holiday slow-schooling

The bulk of this post I wrote two years ago but I’m sharing it with you again today. Let me apologize in advance, this post is rather long.

I wrote a post last year about feeling anxious and stressed during the holiday season. What’s sad, is that I’m letting it happen again. I’m getting overwhelmed and saying ‘yes’ to far to many things. I hear time keep steadily ticking by and I can’t stop it’s hands, but I can slow my family down.

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I’m reminding myself that it’s not about the go, go, go, but about the memories we create. It’s not about what we do for ourselves, but about doing for others. I want my children to have memories of savoring this time, of making this season a little more special for someone else, this season where we reflect on Jesus’ birth and the sacrifice that was made for each one of us. I want to make the best use of our time.

Ann Voskamp says this in her new book, The Broken Way: A Daring Path Into the Abudanat Life, “Time isn’t something you seize; it’s something you sacrifice. It’s not something to grab; it’s something to give”  (p. 62).

So this holiday year, I am again trying to make the best use of our time by being present, relishing each moment with my kids as we give away our time. They are only little once and already they are growing up too quickly for my liking. I want to savor this time when they are little and we are all together, squished into one space. I want to teach them the only way to live life, to use time, is to give it away.

I remember, as a child, how difficult it was to concentrate on school during the holidays. Well, nothing’s changed; I’m still that way today. That’s just another reason I love teaching my kids at home. Come Thanksgiving, I start to tire of our normal day to day to day routine… so I change it. That’s the beauty of learning at home. Instead of having a Christmas break we take a break for Christmas. The kids and I are able to adapt our schedule so that we can focus a little more on the meaning of Christmas and a little less on “school”.  We never break from learning, but we do take a break from our usual routine.

We are able to accomplish this by home learning year-round. We don’t take a long summer break.

This works for us for many reasons; it helps to keep all of us in the routine of learning throughout the summer, the kids don’t get bored during the summer, Daddy (a high school science teacher) is home to help (yay for Mommy!!!), and we get to focus more on Christmas. When family come to visit, I don’t feel stressed to “do school” since we have gotten school days in during the summer.

But holiday homeschooling isn’t just for homeschoolers. If your kids go to school you can do this routine (or pieces of it) with them during Christmas vacation as well. It’s fun and it keeps them in the habit of learning.

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I have younger children (my oldest being eleven), so I don’t stress about taking a break from our regular learning routine. I’ll take it year by year and adjust as needed. I can almost guarantee we will change it up a little during this time, no matter how old they are. Here is what our Christmas learning routine looks like this year:

Our Advent Worship

We begin our day with our Advent Worship. This helps us to jump start our day in the right directions. It’s a simple routine where we focus on Jesus and living a life of discipleship and service in our advent routine.

Here are our family’s advent traditions:

1) We say a prayer, asking God to help our ears to hear Him, our eyes to see Him and to bless us with understanding for what we are about to read.

2) We light a candle. Lighting a candle always adds a “specialness” for my kids. I find it seems to calm and quiet them while we read.

3) We read out of Ann Voskamp’s Unwrapping the Greatest Gift: A Family Celebration of Christmas. (I’m also reading the book she wrote for adults: The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas during my own quiet time.) She also includes a Bible text at the beginning of the chapter and has discussion questions at the end. Caleb or Sophia (my two oldest kids) read the Bible text Ann has included out of the Bible before we begin the story. Then the kids will narrate the story back to me and we talk about what we learned in the story. We highly recommend this book!


4) We open our Acts of Kindness Advent Calendar to see what act we get to perform for someone else that day. (This is where we learn to make the best use of our time.) I found this one on Kristen’s blog,, and fell in love, so I made it. I’m a sucker for anything grain sack and vintage so she had me at her ribbon alone.

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I intentionally left our acts of kindness a bit vague so that each year we are able to perform the act a little differently. For example, Day 1 said “Do something special for Grandpa and Grandma”. The kids decided to draw them pictures this year. Next year, they might decide to do something else. Here is the list that we put into our envelopes:

Acts of Kindness ideas:

  1. Do something special for Grandma and Grandpa
  2. Give Mommy a special day (courtesy of Grandpa and how can you say no to that?)
  3. Donate food to our local food pantry.
  4. Pay for a stranger’s meal.
  5. Leave dollar bills at the Dollar Store.
  6. Bring flowers to someone.
  7. Bring cookies to a neighbor.
  8. Take a treat to our local fire department.
  9. Pick up litter.
  10. Babysit for new parents.
  11. Leave a note for someone to find.
  12. Visit someone with years of wisdom.
  13. Help carry groceries to somebody’s car.
  14. Give Daddy a special day.
  15. Tell someone you love them and give them a hug.
  16. Help someone in need.
  17. Smile at everyone you see today.
  18. Make someone a meal and bring it to their home.
  19. Go Christmas caroling.
  20. Do a task for someone in your family.
  21. Compliment someone.
  22. Make someone a card and send it to them in the mail.
  23. Leave something in the mail for the post person.
  24. Do a secret act of kindness.

5) After we perform our act of service, we lay a piece of straw in our manger. This is a new tradition that we’ve included in our advent worship just this year. “The Giving Manger is a fun + interactive Christmas tradition that helps families focus on giving, the true meaning of Christmas and the spirit of service.” I encourage you to check into this to see if it would be a good fit for your family.

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6) The kids open and eat the chocolate out of their Advent Calendars. Each year, their Oma (my mom) gifts each of her grandchildren an advent calendar. This was a tradition that I had growing up (although she doesn’t buy me one anymore). :/ The kids love to find the window for the corresponding day and eat their chocolate.


There is no “right way” to celebrate God’s advent.  All of our homes are different and our advent traditions will look different as well. What’s important is using your advent worship traditions as a life ring to Jesus during the often busy, hectic and chaotic holiday.

Bible Verse Memorization

We work on whatever Bible text we have going on at the time and take turns reviewing the ones we already know. It amazes to me how easy memorization is for kids.

Hymn Study

Joni Eareckson Tada has written a variety of books for kids on hymn study but she has one specifically for Christmas entitled, Christmas Carols for Kid’s Heart (Hymns for a Kid’s Heart, Vol. 3). It comes with a CD so the children are able to hear the hymn also (you-tube or Spotify works great for this as well). You can go as deep as you would like into the hymn, studying the author, the time it was written, the place that it was written, etc, or you can study the hymns in less detail allowing you to expose your children to more hymns. We prefer to go deeper as a family and really get to know the hymn. Sometimes it takes us a couple of weeks to study one hymn depending on the activities we do with it and how deep we go in studying it.

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Christmas Around the World

We’ve been learning about Christmas Around the World for two years now. This book,  Christmas Around the World by Brenda Trunkhill is helpful if you’re just starting out. I plan on incorporating the usual subjects (Reading, Writing, Handwriting, History, etc.) into our Christmas around the world study, including crafts (Art) and cooking (Life-skills). I am also planning on using Galloping the Globe with CD so we can learn a little more about each country we are studying.

I found a great post written by Heidi Scovel of Mt. Hope Chronicles, entitled, “Christmas Around the World“. It was fun to read how their family learns about the holiday. I bought a couple books based on her recommendations: The Legend of the Poinsettia, Christmas in Noisy Village and Brigid’s Cloak.

My mom is from Germany and she’s been telling the kids stories of her Christmas traditions, so we ordered  Christmas in Germany (Christmas around the World) and Frohliche Weihnachten: Learning Songs & Traditions in German Book & Audio CD (Teach Me) (Teach Me Series) (German Edition). I highly recommend this last book if you are interested in studying about Germany. Silent Night: The Song and It’s Story is a great book to read when studying Germany as well. is a great free resource for studying about the different cultural Christmas traditions around the world. They even provide you with free recipes.

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Reading our Christmas books

We love to read Christmas books so we read one to two (or more) depending on our day. You can find a list of our favorite 24 Christmas books here.

 A holiday learning routine for young children by

Outside Time

This happens every day; rain or shine. I believe Nature to be the best science teacher. They explore, work in the garden as part of  our gardening curriculum, play, catch lizards, pick flowers, watch birds, make a rock museum and draw in their nature journals.

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Family Chapter Book Reading

In the evening, when we are all home together, Daddy reads. Right now we are reading Freckles by Gene Stratton-Porter. We love this family time together. Often times Sophia and I take this time to crochet.

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Tuesdays are our cooking days. It’s fun to choose a recipe we haven’t made before, make something from our Christmas around the world study, or make cookies for someone for our act of kindness calendar. Caleb (my eleven-year-old) doesn’t like to cook. But I tell him that his wife will be mad at me one day if I don’t teach him and I’m hoping the more comfortable he gets with cooking, the more he will like it. Time will tell. 🙂 I love cooking days because they make using math and science fun and tangible. We often double or triple recipes which can make for some very interesting concoctions if the math isn’t done correctly.:/

We often listen to music (hymns for our hymn study or Christmas music, like Nat King Cole on Pandora) while we cook together, or I read to them. I find this helps keep the bickering at bay. 🙂

Field Trips/Fun-List

We usually see the Nutcracker and go to our local live theatre to watch a Christmas play on the history of Christmas carols, but this year we’ll be traveling, so our Christmas time at home is shorter (which means there isn’t as much time to do these things and our fun-list isn’t as long).

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So if you are getting a little burned out on your regular schedule, take a break from it. Remember learning comes in many forms. Take advantage of the holiday and take a break for Christmas.

I would love to hear ways your family learns during the Christmas break…

,  heidi