December 13, 2010

Advent Activities

I've posted about some of the traditions that we started last year here.

In addition to unwrapping a book each day, one of the other things that we do daily as we countdown for the coming of our an advent activity.  This might be the kids' most favorite tradition!

Here is my post explaining how we do what we do:


Each day of December, in addition to our book countdown, Asher would open a box from our matchbox advent calendar. The most difficult thing about making this calendar was finding the matchboxes. Walmart carries them in what they call their "kitchen gadgets" seriously took me about 40 minutes and talking to 6 different employees to finally pin them down. Cover the matchboxes in scrapbook paper, modge podge and stickers.

Asher LOVED drawing these each day. He would ask me several times a day if "it was time yet" to read about our activity. This created many opportunities to talk about how excited we were about Jesus coming to be born as our Savior and about how excited we are about Him coming back to take us home to heaven.

Each day he would find a note that would tell him what activity we'd do that day. Most days we would do them as a family in the evening, but if it was a busy day, the kids and I would do it together during the day. Some days were very simple-just a coloring page or making a craft. Other days were more involved-we'd go somewhere, have a larger craft or have someone over for dinner.


Here are a few of the things we've done so far to celebrate Jesus' coming:

Day 1: Load up in the Tahoe to go celebrate with a special treat. It's the first day of December and we've begun the Countdown for our Savior's birth! (We went to Spoon's to kick off the countdown!)

Day 2: Watch a Christmas movie.  (We rented three movies as they actually watched SEVERAL Christmas movies on the road as we were traveling out of town for Grandma Apel's funeral.  This one, this one, and this one.

Day 3: Meet some friends up at the park to go sledding down a hill of snow!

Holiday Magic was the night before, but some friends tipped us off that it was much better to go the next day after the crowds of people were gone, but the snow was still perfect for sledding...even though it was in the 70's that day!

A failed attempt to get all the kids together for a picture. There was way too much fun to be had to stop for a silly pic!

Asher and Isaac screaming with joy the whole way down! It was Charlie's brilliant idea to send us with an inter-tube! It worked perfect!

The boys were constantly throwing snowballs at each other if they weren't sledding down.

McKlayne would not go down for about the first hour.  She told me that she was, "too scared," but once I offered to go down with her, she took me up on here's evidence of this 7 months pregnant Momma sledding down the hill...lifting my butt up so that we could actually slide down...(thanks a lot, Mel!)  Once we were done, she said, "That was fun! I want to go again!" and never looked back.  It really was so fun that we were there for more than 3 hours!

Day 4: Make a nativity wreath as a family as you talk about the Chrismas story!  

I asked this silly girl to hold up the wreath so I could take a picture and this is what I got!

We ordered these foam wreaths here last year and had one left over for us to make assemble this year. I am glad this was a family project b/c it would have taken me FOREVER to do this with just the kids....we teamed up girls vs. boys to tackle this baby.

Of course then, Asher wanted his own pic, too.

Asher and McKlayne are super proud of this and show everyone that comes over the wreath hanging in their room. (Did I tell you that we moved them into the same room the week after Thanksgiving? They are loving it and have both transitioned very nicely!)

Day 5: Paint a donkey for Mary to ride to Bethlehem. (These were painted using their handprints...I will be posting about these once we finish the entire set of nativity animals.)

Day 6: Color a picture of Mary and Joseph with their brand new baby.

Day 7: Read a Christmas book and do an activity afterwards.
This activity was inspired by our little Princess. As soon as we put up her pink Christmas tree, she told me that she wanted to decorate with pink popcorn and "princesses" (which are all of my old Barbie ornaments that I collected growing up.) Popcorn? I wondered where she'd seen that. Maybe a book? Or a cartoon?

Then, I remembered that we had this book:

Charlie read it to the kids while I prepared the "pink (and blue) popcorn" using this recipe. (I halfed this recipe for both batches of we each color really had 1/4 of what the recipe called for.)

I was impressed with how well Asher did with this. Under my supervision, he used a real needle and fishing line to string the popcorn.

McKlayne pretty much did this...and handed Charlie the popcorn as he strung it.

My clever boy's popcorn smile.

And, of course, hers, too.

Showing off their newly decorated trees.

Day 8: It's time for a Family Game Night! Mommy and Daddy have chosen your favorite games and some treats for a SWEET night together!

We played two of their favorite games: Go Fish and Bingo.

We had this same Bingo set when I was growing up that I snagged at a garage sale...and the kids just adore this!

McKlayne, I am always amazed at how well you understood the concept of Go Fish at the age of two. You are fully capable of playing on your own team, but because we're not quite ready for you to be that independent, we often make you pair up with one of us.

Day 9: Paint a Christmas picture using watercolors.

This turned into more like 10 Christmas paintings.

Day 10: Head on over to Christmas in the Park to see the beautiful lights. Be sure to visit the camel, donkey, Mary, Joseph, and Baby Jesus.

Our annual picture with the camel.

We went to a Live Nativity at a church in town...we've done this the past 3 years. They have animals and characters dressed up as the Christmas Story is read and Christmas carols are sung.

They also have a petting zoo that the kids love.

Then we walked across the street to Christmas in the Park to see lights and eat cookies and drink hot chocolate.

We ran into some friends while we were there.

McKlayne was OBSESSED with Rudolph. She wanted to see him all night.

Day 11: Get bundled up to go out to the Terry Ranch for a Life Group Christmas Party!
(I didn't take any pics from that night! I need some copies, those of you who did!)

Day 12: Paint a Christmas tree with your new paints.
(I just sketched up a tree and traced some cookie cutters of angels, bells, snowflakes and a star for the top of the tree...easy!)

Day 13: Daddy Date Night! (AKA...Mommy needs to catch up on some handmade Christmas gifts.)
Whataburger is having their 12 Days of Free Food and free kids meals are on the list tonight, so Charlie will take them there and find something fun to do with them afterwards while I get finish some Christmas gifts.

Day 14: Go out to the farm to play with friends!

Day 15: Meet friends at the park to play, ride bikes and have lunch!

Day 16: Paint more nativity animals using your handprints.

Day 17: Decorate Gingerbread Nativities with all of your cousins!

Day 18: Go look in your beds for the golden ticket to this activity. (Tahoe Express — For those of you who couldn't open the PDF from last year, this link should now work.)

Day 19: Help Mommy bake cinnamon rolls for friends.

Day 20: Go caroling as you deliver cinnamon rolls to friends.

Day 21: Camp out underneath the Christmas tree.

Day 22: Go to Pop's house to celebrate Christmas with him!

Day 23: Play with red and green playdough and Christmas cookie cutters.

Day 24: Recite the Christmas story to Mimi. (Luke 2:8-20) Present your shepherd's pouches before the King tonight during Family Worship. (I will post about this one later, too.)

Day 25: Sing Happy Birthday to Jesus and remember Him as you celebrate His Birthday today!

December 12, 2010

Our Christmas Booklist

Like I mentioned in my previous post, the kids and I unwrap a book each day during the month of December as we count down to Christmas.  There are many "holiday" books out there, but it's harder to track down some sweet, gospel-centered children's books (for younger children) that are more about preparing their hearts for the birth of our Savior.  Or is it? I thought that it was a daunting task, but over the last year, as I've done some research and between garage saling, thrifting, and the surprisingly good selection that our library has to offer (I just returned 6 books to the Bryan library yesterday, so if you're in the area, you can have a chance to enjoy these, too) we've found a good number of books to add to our rotation.

Here's what I posted last year about how it all works:


Though we're not "doing Santa" we still want our kids to experience the anticipation, excitement, wonder, awe, and use their imagination and creativity for this most special time of the year as we celebrate our Savior. I found a cute idea (and now, of course, I cannot recall where I found it. I just know that I aimlessly happened upon was a stranger's blog. Yes. I'm guilty of being one of those creepy lurkers.) that I knew my kids would LOVE!

And since I can't find it, I will just have to show you mine. The inspiration...with a few of my own spins:

Gather 25 children's Christmas books.

Wrap them.

And place them in a basket (that normally houses your library books) under your tree. Let the kids choose one book to unwrap and read each day in December.

But wait...there's more.

Designate the Christmas story for the "Do NOT open until Dec. 25" book. Yes, you can see through this paper. Charlie asked why I wrapped it like that. "Because we don't want this story to be kept a secret. It's the greatest story ever told. We want everyone to be able to know about it."

********************** now that you know how it's a list of books that we have really enjoyed.  I will try and give a brief summary or review of the ones that we've read so far and an * with denote if I think it's worth adding to your collection.  I hope this serves to give you some sweet stories to share with your children, as it will also serve me when I am trying to plan our booklist for next December! 

Disclaimer: Some of these re-tellings of the Christmas story are not completely accurate compared to Scripture. The following two mistakes are often made: 1. Mary and Joseph were not married (Luke 1:27) 2. The wise men came to see Jesus at the home of Mary and Jesus, not at the stable. (Matthew 2:11). Both of these mistakes happen often in the retelling of the real Christmas story, but I wanted to let you know that before purchasing, you may want to check into it if it bothers you, because I don't ALWAYS include that in my "reviews".  This does not, often, bother me about most "Christmas books", I think it can be a great teaching moment to remind your children of the truth from Scripture.  I just don't like it when a story claims to be "The Christmas Story" and it's not entirely truthful.
This is a cute, simple story where the "stable" animals are preparing for Jesus to come stay at their house. We have this in a boardbook, and is great for itty bitty ones to young children.

Rhonda Gowler Greene
This is a simplified version of the story of Christ's birth with beautiful pictures introducing the "stable characters" in repeating rhyme. I love that it is not too advanced for toddlers but still appealing for the parent that will read this over and over.  

The Manger Where Jesus Lay*

Martha Larchar
This is very similar to the book above, but I don't mind having both in my collection! 
 Each page adds a new line, with a key word represented by a picture. Once my kids saw each picture, they were able to recite the entire sentence and "read" along with me.  They love this book because of that!

Christmas in the Manger*

Nola Buck
This is a sweet board book to add to your collection IF you are just starting this tradition as your family if this is your first or second baby or toddler and you plan on having more children, I would recommend it, but I'd pass if you youngest child is 3 or over.  It is simple and sweet, but there are still other books that I'd rather add to my collection, or maybe you could see if your library had it?

Maggie Barfield
This is similar to the three books above this on the list. (And my kids enjoyed it.)  It is sweet, simple and makes a great read-aloud.  I would recommend it over Christmas in the Manger because it had more depth, but I don't feel it's necessary to add all of these to your collection because of how similar they are to one another, unless you just find all of these for $1 or less. 

One Shining Star: A Christmas Counting Book*

Anne Vittur Kennedy
This is a GREAT book to have if you have little ones.  It is a sweet, Christmas counting book with really cute illustrations.  My kids love helping me count the items in each picture.

We check this one out from our library, so we don't need to purchase it, but it's one that's worth adding to your collection permanently if you can find it second hand if your library doesn't carry it.  Kind Ox slowly makes room for more and more animals to share his stable on a cold winter's night and finally the animals make room for a donkey, who, of course, is carrying Mary great with child as they make room for THE "little one who came for the world."
Will Hillenbrand
This is a cute book for little ones that, once again, I would add to our collection if our library didn't carry it, about Baby Owl who asks his Momma Owl lots of questions about the Holy Child, who came from the Heavenly Father, sleeping in their stable.  My kids enjoyed this is especially good for preschoolers.

If I hadn't gotten this at a garage sale for a quarter, this would not be one that I would be spending my "Christmas book budget" on.  The illustrations are beautiful and the villagers are awakened by shepherds who are bidding, "Come see, Come out and see." The entire village gathers to worship and rejoice as Jesus is born...though, the name Jesus is never mentioned.  It's great for a supplemental book, and since we have so many other Christ-centered books in our collections, I enjoy it.  If your library has it, I would still encourage you to check it out, but not to necessarily run out and buy this book.

I'd gotten this at a consignment shop for fifty cents, and once again, this is not one that I would spend more than that on.  It is cute and I love the adorable illustrations, but it's not an accurate retelling of the Christmas story.  It's still cute, but  I would not want this to be the only source of the Christmas story that my kids were learning.

Fear Not, Joseph!
Julie Stiegemeyer 
This was a surprise find at our library and I really enjoyed this re-telling of the familiar Christmas story from Joseph's point of view and how we were constantly reminded to, "Fear Not," but to trust the Lord.  I would definitely add this one to my collection later on, as my children grow older.  This was a harder one (since it was longer) for McKlayne to stay interested in, but Asher was engaged most of the time.

The Christmas Pageant
Jacqueline Rogers
This was another great surprise find from our library!  The text is almost completely, if not completely, from the gospels of Matthew and Luke and is the re-telling of the Christmas story while the illustrations show the children performing in their Christmas Pageant.  What we really enjoyed about this book was how every couple pages, at appropriate breaks in the story, the page had a verse or two of about 6 or 7 traditional Christmas carols: Hark the Harold Angels Sing, Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem, We Three Kings, Joy to the World, etc.  My kids liked that I would stop and sing these throughout the book and we used this as a guide to help us insert songs as we plan for our Christmas Day reading of The Christmas Story.

Animals Christmas Carol 

Helen Ward

We got this book from our library.  The illustrations are beautiful but I wasn't too impressed with the story told from the animal's viewpoint.  It is based on the Carol of the Friendly Beasts.  My kids happen to know if since they have a Veggie Tales Christmas CD with it on there, but they didn't seem to make the connection.  I don't remember them ever mentioning Jesus or who He is.  This, again, would just be supplemental and I would only check this one out again if I needed a filler book.

This is SUCH a cute book that I would love to add to our permanent collection!  It's great for young children to intermediate.  The Christmas story, from the sheep's perspective, is told by Grandpa Wooly, a sheep who is retelling the Christmas story of three curious sheep who followed the shepherds, to his young grandsheep.  It's a super cute book, HOWEVER, we checked this out from our library in BOARDBOOK and I would NOT purchase it that way. I would want to buy it with the full version b/c the board book has too many words crammed onto a page with very few/small pictures.  That is my only complaint.  If you're buying online, the full version of this book should be 8x8 inches and contain 44 pages, not 32.

Rick Osbourne

The storytelling was a little bit cheese are the author lays on the adjectives a little thick but my kids didn't seem to notice.  We enjoyed this story and I would add this to my collection BUT would not pay full price for this book.  I have no idea how entirely accurate this is, since I have not researched my history of the Christmas tree :) but this "legend" definitely pointed to Christ and I appreciated that. (Great for young-older children...this held Asher's attention, but McKlayne was a little fidgety through this.)

Lori Walburg

I enjoyed this story much more than the one above.  I loved the emphasis of Jesus in this book as it talks about how the colors of the candy cane symbolize his death and his purity through his death.  We ate candy canes while reading this book, so McKlayne was much more still during this one, but I would say that it is also suitable for older children. 

An Angel Came to Nazareth*

Maggie Kneen
I REALLY like this book and would definitely add it to my collection (if I didn't already own it) as it is great for young to probably even older children.  My kids ask to read this one over and over.  An angel approaches four animals in Nazareth and asks them who of the four travelers they'd like to carry, warning them to choose wisely for one will carry the greatest of them all.  The strongest animal chooses the brave soldier and all the way down until the donkey is left to choose Mary.  It is a sweet story that I can't recommend enough!

Christmas in the Barn

Margaret Wise Brown
(This is an updated edition with new cover/illustrations...the original is very old.)
I normally love most of Brown's book and this was a cute one, but not compared to all the other ones to choose from to buy for your own collection.  If you're familiar with The Big Red Barn, it reminded me a lot of that.  Once again, this is one that we checked out from our library, so I would check it out again if we needed another book to fill in, but wouldn't spend my money on buying our own copy.

Franklin's Christmas Gift*

Pauletter Bourgeois 
This book is obviously not any re-telling of the Christmas story, but I knew my kids would like it because they love Franklin books.  And, I actually LOVED the message of this book! Franklin must decide which of his old toys is special enough to be given away to a child who may only receive one toy for Christmas.  This would be a great book to use as a "prep" if you're cleaning out toys for a toy drive, etc.  It can encourage much discussion on thinking of the least of these and loving others, if you take the opportunity.

Dandi Mackall
I love this book, told from the lowly Shepherd's perspective of how Angels could have appeared to kings, nobles, religious leaders, or rabbi's-but God had chosen to reveal such news to humble, uneducated, commoners.    This book is great for young-older children...not itty bitties, but if you see it for a good price, I'd grab it and save's that good...and it won't be long before your itty bitty is  BIG!

That's all for now...I will continue to update this list as we unwrap more books! Happy reading!  And, feel free to chime in with any good book recommendations!

December 8, 2010

Advent 2010: Preschoolers Edition

Have you ever formally celebrated Advent with your family?  Advent is the 4 week period of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of Christ! It encompasses both the arrival of the Christ child and His second glorious coming! (We're almost halfway through advent, though I started this post around Thanksgiving...and am just now getting around to posting it, I still wanted to recommend some resources that have really enriched this season as we anticipate the first and second coming of our Savior.)

The last several years, advent has taken a lot of planning...and even last year...about halfway through we changed our plans because it just wasn't working.   But it's worth the planning and intentionality that it takes to prepare our hearts daily for the birth of Christ through Scripture readings, songs and prayer as a family. Here is my super long post from last year explaining about why we do and what we do for advent.  And here is Heather's post about celebrating advent in Haiti this year.

This year, we decided to continue to keep it simple as far as our family devotionals go since we have children that are ages 2 and 3. 

This is how advent has been looking for us: 

We start by lighting a candle, since during this season we're waiting and watching for the coming Light...before Jesus we lived in complete darkness, unable to find our way to the Father without Him.  As we turn off all of our lights except for our Christmas tree lights and the light of a candle, we shut out all the chaos and clutter around us, so we can quiet down to reflect on what really matters.
Then, in prayer, we ask our Savior to come and prepare our hearts to worship Him, inviting Him to come to teach us and give us hearts that truly long for our Emmanuel...God with us.  

Next, Charlie reads the Christmas story (you can download and print it out here for your own use)  and we slowly add to it from a verse to a group of verses each day.  In the beginning, he'll  just read a couple verses, but slowly the story begins to unfold and the kids wait to hear how he will add to the story each day. (Having two tots, we know that preschoolers LOVE repetition and enjoy being able to even chime in along with us.) We are punching out characters each day as we read about them in the story from this book that was illustrated in 1942, (the Christmas story that we're following is in there, but it's from the King James version, and we're using the NIV for our kids, so the above link is in the NIV that Charlie typed up) but you could easily do this with a nativity playset.  (I love this vintage punchout set.  But, I love vintage Christmas anything.)

My kids play with these everyday during December...and not just during Family Worship.  These are the three that we have that reside in a basket under our tree to be played with each day:

This Little People set is the first set that I purchased for Asher on his second Christmas.

This playset that Asher calls "the skinny people" was given to us as a gift the same year I bought the Little People.  This year, this is Asher's favorite set to play with.
And Charlie's parents gave us this Veggie Tales set this year.  McKlayne adores and often claims this one.

Then we sing some Christmas carols and we recite the passage of the Christmas story that we're memorizing as a family: Luke 2:8-20.  Asher is a sponge and puts the rest of us to shame.  He's able to completely memorize a line after hearing it twice.  It's kind of ridiculous.  McKlayne is amazing us, too, with how much she's picking up, even when we don't really think she's listening.

And then we close in prayer...and that's it.  Simple, huh? We're loving this simple schedule.  No stress. No wrestling the kids to sit still.  Each evening, after they put on their pj's, they are eager to assemble in the living room.

If you don't have little ones, here are some additional resources that you may find helpful:

Charlie and I enjoyed this so much last year that we're each reading through this devotional again for personal reflection.  There are 22 essays in this book that draw me in to really meditate on how intricate and beautiful God's story of redemption really is.  Each time I finish reading one of the excerpts from a sermon or  writing, my heart is filled with wonder and amazement at the Father who wrote this story, the Son who came as a lowly babe, and the Spirit who was at work from the very beginning. Some of the authors include: George Whitefield, Martin Luther, John Piper, Tim Keller, Charles Spurgeon, J. I. Packer, John Calvin, Randy Alcorn, John MacArthur, and R. C. Sproul. 

One day when our kids are older we think we will use this free ebook of the Jesse Tree.  I love how it starts at the beginning of time...showing us our need for a Savior even then....and the complete picture of God's plan for redemption and salvation through Jesus.

We're still doing our advent activities each day to countdown to Jesus' Birthday and unwrapping a book each day, like we did last year.  I will be posting on the books soon to give you some updates on books that we've enjoyed or maybe not so much enjoyed since quite a few of you have been asking.

What are you doing for advent? Is this your first year to celebrate?