It’s undeniable that this holiday time of year is cheerful, magical, and full of anticipation. Putting up the twinkle lights, decorating the Christmas tree, trying new recipes, feasting with family, opening gifts, and for some, celebrating your faith… it all creates this atmosphere of joy and delight.
Except… when it doesn’t. While the holidays can certainly be magical, a lot of times we can feel thrown off our routine. For families who homeschool, you may be figuring out how to balance your daily rhythms and curricula, while partaking in fun holiday activities. For families whose children attend traditional school, you may be juggling enjoying your children’s time at home during Christmas break with work expectations. And many of you families may be in the in-between… still navigating distance learning, feeling like you are homeschooling and traditional schooling all at once while desiring to engage in the cheerfulness of this season.
Whatever your family’s educational situation is currently, I want you to know one thing: YOU get to decide what this season looks like for your children and your family. I encourage you to drop some of the weighty expectations you might be putting on yourself. It’s okay if your home isn’t the picture perfect Christmas scene. It’s okay to get store bought cookies over homemade. It’s okay if your children seem to be “checking out” of formal learning during this time. It’s okay if the only learning they do for the rest of the month is leisure reading and play.
It’s all okay. During this time, I challenge you to replace pressure with presence… curricula with connection… formal learning with family time… busy-ness with room to breathe. These are the things your child will remember.
Having said that, loose structure can be our friend. Having a few tricks up your sleeve can alleviate some of the “what are we doing today?” questions and give you a sense of direction for your day. So, I want to give you three simple, low-prep learning ideas and activities to help connect your family and keep the Christmas cheer going during this season!
Read, read… then read some more.
Never underestimate the power that leisure, choice-based reading can have on a child’s education. Truly, if the only formal learning you do this season is read, it will be well worth it. Research shows that reading aloud to your child (whether they are 1 year old or 15) has endless benefits, from modeling fluent, expressive reading, to engaging in storytelling, to simply (and powerfully) finding common ground for connection with your children.
Take a trip to the library together to scout out some favorite holiday reads. Is your library not open due to COVID? Most libraries these days have a website or app dedicated to helping you find and place books on hold for pick up! Call your local library to see what that protocol is. Here are some of our favorite Christmas books:
- Infants & Toddlers:
- Construction Site on Christmas Night by Sherri Duskey Rinker
- Little Blue Truck’s Christmas by Alice Schertle
- Llama Llama Jingle Bells by Anna Dewdney
- Where Is Baby’s Christmas Present?: A Lift-the-Flap Book by Karen Katz
- There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Bell! by Lucille Colandro
- If You Take a Mouse to the Movies by Laura Numeroff
- Picture Books:
- The Night Before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore
- Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
- How the Grinch Stole Christmas! by Dr. Seuss
- Christmas in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
- The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry
- The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree: An Appalachian Story by Gloria Houston
- An Orange for Frankie by Patricia Polacco
- Chapter Books:
- Greenglass House by Kate Milford
- Winterfrost by Michelle Houts
- The True Gift by Patricia MacLachlan
- The Last Holiday Concert by Andrew Clements
- The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus by Julie Lane
- Nancy and Plum by Betty MacDonald
- A Boy Called Christmas by Matt Haig
- Letters From Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien
- A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
There are so many fun, simple ways to incorporate reading during the holiday season. Build a fort in the family room and have a read-a-thon for the day. Do flashlight reading under the stars at night. Set aside just 15 minutes before bedtime to read aloud to your kids (or have an older sibling be in charge of read alouds!). Download an app or visit a website for audiobooks, like Epic, Audible, or Story Nory. Play audiobooks during breakfast time. There are so many possibilities!
Make a Christmas sensory bin.
If you have a busy toddler at home who’s just dying to get their hands on anything and everything, sensory bins might just be your lifesaver! A sensory bin is an open-ended activity where children can play and explore using their five senses. A sensory bin is usually made up of a bin containing some sort of filler material, and small (usually thematic) elements for your child to manipulate. Most items for a sensory bin can be purchased at your local dollar store! Here are some fun, Christmas themed sensory bin ideas…
- Ornament Sensory Bin
- What you need: Bin, white beans, plastic ornaments, clear ornaments for filling, ornament hooks, red/white/green poms, sensory tools.
- Set up: Place all materials in bin. Have your child practice threading ornament hooks on ornaments, scooping beans, or filling clear ornaments with poms.
- Jingle Bells Sensory Bin
- Snowball Sensory Bin
- What you need: Bin, cotton balls, toy tractors, sensory tools.
- Set up: Place all materials in bin. Have your child play pretend by “snowplowing” the snow with the tractors. They can also practice picking up the cotton balls with the tweezers or other sensory tools.
- Hot Cocoa Sensory Bin
- What you need: Bin, brown beans or cocoa puffs (to represent chocolate), marshmallows, ladle, small cups.
- Set up: Place all materials in bin. Have your child pretend serving the “hot cocoa and marshmallows” into the cups.
Do some math and science… in the kitchen!
Sometimes the best way to infuse holiday time with learning is to simply invite your child into what you’re already doing. Whether you’re whipping up a holiday favorite from scratch or simply trying to put a weeknight meal together, invite your child to help! Cooking is full of opportunities to learn all subjects. Read recipes and ingredient labels. Decipher math through measurement and fractions. Observe the science of physical and chemical changes as ingredients transform from uncooked to cooked. Some recipe books even give you the history behind cultural dishes. And, best of all, connect with your child through making memories! Here are some of our favorite, simple, family-friendly holiday recipes:
So remember, learning in these season doesn’t have to be stressful or difficult or disenchanting or perfect. It needs to be just the right fit for your family. The key is enjoying time together, making room for peacefulness, and creating long-lasting memories. You’ve got this!