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Dollar Store Deals for Preschool Days {and toddlers, too!}

If you read this blog often or know me personally, you probably know that I love a good bargain!  Not only do I enjoy being a good steward of the finances entrusted to us, but I also really enjoy helping others save money, too.  So, as a follow-up to Free Resources for Teaching Pre-K at Home, I thought I would share with you all of the deals we have found at the dollar store that we currently use in our homeschool preschool.

Here’s a great big list of our favorite dollar store deals, as well as  ideas on how to use them for toddlers and preschoolers, whether you are homeschooling or just want some fun early childhood learning activities to keep the kids occupied. 🙂

dollar store deals for homeschooling, preschool, toddlers, crafts, learning

 

 

 

~ Learning Tools ~

 

Workbooks – If you get lucky, you might find preschool and toddler workbooks in the book section of your local dollar store.  Just in case you haven’t seen it yet, use this mom’s idea of putting worksheets into protective sleeves and use dry erase markers so that they can be used multiple times – genius! 🙂

Dry-erase workbooks (Shapes & Colors and Numbers) – I love that we can use the dry-erase workbooks pictured below these over and over again. What a deal for only a dollar!

dollar store deals, learning tools, homeschool, preschool, toddler, workbooks, puzzles

Dry-erase writing practice board – We found one of these several years ago at a dollar store.  It looks like a sheet of handwriting practice paper but is made of dry-erase board material.

Sidewalk Chalk – You can buy a whole box of sidewalk chalk for a dollar and use it for all sorts of learning fun.  Here are some ideas to choose from:

Shape Hop which could also become number hop, alphabet hop, color hop – you get the point. 🙂

Alphabet Squirt

Foam puzzles  – Our son is more of a musical and tactile learner, from what I’ve observed so far.  So these foam puzzles for letters and numbers are a great dollar deal for him!  Our daughter really enjoys them, too, and she has learned several letters on her own just from playing with them.

Small board books – I always look for these dollar store deals.  Sometimes I give them as gifts, but often I find books that help teach early childhood concepts such as shapes, colors, letters, numbers, and so forth.  We also enjoy any books including nursery rhymes since rhyming is an important reading skill and bible stories, which seem to be easy to come by at our local dollar store.

Flash Cards – We play fun games with these alphabet flashcards and colors & shapes flashcards.  Sometimes we play Go-fish with them (you will need more than one set of alphabet).  We also play a game where they get to run to me from across the room and get the card after they recognize it (and then I ask them to recognize it again when we put them all away).  We play jump on the correct flashcard, run to the correct card, and even swat the card, a modification of this mom’s idea (which is by far our son’s favorite!).

dollar store deals flashcards, cheap homeschool learning tools, frugal homeschooling

Fake money – This is on our list of things to buy.  Our kids love counting money, and at the same time they begin to learn the names of the coins!

Magnetic letters –  Our daughter is really catching on to phonics lately, so the magnetic letters are great for showing her how to build words!  You don’t even have to use them on the fridge -if the homeschool area in your home lacks a magnetic surface, just grab a cookie sheet. 🙂  Use for letter recognition, letter matching, and word-building.

 

 

~ Basic Craft Supplies ~

Pipe Cleaners – Aside from everyday bendy fun, they can be used for color sorting, patterning, bending into shapes, numbers, or letters, and other various craft projects.  I created some pipe cleaner letters (both uppercase and lower) for our tactile learner that we use for matching games or letter hide-n-seek, which works really well for twins.  Just make sure the hiding spot isn’t too difficult!  Your children might also enjoy these pipe cleaner activities:

Pipe Cleaner Counting Beads

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Pom-poms – We love pom-poms!  They can be used for color sorting, patterning, size sorting, counting, and many other crafts.  Try an activity like this one:

Pom Pom Counting

Colored wooden craft sticks (popsicle sticks) – If you get lucky, you might find these colored craft sticks at your dollar store.  We use ours for color sorting using these color mats, counting, patterning, creating shapes or letters, etc.

Colored card-stock/index cards – I bought some colored card-stock and a pack of index cards at the beginning of our preschool adventure, and I’ve used almost all of the index cards already.  I use them for all sorts of things, but mainly for creating my own flashcard sets like the one found here or counting cards like these. I like mounting the index cards to cardstock to add a little color around the edge and to give them more stability.

Foam Shapes – Usually you can find some sort of foam shapes in the craft or learning section of the dollar store, as well.  We found some great primary colored circles to use for sorting, counting, patterning, etc.

Small, chubby markers – I love the set we found at our dollar store because they are washable and the size fits our preschoolers’ hands much like the oversize crayons do.  The size makes it easier for toddlers and preschoolers to maintain a correct grasp.

dollar store deals, crayons, markers, homeschool, preschool, toddlers

Miscellaneous – Large crayons, construction paper, hole punch,scissors, glue sticks, paints,dry erase markers, and more can all be found at the dollar store.  The only reason I mention them is that they often cost more at other stores than at your local dollar store (unless it is back-to-school season).

 

 

 

~ Fun Stuff ~

Small party favors – I found some tiny cars for our son and some pretty beads for our daughter, but any small objects will do (just be aware of choking hazards!).  Use them with your counting cards, mentioned above.  The next time we go to the dollar store, I hope to find some bugs and a few other small things. These dollar store deals are great for counting fun, beginning math, sorting fun, and more!

Marbles – Marbles provide sensory fun for kids of all ages, but for our home preschool we mainly use them for counting.

dollar store deals, seasonal items, cheap homeschool supplies,  early childhood education

Seasonal items – We’ve found lots of seasonal foam stickers such as the fall leaves pictured above.  They can be used for sorting, matching, counting, etc.  Our preschoolers also really love any learning activity that involves Easter eggs, for some reason.  Here are a few from pinterest that you might try for learning at home:

10 Easter Egg Numbers and Letters Games

Easter Egg ABC Match-up

Easter Egg Sight Words and more

Bingo Markers – We use these for do-a-dot sheets like the ones found here or for creating our own patterns.

Playdoh – Playdoh is amazing for building those fine motor skills and (bonus!) it’s just a lot of fun to play with! Use a variety of colors for homeschooling by creating letters with these playdoh mats or shapes with these playdoh mats.  Or take a step back from directed instruction to allow for some free play time.

Straws – They are so versatile for early childhood education (and beyond)!  We use ours to compares sizes (bigger than, smaller than), to form letters and shapes, to count, to create patterns, and so forth.  You can even cut them to short lengths and string them on yarn for fine-motor skill fun.

Stickers – Put them on letters, use them for matching games or counting games.

Stamp sets

Clothespins – Use them for all sorts of toddler or preschool learning fun.  Try any of these ideas from pinterest:

Clothespin Color Match

Clothespin Counting

dollar store deals, cheap homeschool supplies, early childhood education, preschool, toddler

 

 

To be honest, most of our preschool/homeschool supplies have come from the dollar store since we are trying to homeschool as frugally as possible.  I’m thankful God has provided for us this year as we teach our twins preschoool at home.

If you have any other great dollar store finds for early childhood education or homeschooling, leave a comment and let us know!

Jen 🙂

Sharing with: Serenity Now, Wholehearted Home

You may also find me linking up at any of these lovely places.

 

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9 Ways to Save on Kids’ Clothes: Part 2

Last week I shared part 1 of how we clothe our four children on our single-income budget.  Today, I’m sharing the second part of how we save on kids’ clothes, including how we take advantage of end-of-season clearance to buy new clothes a year ahead for our children.

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 Gently Used Clothing (continued from Part 1)

6.Consignment Stores for Children 

In our area, we have a few choices for second-hand clothing stores specific to children.  By far, my favorite is Once Upon a Child.  Most of these stores will screen the clothing they take in (as opposed to accepting anything like some second-hand stores to).  Prices reflect the value of clothing items, based on condition of the item and name brand.  So, when you buy from such stores, you can be fairly certain that you are buying clothes that are free of holes, stains, rips, excessive fading, etc.

What makes stores like Once Upon a Child so attractive to me is the ability to sell your own gently used clothing to the store in exchange for either cash or store credit!  I really appreciate this feature for my daughter’s wardrobe since many of her items are still in excellent condition as she is the only girl.

9 Ways to Save on Kids' Clothes, saving money, children's clothing, frugal living, single income

If any of my children have wardrobe needs, I will take store credit so that I can purchase what is lacking.  If I have something else in mind to buy from another store, then I will take cash.  Sometimes I even take some of both.  Who doesn’t enjoy shopping without having to spend any money? 🙂

  • Tips: many of these retailers also accept toys, books, puzzles, baby items, and more.

Pros: wide variety, quality clothing that has been screened, ability to make money

Cons: may not accept all trade-ins, must watch prices carefully (they tend to be a little higher than second-hand stores)

7. Second-hand Stores (Goodwill, Salvation Army, etc.)

Second-hand stores offer a good source of gently used clothing, especially when garage sales are out of season.  Local second-hand stores, rather than chain stores like Goodwill, often offer the best value.  We have a store in our small town that charges only twenty-five cents per clothing item.

  • Tips: Look for 1/2 price days or weekends at chain stores (Goodwill’s is once per month), sack sales, or coupons to save even more money.

Pros: save money buy buying second-hand rather than new, wide variety of items, support charity when shopping some stores.

Cons: prices are often much higher than garage sales (and sometimes even store clearance), some clothing isn’t in the best condition.

8. Facebook Groups and Craigslist

If you are tech-savvy and enjoy shopping online, you can find some great second-hand deals on facebook or craigslist!  Many towns and counties have developed online garage sale type pages for users to sell clothing (and other items) locally, much like Craigslist only via facebook.

I have both sold and purchased clothing items on such a group, and the transactions really depend on the people you are dealing with.  Some sellers/buyers are very honest and easy to work with, while others are just out to make a buck.

Also, safety can be a concern since you will have to meet the party who is selling/buying in order to complete the transaction.  Always, always, always meet in a public place and never go alone if you can avoid it.

Pros: local buying and selling, better pricing than many second-hand stores, easy to find seasonal items like Christmas apparel and Halloween Costumes

Cons: little to no regulation of items being sold, no way to leave feedback for negative transactions, need to arrange meetings, less variety than a second-hand store

Buying Brand New

9. Shop Clearance at Retail Stores

Shopping clearance is really a hobby of mine. 🙂  I like to shop, but our budget is tight and I want to be a good financial steward of the finances God provides for us. I also know that material things are only transient, so I don’t want to place a high value on them.  Finding a clearance rack allows me to meet needs while also enjoying my hobby. 🙂

Shopping end-of-season clothing in particular allows us to buy new, quality clothing at second-hand (sometimes even garage sale) prices.  Such items are particularly helpful for our boys since most items will be handed down twice, and some even survive well enough to be passed on to younger cousins!

However, clearance shopping is one area in which I must exercise caution.  The excitement of a good bargain often leads to over-spending or over-buying (how many skirts does one preschool girl really need?!).  Additionally, department stores thrive on marking items up and then promoting a sale thereby convincing consumers they are getting a bargain when, in truth, they are not.   So, before I share my rules for clearance shopping with you, I must caution you not to blow your clothing budget by making the same mistakes I have.

  • Tips: Before you attempt to shop end-of-season sales for next year’s wardrobes, know your prices (takes time and research), know your budgetand know your needs (keep a list if you need to).  My favorite stores for buying quality clearance clothing are JC Penneys, Kohls, The Children’s Place, Old Navy, and occasionally Walmart.

Rules for Bargain Shopping

Buy When:

  • the item is needed (either currently or for the next year)
  • you see evidence of multiple markdowns already
  • you have extra percent off of already reduced prices (I like to wait until items are 70-90% off original prices. For online buying, check for coupon codes at retailmenot.com)
  • you will earn rewards to buy other needed items (such as Kohls cash)

Exercise caution when:

  • you’re tempted by price alone
  • the item will be difficult to match (example: a girls’ skirt with a weird color of pink or purple in it)
  • end of season clearance has just begun (I’ve learned that some stores, Kohls in particular, mark some things as “clearance” that are really just their normal sale prices. If you wait for a few weeks, you’re likely to see much better discounts.)

save money on clothes, clearance shopping, tips for buying clothes on a tight budget

Why buy a year ahead?

Whenever possible, I take advantage of seasonal clearance to buy a year ahead for our children (I mentioned this in Part 1 in the Garage Sale section).  Thinking ahead is a technique I learned from couponing, and it makes a lot of sense.  When prices are extremely low, buy more than you need for the present so that when you need the item in the future, you will not have to pay regular price.  For clothing, that translates to buying a size or so larger for the next year.

For example, when summer clothes go on clearance, I think about what they will need for their wardrobes next summer, including swimsuits and footwear.  Thinking ahead is particularly helpful for items that tend to be more costly, such as Easter and Christmas dress clothes.  Example: Once I found a toddler boys’ Christmas suit (vest and tie included) for $1.97, so I bought it even though it would not fit our son for 2 more years.

The only two downsides to buying ahead is that your budget might not allow for extra purchases (even frugal ones) and you may not have the storage space necessary to keep clothing for a year, especially if you already have several children.  In those cases, check for an area of the budget you can pull a little extra cash from (such as food) and ask friends or family for storage space in a garage or attic.

Once you have built up a little clothing in storage, buying ahead will not be as much of a stretch for your budget because you won’t be purchasing as many items for immediate needs.

  • Tips: Be sure to pay attention to how their current clothing fits and their general body type.  For example, I’ve learned that our children all have my husband’s long torso, so I usually have to buy one size larger in shirts than in pants.  Additionally, our only daughter is quite thin, so regular pants often look like clown pants on her.  Thus, when buying ahead for her, I only purchase leggings and skinny jeans or slim sizes.
  • Disclaimer: Buying ahead may not work as well in the teen years when youths are prone to skipping whole sizes at once – we’re still learning about these years as our oldest is about to turn 14! 🙂

That wraps up part 2 of how we save money on kids’ clothes in an effort to live frugally.  Saving money on clothing is just one way that we stretch our budget; for more ideas, read 5 Ways to S-t-r-e-t-c-h a Budget.  I hope you find this information helpful!

Jen 🙂

You may find me linking up at any of these lovely places.

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9 Ways to Save on Kids’ Clothes: Part 1

Quite a few months ago, I mentioned in 5 Ways to S-t-r-e-t-c-h a Budget that we save a lot of money on clothing for our children, and I promised to share details later on.  Well, I’m finally getting around to it! 🙂

Clothing expenses can easily burden a larger-than-average family, especially a family living on a single income.  In our home, when we have a budget issue, our first method of attack is to pray.  We try to pray for our needs before we even begin to attempt to meet them (of course, we don’t always remember to pray first).  And when we remember, we pray for wisdom to be good stewards of the finances God has blessed us with, as well.

Here are 9 specific ways in which we save money on clothing for our children.
Saving money on kid's clothes, clothing budget, frugal, stewardship, single income family

Clothing for Free!

1. Hand-me-downs

Since we have three boys, this money-saving technique worked very well for us until we had our first girl (aside from our oldest’s tendency to wear holes in the knees of his pants in his elementary years). 🙂  Save the clothing that isn’t stained or sporting holes in a well-labeled, clear plastic tote for the next child.  

Pros: no expense necessary after the initial purchase!

Cons: some items will wear out after several children.

  • Tips:  Do not get rid of clothing (even if your youngest child is a different gender from older siblings) until you are certain you will not be having more children!  Also, buy quality clothing whenever possible (find out how to save on new clothing in part 2 of this post) because the clothes will last longer. Finally, If you have no hand-me-downs to begin with, be willing to accept them from others in your circle – family, church family, friends, neighbors, etc.  I can’t tell you how many times even our neighbors became the answer to prayers for our clothing needs, especially when we found out we were having twins!

2. Swap Clothing

Find a friend or group of friends to swap clothing with.  For several years, I swapped cloths with a friend who had a son older than our youngest boy and a daughter younger than ours.  So, she traded her toddler boy clothes for my toddler girl clothes.  We also received clothes for our daughter from church family; these clothes had been through two other families before ours!  Search for a large, organized clothing swap in your area, or even organize one of your own.

Pros: No extra spending necessary!

Cons: Storage space needed for totes.

Gently Used Clothing

3. Thred-up

Thred-up (www.thredup.com) is an online site for both buying and selling quality, second-hand children’s clothing (and women’s, as well).  Once you sign up for a membership using your e-mail address, you are free to purchase.  If you want to earn store credit by selling items you no longer need, you’ll want to request a bag from them.  Fill the bag up as much as you can, send it in and they will give you a price quote.

Pros: receiving credit for clothing you send in; clothing is well-screened.

Cons: online only store means no trying things on; paying for shipping costs as well.

4. E-bay 

E-bay is another online site for both buying and selling, although it’s not solely for clothing.  Again, you can sell your gently-used items to earn money to buy what your family needs.  Additionally, you might find brand new clothing listed for lower than retail.

Pros: ability to earn by selling.

Cons: clothing isn’t screened; can’t try on clothes; shipping costs.

  • Tips: when buying on e-bay, please be careful to choose a seller with a high feedback rating.  Also, if you need a large amount of clothing, listings for clothing “lots” will give you the best value for your money.

save money on clothes, budget, big family, tight budget, one-income

5. Garage Sales

My favorite way to save money on clothes is to buy them at garage sales.  By far, yard sales average the lowest prices for gently used clothing.  I’m a bargain shopper, so shopping at yard sales is just a lot of fun for me, especially when I find items we really need.  Of course, not all garage sales are equal, so I still watch prices carefully.

Pros: fun to shop; best prices.

Cons: seasonal in our area; quality of clothing varies.

  • Tips: when buying at garage sales, you can buy more than a year ahead if the price is right and if your budget allows. Buying ahead will save you money in the long run.  Be sure to store your items in well-labeled, clear plastic totes or you may forget/overlook some like I did last year!

…………………

Click here for part two of 9 Ways to Save on Kids’ Clothes , including more ways to shop for gently used clothing and how to take advantage of end of season clearance sales to buy brand new clothing at second-hand prices!  Until then remember: when you are offered hand-me-downs or when you find great prices at a garage sale or even the clearance section, think long-term. Don’t accept or buy only what you need for the current season (unless it will break the budget to do otherwise), but plan for a size or two ahead!

Of course, as with anything in life, learning to save money is another one of those work-in-progress areas. The best way to be a good financial steward is to cover all of your budgeting and spending decisions in prayer.  I know I often forget to go to the Lord first even though He promises to provide.  I’m not always the best at trusting in Him to provide, but He is able, sisters!

Jen 🙂

You may find me linking up at any of these wonderful places.

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Counting Bedtime Blessings

Bedtime Blessings, counting blessings, motherhood, love

It’s past midnight now, yet I sit sleepy-eyed in the too quiet house.  Our four children are all tucked safely into bed and my husband snores beside me.  An extra chill hangs in the air as temperatures outdoor have dipped below zero once again.

I should have gone to bed long ago, but the quiet is so peaceful and I’m feeling so thankful.  Not for any one thing in particular, really, but for many small things all at once that pile up to one pretty spectacular life that I just don’t deserve.

And it’s because of Him, our Creator God, that I am gifted with this one life, this one year, this one day never to be repeated again.

So, I’m thankful because in the midst of trial, I’m finally seeing some of the good.  I don’t always see it, don’t always “count it joy,” but today I can see the progress.

Today I realized that this time of trial has greatly strengthened our marriage.  I’m able to  appreciate my husband in ways that I haven’t been able to before.  He’s been my comfort in times of need and my encourager in times of weakness.  We’ve regained that sense of companionship that so easily gets lost in the daily urgency of parenthood and of ministry. I’m counting that a victory!

Even more, after finishing only part of the laundry and part of the coupon clipping, I felt free to stop and just “be” with them, those fabulous  kids who amaze me with their zest for life and their love for others.  And again I’m thankful because I don’t always take the time to stop and read books or play legos or look at drawings or dance. I can’t always resist the desire for domestic perfection, but I’m never sorry when I do.  Another victory I’m claiming!

And I, I walk away the richer for it.  I fall even more in love with these creatures the Lord has entrusted to us.

bedtime blessings, counting blessings, love, family

I notice the way my daughter’s bedtime hugs and kisses always come with compliments like beautifulest or sweetest or nicest or bestest.  And when I pay her a compliment in return, her face fairly glows with joy.  She’s my enthusiastic encourager.

I notice, too, the way our youngest son really hugs me back, both small arms around my neck and a nice squeeze (but not too hard), maybe even a few pats on the back.  He lingers there, not old enough to be embarrassed yet by sitting in Mommy’s lap.   He’s my sweet snuggler.

I can’t leave out our middle son, our macho man, who seems unusually happy and eager to please this evening (bedtime is normally met with his frowns).  In fact, he asks me to stop reading before his bedtime story is finished so that he will have time to pick up his blankets from the floor (shocking!), the leftovers of a massive tent-fort built on this unexpected snow day.  It delighted me because…he’s my energetic entertainer.

The only one left is our oldest son, quick to help, slow to anger.  His shoulders seem to grow broader by the day as his voice deepens.   He’s developing a hunger and thirst for the Lord that thrills this mama’s heart.  He’s my gentle leader of the pack. 🙂

What really struck me this evening, though, was the sense of peace that pervaded the air here.  The transformation that love in action has on our children is profound.  When they know that in this moment right here, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that they are incredibly loved, that they are valued for who they are, then they blossom right before my eyes.

No tears at bedtime, no scowling, no stalling…

I can see it on their smiling faces, that in just a few lovely hours, they’ve been filled to the brim so much so that it just overflows in return – love and joy and peace.

bedtime blessings, great love, God loves us, children of God

Suddenly, I realize that it’s no different for me.  How much easier it is for me to obey my Heavenly Father when I’ve taken time to revel in His love for me, His perfect, unfailing, unconditional love for me.  Not for everyone else, but for me.

How quick I am to chose right instead of wrong.

How strong I stand in the face of temptation.

How peaceful I feel.

And in me, the joy is unspeakable because it’s true.  My Father God loves me. He’s patient with me.  He comforts me.  He rejoices in me.  He blesses me with an abundance of good things.

And even on the tough days, when I act like an ungrateful child, He waits for me.  And when I sink to the ground in absolute despair, He sits beside me.  And when I’m ready to press on, He helps me stand.

Isn’t it the same for all of us, sisters?  If we could just live every day with this soul-deep thankfulness for who He is and for who we are because of Him, then being the women of faith we should be, the ones we really long to be, wouldn’t be half as hard!

Instead, the work-in-progress would come easy to us.  The victories frequent rather than few and far between.   It would spill right over the edges of our very selves and stream out to everyone around us, this supernatural love.

All of those good things that we cannot manufacture on our own?  They begin with Him, through Him, from Him.

Because He is good and His love endures forever.

We can be confident in that Love, sisters, for it tells us who we are.

It brings us victory!

Jen 🙂

You may find me linking up at any of these places.

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Energy-burning Indoor Fun for Kids

Winter wears long around this time of year for those of us who live in the Midwest.  Usually, our family enjoys the snow because it allows for lots of outdoor fun – sledding, building snow forts and snowmen, snowball fights, and other gross-motor, active fun.  However, with wind-chills well below zero lately, we’ve been cooped up indoors.  You can imagine the ensuing chaos created by four bored children (okay, three, the teen isn’t usually as rowdy as he used to be).  Our middle child in particular, all boy, struggles to release his pent-up energy in a way that does not harm others or damage items in the home.

What do you do when the kids are bursting with energy but can’t go outside? How can you keep them active indoors to keep cabin fever at bay?

We tried every fun, high-energy indoor activity I could remember that worked in years past, but with so many days spent inside, I soon ran out of ideas.  So, I turned to my friends and family on facebook.  They helped me compile a list for future reference and out of sympathy for you all, I decided to share it here. 😉

big list of energetic indoor fun, gross-motor activities for kids, bad weather, can't play outside

Snowball Fight – Yes, you can have a snowball fight indoors and burn a lot of energy doing so!  I learned this game from a birthday party we attended recently.  You will need a stack of white paper (newspaper will suffice if you don’t have white paper).  Crumple the paper into balls – the more you have, the more fun it will be.  Dump the paper snowballs into the middle of an open area and let the kids go wild! It’s even more fun if you create some obstacles to hide behind.

Bounce around – Several years ago when the twins were younger and I frequently babysat children in our home, we invested in a small bouncy house.  It’s been a lifesaver on several occasions when the weather kept us indoors.  Another less expensive option would be a small, indoor trampoline, or even an exercise ball.  If all else fails, you can always resort to letting the kids jump on your bed (I do!). Jumping uses a lot of muscles group, so it  burns off excess energy quicker.

Ball pit – When our youngest son was a baby, he needed some physical therapy.  One of the things his therapist did was to create a small ball-pit using a laundry basket filled with balls.  At first, he hated it, but eventually he grew to love it. Let the kids enjoy active fun by jumping into the pit, swimming in the balls, throwing balls, and so on. Frugal ideas for ball pits: laundry baskets, plastic totes, inflatable kiddie pools, or large cardboard boxes.

Indoor Skating – I’ve found two different ways to create indoor skates.  One is to tie wax paper around the bottom of your children’s feet and let them skate away.  The other is to use kleenex boxes (or other cartons) as skates – just insert feet into the opening. We only had one usable kleenex box, so I improvised with a juice pouch box. 😉

indoor skating, energetic indoor fun, gross-motor activities for kids, active fun for snowy days or rainy days

Climb, climb, climb – Recently I was reminded that kids of all ages love to climb.  My husband brought a step-ladder indoors to do some repairs.  When he finished, our four-year-olds spent a good thirty minutes climbing up and down, up and down (with supervision, of course).  Other options – smaller kitchen step-stools,or a stool your kids might use in the bathroom, stairways, boxes, etc. What an easy, indoor energy-burning activity that uses items you most likely already have at home!

Activity Dice –  Create a large dice from cardboard or cardstock (the bigger the better in the eyes of children).  On each side of the dice, list a different activity to be performed.  Examples: do ten jumping jacks, flap your arms like a bird, twirl in circles until you’re dizzy, hop up and down, jump like a frog, crab-walk, do a somersault, etc.  If your child is old enough to find this activity boring, try making it into a competition – it’s a game changer.

Dance the wiggles away – We have Just Dance Kids’ version for the Wii that our younger children really love.  However, we also frequently dance to music on the radio or our oldest son’s ipod. 🙂  One of my friends suggested playing “freeze” by pausing the music and having everyone freeze in place. Another “freezing alternative is to turn the lights off and when they come back on, everyone has to freeze in place (while music continues to play, of course).

This song is perfect for freezing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y7JoCCR4OsM

Or try this active song that was an immediate hit with our younger two: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3dXoiCMyyu4

Geronimo! – We love this classic.  Create a huge pile of pillows, blankets, beanbags, stuffed animals, etc., near a couch or the bottom of your stairway.  Jump away!  Our children have spent endless hours getting out extra energy this way when we’re stuck indoors.

Pillow Fight – Caution: if you have a child who tends to get aggressive, prepare for possible injuries.  It’s a good time to work on self-control. 🙂  Even our teen boy likes to pillow fight when the whole family is involved.  What better use of family time than to burn off some stored up energy?

Family wrestling – Nothing is more tempting to children than when Mom or Dad lay on the floor.  For some reason, our four kiddos love to sit on us, climb on us, bounce on us, and so forth. Family wrestling is also a good opportunity for Mom to sneak attack Dad’s feet (he can’t get away with four kids piled on top-ha!).  As with all active fun, it usually ends when someone cries. 😉

Spikeball – We created this game using punch-balloons leftover from a birthday party.  To begin, we spread out in the largest room in our home.  Then we “spike” the punch-balloons across the room at another person.  Each player receives points for hitting another player as long as it is not a face-shot (we had to ban those during a particularly crazy game).  It’s a mad frenzy trying to snatch up the punch-balloons and spike them at others while also trying not to get hit yourself.  You could also use a regular balloon, but punch-balloons are just a little heavier, bigger and bouncier, so they can travel farther.  Tip: it’s more fun and crazy if you have more than one balloon. Second tip: if you have a wide age range like we do, be sure the littles get their fair share of turns or you’ll endure much pouting.

Other balloon fun – Balloons are great for quick and easy active fun because you can play so many different games with them.  Play don’t let the balloon touch the ground, or blow the balloon across the floor.  You can even play an indoor version of hockey with a balloon and pool noodles (cut them in half for smaller players).  Play volleyball by hanging a string or a blanket between two chairs for a net.  Hang balloons from the ceiling or a doorway just out of reach and ask children to jump up and touch them. Put a balloon between the knees and race from one end of the room to the other without dropping the balloon. Tie a balloon to their feet and try to step on each other’s balloons. The options are endless!

Indoor Obstacle Course – This is an often-requested favorite at our house and with our children’s ministry at church, also.  First the kids help to create the obstacles using chairs, card tables, tunnels from a Playhut set, brooms for hurdles or limbo sticks, hula hoops to hop through, inflatable swimming rings in place of tires for an agility hop, etc.  Once everything is set up, they race through it over and over again! I can’t wait to try this winter-themed course that involves climbing a “snow mountain”: http://www.pinterest.com/pin/59532026298294418/

Sliding – If you have a slide you can bring indoors, you can entertain toddlers and preschoolers for quite some time. Since our kiddos have outgrown our slide, we turned our stairway into a giant slide (something I pinned a long time ago on pinterest).  The only thing you need is a few large, wide sections of strong cardboard.  If you use an appliance box, be on the lookout for staples that will need to be removed first!

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Nerf/Koosh Gun War – Two of our boys received Koosh ball guns for Christmas, and not long after I happened to find refill packs of balls on clearance at Walmart – score! 🙂  We also have a couple of Nerf dart guns and a disc shooter from years past.  Sometimes we sneak attack our oldest son or Dad, but usually we play all together.  Gather up the ammo and have fun chasing each other all over the house.  Note: it’s important to establish some ground rules first, such as do not shoot at the face and do not shoot at windows, etc.

Play Basketball – We also have been gifted a Little Tikes basketball hoop, as well as a classic Nerf hoop that hangs over the door.  One way to burn lots of energy is to play basketball free-for all.  Much like spikeball, there are few rules to this game other than to get a hold of a ball whenever you can and put it through the hoop.  If you like a more organized game, you can take turns shooting or see who can make a shot from the longest distance, etc.  No hoops in the house?  Improvise with a trash can or bucket and a small ball or even wadded up piece of paper.

Scary Hide-n-go-seek – A variation on the traditional game, this version is played in the dark, indoors and is another one of our most-requested indoor games.  We turn off all of the lights except one or two dim ones (for safety).  Something about hiding in the dark with the chance of being spooked really gets the adrenaline pumping.  Of course, if you have little ones who are scared of the dark, you’ll probably have to hide with them. And if you have a dog, chances are he or she might give away your hiding spot by sitting and staring near you.

Wii activity – In addition to our Just Dance Kids game, we also have Wii sports and a few other games that require activity.  You can often find gently used games at a greatly reduced price at places like Game Stop or on E-bay or Amazon.

Sword-fight – Our boys love to sword-fight with their light-sabers, but inevitably someone gets hurt and we have to quit.  So, I really, really love this pinterest idea for creating light-sabers from pool noodles cut in half.  Sometimes we make it a whole family activity and even the teen joins in with us! What a fun way to be active indoors!

Kid-Olympics or Ironkid Challenge – We did this once for our AWANA kids at church during the last Summer Olympics.  We used frisbees for a discus throw, pool noodles for a javelin, relay races, etc.  We even ordered plastic medals online, but you could easily create your own indoor version.  Why not have an awards ceremony, too?

Wipeout – I love this idea for energy-burning fun that came from a friend of mine.  Use couch cushions, etc. to create a course inspired by the tv show Wipeout!

Giant tent fort – While this activity doesn’t burn quite as much energy as some of the others, it still burns some and it takes a good amount of time to do.  Our kiddos recently spent the better part of a day creating this giant fort using a card table, a piano bench, kitchen chairs, plastic totes, a step-stool, and anything else they could find.  We left it up for days until they got tired of it.  Any activity that holds interest beyond a day is a winner in my opinion! 🙂

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Energy-burning Indoor Fun for Kids, giant tent fort, energy-burning indoor fun, active winter fun, gross-motor play

Treasure Hunt – This was another friend’s high-energy suggestion.  Create a treasure hunt where the clues involve some sort of physical activity such as jumping jacks, push-ups, and so forth.  Of course, you need a fun treasure, such as a special snack or maybe new coloring books.

Convert the garage -If you have a garage, consider moving your vehicles and opening up space for indoor bike-riding, roller-skating, skate-boarding, scootering, or even an old-fashioned game of foursquare (use chalk to draw the lines). I’ve also seen hanging ladders, ropes, and sets of rings available for purchse to hang from the ceiling (guess what’s on my wish list?!). If your children are very young or you have the inside space, you might consider bringing a tricycle or scooter indoors even.

Put on a Show – Our children, like most, enjoy performing for any willing audience.  Our shows usually consist of lots of break-dancing, twirling, and kung-fu-type stunts.  Set up a stage area and a seating area and settle in for lots of laughs. (Thanks to another one of my friends for reminding me of this!) While you laugh, they’ll be expending lots of extra energy.

Work the Maze – Create a laser-beam maze in a hallway or other narrow space using yarn or even crepe paper.  See who can get through without touching or breaking any of the lines. Instant indoor energy-burning fun that takes only minutes to create.

Armed with this list, I now feel prepared for the pending snowstorm heading our way (and any rainy days that might come our way this summer).

 Once you’ve drained off the extra energy, your children might settle down enough to attempt some of these fun indoor activities from Coffee Cups and Crayons.

Do you have more ideas for energetic, gross-motor indoor fun?  We would love to hear from you in the comments!

Jen 🙂

Related articles:

Our Big List of Favorite Games  (categorized by age)

Top Free Resources for Pre-K

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7 Creative Ways to Teach Scripture to Kids

We all know scripture memorization is important.  If only it were also easy!!   🙂  If memorizing Bible verses proves difficult for adults, then imagine how much more difficult it can be for our young children to learn scripture.  Over my years of mothering our four kiddos and working with children at church, I’ve learned that teachers of  preschoolers in particular need to be really creative.  Sometimes that’s a real struggle for me!  What works for adults doesn’t always work for kids, and even more, what works for one child may not work for another.

So, for all of the purposeful parents, the homeschooling mamas, the Sunday School teachers, the toddler nursery workers, the Children’s Church volunteers, the daycare providers, the AWANA teachers, for any person who desires to teach children scripture but aren’t sure where to begin, here’s what I’ve learned thus far that works:

7 Creative Ways to Teach Scripture to Kids

1. Check it – Be sure the verse is short enough.

For very young students even a single sentence might be too long.  If the verse you have chosen is lengthy even in a children’s bible version, condense it further.  For example, if “Be kind and compassionate to each other” is too much, shorten it to “Be kind to others” or for very young children: “Be kind.”

Equally important, be sure that that your children or students understand the words in the verse.  What good is memorizing a verse that holds no meaning for them? 🙂

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2. Act it – create motions to go along with the verse.

In general preschoolers tend to learn more when they are being active rather than passive. Even many elementary-age children prefer to learn through movement rather than seatwork.  So, especially for those little learners who always seem to have ants in their pants, this technique can work wonders.

 For example, in our Cubbies class (preschool class for AWANA at church) we recently learned the verse “Children obey your parents in the Lord.”  The word “children” was portrayed by holding a hand out flat, palm down, and stair-stepping down, as in “stair-step children” (that’s the best I could think of, unfortunately – anyone have a better idea for children??).  Then for the phrase “obey your parents,” we pointed our finger straight out like a mommy telling a child what to do (picture Uncle Sam’s we-want-you pose – the kids really understood that gesture well, haha).   Finally, For “in the Lord” we simply pointed straight up into the air as if we were pointing to God in Heaven.

If you happen to know sign language, the easiest gestures would be actual signs, especially for words or phrases that will be repeated often, like God, Jesus, or Bible.   Sometimes my Cubbies are able to help me think of appropriate gestures, too.

Youtube example:

*One important note: do not try to attach a gesture to every single word in the verse.  Doing so will frustrate some children and will interrupt the natural flow of the verse.  You only need a gesture for each concept or phrase in the verse.  A second note: if the children look confused, then your chosen hand gesture or motion is not computing. Let it go and try something else.  🙂

3.  Play with it!

We usually repeat our memory verse a few times together before we get a little silly with it.  When the boys’ eyes begin to glaze over, I know we’ve repeated one too many times. 🙂   Once we can mostly say it together, I usually ask the children to stand up and push in their chairs so we can be more active.  We might crouch down and say the verse very, very quietly (gestures included) and then hop up and say it as loud as we can.  Sometimes we march around our table and say it, or we chant it to a rhythm, or we sing it, or clap it out, or use silly voices, and so on.  Songs in particular work very well at this age (Tip: you can use familiar tunes such as Farmer in the Dell, Old MacDonald, Three Blind Mice, etc. to put the words to if you don’t already know a song for the verse you are trying to teach).

Youtube example:

Once we used the suggested game for that week from our Cubbies book – let’s call it, “Lights on, lights off.”  When the lights were off, the kids were free to move around in whatever manner they desired: walking, creeping, running, hopping, crawling, etc.  When the lights came on, everyone had to freeze in place.  Once they understood the concept of the game, I used the “freeze” time to repeat our verse.  The same concept could be used with music rather than lights.

4. Repeat it – give each child to a chance to say it alone.

Once we have played around with the memory verse a little bit, most children will have at least part of the verse, if not the whole, in their minds.  At this point, I usually test my Cubbies a little while still trying to keep it fun.

For instance, if we’re chanting our verse to a beat, then in between each repetition, I’ll give a single student a chance to say it on his or her own.  Then the whole class says it together, followed by another individual, and so on.  Be sure to support those who need it so they don’t become embarrassed.

And we always, always celebrate, even if we are only partially successful at saying the verse!

5.  Draw it!

Some students prefer putting crayon to paper over reciting verses aloud.  Since my preschool Cubbies cannot read yet, I might ask them to draw a picture of their verse.  Of course, at their age I always have a few who choose to draw something totally unrelated, but for those who process information visually or spatially, drawing can really help to cement the concept of the verse in their minds.

6. Forget about references…for now.

Not that we shouldn’t attempt to teach the reference at all – I still do.  However, I just don’t stress about it anymore. At this age remembering a reference that doesn’t hold much meaning and is difficult to even pronounce can be really challenging and frustrating, especially for kids who might not be familiar with the books of the Bible. How many three-year-olds can actually pronounce books like Deuteronomy, Ecclesiastes, or Thessalonians?  Even if they can pronounce them, do they understand what those words followed by numbers mean?  If not, then they are learning words that make no sense to them, hold no meaning.

Very rarely will my own young children remember a reference beyond a week or two unless it is a verse that we hear or review frequently, such as John 3:16, or a verse put to song that includes the reference, like the “Be ye kind” song.  In Cubbies we have a new verse every week and limited time for teaching, so the likelihood of children retaining references decreases even further.

Thus, in my humble opinion, the priority should be the conceptual learning taking place: truths about God making us, God loving us, loving others, etc.  I still teach the references, but I don’t emphasize them as much as the body of the verse itself.  For young children, as long as a child remembers the main idea of the verse, I count it a win!

 However, if you are going to be working on a verse for an extended time, then by all means, include the reference.  Additionally, if your children or students are older and can understand the purpose of a reference, then the reference should most definitely be included! 🙂

7. Remember variety, different methods work with different children, so use a variety when possible.

Our preschool daughter loves to say her verses carefully along with hand gestures as if she is performing on stage.  On the other hand, her twin brother resists the hand gestures, but he love, love, LOVES anything repeated in a weird or sing-song voice. (True story – I once entertained him through an entire grocery shopping trip simply by repeating the same phrase over and over again in a robot voice.  Whatever works, right?!)

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 Of course, sometimes during AWANA, or even at home, the kids are so crazy and energetic that we fail to accomplish much in the way of scripture memorization.  And we don’t always make time for memory verses either, but when we do, I want to make sure that it’s time well-spent.

Whether you teach at church or in your own home, I hope you find these tips helpful!  I have yet to find any ways to address tactile (touch-based/sensory) learners who cannot read yet, so if any of you have ideas for me, I’d really love to hear them.

Blessings to you brave mamas and teachers of little ones,

Jen 🙂

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More Than a Visit

It’s Five Minute Friday, and the word for this week is “visit.”

Visit.

He came into the world squalling, screeching more like it – his cry so sharp and loud that it was unmistakable, our long-awaited, second-born boy.  When we brought him home, we quickly learned he would be nothing like his even-tempered older brother.  This one, this tiny red-faced infant, would make his demands known.  He would be a challenge to our previous parenting prowess.

Visit, New Baby, Motherhood, baby won't sleep

Sleepless nights turned into weeks, and eventually months, the worn carpet in the hallway testifying to the demands of our newest family member.  We loved him dearly, but sometimes we just wished for peace and quiet or that he would nap longer than thirty minutes.  He never slept “like a newborn” and even today, no matter how late he stays up, he wakes at the crack of dawn.  His Grandad affectionately nick-named him “The Raptor.”

At that time, Daddy had a second-shift job and little time off. He worked hard and long.  And we did, too, trying to just survive that long and lonely winter.

Aside from prayer, it was Grandma’s visits that got us through.  She’d often call at the end of her workday just to check in because she had a squalling, colicky baby once, too – me.  I was known as the baby who cried. all. the. time.  According to my aunt, she once came to visit us only to find my mother sitting on the front stoop crying while I lay peacefully in her arms, worn out by hours of fussing. My mother knew the frustration of the long nights and even longer days of mothering a cranky baby.

“How’s it going today, Jen?”

On the good days I answered, “Fine.” And then I told a story of something new one of the boys learned or something funny the oldest said that day.

On the bad days my silence betrayed me, a silence born of threatening tears.

Knowingly, she asked, “Want me to bring McDonald’s for supper?”

Gratefully I gulped out, “Yeah, that would be good.”

fussy baby, motherhood, colic

And so we waited, the five-year-old boy, and the fussy baby, and me.  We waited for the visit, for the promise of another set of hands and the comfort food they brought.  Her presence itself calmed me as the fear that so often comes with loneliness slowly ebbed away.  When it was time for her to leave, we wore smiles once again, determined to face the challenges of the evening with faith and hope for better days ahead.

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She always called when I needed it most, it seemed.  She often still does today.  I have no way to explain her uncanny awareness except to say that she’s close with the Lord, and I guess He must let her know when we’re in need. 🙂

I’ll never forget those supper visits, nor the time she gave willingly to be the hands and feet of Jesus to my weary-mama soul.

It was just a visit,

but to me it meant the world.

Matthew 25

34 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36 naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me;I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? 38 And when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? 39 When did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’

John 13

34 Anew commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Jen 🙂

It’s Five Minute Friday, so I’m linking up with the brave and creative crew over at Lisa Jo Baker’s place.  She gives us a one-word prompt and we freewrite for five minutes (-ish). 🙂   No planning, no editing, no stressing.  Come on over and join us if you like!

You may also find me at any of these lovely places.

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Cultivating Christmas: Reflect

Every morning when it’s time to “do hair” we stand in front of my mirrored dresser.  “Look in the mirror,” I tell her in an attempt to keep her still as I comb through the tangles that seem to multiply in her near-black hair overnight.  She chatters and squirms as I comb, my daughter, my mini-me.daughter, reflect

She’s the only girl in our bunch of four, but that doesn’t hold her back.  She’s spunky enough to hold her own with her brothers, tough enough to throw an elbow once in a while, and brave enough to climb the same tall pines in the backyard.  When she comes in the house smiling with dirt on her pant knees and twigs in her long, straight locks, I think – That’s my girl!  Half tom-boy, half princess!

Unlike her twin brother, she’s fiercely independent and prefers playing on her own as much as she enjoys playing with her brothers.  She’s smart and inquisitive, loving learning simply for the sake of knowing.  And when her feelings get hurt, we can expect a good twenty minute pout.  She doesn’t cry often, but when she does, big alligator tears roll down her face from her large, hazel eyes, sometimes silently.

She appreciates order, and beautiful things, and chocolate, and clothes (yes, even at the age of four!), and babies, and animals, and singing, and books, and laughing, and so many more of the same things that I do.

Mother, Daugher, Reflection, Jesus

She’s a reflection of me, both physically and in personality.  My only daughter, my sweet yet spunky princess.

And having experienced the separation of living halfway around the world as a missionary kid, I cannot even imagine sending her a world away (or any of her brothers, for that matter), especially knowing she would suffer pain and temptation, rejection and persecution, and even death.

But that’s exactly what our Father God did so long ago.  He sent us his only Son, His pride and joy, His very reflection, stripped of godly position to become fully human, fully feeling, fully fragile.  He did all of this, knowing what would be required of His beloved Son.  All so that we might know true life and know it abundantly.

Jesus.

He reflects real Light, real Love, real Hope and real Peace.

Because He is Emmanuel, God with us.

So that we might know Him.

How can we comprehend such a love as this, sisters?  That the Almighty God of the Universe would care enough for undeserving sinners to sacrifice the joy of His only Son’s presence in order to gift it to us, so that we might know Him.

That’s the joy of Christmas!

Jen 🙂

I’m joining in with the Five Minute Friday crew this week, albeit a day late. 🙂  We write for five minutes on a one word prompt, no planning, no editing, no stressing.  Just words.  Join in here!

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Cultivating Christmas: The Christmas Adventure Box

The Christmas Adventure Box ~ an easy, kid-friendly advent for the whole family!

Last week I noticed a not-so-subtle change in our four-year-old daughter.  She contracted a terrible case of the “I needs.”  She needs a new doll for Christmas.  She needs a Barbie house for Christmas.  She really, really neeeeeeeeeeds a bike for Christmas…

While I understand her four-year-old behavior is typical, I dislike that her attitude can so easily become prevalent in our home during the Christmas season.  It happens so quickly.  We look at a few store ads, watch a few commercials, and we easily become convinced, even us grown-ups, that we have needs we have never had before!! 🙂

My husband and I purposed to combat the commercialism of Christmas and cultivate true Christmas spirit in our home many years ago. We looked for resources to use for our young and growing family.  We invested in Veggietales dvds about the true meaning of Christmas and a kid-friendly nativity set.  We participated in Operation Christmas Child, and we worked at local outreach events.   We read the Christmas story from the Bible on Christmas Eve or Christmas morning.

But we still felt like our children needed to be better educated about why we do some of the traditional things we do at Christmas time. Enter the Christmas Adventure Box – a family Advent activity.

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My friend  and fellow blogger Lana introduced us to the Christmas Adventure Box, a family advent activity/program that she developed for her own family.   The idea of the box was to complete daily (or several times weekly, for us) advent activities to help us remember the Greatest Gift of All, Jesus.  It was an immediate hit with our oldest two boys, especially with the word “adventure” in the title!

I know the last thing we all need during the Christmas season is yet another item for our “lists” of things to do (so please, please don’t feel pressured).  However, this family advent plan takes literally less than an hour to organize and the activities can take as little as five minutes or as long as 20-30 minutes depending on how involved you wish to make it (or how long your four year olds will sit still…) It really is a simple, but fun way to focus on the reason for the season! 🙂

Update: it’s even easier this year because I’ve added FREE printables that you can attach directly to the items in your box! Just click the link above. 🙂

Lana has created a blog specifically for the Christmas Adventure Box which you can find here.  If you want a full 25 day advent list, then I recommend visiting her site.  It’s very detailed and even has a lesson-plan type of format that would be particularly helpful for those who homeschool, teach children’s church, etc.

However, for our family, I’ve found that it’s less stressful to schedule only a few nights a week of kid-friendly advent activity.  So with permission, I’ve modified the Christmas Adventure Box to fit our schedule and even added in a few items that were important to us, such as spending one day on global missions.  That’s the beauty of this family advent activity – you can tailor it to fit the needs or even the traditions of your family! 🙂

Here’s how to get started:
Choose which activities you’ll be using (from the list below or from Lana’s site) for your family advent and wrap the according items.  Don’t forget to download and print the cards to attach to each item! Put all of the items into a large box (The Christmas Adventure Box) and wrap it as well.   Each day that you plan to use the Christmas Adventure Box, you’ll unwrap one (0r more) of the items and complete that day’s devotional/activity.

The Greatest Gift  –  read John 3:16 – unwrap the Christmas Adventure Box.

This will be the first activity on the advent list because it sets up the whole idea of the Christmas Adventure Box.  However, once you’ve completed this day, you can do any of the following days in whichever order you choose.    First, bring out the large, wrapped Christmas Adventure Box.  Explain to your children that you will be unwrapping an item a few times a week in order to learn more about Jesus this Christmas season.  Read John 3:16 and talk about how Jesus is the greatest gift of all.  You can also read prophecies from Isaiah about the Promised Deliverer.  Feel free to share the full gospel with your children and pray together as a family.

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Joseph and Mary – read Luke 1:30-33 – unwrap Joseph and Mary from your nativity set.

We purchased a fisher price little people nativity set several years ago when our twins were born, which makes it easier to let them “play” with the figures.  If you have littles in the house, be sure to choose a non-breakable set to work with.  On this day, you’ll read the story of Jesus’ parents learning that Mary was with child!  Discuss the prophecies fulfilled by Mary and Joseph found in Isaiah 9:7 and Isaiah 7:14.  Talk about promises God has kept for your family and pray together.

Baby Jesus – read Luke 2:6-7 – unwrap the baby Jesus figure from your nativity set.

Today you can discuss once again that Jesus was a gift, not only to His parents, but to the whole world.  Talk about the birth stories of each one of your children – how you planned for them, waited for them, and the joy of experiencing their birth.  Ask your children to find similarities and differences between their births and Jesus’ birth.  Pray together as a family, thanking Him for each family member and most of all, for the gift of a Savior.

Shepherds and Angels – read Luke 2:8-20 – unwrap the shepherd and angel figures from your nativity set.

Discuss a time when your family had exciting news to share.  Think about how the angels and shepherds must have felt sharing such important news.  Talk about how important it is that we continue to share the story of Jesus with anyone who hasn’t yet heard and pray together, especially for any unsaved relatives or friends.

The Wise Men – read Mt. 2:1-2, 10-11 – unwrap the wise men from your nativity set.

Talk about how the wise men had never heard about a Savior being born, but they still knew to follow the star.  Discuss the ways that God reveals himself to us today.  Pray together as a family that your knowledge of God’s ways would increase.

Kid-friendly advent activities for Christmas

Light of the World – read Mt. 5:14-16 – unwrap a notecard that says “Christmas Adventure!” on it.

Discuss light and dark.  Ask your children how Jesus is the Light of the World.  Then, pile everyone into your vehicle and go on an adventure to see some Christmas lights!  (You can continue discussion as you travel).  Be sure to pray together as a family.  *I try to schedule this night on a weekend so that we can allow the children to have  sleepover by the Christmas tree.  It’s one of our boys’ favorite traditions.

Legend of the Candy Cane – read Isaiah 53:5 – unwrap a candy cane.

Read your children a brief version of the legend of the candy cane and discuss why we use them in our Christmas decorations.  And yes, Pray together.

Joy to the World – read Mt. 28:19-20 – unwrap a small globe or picture of the world.

Tell your children about things we have in America that help us to know who God is (a Bible in our own language, churches we can attend, freedom of religion, etc.).  Discuss how other countries may or may not have these items.  Explain the importance of reaching the whole world with the Good News about the Greatest Gift.  Pray as a family for most unreached people groups of the world (if you need an easy way to pray for the most unreached peoples, use the T.H.U.M.B. method here.)

The Legend of Saint Nicholas – read Gal. 2:10 – unwrap socks or a stocking.

Read a brief version of the Legend of Saint Nicholas to your children.  Talk about ways your family can pass on the gift of Christmas to others by being generous.  Watch the Veggietales video, Saint Nicholas:  The Joy of Giving. (Hint: many veggietales videos can be found on Netflix, including this one.  No need to purchase!)  Pray together for a generous spirit during this season rather than a coveting spirit.  *This would be the perfect place to include a service project such as Operation Christmas Child or serving at a local soup kitchen.

Christmas Adventure Box, family advent

Christmas Caroling – read Rev. 5:12 – unwrap a note that reads “Christmas Adventure!”

Talk about the importance of singing God’s praises.  Take the whole family for an adventure in Christmas caroling and spread some cheer to your neighbors or even shut-ins from your church.  Local nursing homes usually welcome carolers, as well!  Pray together as a family.

The Baker’s Hand – read Isaiah 64:8 – unwrap cookie cutters.

Make and decorate sugar cookies (if you have small or impatient children as I do, it’s a good idea to make the dough ahead of time).  While you are working, discuss how God shapes us according to His purposes and how we are each uniquely created and uniquely gifted by Him.  Pray as a family, asking the Lord to help each one remember that they are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Christmas Adventure Box, kid-friendly Advent activity

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas – read Thessalonians 2:15-16 – unwrap a nativity story dvd or a “Christmas Adventure!” notecard.

We have two different takes on this day’s advent activity.  In the past we have used one or the other, or sometimes both!  The first is to watch a dvd about the Christmas story, such as A Nativity Story. The second is to attend a local candlelight service, if you have one near you.  Both options will work to help you review what you have learned throughout the month of December and to celebrate this special evening.  Our family also has a tradition of an evening meal of summer sausage, crackers, cheese, and hot cocoa.  I know it sounds weird, but most of those items were obtainable when we lived in Papua New Guinea during my MK years.  I have such fond memories of making the most of Christmas in a tropical country that we decided to continue it once we were married. 🙂

Christmas Day – read Luke 2:1-20 and unwrap a Bible (shhh – don’t tell, but this year we plan to get preschool Bibles as gifts for our twins!).

Today, enjoy family and gift-giving and fun all within the context of celebrating Jesus’ birthday! 🙂

The Christmas Adventure Box collage, Nativity, Christmas, Advent activities for families, kid-friendly advent, Christmas traditions, fun Christmas activities, family fun

That’s it!  The Christmas Adventure Box is a simple, kid-friendly advent activity to emphasize Christ in your home this Christmas season.  The best part?  It doesn’t cost a dime!  Just pick the days you wish to use or even add a few of your own, wrap up the necessary items, and you are ready to go. Remember, I’ve only included my favorites here, so if you want a full list, visit Lana’s site.  Enjoy!

Jen 🙂

If you are looking for additional Christ-centered Christmas resources to use in your home or at your church, check out Buck Denver’s Asks…What’s in the Bible series for Christmas!

You might find me linking up at any of these lovely blogs.

Also sharing with: Beauty Through Imperfection, Missional Call, Mom’s The Word,

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The Pumpkin Gospel

pumpkin gospel, pumpkin parable

A few days ago, I shared about how our views on Halloween have changed over the years from complete avoidance to an attempt at redemption.  So, for today’s Mama Monday, I thought I would share a fun fall activity for redeeming a traditional Halloween object.  You can teach a bible lesson, a science lesson, and be a purposeful parent at the same time! 🙂

Two years ago during the harvest season, I was searching for a good object lesson for our group of AWANA kids.  I wanted something fall-themed and something that they could remember year after year.  I found a lot of  great Thanksgiving craft ideas and even Halloween ideas, but nothing that really struck me, until I ran across the Pumpkin Gospel, also known as the Pumpkin Parable.

I realize that carving pumpkins is traditionally a Halloween activity, one some Christ-followers might not deem very “Christian.” And it’s okay with me if we agree to disagree on that. 🙂 But as I read the story of the pumpkin gospel, I knew the parable made sense and would really stick with children.  And I’m learning that even pagan holidays like Halloween can be redeemed!

Kids love holidays.  They love pumpkins and carving pumpkins.  They also love stories.  Additionally, they need to be exposed to ideas over and over again for information to take root.  The Pumpkin Gospel was a perfect fit!

Preparations:  

You will need a table to stand at and a medium to large sized, prepared pumpkin.  To prepare the pumpkin:

  • cut out a hole in the top and clean out the majority of the goo, but save it.
  •  Next, cut out a face with eyes, nose and a smiling mouth, but save the pieces you remove.
  • Then, put the removed pieces back into place so that the pumpkin looks uncut.
  • Set aside a few of the cleaner seeds to use at the beginning.
  • Then, put the rest of the gooey seeds and pulp back in the middle of the pumpkin and replace the top.

The idea is to have the majority of the work done ahead of time so that you don’t have long pauses in your story/object lesson.  You will also need a cookie sheet or tablecloth to contain the pumpkin mess during your story, and a candle and matches.

Story:

Once there was a Gardener who planted seeds in His garden (show pumpkin seeds).  Each day the Gardener cared for the seeds.  He watered them, pulled weeds from around them, and sheltered them from the heat of the sun.  The seeds grew into seedlings, which developed into plants, until one day, they produced fruit – pumpkins!  The pleased Gardener looked out at His garden and said, “It is good!”

pumpkins1

One day, the Gardener went out into his field and picked a special pumpkin (place pumpkin on the table – on top of a cookie sheet or tablecloth, etc. with the uncarved side facing the audience).  It was a bit dirty from laying in the garden, so he brought it inside and gently wiped it off (wipe off exterior of pumpkin).  Now the pumpkin looked clean on the outside, but what about the inside?

The Gardener took a knife and cut open the top of the pumpkin (pretend to cut open the top again and take it off).  And what did He find?  A bunch of slimy, yucky goo! (show kids the goop – maybe even let them touch it if you have a small enough group).  The Gardener wanted His special pumpkin to be beautiful, so He carefully scraped out all of the goo inside until the pumpkin was as clean inside as it was on the outside! (Remove goo and throw away. Show children the clean interior)

But the Gardener still wasn’t satisfied with the pumpkin.  He decided it needed a face!  So, He carefully cut out two eyes, a nose, and a big smiling mouth (Turn the carved side of the pumpkin to face the audience. Poke out the eyes, nose and mouth you carved out previously).  Now the Gardener’s special pumpkin looked clean AND happy.

But the Gardener still wasn’t satisfied with the pumpkin.  So, He put a light inside of it (insert candle and light it).  The pumpkin glowed so beautifully!  The Gardener’s special project was complete.

When friends and neighbors saw the Gardeners special pumpkin, they marveled at how He took something ordinary from His garden, cleaned it inside and out, put His light inside, and made it something extraordinary!

Explanation:

We are like pumpkins and God is  the Gardener.  God creates us and cares for us. He “chooses” us from all of the other pumpkins, but inside we all have the yucky goo – sin. (Read Rom. 3:23 and Rom. 6:23)

Just like the Gardener cleaned out his pumpkin’s goo, God wants to clean out all our sin, too. So, He sent his Son Jesus to die for our sins, to take the punishment we deserved. (Read Rom. 5:8, John 3:16, and 1 John 1:9)

Just like the Gardener gave the pumpkin a new face, God makes us a new creation! (Read 2 Cor. 5:17)

Just like the Gardener put His light into the pumpkin to make it shine, so God gives us His light to shine through us!  (Read 2 Cor. 4:6 and Mt. 5:16)

So, when we let God clean out  our sin, by believing that Jesus died to pay the punishment that we deserve, He turns us into new creations that can shine for Him!  And when others see our light, then they might want to learn how to have a light of their own, too!

Pumpkin Gospel object lesson

In an alternate version, you can also demonstrate the difference between being saved by grace and trying to “earn” salvation through works.  All you will need is a second pumpkin with a face that is painted on (rather than cut out).  The story about this pumpkin is along the lines of wanting to be “chosen” but not allowing the Gardener to clean out the inside.

So, the pumpkin wears a painted face (tries to make itself acceptable on the outside), but inside, it’s still full of yucky goo.  Without removing the goo, there’s no room for the Gardener’s light, so the pumpkin cannot shine.

Many people try to make themselves acceptable to God in their own way ( just like Adam and Eve in the Garden).  They might go to church and act like Christians, and they might even believe in God.  But unless they trust that Jesus paid the price for their sins, then the sin remains on the inside.  They cannot become new creatures without allowing Christ to remove their sin.  So, the light of Christ cannot be in them.   (Read Eph. 2:8-10) This lesson would work especially well with older children, perhaps even youth age.

Note: I have recently learned that there are a variety of books available to help with this object lesson.  Just look up the pumpkin gospel or pumpkin parable on amazon.  If you want a more detailed script for the object lesson, you might consider purchasing one of these books to use year after year.

So, if you’re looking for a fall family activity or even an object lesson for your church or homeschool group, consider redeeming a little bit of Halloween and using the Pumpkin Gospel.  Year after year when children see pumpkins lit up, they can remember the story of Who put the light inside of them!

If you have other ideas or stories for redeeming Halloween, I’d love to hear them in the comments!

Jen 🙂

You may find this post linked up at any of these lovely blogs.

Also sharing this post with: The Mommy Club at Crystal and Co.

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