Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Interacting with your Nativity Set

Nativity sets are wonderful tools to use to help children understand in a fundamental way what happened so, so, so many years ago, when Jesus came to walk among us. Playing with the characters in the manger and retelling the story themselves are powerful ways to encourage children to have a personal relationship with the true story of Christmas. It will develop in children a sense of ownership, and this is a meaningful building block of spiritual understanding and maturity.

Sometimes it's difficult for parents to know how to encourage such play, however.  We are *ahem* a bit removed from our own childhoods, and it sometimes hard to know how to use the figures of the nativity set both as fun tools and as teaching tools.

I have outlined here the generally accepted timeline of events leading up to Jesus' birth to help your family use the nativity set not only as decoration this Christmas season, but also as fun and meaningful ways to incorporate spiritual learning into your family time.

Week One:
On the first Sunday of Advent, set up the stable.

Week Two:
On the second Sunday of Advent, add animals.

Week Three:
On the third Sunday of Advent, add shepherds to watch over their flocks.

Week Four:
Set up the empty manger. On the morning of the 24th, add Joseph and Mary as they come to Bethlehem. On Christmas day, put Baby Jesus in the manger. Then start the wise men, coming to pay tribute to the new King. Each day they get a little closer, until they arrive on the feast of the Epiphany.

Encourage children to tell the story and to explain why you are moving the figures as you are. If they need help, fill in the gaps or give them prompts. The four week span may be difficult for younger children, who are not yet capable of retaining information for such long periods of time, so feel free to act out the entire story in one sitting, putting the figures back in their spaces when you're finished. If children add play that isn't part of the traditional story, let their creativity flow. There is plenty of time to teach them the "correct" version later- let them make the ideas and the story their own now.

*Note: it's really helpful to have a nativity set which allows Baby Jesus to come out of the manger. We use the Melissa and Doug version at our house, which uses painted wooden figures- one side contains Jesus and the other is empty.

Toilet Paper Nativity Craft

Here's a great craft from Catholic Icing- a nativity set that kids can make and play with (without damaging your nice set from Grandma)!

It's simple: download and print the free printables, color them in, and glue them to toilet paper rolls so they stand up. Voila! Instant fun for the kids, and instant educational tool! (We all know that using manipulatives and encouraging imaginary play is how kids interpret and assign meaning to the information they learn, right?) Well this activity does it all!

Free download: A Family Advent

The group Women of Faith is offering their advent publication, A Family Advent, for free as a download during the month of December! To purchase a hard copy of this book costs nearly $12, but they are offering it as a free gift to families seeking to keep Jesus as the center of the season!

My family has loved it so far! The book is broken up into the four weeks of advent and focuses on one theme per week: Hope, Peace, Love and Joy. It offers a daily scripture passage about Jesus' coming and his life, fun facts, family activities and a daily prayer.

Our family has been lighting our advent wreath for a few minutes each night and reading the short scripture and saying the prayer together. (We also add an ornament to our Jesse Tree.) It takes only a few minutes and has proven to be a very powerful- and much anticipated- nightly ritual.

Names of Jesus Advent Chain

This is a wonderful idea to help kids understand that Jesus has been called many things in the Bible and over time, but that all these names refer to him. What a nice idea Spell Outloud Homeschool had when she decided to use this activity as part of her family's advent celebration! Each chain link includes a name for Jesus and the referenced Bible passage. Here are the directions and the printable chain links so that you can do this activity with your family too.

Free e-lesson from Grapevine Studies

Grapevine Studies is a company which offers curriculum for kids to learn Bible stories in simple, straightforward ways. Their tag line is "stick figuring through the Bible," in fact. (It doesn't get simpler than that, right?)

They are offering a free e-lesson download for the month of December, and it happens to be about how Mary discovered that she would give birth to the son of God- how applicable, seeing that we are now in the season of Advent!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Advent Song

Here's a cute little song to help kids remember what advent is all about. Thanks Catholic Mom!

 Advent Song:
Sung to: "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star"

Advent is a time to wait
Not quite time to celebrate
Light the candles one by one
Till the advent time is done
Christmas day will soon be here
Time for joy and time for cheer.

"Truth in the Tinsel" product review

For those of us who struggle to bring home the message to our children that Christmas is, in fact, about more than just getting presents, here is a great e-book called Truth in the Tinsel! It's very inexpensive ($4.99 if you don't get the $2.99 special), and it provides a connection to the Christian concept of Christmas on each day of advent. These are simple, family-friendly suggestions which can be done in a few minutes after school/work or during the day, and are great tools to get kids thinking about the true meaning of Christmas!

Also, if you "like" them on Facebook you can get a free page of the e-book and one advent activity with the connecting scripture. I did this before I purchased the e-book and really liked the simple idea of creating a star ornament to connect to Matthew 2:1-12.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Ark of the Covenant Craft

Since some of our Sunday School classes talked about the Ark of the Covenant and the Tabernacle today, I came home to search for a fun craft activity to do during the week to extend the learning. Here's the link to what I found: a shoebox Ark to be made by little hands!

This link also details how to make your own 10 Commandments (which we refer to as the 10 Best Ways to Live since we use the Godly Play curriculum at church)!

Need a refresher on the Bible story yourself? Check out this great sermon I found from Rev. Stephen Edmund at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in McLean, VA.

Photo Credit

Teaching Character

Sometimes, when I talk to parents about why they bring their kids to church, they tell me they are searching for a "moral compass." They mean that they want to help their kids to find direction in a sometimes directionless world- they want to instill in their children a guide, a path, a purpose outside of mainstream America. I think that's a powerful and lofty goal, and I applaud these parents for trying to find what's right in the world, and for helping their children to find it too.

But once the choice is made to help children find this "compass," there comes a much more difficult dilemma: how on earth do we teach our kids to be good?! How can we teach them character? The terms themselves are so ambiguous- certainly what exemplifies "good character" to one just may not cut the mustard with another, and what is at least good enough to one may be completely unacceptable to still others. How is one to navigate through the confusion to bring clarity and purpose to a young mind?

Of course, the best way to teach our children is to set good examples in ourselves. After all, isn't that how Jesus taught his disciples? It's never easy to be a role model, as we who are parents can attest, but I think it brings about a mutlally beneficial relationship for both parent and child. While the child is learning to mimick the good behavior of his parent, the parent is constantly practicing restraint and learning to walk in love for the benefit of another. It's a beautifully symbiotic relationship from with both parties stand to benefit.

Is it hard? Yes. Particularly when no has has brushed their teeth, the baby has pulled her diaper off, your purse just fell of the counter and spilled to the floor knocking your full coffee cup along with it, and you're already late for church. (Not that this very scenerio happened to me this morning...) Still, with all the frustration and difficulty that comes along with parenting, isn't it worth the reward when you see your child do something well? Something you've been quietly teaching and modeling for her? Something that shows God's light inside him, clear as day?

I believe that it is, indeed, worth the challenge. We become the best people we can be by modeling our behavior after those whom we love and trust. For our children, they model us. For ourselves, we model Christ. In the end, we create a "moral compass" almost by default because when we seek to align our daily lives with our spiritual purpose, our true potential is realized. 

Still wondering where to start? Here are a couple helpful links with lessons, printables, games, etc. to help your children identify, evaluate and practice good character in their lives. Enjoy!

Five J's Bible Curriculum link includes 12 traits to study and learn, with accompanying activities.

Parenting Methods has a great Fruits of the Spirit lesson with printable rewards chart, based on Galatians 5:22 which can help you to both enumerate, and to recognize/reward positive character building in your child's life.

Photo Credit

Books of the Bible Word Search

I found this fun activity today on a Christian homeschooling blog which I follow called Five J's. The object of the game is simple: read the paragraph and try to find 30 books of the Bible within it. Go here to try your luck! Don't worry- the answers are there too.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Jesse Tree Tradition

Have any of you ever tried to have a Jesse Tree? I admit that I had never heard of this lovely Christmas tradition until last year, but it has quickly become a family favorite around here. The jist of it is simply to use a tree (or a large branch found in the backyard, in our case) and each night of advent the family adds one ornament to the tree. These aren't just any oranaments, though. These are specially crafted to represent the legacy of Jesus and to illustrate how he used his life to teach us. Each ornament is symbolic of one of the miracles or events significant to his life.

Last year we worked furiously to make clay ornaments in time for each day, and we really didn't do as well as we could have. Some came out really well, others did not, and still others didn't get made at all. When I saw this link to a set of printable ornaments to color in and hang up I was excited because that's a bit more realistic for first timers! Feel free to supplement with clay or other trinkets as you see fit!

This really is a wonderful way to share the true spirit of Christmas with your family, and to reinforce the real reason for the season!

Photo Credit

Joseph's Coat Preschool Craft

I saw this wonderful craft today to help children learn about the story of Joseph and his colorful coat. It uses a paper bag and lots of colorful paper and odds and ends to replicate the wonderful coat that Joseph must have worn.

I am always looking for crafts and activities to bring the Bible to life, and this craft was an excellent way to do just that! Go here for a great tutorial!
Photo Credit

While we're at it, here are several great coloring pages for kids to use who are learning about Joseph and his coat of many colors.

Try here, here, and here.

Oh yes, and if you don't know this wonderful Bible story, then read on! Joseph, eleventh son of Jacob, was given a coat of many colors, which his brothers took as a sign to show their father's favor. Joseph then had dreams which told him that he would assume leadership and even his brothers would bow down to him. In a jealous rage, his brothers threw him into a pit and later sold him into slavery to a passing group. The brothers then dipped Joseph's coat in goat's blood and told their father that he had been slain. Instead, Joseph had been sold into slavery in Egypt and worked very hard to continue in God's favor by being a faithful servant to Him.

While he was in Egypt, Pharaoh sent for Joseph because he had some dreams which he could not understand. Joseph told him that there was a hard time coming for Egypt and that the Pharaoh should begin to prepare. Pharaoh was happy and he let Joseph go free. Pharaoh asked him to stay and help him to prepare for the hard time to come, which Joseph agreed to do. Thanks to Joseph and his faithful reliance upon God's word, Egypt did not go hungry.