One of the great joys of homeschooling is the flexibility of not having to worry about a school schedule. And there is no more wonderful time to enjoy that flexibility than during the month of December.
Christmas is a really big deal in our house, and I never let a little thing like schoolwork stand in the way of our preparations. Those of you who are Jewish and celebrate Hanukkah, can adapt your schedule accordingly as well. In fact, you can easily substitute your own traditions of whichever major holiday you celebrate, knowing there are educational benefits to be derived.
I’m not necessarily advocating completely shutting down your homeschool for the month of December, although I know quite a few homeschoolers who do just that, but I do believe that, with a little creative planning, you can incorporate your holiday into your schooling very nicely. Don’t forget, the schools are also dealing with activities, assemblies, class parties (if your local school still allows them …. some don’t), and the added time that comes from trying to pry 20-40 children off the ceiling due to the increased excitement level (not to mention the added sugar from too many treats). When I was a school teacher, there were a few days in which I just gave up, turned down the lights, and put in a Christmas video. Don’t worry if you feel the need to do that as well.
There are numerous worksheets you can find online that incorporate the holidays into your schoolwork. Math sheets that ask you to subtract the number of candy canes, fill-in-the-blank sheets that involve looking up Bible verses, writing prompts that talk about seeing flying reindeer, word searches, and social studies lessons on the Christmas traditions observed in other countries; I have filled up folders of these over the years. The possibilities are endless.
What makes homeschooling fit so well into our holiday schedules, though, is the fact that we can make almost anything educational. It’s all in the way you look at things.
One of the first things that comes to mind when planning out the holiday festivities is shopping. Trying to find gifts for everyone on your list can be daunting … or a wonderful and fun family time. I tend to think the latter is preferable. How can this be educational though? Well, making the list: that’s writing, genealogy, and problem solving. Keeping to your budget: that’s math. Talking about the different people and their personalities and what they might like: that’s social studies. And absorbing the idea that it’s better to give than to receive: that’s priceless. Every December our church had “angel trees”. That’s when Christmas trees are filled with paper tags, each containing the age and gender (and sometimes name) of a child who would not otherwise have Christmas presents if we didn’t supply them. We always took several names; each of my children would choose a child of the same sex who was approximately their age, and then I took a couple teenage girls, since I sell cosmetics and would put makeup bags together for them. The kids always came with me to buy the gifts. I wanted to help them understand that while there were piles of gifts under our tree, this might be the only gift a particular child received, and how important it was to provide it. I pray this was a lesson that will stay with them always.
Then came wrapping the presents: that’s geometry. I was never very good at spatial relationships, so we’d work on turning the gifts this way and that, in order to get the best use of our paper. And in tune with the idea of budgeting, I don’t like to waste paper.
The next fun activity is baking cookies. Baking, as well as all cooking, offers many lessons in math: measurement, multiplication of the ingredients, adding and subtracting time, etc. It can also be a chemistry lesson, if you have read the Magic School Bus story that teaches about the chemical reactions involved in baking. Any type of cooking also teaches home economics and life skills, something our schools are sadly deficient in today, but which is a vital skill.
Next up on the agenda are music lessons. We would usually attend a Christmas concert or two, and one or both of my children were always in the church choir, which meant they’d be singing during the season as well. My son even played the piano for some of the Christmas carols. Those opportunities were so important in my children’s lives. I hope they will always appreciate music and get joy from it. In addition, I would play all sorts of Christmas carols in the house throughout December and into January, ranging from classical piano to rap.
Many people would wonder why I’d continue playing Christmas carols into January. I’m part British, and the idea of 12 days of Christmas is very big in our family. And those 12 days of Christmas stretch from December 25th to January 6th, which is Twelfth Night. The discussions that revolved around why everyone else was throwing out their tree sometime between the 26th and January 2nd, while our decorations could not come down before the 6th, taught them history, geography, social studies, religion, and cultural studies. All that, just because mom refused to clear out the decorations.
One more activity we did every year was called “Drive through Bethlehem.” A local church set up the entire town of Bethlehem, circa the year 0, with cars lined up for miles waiting to drive through. As your car slowly made its way through their grounds, you were confronted by an encampment of eastern magi, complete with live camels, Roman guards demanding you register your family, and townspeople going about their daily lives, also surrounded by all manner of live animals. The culmination, of course, was a stable at the exit, surrounded by bright light from a star and beatific music. This amazing event taught history, geography, cultural awareness, and religion. It’s an event I never wanted to miss.
We’d also spend a lot of time on craft activities: my children made nativity scenes in shoeboxes, reindeer with antlers traced from their hands, clay Christmas tree decorations, snacks in the shape of Rudolph with antlers of pretzels and a cherry nose, and numerous other holiday crafts, and I’m not even the slightest bit artistic. Just think what you could accomplish if you are.
Add in reading some Christmas books and a field trip or two, and you have a fun and well-rounded December for your homeschool. The children will learn joyfully, you’ll get everything done that you need to, and your family will remember these times with great happiness.