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Holiday Unit Studies

By Pam Maxey
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #44, 2002.

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Pam Maxey


I must admit. I love to cry. I can't deny it. I'm a hopeless romantic - especially at Christmas. Imagine with me my family sitting around a fire on a wintry Christmas Eve. One of our traditions is for each of us to select a story to read aloud on this most sacred of nights. Each year, I read The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski. I read. I cry. My husband declares; "She loves to cry." That's it - we've had Christmas. I'm teary already!

The book is wonderful and, in my defense, I find it impossible to read without crying. It is the story of a man who is always gloomy. The people in his town don't know the secret behind his sorrow. You discover in the book that Mr. Toomey has good reason to be gloomy because he has lost his wife and child. What is so touching about the book is that he learns to smile again while carving a nativity scene for the Widow McDowell and her son, Thomas. Thomas is full of the Christmas spirit and tells the wood carver about the happy sheep, the proud cow, the important angel, the wonderfully dressed wise men, serious Joseph, and very loving Mary and Jesus. Thomas also presents Mr. Toomey something of his very own, his first woodcarving. What grand lessons of life we can learn from Thomas and Mr. Toomey!

Holidays are a great time to incorporate a unit study - including family traditions - into your regular curriculum. I will give suggestions for a Christmas unit, but the ideas can be transferred to any holiday such as Easter or Thanksgiving.

It's A Plan!

In order to make the most of your time this holiday season, plan ahead for activities and events. Work with your family to decide what things are important. Let your children help pick books to read, topics to research, art projects to make, and letters or papers to write.

You should begin planning about a month ahead of time. You will need time to order books from the library, purchase supplies you may need, and find any other items you will need for your holiday unit.

You can easily include activities for reading, written language, oral reading or listening skills, history, and geography. You can even develop some math skills, depending on your child's skill level. Some other areas your holiday unit can include: craft ideas, cooking, and family service projects.

Language Arts

Designing reading and written language activities with a holiday unit are easy - especially at Christmas time. Here are some ideas. Pick the ones you have time for and really want to do, and never mind the rest!

  • Look for new books in a bookstore for your holiday theme. Choose books for your children to read and books to read aloud. After reading, include discussion about the book and use the time to discuss if the principles of the book are all consistent with your beliefs.

  • Use simple Christmas books as a model to have your child write his or her own book with a similar pattern. Write a new text for a book with beautiful illustrations for practice with written language. You can also write and illustrate an entire book.

  • Pick out books to read that have a video made of them. Read the book, watch the video, and then compare and contrast the two.

  • Pick out a more difficult book to read aloud to your child during the holiday season. For Christmas I suggest A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens or One Wintry Night by Ruth Graham Bell. Check in your public library or church library for special holiday books.

  • You can change your child's spelling lists for the holiday season at least one week by using holiday words in place of the regular spelling words. You can make spelling worksheets for your child on www.puzzlemaker. school.discovery.com and other websites.

  • Other ideas for written language can include writing holiday plays, writing invitations to a holiday party, or each child writing his or her own part in a holiday newsletter.

History & Geography

History and geography can also easily be incorporated into a holiday unit. Use the Internet and research at the library to discover how holidays are celebrated in other countries and other times in history. Discover the origins of the holiday and the meanings behind traditional celebrations. For example with Christmas, discover the meaning behind the candy cane, the traditional colors, and traditional decorations.

Also explore your own family traditions. Ask parents and grandparents why your family makes certain food dishes or celebrates in a specific way. Specifically look for traditions in other countries. Compare and contrast your traditions with those in other countries. You can locate countries on an atlas or make your own maps for geography. Look for varieties of decorations, practices, and food. Some sources to help include Medieval Holidays and Festivals by Madeleine Pelner Cosman, The All-Around Christmas Book by Margery Cuyler, and Light the Candles? Beat the Drums? A Book of Holidays by Jan Sarnoff.

Holiday Math

Incorporating math skills in a holiday unit with early elementary children can be very fun. You can have flashcard facts made with a holiday shape and math problems written on holiday color sheets. There are many Internet sites with holiday ideas and color pages to download to print. One site that I have found helpful is www.kidsdomain.com. I like its section on holiday fun. It has a variety of color sheets and other items to print for free.

You can also write your own story problems for your child with a holiday theme. Remember, cooking together always will include some math skills with measurement.

Crafts & Cooking

Holidays are also a great time for craft projects and cooking. If you need ideas to help you get started, use the Internet or look for holiday craft books. Holiday Handicrafts by Nina Jordan gives simple craft ideas to make for holidays including gifts, hats, and masks. Gloria Gaither and Shirley Dobson wrote Let's Make a Memory with many ideas on how to make holidays special.

Helping Others

Family service projects can range from using your cooking or crafts as a way to reach out and minister to those who are lonely, to raising money for organizations such as the Samaritan's Purse or Salvation Army. You can take food or crafts to a nursing home and stay long enough to visit and read Christmas stories while you are there. Be creative in your service. Make service a family tradition to pass on to another generation.

Use these ideas for making the Christmas holiday more meaningful and expand them to other holidays. Include units with Presidents' Day to discover more about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln as men of God and how they led this country. Make Easter more spiritually significant to your child. Take time in the spring and summer and make Memorial Day and Independence Day a time to celebrate the sacrifices for freedom of those who went before us. Learn about the origins of Thanksgiving and why it is celebrated.

Unit studies can enrich any holiday season through great stories. Stories of sorrow turned to joy, struggle turned to victory, common people achieving greatness through sacrifice. These are the lessons of life. This is what makes homeschooling so rich! Capture the moment, shed a tear, and enjoy.


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