Homeschooling Through the Holidays- Expat Style

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This post is for letter “E” in the 2016 ABCs of Homeschooling Through the Holidays series, click here to see all posts.

Christmas would be the biggest celebration of the year for me growing up, and it continues to be. Growing up, our home was always full of one, if not two sets of grandparents, as well as any friends of the family who didn’t have their own family nearby. I loved that my parents didn’t want anyone to feel alone and it was little things like this that have had an impact on me.

Homeschooling Through the Holidays, Expat Style with Castle View Academy

Even during my two years in Japan I had a tiny desk-top Christmas tree and although I’d still be teaching on that day, I made it a special day for my students. One of my favourite memories is making a young bilingual girl so happy by giving her a skipping rope, which is all she wanted.

Being away from ‘home’ whether in another town or across the ocean can make Christmas feel very lonely. Of course I have my children, husband, and his family, but it’s not the same without my own family. I try to keep the connections going between my children and my family across the miles, but it can be tricky sometimes.

We home educate year-round so by the time December rolls around we’re ready for a bit of a break and a little more fun. I don’t want us to stop schooling, but there are plenty of ways to incorporate learning into the holiday season. Here are a few of the ways we do it.

Fine Arts & Culture

Pantomimes. I hadn’t heard of a ‘panto‘ before arriving in Northern Ireland, but they are a must-do for families here in the UK. All throughout December, they’re in every major city, and many smaller towns as well. We always book our seats to a free performance in our nearest town, it’s become a tradition since our eldest’s first Christmas.

Dancing to The Nutcracker and singing multicultural Christmas carols are lots of fun at Castle View Academy

Music is a wonderful part of Christmas! From the Nutcracker to traditional carols, we’re all a big fan of Christmas music. Being expats, we love to listen to music from around the world. One of the children’s favourite albums is Daria’s Songs For Merry Multicultural Mirth. It get us in the mood for culture and the annual Japanese Society Christmas party when we also sing in Japanese (or try to).

Arts & Crafts

This is so easy to do over the holidays! My children apply what they’ve learned in art class and design a picture that I print on Christmas cards that we send to friends and family. This year they’re also painting pictures on canvas that we’ll be sending to my parents. They also love to draw on paper to make their own gift wrap specific to each recipient.

The Nutcracker

And of course, you can’t forget the oodles of Christmas ornaments and decorations that are made lovingly each year for our own tree, as well as gifts for others. Kids love to see their creations around the house.

Language Arts

As expats, we have ample opportunity to write and send letters and emails to family. The children recently had their own kid emails set up so they can send messages to my family whenever they’d like to. Some of my friends back home are of an older generation and don’t use computers so I still like to write letters by hand at Christmas. Now that my children are a little older, they can help to compose the letters as well as add their own notes at the end. It’s nice to see them graduating from just printing their names in the cards.


A Canadian tradition is to do a lot of baking; some start as early as October and stock up the freezer. I don’t go to that extreme, but I do like to do a little and take gifts to some of our neighbours, the librarians, and some of the local shopkeepers. The kids love to help, and if I’m doubling a batch, it’s their job to work out the amount of each ingredient we’ll need.

When the kids were a little younger, I made a fun math game for them to learn to add and estimate. Santa’s sack was so easy and was so much fun for them that they still use it. Sometimes it’s just a little look around to see what will interest the kids and then put it together for a new activity….count the bows, measure the ribbon and boxes, etc.

Learning about time zones is a necessity for homeshooled expat kids

Another form of math is figuring out the time in the different zones that family live in compared the time here. Our Christmas gift opening is an all-day event as the kids go on Skype to open gifts live with my sister when she’s up, and then again later when it’s an acceptable hour in my parent’s time zone (a six to seven hour difference, depending on the time of year, just to make life more interesting). Many adults here have no concept of time zones, but my children can figure them out and understand them well. It’s a great skill to have, especially in an ever-more global world.


Christmas is a great time for learning a little geography! Purchase a scratch map and mark where you send letters and packages as well as where your cards and packages are coming from. If you place Christmas orders over the internet, you never know where they will be sent from!


Last year for science we grew crystal snowflakes to use as ornaments on the Christmas tree, which were very pretty. Melting candy canes, and baking are also great ways to incorporate a little science into the festive season.

Living so far away from family and friends can be difficult and I try not to think of what we’re missing back home (like a white Christmas). Instead I focus on how I can share the best of both worlds (or even many cultures) with my children. Christmas is a great time to do this by making it fun and without the pressure of workbooks and the usual schooling activities. It’s amazing how much can be learned in December just by thinking of others and trying to make the world a more cheerful place.

Crystal McClean and Children of CastleViewAcademy.comCrystal is a Mom, wife, homeschooler, virtual assistant, frugalista, ex-pat, and much more. If you’re looking for fun activities, educational ideas, recipes, multiculturalism, reviews, freebies, and giveaways, you’ll find it all at Castle View Academy with a little dose of inspiration thrown in for good measure. You can also follow along on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.

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Hi, there! I’m Heather Bowen, and I am so glad you’re here.

My passion lies in helping homeschool moms balance marriage, motherhood, homemaking, and homeschooling all while remaining sane!

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