Monday, December 2, 2013

Advent Nature Walk

We have a tradition of starting off our Advent season with a family nature walk to gather some pine branches to make our Advent Wreath.  Sunday we headed off to the woods with the little people and dog and cat to enjoy some of God's creation and to clip a bag full of pine. 

My yoga pants have a yellow band at the top, that isn't my bootie, by the way.  :)

It's a great way to spend time together, slow down a little bit, detach for any electronics (except our old point and shoot camera for documentation!) and get ready for the Advent Season. 
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It's Advent!

Advent started yesterday, and we are excited to head into this beautiful season.  I am always a little apprehensive of "doing it right" and of course one of my strongest prayers right now is to get over that and let the Spirit guide our family as we prepare to celebrate the coming (s) of Jesus.

I will post these in more detail once I catch my breath (we got home from a 10 day cross-country, multi-stop roadtrip early yesterday morning, just in time for the dog to get skunked in the backyard...).  However, we took a walk yesterday to gather pine for our advent wreath, the kids and I unwrapped our advent candles for the year (a gift from Mimi), and read a great book that sums up the story of Christmas.  I put our advent wreath together and got it set up on the table.  I started an Advent devotional for myself that I plan to follow through the season.  I have instituted a month of "super easy dinners" so that I can use the kids' resttime for my study time instead of dinner prep.  I also re-read all of my past blog posts on here that pertain to Advent.  So powerful to re-read those reminders of the reason for Advent, and to remember where I was last year as I entered this season.  Many things the same, and a few are different.  If you want to read them (there are some GREAT quotes), you can click on the "advent" label on my sidebar. 

Also, I am really loving this article:
Preparing Children for Advent (click)

I printed it out and am getting ready to sit down with my highlighter and pen to note things I want to use with my kiddos.  I already have a devotional time planned for Quinn to use her Jesus Storybook Bible to go through some of the messages that lend understanding to this season of Advent.  Don't worry, I will post once I get it fleshed out a bit more! 

Also I purchased this e-book:
FEAST Real Food, Reflections, and Simple Living for the Christian Year

I read through it on our roadtrip and just LOVE it.  It begins with Advent and carries on through the whole church year.  I'd strongly recommend it! 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Martinmas Memory Verse

Matthew 5:16
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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Martinmas Playset

Next Monday is Martinmas.  The legend is that St. Martin was riding through cold wintery weather on his way to join the army when he came across a beggar, shivering out in the cold.  He drew his sword while the beggar flinched away, thinking he'd met his end.  Instead, St. Martin cut his cloak in two and used one half to wrap around the beggar.  Later in a dream St. Martin discovered that it was Christ he had put the cloak around.

Whether this story is true or a legend, I don't really know.  But the principle is Biblical--Jesus says that what we do for the least of these we are also doing for him.  So Martinmas is a holiday we happily celebrate in our home!  

We'll spend the  week focusing on the story of St. Martin and of Jesus' admonitions to be a light in the world.  Our memory verse for the week is MATTHEW 5:16.  We practice this each day and spend a little time talking about what this means.  We've also talked about many of the stories from the gospels where we saw Jesus' followers being lights in the world.  Quinn has been pointing out things she and her brother have done to be lights.  

Traditions that surround Martinmas are lanterns and participating in a lantern walk.  For my little family, as Christ-followers, the purpose of this is to remind us of our callings--to let the light of Christ shine through us and to be His lights in a dark world.  

Seasonally, with the time change and the approach of winter solstace, the days are getting much shorter and it is dark by the time we are eating dinner.  My children are discovering this and commenting on it.  We are eating dinner by lanternlight this week!

I made each of the kids a little basket filled with playset materials to tell the story of St. Martin.  We have some little figures from a Royality playset (I think it's Melissa and Doug) that was an awesome Christmas gift last year.  Each kiddo chose one figure to be their "St. Martin."  They each chose a horse from that set, too.  You could use any play figures you have at home, or even make one from a clothespin or peg doll. 

 I also put out some wood rounds in varying sizes.  Little Man got to work putting one candle on each round!  Great pre-math skill of one-to-one correspondence.  As you can see, I also got out our stash of LED candles.  These are a hit during the fall/winter season in our home.  Great fine motor turning them on and off using the little switch. 
 You can see one of the lanterns we made last year on the table.  We have 3 from last year that we light each night while we eat dinner. 

 I also made each kiddo a cloak.  It's just felt--I cut it in half and put some velcro so it could be put back together. 
St. Martin can either wear it whole or it can be "cut" in half and put on the beggar.  For beggars we are using some plain peg people. 
 My kids had a wonderful time playing and exploring with the materials yesterday.  Quinn went and got a little leaf baby from her nature shelf and started a whole new story of St. Martin taking care of his baby.  So fun to see her dramatic play! 

Stay tuned for more post on our week of celebration of Martinmas, and our lantern walk on Friday night!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Preparing their hearts for worship--directed drawing during communion

Sunday I knew I wanted to try something new with my kiddos during communion meditation time.

I brought some paper and some markers.

When communion began, I asked them to trace their hands.  Well, Beck was far too interested in playing with the markers to comply.  And that's fine.  He'll be ready next week or a few weeks down the road when the markers lose their novelty.  :)

Quinn happily traced her hand.  I told her we were going to pretend this was Jesus' hand and asked her to draw nails and blood.  She did so, then I spelled "Jesus' Hands" and she wrote it on her paper.  She knows the verse "Jesus' hands were pierced and he was crushed for our sins, but by his wounds we are healed." (Is 53:5) I reminded her of this verse while we quietly whispered about her illustration.

Then I wanted a little time for my own meditation, so on the other side of the paper I told her to draw Jesus on the cross with as many details as she could.  She spent a good 5 minutes working on her illustration.

She seemed to really respond well to this directed drawing time.  We were able to meditate (in a simple, child-appropriate way) and reflect on scripture and she got to explore the concepts and images through her own art.

I want to do this again occasionally.  I'll have a "drawing assignment" in mind as well as a verse to go with it.  Q is able to find passages in the Bible with a little help, so I can even include her in finding the verses.  The more we practice this activity together the more she'll be able to do.

Other concepts to draw:
Crown of Thorns
Empty tomb with Angel
Jesus Ascending to Heaven
Jesus breaking bread and wine with disciples

Really it's limitless!  You just need to do a little mental prep ahead of time to have a topic and verse ready!  You could even have a pre-made list ready in your Bible to last for a few weeks.....

It's so precious to see the drawings kids produce regarding spiritual things.  You can really see a lot of what they understand/don't understand by analyzing their drawings.  So cool!

 I mailed the cross one to one of our ministers that my kids are especially close to with a note that said, "Thanks for teaching us about Jesus."  Of course I took a picture, first. 

Communion with Preschoolers/Young Elementary Kiddos

I mentioned some ideas I use with Little Man during communion time and wanted to share what I do with barely 5 year-old Q, as well.

To begin with, we often look through the Jesus Storybook Bible (I've referred to it a lot on this blog), specifically the pictures of the passion story.  There's a great illustration of Jesus at the last supper with the disciples that we look at.  During communion I put her in my lap and we quietly thumb through the pages and I talk to her about the stories and the meaning behind communion.

Then I also bring her "Stations of the Cross" set (linked up here) for her to work through.  I love that this helps focus her attention on Jesus' sacrifice and see some visuals.  I did make a couple changes--I replaced the rope with a tiny crown of thorns (the rope caused too much ruckus during worship as both my kids wanted it and fought over it).  I also traced around the backs of the manipulatives on the cards so she could check herself.  I wanted this activity to be something she could do independently while I had my own communion meditation.  We keep the set in a little marker bag with two zipping sides--repurposed and works awesome.  One side for cards and the other for manipulatives.

Often she still needs a little guidance from Matt or I to get started, but many weeks she can complete the matching by herself.  Some weeks I point out details in the illustrations--the crowns on Jesus' head, etc.

There are also some great "Stations of the Resurrection" cards out there that would work equally well.  Or you could make your own!

The first couple weeks we got out the cards she was a little hesitant to work with them.  That's okay, I know that new materials take a little time for familiarity.  Now she loves them and asks for them each week when communion time starts.  And 2 year old Little Brother can even do the cards with my help!

I really feel like the cards/manipulatives help focus Quinn's attention on Jesus and his sacrifice.  I love that they are getting more use than just during the lent season!

Also--another tip--our church uses a projector screen and often during communion they put up different images of the cross, Jesus' hands, etc.  I try to point these out to Quinn and we quietly talk about the meaning behind them.  Quiet whispering is totally allowed in our pew! 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Making Scarecrows

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Toddler Watercolor-ers!

One of my very favorite toddler art mediums is a set of old watercolors. 
Now Q and I are fussy about keeping our watercolors nice and the colors not blended together.  So we don't let Beck near that set.  However we have an old set that is close to being gone.  That's his.  We don't care if he mixes colors or scoops the whole thing out with his finger or the's his to explore and work with.

While playing with watercolors he is also discovering color theory, learning about the properties of solids and liquids, developing fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination, and just plain exploring some real art. 

This activity can just as easily be done outside, as well. 

Instead of a paintrbrush you can also give a toddler an eyedropper...lots of fun had with that, too!  Matter of fact, we might just do that tomorrow for painting day!
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Monday, October 14, 2013

Preparing their hearts for worship--toddler communion meditation

I wanted to share something that is working well for my barely-two year-old toddler in regards to helping guide him in a Jesus-centered time of meditation during communion.

To begin with, we really love this story Bible:

Particularly the passion story.  Often as communion begins help B thumb through the images of the last supper, the crucifixion and the empty tomb.  This is his favorite page in the whole Bible--he points and says, "My Jeeez."  This past week he was saying, "See God, Mama, See God."  He was telling me he wanted to see God, then turned to his page.  You can see the page is already well-worn by my little people's fingers!

Next we get out this manipulative.  I just used a sheet of craft felt and some sharpees.  

First we read him what it says on the body and he places a little pipecleaner man on the outline for the body.  

Then we read what the bread outline says and he places the bread accordingly.

The bread is some wooden bread that velcros together that came in a food set we have.  You could use any toy bread or even a piece of felt cut into the shape of felt.  And I realize that we use unleavened bread for communion and this is obviously not, but I don't think that small of a detail is necessary at this point for him.  He often likes to play with the bread a little bit--taking it apart and putting it back together.  

Then we read the blood and he places the red felt "blood" in its spot.

And the cup--which is a wooden egg cup I bought in the unfinished craft wood section at Hobby Lobby, though any small cup would work fine.  Even an empty plastic communion cup.

He likes to put the red felt inside the cup and pretend to drink.  

At this age the goal is not for him to understand each element necessarily.  Familiarity with the vocabulary and the memorization (which is learned gently through repetition week after week) of each element and what it stands for is the goal.  As he gets older and is able to think more abstract we will explain the meanings and he'll be able to understand them more easily, already being familiar with the wording and a concrete object.  

We also have a simple rustic cross, a big nail and a Jesus puppet in his communion materials for him to interact with.  

And all are kept in this plastic pencil box.

It's important to note that it took several weeks of repeated exposure to the materials before he seemed to "get the flow" of the activity and was interested in it.  The first few weeks he lost interest before we got through all the objects.  That's fine, we would just keep presenting each week and he gradually took more interest and ownership in manipulating the objects.  Now as soon as communion starts he knows the box will come out and he can quickly place all the objects in their correct spots.  We'll begin being more diligent in reciting the wording to him as he places each object now that he's ready for it.
And of course, if you make a set for your kiddos, feel free to change the wording however you want!
Older kids can actually look up the cited passages in their Bible to read.

Quinn, our 5 year old, also enjoys this activity after she finishes her own communion meditation (which I will share soon).  She is very interested in having me read what each object stands for.

This is a simple activity that took about 10 minutes to make but that I really feel helps focus my children's hearts and makes communion time an intentional time to teach about Jesus' sacrifice.  
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Preparing their hearts for Worship--checking in.

In a previous post I talked about the way we use the worship plans (prepared and provided ahead of time (via email) by our worship minister) to start preparing our 5 and 2 year-olds' hearts for worship earlier in the week.  Usually on Thursday I get the email from Patrick with Sunday's schedule. At this point I scan through it and look for a song or two that I feel will connect with my kids, or maybe some they already know.  I started out just picking one song a week, but after several months they are ready for two.

So this particular week I picked "Shout Hallelujah" because Beck loves saying the word "Hallelujah" and because it's an upbeat, fun song.  I also picked "There's a Stirring," because it's an amazing song and also because I have an mp3 of it on my computer already.  I often will create a cd for our car driving time with any songs I might already have (or if Patricks sends one out).  That is really helpful for the kids--to hear it lots of times.  And they even love continuing to hear it after the Sunday we've sang it. All of their very favorite songs were introduced in this way--I put them on a cd to get the kids ready to sing them the following Sunday and they still love to sing and listen to them. 

Anyhow, we sang the two songs many, many times during our cartime this week.  Sometimes even in the house.  Q and I talked about what the "Stirring" song means.  I am studying Revelation right now and I love sharing little bits of that book with her--she just eats it up because she is in a developmental stage where the imagery of dragons and horses and a green rainbow surrounding the throne are so very appealing to her.  So when we talked about putting our crowns at Jesus' "wounded feet" (her favorite part) she knows what that means.  And wow, this song is DEFINITELY not the same to me after my Revelation much deeper and I understand the implications more fully. 

When Sunday came, my kids knew "Shout Hallelujah" would be the first song.  That helped motivate all of us to get to church on time (a struggle for me, mostly) and they were anxiously awaiting the first song!  Both of them sang along joyously.  They didn't know several of the other songs, but I feel like they listen more intently to even the unfamiliar songs when we've spent some time becoming familiar with a couple, if that makes any sense.  When "There's a Stirring" began, both sang along excitedly.  It is the most precious thing to hear your five year old proudly belting out a praise song, let me tell ya!

I really feel that the few minutes spent practicing a couple songs (and maybe talking briefly about their meaning) has changed the way my children worship.  They are much more focused on the actual worship elements than people-watching or needing crayons or something to keep them occupied.  Typically the first 20 minutes of our worship time is spent in song, prayer and communion, and my kids are fairly focused and participatory during this time, which is a change for them from before we began using the prep time. 

I have some more posts to share in the future about our Communion focus time with the kids.....I just need to find my pictures to post!

Encouraging you to spend a little time this week preparing the little hearts in your house to be participatory worshippers--and it will have an impact on your worship, too, I bet!  Did for me!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Listening Comprehension

We are reading the "Bed and Biscuit" series and on a whim I searched to see if the books were available on cd.  It always surprises me how many great books are out there on cd--and available at the library!  We take full advantage of the books on cd around here.  Since Q was about 2.5 books on cd have been a great rest time tool for us.  We started out with fairy tales and picture books (shorter with simpler plots) on cd for her to listen to during rest time.  Eventually we started checking out the chapter books we'd read AFTER we'd read the book--she loves re-listening to her favorite stories.  And wow, does this reinforce the vocabulary, character development, plot development and overall comprehension of our girl.  Though that's not the real reason we love the books on cd--more than anything they are just plain enjoyable and a good tool to help her slow down and relax--she will lay on her bed and listen and her body gets a chance to slow down and rest. 

Some we've enjoyed--
James and the Giant Peach
Charlotte's Web
Laura Paton's Fairy Tales
Brave Irene
Skippyjohn Jones books
Kevin Henkes books
Junie B Jones Series (yes, ALL of them are read aloud on cd!!)
Clementine series
My Father's Dragon series
Discover Nature series (Nicola Davies and others)
Curious George Series (once again--all read on cd!)

They are also great to put on for road trips in the car and I also like to put them in her discman on long roadtrips so she can listen with headphones. 

Best of all, books on cd are a tool that grows with the child (or adult!)  You can get books at any level.  When I was in grad school and commuted to school I listened to some classics on cd that were too intimidating for me to read--much easier to listen to something than read it. 

I encourage you to find some ways to enjoy books on cd in your home this week!! 
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Polishing Coins

Something both of my kids enjoy is coin polishing.  I am sure there are tons of ways to do it, but Daddy recommended salt (we like the larger sea salt) and lemon juice, so that's what we use.  I think you can also use toothpaste!

Q was very intent on getting her pennies polished up!  This was great fine motor, practical life and attention practice for her.  She also noticed that the salt tasted like the ocean and she enjoyed smelling the lemon--so some great sensory awareness.  AND...we talked about the fact that both salt and lemon juice sting boo-boos or eyes. 

Of course this brand-new 2 year old wanted in on the action, too.  I gave him some quarters, a little bowl of warm soapy water and a toothbrush and he also enjoyed cleaning coins. 
Remember that introducing any activity such as this may only last 5 or so minutes the first time, but repeated presentations/offerings of the activity will usually be met with longer time periods for a child to stay engaged.... 
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Monday, September 23, 2013

On Fridays we draw with chalk. These are Q's creations.

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