It may only be early December but I know what you are thinking: How on earth are you going to effectively school the children from now until Christmas and get everything else you have to get done completed before our big holiday? Here’s the answer: A Christmas unit study!
You know how you’ve wanted to do all those enrichment crafts but have had trouble fitting them in? Now’s the time for no-worry hands-on learning with a purpose. Here are some suggestions how:
CLEAN OUT THE PANTRY & FRIDGE
No I’m not trying to give you just another extra job. You want to make room for your holiday cooking ingredients and also gather some canned goods for a food drive. It doesn’t hurt to have things in order either. It will do wonders for your mental state to open your pantry and have things facing you neatly, right where they belong.
So put the preschoolers to work emptying and sorting. (Sorting is a valuable pre-reading activity!) That’ll give you time to wipe everything down and decide what you want where, to check the expiration dates, and decide what to donate. And please don’t give away that can of anchovies. If you don’t want it, chances are another family isn’t going to want it either. Chalk it up to a point-of-purchase mistake and dump it. And be wiser next time in the grocery aisle. While you’re at it, straighten the cereal boxes, napkins and paper plates too. Give your dish cabinets a once over. Be happy. Hum. Get in the spirit. This is a joyful time of year and even if you don’t feel particularly happy at the moment, you are creating a memory for your children. They will remember your demeanor and calmness and joy. You are passing on something very valuable by exuding patience and love, even if you aren’t feeling particularly patient and loving at the moment. Some people find Christmas time to be bittersweet or even melancholy if they have suffered a loss during the last year or so. Accept it if that’s the way you feel and try to enjoy the moment itself. Your children will never be this age again.
CHOOSE YOUR HOLIDAY FOOD NOW
Have older kids? You’re lucky! Let them at your recipe box. (If they mess it up you can have the reorganize it later) Have them help you decide now what kind of cooking you’re going to be doing this season. Let them pick out the cookie recipes and help them not get carried away. You may want to do a gingerbread house AND cut-out cookies AND a mint chocolate cupcake Christmas tree ANDan edible nativity set, but that’s probably not realistic. Christmas will come again next year. The delicacies you pass by this year can be enjoyed next season. No rush on everything all at once.
After you’ve decided on your Christmas menu and what treats you will be making this season, assign your children the task of listing ingredients you’ll need. Review this after the kids write out the ingredients and rewrite it, grouping similar items together (flour, sugar and spices together; dairy products and eggs, specialty foods, etc.) Put it on your fridge for your next visit to the grocery. Here are some quick, easy Christmas recipes:
COME UP WITH A PLAN:
No need for elaborate Advent plans. God provides the greatest miracle for this season. Something simple on our parts will suffice. Take stock of what is going on at your church. What penance services will be available? What other devotions do you wish to incorporate? Talk to your husband. Keep it simple. Decide to do less but do it well so it will mean. You’ll be thankful later.
While you’re getting out that Advent wreath in preparation for Sunday, make sure you have the candles you need, and freshen it up with a new bow or spritzing of water or pine scented freshener. Another way that children enjoy marking off time until Christmas is using the Advent calendar. These calendars generally involve opening a little door each day to reveal a Christmas picture or scriptural quote, and can be purchased at a religious goods store, the card store, or can be fashioned at home, involving the entire family. Two home-made variations of the Advent calendar appear below.
Advent Calendar I
1. Glue twenty four match boxes together.
2. Cover the top and sides with Christmas paper
3. Number each box either in order or jumbled up.
4. Put a sweet (candy), a tiny toy, scripture verse or Christmas picture in each box.
5. Open one box each day, perhaps after dinner when the family is all together.*
ABCs of Advent Calendar II
1. Take a large, white poster board and divide into 26 squares.
2. Use old Christmas cards to cut out pictures of the following. (Or if you are handy with the pen, draw or have your child (ren) draw them or simply write out the word). Choose one word for each letter of the alphabet.
B-Bethlehem, Bells, Baby Jesus’ Birthday
C-Candle, Crown, Crèche, Christmas carol, charity, Christ child
Try to incorporate ideas from all family members. Even toddlers can be encouraged to help think of ways to celebrate this season. Teenagers may be reluctant to contribute, but by asking their opinions and incorporating their suggestions into the family’s Advent plan, they can be willing participants and all family members will benefit from the unity.
You may or may not want to eliminate all formal schoolwork during this time. Depending on your child’s educational needs and temperament it may either be a welcome break or somewhat of a challenge to get-back-to-it once things are over. For lots of moms a happy balance is just right--waking up early to get some basic school like math and religion finished right away, then spending the rest of the day in integrated activities.
BEGIN WITH THE HISTORY OF ADVENT: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01165a.htm Study and discuss this subject with your children, perhaps as you are taking out the wreath or planning the activities for the month.
This is what you have been waiting for, the *math* and *science* part of your study, right?! It’s certainly one of my favorite activities and I love that it’s educational. By making your cookies early this year you also have the added benefit of freeing up your time later on, when things get more hectic and you realize you need to refocus on the true meaning of Christmas.
The plan here is simple. Spend one morning tidying up the house. Everyone. Big and little kids. Make a grocery store run with the kids in the afternoon, splitting up the organized, grouped-by-item list you made out earlier. If your children are old enough, split the list so you split the time you are at the store. Double check you have everything, and when you get home, have the children help you put things away. Then snuggle up on the sofa and read about Eli Whitney and Henry Ford. Why? Because one is credited with inventing the assembly line and the other is credited with improving it. Tomorrow your cookie-making kids are going to experience that concept first hand! If you want more formal learning and practice, have the children write age appropriate reports on one of these inventors, which they can work on over the next few days.
On the next day, wake everyone early and tidy the house. Throw in a load of laundry, have the kids empty the wastebaskets. If you’ve decided to do the basics of school then this is the time for the kids to get their work done. When this is finished (probably mid-morning) assemble your line. You are going to be making cookies all day. Engage your children in figuring out the best way for assembling the cookies. Will you have one mixing the ingredients, another dropping them on the cookie sheet and still another in charge of watching the oven and taking them off (older child for that, of course) Will you be rotating jobs to prevent boredom? Come up with a system and remind them of what you learned about the assembly line yesterday! And don’t forget to put on some soft Christmas music or Gregorian chant. (Try this gentle, soothing CD from the monastic Choir of the Abbey of Notre Dame de Fontgombault: http://www.clearcreekmonks.org/CDforSell.htm )
Repeat activities from yesterday for as many days as you wish, until all your cookies are baked. Kids can work on their inventor reports
MAKE YOUR OWN CHRISTMAS GIFTS.
Am I crazy? No! This is actually a way to simplify your Christmas. If your family tradition is to buy gifts for the children, so be it, but consider making some items for others on your list. By making all one kind of gift you will utilize your time best. By making your gifts you give a little bit of yourself to each recipient. AND, you participate in a craft with your kids which is both art and enjoyable. Kids can make their gifts as you make yours. This actually takes less time than fighting crowds and chasing from store to store. And, it can be more cost efficient.
If you decide to go this route set aside a couple days. (Again, do your pick up and basic math in the morning. Aim to start after that has been taken care of, say, around 11) Buy what you need ahead of time, perhaps now, or the week before. Then, get to work
Some make-at-home, easy-to-do Christmas ideas:
- Jar Gifts. Cookie mix in a jar (layered with instructions on what *wet* ingredients to add and how to bake--great for bachelors)
Hot Cocoa mix in a jar:
Soup in a jar here:
We have given and received these. Half the fun is decorating the jar with ribbons, bows, home made anything...
Here are some ways to decorate the jar:
Last (and I haven't tried this one) is making a pretty Christmas candle out of a jar. It really doesn’t look too hard.
- Visit a JoAnn’s or other craft/hobby store. Buy plain white bibs (for babies), handbags (for girls), aprons (for girls, moms or dads), some fabric paint, and let your imagination run wild. “World’s Greatest Cook”, “No One Beats Dad’s Barbecuing”, “Stand Back, Dad is Cooking”, “Men Like to Barbecue because Danger is Involved”, “I like Being with the Grill of my Dreams”, “Grill Sergeant”, Grandma Never Runs out of Hugs or Cookies”, “Chef in Training” (for kids), “Property of my kids 24/7”, “Best Mom Ever”….google for ideas or make up your own.
- Buy some posterboard and cut into bookmark sizes. Use old holiday cards to create book marks. Include bible quotes, or famous sayings. Mod Podge (from the fabric store) for durability. Paper-punch a hole on the top and tie a ribbon or piece of yarn. Decorate or highlight with glitter or paint. These are especially good gifts for children to give to grandparents, uncles and aunts or godparents.
- More Christmas gifts to make here:
OTHER ACTIVITY IDEAS:
*****Study the ways that Christmas is celebrated around the world. This link can help:
Choose to explore the family’s personal culture and roots or let the children choose a country each to explore. Again, you may have your children write a report on this OR give them each a large poster board and have them make an educational and pretty Christmas poster using drawings, photocopied pictures and explanations of history and customs. Display for visitors in your home to see.
*****Have your children write a story about Christmas, from the perspective of one who might have been there--the wise man, the innkeeper, perhaps even an animal in the stable. What did they see? What were they thinking? What did they hear, smell, touch, and wonder? How must that night have seemed to them?
For the first draft don’t worry about spelling or grammar. Just tell the children to get their ideas down. Read their piece and praise the creativity. Suggest ideas when they are stuck, but let it be completely theirs. Consult the bible for facts or phrases. Help them make the correct punctuation and grammar changes. And have the children rewrite their pieces in their very best handwriting. Paste on red or green construction paper. Glitter glue around the edges. When this is completely finished have them practice reading their stories with enthusiasm. One night present to dad and perhaps grandma or grandpa. They can even dress up as their characters if they wish.
*****Read about vestment colors, liturgical years and cycles:
****Study of Art: Go through old Christmas cards to find beautiful pictures of art for you and your children to study. Here are a few to enjoy together. While informative and certainly enjoyable to know the style and history and genre of each piece of art, it is not necessary to know those things in order to derive pleasure from the work. Simply studying the piece can be a learning experience.
http://www.culture.gouv.fr/culture/noel/imatges/paraut1.jpg (Altar Cloth depicting the Nativity)
http://www.christusrex.org/www1/stanzas/L49-Christ.jpg (Raphael “Nativity”)
http://www.nga.gov/cgi-bin/pimage?434+0+0 (Lorenzo Lotto “Nativity”)
http://www.christusrex.org/www1/vaticano/P-Nativity.jpg (Sano di Pietro “Nativity”)
http://www.culture.gouv.fr/rome/Comerre.html (Comerre “Annuciation to the Shepherds”)
http://www.nga.gov/cgi-bin/pimage?6761+0+0 (Albrecht Durer “The Nativity)
Ask the children to notice the colors in the piece. Are they bright, or subdued? What is the focal point of the work? Notice the lighting. What is the artist trying to draw your attention to? What details do you see in the picture? What is known to be factual and which details draw upon the artist’s interpretation? Does the piece evoke a particular feeling? Awe? Respect? Is the emphasis on the humanity of Christ or His Divinity or both? How do you know? Are there any symbols in the work? What?
****Homilies (on audio) for Advent and the Christmas season (all cycles included) by Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life. Older children can be assigned to listen to this during *quiet time* after lunch. http://www.priestsforlife.org/advchris.htm
****Christmas songs to enjoy with your children: