Secret #1–Call off homeschool for the Christmas season
When I was a new homeschooling mother I had a lovely woman who mentored me. I would visit her house once a month or so and we would talk over books, children, and learning the Charlotte Mason way. On one visit when the leaves where turning golden, she told me that soon her family would suspend regular homeschooling until after Christmas.
What! How can that be I asked? She shrugged. Saying simply, “The children can’t focus anyway, why not make school all about Christmas?”
Instead she made the learning relate to Christmas: stories, math, crafts, cooking, writing and so on. She smiled sweetly and said that school went even better in January because of the refreshing, learning-filled break.
I went home and told my husband. He said, “Let’s try it and see.” Everyone was so excited to get started. It was such fun! Instead of stress and burnout, real learning was taking place.
Secret #2–Read Christmas stories together every day
Another question which shows up this time of year is ‘How can I slow down the Christmas rush?’ The answer is: By reading high quality Christmas stories together. Sound too simple?
We started a family tradition of reading a Christmas story each day for the twelve days before Christmas. It was a big hit. Amazingly it only took 20-30 minutes a day. We all looked forward to it. I could feel my stress level go down just by sitting and quietly reading Christmas classics.
Later, when my daughter was in her early teens and not willing to listen to “baby stories,” I scoured the Internet and library and found a wonderful selection for older children. Just the commitment to sit together 15-20 minutes a day to read these special stories made our pulses slow and the smiles come back.
As the years went by I put the stories into a notebook for future Christmases. In A Taste of Christmas, you will find some of the stories, poems, and hymns we’ve enjoyed over the years. It’s one more way to be blessed and love one another in the holy season.
Read EVERY day
I want to emphasize the importance of committing to read each day for a set number of days. It will make a huge difference to you and your children.
What to read
Here is a list of the all-time favorite Christmas books at our house, some are well known, others are not. One of the richest parts of Christmas with my family is revisiting the great books that have made the spirit of Christmas come alive for us.
Carl’s Christmas, Alexandra Day (Carl, the dog, and the baby in his care have a wonderful time at Christmas)
A Child’s Christmas in Wales, Dylan Thomas
A lovely, longer poem about the poet’s childhood Christmas.
“ One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.”
- Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens (novel)
The evergreen classic that tells a tale of a heart opened to love. Dorling Kindersly Publishing produced a carefully edited version that my daughter asked for repeatedly. ISBN: 078946246X
Christmas Day Kitten, James Herriot (picture book) “Christmas can never go by without my remembering a certain little cat.” So begins The Christmas Day Kitten, another true story from James Herriot’s rich experience as a country vet.
The Gift of the Magi, O. Henry (short story)
Delia and Jim are a young married couple with very little money. Jim has suffered a thirty-percent pay cut, and the two must scrimp for everything. On the day before Christmas, Delia counts the money she has painstakingly saved for months. She is dismayed to find she has less than two dollars, hardly enough to buy anything at all. And then….
The Glorious Impossible, Madeleine l’Engle (longer picture book)
Madeleine l’Engle, the author of A Wrinkle in Time, lovingly tells the gospel story in prose along with outstanding reproductions of the Nativity by the 15th century artist Giotto. Available used from Amazon.com
How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Dr. Seuss
What can we say? Is there anyone who does not know about the Grinch whose heart “grew two sizes that day”?
The Other Wise Man, Henry Van Dyke (a short story and a movie The Fourth Wise Man)
This is the story of a magi named Artaban who sees a sign in the heavens that he hopes will lead him and his faithful servant to the Messiah. Artaban takes with him three precious gifts to present to the Messiah. For 33 years Artaban pursues Jesus, only to miss Him at every turn.
Take Joy! The Tasha Tudor Christmas book, Tasha Tudor (stories, poems, legends, etc.) Oh, how we loved this book over the years. Full of legends, traditions, stories, poems and Tasha Tudor’s own wonderful illustrations.
This Way to Christmas, Ruth Sawyer (collected stories)
A memorable collection of Christmas folktales retold by the author whose storytelling well known in her day. It is to Sawyer I am indebted for the term the “Long Christmas”, the time from the feast of St. Nicolas through Christmas to the Feast of the Three Kings—a month in all to celebrate in so many ways the gift of love the Christ Child brought.
Secret #3–Enjoy Great Art of the Christmas Story
This secret may come as a surprise to you. Gazing at great art that depicts the events of Christ’s nativity is a powerful teaching tool that allows children the opportunity to take up into their tender spirits the truths of Scripture.
Below you will find The Adoration of the Shepherds, also known as The Nativity of Jesus by Gerard van Honthorst (1590- 1656) You can print this and put it in some place where the whole family can see it. At the end of the Christmas season take it down. I use the inexpensive frames and little easels to put up the print in a place everyone can see. Paying attention to small details such as this demonstrates to your children there is a season for all things and to be attentive. It also keeps the subject of Christ’s nativity from becoming commonplace.
Children need the images of Christ’s birth etched in their hearts.
What better way to do it than through the art of the masters. Charlotte Mason expressed this idea very eloquently:
The study of such pictures (are) a valuable part of a child’s education; it is no slight thing to realize how the Nativity and the visit of the Wise Men filled the imagination of the early Masters, and with what exceeding reverence and delight they dwelt upon every detail of the sacred story. This sort of impression is not to be had from any up-to-date treatment, or up-to-date illustrations; and the child who gets it in early days, will have a substratum of reverent feeling upon which should rest his faith. But it is well to let the pictures tell their own tale. The children should study a subject quietly for a few minutes; and then, the picture being removed, say what they have seen in it. It will be found that they miss no little reverent or suggestive detail which the artist has thought well to include. ~from Home Education, pp. 245-253
Studying these wonderful pictures with your children should not be a burden or an art lesson. Simply look at the pictures together and let the children tell you what they see. Do not interpret for them. Let the children encounter the pictures on their own and let Holy Spirit speak to them through the images.
Sources for Art
There are a great many online. To find your own Google “Christmas paintings great masters” to see many choices to download.
Here’s a great way to start:
The Adoration of the Shepherds by Rembrandt
Or download A Taste of Christmas absolutely free for more art as well as other super simple yet meaningful Christmas activities to bring the family together each day.