Ah, Christmas vacation! That time of year when most children have at least two weeks off from school and many homeschool families stretch the break over a month. The extra holiday activities such as cooking and baking, extra outings, and visiting family and friends all blend together to make the perfect recipe for holiday happiness…unless your child can’t handle the change of routine and overstimulation.
If you’re reading this, there is a good chance you’re in that situation. Your child wants a break from regular school. You want a break. You’d love to be like the happy homeschool families fa-la-la-la-la-ing while taking time off from classes. But it just doesn’t work that way for you.
Good news! With a little forethought and minimal preparation, you can get a little respite from the normal homeschool schedule too. Your time off may not look like everyone else’s, but at least you’ll get some reprieve. Should your child be overwhelmed by lack of structure or the open-ended, “What do I do with myself?”, then try some of these options.
Use the holiday season to get in some film study. You could hunt down videos specific to topics you’ve been studying or branch out into some holiday movies. Of course, homeschool parents want to make the viewing educational, so think of some ways to get your students thinking critically. Perhaps you have them make a Venn diagram comparing book and movie. Or, you could ask your students to listen for information that contradicts what they’ve learned in their lessons. Maybe you watch a holiday classic and discuss how the film director uses music and color to create mood and emphasize a character’s qualities or faults (for example, “good guys” wearing white).
Is your homeschool the more traditional style? Take a break from textbooks and choose a single topic for study. Check out books and DVDs. Plan a complementary field trip. Search Pinterest for activities related to the topic. Make graphs, charts, posters, models, etc. Let your child make a board game on the subject at the end of your study.
Head to your local library and check out a few audio books. Let the narrator do read-aloud time for you. If your child has a hard time sitting still, set him up with some drawing or building blocks or other quiet activity that he can do while listening. Audio books also make great road trip companions.
Get your child working in the kitchen. YouTube and sites like FoodNetwork.com provide plenty of tutorials. Challenge your child to prepare a meal, starting by choosing a menu based on what’s on sale at the grocery store. Give him a budget. Let him browse cookbooks for recipes. Take him to the store and let him find the ingredients and pay for the items. Let him cook the meal (as much he is able). Of course, if your child needs assistance along the way, be available. Not sure you want to let your child do that much work in the kitchen? Have him choose a couple cookie or treat recipes to make as gifts for the neighbors.
Games and Puzzles
Now is a good time to take a break with board games. Pull out family favorites collecting dust. Trade a game or two with a friend to introduce some new learning fun to your child. Find word searches and crossword puzzles centered on a topic your child has studied. Play Hangman to review spelling words. Strengthen critical thinking with games like Battleship, chess, and Rook. Let Yahtzee reinforce math facts knowledge.
Many children with special needs need help to learn things like planning out the steps to complete a project. Why not use holiday preparation as a time to help your child learn this skill? For example, let her sit with you as you plan the holiday meal, determining what dishes you want to make and what ingredients you’ll need. Show her the budget you’re using. Teach her how to divide available funds by the number of gifts you need. Let her be in charge of setting the table. If you need to, talk her through the steps and help her make a list. Younger children can draw on paper to make placemats for guests. Put them in charge of decorations while you prepare food. You may be surprised by their creativity and sense of ownership.
Leave textbooks on the bookshelf and get out of the house. Find field trips related to things your children have been studying recently. Consider going during off-hours if your child with special needs suffers from crowd anxiety or easily gets overstimulated. For example, many school field trips tend to leave around 1:00–2:00 pm. If you arrive at that time, you’re just getting started as crowds are leaving and you’ll have a calmer experience. Sometimes you can get a discount if you get a group of homeschoolers together.
Let your child spend time making presents for friends and family, strengthening fine motor skills at the same time. Loom knitting and creating Perler bead crafts both serve a double purpose. Many other craft projects do double duty as well. Again, Pinterest comes in handy here. You can also let your child enjoy some extra time with a hobby. Does your child love to draw or paint? Invite her to make wall art for a family member. Does he like to build things? Suggest he make something for Uncle Joe.
Put lessons aside and get out into your community. Help shelve food at a food bank. Collect bottles and donate the money to those in need. Visit with veterans or shut-ins. Organize a food drive in your neighborhood. Make or compile things at home to donate to non-profit organizations.
If your child with special needs can work on many things independently but falls apart when unsure of what to do, try a list-of-the-day. This will give guided activity to relieve the stress of making choices, but also frees you up from having to be teacher. For example, you give your daughter a list:
- Play with stuffed animals
- Read for twenty minutes
- Make a card for Grandma
- Exercise for ten minutes
- Play a game with Mom
- Play video games for thirty minutes
- Color for ten minutes
- Build with marshmallows and toothpicks
- Pick up toys
This list will take your daughter through much of the day, avoiding the paralyzing thought “What do I do now?” Plus, you aren’t sitting down with curriculum and teaching a lesson. Win-win!
Swap with Another Homeschool Family
Connect with another homeschool parent and swap a morning or afternoon! One day you have all the kids and lead some projects while the other parent gets a break. Then it’s your turn to get time off while your children learn under someone else.
Since other schools are on Christmas break, you may be able to find a high school or college student to occupy your special needs child while you get a break. If your child’s challenges are so severe you worry about leaving the house, stay home but enjoy some time for self-care while another person watches your child. Shower uninterrupted, read a novel, or enjoy a hobby.
Special needs parents tend to find it harder to get downtime and rest. Sometimes the thought of having a Christmas break seems impossible because of your child’s needs. Do not despair. With some creativity and these twelve ideas, you can get a much-needed holiday break, too!
Do you have another idea to help with Christmas vacation for special needs parents? Tell us in the comments!