions.”Yet I have witnessed that the simpler years have not only lessened our financial obligations and lightened my load, but often produced the most joy-filled holiday memories for our children and for us as parents. It seems the Lord is teaching us Micah 6:8: “What doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”
Relax on Schooling
My next lighter and easier conviction grows with each passing holiday season: Relax on formal schooling during the holidays! I am increasingly putting aside the usual curriculums and textbooks and doing something different during this busy season, from mid-November through early January. At times I have switched to a unit study, a multi-subject study on a single topic appropriate for children of all ages (in our case, ages 4-14). I’ve selected light-hearted unit study subjects, like chocolate or conifer trees or the history of sports, to up the fun factor a bit.
Another idea is to give each of the children a reading list of his own for the season and ask him to do some sort of project on it when he is finished. Or we’ve done an entire month of arts and crafts. Properly framed, we can give the finished works as Christmas gifts. (Think multitasking here!) One year, we visited a local garden center to stock up on supplies. The result? We created colorful ceramic mosaics (broken glass pieces are available at many discount stores), adhered with tile grout to the outside of clay plant pots. Once loaded with a bit of soil and a variety of spring bulbs, they made wonderful gifts for our grandmothers, aunts, and neighbors. We included written directions on placing the pots inside and providing them with a light watering. Then voila! The bulbs were forced to bloom in the midst of winter. It was a combination science, writing, and art project, packed with the purpose of gift-giving!
If you are concerned that your children may fall behind in their studies because you choose to relax their assignments—and your teacher duties—during the months of November through January, realize that children who attend public schools are doing the same thing. Holiday concerts, class parties, field trips, and two or more weeks off are a given for the school districts at this time of year; academics are not the emphasis.
One word of caution: If you relax your formal schooling during the holiday season, don’t give up altogether on working math problems. Math basics are lost so quickly that in our family, we always keep up our math lessons at least a day or two each week.
Learn How Others Celebrate
A friend has related how her family creates an academic change of pace during the holidays: They study the holiday traditions and practices of different cultures or time periods. For example, to learn from The Little House On the Prairie books that a single orange or a stick of hard candy was the ultimate Christmas treat in the mid-1800’s could help any 21st century kid grow in gratitude and contentment for our contemporary gift-giving traditions, even though the presents in most single-income, Christian homeschooling families may not be as glamorous as the world’s.
Another way to learn about other cultures’ holiday celebrations is through internationals who may be living in your area. Our family serves as a host family for an international student from a nearby college. When the dormitories close for Thanksgiving weekend, she has to temporarily move out and find another place to go. So we’ve added a plate to our Thanksgiving table for her to join us. Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday, so it’s a great chance to share its Christian origins and importance with her, in an evangelistic sort of way.
Finally, have your children write to an international missionary or missionary family you know to ask how the holidays are celebrated where they are living. Cook up a meal based on their responses.
Set Some Goals
My friend also reminded me that the holidays are a great time for teaching my children to reflect on the accomplishments of the past year and set goals for the year ahead. The world at large calls it making New Year’s resolutions. However, without the Holy Spirit and a changed inner life, the world has no power to make many of those resolutions stick. As Christians, we can teach our children that our heavenly Father has big plans for us and for them, “thoughts of peace, and not of evil” (Jer. 29:11). The Bible also has much to say about casting forth a vision, living in hope of the future, using our gifts, and making plans (see Proverbs 29:18, Proverbs 13:12, I Corinthians 12, and James 4:13-15 to name a few examples). The dawning of the New Year is a great time to work with our kids as they set goals aligned with God’s purposes for them. I remember one year when my daughter was much younger. She and I set a goal for her that she would learn to tie her own shoes. It was a simple goal, easily achievable, but she felt such joy when she reached it.
Get Out and Socialize
Remember the concerns you heard when you first began to homeschool? “What about socialization?” was a question you probably heard and asked yourself over and over again. Well, the holidays are a perfect time to do plenty of socializing! Take time to visit family near and far; involve your children in a church Christmas program or outreach; take your children’s music or artwork to a nursing home and get to know the residents. Open your home to others, extending hospitality. The more relaxed pace you’ve chosen in your schooling will naturally allow more time for having others into your home.
Another fun social option for younger children is a Jesus Birthday Party. Whether for neighborhood children as an evangelistic event on a Saturday morning or for your homeschool co-op group as a fellowship time, plan and host a birthday party for Jesus. At the party, act out the birth of Christ, decorate paper ornaments which represent the names of God (a candle shape for “light of the world,” a sheep for “lamb of God” ), let children share aloud what gift they would like to give the newborn King, and of course, have a birthday cake and sing “Happy Birthday to Jesus!” After all, Christmas is His birthday.
On the topic of socialization, prepare yourself for the conversations you may have with family members as you gather together for the holidays as a new homeschooler. Anticipate the questions you may be asked, and pray about your responses. If your family members aren’t so sure about this homeschooling route you have chosen for your children (or their grandchildren), be prepared for them to question your successes and perhaps challenge your decision. How will you respond? If other family members have children of similar ages, will you play the comparison game to attempt to show that your children are just as academically able as theirs, or will you allow God to use the fruit of your efforts to speak for itself?
Take Stock of Your School
Christmas break is a perfect time to assess how your school year is going for each of your children—and for mom—and to determine if any changes need to be made. Take stock of where you are in schooling. What’s working and what’s not? Which of your children are thriving and which are struggling? Is the schedule working? Is there an attitude or behavior that needs to be lovingly addressed? I had one year where I didn’t even make it to Christmas before I realized that one of my children was “drowning” in his math program and a change was in order. Though I hated to waste the money by putting aside a math book, his progress and the peace it eventually brought to our home were well worth the costs to transition. By late November, I had researched and ordered a new program, and he’s been using it ever since.
Another year, I knew that my daughter didn’t solidly have her multiplication tables memorized. There was no point in her progressing through her math book to more difficult concepts until she had better learned her basic facts. So we spent an entire relaxed month reviewing multiplication facts in various fun ways (games, oral drills, playing Yahtzee, etc.) in lieu of moving forward with daily math lessons. It was time well spent.
And how about you, Mom? How are you doing? What continuing education could be a blessing to you? Is there an area of parenting or schooling or God’s truth in which you need some growth? I would suggest that you take one of these holy-days to read a homeschooling book by a good Christian author to remind yourself of why you do what you do and to refresh yourself for the long winter months ahead.
Or perhaps you have a child who will soon be entering a new phase of school: Now would be a great time to begin your preparation. Make time for yourself to read. Last year, I began to read Homeschooling High School by Jeanne Gowen Dennis to prepare for my then-13-year-old daughter’s transition to high school. It helped me grow in confidence for the courses, credits, transcripts, and larger academic hurdles that lay ahead. I’d also like to suggest parenting books by the Tripps, A Charlotte Mason Companion: Personal Reflections on The Gentle Art of Learning by Karen Andreola for parents of children ages toddler through 12, and 100 Top Picks for Homeschool Curriculum: Choosing the Right Curriculum and Approach for Your Child’s Learning by Cathy Duffy, for parents of children of all ages.
Read Great Books Aloud
As the daylight hours grow shorter and the nights grow longer, gather the family together after dinnertime to read aloud great books of the season. Pop a bowl of popcorn, start a fire in the fireplace, snuggle together on the couch, and read aloud the Book of Luke, The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, or the trilogy Jotham’s Journey, Bartholomew’s Passage, and Tabitha’s Travels. Each of these suggested books contains a different and unique look at the birth of Christ. (To lighten your load during these evening read-aloud times, have the children sort socks, fold baskets of laundry, wrap presents, or address cards for you while they listen!) Reading aloud during the evenings has been a great contribution that my husband has made to our homeschool. He tends to be much sillier than I when he reads to the children, and they love it when he tries to use accents to assume different character roles.
Enjoy your lighter days of schooling by doing winter forms of exercise like ice skating, sledding, cross-country or downhill skiing, or outdoor hikes. Even in a warmer climate, a hike through a familiar spot will look different when seen on a wintry day. Take the time to study the trees, look for tracks, gather pine-cones, find animal dens, discuss the changing angle of the sun, or watch stars in a nighttime sky. Draw what you see in a nature sketchbook. Once you get home, identify what you have seen via nature guidebooks.
The holiday season wasn’t meant by God to be a burdensome time. When it becomes a burden for me, I know that something is amiss and I need my heart to be reoriented toward Jesus. As the holidays approach, may we each choose daily to wear His easier and lighter yoke as we homeschool our children.
Melanie Hexter lives in central Ohio with her husband of eighteen years, Matthew, and their five children. She loves helping new homeschoolers, which is why they lead a county-wide workshop each year called Home School 101. Feel free to contact them with homeschooling questions at firstname.lastname@example.org. And thanks to Andrea Jones for her ideas for this article!
This article was originally published in the Nov/Dec ’08 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. Get more great homeschooling help by downloading our FREE report entitled “The Secret to Homeschooling Freedom” by visiting http://HomeSchoolEnrichment.com/resources/report.htmhttp://HomeSchoolEnrichment.com/resources/report.htmhttp://HomeSchoolEnrichment.com/resources/report.htmhttp://HomeSchoolEnrichment.com/resources/report.htmhttp://HomeSchoolEnrichment.com/resources/report.htm
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