Looking back over the years, December has always been one of the most difficult months for homeschooling. Right around the end of November, my children just seem to lose the ability to focus on their lessons. Unfortunately, it isn’t just the children who lose focus – my schedule tends to get a little busier this time of year too. Distractions range from shopping, baking, extra housework and decorating, to preparing for company – there is a lot to do in December!
The easy way out is to just take the whole month off of formal school work. When the children were smaller, we did just that. I threw the lesson plans out the window and we just picked back up again in January when we were all refreshed and ready to dive back into school. But what if you aren’t able to take the whole month off of school? How can you maintain some sense of order in the chaos of the holiday season?
Make the Holidays the Curriculum
If studying the Civil War or diagramming sentences is pushing your children to the limit, maybe set those things aside to focus on something fun. There are so many ways to incorporate “school” into the fun of the holiday season!
Whether you celebrate Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa or Chinese New Year – there are so many great books to read about this time of year! At the end of November, I start scouring my bookshelves for all of our holiday related books. I keep them all in a basket in our living room so that they are easy to find. We choose our reading materials from the Holiday Book Basket for most of December. Some of them are just to read for fun, but I try to use at least one or two of them to do a deeper study. I’ll take passages from the books and use them as copywork and dictation, if the story takes place somewhere interesting, we’ll look for it on a map and learn a bit more about that part of the world. We might make a related craft, cook a related recipe or try writing our own version of a favorite tale. There are so many ways to sneak in academics in a enjoyable way.
Why not throw some cultural geography into your studies and learn about all of the different winter holidays around the world. There are really quite a few! From the common – Christmas and Hanukkah, to the more foreign like Diwali, Bohdi Day and Chinese New Year. This makes for a fascinating geography unit. You can keep it simple and just discuss the different holidays while looking over a world map, or go all in and make traditional holiday meals, learn about the symbolism and add to your festive decor, or celebrate each of the holidays as you study them. There are a plethora of books to be found about many of the winter holidays – just ask your local librarian or search Amazon!
Do you have an artistic child? Have them design homemade Christmas cards to send out to family and friends. This could include writing a fun little poem or a quote from a favorite song – so art and writing – two birds with one stone! Or you can find some cool cookie cutters and design some cool holiday themed cookies to decorate!
Another favorite and very fun writing activity with my children is to rewrite the lyrics to favorite carols. There’s nothing like singing a Middle Earth version of “The 12 Days of Christmas,” or “You’re a Nice One Mr. Grinch.” Let their creativity shine through and see what hilarious or sweet lyrics they can come up with.
While you might want to continue your formal math lessons, you could also take this time of year to incorporate some “fun” math. My kids love it when I pull out a board game like Monopoly or Smath. There are so many great ways to study math – even just a simple dice game can give a child the chance to practice their math skills in a way that they don’t even realize they are doing math.
Another fun way to sneak in that math is by holiday shopping! While shopping may sometimes be a dreaded activity for us parents, I’ve never known a kid to not enjoy getting to shop “like a grown up.” Start with making a list before leaving home – who are they shopping for? What kind of gift might they like? Then give them a set amount of money and let them calculate their purchases. It’s funny how they will grab for anything and everything when I’m the one buying, but when it’s “their” money they suddenly become bargain hunters! Your local dollar store is a perfect place for your younger children to “shop” without breaking your budget, but getting something small for everyone on their list.
And of course there is baking! If you are going to be doing it anyway, then make it a family project. Cooking is an important and often overlooked skill. So invite your children into the kitchen to be your baking assistant. Double a recipe and have your child work out the measurements. Just the act of baking with a loved one is such an important family memory. One of our family’s favorite activities is making gingerbread men. This is a simple and fun activity that everyone can do – from the 2 year old to the 17 year old. I love to see my children’s creativity shine through their often wacky designs.
If you do Santa at your house, you will want to check out NORAD’s Santa Tracker. You can follow Santa’s travels all over the globe as he makes his way to your house. My kids loving seeing all the locations and how far Santa travels in one night. It’s a fun site and we often find new places on the map that the children hadn’t ever heard of before!
Get out in nature – it’s a great time to observe the changing of the seasons. I try to take the kids for a nature walk on the Winter Solstice. We look for animal tracks, put out a treat for the birds, do bark rubbings, and maybe make a sketch of the barren landscape. Even in the winter it’s important to connect with nature, even if it’s only briefly.
This is also a great time of year for a service project. It’s easy to find plenty of options during the holidays – whether it’s adopting a family, serving at your local soup kitchen or donating food to your local food bank. Don’t forget about the elderly. They are often lonely and neglected during the holiday season. You might plan a visit to a nearby nursing home to read stories or sing carols with the residents.
The holiday season is often stressful, so make homeschooling the least stressful part. Remember to relax and be flexible – it’s one of the best assets of homeschooling! Work on building family memories instead of checking off boxes in your lesson plans. Make the holidays the curriculum and you will all have a much more enjoyable December.
Emily Cook is the author and creator of the secular homeschool curriculum Build Your Library, a literature-based K-8 program infused with the teachings of Charlotte Mason. She writes full year lesson plans as well as shorter topical unit studies. Emily has been homeschooling her four children in Southern NH for 13 years. She is passionate about reading aloud to children of all ages and loves to share her love of literature with others. She and her family also makes incredibly dorky videos about homeschooling, books and more on Youtube at ARRRGH! Schooling. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest