Teaching Thanksgiving

When the 1st of November hits, our attention moves to Thanksgiving. Facebook is flooded with people giving their thankful thoughts each day until Thanksgiving, beautiful, harvest themed memes reminding us of our blessings, and arts and craft projects to do with our kids.

However, we are missing something if our thoughts only go towards the warm, fuzzy side of Thanksgiving, and we skip over the historical aspect of where Thanksgiving actually came from.

Our children need to learn the story of the Pilgrims, how God protected them as they travelled across the ocean, how God came to their defense when the sailors verbally attacked them, and how he allowed their ship to be blown off course causing them to land in Massachusetts instead of Virginia. They need to know that the first winter was not easy. In fact, half of the Pilgrims that came over on the Mayflower died during the first winter. They need to know that God allows trials to happen in our lives to bring us to a place where we can be a blessing to others, as in the case of Squanto.

Our children need to see that although life can be hard, God gives His people hope.

They need to see that the first Thanksgiving was a celebration of Thanksgiving to God for his faithfulness to them during their first year in the New World. Our children need to see a more realistic view of the first Thanksgiving instead of the caricature we tend to present with our perfect dinners, backdrops, and craft projects.

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If you are looking to give your children a more balanced approach to the story of Thanksgiving, here are some ideas to get you started.

Scripture References

The Psalms are filled with references to giving thanks to God. In fact, you can even find verses that specifically say Thanksgiving. Why not pick one and memorize it with your children this month?

Psalms 69:30 “I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving.”

Psalms 26:7 “…proclaiming thanksgiving aloud, and telling all your wondrous deeds.”

Psalms 147:7 “Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving; make melody to our God on the lyre!”

Psalms 95:2 “Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!”

Psalms 100:4 “Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!”

Books

thanksgiving resourcesAffiliate links may be used in this post. You can view our full disclosure here.

My absolute favorite book for teaching Thanksgiving to my children is Thanksgiving: A Time to Remember by Barbara Rainey. As I mentioned in this post:

This is probably my favorite Thanksgiving book. Barbara Rainey has written it with the entire family in mind, and it can grow with your family throughout the years. She has written it to be read one of two ways- the larger print is to be read to preschoolers and younger elementary students, and the entire book to be read to mid elementary and above.

The book I purchased also comes with a music CD filled with beautiful instrumentals based on beloved hymns of Thanksgiving. It truly makes the atmosphere feel like Thanksgiving.

Because my daughter is reaching an age where we are encouraging independent learning, I also have several books for her to read on her own: Squanto: Friend of Pilgrims by Clyde Robert Bulla, Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving by Eric Metaxas, The Mayflower Adventure (The American Adventure Series #1) by Colleen L. Reece, and Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims: Time-Travel Adventures with Exceptional Americans by Rush Limbaugh.

These books teach the reality of Thanksgiving. Squanto is my favorite Thanksgiving personality because his life teaches us that although we encounter trials, hardships, losses, and unfair treatment, God can use those parts of our lives for His ultimate glory and to bless others. That is the story of Thanksgiving our children need to see.

Activities

teaching-thanksgiving

From pumpkin muffins and ice cream cone teepees to thankful trees and huge, obnoxious Mayflower hats, the activities are endless! The most important thing to remember about the activities is to pace yourself and chose ones that will fit your purpose in doing them.

Because we were focusing on being thankful, the Pilgrims, and Squanto, we have made the Thankful Tree, which you can read more about here, Mayflower hats (pictured above), and Thanksgiving Teepee Cupcakes. We have also gone into the yard to find leaves (okay, we pulled them off the plants… we live in Florida… leaves don’t actually fall here until January…) and made little leaf men. For us, crafts need to be quick, easy, and make very little mess, and these crafts fit the bill.

teaching-thanksgiving

We want our children to experience the warm fuzzies of the season, but let’s not forget to share with them the reason for the Pilgrims’ dangerous journey across the ocean, the hardships they experienced, or the life of Squanto.

Let’s teach our children to be thankful for God’s many mercies to them and those who came before.

Let’s teach our children Thanksgiving this year by sharing the hard times in our own lives that God has brought us through.

Let’s teach our children Thanksgiving by looking back in our own lives and showing how the journey God has allowed us to walk was not only meant for us but was also meant to ultimately be a blessing for others as well.

Let’s teach our children Thanksgiving by reading to them the Thanksgiving Proclamation by Abraham Lincoln and show them that Thanksgiving was created to be a day where our hearts and attention turn to God Almighty.

Let’s teach our children Thanksgiving this year and make this a Thanksgiving that will be foundational in their faith and lives.

teaching-thanksgiving

operation-christmas-child

Operation Christmas Child | A Family Christmas Project

We may only be in October, but Christmas is in the air in our home because of Operation Christmas Child.

I’ll never forget the first time I participated in Operation Christmas Child. I was very pregnant with my daughter, and the Christian school I taught at was participating. Brian and I chose to make a box for a 2-4 year old girl in our daughter’s name.

Operation-Christmas-CHild

Four years later, we took our daughter to the store to fill her very own box for another 2-4 year old girl. When we reached the cashier, this woman had a huge smile on her face. “I couldn’t help but feel so happy as I heard your little girl trying to pack the entire store into that little box. Who is this for?” And we were able to share with her about the ministry of Samaritan’s Purse and Operation Christmas Child.

When I served as interim Children’s Ministry Director at our church, I had the privilege of heading up the Operation Christmas Child drive for our congregation, and this time, both of our children were able to participate in helping to serve. We not only built boxes, stuffed them, and organized a packing party, but we were able to help take the boxes to our local drop-off location. We also chose to pay for our shipping online in order to track where our boxes went to really give our children the global perspective of the impact their shoeboxes were having.

Operation-Christmas-Child

What is Operation Christmas Child?

Operation Christmas Child is a ministry through Samaritan’s Purse which  provides a shoebox filled with practical and fun items for children around the world through the donations of people like you and me. When children around the world are given this gift, they are also presented with the Gospel, providing them with the greatest gift they could ever receive.

Operation Christmas Child is a beautiful way to encourage the hearts of our children to think of others before thinking of themselves. Because Operation Christmas Child kicks off before the Christmas season does, it causes our children to think of others before their thoughts have a chance to turn to what they will receive on Christmas morning. Operation Christmas Child gets our children thinking beyond their own four walls to children around the world and gives them a hands on way to put into practice Matthew 25:40, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

How can I get involved?

Many churches and Christian organizations around the country are participating in Operation Christmas Child. If your church is not participating in Operation Christmas Child, don’t worry! There are still ways you can participate.

Operation-Christmas-Child

Where can I get my shoebox?

Many participating locations will provide a cardboard shoebox free of charge, but you can use a large shoebox from your own recent shoe purchase or purchase a plastic shoebox from the dollar store for longer durability. Hobby Lobby sells official plastic Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes.

What can I put in the boxes?

If you have participated in the past, be aware that this year, candy and toothpaste are not allowed for customs reasons. Otherwise, Samaritan’s Purse has a list of suggestions which are allowed, such as a “Wow” item, personal care items (no liquids), clothing (think t-shirts and socks), crafts and activities, toys, and a personal note.

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Where do I take my shoebox when I’m done packing it?

If you are looking for a drop off location, you can find the nearest one to you here, but you need to be sure to drop your box off (with your $9 shipping enclosed) during National Collection Week, November 13-20, 2017, in order for your box bless a child.

Most importantly, don’t forget to add $9 for shipping in your box, either in your box or by paying online and attaching your tracking label to your box so you can find out where your box ends up.

Operation Christmas Child is a tradition in our home, and our children look forward to as just as much as I do. It is a great way to kick off the Christmas season and simultaneously be a blessing at Christmas time to another child somewhere in the world.

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back-to-school

4 Simple Back to School Ideas and Traditions

Back to school time comes with so much excitement and anticipation, but sometimes, also, with a feeling of dread and anxiety.

For some, new classes, new teachers, new clothes, new friends, and a brand new year to grow and learn are reasons to wake up ready to go on the first day of school, while for other kids, those same reasons bring anxiety levels to a breaking point.

Going from 3rd to 4th grade was a bit of a transition for Addie (we homeschool using Classical Conversations). She knew the work load was going to increase as would the difficulty, so she was not particularly thrilled to start school this year. Ian, on the other hand, was starting Kindergarten- seriously, what’s not to love about Kindergarten! He couldn’t wait to start school!

I found that these four ideas, which have become traditions for us, help bring a sense of excitement to the first week of school. And, yes, we allow ourselves a week to celebrate.

Photo

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I have always taken a photo of the first day of school (like every mother out there!), but this was the first time I printed out signs for it. It will be neat (and heartbreaking) to put Ian’s “First Day of Kindergarten” and “First Day of 12th Grade” photos side by side one day.

We took these photos the day before we began school (because it was Sunday and we were already dressed up) so we wouldn’t take any time away from our actual first day of school.

If you want a copy of these signs for yourself, you can find them here at Homeschooling’ Mama.

Questionnaire

I love the idea of asking kids the same questions year after year. What better way to see their growth than by how their answers change!

back-to-school

This year, I scoured the internet looking for a few questions that the kids could answer, and I posted Ian’s answers on Facebook. These are the questions I chose to ask them:

  • What is your favorite color?
  • What do you want to be when you grow up?
  • What is your favorite food?
  • What is your favorite book?
  • What is your favorite show?
  • What is your favorite sport?
  • What is your favorite thing to do?

Every year, I will ask those same questions. And I am sure that every year the answers will change in some way.

Special dinner

back-to-school

One night during “Back to school” week we make an effort to either go out to dinner or have food brought in. It gives everyone something to look forward to (including Mom), and time around the table always lends itself to opportunities for great conversations.

Special breakfast

My son goes to sleep asking “What’s for breakfast?”

Knowing how important it is for kids to have a great breakfast (especially on the first day of school), I try to make breakfast something they will really enjoy. Some years, I have made their toast look like a bear with cream cheese, a few banana slices, and raisins. but this year we went with cinnamon rolls… because I know it’s a family favorite.

back-to-school

However you choose to celebrate the first day or week of school, be sure to only take on what is comfortable and doable for you and your situation. Then, sit back and know you have added a brick to the foundation of love in your children’s hearts.

celebrate-ordinary-days-summer

Celebrate the Ordinary Days: Summer Edition- Part One

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Although Summer vacation has already started for some and will soon be starting for others, the official beginning of summer happens on June 21.

Here in Florida, summer means more time at the beach, sunscreen, sand, afternoon thunderstorms, more freedom to go out, and patriotic celebrations. The way we think of our northern friends during the fall and winter, they think of us during the summer.

I look forward to the summer because there are so many ways to make simple memories and traditions that our children will remember for many years to come.

Although we do not need to fill every moment of our summer with an activity or special over-the-top activity for our children (boredom is a good thing!), here are some upcoming days that we plan on celebrating or recognizing in passing throughout our summer. If you are looking for more days that your family might enjoy, check out National Day Calendar. There are so many “national” days, it is impossible to list them all here.

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Jun 21- First Day of Summer- This is the day with the most daylight hours, so to celebrate, we are staying up till the sun goes down. How will you celebrate?

June 21- National Selfie Day- Gather those kiddos together, and if hubby is available grab him, too, and smile big for the camera!

June 23- National Pink Day- Since as far back as I can remember, my girl’s favorite color has been pink (for a really short time, purple was thrown in there… but that was very short lived), so finding a day to celebrate this color was pretty exciting.

June 26- National Beautician’s Day- Those people who are dedicated to keeping us looking our best need a bit of recognition. This is also a great day to teach our children to show gratitude to others.

 June 26- National Chocolate Pudding Day- This  day lends itself to an easy snack idea.

celebrate-ordinary-days-summerJune 27- National PTSD Day- During my research for special days, I noticed that from Memorial Day thru the end of summer there are many patriotic observances and holidays. Today is a great way to bring awareness to our children that some of our soldiers have returned home with wounds that cannot be seen. It’s a great way to round out the honoring and observances of these patriotic days.

June27- National Sunglasses Day- Does your child own a pair of sunglasses? If not, today would be the perfect day to gift them an inexpensive pair to shield their eyes from the sun this summer.

June 28- National Paul Bunyan Day- Do your kids know about the Paul Bunyan and his big blue ox Babe? If not, why not show them a cartoon or read a book to them about this famous lumberjack legend.

June 29- National Handshake Day- Do you appreciate a good, hearty handshake? Give your kiddos a lesson in greeting others with a good handshake.

June 29- National Bomb Pop Day- Why wait for the 4th of July to enjoy these red, white, and blue treats? Grab a box and go outside to enjoy these with your family… let’s be honest, it’s more for the clean up aspect than for the fresh air.

June 30- National Meteor Watch Day– Go outside after dark, look to the skies, and see how many meteors you can count.
celebrate-ordinary-days-summerJuly 1- National Postal Worker Day- Have your kids write a card or if you can, leave a small gift for your postal worker. Day in and day out, they bring our mail to us. It’s a great way to show a little appreciation for their service.

First Saturday in July- Hop-a-Park Day- Do you have a local park you enjoy going to? Hop-A-Park day is designed to get families out of the house, away from technology, and enjoying the great outdoors together.

Jul 4- Independence Day- Get out and celebrate the declaration of our country’s independence. Until it’s time for us to get together with our family and friends, we have a Liberty Kids marathon where our children see and hear the struggle for our country’s independence alongside the young characters portrayed in the show. In the evening, after we have returned home or our guests have gone and the kids have gone to bed, Brian and I watch The Patriot together. It’s a tradition, and always makes us thankful for those who fought and died and are continuing to fight for our nation’s freedom.

July 7- National Father Daughter Take a Walk Day- Imagine the forever memories that can be made when our daughters take an annual walk with their fathers. Imagine the changes in topics that will occur over the years. And before they go on their walk, be sure to snap a picture… and take one each year so you can see the growth and change in both of them.

July 7- National Macaroni Day- Grab that box of macaroni, some paint, glue, and string and let your children’s imagination soar! You may even want a second box to use in your dinner plans!

July 9- National Sugar Cookie Day- Gather your children and baking supplies in the kitchen, and make a batch of sugar cookies. Then settle down with a book (If You Give a Mousse a Cookie is a good choice) and enjoy your freshly made cookies.

July 11- National Blueberry Muffin Day- Blueberries are a summertime staple. Find your favorite blueberry muffin recipe (mine is from this cookbook) and bake up a batch or two.

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July 11- National Cheer Up the Lonely Day- After you bake your muffins, you may consider taking some to someone you know who may be lonely- a senior saint, a widow, or an empty nester- and bring them some cheer.

July 11- National 7 Eleven Day- Don’t forget to go out and pick up your free slurpee at 7 Eleven! It’s been a summer tradition in our family for years.

July 11- All American Pet Photo Day- Although we do not have pets, many of our friends and family do. Take a photo of your fur baby and then share it with your friends and family.

July 12- National Simplicity Day- Henry David Thoreau was born on July 12, 1817. As an advocate of a life of simplicity, today has been dedicated the National Simplicity Day in his honor. Use today to read a few of his writings. You can pick up his book Walden in digital form free of charge here.

July 12- National Paper Bag Day- Paper bags and a life of simplicity have always gone hand in hand in my mind. With the ability of being useful in so many capacities, paper bags can be used to carry groceries, pack lunches, hold gifts, and make crafts. Hoe many ways can you use a paper bag today?

July 13- National French Fry Day- A quick trip through the drive thru will take care of this day and put a salty smile on any little face!

July 14- National Mac and Cheese Day- This is an easy day to celebrate! Grab a box of mac and cheese and serve up dinner.

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July 15- National Give Something Away Day- This is a great day to get our children thinking beyond themselves to others. Have them go through their things in order to pick something to give away. Then take them to your local Salvation Army, Goodwill, or a local shelter to give their items away.

Third Sunday in July- National Ice Cream Day- A lot of very easy days are coming up! And all you really have to is, “Guess what guys, today is…” and then let that day direct your meal or dessert. Today, why not go out for ice cream to a local ice cream shop, and celebrate National Ice Cream Day!

July 19- National Hot Dog Day- Frankfurter… hot dog… whatever you call it, celebrate the hot day today. Serve it for lunch or dinner and you are all set!

July 19- National Lollipop Day- You know those big obnoxious lollipops that you only pick up on special occasions? Today is the day pull them out and let your little ones have a taste.

July 21- National Junk Food Day- I know we are supposed to shun junk food, but in all reality, we all enjoy some from time to time. While teaching our kids healthy eating habits, don’t be afraid to grab a small bag of chips or a candy bar or a slice of cheesecake and enjoy it!

July 23- National Vanilla Ice Cream Day- A half gallon of vanilla ice cream and a few toppings are all that is needed to mark this day at home.

Fourth Sunday in July- National Parent’s Day- Today is a great day to teach your children Ephesians 6:1-3. Then recognize your parents in some small way. Our children will do as we do, and if we remember our parents, they will most likely remember theirs.

July 24- National Cousins Day- They say cousins are the first friends you ever have. We have been blessed to have a very close bond with many of our cousins. Give them a shout out on Facebook, post a picture of you all as kids, or recall a special memory you have with them… and teach your children to do the same. Talk with them about their favorite things about their cousins, put a handmade card in the mail, FaceTime or Skype with them, and remember the necessity to stay close with family.

Jul 27- National Korean War Veterans Armistice Day- Do you have a family member that was in the Korean War? Talk to your children about this hero that lives among them, and maybe make a visit or make a phone call to ask him or her questions about their experience (if they are willing to share. I guarantee you will make their day.

Although summer doesn’t end at the end of July, this list will get you started at turning a few of your ordinary days into special ones. Stay tuned for Celebrate the Ordinary Days: Summer- Part Two where we look at August and September.

Other posts in this series:

Celebrate the Ordinary Days: Fall Edition

celebrate-ordinary-days-summer

summer

How to Make the Most of Your Summer Without Breaking the Bank

Every time I think of summer, I think of the summer of 2013. For me, it was the best summer ever!

It truly was.

I felt as though we took each and every day of our summer and squeezed as much fun and adventure out of it as we possibly could.

But, I could not have pulled it off alone.

As someone who loves being (and staying) at home, I needed help finding ways to get out with the kids to enjoy this season of lazy days, rainy afternoons, and looser schedules.

I discovered that our community was filled with opportunities for us to make memories together and individually by keeping my ears (and eyes thru Facebook) open for announcements. Here are some of the things we found here in our county that have worked really well for us over the last few summers.

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Library classes- Our library system does a series of classes throughout the entire summer. They are educational, entertaining, and the kids really had fun. We have brought home meal worms, planted seeds, learned about our local wildlife and participated in fun science experiments through some of the activities the library provided.

Our library also has a Summer Reading Program that encourages children to spend at least 24 hours worth of time throughout the entire summer reading. At the end, our children can earn a ticket to see the Tampa Bay Rays play. Our sports loving family really enjoyed this in years past and will continue to participate for years to come.

Check your local library system’s event calendar to find out the activities they have lined up for the summer.

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Arts and Crafts- We discovered that Michael’s Crafts Store has a program called Passport to Imagination which runs all summer long, three days a week. The cost of the 2 hour class is $4 per  child per day. It’s a great way for kids to explore their artistic side… without giving Mom a mess to clean up. That’s a win/win in my book!

Movies- Check into your local movie theater’s schedule to see what they are offering for children during the summer. We have a couple of theaters in our area that offer $1-$1.50 movies once or twice a week. We have taken advantage of these. It is a great way to get out of the house but still be in the air conditioning.

Season Passes- Do you have season passes to a local theme park? Summer is a great time to use them and get the most out of that pass. On evenings when you find yourself wondering what you could do, pull out that pass and enjoy your theme park for a couple of hours.

July 11th- Don’t forget that on 7/11 each year, 7 Eleven offers free Slurpees!

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Fruit Picking- Here in Florida we kick off our summer break with blueberry picking. It is always a great way to get us outside, and we bring home pounds of blueberries for a fraction of the cost of buying them in the stores. What fruit comes into season in the summer in your area? Look into where there may be a U-pick farm near you and have some fun!

VBS- Vacation Bible School is a free week long program that churches offer to their communities. Many times, the churches in an area or community stagger their VBS weeks so parents can utilize as many of these programs as possible.

Beaches and/or pools- Are you located near a beach? Are you a part of a community that gives you access to a pool? Do you have friends who invite you over to use their pool? Does your area have a sprayground? These are all great ways to get out into the summer sunshine, keep cool, and get that summer glow. Just be sure to keep the sunblock generously applied, hats on small heads, and lots of liquids on hand.

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Sporting Events- Baseball season is under way and football season is gearing up. Summer ballgames are almost an all-American must! Some ball fields will allow you to bring in your own food which helps to keep costs down to a minimum.

Football season is also gearing up. Our local team (the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) has a Fan Appreciation Day and open the gates (free of charge) for the fans to watch a practice. Check your local team to see if there are any free fan events happening in the summer.

Cow Appreciation Day- One day our children look forward to each summer is Chick-Fil-A’s Cow Appreciation Day. The idea is to dress like a cow (as much or as little as you want). For minimal participation you get a free chicken sandwich. For maximum participation you get a free meal! Each year, we haven’t paid a dime for our dinner.

American Girl Movie Premier- I don’t know how it is in your house, but in our house the summer television premiere of the American Girl Doll of the Year movie is a big event. It is a free night, we don’t have to leave the house, Addie gets to pick out her own fashionable outfit, and I give her a special hair style using my hair supplies. It’s a tradition.

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Make the Most of the Holidays- Memorial Day, the 4th of July, and Labor Day are all considered summer holidays. Why not make the most of these with crafts, special snacks, and activities? My 4th of July Pinterest board was a huge help to me last year in coming up with a week’s worth of stay-at-home activities and fun.

Kids Bowl Free- Although the Kids Bowl Free program has been around for a while, we plan on taking advantage of it for the first time this year. Through this program, children receive two free games per day throughout the summer (cost of shoes is not included). There are also discounted rates for parents to play throughout the summer, too. It’s a great way to get out as a family for some fun. (Check your local bowling alley for restrictions)

I hope I have given you some ideas on how to make this summer your best one yet. I think the most important lesson I learned during the summer of 2013 was to make a big deal of the little moments.

Those are the moments that our children will always remember.

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what to do with kids Christmas break

Things to Do with Your Kids This Christmas Break

It will be here before you know it…

Christmas break!

And I just heard it…. the cheer of little ones embracing their upcoming freedom, and the gasp from moms who are looking for ways to fill their children’s time for the duration of the break.

If you are going away for some of the break, then half of your battle is already won, since leaving home is an adventure all its own and comes with its own entertainment for young ones. But if you are staying home during your break, then filling the hours of your days is a daunting challenge.

Because I homeschool my children, I am always looking for ways to keep my kids on their toes after our schoolwork is done with fun, meaningful activities that I can plan and prepare for the night before. They are not stress inducing activities or even complicated in their preparation, but my children feel as though they have been thought of and have even expressed their appreciation of these planned times.

what to do with kids Christmas break

Each activity comes with a time limit so the activity is ended before boredom sets in and leaves anticipation for the activity to be repeated in the future.

We do not do all of these activities each day. This is just a list that I use to choose from when planning our day.

At Home:

  • Silent reading (30 minutes)- My son who recently turned 5 has been doing this for a while now and can sit for the duration of the time. He cannot read a full book at this point, but he is a pro at looking at pictures and even doing some picture search books.
  • Read aloud (30 minutes)- This does require Mom’s involvement, but that’s okay! Choose books that are related to the season you are in (Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, etc.). Having a book basket helps with this. This would also be a great time to begin a classic or novel with them (we have read the Winnie the Pooh collection together).  You will be amazed at how their understanding and communication skills grow with this simple activity. During this time, I pull out the blocks and perler beads and my children quietly create while they listen.
  • Color/Draw (20-30 minutes)- Coloring and drawing is an important childhood skill that our kids need in order to develop fine motor skills among other things. [source]

what to do with kids Christmas break

  • Play-doh (20-30 minutes)- Kids love play-doh, and moms can easily use this time for some therapy. Squishing play-doh is relaxing and has the ability to keep kids entertained without any effort on our part.
  • Bake cookies (30 minutes)- This one requires a little bit of work, but there is no hard and fast rule that you have to make your cookies from scratch (we don’t always). Kids love the process of mixing and seeing their work turn into something they can actually eat.
  • Play games (30-45 minutes)- This is a fun one! Grab all of those you have hidden away in a closet and play a few. Depending on ability, the games may even get a bit competitive. A few of our favorites are Shopkins Uno, Candyland, Dominoes, Go Fish, Sorry, Guess Who, and Connect Four.
  • Watch a show (30-120 minutes)- This activity is great when Mom just needs to sit with a cup of coffee in a quiet room for a bit. Pull out a video (your children’s ages and attention spans will dictate the length of your movie), put your feet up, and enjoy the quiet. If your children know that movie time only comes at a specific time of the day, they will appreciate that time even more.
  • Play outside (30-60 minutes)- This is the stuff of childhood and the maker of good naps for little ones. Fresh air, sunshine, and the ability to run unrestricted are all great for a child’s well-being and also is important for Mom. Pull out the bicycles, roller skates, scooters, hula hoops, and sidewalk chalk or let them enjoy your personal jungle gym. No matter what they do, it will be a win for everyone. Need more ideas? 15 Minutes Outside by Rebecca Cohen is a great book with 365 outdoor ideas.

what to do with kids Christmas break

  • Video games (30-60 minutes)- Kids enjoy video games and technology is the wave of the future, but that doesn’t mean our kids should have unlimited access to it. Schedule time for your kiddos to play some of their video games. By scheduling time for this activity, your kids won’t spend too much time in front of a screen, they won’t tire of their games too quickly, and video game time will become a very special time for them.
  • Free play (1-2 hours)- Free play is so important for children.  Not only does it give them the ability to decide for themselves what they want to play, but it gives them a chance to pull out the toys and stretch their imaginations. And with Christmas just around the corner, it will give them a chance to really play with their new toys.

Quick trips

Sometimes, you just need to leave the house, but you don’t want to spend a lot or be out all day. Here are a few ideas for taking quick trips that don’t involve shopping or stores. Don’t forget to schedule in travel time.

  • Library (1 hour)- Libraries are so much more than warehouses for books. They are now being upgraded with play areas, puzzles, learning games, and story time. Take advantage of these amenities that your library has to offer and spend an hour in a quiet but fun atmosphere.
  • Local park (30-60 minutes)- If you don’t have a swing set, your local park is guaranteed to have a great jungle gym (take proper safety precautions). From playground equipment and open areas for unhindered running to walking paths and  bike trails, your park has much to offer that a backyard can’t. Pack a lunch and make your adventure last a little longer.

what to do with kids Christmas break

  • Donut/ice cream run (30 minutes)- Have the kids been really good for you on a particular day? Why not treat them to a donut shop or Ice cream shop run? Encourage their good behavior with a small treat and a quick adventure outside of the house.
  • Visit a friend (1-2 hours for littles 3-4 hours for bigs)- I am a firm believer that visits with friends need to fall into a reasonable time frame, especially if you are spending time in their home with little ones. Your visit has time to end on a good note before little ones begin to get too antsy.
  • Bounce house or kids gym (1-2 hours)- Do you live in an area that has a bounce house or kids gym? Take advantage of these. Purchase a membership if it is something that can be used quite often by your family. This is a great way to fill a couple of hours of your day, give your kids ample space to exert plenty of energy, and give you a fun place to escape to on rainy days when a park visit wold not be possible.

What are some other ways you can inexpensively provide meaningful activities for your children during a school break? Feel free to share them with us in the comments. We’d love to hear from you!

keeping-christmas-simple

How to Keep Christmas Simple

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I am a huge fan of Christmas!

HUGE!

I love the feeling in the air, the decorations, the lights, the glitter, the way stores are decorated (in December… NOT September), and giving to my family.

But how many years did I go into the Christmas season with gusto and grand ideas only to burn myself out mid-December? Pretty much every year.

Each year I go into the Christmas season with the idea that this is going to be the best Christmas ever!

keeping-christmas-simple

I figure out how many fun Christmas related activities we can fit into our schedule, and I cram all of our days and weekends with something to do.

My kids end up tired.

I end up frustrated that no one appreciates the effort I put into making this the best Christmas ever.

And then we are ready for Christmas to be over and done with and to move into the New Year.

But not this year…

I have always been a fan of simple living, of not making things more complicated than necessary, of believing that less is more. But Christmastime has never reflected that.

keeping-christmas-simple

This year, we don’t have to see every Christmas pageant in our county.

This year, we don’t have to attend every Christmas party or activity.

This year, we don’t have to plan to do something Christmas related every night.

This year, we don’t have to have an advent calendar that involves a ton of extra gifts for me to purchase, wrap, and remember to distribute each day.

Instead…

keeping-christmas-simple

This year, we’ll stay home more evenings than we go out and watch the old Christmas cartoons I grew up watching like Frosty the Snowman, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, and the Little Drummer Boy. And because I homeschool my kids, we can stay up as late as we want to watch these shows and sleep as long as we need to the next morning.

This year we will delight in the simple joy of finding our little monkey pal, Melk, in the mornings and learn something about the character of God.

This year, we will limit the parties we go to, and, if bringing an exchange gift is necessary, we’ll bring something simple but sweet.

This year, if there isn’t a Christmas moment on the calendar, we won’t make one up just for the sake of it. We’ll just carry on as usual.

This year, we will make paper chains and countdown to Christmas the old fashioned way.

Because…

Satan’s mission has always been to destroy what God has created- to interfere with the message that God loved us and sent his Son (Awana Cubbies key verse). How are we supposed to stop and reflect on the purpose of Christmas Day if, during the time of the year that we are supposed to remember and recognize the giving of God’s gift to us, we get so busy and distracted and we keep our kids running from one activity to another?

keeping-christmas-simple

This year, rather than focusing on the “show” of Christmas, I want to focus on the message. That God loved His creation and gave us a gift, the most precious gift He could give- His Son.

Trendy wrapping paper with a perfect bow was not the wrapping of this gift. Strips of cloth were the wrappings of this gift.

His surroundings were not Pinterest worthy. A barn with hay and animals was the setting for His birth.

Those who came to see him that night did not come with $5 gifts for a gift exchange. They came with empty hands, but sincere hearts.

I want our Christmas to reflect those ideals.

So here is your Christmas challenge…

Before you are swept up in the tinsel and show of Christmas…

Before you are knee deep in the quicksand of activities and parties…

Before you find yourself drowning in receipts and wrapping paper…

Take an hour one evening to think through what you want your Christmas to look like.

Figure out your non-negotiable calendar items.

Next, determine in advance how many activities you will be a part of.

Decide how many $5 dollar exchange gifts your budget will allow for.

For your sanity to be kept in tact, set in stone how many evenings you need to stay home each week.

Establish your gift giving list early and stick to it.

And then, sit back and enjoy this Christmas with your family and closest friends.

simple Christmas

thanksgiving resources

My 8 Favorite Thanksgiving Resources for Kids

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November 1 begins my two favorite months of the year. I love the fall, the feel in the air of anticipation, the warmth of the colors associated with the holidays, and the goodness of the food typically only made at this time of year.

thanksgiving resources

In our home, this is also when my favorite resources come out of storage, and we do a little more in the arts and crafts department. These are always fun because we can either tie in our history learning or we can just have some fun with paper, scissors, tape, glue, and anything else we can find. If you are looking for ideas for crafts and fun activities you can follow our Thanksgiving Pinterest board. 

My Favorite Thanksgiving Books

thanksgiving resources

Thanksgiving (A FamilyLife Book): A Time to Remember (Family Life Books) by Rainey, Barbara published by Crossway (2003)  

This is probably my favorite Thanksgiving book. Barbara Rainey has written it with the entire family in mind, and it can grow with your family throughout the years. She has written it to be read one of two ways- the larger print is to be read to preschoolers and younger elementary students, and the entire book to be read to mid elementary and above.

After reading a thorough history of the Pilgrims and their journey to America and understanding the importance of thankfulness, the back of the book has a place where thankfulness can be recorded by the family and revisited year after year. This year I will be writing all of the items on the leaves of our Thankful Tree into the back of the book and dating it. It will be fun in a few years to see what our family has been thankful for.

thanksgiving resources

Squanto, Friend Of The Pilgrims by Clyde Robert Bulla

If there has ever been a story of God’s sovereignty, it’s the story of Squanto. Sometimes our circumstances seem unfair, yet God can use our past to bring us to the place where he can use us for his glory and the benefit of others. That is the lessons behind the story of Squanto. Although this is not a Christian based book, as a believer, I have used Romans 8:28 while reading this to my children. This is definitely another favorite of mine.

thanksgiving resources

Squanto and the Miracle of Thanksgiving by Eric Metaxas may be a little long for little ones, but the illustrations are beautiful. One thing we do when a good book seems a little long is to break it up into several parts and read it over the course of several days. This book is definitely written from a Christian perspective and is a must for every family library. Squanto’s story is one that my children know well. I believe that they need to know that our stories are not all traveled on smooth paths, but that God can take even the rockiest of paths and use them to further His purposes and for His glory.

thanksgiving resources

The Mayflower Adventure (The American Adventure Series #1) by Colleen L. Reece

I have had this book since my teaching days, but I have never actually read it. However, this year, we will be reading it. I don’t have much to say about this one, but I am looking forward to reading it finally.

thanksgiving resources

Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims by Rush Limbaugh 

We purchased this two years ago and enjoyed the story very much. This story is told through time travel as Rush Revere time travels with two of his middle school students on the Mayflower and then to Plymouth, Massachusetts. I learned quite a bit of the history of Plymouth Colony through this story, and my daughter who was six at the time, enjoyed it. It is written more for middle schoolers is interesting enough that even young children with a solid vocabulary can understand it and get involved in the story.

My Favorite Thanksgiving Movies

thanksgiving resources

Squanto: A Warrior’s Tale

Have I mentioned how much I love the story of Squanto? After we read our books on the life of Squanto, we sit down for an evening of popcorn and a movie. I believe in having my children exposed to the book form of a story first so they can recognize the inconsistencies in the movie. Although this movie takes some creative license, it does a great job of telling the bigger story of Squanto’s life. It is a tradition that we watch this movie every November.

thanksgiving resources

Mouse on the mayflower I remember watching this movie when I was in elementary school. It was always one of my favorite movies to watch at Thanksgiving and now it is become a favorite for my littles. It can be purchased as a VHS recording, but we watch it on YouTube. It is a beautiful retelling of the Pilgrims voyage to America. And although it was secularly made, it is overtly Christian in the message. It isn’t officially Thanksgiving until we have seen this movie.

thanksgiving resourcesA Charlie Brown Thanksgiving: The Mayflower Voyagers Again, this was a childhood favorite of mine that I had to share with my children. Charles Schultz and his Peanuts gang do a wonderful job of retelling the voyage of the Pilgrims with humor and accuracy.

Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday with a rich story to tell our children. They need to hear of God’s faithfulness to his people. Our children need to understand that although hard times come, God can use them and their experiences to bless others.

Do you have any favorite Thanksgiving resources? Share them with us in the comments.

Thanksgiving resources

invest your marriage

Investing in Your Marriage Without Spending a Fortune

You know how it goes.

Wedding day comes and you are ready to spend your life with this man who didn’t just steal your heart- you gave it to him willingly. You dream of the impromptu dates that will occur- a late night run to Starbucks to get coffee because really who needs to sleep! In your mind’s eye, you imagine talking deep into the night and waking up fully refreshed the next morning.

You plan weekly date nights. Since you are both working, you think nothing of the cost of going out for a sit down dinner weekly. You’re in love and nothing else matters.

invest your marriage

Then one afternoon a few years into marriage, you wait for your sweet husband to come home from work so you can give him the news you were both hoping for. You’re pregnant!

Once the baby comes, you determine to not give up on your date nights because connecting with each other is important…. but you can’t go out weekly because the budget won’t allow it. Your income may have been cut in half and now there is one more person pulling from it.

So what do you do?

Committing to our marriages is so important. Marriage takes work and time.

Is it possible to getaway from it all without breaking the bank?

When you add up the cost of babysitters, dinner, a movie, maybe a coffee and dessert, it can put a real dent in the budget and your attitude about date night.

invest your marriage

Or you can get creative!

My sister, brother-in-law, husband and I have figured out an arrangement that works for us.

Every other month we get a weekend.

This past weekend was Brian and my weekend. Faye and Jim had our kids from Friday thru Sunday, and Brian and I had the weekend all to ourselves. Next month, we will watch my nephew, and Faye and Jim will have their weekend.

This is the time we can go out to a leisurely dinner together. We can leave our county and head into the “city” for more options. Because the kids are with Faye for the weekend, we don’t have to rush back to relieve the babysitter.

Babysitter= Free

One of the things we enjoy doing on our weekend is seeing a movie. Theaters are always an option, but we have found a way to keep those costs down, too. Have you checked your debit card points? Our debit card had been earning us points that we didn’t know about. When I stumbled onto this, I discovered that we could purchase movie tickets with our points.

We also keep track of which movies are being put on Amazon or into our local Redbox kiosk. My husband gets coupon codes sent to his email (for Redbox), so we are able to rent a movie and enjoy it from the comfort of our own couch and our kitchen is our concession stand.

invest your marriage

Movies= Free or cheap

One of our favorite things about our weekends is the rest factor.

Because the kids are being cared for elsewhere, I can sleep deeply, not having one ear and eye open (moms can relate). No one wakes us up early. We sleep in, and we are fully rested when our children return to us.

Nightly accommodations= Free

We are homebodies. Although we enjoy an adventure, rest and relaxation means staying home in our pjs and chilling. We eat what is in the fridge, freezer and pantry. Going out to eat for at least one meal on our weekend is part of the fun. Sometimes we have gift cards which help keep costs down significantly, other times we don’t.

Food= almost Free

On Sunday, whoever is watching the children returns them. The one receiving the children prepares dinner for all to share. We sit at the table, share our weekend adventures, listen to the kids retell the fun they had, and feel full in our hearts from a hearty weekend investing our marriage.

Investment in our marriage = Priceless

invest your marriage

We look forward to this time every other month. It is refreshing for us as a couple and as parents. The time it gives us to pour into each other and ourselves personally is so necessary but so often neglected. We are able to pursue our hobbies without feeling mommy or daddy guilt. “Mom and Dad” talks to decide the direction we want to go with the training of our children, to figure out what has worked and what needs to be adjusted, and to encourage each other on parenting successes are possible without interruption. We are able to establish short term personal, marital, parental, and financial goals since we can reevaluate every other month.

As a couple, find what works for you and is safe for your children. Investing time into our marriages and being responsible parents are crucial for our families.

There are ways to invest in your marriage without spending a fortune. Sometimes, you just have to be creative.

invest marriage

host-party-works

How to Host the Party that Works for You

1 Peter 4:9 says, “Use hospitality one to another without grudging.”

I love watching HGTV- the searching for the perfect home, the best location, and the creating of a place to grow your family. Two of the most common phrases that I hear regardless of the show I’m watching is, “This would be great for entertaining,” or “I can picture us entertaining our friends and family here.”

I think we have a deep desire to have others come to our home, host a dinner or party, and just be hospitable towards them. But how many times do we get frustrated just before our guests arrive? How many times have we thrown our hands in the air, along with our party decorations, and asked why we’re even hosting a gathering?

Party hosting is something that has been front and center for my sister and I in the last couple of weeks. As the holiday season approaches, hosting, with all of its joys and pressures, makes its way to the forefront of our minds.

Before the stress kicks in, here are some tips that can help you streamline your party plans. Not only do you want to host a party that your guests will love, but you want it to be one that you can enjoy as well.

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What is your party personality?

Are you an easy-going, laid back person, or do you enjoy going all out with decor and themes? Do you want your guests to feel at home and free to sit where they want to? Do you want a more formal feel with assigned seating and place cards?

Knowing your personality will keep you from planning a gathering that is out of your comfort zone and will leave you overwhelmed. It will keep you in the realm of realistic, no matter how strong the pull is to let Pinterest be your guide.

host-party-works

Have your “person” there

We all have that close one or two people who will have our backs, do what needs to be done, handle what you can’t or may not know about, and in some ways just be an extension of you during the party. Make sure that person is there. Give them the green light ahead of time  to handle whatever needs to be handled if you are unable to during your event.

I grew up in a large extended family. At gatherings, everyone pitched in and just did what needed to be done to relieve stress from the hostess. I learned at an early age that having someone there for you, the hostess, during the party is so important.

host-party-works

What’s your budget?

Although we all want to host a party that puts our best foot forward, being conscientious of our budget is important. The budget will decide how big your party can be, how elaborate the settings, or how much entertainment you can comfortably provide.

In your budget, be sure to include, food and beverages, any place settings, party favors, entertainment, and any clothing items that may be needed. All of these items can add up without notice. Setting a budget at the beginning helps in keeping costs in check.

How big/small do you want to make it?

Do you want a large gathering of family and friends? Or do you want your gathering to be more intimate with those you are closest to? How many people do you actually have room for? Are you willing to rent an off site venue for your party? Deciding this will help you determine the direction of your party. Set your guest list if you want a small gathering and don’t budge.

host-party-works

To cook or not to cook…

Be realistic. Will you have enough time to cook and prepare the meal the week of your party? Or will ordering several pizza pies be enough for your guests? Are you comfortable enough with your guests to ask each person to bring a side dish? This would alleviate extra tasks off of your plate so you are free to handle other planning items.

These are all great options. Each one will will give you an edge to hosting a great party. At my sister’s party, she set a theme (peanut butter) and had each guest bring a dish that used peanut butter in some way. The excitement of discovering new peanut butter based dishes fit her party perfectly.

For my son’s recent birthday, I knew I would have no time to actually prepare a meal to serve. And when kids are your main guests, finding something everyone will like can be a challenge. Picking up several pizza pies was the perfect solution for our party.

host-party

Entertainment

Depending on your gathering, you will need to decide what type of entertainment will be needed.

At my baby shower, the women were entertained with games and the opening of gifts. Meanwhile, the men were in a theater room with a college football game.

For Ian’s birthday party, we rented a bounce house to keep the kids entertained. Once the gifts had been opened, the children went into his room to play with the new toys.

For my sister’s peanut butter party, a gathering of women at lunch time makes for its own entertainment. She provided a comfortable area for women to congregate and we entertained each other with conversation.

As we head into the holiday season, remember:

Do what you can. 

Don’t overwhelm yourself.

If you’re new to entertaining, start small.

Find your groove.

But more importantly, enjoy yourself and your guests and host a part that works for you.