- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 27, 2009

Parents sometimes wonder how they can balance the added chores and demands of the holidays with the ongoing work of education in the home. My own approach is to let the holidays dominate - and do intensive learning through holiday projects and activities.

I have learned to follow a few simple rules, however. (Moms, listen up.)

Rule one: Learning takes time. Make sure to build in the time it will take for young learners to pick up the skills, and be aware that making mistakes is part of learning. You must also be patient. When parents feel, “It’s quicker if I do it myself, and I want it done perfectly,” then they can get frustrated and the kids feel stressed.

Rule two: Model it, explain it and then let the child try it. Kids learn most naturally by imitation, not verbal or written instruction. Working side by side is the most effective way to build skills.

Rule three: Pick activities they like and will learn from. If your kids love music, they may enjoy learning songs to share with residents at health care facilities and other venues. If they like art, they may enjoy designing cards, taking photos or even designing a Web site.

Rule Four: Pick projects with a reasonable finish line. Sorting through thousands of photos to create a nice album may sound like a lovely gift for the grandparents - but your kids may not be capable of such an ambitious goal, unless you can break it down into smaller pieces.

Try to choose activities that fit the attention span and abilities of your learners.

Some activities that incorporate lots of learning include:

c Cooking projects - Bake cookies, breads or pies as gifts or for parties. Your students also can assemble one-dish meals (such as quiche, lasagna, chili or stew) to share with others.

c Computer projects - Create a slide show with narration or music to be sent to loved ones. Or turn the photos of events over the past year into a personalized letter or calendar.

c Art projects - Make decorations for the home. Put an emphasis on using the existing items around the house, including jars, newspaper and string, which teaches good environmental practices.

c Home economics - Learning to sew, knit, crochet or embroider helps develop hand-eye coordination and awareness of math principles in action. Counting stitches, following a pattern or instructions, and estimating skills are developed as they learn to create warm clothing or beautiful objects.

c Carpentry - Your boys especially might enjoy working with wood, applying structural concepts and measurements, reading diagrams, and using tools. Family and friends may appreciate the shelf units, tables, frames, keepsake boxes, planters or cutting boards that they build.

c Music - While learning those beautiful songs, why not record a few as gifts for others? Even with simple home equipment, kids can create a memorable “album,” which increases their awareness of melody and harmony, instrumental skills and memorization.

c Publishing - Writing an original story and even illustrating it can teach the steps of publishing, and make a truly unique gift for the recipients. Not only does this teach language arts, but it also allows them to pick up practical skills in page design, printing and even bookbinding.

When projects are complete, be sure to record the steps and skills involved in each one, and keep a sample for your learning portfolio.

As you work together, you’ll have the chance to tell stories, sing together, be silly and create memories. Building love and enjoyment as you go is as important - if not more important - than what you make. A burned batch of cookies or a collapsed papier mache sculpture can become a great family story. It all just serves to remind us that peace and love and family are the stuff of heaven.

c Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a freelance writer who lives in Maryland.

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