S6 E29 | Homeschooling Through the Holidays (Julie Ross)
Thanksgiving, Christmas, parties, church events, out of town guests, and HOMESCHOOLING!!! Oh my! It can seem so overwhelming this time of year to try and do ALL the things. In this super timely episode, Julie Ross shares a few practical tips to homeschool during this holiday season without loosing your mind.
1. Keep a routine
2. Make realistic expectations
3. Focus on love
4. Take care of yourself
Julie H. Ross believes that every child needs a feast of living ideas to grow intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. As a former school teacher, curriculum coordinator, and assistant director of a homeschool academy, Julie has worked with hundreds of students and parents over the past 20 years. She has also been homeschooling her own five children for over a decade. Julie developed the Charlotte Mason curriculum, A Gentle Feast, to provide parents with the tools and resources needed to provide a rich and abundant educational feast full of books, beauty, and Biblical truth. Julie lives in South Carolina. When she’s not busy homeschooling, reading children’s books, hiking, or writing curriculum, you can find her taking a nap.
Morning Time Plans for Advent by A Gentle Feast
Christmas Around the World by A Gentle Feast
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Julie Ross Welcome to The Charlotte Mason Show, a podcast dedicated to discussing Ms. mason's philosophy, principles, and methods. I'm your host, Julie Ross, and it is my hope that each episode will leave you inspired and offer practical wisdom on how to provide this rich living education in your modern homeschool. So pull up a chair. I'm glad you're here.
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Hello, everyone. I am Julie Ross, and I am here today to talk to you about how to homeschool through the holidays without losing your sanity. So I hope today's episode is timely and will help you enjoy this holiday season with your kiddos. So when I first started homeschooling, I had this idea that we would take the whole month of December off of school and we would do all this amazing, wonderful Christmas things. And I found all these ideas on Pinterest, and I printed out all of these activities, and I came up with all these Advent traditions and countdown things and books we were going to read and just all the things. We were going to do all the things. We were going to do all the field trips and all the special outings. They were just going to be this magical, wonderful Christmas.
Well by like December 10th, I was completely burnt out and my kids were all completely burnt out as well. And it really wasn't this magical, wonderful experience that I was hoping it was going to be. And so there have been many holidays since then. And so I just wanted to share with you today three simple tips to hopefully make this holiday enjoyable for you and your kiddos.
So the first tip that I have is to keep some of your routine. So you've been working hard all school year. Your children have this routine and this rhythm to your day that they're used to. And so what happens if you decide to just change everything up for a whole entire month? It really disrupts kind of what they've grown to know and be comfortable with and kind of disrupts all those wonderful habits that you've been working so hard to build— the habit of attention, the habit of accuracy, right? The habit of paying attention during narrations, the habit of doing neat work, the habit of putting forth their best effort, the habit of here's where all your stuff goes. Here's what we do first thing in the morning. Here's what comes next.
All these routines that you've established throughout the semester, you want to keep some of them going. Even if you're traveling, you can still keep some of these routines going wherever you might be going to. So you don't want to disrupt their routines for a whole six weeks. And then it just makes it really challenging to try to get back when it's time for school to start in January. So I encourage you to look at what routines have been working really well and how to keep them. And hopefully you'll have been doing morning time. That is something that we established, and my kids just love it. And so taking off, they really just want to keep doing morning time, which is great. It's just a nice way that we start our day and they're used to it.
Children like routines. They help them feel safe. So during the holidays, I think it's really important to think about what that's like for a child. So everything that they've kind of known—the rhythm of your days, the rhythm of your home, whether you're traveling or you have out-of-town family coming in—is getting disrupted. Their kind of social network might grow and change. They're rushing around if you're doing a lot of different activities. And so there's a lot of disruption in a child's life which can make them feel unsafe. And when children feel unsafe, they try to maintain control. And that can often come through as temper tantrums through resistance, through attitudes if they're teenagers. And that's kind of a natural outpouring of what they're feeling inside. And so children often can't verbalize that. But often that's what's going on inside of them during the holiday season. There's a lot of emotions and a lot of feelings.
So these routines really do help calm children. So keep your morning time if that's something you've been doing. Keep it shorter. If you read aloud, keep doing that. Keep your afternoon occupations or your nature walks or things that are just really soul-giving. You don't want to completely abandon them during this time because this is the time you, as the homeschooling parent especially, need these soul- and life-giving things. And that's what I love so much about a Charlotte Mason education are these rich, beautiful subjects and these rich, living ideas that we get to experience every day. So don't let those things go.
So keeping your routines is really important. So that's why my tip number one is to keep somewhat of routine going as long as you can. And obviously, the week before Christmas or something like that, if you have a lot going on, you might not have your routine. But even when you're traveling, you can do some morning time. You could do some read-alouds. Just trying to keep— bring your nature journals with you. See what's in the new place. Keep some of those routines going so your kids feel safe.
My second tip is to keep realistic expectations. So a wise person once told me that unrealistic expectations is the same thing as premeditated disappointment. Let me say that again because you're going to want to write this down. Unrealistic expectations is the same as premeditated disappointment. So often we have expectations of what our holidays are going to be like, and they're way up here. And then when reality is way down here, that space between our expectations and reality is where disappointment lives. And so in order to close that gap, we have to kind of have realistic expectations.
That doesn't mean you don't have goals or visions or hopes for what your holiday season is going to be like. But you do need to kind of keep those realistic of the stages that your children are in, their ages, what your plans are. I used to have these like totally unrealistic expectations that we were going to be like Little Women and we were all going to be sitting around reading and knitting and taking breakfast to the poor. And I was going to be like Marmee and everybody would be writing plays and it would just be this magical, wonderful Christmas experience.
And it really was never like that. And so I would live with this disappointment when things didn't go right or my kids didn't want to participate in something that I wanted them to do, or they're fighting over who gets to sit on my lap while I'm trying to read this beautiful Christmas story, and I'm like, "Y'all are missing the point." Rather than seeing that that is what it's going to be like.
Holiday seasons are going to have stressors they are going to have— like I said, your kids are having all these feelings, so they're going to have fights with their siblings and they're going to push back on you when you want them to do something. And to expect that instead of resist it, to realize that this is something that is normal and oh, okay, this is happening, this is what is supposed to happen. And make that— not just that you accept whatever behavior happens, but make that a learning opportunity rather than you getting frustrated, be like, "Oh, you guys never listen to me." Or "Why does this always happen? I'm trying to do something fun for you guys and you're giving me an attitude." Rather than pushing back like that, saying, "Oh, wow, man, there's a lot happening right here. We all have some really big feelings. Let's talk about how we can process these during this time."
Less is more. So I used to want to do all the Christmas things and I see all these wonderful ideas on Instagram and Pinterest and I want to do them all. And I had this like Advent calendar thing and each day this like super fun activity, like we're going to go ice skating, we're going to go to a light show. And like I said, we were just completely exhausted by December 10th. So just choose a few traditions that you can sustain.
So some of the traditions that I have kept for the past 20 years now is I had a book basket of picture books. I used to wrap them and each day the kids would pick one and they'd unwrap it and I'd read it to them at night. Now that they're older, they don't really care if they're wrapped. So I just put the picture books in a basket, and I'm like, "Okay, pick what book you want to read." And it's really fun now. They're like teenagers and they're like way beyond the picture book stage, but which ones they pick and which ones they remember, and it has a sweet spot inside of their memories of their childhood, which I really appreciate. So we have the picture book basket.
I always give my kids pajamas and an ornament on Christmas Eve. The ornament would be something that they were interested in for the year or whatever sport they were doing. So now that they're older, it's really fun to decorate the tree and for them to go, "Oh my goodness, this was the year I did gymnastics," or, "Oh, this was the year I watched Barney." And the things that they enjoyed when they were little children, that they are like, "I can't believe I ever watched that." So it's really fun to have those special memories.
So again, thinking of what you can do long-term. There was a Christmas a few years back where we just had really a lot going on. It was really tumultuous times. And I told my kids probably not going to be able to do this Christmas pajama tradition. And my older daughters went out to Walmart on Christmas Eve and bought Christmas pajamas for everybody. And it was hilarious because there was not much supply left, so we all got like random sizes. There were huge on us. And white t-shirts. But it was so precious because it made me realize how important all those traditions that I had been doing all those years actually meant to them, that they thought it was so special and so meaningful that they wanted to keep it going, even when I couldn't.
And so again, it's just those few simple traditions, but we've kept them going. And so think about what can you do long-term? If it's something that you're trying to add in that is just overwhelming, you're probably not going to keep doing that every year. And not that is has to be done every year. But think through what are some few simple things that we can do that we could do well? That you actually like to do.
And so everyone's personalities and interests are so different. So don't feel like you have to do XYZ Christmas tradition because everybody else is doing it. And it's not really you. And you don't like running around every day trying to do some other extra special activity. Or you know what? I really don't like cooking. I don't really want a big mess in my kitchen. So like me making a Christmas recipe every day is probably not going to happen. So I pick a few simple cookies that we make every year and that are super easy, and we just keep making those. So again, it's doing these small things. Consistency, just like in our home education. Doing small things over time lead to great results. So less is more. Just keep a few traditions and keep your expectations realistic.
Today's episode is brought to you by A Gentle Feast. A Gentle Feast is a complete curriculum for grades 1 through 12 that is family-centered, inspired by Ms. Mason's programs and philosophy, and is rooted in books, beauty, and biblical truth. You can find out how smooth and easy days are closer than you think at AGentleFeast.com.
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And the last tip that I have for you is to focus on love. Like I said, Christmas and the holidays can be a really challenging time for children. So you really want to focus on just loving them well, having this unconditional love for them, not just for your children, but for everyone. I know holidays could be an interesting time with different family dynamics. And I recently heard you can't love someone more than your thoughts of love for that person. So we can choose our thoughts. So even if someone's behavior might not be exactly what we want it to be, or maybe grandma always says something that hurts your feelings, or Uncle Bob is really rude, or whatever your family dynamics are, the thoughts that we think about that person. Can we show that person the unconditional love of Christ at Christmas?
I'm not saying you don't need boundaries or you might want to have some conversations with family. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying maybe you can choose a different thought about that person. So instead of like, oh, my kids are causing so much trouble, or this family member is always just saying such mean, hurtful things. Just think, oh man, they must be having a really hard time. You know, maybe the holidays are really challenging for them. Maybe it stirs up a lot of memories for them. How can I show them unconditional love and compassion this season?
And the same thing with our kids, because our kids, they'll remember some of the few traditions. Like I said, my kids definitely do. But they're not going to remember everything that you do during the holidays. What they're really going to remember is how they felt. And we want them to feel during the holidays at my house, I always felt so loved. I felt seen and I felt heard and I felt that I was important. So we want to show our children this unconditional love.
And Charlotte Mason talks about this in volume five, The Formation of Character. This is what she has to say: "Actions do speak louder than words to a young heart. He must feel it in your touch. See it in your eye. Hear it in your tones. Or you will never convince a child or boy that you love him. Though you labor day and night for his good and his pleasure, perhaps this is the special lesson of Christmas time for parents. The sun came. For what else, we need not inquire now. To reinstate men by compelling them to believe that they—the poor, shrinking in the same shulls of them that they live unfolded in infinite personal love—desire the response of love for love. And who, like the parent, can help forward this wonderful redemption? The boy who knows that his father and his mother love him with measureless patience in his faults and love him out of them is not slow to perceive, receive and understand the dealings of the higher love.
"But why should good parents, more than the rest of us, be expected to exhibit so divine a love? Perhaps because they are better than most of us anyway. That appears to be their vocation. And that it is possible to fulfill even so high a calling, we all know, because we know good mothers and good fathers. 'Parents, love your children' is probably an unnecessary counsel to anyone who is reading this page"—or listening to this podcast, I would add—"At any rate, it is a presuming one. But let me say to reserved, undemonstrative parents who follow the example of righteous Abraham and rule their households, rule nonetheless. But let your children feel and see and be quite sure that you love them."
I just remember when I read this for the first time, just getting weepy. It was such a beautiful picture of the love that God has for us and the love that we get to show our children during this special season. Like Charlotte Mason is saying, anyone listening to this probably knows. You are great parents and you're homeschooling your children because you love them so much. So we probably don't need to remind you of this, right? But it does beg that we should probably just focus on this for a minute, that the most important thing we can do during the holiday season is love our children well.
So if we don't get to all the Advent calendar activities and we don't read all the books that we wanted to, and we don't make all the crafts or all the recipes or all the things that we were wanting to do this holiday season, it boils down to, did we love our children well? And like she says here, actions speak louder than words. So even if you are, of course I love my children. Right? They pick it up in our tone, in our touch, in our body language. Right? We want them to feel just complete love. We want them to feel seen and heard and understand that we're ruling, that there are expectations for behavior, but most importantly, we are there for them. We care for them, and we are there to love them, just like God loves us so much, just like Mary with Jesus in the manger. It's such a beautiful time to point our children to this truth of love, but they need to see it coming through us as well. They need to—like she says here—"perceive, receive, and understand the dealings of this higher love."
So those are my three tips to thrive this holiday season. Number one—to review—is to keep a routine going as much as you possibly can. To keep your expectations realistic. And number three, most importantly of all, focus on love.
And I just want to chime in here at the very end to let you know about two products available for A Gentle Feast that might be of benefit to you this holiday season. So the first one is an Advent devotional. It is seven lessons where you walk through the birth of Christ, where you walk through the Bible story. And that includes several elements that are part of the morning time from A Gentle Feast. Part of what Charlotte Mason— the subjects that she included in her programs, which I call the beauty subjects, so there's picture study, composer study, hymn study, Bible reading, poetry, prayer, and there's also additional handicrafts and recipes. It's made to be a tool. It's made not to be too much. It's made to be something that you can add on in the morning and then kind of keep your regular school day going. Or it can be something that you do for evening devotions or on the weekends throughout the Advent season. So it's meant to be a tool that you can kind of use pieces of it to fit with your family schedule.
The second thing—and it's brand new and I'm so excited about it—is Christmas Around the World. So it's ten different lessons. And I found just the most precious book in the public domain of Christmas stories from around the world. So these are just stories you probably haven't heard of. They're not the typical picture books that a lot of people use and recommend for this. So just delightful kind of older stories from some different countries. Included also are just carols, recipes from the different countries, poetry.
And my favorite part is our amazing art teacher who does the art classes for A Gentle Feast made videos of different crafts that have to do with the different countries. So if you're like me and you try to follow craft directions and it never turns out exactly like it's supposed to, having the video is a huge help. And it might also mean that you can put the video on for your kids and they could do this craft while you go sit and have a cup of tea for a few minutes and take care of yourself, which is so vitally important during this holiday season.
So that is my fourth bonus tip for you is to schedule time for yourself. So even if you are traveling, even if you are staying with family or have out-of-town guests in your house—this is more so especially—that you need to schedule time for yourself. And it can't be, oh, I'll do something for myself when there is extra time because there's never extra time. So this is a priority. So put it on your calendar. I'm going to sit for 15 minutes by myself and I'm going to light a candle and I will listen to beautiful Christmas music while my kids are in their rooms having quiet time. Or at the end of the day, I'm going to read a book. I'm going to read a Christmas book for 15 minutes or while we're traveling. I'm going to take a break, put my headphones in while we're driving down the road. Not if you're driving, but if you're a passenger. And, you know, have, "This is Mommy's time. Don't interrupt me."
You have to take care of yourself because you are going to be pouring so much into your family during this time. So much expectations are on you. If you have guests coming, if you're cooking, if you're doing presents, there's just so much naturally on us as parents during this time. So you have to have to have to have to you have to make yourself a priority. Schedule, even if it's just 15 minutes. 30 minutes would be lovely. Two 15 minute sessions.
You know, it doesn't have to be this huge, I'm going to go to the spa and get my nails done for a couple hours. If you can, if you want to do that, that's great. But what are the life-giving things like mother culture, reading, listening to music. Maybe some time just to call a family member or write a letter to a friend you haven't talked to in forever. Think through, but do something every day during the holiday season. Book that 15 minutes. Put it on your calendar before you put any other activities on because you need to be the healthiest, happiest version of yourself in order to love your people unconditionally during this time.
So there are my four tips. I had three, but I forgot the fourth one, which is like super important, so now there's four. So number one, keep your routine. Number two, set realistic expectations. Number three, focus on love. And number four, take care of yourself. All right. I hope you and your family have a blessed holiday season. Merry Christmas, everybody.
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Don't forget to check out the people at Medi-Share because you deserve healthcare you can trust. To learn more about Medi-Share and why over 400,000 Christians have made the switch, go to GreatHomeschoolConventions.com/MediShare. Have you joined us at one of the Great Homeschool Conventions? The Great Homeschool Conventions are the homeschooling events of the year, offering outstanding speakers, hundreds of workshops covering today's top parenting and homeschooling topics, and the largest homeschool curriculum exhibit halls in the United States. Find out more at GreatHomeschoolConventions.com. I hope to see you there. Until next time, I hope your days are full of books, beauty, and biblical truth. Thanks for listening.