We are the moms: the torch-bearers of holiday cheer. In December tend to feel the honor and weight of that responsibility. After all, these are the times our kids will remember forever (no pressure)! We should be able to do it all, we tell ourselves. But the non-holiday stuff continues to pile up, too, adding complications to our lofty goals. We’ve still got to get in math, history, and science in somehow, we’ve still got the errands, responsibilities, chores. And even if do we get all of the bullet-points neatly checked off, we still may find ourselves spread just a bit too thin. Somehow, the attempt to do all of the things can (paradoxically) rob us of some the holiday joy, peace, and coziness that we were pursuing in the first place. Not cool.
If that sounds like you, I’m here to tell you something:
Involving your kids in holiday activities can be naturally educational! And it’s okay to ease off of formal academics a little (or even a lot) and embrace that fact!
From what I can tell, this is a long-valued secret weapon of homeschooling moms at Christmastime. However, especially if you are a new homeschooling parent, this knowledge may hit you with the same lightning bolt-effect with which it first hit me. Maybe you’re just stressed to the max and need to hear it. In case you are either of those people, I’m going to say it again:
It’s okay to not focus on traditional academics this time of year! It’s okay to do holiday stuff instead! It’s OKAY.
There are a lot of reasons that taking a more learn-from-life approach to education around the holidays can actually be more than okay. Another article on this site goes into more depth about 3 reasons not to do school in December. And this article is all about sure-fire ways a homeschooling mom can accidentally ruin Christmas. (Disclaimer: they all related to obsessively trying to check off various to-do lists.)
You get the point by now: it’s a perfect time of year to let loose of the formal academic reigns a little bit and enjoy the season with your kids. And as I said, a lot of holiday activities have natural educational value, particularly if you are trying to be mindful of a hands-on learning approach. If you are wanting to have fun with more hands-on learning this December, here are 10 holiday activities to use in your homeschool!
1. Baking and Cooking
In homeschooling, it’s no secret that the kitchen can be the perfect meeting place of “school” and “life skills.” Cooking and baking is a fun way to make memories together over the holidays, and these actions also have natural value in helping kids better understand math (measuring, counting, fractions), science (especially for baking), art, and home economics, too! If you are baking for Christmas, you can also talk about the history behind some of the treats that we make this time of year, such as peppermint or gingerbread-flavored treats. If you celebrate Hanukkah (or even if you are just trying to teach your kids about Hanukkah), you could try your hand at making traditional Hanukkah fare, like latkes!
Whether you have young children or teens, there are a variety of different ways you can involve your kids in the valuable life-skill of budgeting. If you like to let your young kids pick out small gifts for their friends, you could give them a budget and have them do the math before picking things out. Or if you have teens, you could even involve them in working out the household gift-giving budget and/or bargain hunting. I think these kinds of math skills are invaluable because they are the ones we often use the most frequently as adults. (If you find that your teen is particularly gifted at working out budgets, etc, can you send him/her to my house afterwards, please?)
3. DIY Decorations and Gifts
Most kids (and adults) can really enjoy an afternoon spent together making crafts, especially when there’s a purpose behind the crafting, such as a DIY decoration or gift! Creating things to fill your home with beauty or give to someone else is a wonderful activity to enjoy together during the holidays. If you’ve been experiencing any holiday stress, taking an afternoon to do some DIY crafting can be a very satisfying opportunity to slow down and re-focus, too! Kids usually love the chance to make things and use their hands, and these sorts of activities can foster their creativity and critical thinking. Below are a few that you may want to try:
4. Decoration and Design
Get your kids involved with creating a winter wonderland in your home (and keeping it beautiful the whole season long!) Some people who are really enthusiastic about beautiful spaces and decorating may want to assign each child a room, have him/her come up with a theme, and plan/budget a color scheme/look/design for that room. (The literature lover in me thinks there is educational value any time you teach kids to think in terms of “theme” and “symbolism.”) I don’t know about where you live, but where I live (in the South), man people have different Christmas themes in different rooms.
Now, as much as I might wish I was that person, I tend to keep things much more simple. I am personally quite happy with one tree, things sort of put away where they ought to be, and a clean/cozy feeling to the main living area. Whichever kind of ship you run, though, it can be a fun and educational thing to get your kids more involved with home decor/upkeep. Now what do we call this from an educational standpoint? Home Economics? Interior Design? Gift-Wrapping or Elf Culture? I’m not sure, but feel free to get creative with it!
5. Read Together
Most homeschooling families have a deep appreciation of books and reading. I think that reading with your kids, and creating those positive associations with books, is one of the most important things you can do as a parent and as a teacher. There’s also no better time to read together than when it’s cold outside and you have a sparkly Christmas tree inside. Reading together is educational and even budget-friendly (also a nice perk for this time of year), but it’s also an irreplaceably magical experience. If you are looking for some ideas for books to read together with your young children, check out this list of List of 30 Christmas Picture Books to Share with Children. If you have older children or teens, this list has some good ideas for holiday-themed chapter books, too!
6. Games and Puzzles
Games and puzzles are always fun and educational, so they’re our reliable friends in the homeschooling world. However, the holidays offer a chance to lean into them even more as you emphasize quality time together. Three of my favorite family games are Apples to Apples (which is great for teaching vocabulary and verbs vs. nouns), Scrabble (this most-ages game is good for math, spelling, and reading), and a Sherlock Holmes inspired game called 221 B Baker Street (a mystery-solving game that teens and parents can enjoy playing together). I’d love to know what some of your favorite family games are in the comments!
7. Hold a Friendly Competition
If you have a few kids, a friendly competition could be a great source of fun, resourcefulness, and memory-making for your family this year. For example, some families do epic gingerbread house competitions every Christmas. I participated in one of these one year and was astounded by the engineering skills required to construct an impressive and original gingerbread house (AKA definitely educational). If you like the idea of engineering challenge (but maybe on a smaller scale) you may enjoy doing this Cranberry Raft Engineering Challenge!
Alternatively, you could really have any kind of competition: who can put up the most lights, or make the most decadent hot chocolate, ect! Any time you are encouraging kids to be create and competitive, you’re kind of naturally prompting scientific thinking: your kids are sure to be observing, hypothesizing and experimenting with how to make the the best (…well, whatever you decide to make your competition about.)
8. Practice Creative Documentation
Do you have a junior journalist, poet, director, artist or photographer? A creative educational activity for him or her could be to document your family’s holiday memories! There are endless ways for your child to be creative and have fun with this concept. Here are just a few ideas:
- Have your child (or children) take one photo each day that he or she feels captures the spirit of that day throughout the month of December. After Christmas, print them out and make a small scrapbook to remember your season by!
- Have your child keep a daily journal. You could have creative writing prompts each day, certain parameters, or just have him/her write about whatever comes to mind.
- Have your child paint or draw his or her own Christmas (or Hanukkah) design and make it into a card to send or give to friends/family.
- If you have a older child or teen who is into film, you could have him/her make something creative to remember this holiday by, like a Christmas music video with your family, or a mini-documentary!
There are so many ways to get creative with this one, so have fun and make it your own!
9. Talk About Other Cultures
Christmastime offers an amazing opportunity to talk about other cultures, because each country has its own traditions for celebrating this holiday! You could cook through some recipes and talk about their country of origin, read holiday books from around the world, or discuss some of the other holidays celebrated this time of year, such as Hanukkah or Kwanzaa. You could even talk about the origin of many of our American traditions (a lot of them come from England and Germany) !
10. Work on the Heart
Of course, one of the best things about taking a little break from the normal academic hustle during the holiday season is that it gives you more of an opportunity to focus on the reason for the season. We live in a culture that’s all about “getting,” and kids are naturally inclined to be into the “getting” aspect of Christmas as well. Taking a break from the everyday hustle over the holidays gives us the chance to focus on the deeper meaning Christmas. Personally, this is especially important to me as a Christian because I view the gift-giving aspect of Christmas as a symbol of God’s gift to mankind. I don’t want to get so wrapped up in the minutia that I miss that, and I don’t want to fail to teach that as a parent, either. Whatever your personal views about the holidays are, though, I think most of us can agree that they are a time when we should focus on giving to others and finding joy and contentment in acts of kindness. This Christmas, work on the heart in your homeschool by talking frequently about the reason for the holiday, and by having your child find a special way to show kindness to others, whether it’s something small, like writing a card to an elderly family member, or something bigger, like giving a gift to a foster child or volunteering some of his/her time to a good purpose.
I hope that at least one of these ideas has gotten you excited about some ways to incorporate some (sneakily educational) holiday experiences into your homeschool this month! In this season (and maybe this year more than ever) I think it’s important to refocus on, and enjoy, the things that matter most. What are some holiday activities that you bring into your homeschool? Do you plan to try any of the things on this list?