Navigating Holiday Challenges
Less is more during the holidays- especially for children with learning difficulties, social difficulties, and/or emotional difficulties. Holidays are a wonderful, exciting time of year, filled with fun activities, family and friends. However, it can also be a challenging time for these children and their families. With some creativity and patience, these holiday times can be navigated with less frustration and more joy, when families say “less is more.”
Keep The Academics
Every year homeschooling parents question how long their holiday breaks should be and how much they should focus on academics. I say…why not continue academics (and clocking time for those that need a specified number of hours and/or days), BUT find creative ways to keep the learning going – while still enjoying the holiday. “Less is more…” can apply to academics during the Christmas break!
Here are some “tried-and-true” tips and tools that will keep your homeschooler focused and interested during the busy (and distracting) Christmas season!
Key Subjects – a Little Goes A Long Way
One big concern during the holiday break is that your child might lose skills they just learned – especially math skills. November and December are great times to review. Use short, focused activities. Print out some free worksheets, or use those extras that you didn’t complete yet, and keep their skills going. Even just doing 3-4 questions a day can help them maintain those newly learned skills. Pick the key subjects that your child needs the most practice in, and focus on those. You could also do shortened versions of their regular assignments on the days you have holiday activities.
Unit studies on holiday topics are a great way to incorporate the skills your child needs to keep up with while having some holiday fun! Learn about traditions and Christmas around the world. Study animals from around the world. Keep the fun going with a field trip to the zoo (weather permitting). Incorporate those holiday activities and family traditions: Christmas card writing, holiday crafts, and baking cookies are all activities that can be integrated into your homeschool day. Have fun and be creative- the sky is the limit on what can be included as school work!
Around Thanksgiving, I always pull my mountain of holiday books out and put them in the living room for my boys to enjoy. This is a great time to visit your local library where you will find tons of cute picture books along with classics like A Christmas Carol. After you read the book, watch a version of the movie too. We love The Muppet Christmas Carol at our house!
Games can be a great family activity – and they reinforce skills. RightStart Math has a games pack that reinforces skills from identifying numbers through fractions and decimals. Board games can teach other skills such as cooperation. Have your kids add up the scores and reinforce their math skills. Scrabble (or Scrabble Jr.) can reinforce spelling and vocabulary.
Documentaries, Educational Shows and Apps
From animal documentaries to the history of St. Nicholas (Santa Claus), there are documentaries that can interest and reinforce any topic you want to study. Pop some corn or enjoy those snacks you have been cooking up in the kitchen – so much can be learned from educational videos! Educational apps are another way to reinforce skills. Apps are perfect for travel – use them as you roadschool on the way to visit relatives and friends.
Baking gives hands-on opportunities to practice and learn new skills in reading, math, cooperation, following directions, science, and much more! It is also a fun way to build memories and start traditions.
Looking to incorporate more writing for the holidays? Start a family newsletter. Have everyone submit articles about their favorite memory or what they are doing for the year, and share the news with close friends and family. The holiday letter has become a tradition for many families to send out each year. This year, everyone gets to voice their part!
Crafts and Handmade Gifts
Make some handmade crafts and gifts to give to friends and family. Many skills are learned and worked on by making hand-made treasures. As an additional bonus, you save money on gifts! When you have a curriculum or schedule that must be maintained, change it up and make it fun using holiday paper to create your checklists. Make a bingo card for them to check off the work they have completed for the day or the week. When your child gets “Bingo!” take a break or have a treat!
Special Needs and Social Opportunities
Don’t forget that “less is more…” can apply to events during the holiday break! The holidays are filled with opportunities to see friends, family and acquaintances (and sometimes strangers) that we don’t see very often. Often this happens at large gatherings. For some people, these opportunities are cherished and loved. However, some of our children have a difficult time and become overwhelmed. Here are some ways to plan that will make it easier.
Give a Purpose
One difficulty can be that our children don’t know what they are supposed to do or say at these large gatherings. Give them a job, or help them know what to say (“I want you to ask three people about ________” or “Give three people compliments about _________”). Being “in charge” of a task (such as handing out gifts as guests are coming in) can help alleviate some of the anxiety and stress of being in a large group of people.
Look For Smaller Opportunities
Sometimes we are offered opportunities for smaller gatherings. Sometimes I make my own smaller gatherings for us to enjoy rather than attending the large gatherings others are planning. These are more meaningful to my boys, and tend to go over better.
Activities Over Food
Many times, food can become difficult to navigate, especially when allergies are involved. Look for opportunities that stress activities over food to avoid difficulties with food when this is a challenge.
Along the lines of looking for smaller opportunities, sometimes a simple playdate can take the place of larger activities. Families sometimes have more time off during the holidays, so plan ahead and schedule some simple playdates to enjoy!
Anyone else having an especially cold fall? I know we almost had snow, and that only usually happens once every thirty years…and generally in January or February. Extreme weather causes activities to be canceled or postponed so take this into consideration when planning each year to avoid big disappointments. Winter weather can be a major factor to consider when planning out your holiday schedule and activities.
Opportunities to Volunteer And Give Back
The holidays are filled with teachable moments. Scheduling time to volunteer and give back to our communities teaches kindness and love. Take goodies to the fire station or to other community workers. Donate clothes and toys – or even donate your old towels to the animal shelter. Look for opportunities to show kids how to help and care for others. Older children can read to their siblings or show kindness by taking a Christmas card to a therapist or friend. It doesn’t have to be something big to be meaningful.
I saw the Kindness Calendar idea recently and thought it was a marvelous idea. Even if you don’t follow the idea exactly, creating your own kindness calendar of things your children can do each day to show love and kindness to others can be a great way to show holiday spirit.
Holidays are busy, loud, bright, and filled with friends, family, and even strangers wishing us well! This can be a blessing to many people who love the hustle and bustle of the holidays. However, some of our kids aren’t ready for such happenings. When your child is one that does not enjoy this busy time of year, it’s ok to downsize your holiday traditions, and consider smaller, more meaningful traditions (at least in the short term).
Beware The Temptation to Over Plan – It’s OK to Say NO
When our children get easily overwhelmed, it’s ok to say “no” to family or friends when they invite us to do activities that our children will not enjoy or will be easily overwhelmed doing. It’s ok to not have outside activities every day, and it’s important that we don’t forget it is ok to reschedule or just say “no” when that is what our family needs!
Pick Your Favorite Activities
“Less is more…” may mean fewer activities for your family. Pick your favorite ones. Plan time before and after for your child to have “downtime” or time doing activities that are calming to them. This will help them be better prepared for the activities you do choose to participate in. Sometimes we try to schedule too much because we feel we have to see everyone during the short period of time we have, but we don’t have to see everyone during the holiday season – choose intentionally to spend time with those you may not see at other times during the year and plan times to visit other either before or after Christmas.
Plan an escape clause (pun intended) for a child who may become easily overwhelmed. Help them get away for a little while, or allow them to let you know when they are ready to leave an event. It could be a secret phrase or word they say. Or provide a quiet activity they can go do in a corner such as headphones and a movie, or anything else that helps them to get away and find the peace they need. You may need to explain this need to family and friends ahead of time so they are not offended when your child leaves the group in the middle of an activity to calm down.
Spread Things Out
Plan activities with plenty of downtime in between. We all need time to be at home with quieter activities and a closer to “normal” schedule. Arrange one big activity a week rather than five different activities in three days, with no breaks. Give yourself and/or your child permission to say “No.” It is ok to decline invitations (even from Grandma), or schedule a time that will be less busy to be with that person. It is also all right for you to make a final decision on the day of the event if your child is not having a good day. Give yourself permission to cancel, reschedule or otherwise change plans – that is the key to having a relaxed and positive holiday season.
Find Acceptable Alternatives
Whenever possible, find alternatives to those activities or foods our child wants to participate in but has difficulty with. Talk about this with your child. Saying “no” or canceling can be disappointing, but a plan “B” can really come in handy.
Be Sensitive to Food Sensitivities
Food allergies and sensitivities are challenging when so many things are geared around food for the holidays! Be prepared with food options that are allergy-friendly, and sensory-friendly. Volunteer to bring a snack you know your child loves or pack them an alternative snack and bring it with you.
Memories and Traditions
There are many ways to build memories and traditions with your kids. Holidays are about family, friends, and fun. Whatever activities you decide to do, build positive memories and treasure them. Take pictures. Create a scrapbook that gets the kids involved in writing, decorating and gluing – maybe include samples of their holiday schoolwork. Let them create your holiday décor. Remember that “less is more..” when it comes to all the holiday hustle and bustle. Establish new traditions and appreciate these years as your children grow. I hope these ideas and tools help you relish the time you spend with your children during the holiday!
About the author: Amy Vickrey holds a Masters of Science in Education, specializing in curriculum and instruction, from the University of Central Missouri and a Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies from Texas State University-San Marcos. She spent two years of college studying Interpretation for the Deaf and Deaf Studies and knows American Sign Language. Her teaching certifications include Special Education, English as a Second Language and Generalist (early childhood through fourth). She is now part of the Struggling Learners Department of True North Homeschool Academy. Amy loves the discovery approach to learning and believes that teaching children how to learn will help them reach their goals and dreams.
For our family, holiday traditions include our three-story farmhouse swathed from top to bottom in Christmas lights. The holiday season is filled with special books, music, and movies. Trees, along with windows and door frames are trimmed with garlands, twinkle lights, and ornaments. Most importantly it means gathering gifts and special moments with those we love. Over the years we celebrate with time tested traditions as well as new activities as our family grows and changes.
Here are 15 ideas for special activities you may want to add to your family’s holiday season!
Advent Calendars are a lovely way to mark the coming of Christmas. You can purchase literal calendars, with tiny gifts or candies behind numbered doors, or use a pre-made toy calendar like Playmobile sells, or craft your own. There are a plethora of simple and beautiful Advent Calendar ideas on Pinterest.
Advent Calendar Baskets
My daughter, son-in-law and two grandbabies live miles away and one son is away at college. We’re sending them Advent gift baskets to celebrate the season. We’ve collected 25 little gifts, from playmobile and Legos, to lip balm and hand creams, earbuds, car chargers, little books, and gift cards. We’ll wrap and number each little gift, enclose a simple card with a scripture verse and celebrate the anticipation of Christmas, even though we are far away.
We love board games and holidays allow the time it takes to play a few of our favorites; Bananas, Code Words, Eclipse, Settlers of Catan, Rails and Trails, Ticket to Ride and Risk top our list. Of course, for younger kids, simpler games are in order; card games are always fun and provide a way to visit and chat.
We used to do this often when I was growing up and it is a lovely tradition. Gather together and go knock on the door of friends. When they open the door, sing them a Christmas carol. This would be easy and fun to organize with a church youth group or homeschool co-op.
Chopped “Holiday” Edition
Gather together a few teams, give each team the same set of cooking supplies and a specific food category- hors d’oeuveres, salad, main, side or dessert -set a timer for an agreed-upon amount of time and let the teams get cooking. When the timer goes off, score each team’s offering based on creativity, taste, and plating then choose a winner! Celebrate by eating a simple meal together! For more cooking ideas, take a look at this article with healthy low carb cooking ideas for holiday meals!
Christmas Crafts Party
Invite 10-15 friends and ask them each to bring a craft and supplies for 20-40 (because often it’s fun to make more than one!), along with snacks. Set a date for several weeks before Christmas and gather for a fun afternoon of crafting, snacking and making merry! Everyone leaves with fun crafts to decorate with and give as gifts! Pinterest is a perfect resource for the non-crafty momma.
We use the Christmas stockings my mom made for our kids and family years ago before she passed away. We often put magazine subscriptions, balls, ornaments, and other fun and simple gifts that make for a fun surprise during the holiday season. Also, look HERE for more great ideas for fun (and -shhhh- educational) stocking stuffers.
Decorate a Gingerbread House
We love the pre-baked gingerbread houses to decorate but you could certainly bake the gingerbread yourself, or make simple houses with graham crackers. Gather icing and loads of candy and get decorating. With a large enough family or group of friends, you could do a couple of houses. Some of ours have gotten fairly elaborate with decorated front lawns. Build them on a tin foiled cookie sheet for easy display and don’t be surprised if parts go missing!
We choose gifts each year through a combination of “want, need, wear and read”. Often a family board game, movie or favorite cartoon will make its way under the tree. Travel and experience related gifts, like museum and theater tickets or memberships, have shown up with greater regularity as kids grow and gain independence.
Hot Chocolate or Coffee Bar
Creating a place to gather some packages of flavored hot chocolate and peppermints, special flavored coffees, an assortment of teas, and treats such as biscotti, chocolate-covered spoons, along with special holiday mugs makes gathering together for a warm mug of holiday cheer something that will happen with regular, happy frequency.
Over the years we’ve gathered and been gifted several Nativities, some of which we leave out all year long. It is a good reminder that the story of Christianity began with simplicity.
The Nativity Story
Each year we read the Nativity Story on Christmas morning, while we enjoy a simple buffet. We also watch the movie The Nativity and The Star each holiday season. Perfect reminders of both the humanity and the majesty of the season.
Melk on the Shelf
A fun alternative to Elf on the Shelf, that will lead your kids and grandchildren to a greater understanding of the characteristics of God. Created by a homeschooling family that serves as missionaries in Mexico, Melk on the shelf incorporates the fun of Elf on the Shelf, but with the purpose of understanding God more deeply.
Parade of Lights and City Light Displays
Many cities have yearly light displays. Our mid-sized town in the far north has a wonderful Parade of Lights each year, which thousands brave the cold to view. We also have a wonderful city display of lights by our renowned falls, which seem to grow brighter with each passing year! Car tours are synced with holiday music, but plenty of souls brave the cold to watch the falls, colored by holiday lights up close.
White Elephant Party
Find the craziest unwanted item in your home, gather friends or family and have a white elephant gift exchange. Our personal favorites have been The Planet of the Apes complete video collection and an unidentified glass decorative item.
What are your favorite Holiday Traditions? We’d love to hear about them – you can drop us a line with your ideas here, or join us for the fun at our TRIBE on Facebook!
2019 Christmas Blessings Giveaway
Can you believe that this is the last Christmas in this decade?! Where has the time gone?
I have teamed up with some pretty generous bloggers for the 6th annual Christmas Blessings Giveaway with the hopes of making this a Christmas to remember for TWO families as we close out this decade! While we wish we could bless many more families, we were able to come up with a big prize for TWO families – $500 each (delivered via Paypal) – that we pray will make a big difference in their lives this Christmas season – whether it’s to fulfill their kids’ Christmas wishes, pay off some bills, or to help build some savings, our prayer is that it helps to lessen any financial burden and/or fills a specific need.
There are lots of entry options in the Rafflecopter form below – the more you enter, the better your chance of winning! I know it can seem tedious and time-consuming to go through all the entries, but isn’t a chance at $500 worth it? I think it is! Plus, all of these amazing bloggers donated their own money toward the cash prizes, so this giveaway wouldn’t be possible without them.
I hope you’ll take the time to check out each one. Who knows, maybe you will find some new blogs to follow.
The Christmas Blessings Giveaway will run from Monday, November 18th through Wednesday, November 27th (ends at 11:59 pm EST). Winner will be notified by email shortly after the giveaway ends and will have 48 hours to respond to claim the prize or another winner will be drawn. You must have a Paypal account to win. By entering this giveaway, you agree to be added to the email lists of the participating bloggers. Please be sure to read the Rafflecopter terms and conditions upon entering.
a Rafflecopter giveaway
We love to celebrate Thanksgiving. At our house it means dedicated days to enjoy each other’s company, visiting, cooking and eating. While there are certain recipes that we always make and certain things we often do, we are always on the look-out for new ways to celebrate together! Traditions are important because they give us a sense of belonging and community. Holidays help us remember our values as well as personal and collected history. Here we’ve gathered 25 things to do to ensure that your Thanksgiving Holiday is a delightful day of gathering with friends and family!
25 Ideas for Celebrating Together
- Breakfast: Set out a simple continental breakfast, a lovely quiche or pumpkin muffins, orange juice, and coffee to fuel the troops till the feasting begins.
- Board Games: Are de rigor when we get some time together- especially when we get together to celebrate Thanksgiving and other holidays! Some of our favorites are; Bananagrams, Codenames, Trails and Rails, Eclipse, Risk, Agricola and, of course, Settlers of Catan!
- Books: When our kids were younger, we’d set out a Thanksgiving Day basket full of books, including; Eating Plates, Sarah Morton’s Day, Samuel Eaton’s Day, On Plymouth Plantation, Tapenum’s Day, The Pilgrim’s First Thanksgiving, Squanto’s Journey and If you Sailed on the Mayflower – to name a few!
- Charlie Brown Thanksgiving: You’re never too old for Charlie Brown and friends! You’ll get a brief overview of the first Thanksgiving in 1621. Snoopy then serves up a holiday feast which includes buttered toast, pretzel sticks, popcorn, jelly beans, and ice cream sundae.
- Comedy: We are always on the look-out for good comedy and love to share with others! One of our favorites is John Branyon’s 3 Little Pigs
- Corn Kernels: Put five kernels of corn (candy corn, works too if you don’t have access to real kernels!) by each place setting, in honor of the first Thanksgiving, and have everyone go around the table and name five blessings they experienced this year.
- Create a Cornucopia: Create a cornucopia for your Thanksgiving centerpiece or buffet table. My mom used to have a simple cornucopia basket that we’d decorate each year with leaves, pinecones, and flowers! The meaning of cornucopia comes from the Latin words “cornu” meaning horn and “copia” meaning plenty. The cornucopia is a common harvest symbol associated with plenty. If you can’t find a basket one, bake an edible one out of bread! A quick internet search will help you find a plethora of ways to create a beautiful and edible centerpiece!
- Cyber Monday: Along with other on-line companies, True North Homeschool Academy has some amazing specials coming up that you are not going to want to miss!
- Food: We love good food, are all busy and have some dietary restrictions to work around. Sometimes our Thanksgiving table looks traditional and sometimes not so much! Each year we tweak, plan and prep for a few days before the big day so that there are plenty of left-overs to feed the masses over the weekend and we can spend more time visiting.
- Give a Toast: Before the meal begins, raise your glasses and honor the occasion. Giving a toast lends a festive air and is a lovely way to celebrate Thanksgiving and all that you are thankful for!
- Gratitude Garland: Have a basket of pre-cut, fall-colored construction paper chains and pens near-by so people can write down what they are thankful for. Start linking up and create your décor as you go- add to the chain over the holidays!
- Hostess Gift: Take along some Tupperware if you find yourself a guest during the Thanksgiving weekend and help your hostess out with storing and sharing yummy left-overs! Leftovers are just a natural extension as we celebrate Thanksgiving, so we always make plenty so we will have enough to nosh on the rest of the weekend. Of course, a delicious side dish, flowers or homemade preserves would also be a lovely hostess gift.
- Maker Space: Set up a simple craft table with a tried and true holiday craft like the Thanksgiving apple or Handprint turkeys. These crafts are simple and fun to create!
- Placecards: Create beautiful place cards for the table so everyone knows where they belong. Write an encouraging note, scripture verse or a blessing on the back as a keepsake.
- Ping-pong or Air -Hockey: These are fun diversions and a great way to get multiple ages and stages interacting together. Both beginners and your super talented people can visit while they play.
- Pray Together: Join hands and pray – your prayer can be a simple one, a collective one, or a traditional one. You can find traditional prayers online, or pray through a Psalm together. You could even print these out for each place setting ahead of time.
- Take a Hike: If the weather is nice enough, get outside after the traditional turkey and take a hike. Encourage the littles to find as many colors in nature as possible, or to identify various sounds. If you have enough of a group, play a round of flag football or ultimate Frisbee.
- Tell Family Stories and Sing Songs: Every family has its share of fun, wild and wonderful stories! Tell about the time you had the canoe misadventure, or your latest vacation, or about when Grandma was little. Stories are a wonderful way to bond together and re-visit shared history. And don’t forget the joy of the sing-along. When I was little, no visit to my Grandparents was complete without a trip to Aunt Dolly’s house, where we would all gather around the piano and sing together. Church hymns are wonderful, but simple rounds and camp songs are delightful as well.
- Thankful Tree: Create a thankful tree with branches, spray painted if you like, and “planted” in a decorative pot. Set out construction paper leaves and markers and have friends and family write down what they’re grateful for on a leaf, then attach to the branches.
- Set the Table: Put a leaf in the table, pull out the tablecloth and set out your best dishes. Don’t forget a centerpiece, napkins, and lovely place setting cards. Put on some soft background music and light candles, then gather together to talk, laugh and enjoy a beautiful meal together.
- Show Gratitude: Set up a letter-writing station complete with beautiful stationery, colorful pens, and stamps for easy mailing to truly celebrate Thanksgiving by honoring those who have enriched your life in the past year! Give everyone time to write a letter of gratitude to a special friend who has blessed them this past year. A wonderful activity and sweet takeaway of the day.
- Serve: Donate coats to kids in need, serve in a soup kitchen and donate to your favorite charity, such as Blessing Bethlehem!
- Turkey’s Away: WKRP’s Turkey’s Away episode is still funny, after all these years! “As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly!”
- TV: Of course the Macy’s Day Parade is a Thanksgiving Day staple, along with afternoon football. If neither of those of your cup of tea, check out the National Dog Show!
- Video Chat: Visit with Far-away Family and Friends! You can use Zoom free for 40 minutes at a go! Of course, it’s not the same, but when your married kids live half a country away, it is the next best thing!
More Celebration Ideas
How do you celebrate Thanksgiving? We’d love to hear about what you do to make the holiday memorable! If you would like more fun ideas for creating family traditions and celebrating the season, download our free Fall Bucket List Printable to help you plan now!