by Katie Julius
When should Christmas celebrations start? It’s something that’s heavily debated, with each side staunchly defending their position. I’m in the camp that Christmas doesn’t start until after we’ve celebrated what we are thankful for. The long weekend after Thanksgiving is traditionally when our family pulls out our decorations and we begin our roughly month-long celebration. Many of these annual traditions, activities, and events require more attention and planning than most of our year-round ones. Perhaps you’ve already felt the stress of the holiday season. Maybe you’re thinking, how does school fit into the busyness of this season that’s supposed to be focused on the anticipation and expectancy of the arrival of our Lord and Savior?
You are not alone. The obvious answer is to take a step back and make intentional decisions to simplify your plans for this year. I fully acknowledge that this is extremely difficult to do, and it may be a bit too late to implement this year, especially if you have commitments for performances or other group and team activities (but tuck the idea away to consider for next year).
If you find yourself staring at the next few weeks wondering how to fit in all in, I may have a solution for you – Christmas School. I can’t lay claim to this concept as it was introduced to me by a veteran mentor homeschool mama. I would venture a guess she didn’t come up with the concept herself either. Wherever it originated from, it can take a variety of forms, depending upon each family’s unique circumstances and educational philosophy. Let’s take a look at five different ideas that you can implement fairly easily over the next few weeks.
Focus on the Essentials
Our family utilizes this principle in all our busy seasons, not just the holidays. Whether it’s the month before our musical performance or the few weeks leading up to convention, I find that I am able to focus less time on our academics. It’s in these times that we make sure to set aside time to get the essentials of school done – for us, that’s math, reading, and Bible. This will vary based on your child’s age, but we have found it beneficial in the elementary years when they tend to need a bit more hands-on supervision from a parent to complete school work.
We’ve never embraced this fully yet, but have incorporated it in place of our regular history and science studies this time of year. If you aren’t familiar with Unit Studies, they’re a type of “curriculum” that focus many or all subjects around one topic. For example, if you were to utilize a unit study about Christmas Around the World, you would spend your time learning about the geography, cultures, food, art, history, and traditions of those countries through books, writing, and hands-on projects. Each year, I seem to see more and more variety pop up. Some other topics I’ve seen include hymn or Christmas music studies (Handel’s Messiah, Christmas carols), historical period holiday studies (usually in conjunction with literature selections), literature or author studies (A Christmas Carol, Polar Express, etc.), holiday traditions (St. Nicholas), and you could even put your own together (again, one of those things to note in your planning for next year).
There have been some years where we just put away all of our traditional academics and focus on our family’s traditions. There are so many different ways that kids learn, and what better way than to prepare for Christmas together as a family. Some of our traditions have included ice skating, watching a performance of The Nutcracker, baking cookies with family, Christmas caroling, going to the special holiday celebration at the local aquarium, decorating our home, addressing Christmas cards, planning Christmas dinner, etc. These experiences are part of our normal holiday celebrations. It doesn’t take any extra planning for me. I can focus on these tasks that need to be done anyway and knock out school at the same time.
I grew up in a faith tradition that put great emphasis on the liturgical calendar, especially Advent. While the churches of my adulthood haven’t had that same emphasis, I have found richness in these practices with my own family at home. We have an advent wreath. We light the candles before dinner each Sunday. I try to find a new advent devotional to read together each day as well. This is another thing that you could go down a rabbit hole with the amount of resources available. There are options for daily and weekly readings. Some include activities, crafts, or songs. You can usually find some for free or fairly low-cost. If you find one you love, save it and use it year after year.
Homeschooling is about so much more than academics. As Christian parents, our job is to “train up a child in the way he should go.” This means we also need to be teaching our children about being respectful, responsible, honest, kind, helpful, obedient, thankful … the list goes on. What better opportunity do we have to model what these important characteristics look like than in the busyness of the holiday season? There are usually a number of opportunities for service in your church or community this time of year, which I strongly encourage you to do together as a family at least once. But you also want to be sure to consider their hearts within your home and toward their family members. This is a great time to set aside the academics and work on some heart issues that may have crept in this fall. Ask God to show you these areas – both in your kids and yourself and make this your Christmas family project this year.
How does your family approach school during the advent season? Share some of your resources in the comments below.