Christmas School–Day Fourteen

Today was probably the highlight of our Christmas School experience–we went on a field trip to see the St. Louis Ballet perform the Nutcracker!

At the beginning of November, I learned that the ballet company offers a special performance for schools the day before their regular shows begin (I’m thinking it’s a glorified dress rehearsal). As part of this promotion, the tickets were only six dollars each, when normally they start around $25! I found out just in time to apply–registration ended the week I learned about it.

We were worried that the performance would be cancelled because of all the ice we had last night–and we got even more worried when most of the schools around here called off today. But, as they say, the show must go on, and it did. Even better, as Moose’s school was among the closed, I was able to let go of the guilt I was feeling over pulling him out of school for the day, even though his teacher had encouraged me to do so, saying she thought it would be a good experience for him.

All four children loved it. They were literally on the edges of their seats. Even though they have seen the performance on DVD, there’s just something different about seeing it in person–and this was their first ballet on top of it. It was also a good experience in theater etiquette, which all four children observed amazingly well. It was a fantastic experience, and I’m so happy I learned that this opportunity exists, even for homeschoolers. I’m hoping that it may become a new yearly tradition!

Although that was the bulk of our schooling for the day, we also had a few other Nutcracker related activities (again). We broke out The Kingfisher Book of Classic Christmas Stories yet again, this time to read a different version of “The Nutcracker.” We were not disappointed, as this story was very different from the one we read yesterday, and in some ways, different from both of the ballets we’ve seen.

Turkey and Bunny also each selected a picture from the Dover Nutcracker Ballet Coloring Book–this time to reflect their favorite part from today’s performance. It was, as always, interesting to see what they chose. Bunny picked the Sugar Plum Fairy (again–big surprise!), but Turkey picked the Spanish dancers. I had no idea.

This was a very memorable day of Christmas School!

Christmas School–Day Thirteen

Today was Nutcracker Day! I have loved the Nutcracker since I was a little girl, so I’m always excited to find a way to work it into school.

We listened to a recording of  The Nutcracker on CD while we were doing our Language Arts, as well as while we were doing all of our Nutcracker activities. This is my favorite recording of the Nutcracker, plus the set also has the bonus Symphony Number 4 on it. All four children have really come to appreciate this score, and I love that they can get so excited about classical music!

I picked up another great Dover coloring book, the Nutcracker Ballet Coloring Book. I only got one copy this time, so Turkey and Bunny have to share, but there are so many different pictures, they can both find something they like. They proved how very stereotypical they are today, when I asked each of them what their favorite part of the Nutcracker is, so I could find a good picture for them to color. Turkey said the battle between the Mouse King and the Nutcracker, and Bunny, of course, said anything with the Sugar Plum Fairy. It was exactly what I expected them to say, and yet I was very amused at their responses.

We also read The Story of the Nutcracker Ballet. This isn’t a particularly fantastic version of the book, but it was cheap, and readily available, so it works. It’s also a good introduction to the basic story of the ballet, so it’s acceptable, just not great. I’m still on the lookout for the perfect print edition of the Nutcracker, the only problem is, I don’t know what that is yet. I’ll know it when I see it, though, so I’ll just keep looking.

Because we all love “The Waltz of the Snowflakes,” we made some pretty crystal-like snowflake ornaments to go with Nutcracker Day. I picked up this set at Hobby Lobby for 50% off, which is one of the main reasons it’s one of my favorite places to buy craft kits. Parts of this activity were a little difficult for Turkey and Bunny, but with a little help from their teacher, they were able to make several new ornaments for our tree.

We rounded out Nutcracker day by watching the San Francisco Ballet Nutcracker. I’ve talked about this before–to put it simply, this is the best version of the Nutcracker I’ve ever seen, live or recorded. I love it, the children love it, it’s just completely awesome. We can’t watch it often enough!

The Christmas Program

Today was the annual early childhood Christmas Program at Moose’s school (technically, it was a “Holiday Program,” but I digress). He was more involved in the actions this year than he has been previously, but he still looked kind of shell-shocked from the whole experience–rather a reindeer-in-the-headlights, if you will!

Christmas School–Day Twelve

Christmas school is starting to wind down. We have a pretty big day tomorrow, and (weather-permitting) a field trip on Thursday, but other than that, this week is pretty low-key. We have caught up to the Ghost of Christmas Future in A Christmas Carol, and Turkey and Bunny are quite anxious to find out what’s going to happen (even though they already know). Having never read the whole book myself before, I’ve also had a few moments of surprise and wonder–it’s fun to read a classic like that for the first time together!

We also read a storybook about the first Christmas–actually, it’s called The First Christmas. The story is nothing new or spectacular, but the illustrations are beautiful. And even though the story is generally the same, it’s nice to read it a few different ways over the Christmas season–gives us a little bit of a new perspective each time, I suppose. And I want to make sure that even while reading famous (and not-so-famous) Christmas legends, and Christmas classics, that we’re keeping our focus on the Reason for the Season.

Today’s activity was Christmas bingo–not just playing it, but making our own game boards. This was another great find from Celebrate Christmas Around the World. The blank game boards were included as reproducibles, (only the center, a star, was filled in), and Turkey and Bunny each got a sheet of Christmas symbols (also reproducibles) to cut out and glue on their boards at their discretion. Both secular and religious Christmas symbols were included, and there were more symbols than spots on the board, guaranteeing two very different game boards. They both love bingo, so this was a huge hit!

Christmas School–Day Eleven

God Jul! and Happy St. Lucia Day!

Today we learned all about Christmas in Scandinavia. We found that although there are many common elements to the Christmas season in each Scandinavian country, they each have unique ways of celebrating, as well. Except for Iceland–we didn’t really learn anything in particular about that country at all! One thing we found interesting is the amount of national pride found on Scandinavian Christmas trees. It is common for residents of each country to put a garland of their own national flag on their Christmas tree.

Our big activity for the day was making Lussekattes, which are a sweet bun served on St. Lucia Day in Sweden. I found the recipe in Celebrate Christmas Around the World–I don’t know how authentic that recipe is, but I do know it calls for the three most expensive spices found in the world! (I also learned that World Market is a great place to buy cardamom for cheap.) We actually started on these last night, because they needed almost three hours to rise, plus all the kneading, shaping, and baking time. They were pretty good–tasted a lot like hot cross buns, but drier. The children all liked them pretty well, too, and they had the satisfaction of having helped make them, so it was a good project.

It is tradition for the oldest daughter in the house to serve the breakfast, and Bunny was happy to oblige. We also learned about the real St. Lucia, both legend and fact. The children were already familiar with what the Swedish St. Lucia looks like from seeing her in St. Charles (and from my American Girl doll), and I think Bunny was secretly hoping to wear a crown of candles. There are many stories about acts St. Lucia might have done in the name of the faith, but we mostly focused on the fact that she was a believer who did good works and in the end died for her faith.

We also read another story in The Kingfisher Book of Classic Christmas Stories. This time we read “A Very Big Cat,” which is a funny Norse legend. It involves a hunter, a polar bear, and some dwarves who think the bear is a cat. We read this last year, too, and Turkey and Bunny really liked it, and remembered it better than I did.

To round out our trip through Scandinavia, Turkey and Bunny colored pictures of Christmas celebrations in Denmark and Finland. To try to incorporate Iceland into our discussion a little bit, we also looked at the flags of Scandinavia in the Usborne Flags Book. I got this book to use during our Olympics unit at the beginning of the year, and it’s a fun way to familiarize children with the different flags found around the world. Turkey and Bunny liked comparing the different colors found in all the Scandinavian flags, and also noting that they all have the same cross.

Merry Tuba Christmas!

I know, it doesn’t sound like a real thing, but it is. We went to the Galleria for the second year in a row to hear a tuba band (orchestra?) play Christmas songs. It’s a little weird and quirky, but it’s also really fun–they have a tuba decorating contest and everything! And it makes the mall feel a lot more Christmas-y with the music in the background. If you haven’t had a chance to check out a Tuba Christmas event, you really should give it a chance–it’s a really fun and different Christmas activity!

They made it snow inside the mall today, too…very weird, but also kind of fun!

Christmas School–Day Ten

Today in school, our focus was on a single hymn–“From Heaven Above to Earth I Come.” I love this Christmas hymn, mostly because I know the story of how Martin Luther wrote it for his children. I think it is amazingly cool that he had the ability to do that for his family, and even cooler that generations of believers have also gotten to benefit from his talents. Plus, you have to love any hymn that has 15 verses!

We started by reading the children’s storybook of the same name. Sadly, this book appears to be out of print, but it is a fantastic resource to have. There is a brief summary of why Martin Luther wrote the hymn, and how it was originally sung, on the front jacket flap, and then the words from Luke from where the hymn’s stanzas come. The rest of the book is only the words to the hymn, along with illustrations to accompany each verse.

After we had read through the whole book, we then listened to all 15 verses of the hymn. The whole thing is available in the Martin Luther: Hymns, Ballads, Chants, Truth CD set. I have used this set many times in school, for Reformation, (“A Mighty Fortress” can be heard in both German and English), Advent, (the only recording we have of our favorite Advent hymn, “Savior of the Nations Come), Christmas, and liturgical hymns. This set, along with the Heirs of the Reformation CD set, are great resources to have at home if you’re interested in good Lutheran hymnody, and each comes with a booklet that has additional information on each hymn.

Our craft for the day, since we had heard so much about angels in the hymn, were paper plate angels. These proved to be a little trickier than I thought they would be, I guess because there were no flat surfaces to work with, so Turkey and Bunny needed a little help to get them done. Even so, they really liked making them, and were quick to give them names (Turkey named his St. Michael) and play with them. I like crafts that have some (limited) play value, instead of having everything just hang on the wall–the only problem with playing with them is that they also have limited durability!

Christmas School–Day Nine

Today was a light day, Christmas-wise. We had a lot going on with math and language arts, so we didn’t have a lot of time for “fun stuff.” We did read one Christmas storybook, thought–The Crippled Lamb. I have always loved this book (probably the only Max Lucado book I actually like!), but I have to admit that I have a difficult time reading it ever since Moose’s diagnosis. Whenever the little lamb thinks about how he wishes he could just fit in–well, there go the waterworks! Still, it’s a cute story, and interesting to hear the Christmas story through the eyes of a lame sheep.

Turkey and Bunny also did a little more coloring in their Christmas Around the World coloring books. Since we’ve been reading A Christmas Carol, and just got to the part where the Cratchit’s are having their Christmas goose, I chose a picture of a traditional British Christmas dinner for them to color. Turkey and Bunny were concerned because they had no idea what color the goose should be, having never eaten one before, so they were happy to know that making it roast-turkey-colored was just fine!

Christmas School–Day Eight

Today was part two of “Christmas in Mexico.” Our travels today focused on the poinsettia, both the fact and fiction. We started with facts, and *I* learned several things, including the fact that I have been spelling poinsettia incorrectly my whole life (I always thought it was point-settia). We also learned that the poinsettia was first introduced to America in 1829-ish (it really depends on who you ask!) by Joel Roberts Poinsett, who was the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, and brought the brightly colored flowers home with him. We also learned that the colored “petals” are actually just leaves, which require 12 hours of darkness at a time to change color. Who knew poinsettias were so fascinating?

After learning the true facts about the poinsettia, we then read the legend “A Gift from the Heart,” in The Kingfisher Book of Classic Christmas Stories.  This is the traditional Mexican Christmas story which explains the origin of the poinsettia. In the legend, a young girl, Maria, doesn’t have the money to buy a gift to take to church on Christmas to lay in front of Baby Jesus in the manger. Instead, she brings the only thing she can find–a bunch of weeds. She tries to wrap them in a shawl so that no one will see her lowly gift, but they weeds end up being unwrapped in front of the whole congregation, and they are all shocked to see the beautiful flowers. There are other variations on this legend, some of which we have read in the past, but this was the story of choice for this year.

To wrap up “Christmas in Mexico,” as well as “Poinsettia Day,” we made 3-D paper poinsettias. Turkey and Bunny really liked this project, and they looked really cool when they were finished!

Christmas School–Day Seven

Feliz Navidad!

Today was day one of two that we’ll be learning about Christmas in Mexico. I started with a brief overview of the holiday in that country (thanks to information primarily found in Celebrate Christmas Around the World)–special foods that are prepared, religious festivals, games, (Turkey and Bunny really want a Christmas piñata someday!), that sort of thing. In particular, we learned about Las Posadas, or “The Processions,” in which families and neighbors process through the streets for nine nights, in remembrance of Mary and Joseph looking for a room in Bethlehem.

We then read a cute story–Too Many Tamales. This is charming tale about a little girl who is helping her mother prepare Christmas dinner, and in the process, the mother’s diamond ring gets lost. Many tamales are eaten before the ring is discovered, and there is a lot of laughter, a few tears, and some very full stomachs!

Turkey and Bunny also colored a picture in their Christmas Around the World coloring books. This is the third year we’ve used these books, and they’re still not complete. They’re put out by Dover Publications, and like all Dover coloring books, they have excellent detail. It’s actually pretty cool to compare the first pictures they colored to the ones they’re doing this year. They didn’t have the motor skills or the patience to really complete the pictures two years ago, but now they’re doing a really good job of getting the detail work done.

Tomorrow, we will continue our studies in Mexico, including the legend surrounding a very famous Christmas flower!