Stress free homeschooling is possible, even during the holidays. In this post I wanted to give you some simple ways to incorporate Christmas into your school day without adding planning time or complicated supplies. These ideas are meant to be productive, simple and fun. I’ve tried to stick to ideas that require minimal teacher input.
Christmas Around the World – Pick a country or a continent (if you are studying geography use the countries or regions in your courses), and explore the traditions in those areas.
Give your child a country and have them google ‘Christmas in……’ After they have gathered a few facts, located the country on a map, they can write a paragraph or two about what they have learned and share it with the family. That could easily be the end of it, and you would have had some reading, writing and geography all done.
However, if your child is motivated they could choose to share their new knowledge in a variety of formats.
- Preparing a power point presentation would give them some word processing practice.
- Making a poster board with a map, flag, and illustration of Christmas traditions.
- Making a simple book (pages folded in half and stapled).
- Preparing a skit or oral presentation.
(North American Aerospace Defense Command, which is a military bi-national organization. The two nations in charge of NORAD are the United States and Canada).
We were always truthful with our kids about Santa, the North Pole, and elves. (Along with the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy) However, we didn’t ban Santa, Santa movies or books, etc.
A while back I discovered that NORAD tracks Santa’s journey on Christmas Eve and that during the month of December a website dedicated to Santa is updated daily. The updates include weather reports, problems Santa is encountering, etc. There is a game to play each day and a variety of activities online.
You could easily incorporate some time on NORAD with a globe to familiarize your children with world geography or you could take it a few steps further.
I also recently discovered that during the Civil War a variety of stories about Santa developed. In one, a young girl wrote to Santa with a map that would help him get across the Union blockades. In another children were told that Santa had been shot out of the sky by a Yankee, and that was why there were no Christmas presents. In still another, a kindly general had his soldier tie branches to horses (reindeer) and deliver blankets and food to children in his area.
Expanding on this idea, it might be interesting to have children map out a route for Santa that takes into account air traffic, storms, or conflict zones (Depending on the ages of the kids).
There are a few classic historical events that are tied to Christmas. Again, with the INTERNET and google you don’t need specific books to learn about these events. I would suggest giving your children one of these to look up and then have them share what they learned.
If you happen to be studying American History a natural connection is George Washington’s famous crossing of the Delaware on Christmas Day.
A more modern event is the the famous Christmas Truce during World War I on the Western Front. The accounts of this Truce are truly moving and worth reading about.
I Googled Christmas and a variety of wars and presidents and always got some results. I would imagine whatever history your children are studying you could find a Christmas tie in.
In particular I was intrigued by this account about Thomas Nast, an illustrator during the Civil War. He used his drawings as a propaganda tool for the Union. In particular he used the image of Santa as a recruiting tool, and as an instrument to punish the rebels in the South. At the end of the war he purposefully moved Santa to the North Pole so that Santa could not be used again for nationalistic propaganda. Lincoln called Nast’s use of Santa Claus “the best recruiting sergeant the North ever had”
Literature abounds with books, poems and songs that celebrate Christmas. There are so many to explore and choose from…from simple story books, to classics like Dickens ‘A Christmas Tale’ or Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’.
Obviously, you could just collect a basket of Christmas stories and have your children read them for their reading time each day.
But to add in some grammar and spelling practice you could try the following. Do as many or as few of these variations as fits your day. Choose a book slightly below your child’s reading level. This exercise can be beneficial for children from 1st-12th grade depending on the paragraph selected.
- Each day, (or every few days) select a paragraph from a Christmas story your children like. (You could also use the Christmas story as told in Luke 2). Have your children read and study the paragraph.
- Pull some words out of the story and give them as a spelling test.
- Remove the punctuation from the paragraph and see if your kids can add it back in.
- Have your child list all of the nouns in the paragraph.
- Have them list all of the verbs, adverbs, adjectives.
- Have your child find the subjects of each sentence.
- Have them list any literary devices such as similes, alliterations, or metaphors.
- If there are difficult words have them look up the meanings of those words.
- Have them practice reading the paragraph aloud with emotion and drama.
- Dictate the paragraph (or a sentence if your children are younger) and see if they can write it correctly.
- Have your child diagram the sentence…underline the subject, double underline the verb, place prepositional phrases into parenthesis.
- Rewrite the paragraph with 5-7 errors and see if they can catch them all.
- Have them create a paragraph that would follow the one they have been working with.
Using familiar Christmas literature as mentor texts. Christmas picture books, while simple, can also be profound and moving. They can also be a great jumping off point to teach writing. It can be difficult to write something ‘out of thin air’, but having a clear example can ease students into writing a compelling piece. Here are some of my favorite Christmas books that are a bit more unusual.
If your child has a favorite Christmas book, focus on one aspect of that book and create a writing assignment based on that. For instance, ‘Olive the other Reindeer’, is a Christmas story about a dog who hears the song ‘all of the other’ and believes he must be a reindeer and travels to the North Pole to help Santa. He does this by using his dog skills of stick fetching and a keen sense of smell.
Have your child brainstorm about animals and list their strengths. It’s often fun to try to work with the least likely, heroic animal possible. Perhaps a hamster who can squeeze through small places, a chameleon who can change colors, or a cat how is especially adept at scratching. Then have them consider a scenario when Santa, or Frosty, or the Grinch could use that particular skill…and you are off.
After reading Dicken’s story about Scrooge, maybe you could have the spirits of Christmas past visit someone else, perhaps Snape from the Harry Potter series. Any disagreeable character from a book your kids are reading might improve with a visit from the ghosts from Dicken’s story.
Often we over think these types of writing exercises and think we aren’t creative enough to come up with them on our own. Truth is, most of your kids could come up with a dozen if you gave them a start with a good story and then help them think of ways to tweak it.
There are so many wonderful works of art based on the story of the Nativity I couldn’t begin to make a list here.
To keep this exploration of art simple and stress free I’m going to suggest you do a very basic exercise, but one that is key to developing an appreciation of art…and that is noticing the details. You can find a great selection of Christmas art on my Advent in Art page.
- Choose a painting to study. Enlarge it on your screen so you can see details.
- Have your child study the picture for 60 seconds. Then turn it away and have them tell you everything they remember.
- Then allow them to examine it another 60 seconds and repeat.
- After you have done this a few times give them a paper and pencil. The idea is not to replicate the picture, but to jot down in a quick sketch where everything is and all the details they can remember.
- Make a note of colors, clothing, placement of figures, lighting, clues as to when in history the painting was made, are their odd details which don’t make sense, what time of day is it, is it indoors or out doors etc.
A few days later choose another painting. I would suggest that you choose a painting by the same artist, or one with the same subject matter. For instance, it would be interesting to compare paintings of the angel appearing to Mary to tell her she is with child. Different artists in different centuries would present this story in unique ways and highlight different details.
If you want something a bit more in depth I’ve created a Christmas Art Lesson that you can purchase. This lesson explores a Northern Renaissance altarpiece of The Annunciation and would be a wonderful addition to your studies this month.
Again, Christmas abounds in special music. I have a series of books about the stories behind the songs of Christmas, and they are fascinating. I’m sure many of those stories are available online.
An easy music lesson would be to have your children research the story behind Handel’s Messiah, and then listen to it. Often during the holidays, you can find a live presentation of the Messiah that is done with the audience singing along.
The STEM challenges that we have been doing are very easy to set up, but allow students to work with scientific principles in creative and compelling ways.
If you go on Pinterest and look up Christmas STEM challenges you will find a variety that are done with things you probably have around the house, and require very little set up. Choosing one or two to do this month would be a fun break from the usual, and generally occupies the kids for 30-60 minutes. You can find lots of STEM and STEAM challenges on my Pinterest board here.
The obvious math connect with Christmas, at least for me, is having kids double or triple recipes. This gives them some hands on fractions practice.
Another natural connect between the holidays and math is managing money. Having children do a budget for gifts, search for good prices, and figure the discounts that sales give…and you have practical applications of working with decimals and percentages.
You could extend this budgeting idea to planning a holiday meal and having kids figure out the costs during a trip to the grocery store.
Money is a stress for many of us during the holidays, and these exercises will give kids a bit of a reality check.
I hope you’ll be able to use some of these ideas. I’ll be posting these, and a few more over the next weeks.