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It can be so refreshing to take a little break from homeschooling during the holiday season. Whether that means a week or a month, however you’ve planned your year, that change of routine and enjoyable family traditions offer a nice change of pace. But the holidays can also bring some extra challenges. Today I want to share five short but powerful pieces of advice that Charlotte Mason gave that can make a big difference during seasons like Christmas break.
When my children were young, we had a yearly rhythm of three weeks on, one week off for our home school. Happily, that gave us some extra time off during the holidays. There were many things I enjoyed about those extra days off of homeschooling, but there were also extra challenges that came with them: extra baking, decorating, church services, family gatherings, and often the travel that went with those gatherings.
But I found that our holiday season went much smoother when I followed a few simple pieces of advice that Charlotte Mason shared in her writings. I love how her heart and wisdom encompassed all of life, not just lesson times, because we are educating our children in all of life.
So let me share with you five of her tips that I think will help your Christmas break go much smoother.
Tip #1: Take time for Yourself to rest
Any vacation or holiday can be delightful, but it can also be exhausting with all of the extra responsibilities and activities that come with it, and the Christmas season is no exception. In fact, it’s probably one of the easiest times of the year to tire yourself out if you’re not careful.
“There is a shade of anxiety in the mother’s face as she plans for the holidays. The brunt of domestic difficulties falls, necessarily, upon her.”
“Domestic difficulties”—that’s a great way of saying extra laundry and baking and preparing for guests and selecting, shopping, and wrapping presents and all of the other things that go into this time of year.
So how did Charlotte recommend we deal with that “shade of anxiety?” She encouraged us to try to arrange for some quiet time of
“rest for body and mind, and for such spiritual refreshment as may be, to prepare them for the exhausting (however delightful) strain of the holidays.”Formation of Character, pp. 109, 110
Be proactive in your holiday plans. Include times for rest—both physical sleep and mental downtime. And if you can, get a head start on those by arranging for them at the beginning of the holidays to help you prepare for the extra strain that will come. Remember, the benefits of that extra rest do not stop with you; they overflow to those around you. When you are well-rested and mentally at peace, you will find it much easier to interact with your children, and your whole family, in a wise, loving, and patient way. Plan for extra rest for you.
Tip #2: Plan How to keep Your children occupied
Charlotte recognized that
“The days when the usual programme falls through are, we know, the days when the children are apt to be naughty.”Home Education, p. 132
Having a lot of free time can be fun up to a point. It can become tiring when you have to constantly make the decision “What should I do now?” All of that extra decision making requires effort. So is it any wonder that the children seem to get into quarrels more easily during days off? They exert so much extra effort in deciding what to do, that they have little effort left to put into self-control.
I love how Charlotte described the goal for these holiday weeks. She said, in her usual understated way,
“It is not easy to keep eight or nine young people at their best for weeks together without their usual employments.”Formation of Character, p. 110
That little phrase “at their best” is the key. Our whole goal as parents is to help our children become the best versions of themselves that they can be. Even during Christmas break. So don’t schedule every waking hour for your children, but do try to make some plans that will help relieve them of the effort of decision and help keep them at their best.
Tip #3: show each child that you love him or her
It’s easy to unintentionally focus on the activities and the presents and the hustle and bustle of the season and never get around to really focusing on each child as a person. You have extra time during these days off school. What a great opportunity to connect with each child, heart to heart, in a way that assures that individual that you love him, that you will always love her. Even your older children, perhaps especially your older children. Once they reach that stage of not wanting hugs in public, it’s easy to think they don’t want any more reassurances of your love. But that is not the case. They still need those reminders, and these extra moments during the holidays are prime opportunities to reconnect.
Charlotte put it this way:
“Let your children feel and see and be quite sure that you love them. We do not suggest endearments in public, which the young folk cannot always abide. But, dear mother, take your big schoolgirl in your arms just once in the holidays, and let her have a good talk, all to your two selves; it will be to her like a meal to a hungry man. For the youths and maidens—remember, they would sell their souls for love; they do it too, and that is the reason of many of the ruined lives we sigh over.”Formation of Character, p. 117
Tip #4: Read as a Family
There’s nothing to compare with gathering around and snuggling up on the sofa for a family read-aloud. This simple habit can happen during summer vacation too, but many families have special Christmas books that they enjoy together during this holiday time of year.
Here’s what Charlotte had to say about those special times as a family:
“The evening readings should be entertaining, and not of a kind to demand severe mental effort; but the long holidays are too long for mere intellectual dawdling. Every Christmas and summer vacation should be marked by the family reading of some great work of literary renown.”Formation of Character, p. 227
Select your books based on the ages of your children. But remember that a great book—whether old or new, long or short—a truly living book can be enjoyed by all ages. We’ve put together a list of favorite seasonal books from our readers and our own favorites.
Tip #5: Keep watching over habits
Habits become engrained quickest when they are not allowed to lapse. Charlotte reminded us that
“The habits practised in school and relaxed at home, because ‘it’s holidays now, you know,’ do not really become habits of the life.”School Education, p. 107
I think you’ll agree that we definitely want habits for life, not just during certain days of the week or weeks of the year. Not just when we’re watching, but when we’re not watching too. Good habits, that will set our children up for success in life and give us smooth and easy days, require continuous watching—during the Christmas season and all year round.
Many of these five tips seem too simple to make much of a difference: get extra rest, help your children stay productively occupied, take time to connect with each child, read together as a family, and keep working on good habits even during the holidays. But I think you’ll find that if you do them, you will enjoy a much smoother Christmas break.
All of us at Simply Charlotte Mason hope you have a blessed and Merry Christmas!