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A Holiday Curriculum: Meet Educational Requirements with Simple Holiday Activities

A Holiday Curriculum:
With Online Resources and Activities

Having a wonderful Christmas Day

by Diane Flynn Keith

This is the season of enchantment with its twinkling lights, glorious music, heavenly aromas, and warm hearths and company. In my opinion, homeschooling families should be able to enjoy it without guilt or anxiety. I believe there is a richness of knowledge to be gleaned from the season's amusements. Just because they do not appear to be "subject material" on the surface, doesn't mean they don't have profound educational value.

To help alleviate the stress of trying to do it all, and to give you a sense of academic accomplishment, I offer a "Holiday Curriculum." Slightly tongue-in-cheek, it was developed with the help of other homeschooling parents who give themselves permission to abandon traditional course work at this time of year, for a holiday home study program. We've taken all that is mundane and exciting about the holidays and created a course-of-study that will not only satisfy national curriculum standards (so you can relax), but will also let you enjoy this magical time of year with your family.

A Holiday Curriculum:

How To Satisfy Educational Requirements Through Simple Holiday Activities

English Language Arts

  • Greeting Cards & Thank You Notes will help you cover the basic English requirements including writing, reading, grammar, spelling, and punctuation. If you make your own cards add Fine Arts to the list of studies completed. Print out a Christmas card that your child can color at home.

    Bonus: To satisfy the Math requirement, have the kids sort the cards by zip code and then determine how much postage will be needed. Add Computer Sciences to the list by creating electronic greeting cards.
  • Make Christmas Gift or Wish Lists and practice the skills of outlining and editing, as students prioritize the items on the list or reduce the number of items to accommodate budgets. Use this free, printable Christmas Wish List.
  • Reading Holiday Books & Stories will not only satisfy the English requirement, it improves vocabulary too. Ask your librarian for some holiday story recommendations like Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol or O. Henrys Gift of the Magi. Here are some other great holiday stories:

    • How The Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
      The wonderful, classic children's story of a mean Grinch who steals Christmas. Also made into a movie with Jim Carey called The Grinch.
    • Olive, The Other Reindeer Book and Doll
      Rudolph has had his day - now it's Olive's turn!
    • The Polar Express
      The enchanting tale of children transported to the North Pole at the sound of Santa's sleigh bells.
    • The Miracle of Hanukkah
      Every year Jews around the world celebrate this miracle at Hanukkah. Now internationally acclaimed artist and graphic designer Seymour Chwast retells the story of Hanukkah in an innovative format in which pages gradually increase in size.
    • Kwanzaa: From Holiday to Every Day
      The seven principles of Kwanzaa (from unity to faith) are introduced. Turn your Kwanzaa observance into a way of life to enrich your family, friends, and community.


  • Holiday Baking requires measurement, a basic math skill. Discuss and demonstrate liquid measurement; demonstrate fractions by measuring 1 cup, ½ cup and ¼ cup of flour or butter. Do the same with teaspoon measurements of spices and extracts. Further the learning by letting the kids taste a variety of spices. Put a globe in the kitchen and point out the country where a particular spice is grown (you've just satisfied the Social Studies requirement). Baking will also allow you to demonstrate the concepts of temperature - Fahrenheit and Celsius. If the kids decorate cookies you will have studied Fine Arts too. Try a recipe for Stained Glass Cookies. For those who don't feel skilled in the kitchen try the rave-reviewed, "Cooking Rocks! Rachel Ray 30-Minute Meals for Kids" by celebrity chef Rachael Ray.
  • Build your own gingerbread house
  • Building a Gingerbread House - Study Geometry as you determine what size to cut the squares, rectangles, triangles, circles, archways and other parts needed for the structure. A natural extension of this exercise is a discussion of architecture and housing structures throughout the world an easy way to fulfill that Social Sciences requisite. Here's a simple recipe for mini-gingerbread houses.
  • Budgeting for Gifts - Kids need money to buy gifts or to purchase materials to make gifts. Budgeting money is a skill that is relevant at this time of year. Budgeting will enhance math skills as kids count, add, subtract, multiply, and divide their money. Spending money will help kids become more proficient at money math too. Tip: Try to shop at slow times in stores, so that clerks can take time to discuss prices, percentage discounts, and count change with your kids. Here's a good site for kids to learn all about budgeting, earning, saving, and spending money.
  • Advent Calendars - A store-bought or hand-made Advent calendar offers a simple way to practice counting skills as you countdown to Christmas with young ones. Get free tutorials on how to make a variety of Advent Calendars. Click on the days of this Interactive Advent Calendar to reveal a fun online game or activity for kids.
  • The 12 Days of Christmas - Count backwards as you sing! Print out the words to this song and listen to the tune. Or, using Pascal's triangle, find the number of items given each day in the song, "The 12 Days of Christmas." Print out the lesson plan to do at home. Or sing a humorous version of this song by getting the lyrics to "The 12 Days of Homeschooling."


  • The Physics of Santa Claus - Consider this from the National Association of Scholars: To appreciate what Santa accomplishes, understand that he travels 75.5 million miles all in 31 hours, thanks to the many time zones and Earths rotation. There are 2 billion children under 18 in the world and if you assume (as NAS does) that Santa does not deliver to those who are Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and Buddhist that leaves 378 million who may expect a visit from Santa.

    The world census figures place 3.5 children in each household. So Santa must visit 91.8 million homes - that's 822.6 houses per second. That gives him 1/1,000th of a second to land the reindeer on a roof, jump down the chimney, distribute the goodies, chomp on some cookies, and move on. His sleigh must move 650 miles per second 3,000 times the speed of sound. NAS says the average Christmas gift (for example, Lego's or a Barbie Doll) weighs 2 pounds -- and that means the sleigh leaves Santa's Workshop at the North Pole carrying 321,300 tons of gifts.

    NAS estimates a normal reindeer can pull 300 pounds but assumes Santa's Super-Reindeer can pull 10 times that amount. Even so, Santa will need 214,200 reindeer to do the job. That herd of deer increases the weight on your roof to 353,430 tons (better reinforce if you're expecting the Jolly One).

    Not only that, but air resistance from 353,430 tons traveling 650 miles per second generates terrific heat, so the two lead reindeer absorb 14.3 quintillion joules of energy per second which causes them to spontaneously combust. They burst into flames as do the next 214,198 reindeer in 4.26 thousandths of a second. Santa probably doesn't notice as the deafening sonic booms and centrifugal forces that are 17,500 times the force of gravity have probably disoriented him. Santa is thrust into the back of his sleigh with 4,315,015 pounds of force.

    NAS isn't sure anyone could survive, much less deliver gifts, in such conditions. Interestingly, children throughout the world could care less about NAS' scientific speculation because they believe in magic. (Which is another discussion entirely. See how one topic springboards to another?)
  • Track Santa's Sleigh on Christmas Eve - Those wacky scientists at NORAD use four high-tech systems to track Santa - radar, satellites, Santa Cams and jet fighter aircraft. Find out how they do it and learn more about their air defense system.

    By the way, PhysOrg.com reports that scientists have proven that using an ionic shield and time-traveling through 11 dimensions, Santa can and does make his annual rounds.
  • Holiday Baking & Fermentation - Baking is chemistry. Discuss the chemical reactions that take place during the baking process. What is yeast and why does it make things "grow"? Don't forget to make the most of your baking flops. Explain why the meringue separated, and why the fudge is as hard as a rock. The chemistry of fermentation is a good subject for those who brew their own root beer and other holiday beverages. Don't forget the science experiments that you'll find growing in Tupperware containers at the back of the fridge when the holidays are over. For a neat, kid-friendly website that explains fermentation and microbes in food, visit the Microbe Zoo.
  • Christmas Trees can lead to a discussion of forestry and land management. According to Starcross Trees and Wreaths of Annapolis, California, the first recorded Christmas tree retail lot was set up in 1851 by a Pennsylvanian named Mark Carr who hauled 2 ox sleds loaded with Balsam fir trees from his land in the Catskills to the sidewalks of New York. Nowadays, most trees are grown on farms where they provide environmental benefits by serving as a wildlife habitat, and increase soil stability. It takes 5-16 years for a tree to grow into a well-shaped 6-8 foot marketable tree. Take a Carschooling field trip to a Christmas Tree Farm near you, or take a Virtual Field Trip to a Christmas Tree Farm.
  • Poinsettias, Mistletoe and Bulbs - First, a little history lesson: Did you know that an ambassador to Mexico, Dr. Joel Robert Poinsett, brought the first Poinsettia to this country from Mexico in 1828? There is also a legend that a Mexican boy had no gift for the Christ child. As he knelt to pray near Christ's manger, a beautiful flower grew next to him. He gave it to Jesus. That flowering plant later became known as a Poinsettia. Get the 4-1-1 on poinsettias. Young children will enjoy Tomie dePaola's The Legend of the Poinsettia (Paperback).

    As for Mistletoe, it is one of Oklahoma's state flowers, and ancient Celtic people hung it over their doors to ward off evil spirits during the dark time of year (Winter). See a picture of Mistletoe and learn more about it.

    We just covered history and a bit of botany. Here's an activity to further the learning...

    Activity: Grow Amaryllis (a popular bulb plant that flowers at this time of year) Chart plant growth with this idea from a homeschool mom. Grow Amaryllis. Purchase a bulb and plant it in a pot. It will begin to grow almost as soon as you start to water it. It grows to a height of about 3 feet and blooms into a lily-looking flower in just 4 weeks. Plant it in a decorative pot.
  • Wrapping Paper - Think of all of the gifts that get wrapped in paper at this time of year. Most of it gets thrown away! Recycle it as part of your ecology and conservation studies. Better yet — visit this site for some alternative suggestions for gift-wrap that are environment-friendly. Don't forget to compost the tree!
  • The Star of Bethlehem - Astronomy is a natural link-up to this event, which has been explained by some astronomers as a convergence of the planet Jupiter and Saturn. Other theories include a supernova, a comet, and even an UFO. Here's a place to start to do some research on these theories.

    Speaking of celestial events, don't forget that the annual Geminids Meteor Shower occurs in mid-December.

    As long as you're star-gazing, you may be considering purchasing a telescope. Here's a good starter scope from Meade.
  • Snowflakes - Seasonal weather patterns and cold temperatures along with snow, clouds, and rain, can lead to a discussion of meteorology and the science of crystals. Make a barometer and talk about wind chill factors. Or visit an incredible website where you can learn all about snowflake physics and you can even learn to make a snowflake in a bottle!

Social Sciences

  • Relatives - Genealogy, History, Social Studies, Geography, and Multi-Cultural Studies are all incorporated in our own family trees. Discuss your family history with your children. Tell them about their ethnic origin and cultural heritage. Discuss family traditions and how they got started. Point out on a globe where their great-grandmother is from. All of these discussions help kids understand their place in the family, the extended family, the neighborhood, the community, their country, and the world. At the holiday dinner table ask the following questions of older relatives that will lead to a discussion of history:

    • Did you have television or video games when you were young? If not, what did you do when you were bored?
    • Who was president when you were 10 years old?
    • What do you remember most about being 10?
    • What were three of the happiest moments of your life?

    Their answers can lead to a wealth of knowledge and deeper appreciation for historical events. Let the kids use the video camera to record these memories and preserve them for generations to come. They also make wonderful gifts for other family members.

  • Family Traditions and Festivals - Do you celebrate any of these?

    A discussion or celebration of any of these festivals would satisfy the requirement of Social Sciences. Many museums highlight cultural events at this time of year -- a great way to take a break from the holiday rush or spend a rainy afternoon.

  • Nativity Scenes and Chanukah Candles - What a wonderful lead-in to a study of Comparative Religions & Philosophy. View nativity scenes rendered by various artists online. Try to "Arrange the Nativity Scene" in this animated, interactive game for kids. Many communities offer Drive-Thru Living Nativity Scenes — do a Google search or check with your local Chamber of Commerce for information. This Virtual Chanukah Guide has a worldwide public lighting schedule as well.

Visual & Performing Arts

  • Music - Whether listening to the symphonic sounds of Peter & The Wolf or singing carols with friends, music permeates this season. A trip to any supermarket can render a lesson in holiday music appreciation -- who says you can only learn in a classroom? Listen to holiday music online too.
  • Or purchase a selection of holiday music to enjoy while Carschooling! Click here to buy talented children's music singer and songwriter Raffi's Christmas Album

  • Dance - Nutcracker, need I say more? Read the story of the Nutcracker, listen to some of the music from the Nutcracker Ballet, and get a directory of ballet companies throughout the world that are performing the Nutcracker Ballet. Watch a DVD of The Nutcraker Ballet. Print out these free lesson plans for the Nutcracker Ballet.
  • Theatre - A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Read the complete text of the story online or listen to the entire story online. Learn more about Dickens, read a pared down version of A Christmas Carol (that Dickens himself used for public readings), and learn all about the many stage and film variations of A Christmas Carol. Watch the delightful 1970's musical "Scrooge" on DVD.
  • Decorations - Make your own or go car sight-seeing around town. Neighbors in many communities manage to put on quite a showcase of lights, displays, and sound right in their own front yards. Find lots of holiday decorating ideas for your home and yard.


  • Holiday Cooking and Eating - Discuss the nutritional value of various ingredients in holiday foods. Teach the kids to read labels for information on vitamin, mineral, protein, fat, carbohydrate, and calorie content of products like pumpkin, chocolate, candy canes, Jell-O, Cool Whip, etc. Discuss preservatives and food dyes and how they affect our health. Does anyone know how many calories you would need to consume to gain one pound? Try to estimate how many pounds you'll gain over the holidays. Learn more about nutrition at the Nutrition Café with online nutritional games for kids of all ages.

Physical Education

  • Seasonal Sports - Ice-Skating, Skiing, Snow-Boarding, Sledding, Puddle-Jumping, and Ice Hockey all satisfy this requirement. A good game of Twister on a rainy afternoon might qualify as well. Or perhaps you can just exercise your fingers on the keyboard or by clicking the mouse when you play the snowboarding game.
  • Decorating the Christmas Tree - Just bending over to pick up an ornament and then hanging it on the tree is a good workout. "Reach and stretch (two, three) to put that star or angel on the tree!" Get some instructions for how to make clever tree ornaments that can double as table decorations or gifts.
  • Holiday Shopping - Walking all the way around the shopping mall is good exercise especially if you're carrying packages — it's cross training!

Foreign Languages

  • Singing Holiday Carols in a foreign language qualifies for studying Foreign Languages. Here's a website that has holiday songs in French, Spanish, German, Latin and even has carols in Korean and Japanese:
  • Say, " Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, or Happy New Year!" in as many languages as possible. Here's a head start:
    • Spanish: Feliz Ano Nuevo means Happy New Year
    • Hebrew: Hag Sameach means Happy Holiday

Applied Arts

  • Holiday Craft Making - Sewing, Knitting, Quilting, Woodwork, Origami, Stained Glass, Clay, and Candle-making all qualify. Get simple craft ideas that young children can do. Or get a greater variety of craft recipes for all ages.

Vocational Education

  • Lighting Technician - This is "educationese" for one who lights candles or hangs strings of indoor/outdoor electric lights. Hey, it takes some skill to get those things to quit blinking! Don't forget to take the opportunity to discuss the history of electricity, and the lives of Ben Franklin and Thomas Edison. In fact, let your technician make candles by following these directions.
  • Crafting - Parts assembly is a key component to this activity that will train future manufacturing workers or elves. At this time of year it is the preferred activity over the more traditional choices of Auto Shop and Home Economics. Assemble the parts to make a spicy-smelling Pomander Ball by following these directions.
  • Santa Claus College - I'm not sure, but I think this would qualify. Most department stores offer training in how to be a good Santa Claus as does the Salvation Army (they even provide a diploma!). I've seen Santas as young as 16 in some stores. If you want to learn to be a Santa get some tips on working with reindeer by visiting the Reindeer Farm. visiting the Reindeer Farm.

Automobile Driver Education

  • Hey, letting your teen run holiday errands and maneuver through holiday traffic and mall parking lots will more than prepare him or her for the road ahead. Siblings in the back seat can stay occupied with these car-games:
    • Magna Doodle Pro Classic a great, self-contained draw and sketch toy for all ages - perfect for long rides in the family car on holiday vacations.
    • Tote 'N Go Laptop - Preschoolers love playing 30 engaging activities that teach language, math, games and music.
  • And for those with frazzled nerves (after an afternoon of driving with junior) try this recipe for a warm, soothing elixir known as Christmas Wassail.

Other Ideas for Enhancing Learning Through Holiday Activities

  • Games - Parlor Games, and Board Games accomplish the task of socialization. Get instructions on how to make a simple Dreidel and how to play the Dreidel game.
  • Living History at "Dickens Fairs" or "Victorian Christmas Fairs" -- look in your local newspaper or parenting magazine to find a recreation of 19th century Victorian-era, Dickens England. In the San Francisco area go to The Great Dickens Christmas Fair. For Info and Tickets call 415-897-4555 or visit the website that links to other Dickens and Victorian sites.

While I am sure that this curriculum more than satisfies national curriculum standards, please remember to remain flexible. Do only what works for you and your family. One homeschooling mom, after reviewing this course-of-study decided that her family would simply do a unit study on bears throughout the holiday season — they plan to do nothing more than hibernate.

For those of you who need a learning plan, we did submit this to a California credentialed teacher for review who found it not only acceptable but "comprehensive."

Finally, I would like to leave you with another thought at this wonderful time of year. The most precious present that passes between child and parent is the simplest. It is the gift of time and attention freely given to one another. In that regard, homeschooling is a gift that will keep on giving long after the toys and games have lost their appeal.

Holiday Resources for the Entire Family