2015-16 School Year–Week Thirteen

This was a pretty light week of school. I decided not to start anything new in math, so our main focus this week was language arts…spelling, vocabulary, grammar, writing, and reading. We also did a little science. We watched several productions of the Nutcracker, as always, as well as The Seasoned Traveler: Christmas Markets and Rick Steves’ European Christmas. We also continued our annual read-through of A Christmas Carol…We still have to read the last chapter, but we got through more than I was expecting after having been sick last week!

As always, we made Christmas ornaments this week. This year, we finally made the floor wax/glitter ornaments that I’ve been looking forward to making. They’re so beautiful…I love the way they look in the lights from the Christmas tree!

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This year, for Christmas Around the World, we learned about Christmas in Poland. We read a fun book, Marta and the Manger Straw. We also had a Polish meal…kielbasa, homemade pierogis, sauerkraut, and kolache cookies for dessert. It was a very popular meal!

We still have a few things to wrap up next week (finishing A Christmas Carol, another craft, and maybe learning about Christmas in one more country), but other than that, we’re done until 2016. Merry Christmas!

2013-14 School Year–Week Sixteen

I gave up trying to do our regular school work plus Christmas School. With everything else I needed to do this week (including some shopping and baking 15 dozen cookies for the church cookie walk), and an illness that just wont go away, it just wasn’t happening. So, we did religion and math as usual, and the rest of our days were filled with Christmas School. I can’t say that anyone minded too much!

This week, we learned about Christmas in Russia/Ukraine and Sweden. We had one craft (ornaments telling the Ukrainian legend of tinsel), and a special baked good (Lussekattes, in honor of Santa Lucia Day today). We also read some short stories from both Russia and Scandinavia, as well as the story of Lucia, and learned about the different traditions of those countries. Next week, we’ll finish up with a little more on Christmas in Germany, as well as in France.

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We also spent the week on the Nutcracker. In the past, we’ve had a Nutcracker day, where we watched one or two productions of the ballet, and read the story. This year, however, I’ve expanded our collection to four different productions, so we watched one each day, and then read the story on the fifth day. It’s endlessly fascinating comparing and contrasting the different interpretations of the story. I still have a favorite–the San Francisco Ballet–but I’ve come to appreciate elements from the Bolshoi, Dutch National, and Royal Ballets, as well.

Looking forward to only having one more week of school before our Christmas vacation…between sickness and busyness, I need a mental break!

Christmas School 2013

I guess I haven’t really mentioned our plans for Christmas School this year, have I? We’re back to “Christmas Around the World,” after two years focusing on Christmas through American history, and Christmas in England, respectively. I chose five countries to study this year: Germany, Greece, Russia/The Ukraine, Sweden, and France. My Celebrate Christmas Around the World teacher resource book has been, as always, a great help in planning our lessons!

We always focus on Germany when we learn about different Christmas customs, because so many of our traditions originate from that country. I chose Greece again this year because we’ve been learning about the ancient Greeks and Greek mythology in our regular studies (plus, it tied in nicely with the commemoration of St. Nicholas). We’ll be learning about Christmas in Russia (and Ukraine, by extension), as a lead-in to our Olympics studies in February. Bunny wanted to learn about Christmas in Sweden again this year, so she could be Santa Lucia, and since it’s been a few years, I thought it would be fun to do that again. And I asked Turkey what country he’d like to learn about, and he chose France, which we really haven’t focused on before. Here’s a brief rundown of the activities I have planned for each country (please bear in mind that we’ve already completed some of these activities since I got such a late start on blogging about it)–stories, music, and a craft or baking project (and, of course we’ll be learning the Christmas greeting in each country’s native language, as well as a general overview of what their celebrations and traditions look like!):

Germany–Frohliche Weihnachten!

Greece–Kalá Christoúgenna!

Russia/Ukraine–Hristos Razdajetsja!

Sweden/Scandinavia–God Jul!

France–Joyeux Noël!

In addition to learning about these countries, we’ll have our standard Nutcracker Day (I know have four different ballet company’s interpretations of this Christmas standard!), and our Christmas in Italy Day, which has also become a tradition. We may also read A Christmas Carol out loud if there’s time, because it’s also a favorite. I have a few field trips planned (one of which we’ve already been on), and possibly some other special events. I love planning for school at this time of year!

The Legend of the First Tinsel

Today in school, we learned about Christmas in Russia (which involved watching the Bolshoi Ballet Nutcracker), and Ukraine. Part of learning about Christmas in Ukraine including reading the Ukrainian version of the legend of the first Christmas tinsel. To go along with the story, we made these cute ornaments…they were a lot of fun!

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Another Christmas Dinner

On Christmas Eve, we had our traditional dinner of appetizers, dips, and desserts. Christmas Day ended being a little funky, meal-wise, so we ordered pizzas. Our big, fancy Christmas dinner was finally enjoyed today! I chose an English theme (since this has been a major “Rule Britannia” year for us), and the menu I settled up on included roast beef, brussels sprouts (a very important Christmas dinner staple in England), roast carrots and potatoes, cranberries, and, for dessert, a French cake popular in England, the Bûche de Noël or Yule Log Cake. We also enjoyed drinking wassail, which is another of our regular family Christmas traditions, but fit in nicely with the theme for the day!

Wassail, hot out of the pot:

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Standing rib roast with a rosemary-garlic rub, served with a horseradish cream sauce:

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A trio of roast vegetables–brussels sprouts, carrots, and potatoes:

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Spiced cranberries:

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The feast:

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The table:

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Christmas Crackers:

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In addition to a paper hat, everyone’s Christmas Cracker came with a toy:

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As well a joke:

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The Bûche de Noël:

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Happy Christmas!

Christmas School 2012–Christmas in England

As I mentioned in this year’s Christmas School reading list, our focus this year is on Christmas in England. Our main read-aloud is, of course, A Christmas Carol. In addition to that, I’ve divided our studies up into six basic sections:

  • Christmas in Elizabethan England–This was a tough era to cover, mainly because I couldn’t find a whole lot of information on it. Shakespeare made only a few passing references to Christmas, from what I could find, and they weren’t particularly happy references. I decided that the focus of this lesson would be on the Boar’s Head Festival, since the festival would have been fairly well established by that time. It also ties in well to the festival we attended this year, and we can even use the programs from that festival to guide our discussion of the different parts of the event, in particular, the “Boar’s Head Carol,” as well as “Good King Wenceslas.”
  • A Georgian/Colonial Christmas–In contrast, this is an easy period of time to cover, especially following last year’s “Christmas in American History” lessons. We won’t be looking specifically at England for this lesson, but at how English colonists might have celebrated Christmas in their new homes. The beginning part of Christmas in Williamsburg does and excellent job of showing what an English-American Christmas was like.
  • A Victorian Christmas–There’s so much information here, it’s hard to know where to start! The focus of this lesson, though, will be on the traditions that we still have today that are a reflection of the Victoria era, like decorating Christmas trees, and lavish gift giving. The central focus of this day will be A Christmas Carol, of course, as it’s the perfect Victoria Christmas story. While we’re taking all of our Christmas School this year to read it, we’ll be watching our favorite film version of the story that day (the Muppet version, if you’re wondering!).
  • An Edwardian Christmas–This was the other time period that was a bit of a struggle, because it’s really a short amount of time, and it’s not that different from the Victorian era. The only reason I even made it its own topic was because I found a lovely picture book at the library entitled An Edwardian Christmas. This is the same day we’ll be learning about St. Lucia, though, so it’s OK that we’re a little light on Christmas in England that day!
  • Wartime Christmas–We’ll be looking at Christmas in England during both World Wars…not only directly war-related events (Christmas in the Trenches, the story of the “Silent Night Truce”), but works that were written during, and possibly influenced by, the wars (Letters from Father Christmas and A Child’s Christmas in Wales). Even though we’ll be delving into Santa territory with the Tolkien book, this is especially timely, as Turkey and Bunny have both recently read The Hobbit, and Ryan is reading The Fellowship of the Ring as a family read-aloud in the evenings.
  • Christmas in Modern England–In addition to watching a few of the Queen’s recent Christmas messages, we’ll also be reading a Christmas story starring a favorite character in English children’s books–The Jolly Postman. While I don’t like to bring Santa into our house too much, I like this book because it does introduce a modern British storybook, and because the Jolly Postman stories are clever and well-written.

In addition to these time periods, we’ll also be learning about some Christmas legends from the U.K., including a story from Ireland, and the legend of the robin, which may or may not be English in origin, but is a popular story in that country. We’ll also be looking at and listening to some English Christmas carols. (We will be doing crafts, as always–they just don’t really have anything to do with Christmas in England!) And, of course, we love any excuse to have a tea party, so this time around, we’ll be having a Christmas tea, complete with Christmas cookies, holiday jam on English muffins, and ginger tea.

This will bring a nice end to the very British year we’ve had…then again, we have the birth of the new royal to look forward to next year, so maybe the fun doesn’t have to end!

What We’re Reading–Christmas 2012–Christmas in England

Last year, I shared a list of books we’d be using in “Christmas School.” Some of those books won’t be repeated this year (especially anything American Santa heavy), as the theme is different, and I’ve also added a few books, mainly to go along with this year’s focus on Christmas in England:

  • Letters from Father Christmas–Yes, it’s a Santa book, but it’s also something of a Tolkien classic, and quite timely, as Turkey and Bunny have both recently read The Hobbit.
  • A Child’s Christmas in Wales–This classic will be added to our permanent collection.
  • The Christmas Bird–I haven’t been able to determine if this legend originated in England, or if it’s just popular there, but robins at Christmastime appear to be a British custom.
  • An Edwardian Christmas–This is a tiny little picture book, but the pictures are beautiful, and show what Christmas was like in England at that time.
  • The Oxford Book of Christmas Poems
  • Father Christmas and the Donkey
  • Victorian Christmas–Technically, this book is about Christmas in America, but it shows how England influenced American Christmas celebrations, so decided to include it.
  • Christmas in England
  • A Christmas Carol–A classic that’s been in our family library for years, but is especially appropriate for this year’s English Christmas theme…it will be our main read-aloud.
  • A Christmas Dinner–Another Christmas book by Charles Dickens
  • The Jolly Christmas Postman–Another Santa book, but the Jolly Postman seems to be very popular in England, so it must be included.
  • Christmas in the Trenches–This book was already in our library, but as it focuses on the temporary truce between British and German soldiers during WWI, it has a special place in school this year.
  • The Lion Storyteller Christmas Book–While this anthology has stories from all over the world, it’s printed by a British publisher, so I thought it fit the year’s theme.
  • The Christmas Tale of Peter Rabbit–Not written by Beatrix Potter herself, but inspired by her farm.
  • How Mrs. Claus Saved Christmas–Even though this series is about the origin of the Santa stories, I really like the books. This one focuses primarily on the Puritans in America, as well as the English Parliament’s interference with Christmas celebrations.
  • Christmas in Williamsburg–This is another book that focuses on Christmas in America, but we’ll specifically looking at the colonial period, when America was still under British rule.

We’ll also be using our book basket time to read all of the other many Christmas books we love!