Thanksgiving is almost here in the U.S., which means homeschooling may take on a different look in the coming weeks.
When our family was young, normal homeschooling routines went out the window. We hung on through Halloween, but Thanksgiving was a clear line of demarcation: We’d squeeze in family holiday traditions, performances, programs, and service work — and a lot of our usual learning routines and classes were squeezed out or not even scheduled.
We hosted the big soccer club party at our house along the parade route near the beginning of the holiday season. One son participated in the Frost Bite Tournament. Another had ice skating performances. There were Christmas programs at church and volunteering through Scouts. Another son has music performances for Christmas. We had to make the cookie press cookies. And decorations for the house. Every organization we were in had holiday parties for the kids or families.
You know — you have to have a gymnastics Thanksgiving party, a soccer holiday party, a music school Christmas, a Sunday school Christmas, a homeschool co-op feast, the other homeschool group New Years open house, and so on. And it’s all good.
I’ve seen a lot of newer homeschooling parents panic as it becomes clear that forward progress through a math workbook comes to a crawl or the curriculum guide gets misplaced under the clutter — for days. Then, uh, maybe for weeks.
But more experienced homeschooling parents have often decided to shrug and give in to the holiday spirit. They find their comfort level with the amount or type of learning that is going on (or if they are unschoolers, they consider it all learning), and they give up stressing over what is not getting done.
One homeschooling dad I know calls it “the month of Christmas,” and another mom I know coined the term “Thanksmas” — which is what her family calls the period from Thanksgiving until New Year’s Day.Why should homeschoolers worry less about schoolwork and embrace the holiday season?
- Because learning has an emotional component. Take time for emotional connection to your children, and it will have a payoff for the kids as an emotional foundation for their learning. Instead of worrying about lessons, take the time to do something your children love to do with you — decorating cookies, reading by the fire, going ice skating, shopping for a special gift together for Granny, watching favorite holiday shows on television. Let the holiday season give you permission to give the time to extra emotional investment.
- Because we’re not promised tomorrow. Family traditions, faith-based programs, and community rituals are memorable. Skipping them to make time for the same ol’ same ol’ can mean a particular child misses making a memory or creating meaning from an event.
- Because everyone needs a break. Change things up so you’ll have a fresh start after the holidays and after a change of scenery. You might be busier with holiday events now, but the different routine also often means odd periods of downtime, rest, and relaxation. For kids — this might include plain old playing at home, which sometimes gets overlooked because there are so many wonderful scheduled opportunities for homeschooled children these days.
- Because it’s a good time to make changes. If you’ve been insisting on something in your homeschool that hasn’t been working out, you can use holiday time to explore other approaches. When you’re ready to get back to things after the holidays, you and the kids will have had a natural break and can transition to new ways of doing things.
- Because homeschooling is efficient. If you are a curriculum person who likes that checklist, you actually already know the ways you can push through and make up for lost time.
- Because you are in charge. You also know, if you are using a curriculum, which things have less value and can be skipped or combined with something else. You know that baking pies together now might mean doubling up on science experiments you want to get through later, but you know you can make that choice.
- Because learning really does happen all the time. Collecting pine cones for a centerpiece is essentially a nature walk, which leads to observations and questions children have about the changing seasons or classifications of trees. Volunteering includes learning about the context of the service project. This often amounts to “subject area knowledge” in addition to early lessons in civic or community engagement. After you’ve been homeschooling a few years, you realize that so much more “counts” than you thought in the beginning!
- Because relationships are important. I have a small needlepoint canvas an old friend made for me that puts it simply — “People before things.” Give your children time to celebrate various aspects of “the holidays” with friends, mentors, teachers, activity leaders, their siblings, and extended family. It can be hard to find time to do this at other times of the year, but holiday parties set the agenda for getting together with people who are important to your child.
- Because they will grow up. That’s right. Before you realize it, some of those in your young family will be growing up, and “the holidays” will not be downtime the whole time. Your teens may be dual enrolled in classes at the community college and have an intense period between Thanksgiving and Christmas when they are studying for exams and finishing papers and projects. They may be working extra hours in retail during a busy shopping season. They may be working on their Eagle or Gold projects for Scouts, with help from their school friends who have time off until New Year’s Day. They will eventually get their own apartment or go off to university or work, and they won’t be able to get home on all their days off.
There really does come a day when you miss having “help” baking the cookies. Remember — the saying is not homeschooling for the holidays; it’s home for the holidays.Enjoy the people in your home. A New Year will come, with routines and freshly sharpened pencils, if you want them. But for now, light a candle and embrace the season — and your kids.