- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 14, 2000

Among the bills and letters in my mailbox the other day was a local toy store's holiday flier. Two days later, on a late-

night trip to the supermarket, I saw Christmas wrapping paper placed strategically at the end of an aisle. Wait a minute I have yet to eat my Thanksgiving dinner.

I have always loved the holiday season. I grew up in a family in which Christmas was a big deal. My mother and grandmother would spend weeks preparing for the holiday, and I have carried a number of their Christmas traditions into my own home. Every year, though, the time between the start of the school year and the beginning of the holiday season seems to grow shorter and shorter.

Fall brings the return of a full school schedule, which runs rather smoothly until the end of November. Then comes Thanksgiving and the start of the holiday season. Before I know it, I'm staring January in the face. Where does December go?

For years I tried to do everything Christmas shop, cook, decorate, make gifts and attend holiday functions while still maintaining our regular home-school schedule. It never worked. By the time Dec. 25 rolled around, I was frazzled and the children were hiding from their harried mother. I was trying to build Christmas memories for my children, but I was giving them Christmas nightmares instead. I'm guessing I'm not the only home-school mom who has felt this way.

I finally faced the fact that I couldn't do it all. I knew things had to change. I needed either to rearrange our school schedule to make room for the extra activities or to resign myself to the fact that we would do nothing special for Christmas. I decided to change our school schedule. We now continue to home-school during the month of December, but we set aside some of our regular schoolwork to make room for the special sights, sounds and smells of Christmas. Everyone helps, and I don't find children hiding anymore well, not as often, at least.

Here are a few of my holiday strategies.

• Plan ahead. Sit down with your family and decide what special holiday activities you want to enjoy. Will you bake Christmas cookies? Will you decorate the house? Will you attend any special programs?

Once you know what you want to do, get your calendar and decide when you will do them.

• Shop from home whenever possible. As soon I as leave my house, I can almost guarantee we will not have a full day of school. Today, most companies have Internet sites and catalogs that sell everything from groceries to automobiles. Request several printed catalogs containing products that make great gifts but also have educational value. Place the catalogs around the house where your children can find them. In no time, you will have dozens of Christmas gift ideas.

• Incorporate as many activities as you can into your home-school plans. Baking can contribute to great home-economics and mathematics lessons. During the next several weeks, have your children mix batches of drop cookies while you prepare dinner. Just mix the dough, shape into a log, wrap, label and freeze. When you are ready to bake, take the dough out of the freezer and bake without the mess.

Christmas brings with it wonderful literature. "The Gift of the Magi," "Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates" and "A Christmas Carol" are three of many fine books whose stories revolve around the holiday season. For your younger students, you may wish to read the stories aloud. For older children, you will find these stories to be great introductions to classic literature.

Along with literature, the areas of spelling and grammar can be incorporated into your special December school days. Writing thank-you notes or keeping a journal of holiday events would be a great way to keep up writing skills. Have your budding authors write their own Christmas stories.

• Share holiday jobs. Tasks always seem easier when shared with family members and friends. Besides having everyone at home chip in and share the workload, you may want to get together with other home-school families to address Christmas cards or make holiday ornaments.

Would you like a variety of Christmas cookies for your holiday gatherings, but are you short on time? Have a cookie exchange. Each family bakes several dozen favorite Christmas treats, and then everyone gets together and takes a few of each variety home.

What about wrapping gifts?In December, instead of the usual planned meeting for the moms' support group, have a gift-wrapping party.

I hope I have gotten your creative juices flowing and given you some ideas you can use. With a bit of planning, you can make this the most memorable home-school Christmas ever.

Kim Huber, a mother of four children, has been home-schooling for 17 years. She and her husband serve on the Christian Homeschool Association of Pennsylvania's board of directors. She can be reached by e-mail (CHAPKimH@aol.com).

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