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.
(The following is a guest post from True North Homeschool Academy teacher Amy Vickrey, MSE)
I first heard about Cheryl Swope and her approach to Classical Education through my volunteer work with SPED Homeschool. The more I heard, the more I was interested in learning more. So, I finally took the time to read Simply Classical, A Beautiful Education for Any Child.
With Simply Classical, I learned a lot about Classical Education in general and discovered some fantastic parallels to my own approach to education. Here is a little about what I learned…
The introduction of Latin at an early age and the focus on other languages can be very beneficial to children who have language delays.
Brain research shows that there is an area of the brain in the back of the head that is only activated by learning and using a second language. The introduction of Latin, Spanish, Sign Language, or another language can be so beneficial to children who struggle with language. First, it gives additional pathways between the two sides of the brain to help process language. Second, it can be used to add “fun” to therapy, games, and other activities. Finally, learning vocabulary from Latin, Greek, German, or other Romance languages helps break down words and their meanings as you get into higher reading and writing levels.
Classical Education, at its truest, is about focusing on the thorough education of 1 or a few students.
When education first began, private tutors took on 1 or a few students to teach them all the things they knew. It was about focusing on those few, not on the masses. This method allowed detailed, direct studies of material. This teaching model is so important for students who struggle. One on one and small group settings are very desirable for children with attention, behavior, or learning challenges.
Memorization – a direct teaching method.
If you really want to memorize something, you read and study it over and over. You use your eyes (visual), you say it out loud to yourself (auditory), and a lot of times, you move your body (kinesthetic). It takes 20-40 times of doing something or experiencing something correctly to transfer that skill from short term to long term memory. If you learn it wrong, it takes 200-400 times to correct the error. In special education, direct teaching is such an effective tool. Classical education is all about memorization at the lowest level and a great approach for many special needs students. Simply Classical offers suggestions for supporting students who struggle with memorization by adding a visual cue, movement, and other tips.
Levels of support and prompting
Simply Classical is full of ideas of adding visual cues, movement, and other supports and prompts (hints) to support students with different disabilities. Cheryl also stresses not moving forward until a concept is mastered, even if that means repeating a level using a different curriculum or different approach. This is so important to give students that struggle additional practice, more time to learn the material, or to move at a slower pace.
Incorporating Therapy into Instruction
When you have a child with special needs, you often have therapy that needs to be incorporated into the school day, and homework from the therapy to follow up with. These can be done using materials from your school day, in tandem with your schoolwork, or in place of different subjects. Find a therapist who supports your homeschooling efforts and works with you to achieve academic goals as well as the therapy goals.
Teaching to your child’s strengths
Cheryl Swope is very big on teaching to your child’s strengths and interests, especially as they mature. She explains that not every child may reach the upper levels of classical education in every subject. However, children should be allowed to move forward in any areas they are strong in.
Sometimes you have to get creative to fit everything in for school, doctors’ appointments, therapy, and life! Cheryl offers advice for how she managed to juggle it all as her children grew and matured. She also offers other creative solutions for integrating subjects, schooling on the road, and other ideas.
Upper Levels of Classical Education
Some children may never reach the Logic or Rhetoric stages of the Trivium (Language), or in the Quadrivium (Math). However, the skills gained in the Grammar stage in these areas can give a good foundation for any child to achieve as much as is possible. She offers several reading lists for various ability levels for classic literature, as well as ideas for including elements of those higher levels of Classical Education in ways that are accessible to students functioning on lower levels. She also includes her experiences with how Logic, Latin, and other elements of Classical Education positively shaped her children’s futures.
Simply Classical Curriculum and Teacher’s Guides
Cheryl Swope has been working diligently over the last few years to expand her Simply Classical book into a full curriculum specially designed for special needs. While no curriculum is going to be one-size-fits-all, she has done an excellent job of putting together resources and daily lesson plans that are routine, detailed, and easy to follow. Each level is 34 weeks, with an additional eight weeks for review and reinforcement. The checklist-style can easily be used in different ways to make it work best for your child. Some thoughts about how it might be easily modified:
- Each day could easily be split up into multiple days to accommodate students who need more time to complete activities or tire quickly. This method would expand the time to complete the material, but still effective for students who need this.
- Specific subjects could be switched out for a different level if your child is ahead or behind in that particular subject
- The morning routine is great for consistency. It is a great guide to follow each day or to easily create a similar routine that fits your child’s needs.
Thank you, Cheryl Swope, for creating such a wonderful, loving book and curriculum to help any child receive a beautiful education. The tools, tips, and resources in the book are wonderful and helpful no matter what approach to education you choose. You can easily read the book, and use some of the techniques and suggestions, or you can follow in Cheryl’s wise footsteps and utilize her system to guide you more thoroughly. Simply Classical truly is Simply Amazing to help guide parents through their homeschooling journey.
Amy Vickrey holds a Masters of Science in Education, Specializing in Curriculum and Instruction, from the University of Central Missouri and a Bachelors of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies from Texas State University-San Marcos. Also, she spent 2 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, and loves the discovery approach to learning. Teaching children how to learn will help them reach their goals and dreams.
After the Diagnosis: Next Steps
If your child was just diagnosed with a learning disability or a special need of any kind, there can be a myriad of feelings, to deal with such as shock, concern, fear, relief, confirmations, anger or sadness, to feeling overwhelmed with further questions-the biggest of which is, “Now what?”…
After receiving a diagnosis, following these next steps can be helpful for you and your child.
Learn all you can about your child’s diagnosis, while recognizing that your child is more than the particular diagnosis or label.
Nobody loves your child more than you or wants to see him succeed and meet his full potential more than you. By learning about your child’s diagnosis and different abilities, you can grow in understanding how to better support him, as you continue to be your child’s fiercest advocate and loudest cheerleader.
Investigate treatment options, such as therapies, interventions, and possible medications.
A great place to start is your child’s pediatrician or the diagnosing professional. You may also want to consider seeking holistic treatments by working with an integrative physician. There are more and more types of therapies available for various disabilities and special needs. Many therapy treatment options exist–from art and music therapy, pet and equine therapy, to behavioral and cognitive therapy, in addition to more “traditional” or standard speech/language, vision, physical and occupational therapies.
Seek support for your child and the family.
You can find parent and children support groups, such as Decoding Dyslexia and Eye to Eye Mentoring, as well as national charitable organizations, such as Scottish Rites, Easter Seals and the ARC that offer parent and family resources, supports, directories, grants/scholarships, etc. Also, non-profit organizations such as Joni and Friends, provide resources, a directory for disability ministries across the country, and family camps.
Talk with your child about his diagnosis and teach him to self-advocate.
Your child needs to understand that his diagnosis does not define him. There are many bright and successful people with disabilities. In fact, it is estimated that 1:5 people have a learning disability. Help your child come to understand what his difficulty or disability is and how it may impact him, but also teach him ways to work around it. Also, help your child recognize the ways he is smart and what are his areas of strength. The book, 8 Great Smarts, by Dr. Kathy Koch is a great resource. Self-advocacy is an important, empowering life-skill. Resources such as The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan by Ben Foss, Yale Center for Creativity and Dyslexia, LDAdvisory, and Understood.org are a few examples of places to find resources to educate your child and teach him how to advocate for himself.
Make a plan for reasonable accommodations for the student and discuss these with your student and other adults/teachers, such as those in your community of faith, coaches, music teachers, and co-op leaders/teachers.
Accommodations level the playing field and help students to take in information or show forth what they know. Some common accommodations are extra time, use of audio books, dictation or oral assessment, or frequent breaks, to name a few. It is a good idea to keep a written record of the educational accommodations you will be providing to your student, in your home school file.
Be encouraged that you are your child’s best teacher, and home education is an excellent individualized educational plan.
While home education, due to its very nature, is an individualized educational plan, for homeschooled students with special needs, drafting a written, student education plan can be wise. True North Homeschool Academy Special Needs Advising and HSLDA’s Special Needs Educational Consultants, hslda.org, can help families with this and provide templates for how to do so. Additionally, their special needs consultants can help make sense of the diagnostic assessment reports and help you the parent-teacher come up with a customized educational plan. Lining up classes, such as those offered through True North Academy, can be a great way to customize your child’s specialized home education.
- Kathy Koch, Celebrate Kids, https://celebratekids.com/meet-dr-kathy/
- Yale Center for Creativity and Dyslexia, http://dyslexia.yale.edu/success-stories/
- 7 Tools for Cultivating Your Child’s Potential, by Zan Tyler, https://www.amazon.com/Tools-Cultivating-Your-Childs-Potential/dp/1935495437
- “Parent Pep Talk:Dealing with Your Child’s Diagnosis”, https://www.understood.org/en/family/taking-care-of-yourself/dealing-with-emotions/parent-pep-talk-coping-with-your-childs-diagnosis
Faith’s own learning struggles and diagnosis of dyscalculia compelled her compassion for other bright but struggling students. A fifteen year teaching career before she became a homeschool mom included both public and private schools, tutoring, and working as a reading specialist. Her specific area of expertise is the identification and remediation of reading difficulties.
As an extroverted-introvert who is a lifelong learner and an avid reader, her 2008 transition to homeschooling her own two children was a natural one. Faith currently applies her passionate advocacy for special needs students as she speaks at homeschooling conferences across the nation and internationally. She also serves as a Special Needs Consultant for Home School Legal Defense Association in addition to having her own in-home, private practice as an educational diagnostician.
Faith holds the following credentials
- B.S. in Early Childhood and Elementary Education from West Virginia University
- M.Ed. in Reading from Shenandoah University
- certification as a trained dyslexia intervention specialist through the National Institute of Learning Differences (NILD)
- certification in Equipping Minds Cognitive Curriculum
Faith’s articles have been published in several national homeschooling magazines, and she has been the guest of several homeschooling podcasts.