A few years ago, I noted an influx in blogs written by weary mothers expressing their frustrations with the holiday season. Many wrote how they felt like December was just a pattern of rushing from one event to the other, while also trying to figure out how to squeeze in decorating, shopping for and wrapping presents, and pulling together some Christmas morning “magic,” all while maintaining the same list of responsibilities that keeps them already overwhelmingly busy every other day of the year. There was no joy.
I identified with these authors. A big portion of my daily responsibility circled around homeschooling. How am I to meet all of these holiday expectations and homeschool? We’ve all been there. We’ve found ourselves in the middle of the rat race of “traditions” feeling that if we don’t do everything then we must be failing at the parenting game. We wrestle with the idea that if we don’t provide this end-all, be-all “magic” for the holidays, our children might grow up feeling neglected.
I’ve had to remind myself that I already have the tool kit to be successful over the holiday season. I homeschool. One of the hallmark benefits of homeschooling is real flexibility. And what is the point of flexibility if we can’t use it to our advantage during such a busy part of the year? So, I’ve set out to discover how to live in the holiday season with a purpose and balance that serves my family, rather than the hurried frenzy we were used to.
This is what I learned.
When it comes to homeschool schedules, there are different ways you can organize your time as a family. Some choose to follow the local public-school schedule, some choose to school year-round, and some choose a variation of both.
We choose to school year-round. But even within year-round school, there are different ways of doing it. Some opt for a structured, “six weeks on, one week off” schedule. Then there is what we do. I look at our needs throughout the year and schedule time off to support those needs. This allows me to schedule time off in December as our family needs it. Depending on the year, I may schedule the entire month of December off, or just two weeks, or three weeks. It varies.
Think Outside the Box
Here’s the catch. For us, time off doesn’t mean “no school,” it just means no workbooks. As I covered in my article last month, we love to incorporate cooking into homeschool. December is a great time to weave your holiday activities, like cooking, into your kids’ education. When you make those holiday goodies, make extra to deliver to friends, tutors, or the staff at your charter school, church, or wherever you feel called to spread cheer. You can also make bath salts or bath bombs for gifts and turn them into a great science lesson. Take the kids ice skating, skiing, or sledding and you’ve got physical education covered. Take them to see the Nutcracker and you’ve added in some fine arts. Read “A Christmas Carol” as your choice of literature for your children. Build an Operation Christmas Child box, or volunteer at the local senior center, or the soup kitchen and now you’ve added in some real-world social studies. What about art? Think of all the amazing Christmas crafts! Gingerbread houses, anyone? Christmas cookies? These are all wonderful forums for artistic expression.
As I mentioned, we love to find ways to make the presents we will be giving to others. Some of my favorite ideas are:
- Chocolate-covered anything. This is such a fun activity! We have experimented with chocolate-covered caramels, Oreos, pretzels, and gummy bears. The variations are endless. Instructions for melting chocolate can usually be found right on the bag or on the internet.
- Trail Mix! There are tons of recipe ideas for trail mix online. Make your own combinations. Kids have fun choosing what to include.
- Bath bombs or bath fizzles. Again, the internet will be your friend here. My girls’ favorite part is picking out the essential oils to add and using cookie cutters to make fun shapes!
I love to “wrap” all of these different kinds of gifts in mason jars with little personalized notes. I find this to be a good opportunity to teach my children about sustainability and how mason jars can be reused for many different purposes by the person we are giving them to.
When it comes to presents for our own kids, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with all of the material options. Our family tends to focus so much on all of the activities and gift-making that I’ve wrestled with finding ways to facilitatate meaningful giving within our family.
One way I have found to veer away from materialistic giving is to give and request “time” and “activity” presents.
Some of our favorite gifts have been:
- A gift card to a local coffee shop for hot chocolate dates with Mom and/or Dad
- Memberships to places such as the museum or zoo
- Board games
- Arts and crafts or STEM projects
- Money toward supporting a hobby, activity, or passion- such as musical instrument lessons or sports
- Money toward an activity we want to do during a family vacation
- Money toward an awesome field trip
You can take the focus off money even further by giving according to the members of your family’s individual love languages. Build a coupon book filled with coupons that speak to their love language. One of my girls’ love language is “quality time,” so I would include coupons like, “a date with mom” or “game night.” My daughter who feels loved most by “acts of service” might receive a coupon book with things like, “one day free of chores” or “pick your favorite meal for dinner.”
Bring it all together
Applying these practices has helped our homeschooling family turn the holiday season from a constant, joyless hustle to a season where we can pause our normal day-to-day to look at life and relationships a little differently. And we’ve found the joy again.
I encourage you to deliberately stop all the hustle and bustle and find ways that suit your family to truly embrace and enjoy this holiday season!