Being Confident of This

Grace for the work-in-progress woman

Kid-friendly Advent~Free Printables!

Last year on the blog, I shared about our favorite family advent activity, called The Christmas Adventure Box, and this year I’m adding another component – free printables! If you haven’t read that post, I highly recommend you start there (just click this link).

I also recommend visiting my friend Lana’s site, which is where the idea originated. She gives more detailed instructions in a lesson-plan type of format which would be very helpful for teachers, homeschoolers, children’s church leaders, AWANA leaders, and so forth.

One of the things I love best about this kid-friendly advent activity is that it is very flexible – choose to do every day or just a few days a week, spend as little as five minutes or as long as an hour, and if you get behind (that never happens to us…haha), you can always do multiple days in one evening.  Do what works best for your family!

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This year, I wanted to be a little more organized since last year flew by so quickly that we never actually completed the Christmas Adventure Box.  It was the year I called myself a holiday hypocrite.

So, I created some free printables to attach to the items in the box (like the one below) with simple instructions for how to complete each day’s activity of advent for kids. Using this method will prevent me from having to look up the blog each day or print out a new set of instructions when ours gets lost (which also never, ever happens, right?). 🙂

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And I thought if I was going to take the time to make printables for this advent for kids, then I might as well share with you all. 🙂

So, Merry Christmas to you, my faithful readers – here are free, downloadable printables to go along with your Christmas Adventure Box advent for kids. Just click the link below to download.

The Christmas Adventure Box free printables

 

I plan to print ours out on card-stock, cut them apart and attach them to the wrapped items in our box, making this family advent activity even simpler than it already is. I’m all for simplifying the holidays for less stress, especially with four kiddos in the house (okay, three kiddos and one young man).

Don’t forget to visit last year’s post for details on how to get started and a list of needed items. Once your box is filled and the cards are attached, you are all set to go for this easy, kid-friendly advent that that whole family will enjoy.

Teach your children the stories behind holiday traditions

and, most importantly, how Jesus is the Greatest Gift of all!

Jen 🙂

If you find yourself worried about how to give your kids a good Christmas, read here.

Sharing with:

A Group Look, Cornerstone Confessions, Monday Parenting Pin It Party, Mama Moments, Wholehearted Home

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Tales From the Backseat (and #TheLoft)

Last week we shared our insecurities, and boy were you all brave! This week at #TheLoft we’re lightening things up a little with our real life funny stories.

I’m not sure if the fact that my babies were going off to kindergarten caused me to pay more attention to their words lately or if they have just reached the funny stage of childhood – either way, kids really do say the darndest things and with four in our house, life can be a real hoot at times. 🙂

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On our way home from the park during the last week of summer, our princess was exceptionally and unintentionally funny.  Of course, at first she was just really whiny because the water in her bottle was gone and she was really, really, really thirsty.  So thirsty, that it sounded as if she might not survive….

Trying to console her, I said, “We’re only a few blocks away from the house. It’s not the end of the world.”

She grew quiet for a moment, then muttered to herself “It’s the end of the WORLD??!! …I have to tell S– (big brother)!” I dissolved into silent giggles in the front seat.

Not even two blocks later, she began whining again about something she wanted behind the backseat of the van. (It was the longest few blocks of our life, at that point.)  Her twin brother graciously offered to get it for her, unbuckled his seat belt, and stood up while I was driving!  I quickly pulled to the side of the road and gave him the you-must-have-your-seatbelt-on-or-you-might-die speech.

Moments later we finally pulled into our driveway and princess piped up cheerfully from the back seat, “It’s okay, Mom. He didn’t die.” I guess she was waiting for the driveway to see whether my claims about death were true or not. 🙂

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As I waited in line to pick up our children after their first day of school, I was anxious to hear how it went, especially for our kindergarten twins who were trying out separate classrooms.  After everyone piled into the van and buckled up, I asked each child how the day went. Our third-grade son was brief and very matter-of-fact, as usual.  On the other hand, Princess used all sorts of flowery language to describe her wonderful first day of school.

Then it was her twin brother Daydreamer’s turn.  The thing about Daydreamer is that he lives in his own little five-year-old world much of the time, so you never know what sort of response to expect from him.  I was pleasantly surprised by his answer when I asked how his first day of kindergarten went.

“I didn’t get in trouble.” He grinned at me, dimples showing.

“Good! I’m so happy to hear that,” I smiled back at him.

Then he said it again. My praise was a little less enthusiastic this time.

And again.

And a few minutes later, again.

I thought, Okay, son, I believed you the first time, but now methinks thou doth protest too much!   Thankfully, there were no notes from teacher in his folder. 🙂

And one last bedtime funny….

One evening after school as I tucked our princess into bed, she told me she was afraid of the shadows on her wall. Attempting to calm her fears, I showed her that most of the shadows were actually coming from her. I told her to wave her hand and the shadow waved back.  She reached for me quickly and said, “I know, but I just hate my shadow because it always copies me.” Then she crossed her arms in her signature pout. I tried not to snort as I stifled my laughter and explained that’s how shadows work! 🙂

I hope our tales from the backseat made you smile and brought some cheer to your day!  Don’t forget to share your stories in the link-up below (or in the comments if you don’t blog) – be sure to read the guidelines first, of course.

May your week be full of smiles and laughter!

Jen 🙂

 

 

The Loft is open, come on up!

 

The Loft: A weekly Hangout and Link Up for Christian bloggers
Graphic by Kerry Messer

 

 

#TheLoft

 

The Loft is the place for conversation, community, networking, and Christian growth.

Each week we provide a topic to start the conversation.

 

We want to foster community and transparent conversation with one another, just like we’d do if we were meeting in real life. So we ask that your link stick to the weekly topic and that you mention The Loft in your post.


Monday night, at 9pm Eastern, the linky goes live and all week you can link up your post on that week’s topic.

We’ll have fun topics, serious topics, practical, soul-ful, holiday, and so, so much more…we can’t wait to get started! This is not only a great way to connect with others, it’s also a fun and easy way to establish a writing habit. If you aren’t a blogger, you are welcome to join in by leaving your comments in the comment section.

So grab your coffee mug and come on up! Hang out for a bit. We betcha you’ll be glad you did.

 

To Participate:

 

1. Be creative. Feel free to use words, photos, video, audio, your family pet, whatever, to communicate on the weekly topic. But please stick to the weekly topic 🙂

2. Listen twice as much as you talk. If you leave one link, visit two. Trust us on this one~wink.

3. Be a community. Include #TheLoft graphic and/or link back in your post so we can find each other. Also, share the great stuff you find when you visit around…we’ll be doing the same.

 

The Loft Link Up

 

When you link up at The Loft, your link will appear on 5 blogs! We’d love for you to visit The Loft co-hosts and know who we are:

Leah
Kathy
Arabah
Jen
Rebekah

 

 

Now it’s time to link up!

 

This Week’s Topic: “Something Funny” (Laughter is good medicine and after this week’s topic, we all need a belly laugh. Or as one co-host put it, we need to spit in our coffee. Tell us a funny story, share a funny quote, post a funny picture or video, crack a funny joke. Just be careful with that coffee because this is going to be good 🙂 )


Next Week’s Topic: “Fighter Verses” (What are some of your favorite, well worn scriptures? Which ones do you find yourself going back to again and again? Tell us what spiritual warfare looks like for you and how you use God’s Word to be victorious. We look forward to learning from each other!)

 

Add Your Link Here:

 

 

Also sharing this post with: A Mama’s StoryCornerstone Confessions

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Welcome to The Loft!

I’m sure some of you have noticed that this blog went absolutely silent at the beginning of summer.  I hadn’t planned for such a long absence. It really started out as a week off when my husband and I celebrated our 15 year wedding anniversary with a trip all to ourselves (thanks to the generosity of others).

anniversary vacation blogging break

 

Loft ocean twilight

And when we returned, the school year was ending; chaos ensued.  And then we were enjoying the first week of summer break – lazy mornings, late evenings and no real schedule to speak of.

I think that’s when I decided that I wouldn’t blog again until I felt prompted to do so, that I would take the summer to enjoy the extra family time. That I would soak up every last bit of these pre-K years before our twins would head to school and our home would be empty during the day.

There’s something about the oldest starting High School and the youngest starting Kindergarten that startled me into realizing how easy it is to waste precious time with precious people.

#TheLoft, fourth of july, kids, blessings

It’s been a wondrous break; worth every minute!  The only thing I regret now is not telling you all that I was taking it in the first place. 🙂

 

So, now I’m back, and what better way to get back into the groove than participating in a weekly link-up that brings encouragement to each other and glory to the Lord?!  I beg you to join us for our first ever gathering at The Loft!

Jen 🙂

The Loft is open, come on up!

 

The Loft: A weekly Hangout and Link Up for Christian bloggers
Graphic by Kerry Messer

 

#TheLoft

 

The Loft is the place for conversation, community, networking, and Christian growth. Each week we provide a topic to start the conversation.

Then, Monday night, at 9pm Eastern, the link goes live and all week you can link up your post on that week’s topic.

We’ll have fun topics, serious topics, practical, soul-ful, holiday, and so, so much more…we can’t wait to get started! This is not only a great way to connect with others, it’s also a fun and easy way to establish a writing habit. If you aren’t a blogger, you are welcome to join in by leaving your comments in the comment section.

 

Listening is a lost art. Especially in the blogosphere where everyone wants to be heard. At The Loft, we know that listening is rewarding and rich… surprisingly so. So grab your coffee mug and come on up. Hang out for a bit. We betcha you’ll be glad you did.

 

To Participate:

 

1. Be creative. Feel free to use words, photos, video, audio, your family pet, whatever, to communicate on the weekly topic.

2. Listen twice as much. If you leave one link, visit two. Trust us on this one~wink.

3. Be a community. Include #TheLoft graphic and hashtag in your post and social media so we can find each other. Also, share the great stuff you find when you visit around…we’ll be doing the same.

 

The Loft Link Up

 

When you link up at The Loft, your link will appear on 6 blogs! We’d love for you to visit The Loft co-hosts and know who we are:

Leah

Kathy

Arabah

Jen

Rebekah

Kimberly

 

Now it’s time to link up! Today is our FIRST EVER link-up! We want to get to know each other and begin making relationships, thus this week’s topic:

 

This Week’s Topic: “I am…” (finish the sentence, introduce yourself, share your passions, experiences, maybe tell us a few odd facts, or just link to your “About” page. We’re all ears!)


Next Week’s Topic: “Blogs that Inspire” (tell us what blogs or websites you go to for inspiration and what makes them attractive. Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if someone mentions yours after finding you today?)

 

Click through below to join the link-up:

An InLinkz Link-up

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Fighting Fear With Pre-approval

In just two days time, I’ll be bearing a bit of my heart here on this blog.  I’ll be sharing my story, my part of the Thursday series – Verdict on Value.  And once again, I find myself a little afraid. 🙂

It happens sometimes when you write, especially when the subject matter brings up conflicting emotions. You may feel confident at first, but then you begin to doubt. Will the words really matter?  Will others understand?  Have I handled this subject fairly?

And the worst of all fears. What will people think?

That’s really what it boils down to: how others might receive those carefully penned or typed words, some that brought forth smiles and fond memories and others that brought forth tears and sorrow.  I’ve been learning my whole life it seems how to let go of that pressure, the pressure to be perfect.  And not that anyone ever told me I had to be, because they didn’t, but that I convinced myself it was necessary, like so many other undesired sacrifices.

I wanted to be the good girl, the best girl, and if I’m being really honest there is still some little part of me that wants this, too. I wanted to be praiseworthy, a flesh-strong desire for recognition. I wanted to be perfect lest anyone find a reason to fault me, a defense mechanism of sorts.

I see it now even in one of my young sons.  He yearns for praise.  I often catch him bragging because he yearns for others to see how wonderful he is.  And truly, he is wonderful (at least in this mama’s eyes!), but it hurts me to see him striving so at such a young age.  At the same time it reminds me that I still struggle myself.  So, how can I help him to see the truths that I’m still learning to recognize?

I can only hope that being honest, taking down the facade, and admitting my own failings will help him to recognize that we all fall short, we all do.  Ever since the days of paradise and a forbidden apple eaten, we all fall short.

I can only hope that teaching him of a Savior who turns those weaknesses into strengths, who has a plan for him, who loves him just for who he is and not what he does, who cherished him even before he was born, who welcomes him with open arms when he fails – I can only hope that such knowledge will sink deep roots into his young heart much earlier than those truths began to sink into mine.

I’ve been reading Jennifer Dukes Lee’s posts about our Love Idols (would love to get her new book, too!), and realizing how early it starts, this yearning to be approved by this world when we are already approved by the Maker of this world.

Even from those early toddler calls of “Look at me, mommy!”, we want to be seen, to be valued, to be approved.

 “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God?

Or am I striving to please men?”

Gal. 1:10 (a)

Sadly, some of us, yes even us Christ-followers, will spend our entire lives chasing that approval, all the while fearing that we just aren’t good enough. We’ll miss the irony that we are already pre-approved by the most powerful Person in all of creation because of His Son!  If we could only grasp that early on and not waste precious years searching for something we already have in our possession.

fear, approval, self-worth, identity in Christ, worth in Christ

But we can, sisters.

We can begin right now.  We can ferret out those love idols in our lives and hand them over to our gracious and loving Father.  We can cling to the hope of imperfect progress and proclaim the bold truths of Philippians 1:6 (see sidebar).  We can share with others what we are doing and ask them to do the same.  We can speak truth to our children about this pre-approval, bought at the price of a one and only Son.

I’m asking the Lord to help me lay down my love idols, my need for human approval and perceived perfection.  I’m asking Him to work in the hearts of my children, that they will learn early on what it means to be cherished by the One True God, King of Kings, Sovereign Lord, the Most High.  I’m asking the Father to open their eyes wide to these truths.

And I’m asking for you, too, my sisters, that you will see how fearfully and wonderfully made you are in the eyes of your Creator.

We who’ve been painted red that we might be white as snow.

I’m banishing fear for tonight in favor of truth.

Join me, will you?

Jen 🙂

For more information on the Love Idol movement, check out the facebook page!

I may be sharing this with any of these lovely blogs and here:

 The Time Warp Wife, Rich Faith Rising, Jennifer Dukes Lee, Wholehearted Home, A Little R&R,

Woman to Woman,Titus 2 Tuesday,Cornerstone Confessions,

 

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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 🙂

Sharing this post with: Hive Resources, Wholehearted Home

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

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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! 🙂

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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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Work-in-Progress Parenting: Emotional Children

Last night, our second-born, strong-willed, ball-of-energy-and-strength-and-passion son was showing me a few of his latest “tricks.” I watched somewhat half-heartedly and made the typical distracted mom comments such as “Wow!” or “That’s crazy!” or “How do you DO that?” until he made this horrible grimace. He effectively described it as “putting pressure” on his face. I happened to notice that it looked a lot like his typical angry face. 🙂

Curious, I asked him why he would do that – put pressure on his face. He matter-of-factly explained that it helps him get his anger out when he’s frustrated or feeling angry. Then he showed me another of his typical angry poses (fisted hands clenched tightly at his sides) and told me that putting pressure on his body helps him get anger out, too. Once he was done with the demonstration, he sauntered away, like it was no big deal for a seven-year-old to have such knowledge of his own emotions and body.
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I sat there stunned.  Not because our son is so intelligent, although he truly is, but because a posture that I tend to “read” as angry disrespect  or rebellion was, in fact, the complete opposite of what I had assumed.  His tense posture was actually an attempt at self-control!  And here I had been scolding him to “have a better attitude” whenever the “pressure” face and those “pressure” hands appeared.

He understood his own emotions (and boy, does he have b-i-g ones) better than I sometimes understand my own.  He was learning self-control methods that work for him, without any help from me.

The conversation reminded me that even though I have now logged over thirteen years of parenting experience, I don’t know it all.  In fact, I never will! Each child is created uniquely and requires unique parenting, a truth I tend to forget.

What I perceived as defiance or disrespect was the most self-controlled, respectful thing my son was capable of in his angry moments.

parenting emotional children

I hope I never again tell him to change his attitude when I see the “pressure face.”  I hope I remember that he’s making a greater effort than I ever realized and applaud him for maintaining self-control in the face of anger.  He has come so far in the area of emotions and self-control in the last few years, and I’m so quick to forget that in a heated moment! I’m so quick to forget that he, too, is a work-in-progress, just like his siblings, just like his parents, just like every other human on the face of the earth.

It wasn’t a proud moment for me, rather it was a thank-you-Lord moment.  I couldn’t take credit for his heart changes; in fact, I was unintentionally discouraging some of the progress he was making.  But God can take credit.  Because our little boy who is so quickly growing into a young man accepted the free gift of salvation a year or so ago.  And in a week, he’ll publicly proclaim his son-ship in Christ before family and friends as he wades into the baptismal waters.

I see the work the Lord is doing in his young heart and mind already.  Even though our son’s passion and energy often cause trouble for him, I have faith that someday he will use those gifts to be a great leader and a bold truth-teller.

What faithfulness on the Lord’s behalf!

My sisters in Christ, when you find yourself in the midst of a season of seeming lack of progress, take heart.  Continue to follow the Lord in your parenting, and wait to see what happens. Pray for their little hearts and minds to open to the Father’s touch.

Look for progress in the little things, the still, small moments.  Remember who your child has been created to be.  He’s created to be different than your other children and different even than you.

Take every opportunity to rejoice over the slightest step forward.

Because God knows what He’s doing.  He created these children, these gifts, purposefully.

Only He can see where that purpose might lead them.

Jen 🙂

As usual, you might find me linking with any of these lovely blogs.

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True Stories from a Busy Mama

This Five Minute Friday’s challenge word from Lisa-Jo Baker is True.  She’s asking women all over the globe to share their true stories – the good, the bad, and the ugly. 🙂

true stories

Sometimes I fail as a Mom; it’s true.  Like yesterday when I forgot to put in a load of laundry that happened to contain the soccer jersey my teenage son needed for his game last night.  Let’s just say it didn’t smell the best. 🙂

I felt so bad for him and so frustrated with myself for forgetting!

And then there are the times when I forget to sign my seven-year-old’s assignment book every night.  Or the times when field trip money is due.  How about the times when someone asks you to do something simple, and you agree, only to forget over and over again?!

The truth is that as a mama of four, my mind is occupied by so many different thoughts, needs, and schedules at one time that some things are bound to slip through the cracks.  It frustrates me because I used to be a very dependable person….before kids. 🙂

But then I remember something my aunt said on facebook a while back.  She told another relative dealing with mom-guilt that she was mothering well.  Why?  Because this mom teaches her children about the saving grace of Jesus.

And the truth is, that’s enough, isn’t it?!  If shoes go untied and beds go unmade and laundry goes unwashed or unfolded, but we remember to tell our children about Jesus, then we have done the most important thing of all!

Sharing truth, the most important truth in the universe, is the best way to be a “good” mom.

So, if like me you experience an epic fail in your motherhood this week, remember what’s true.

Superwoman is just a myth.

You teach your children about Jesus.

And that’s enough.

Jen 🙂

You may also find me linking-up with these lovely blogs.

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Top Ten Educational Websites for Kids

Our children don’t spend a lot of time on the computer, as a rule, but when they do, I like it to be as educational as possible.  Over the years, we’ve found some children’s websites that are great and some, well…not so great.  The educational content needs to be high, but so does the entertainment value (from a child’s perspective).

We really like websites that include a variety of options, such as material to read or listen to, games to play, printables, and videos.  We absolutely loooove websites that have all of the above in the form of free content! 🙂  Since we’re doing preschool at home this year with our four-year-old twins, I thought I would gather our favorite learning websites (in no particular order) all together in one spot.

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best educational websites for kids

  1. PBS Kids – http://pbskids.org/ – we love this website for a variety of reasons: the kids love the characters, parents love the educational value, lots of options to choose from (videos, games, online books etc.), appeals to a variety of ages, etc.  It’s also easy for children to navigate. Target Range – toddler through the lower elementary grades.
  2. Highlights Kids – http://www.highlightskids.com/ – great variety on this website as well, such as animated books, both factual and fictional texts, printables, crafts and science experiments, etc.  The content is very similar to what you would see in a Highlights magazine, such as hidden picture puzzles, articles on animals, stories about children, and so on.  Target Range – elementary grades, specifically children who can read on their own.
  3. Starfall – http://www.starfall.com/ – Starfall is so full of educational information that it’s hard to even know where to begin.  Although much of the content is free, some of the content is restricted to paid members.  There are printables, songs, books for beginning readers, letter recognition, color recognition, even sign language – really too much to list here.  Just go and check it out! 🙂 This site would be especially helpful for those who homeschool.  According to starfall.com, the targeted audience is toddler/preschool through 2nd grade, including content specific to special needs!
  4. Cool Math Games – http://www.coolmath-games.com/ – this site is a recent favorite of our second-grade math whiz. 😉  Many of the games included on this site utilize mathematic and scientific principles in a fun format.  Some of the games seem to focus more on teaching the child how to use the keypad and directional arrows.  However, most also involve critical thinking skills.  When I asked our son for his favorites on this site, he mentioned Fruits, Truck Loader 4, and Home Sheep Home 2.  Despite its name, the site also includes reading/spelling games, geography games, mazes, puzzles, and more.  In order to enjoy this site, your children will need the ability to manipulate the directional arrows and the mouse or touchpad (if on a laptop), unless you want to sit and help them. For that reason, I would say the targeted age range would be for older preschoolers through the elementary grades.
  5. Seussville – http://www.seussville.com/ – we just love Dr. Seuss in this home, so I had to include this favorite, as well.  This site isn’t as extensive as some of the others I have included, but you can still find good content here.  You’ll find most of it under the Games and Activities tab, including some excellent Seuss-themed printables for coloring, reading, crafting, counting, and adding.  One neat feature is being able to search by specific books or specific characters to find the related games and activities.  The one downfall to this website is that it seems to take longer to load than most when switching between activities and tabs. Target range – Pre-K through lower elementary grades.
  6. JumpStart – http://www.jumpstart.com/jumpstartmoms/ – The free content on this site requires a little more digging than others because there is also a paid membership option (similar to Starfall).  However, JumpStart offers tons of free printables (look under the worksheets tab and the activities tab), organized by grade.  Some of the online games, both educational and just-for-fun, are also free. The best thing about this site is the wide age range it caters to: toddler/preschool through sixth grade!
  7. Caravan Friends – http://caravanfriends.org/ – I featured this faith-based website in a post about teaching Missions, but it’s also a great site just for learning about other cultures, specifically those in Asia.  Cute characters help to engage children in learning about various regions on this visually appealing site.  Here you will find lesson plans, printables, videos, and more!  The stories and activities are available in the categories of  Preschool, 1st-4th grade, and 5th-6th grade.  Our children really enjoy reading stories about other cultures online as well as watching videos of children from this area. Target range – preschool through 6th grade.
  8. Nick Jr. – http://www.nickjr.com/kids/ –  Here you can expect to find videos of your children’s favorite Nick Jr. characters and a few games themed after them.  The Create tab has some online coloring pages, as well, although I found them difficult to use for younger children.  One thing that annoys me about this site is having to watch an advertisement before playing a game or watching a video.  If you have a child who really loves Nick Jr. then watching short ads might not bother you.  I especially like the Dora the Explorer game on this site because it also teaches Spanish vocabulary by allowing children to click on objects within the game and hear the Spanish equivalent.  Target range – toddler through preschool, and possibly up to first grade.
  9. Webkinz – http://www.webkinz.com/ – we found this site when our oldest son was given a Webkinz stuffed animal as a gift.  You can buy the stuffed animals at many stores, and they come with web codes to activate an online pet.  This opens up a whole world of pet-care, including creating and decorating a home for your pet, feeding and grooming your pet, and even training your pet.  You can also visit the arcade to earn Kinzcash in order to buy more online items for your pet.  I was very pleased to learn that Webkinz now offers free content that you can access without buying a stuffed animal.  Instead, you choose a free virtual animal, create your login, and play any of the content that is not restricted to members only.  Aside from the fun and learning that comes from caring for a virtual pet, the arcade offers a variety of educational games. Our oldest son had a whole collection of webkinz and enjoyed this site for many years!  Although a child of any age could use this site with parental help, it’s easier for children who can read to navigate on their own. Target range – all elementary ages and even pre-K with parental help.
  10. National Geographic Kids – http://kids.nationalgeographic.com/kids/ – this site is relatively new to us, but our older boys love to learn facts about animals, places, and so forth.  Here you can find videos featuring animals and countries, games for the brain and some just for fun, craft ideas, recipes, and more.  Kids can even print out fact cards for animals or send animal-themed e-cards to friends.  This site would appeal mostly to those who can read on their own, although the videos might still interest younger ages.  Target range – all elementary ages.

Many of these websites also have links to downloadable apps for those with mobile devices.  If you’d like ideas for board and card games your children might enjoy, be sure to read Our Big List of Favorite Games.  I hope you enjoy exploring some of these sites with your children!

What are your favorite educational websites for children?

Jen 🙂

If you have toddlers or preschoolers at home, you might also enjoy this list of free resources!

 

I may be linking up at any of the wonderful blogs listed in my sidebar under the Favorite Link-ups tab.

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How to Host Game Night with Young Children in Tow

I’ve read a lot lately about hospitality and how important it is for Christians to be reaching out to those in their community.  One of the easiest ways for our family to entertain guests is to host a game night.  We love playing games of all sorts, and game night gives us an opportunity to develop relationships with others in a relaxing environment.

Perhaps my favorite reason for hosting a game night is that there is no need to prepare a fancy meal for lots of people – just have each family bring a snack to share.  You provide the dishes, and beverages.  ( Honestly, ours are usually disposable – paper plates and plastic cups.)  You don’t even need any special decorations, just table space!  It’s the perfect way for someone like me, who is not gifted in the area of hospitality, to have people over. 🙂

However, sometimes hosting Game Night involves entertaining young children as well as adults.  Even if you are having a family game night with just your family and attempting to play a game older children might enjoy, you still need something for younger children to do. Parents can’t play if kids aren’t occupied. 🙂

10 tips for Game Night

 10 Tips for Hosting Game Night with Young Children in Tow:

  1. Play their games.  Depending on the age of the youngest children, choose a few games they can play and enjoy, too.  See my post about Our Big List of Favorite Games for ideas on what games appeal to a wide range of ages.
  2. Give them a role.  If they cannot understand enough to play but want to be involved, give them a role to play in the game (handing out pieces, handing out money, etc.) or put them on someone’s “team.”
  3. Give them their own pieces.  If the children are too young for a role, give them their own pieces to play with next to the game (as long as they aren’t small enough to choke on).  If the kids are young enough, they won’t even care if the pieces even go to the game you are playing. Cards especially seem to do the trick, and you can find children’s decks at the dollar store!
  4. Give them child-friendly snacks.  The peace will only last as long as the snacks do, but fun snacks will buy at least a little time before you have to move on to something else.  Some of our favorite kid-friendly snacks are goldfish crackers, bite-sized cookies, grapes, cucumbers, pretzel sticks, cheese, etc.  Finger foods are fun for children, but I would avoid any messy snacks.
  5. Give them their own game space.  This approach works best if you have more than one child who cannot play because they can help entertain each other (one of the many benefits of having twins!).  Be sure to give them an activity they can do on their own with little to no help from mom or dad.  If they are old enough, you might give them a game of their own to play, especially if an older child can help.  Other activities such as playdoh, coloring, puzzles, building, etc. will provide distraction, too.
  6. Put an older child in charge of entertaining the younger children.  Some older children may not find this appealing, but on occasion, our oldest really enjoys entertaining the littles.  He is really great at using his imagination to make up pretend games for them and other children, too.  Of course, now he’s getting to the age where he would rather play along with the adults, but our middle son is just now starting to entertain from time to time, as well, although not for a long period of time.  If older children are not an option, then….
  7. Hire babysitters.  If you have no older children to entertain the young ones, consider hiring family members or youth from church for the job.  This is especially helpful if you have a separate area, such as a playroom or a finished basement where the kids can hang out.  Even a child’s bedroom will work!  Parents are nearby and still on hand if any major issues arise.
  8. Pull out the “company” toys.  In our home, we have a few toys that seem to be popular when there is a whole group of children in the house.  Some of them, we save specifically for special occasion use.  One is our set of Playhut tents (they are pop-up type tents and tunnels that connect).  Another is the basket of dress-up clothes (I add to this each year after Halloween when the costumes go on 75% off clearance or when I find them at garage sales!).  Duplo blocks or Legos (depending on age) are toys that groups of children can play with together (Duplo blocks or the off-brand Megablocks are easy to find at garage sales, too).  We also have a play kitchen with pretend food that has seen a lot of use.  These “company” toys should be toys that multiple children can play with at the same time in order to avoid disagreements.  Also, be sure to put away any toys that you foresee causing problems, such as our boys’ star wars lightsabers.  Any time we have company, those end up in the closet because they seem to cause accidental injuries. 🙂  In addition, you’ll want to put away any favorite toys that are special to your children.
  9. When all else fails, we put on a movie!  Usually, this is a last resort when other techniques aren’t working or when it’s  too close to bedtime but the parents aren’t done playing yet. 🙂  If you don’t have children of your own, be aware that very young children often won’t sit for an entire movie.  In fact, they might not be interested in it at all!  Usually by the time we decide to put in a movie, it’s bedtime for the younger ones, so we offer it as entertainment for any older children.  It helps to have a movie that the children haven’t seen very often or recently.
  10. Put them to bed. When our twins were babies, we either had to take turns playing games or wait until their naptime or bedtime. In fact, at first we would only host game nights close to those times so that we could enjoy our company. If your friends have young children, too, you could always offer another bedroom or space for their children to sleep if needed.   It’s a great idea to hang on to at least one pack-n-play, even after your children have outgrown it, for times like this.

I hope these tips inspire you to try out family game night or to host friends or neighbors for a game night party of your own!  It really is possible to host and still have fun even when young children are involved, as long as you know what to expect and how to help the kids have fun as well.  If you’ve never hosted a game night before, I suggest starting small with another couple or family  that you know well.  Then, you can work up to multiples couples or families at once!  Game night really is a great way to build fellowship with neighbors, with friends, with family, with small groups, with Sunday school classes, and more.  Why wait?

Jen 🙂

I may be linking up at any of the blogs listed on my Favorite Link-ups tab.

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