“And the Grinch, with his Grinch-feet ice cold in the snow, stood puzzling and puzzling, how could it be so? It came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore. Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before. What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store. What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more.” – Dr. Seuss
Autumn leaves are rustling, there’s a chill in the air, a fire is blazing, a cup of hot cocoa warms my hands and I am already getting in the holiday spirit! What a perfect time to start thinking about shelving the textbooks, focusing on the reason for the holiday season, and remembering why we started homeschooling in the first place.
For our family, homeschooling meant giving our sons a well-rounded, quality education, but it was far more than that. Homeschooling our children was about giving them a Christ-centered family legacy, building family relationships and memories, and instilling in them our core values, beliefs, and a lifelong love for learning and literature. The holidays presented us with the perfect opportunity to continue to do all these things…free from textbooks.
Much like Dr. Seuss’s Grinch, the holidays reminded us that learning doesn’t just come from textbooks. In fact, the most important kind of learning doesn’t come from a textbook at all. No, what we wanted most to teach our sons meant so much more. So, by the time Thanksgiving week arrived, we began winding down from “school as usual” and switching into holiday mode right through the New Year.
We spent Thanksgiving week enjoying Thanksgiving devotionals and completing the 3 Rs (reading, writing, and arithmetic) in the morning. That week’s reading consisted of books pertaining to Thanksgiving and the Pilgrims, but our afternoons were spent busily preparing for the big day. I’m a firm believer that both girls and boys should learn basic life skills, so our sons spent November afternoons helping us tidy our home and preparing ahead for our Thanksgiving feast. They also enjoyed arts and crafts while making decorations for our Thanksgiving table.
Once Thanksgiving was over, our Christmas celebration began in earnest and that meant “taking off” the entire month of December from school. But, learning as you will see was still in full swing.
As a veteran homeschooler, I believe one of the greatest things we can pass on to our children are cherished family traditions. Some of your holiday traditions may have been passed down from generation to generation. Others may be brand new. One of the many benefits of homeschooling is that we have more time to devote to those traditions, and our family took full advantage of that fact!
Front and center on our December to-do list was setting up our manger scene and hanging our advent calendar. Each morning found us cuddled up on the sofa reading a Christmas devotional and one or two favorite holiday books, as songs of the season played quietly in the background. As the month progressed, we filled each day with fun activities, while busily preparing for Jesus’ birthday. I even found crafty ways to sneak writing into our days by having our sons create our family Christmas card, insert a message, properly address the envelopes, write a Christmas wish list, and make cards for residents of a local nursing or assisted living home.
Our basket of Christmas-themed library books beckoned us to “sit a spell” and read, and read we did! Christmas music resting on the piano invited our sons to play, and play they did!
Our family is big into homemade gifts, so we carefully considered what we wanted to make each person and spent our time diligently and secretively creating them. Those handmade and heartfelt gifts were the most cherished gifts of all.
“Taking off” the month of December gave us time to teach our children the importance of caring for and sharing with others. We baked homemade gifts for friends and neighbors. We gathered the change we had saved throughout the year and delivered it to the Salvation Army. We served as Red Kettle bell ringers, participated in Operation Christmas Child, served at local rescue missions with our 4H club, and donated gifts to Toys for Tots.
Freeing up our academic schedule also allowed our kids more time to perform in and attend an occasional Christmas production or gingerbread house making class, without adding undue stress to our holiday celebration.
Our annual 4H Christmas party was always a much anticipated event. One year, the theme was “Christmas Around the World.” Each child chose and researched a country and its Christmas traditions. They reported their findings to the club and cooked one of their nation’s holiday foods to share at our potluck lunch.
Over the years, we also hosted our share of homemade ornament exchanges and made additional ornaments to give to close friends and family members.
Each year, the boys looked forward to putting up a tree in their bedroom. Most years it was just a modest scrub pine or artificial tree, but they had so much fun spending the afternoon decorating and lighting both it and their room. Come twilight, they proudly unveiled their illuminated creation to Mom and Dad’s squeals of delight.
They learned to love to cook as they continued their “culinary education” while helping make holiday favorites, including our Happy Birthday Jesus Cake. They learned to become better consumers and stewards of their money as they shopped for just the right gift for each family member. Throughout the month, we also enjoyed classic Christmas movies and, occasionally, putting together a Christmas puzzle.
Each fun-filled activity led up to the day I looked forward to most…and still do…Christmas Eve! The kids could hardly wait til Christmas morning, but for me Christmas Eve is magical. We attend candlelight service and ooh and aah at the beautifully lit homes and businesses along the way. Awaiting our arrival at home is our traditional Christmas Eve feast. Then, we each open an ornament and hang them on the tree. No Christmas Eve at our house is complete, however, until we read the second chapter of Luke, a passage from Intimate Moments with the Savior, and ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. Finally, we light Jesus’ birthday cake and sing him “Happy Birthday.”
December is a busy month for all families, but freeing up our academic schedule gave us the luxury of embracing the true meaning of Christmas and passing on precious holiday traditions, without the added stress of school. Yet, without opening a single textbook, we homeschooled right through the holidays! We covered Biblical history, American history, world cultures, classic literature, reading, writing, music, arts & crafts, music appreciation, drama, community service, math, and home economics. Yes, we checked off academics. But, our guys learned oh so much more!
From our family to yours…Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy New Year!