The Minimalist Guide to the Holidays

the minimalist guide to the holidays

 As soon as the crisp morning breeze hits your cheek, it seems like it’s just a few weeks before you’re facing the holidays and all the juggling of activities that brings.

Trying to homeschool while planning and preparing for the onslaught of company, huge, intricate meals, decorating, holiday crafts, homemade Christmas gifts, special holiday ministry events, parties, traveling, entertaining and holiday correspondence…

It’s enough to make you climb back under the covers just thinking about it.

But you aren’t in the middle of things YET.  Before holiday mode hits, consider approaching the holidays from a minimalist perspective this year. Here are 5 tips to help you relax, enjoy and celebrate.

1. Take a longer break from homeschooling.

Our holiday break started the week of Thanksgiving and ran through New Year’s Day.   Yes, that’s about six weeks.  For that period of time we didn’t do “formal” school. We slept later and participated in church and community events without worrying about late nights and resulting cranky, sleep-deprived kids.

Just because we didn’t follow our routine doesn’t mean that I couldn’t count many activities as school.   We just focused on holiday preparations and service rather than completing math lessons and writing essays. Here’s an example of what we did during November and December:

  • planned and made holiday meals/company meals/meals for others (nutrition,  home economics, practical math,  service)
  • read aloud as a family from our collection of classic Christmas books
  • had daily independent reading time (children’s choice of material for youngers, olders caught up or read ahead for the following semester)
  • crafted projects to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas and to make gifts for neighbors, friends, family and others (art, service)
  • participated in and attended concerts, cantatas, plays and other holiday events (music/drama)

2.  Scale back on gift-buying.

You watch your budget and carefully plan your spending all year, but somehow it all goes out the window at holiday time. Ask yourself if you REALLY have to buy as many gifts as you do.  Perhaps it is time to change it up:

  • decide to forgo spending so much on gifts for your kids and instead bless another family with a life-giving gift from Samaritan’s Purse’s Christmas catalog 
  • give everyone a spending limit
  • make gifts instead of buying them
  • do “family” gifts for your siblings and their kids instead of individual gifts
  • choose names for gift buying instead of getting everyone something

3. Don’t go to every event you are invited to.

Isn’t it true that every group each member of your family belongs to has a Christmas event?  And not only do you try and attend them all, you sometimes double or even triple-book when they  inevitably occur on the same dates.

Contrary to what you may have done in the past, you don’t have to attend all of these events. Just stop.

Look at the calendar and plan ahead to have a manageable schedule, planning in down time so you aren’t running somewhere different every night of the week.

4. Simplify the meals.

Growing up, at Thanksgiving and Christmas we had to have so many different dishes that it was exhausting and expensive for all involved.  Instead, at our house everyone chooses ONE dish that they can’t have Thanksgiving without. =D (If you have a large family you might have to take a vote instead.)

I have vivid memories of starting preparations for Christmas breakfast after getting home from Christmas Eve services and being up until 1:00 am or later making this particular item that we had to have for Christmas morning, while readying a 25 pound turkey for the oven at the crack of dawn the next day.

Now, Christmas breakfast is something simple we can make together, and we have a later, large meal for Christmas dinner so the turkey doesn’t have to start cooking so early. We’ve even been known to skip the turkey altogether or cooking just the turkey breast instead of messing with the entire bird.

So rather than having special menus for Christmas Eve and every meal on Christmas, we focus on one main meal.

I’m all for family traditions, but don’t try to do so many that you are exhausted. Pick and choose.

Make your crockpot your friend for November and December, and keep those regular meals extra simple and light to help compensate for the heavier eating that usually happens at all of the holiday events.

5.  Slow down and savor the time.

Take some time for yourself during these busy days.

  • Meet a friend for coffee. 
  • Go for a walk outside by yourself as often as possible.
  • Trade childcare time with a friend so you can shop, clean or cook by yourself or with your husband without the kids. Make it into a date!
  • Read a book. (Not a school book.)

In his book,  In Praise of Slowness, Carl Honore wrote:

“It is a cultural revolution against the notion that faster is always better…. It’s about seeking to do everything at the right speed. Savoring the hours and minutes rather than just counting them. Doing everything as well as possible, instead of as fast as possible. It’s about quality over quantity in everything from work to food to parenting.”

Make the choice to SLOW DOWN and SAVOR. Enjoy being together with your loved ones, cooking together, crafting together, playing board games and watching holiday movies.  You are allowed to plan relaxation time into your schedule and say “no” to those things that will put you over the edge.

REIGN IN YOUR HOLIDAY TO DOS.  Use the time and money you save to reconnect with yourself and your loved ones and to peacefully celebrate!



What Subjects do we Cover?

What subjects do we cover

And how do we cover them?

We get this question all the time, so here is our extended answer.  =D


Although we do not cover the Bible as a subject, we do use the Bible for teaching history. Our curriculum often refers to the Bible, particularly during the Ancient and Renaissance and Reformation historical periods.  We cover the days of Creation (in science) and include Scripture memory work during the Ancients, as well.

Particularly with your younger children it’s important to use the real words of the Bible when teaching history (actually, we see it as HIS-story). In our Christian homeschooling curricula we refer to Biblical events as Bible ‘accounts,’ rather than Bible ‘stories,’  to help smaller children to understand that these events actually happened.

In our middle school daily lesson plans, as students mature, we help them start thinking about author’s bias and learning to examine what they read, hear and watch according to biblical standards.

In our high school courses we often examine leadership, author’s lives and works, and historical characters and events in relation to what God tells us in His Word.  In fact, in our World History I high school course, which covers the Ancients through the Renaissance & Reformation, we read significant portions of the Old and New Testaments.

When we include memory work or Scripture within our curricula, we have used the NIV or the ESV.  We hope you include the Bible and Scripture memory work in your homeschool, using the translation you are most comfortable with. Our curricula, though sometimes used by people of different backgrounds, are written from a Reformed, biblical worldview.


Train up a Child Publishing (formerly Epi Kardia) uses whole, living books as recommended by Charlotte Mason to teach the subjects of reading, history, science, language arts and fine arts.

We divide history chronologically into nine periods, and use that as a framework from which to teach the other subjects we cover.

Timeline, globe, map, and other geography activities, as well as projects for individuals and groups, are suggested in each historical unit of our Unit Programs using the books listed and round out the subjects included in our curricula.

Our book selections are based on the quality of literary value, Biblical relevance, historical correctness and depth, and/or outstanding illustrations. Our homeschooling curriculum utilizes the best of the best children/young adult literature we can find. One or more of the authors of this homeschooling curriculum has read each book recommended in our programs and high school courses.

To see the history topics covered in our Daily Lesson Plans, view our scope and sequences for each of the grade levels.


We include science from kindergarten through eighth grade, but do not include science in our high school programs, since colleges want to see specific courses with labs covering specific topics in a particular way. We leave that to others’ expertise!

For kindergarten through eighth grade, science topics are integrated into the history focus, but not forced. For example – for science during the Ancients unit, we study Creation Science, the Desert (where much of the action takes place in history), and Science in the Ancient World. During the Middle Ages unit, we study Plants and Herbs, Herbal Medicine, and Forests/Trees – all part of daily life during that time period. Where ever possible, the science topics relate to the core history reading.

We read non-fiction science-based books as well as ones that include hands-on experiments, projects and other science-related activities. The books in our programs are recommended and selected based on strong science concepts, excellent graphics and examples, and/or valuable experiments.

Like Charlotte Mason, we encourage parents to spend time outdoors in nature observation as well as inside reading. Nature journals were a big hit with our kids, so we describe in our curriculum how to keep nature journals and encourage you to get outside as often as the weather where you live allows.

To read more about the science topics covered in our Daily Lesson Plans, view our scope and sequences for each of the grade levels.


Language arts consists of reading, phonics, composition, literature, grammar, poetry, vocabulary and spelling.  Whew!

Copy work and dictation integrate history, literature and science with grammar studies and other language arts. Copy work, reading assignments, narration prompts and discussion questions are provided in our structured Daily Lesson Plans and are taken directly from history and science reading and from Scripture.

With our unstructured Unit Programs, you choose the books you want to read (from our pre-read book suggestions), the copywork, spelling and vocabulary. Our Unit Program Teacher’s Manuals include detailed instructions for you describing how to teach phonics, spelling, grammar, punctuation and handwriting. In addition, spelling, grammar and handwriting checklists are provided to assist parents in selecting copy work. Writing skills beyond copying are established beginning in the intermediate grades. Memorization of poetry and excerpts from literature are also part of the language arts design.


Music and art (painting, drawing, sculpture, architecture) from each time period is studied not only to give students a clearer picture of the historical period, but also to develop a love of the gifts that God has given to His children. Materials selected for these subject areas were based on developing a desire to learn more about the arts without exposing children to more “worldly” materials.

Our structured Daily Lesson Plans include regular picture study and music study as well as a look at architectural innovations during the different periods of history.

In our daily lesson plans we often provide web links featuring art of a particular time period. (Make sure you supervise your kids on the web.) Also note the links to art museums around the world on our Helpful Links page.

In our high school literature and history courses, we include the arts in the variety of assignment choices provided. We have plenty of writing assignments, it’s true; but we also include assignment choices such as drawing a diagram or building a model of the Tabernacle (World History), illustrating a scene from a book (our literature courses), creating a musical piece (World History), so you can truly customize your high schooler’s learning experience by including the arts.

For food for thought on  how to view the teaching of the fine arts, please see a blog post in our archives by one of the curriculum’s authors, Beth Hempton: How Fine are the Fine Arts?

Do you have any questions about what we cover or how we do it? List them in the comments (and we will answer every one) or email us at =D

Anxious about Homeschooling? Don’t Do These Three Things

anxious about homeschooling

You are getting ready to start school again (or just started) and already the anxiety is building.

You have homeschooled awhile, but you still don’t think you are doing it right. Your oldest is telling anyone who will listen she wants to go back to ‘real’ school. Your kids are groaning about starting back again.  You are on the defensive and feel your inner ogre taking over.

You were sure when you started that homeschooling was the best route to take, but now that you are on that path, you are plagued with doubts: am I covering the right things? Am I doing enough?  Are my kids actually learning anything? Am I really cut out to do this on my own?

What should you do?

Don’t do these three things!

  1. Throw in the towel and stop homeschooling. Put the kids back in public school. Make your relatives happy. Just give it up and do what “everybody else” is doing. After all, you went to public school, didn’t you? You made a few mistakes and wandered down some wrong paths, but you eventually got back on track, right? (I’m talking about myself here.)
  2. Take out a second mortgage and put your kids in a hybrid homeschool program you can’t afford. Then THEY can make all those decisions about how to teach your kids and at what pace they need to learn. Yes, it will be stressful to have to conform to someone else’s schedule for your family and your slower learner will have some problems keeping up, but he will just have to conform….or you will have to help do his work….
  3. Buy another boxed textbook curriculum. You know it is dull and feels like “public school at home,” but at least you’ll know you are covering enough. All the worksheets and tests you need are there so you won’t have to worry about evaluation. Whether the kids are actually learning anything is another matter, but maybe it will feel less like torture be better this year….


Before you do anything rash, just stop and think a minute.  I want you to write down what you would like your homeschool to be like. How do you envision it working? What would you be studying? How would your kids be?  How would you be? What would be different?

After you have described what you would like your homeschool to “look like,” I want you to send your description to me at .

The first step toward making things better is identifying how you would LIKE things to be!

Soon we will talk about some additional steps to take to bridge that gap!

Teaching Character Using Poetry III


We are continuing to celebrate National Poetry month at Train up a Child Publishing!  If you missed our first three posts, check them out: Charlotte Mason on Teaching Poetry, Teaching Character Using Poetry (Psalm 1), Teaching Character Using Poetry II (Psalm 8).

The third poem we are using to teach character is the well-known It Couldn’t Be Done, by Edgar Guest.  This simple poem will be appreciated and understood by all but your youngest primary students, and even they can appreciate it with a little discussion!

 It Couldn’t Be Done

by Edgar Guest

Somebody said that it couldn’t be done,
But he with a chuckle replied
That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one
Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

Somebody scoffed: “Oh, you’ll never do that;
At least no one ever has done it”;
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat,
And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
There are thousands to prophesy failure;
There are thousands to point out to you one by one,
The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,
Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start in to sing as you tackle the thing
That “cannot be done,” and you’ll do it.

About the author

Edgar Albert Guest (1881-1959) was a naturalized American citizen born in Great Britain, a prolific poet and writer. Scorned by some poetry critics, he was nicknamed “The People’s Poet” because he wrote about common life and experiences to which most people could relate.  Popular enough to be syndicated in over 300 newspapers, he went on to have radio and television shows.  Guest wrote about topics that encouraged and inspired, and before he died was named the Poet Laureate of Michigan.

Lesson Plan Options

First read the poem silently, then read the poem aloud once or twice. Choose a few of these options depending upon the age of your student(s). Then do a few of the following:

  1. Let your student know that after the reading, he will tell back what the poem said. (Give you an oral narration.)
  2. Ask your students to tell you what this poem means.
  3. Have your students write about what this poem means.
  4. Research the poet and write one to three paragraphs about his life. (See paragraph above for more info)
  5. What character qualities does the person in the poem demonstrate? What specific words in the poem suggest these character qualities?
    • Courageous, unafraid to try:
      • So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
      •  If he worried he hid it.
      • With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
      • Without any doubting
    • Diligence, industriousness:
      • So he buckled right in
      • he tackled the thing
      • But he took off his coat and he took off his hat,
        And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
      • Just take off your coat and go to it
      • he did it
    • Good attitude:
      • he with a chuckle
      • with the trace of a grin
        On his face
      • He started to sing
      • with a bit of a grin
      • Just start in to sing as you tackle the thing
  6. Have your student memorize the poem.
  7. Here’s a cartoon version of this poem!  Have your student choose another poem, and make a cartoon version of it. Here are some free downloadable cartoon templates to make it easier.

Don’t you love the character qualities this poem inspires?



Teaching Character Using Poetry II

Considering that April is National Poetry Month, it’s an ideal time to examine how you can incorporate poetry in valuable, meaningful ways. Continue reading throughout this month as we discuss poetry for all ages and various subjects!

This is a continuation from our last post about Teaching Character through Poetry. Today we’ll look at another example from Scripture:

Psalm 8

1 O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
above the heavens.

2 From the lips of children and infants
you have ordained praise
because of your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.

3 When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,

4 what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him?

5 You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.

6 You made him ruler over the works of your hands;
you put everything under his feet:

7 all flocks and herds,
and the beasts of the field,

8 the birds of the air,
and the fish of the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.

9 O LORD, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Important Character Concepts and Activities from Psalm 8

When we consider the glory of God and all He created, we should be in awe and amazed just as David was when he wrote this poetry! God’s majesty lies before us in all of creation and He never lets us forget His greatness.

  • Character conceptHumility…which us of could create an animal or put stars in the sky?
  •  Possible related activity: Take a nature walk and note every possible thing that could only be created by God. Discuss how we should be humbled that a God so awesome not only created us, but loves us above all of the rest of His creation. Have your students draw something observed from your walk, and include Psalm 8:9 as copywork under your drawing.
  • Character concept: God places man “a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.” With this glory and honor comes responsibility and stewardship. How do you think God expects us to treat His creation?
  • Possible related activity: Make a chart of the many parts of God’s creation from which man benefits. In one column, generally note the creation and then in a second column, specifically list benefits. For example:

Plants     /     medicine, herbs, food, art, cleaning the air

Ocean    /      medicine, food, beauty and leisure

Expanding your study

  • Memorize this Psalm or another one in honor of National Poetry Month!
  • Have your high school student choose another psalm and write “character concepts” and “possible activities” as we have in these last two posts.  Use that to teach a younger sibling or friend.

Which psalm is your favorite for teaching character? Would love to hear about it in the comments!

Editor’s note: This post was written in collaboration with Beth Hempton, formerly with Train up a Child Publishing. You can read more from Beth by going to her website at Classes by Beth or checking out her blog