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Handel’s Messiah: a Christmas Study

Thursday, 18 December 2008 14:40

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-by Mimi Rothschild

Almost all of us could sing (or at least holler) a line or two from the “Hallelujah Chorus.” It’s the one that goes, “Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” But not all of us know the whole story of this wonderful piece of music.

At this time of year, you can probably find a live performance of Handel’s Messiah in your neighborhood, or on TV. It’s about two and a half hours long, which is a good length for older students, but may be too long for younger children. For the littlest ones, you might prefer to listen to a recording of just a few parts of the whole work.

Georg Frideric Handel wrote his Messiah in just twenty-four days after reading the verses it’s based on: it remains one of the great examples of God’s inspiration in art. The words come primarily from the book of Isaiah. The music was written in 1742. The first performance took place in Dublin in April of that year, and parts of the oratorio are still performed at Easter. Nowadays, though, Messiah is mostly sung at Christmas.

Even if you plan to go to hear a live performance, it is still good to listen and study some of the pieces ahead of time.

“For Unto Us a Child is Born”

For unto us a Child is born. Unto us a Son is given,
And the government shall be upon His shoulder.
And His name shall be called “Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.”

This section is great for listening practice. There are very few words, but they are repeated in complicated overlapping patterns by all the different singers at different times. Have students take a pencil and paper and check off when they hear particular phrases. For example, you might ask the kids to make a check on the paper each time they hear the word “for” – it stands out well. Older students can listen very closely and say whether they heard male or female (or high or low) voices each time.

In the next section, listen for “shoulder” in the same way. This intensive listening feels like a game, but it helps children develop their attention spans and the habit of close listening.

All the voices then sing “And His name shall be called…” together. Discuss with your students why this might be so important that Handel wanted everyone to sing it strongly together. Read this passage in Isaiah 9:6 together and discuss what it means to say that “the government shall be upon His shoulder.” Remind the children that you have lots of names for them (pet names and nicknames) because they’re so important to you, and in the same way, we have lots of names for Jesus. The Old Testament book of Isaiah uses many of these beautiful names.

“And the Glory”

And the glory, the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
And all flesh shall see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken it.

This song, with words from Isaiah 40:5, is a joyful celebration of the arrival of the Christ Child, and a wonderful verse to learn during Advent when we wait to repeat that celebration ourselves.

Reinforce listening practice by listening for the loud and soft parts of this section of Messiah. This is an important first step in music education, and a useful thing for kids to know in their daily lives, too. Have the children lift their hands way up on the loud parts and push them down for the soft parts. For the dramatic silence near the end, hands should be on the table or the floor.

Older students can listen for specific instruments in the orchestra as they play. Have them list the instruments they hear.


For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth
The kingdom of the world is become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ
And he shall reign forever and ever
King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

This section is as close as Messiah gets to having a part you can sing along with, so go ahead and sing along. Then look at some of the difficult words: “hallelujah,” “omnipotent,” “reigneth,” and “reign.” Have your students write the message out in their own words.

If you attend a live performance of Messiah, you may encounter two interesting customs that go along with the “Hallelujah Chorus.” First, people often stand up to listen to it. The story goes that King George was so excited the first time he heard it performed that he spontaneously stood up. Since no one was allowed to sit down while the king was standing, the whole theater full of people stood, too, and now it’s the custom to do so.

The other interesting custom associated with this song is that of allowing the people in the audience to come up and join in with the final chorus. Sometimes you can even buy a copy of the music in the theater so you can sing along.

Whether you enjoy the Messiah in a concert hall, on a CD, or on YouTube, your children will benefit from sharing in this important piece of our cultural and religious heritage.

Mimi Rothschild is the Founder of the nation’s leading provider of online PreK-12 online Christian educational programs for homeschoolers.

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Christmas Around the World Lessons

Mimi Rothschild
Wednesday, 10 December 2008 11:12

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-by Mimi Rothschild

As Christmas approaches, our homes can get busy and our kids can get restless. Instead of giving lessons short shrift, take this opportunity to review what you’ve learned so far this school year, using a Christmas Around the World theme.

Before you begin, find a world map: a wall map, an online map to print out, or a map made by your students can all be great choices. Whenever you work on a new country, have your children find that nation on the map, and mark it with a map pin or sticker. This will give you a good geography review as you go along.

Start in Mexico, where Las Posadas is an important part of the Christmas celebration. This is a sort of parade, in which people reenact the journey of Mary and Joseph, knocking on the door to ask for a place to stay and being told there is only space in the stable. The reenacters are then invited in, and a party is held. Make a piñata for your party from papier mache formed over a blown-up balloon, serve hot chocolate, and sing Christmas carols. This is a great way to have an easy party with fellow homeschool families. During the preparations, use math skills to plan and carry out the refreshments and decorations, review the story of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem, and practice Spanish if you’ve been studying it.

Christmas in England has influenced our American celebration of Christmas enormously. Christmas trees became popular in the United States after Queen Victoria’s German husband introduced the custom to England. Many of our special foods, Christmas hymns, and the custom of Christmas cards also came to us from England. But one of the best ways to incorporate an English Christmas into our lessons is to read or listen to A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. Whether your children are ready to read the book aloud to the family, or more of an age to watch The Muppets Christmas Carol on TV, they can enjoy this story. If you’re reading it, keep a list of new vocabulary words you meet in the book, and have the kids look them up in the dictionary.

Next stop on the Christmas Around the World journey: Finland. Practice writing friendly letters by writing letters to Santa Claus at Santa, c/o Arctic Circle, 96930 Rovaniemi, Finland. (If Santa Claus is not part of your holiday tradition, let your students help with Christmas cards, or write to grandparents about what they’re learning.) In Finland, an important Christmas custom is a thorough cleaning of the house. When your students need a break from concentrating on writing, get some good exercise with vigorous housecleaning and return to your studies with renewed energy. Another Finnish custom is to feed the birds the first thing on Christmas morning, before the people in the house eat or any presents are opened, Use this custom to talk about putting others first, as Jesus told us to do, and to review any studies you’ve done about birds.

Onward to France, where Christmas is observed with santons, figures of people from the community who are grouped around the crèche, which is the manger scene of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Review your lessons on community helpers or careers, and make santons from clay or paper to add to your manger scene. France is also the home of the Buche de Noel, a famous Christmas cake made in the shape of a log. Frost a jelly roll to look like a log, review your lessons on plants or trees, and talk with your children about how the plants we associate with Christmas show a picture of Jesus. Those green plants remind us of the way Jesus triumphed over death by His resurrection, and of our own rebirth in Him. This, you can explain, is why we bring trees into our homes at Christmas: to remind ourselves and others of our eternal life through our savior Jesus.

In Ghana, on the west coast of Africa, children walk through the streets in the evening singing carols and calling, “Christ is near! Christ is near!” They dress in splendid costumes and sometimes even dance to the music of brass bands. Christmas in Ghana is a combination of church celebrations and visiting friends and relatives in nearby towns. Homes are decorated with bright paper ornaments. In Ghana, few families have the kind of material abundance that we are used to. Presents, for families that can afford them, are usually shoes or school books. Take this opportunity to talk with your children about the differences in material wealth from one country to another, and to remember that Jesus tells us to help and pray for those who have less than we do. This is also a time to remember that Christmas is not about presents and fancy decorations, even though we enjoy those things, but about celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ.

An Australian Christmas is a summer holiday. Families go camping and have barbecues on the beach. Review the seasons and how the rotation of the earth causes them while you learn about Australian Christmas customs. Other appropriate science topics would be the kinds of animals God has placed in different habitats, and the differences between marsupial and placental mammals. A beautiful custom in Australia is the candlelight carol service. People in cities come out into the center of town with candles to sing Christmas carols together. In Australia, where a relatively high proportion of people live alone, loneliness is as much as problem at Christmas as poverty. Pray with your children about someone you know who might be lonely this Christmas.

With these ideas, you can work on science, math, reading, writing, and social studies, even as you enjoy the preparations for this wonderful holiday.

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We need to be encouragers, always.

Mimi Rothschild
Wednesday, 19 November 2008 09:56

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-by Mimi Rothschild

Both as parents and as teachers, we are charged with encouraging and uplifting our children. Children are like sponges; they soak up whatever their environment is filled with. This is the very reason many of us chose to homeschool in the first place, so that our children won’t be surrounded by things that are not desirable. But we cannot forget that in place of those negative things we work so diligently to remove from our children’s lives, we must provide love, knowledge, joy and encouragement. Children are, after all, a gift from God and we should treat them as such.

Proverbs 22:6 reminds us to “Train up a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old he will not depart from it.” It is crucial that our children be taught the word of God and His teachings. And we can certainly do this in our daily curriculum, as well as with family Bible study and devotionals. But we mustn’t forget that a big part of teaching includes continual encouragement for our children.

Do we as Christians not seek encouragement from God? Isn’t it an amazing feeling to know that God loves us so much, and that He will never forget or forsake us? According to Hebrews 6:10: “For God is not so unjust as to forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have ministered to the saints and continue to minister to them.” If God, our Heavenly Father, provides us with the endless inspiration of His word, then how much more should we, as parents, be an inspiration for our own children?

Have you ever enthusiastically told a child what a great job they did, or how proud you are of them? If you have, then you’ve seen the way their face lights up, how their eyes shine, how their chest puffs and they beam with pride. Do you realize that nobody on this earth will have as big an impact on your child’s life as you? Children thrive on encouragement. And they should be getting plenty of it from you. Plant good seeds as they grow and they will reap the fruits of your labor as they continue through life.

This applies not only in day to day life, but also in homeschooling. When your child successfully completes an assignment, learns a new math rule, or spells a difficult word correctly, how do you react? Do you say “ok” and move on to the next lesson or step? Next time, take a few minutes to remind your students how smart they are, and what a wonderful effort they are making in their work (assuming they are).

Of course, you have to strike a balance so you don’t make your children over-confident. But by providing consistent, well deserved encouragement to them, you will raise intelligent, confident, productive and faithful adults.

Mimi Rothschild is the Founder of the nation’s leading provider of online PreK-12 online Christian educational programs for homeschoolers.

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Just in Time for Valentine’s

Mimi Rothschild
Tuesday, 12 February 2008 11:27

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Homeschool HeartWho’s your Valentine? Mine, it’s Jesus! My kids and I make Him a card and sign our names and color and play games together. One of our favorites is the word game. Do you know it? It’s simple.

Here’s how to play:

This is a Christian twist for a simple word game. Have your guest write the words, “JESUS LOVE ME” at the top of a sheet of paper. Instruct them to write as many words as they can using the letters from the three words. If you like, you can set a time limit of 2-3 minutes. The person who comes up with the most words wins the game!

Let me know how many you can list and I’ll post the winners online! E-mail me at

Think you can come up with more than me?

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