Being Confident of This

Grace for the work-in-progress woman

Reader Favorites ~ 2014

I’m so thankful for you, my faithful readers, my sisters in Christ (and let’s not forget the brothers, too).  You have made this space a friendly zone for sharing my most personal writings, and 2014 was just the year for it.  All year long, the Father has been challenging me to “Take Courage.” and having encouraging readers certainly helps me to do just that!

Often this space is mostly for me, a place to share what is on my heart, what I want to write about and hear about. But today I want to share YOUR favorites from 2014.  If you haven’t read these top posts before, just click on the individual pictures. Perhaps you’ll find a new favorite. 🙂

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Most time in the #1 spot:

marriage, Christian marriage, how to love an unloving spouse, feeling unloved, want to feel loved, loving a difficult spouse

“I’ll be honest. As a busy mom of four, I wrestle with this idea that God should be my sole supply. After all, God cannot help with the bedtime routine or sweep the kitchen or sign permissions slips or pay the bills, at least not in a physical sense.  I wrestle, too, with feelings of disappointment and unkind thoughts toward a husband whom I truly wish to respect.

So, how can I demonstrate love for my husband even when he’s not demonstrating love for me?”

Most comments in 2014:

confidence, fat girl insecurities, insecure, overweight, fat, trying to lose weight, obese, heavy, healthy body image, health

“I’ll never forget the first time I heard the word aimed at me.  He spewed it out like vomit, his eyes filled with disgust. “Fat,”  the boy accused me, and I believed it even though I wasn’t anywhere near “fat” back then.

I always was a…”

Runner-up for most comments in 2014:

That New Girl: Finding Confidence

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“Sin temporarily hijacks our child-of-God identity, the world teaches us that we will never be enough, and the pride and insecurity of self often confirms the lies. But the truth, sisters, the amazing truth is that we don’t have to be enough because He is already everything for us. It’s this Christ-confidence that sets us free!”

Most comments of all (even though it’s from 2013):

marriage, imperfect progress, perfectionism, grace, through my grace-colored glasses, work in progress

“Last night I had a little run-in with Perfectionism again.  He just won’t leave me alone.

He follows me wherever I go, pointing out flaws in my house-keeping, my parenting, my marriage relationship, even my walk with the Lord… He whispers lies to me: “you’ll never change” or “you’re never going to be good enough” or “why even bother anymore.”

I’ve been enslaved by his words before, but last night was different…”

The Top 5 written in 2014:

#1

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Are the kids driving you crazy? Do your boys have too much energy to stay cooped up indoors? Need a cure for cabin fever?  Is the weather outside frightful?  This huge list of ideas for expending pent-up energy while stuck indoors will help you stay sane!

#2

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For moms, dads, Sunday School teachers, homeschooling families, Children’s Church leaders and anyone else who works with little ones – here’s how to help them hide the Word away in their hearts.

#3

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This isn’t just a list of what to buy for the littles at the dollar store. It’s also a list of how to use the items you buy!  Great deals + great activities=happy learners.

#4

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This is part one of two posts on how to save money when buying clothes for a large family.  With three boys and one girl in the house, our tight budget really gets stretched when it comes to purchasing clothes and shoes for the kids. Over the years, I’ve learned quite a few tricks for working within our small clothing budget to make the most of it.

#5

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Kid-friendly Advent with Free Printables!  I created these as a companion to the Christmas ADVENTure Box that we do each year as an advent activity with our children. Our boys especially love the adventure aspect of it.  It’s an easy, flexible way to keep Christ in Christmas!

Thanks for making 2014 a great year for Being Confident of This!  And even though this isn’t a reader favorite (yet!), I want to leave you with one last post as you head into the new year. It’s close to my heart and really sums up what this year has been about for us.

Courage to Face a Giant

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Take Courage in the new year, my sisters!

Jen 🙂

Sharing with: The Pin-it Party, Grace and Truth,

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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.

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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. 🙂

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~ 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!

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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!).

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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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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.

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Top Free Resources for Teaching Pre-K at Home

Do you have toddlers or preschoolers in the home?  I’m planning to teach our two preschoolers at home this year, for reasons like teaching the faith and values that our family upholds as true and also for financial reasons.

While I’m really excited to exercise my teacher muscles by homsechooling our preschoolers, I’m also feeling a little overwhelmed since preschool is not exactly my specialty. So, lately I’ve spent a good deal of time on Pinterest and Google trying to gather up the best, free (or really, really inexpensive) preschool resources out there – from curriculum, to themed units, to printables, to hands-on activities, and more.

So, on today’s Mama Monday, I thought I would share these free preschool resources with you so that you don’t have to spend all of the time I did on collecting them! 🙂  I won’t have room to mention everything I’ve pinned while searching, so if you want even more material to consider, look at my Learning at Home board on Pinterest.

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  1. God’s Little Explorers CurriculumMotherhood on a Dime offers this FREE, faith-based preschool curriculum online for homeschoolers, and it looks to suit our family’s needs.  The free curriculum includes basic plans for daily instruction (based on a four-day school week) as well as printables.  I plan to use the free version of this curriculum as my foundation and supplement it with some of the activities and ideas listed in the categories below.   Note: the creator of this program also has a paid option format that includes better graphics and more printables.  The paid option is still very inexpensive (less than $15 )for an entire school-year’s worth of plans!
  2. Seasonal/Themed Printable Packs – I plan to use this free fall printable pack from Homeschool Creations as a supplementary material for this season along with the curriculum mentioned above.  Homeschool Creations offers many other printable packs as well.  1+1+1=1 is another amazing printable packs resource with everything from princesses and my little pony to solar systems and star wars! 🙂
  3. Writing Skills – my children are not yet coordinated enough to form actual letters (although our daughter is close), so we’ll be working on some pre-writing skills before anything else.  I picked this floral printable for my daughter  and these printables will work well for both children as well as these from 3 Dinosaurs .  I love the idea that this mom had to put the printables or workbook pages into sheet protectors in a binder so that you can use dry erase markers with them.  You could even let your preschooler decorate the front of his or her binder to personalize it.  Use them over and over again! 🙂  Once they grasp the concept, I plan to introduce alphabet letter formation.  The Measured Mom offers these writing stations as homeschool alternatives to using printables alone.  You could use the same methods with shapes and numbers, as well.
  4. Letter Recognition – I love the idea of starting out with my children’s names as well as other names in the house.  You can read about name kits at Fun-a-day.  If you’re intersted in a montessori method for introducing letters, Living Montessori Now offers excellent advice.  Hands on as we grow  has a list of 50 fun activities for learning both upper case and lower case letters.  At Crystal and Co. you can find instructions for fun letter-of-the week crafts, too, as well as other homeschool resources.
  5. Number Recognition – DLKT offers a number of counting and number worksheets here. Turtle Diary offers these printable options.  What I think will most appeal to our preschool boy and girl will be more hands-on activities like this paper tube one from Learn With Play at Home and a method using easter eggs from Reading Confetti.
  6. Shape Recognition – Although our preschoolers already know most of their shapes, we still need to do some reviewing in this area.  Hands on as we grow demonstrates how to be hands-on when learning shapes.  Shape puzzles are another great resource as children can both handle the shape itself and also learn how it fits into the board. I also like this crafty approach to shape matching from education.com.  Creative Family Fun offers 12 fun ways to learn shapes.  Also, you can find printables for shapes here at Aussie Childcare Network.
  7. Color Recognition –  Although our daughter is pretty solid on her colors, our son could use more help.  So, we’ll be continuing to practice our colors through the preschool years in our homeschool.  I’m working on a home-made version of Go Fish using colors for our preschoolers, so when it’s done I’ll be sure to share with you. 🙂 Toddler Approved provides these hands-on learning methods for colors.  Inspiration Laboratories has a great idea for creating a color rainbow that I think our preschoolers would love.  We also plan to sort buttons, pom-poms, beads, etc. by color and create patterns, as well as learn colors through reading some books we have about colors.
  8. Music/Rhymes – I plan to use youtube for much of our music, but I also like these printable nursery rhymes from Aussie Childcare Network.  DLKT offers these printables for making nursery rhyme characters to use as puppets or for a felt board.
  9. Bible Literacy – I plan to incorporate Bible lessons into our home preschool, but I’d like to save this topic for a future post as I plan to review a few options in detail.  So, check back next week for those options. 🙂
  10. Letter Formation –  Here are some great printables for the alphabet:

Other free (or nearly free) resources to consider:

Pinterest – while I already knew of some of these free online resources, much of the additional material I found on pinterest. 🙂

Library books – the best way to teach your children (aside from play) is through reading to them.  You can find books on almost any theme or subject you plan to teach.  Libraries are great resources for supplementing the books you already have at home.

Youtube  – a quick search for alphabet songs, shape songs, days of the week songs, and more reveals that the options on youtube are endless… and best of all, free! 🙂  You can also teach nursery rhymes and other preschool favorites such as “Five Little Speckled Frogs.”

PBS/Netflix – Leap Frog, Word World, and Super Why are all educational animated shows that focus on letter learning, although Leap Frog has some that focus on numbers and shapes as well.  We have a subscription to Netflix’s online streaming service, so I plan to use many of these programs through Netflix.  The advantage to using Netflix over PBS is that I don’t have to wait for an episode to air.  Instead, I can hand-pick episodes to coordinate with themes we might be exploring that week.

Online learning – the internet offers a wealth of free online resources for learning games.  Check out this article to  find out which of  our favorite educational websites will suit preschoolers.

Dollar Store Deals – I wrote a whole post on items you can find at the dollar store to use in teaching preschoolers or toddlers, complete with ideas on how to use them!

Toys – we have a few toys that I have set aside specifically for our preschool use (I do not keep these toys in their regular toy box, which makes them special since they can’t play with them whenever they want).  Any toy that says a letter’s name aloud and repeats the sound the letter makes can be a good tool to use when your preschooler just doesn’t want to sit and work with paper.  You probably already have a few of these “educational” toys laying around the house, so don’t feel the need to go out and buy new ones. 🙂

Additionally, much of the time spent during preschool should be free play, when children have time to pretend play using blocks, legos, dress-up clothes, kitchens, etc.  You can also use toys you already have at home to enhance themed lessons.  Finally, puzzles can be great resources for learning shapes, colors, letters, and numbers, etc.

I hope this helps to get you started on planning for your toddler/preschool years, whether you intend to teach formally by homeschooling or just as your children are interested.  Feel free to share with us your favorite free online sources, as well!

Jen 🙂

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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!

 

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Much Ado about Missions: Week One Wrap-up

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We have the final post in our Much Ado about Missions blog-hop live now, so I thought I would put all of the posts together here on a summary page for easy access.  If you are new to the blog-hop, please be sure to start with the introduction.  It contains important information that all believers should be aware of, and it explains the heart behind this blog-hop. 🙂

Much Ado about Missions Week One:

Introduction – they why behind it all

8 Resources for Teaching Missions in the Home

The Missional M&Ms

Teaching Missions with Crafts

In week two, we’ll be discussing ideas for experiencing missions and serving outside of the home, so stay tuned!  Monday’s post can be found at Being Confident of this, Wednesday’s post can be found at  Love Notes, and Friday’s post at  My Four Monkeys.

Thank you for joining us in making missions a priority!

Jen 🙂

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