Family devotions

In my last post I mentioned that it is the Father’s role to lead his family spiritually. In many families this role has been handed over to the church, Sunday school, Christian school or sometimes Mum. While spiritual input from all of these areas can be very beneficial, it is primarily the Father’s responsibility. One tangible way that Dad can take hold of this role is by leading his family in daily devotions (sometimes known as family alter or bible study time.)

WHAT ARE FAMILY DEVOTIONS?

  • Regular bible study with the whole family. This time can also include worship (in the form of singing), prayer, and possibly catechism and scripture memorization. Catechism and scripture memorization are both important, however some families do them separately at other times throughout the day.

WHY SHOULD WE DO IT?

  • In short – God tells us to! It is not enough to take our children to church and youth group and hope for the best. We must disciple our children, teaching them in our homes, with the Father as the primary lead in this area.
  • We become the prime spiritual influence in the lives of our children – it allows us to shepherd our children’s hearts; preparing their hearts for the gospel and salvation, building their faith and strengthening a biblical worldview.
  • Worshiping and communicating with God is vital for the whole family, not just Mum and Dad.
  • It promotes personal spiritual growth, helping us (and our family) to learn the bible, it’s doctrines and teachings in order that we know what we believe and why. If our children do not know God’s word they will be unable to honour, respect and live by it. Children need to learn that the bible tells us what to do and gives us insight for daily life; that it is relevant to them and their everyday situations. As families study together, parents can weed out errors in belief and misunderstandings
  • Worshiping and studying God’s word together builds family unity, strengthening and building healthy family relationships.

HOW DO WE DO IT?

  • The “how” of family devotions changes with each family’s unique situation, time constraints, ages of children and a myriad of other factors. Find a way that works for you and do it – regularly!
  • Decide where; Lounge chairs, around the dining table, on the end of beds, sprawled on the lounge room floor…
  • Decide when; As soon as the family is awake, immediately before or after a meal, after dinner clean-up, just before bed? Ideally choose a time when children are fed and well rested.
  • Decide how long; this depends on the age of the children. Keep it to a reasonable time limit, but not so short that you cannot give adequate attention to God’s word.

TODDLERS AND YOUNGER

  • Give thanks before meals. Hold the child’s hands and encourage them to join in with “Amen” at the end. Encourage them to echo or say simple prayers as they are able.
  • Pray with and for the child at bedtime
  • Have your own devotions in front of the child
  • Read short, colourful bible stories. Perhaps ask a simple comprehension question or two afterwards.
  • Sing simple bible based children’s songs together
YOUNG CHILDREN TO MIDDLE YEARS
  • Bible stories are still important, branching out into the lesser known ones.
  • Spice up your devotion time by acting out stories, using puppets or pictures, involving the children in role play and re-tell.
  • Introduce real-life stories, applications and real Christian “heroes”
  • Ask questions for comprehension and real-life application of what they have read; “What would you do if..?”
  • As children can read, have them take their turn to read out the verses being studies.
PRE-TEEN TO TEEN
  • Discussion, sharing and engagement become much more important.
  • It’s ok to not always have the answer – model how to find out.
  • Personal devotions for the children should be well and truly up and running – perhaps set “homework” and discuss together, work through devotional books together or research tricky questions.
  • Discuss current affairs and politics and the biblical basis for decisions making in these areas. What are the biblical rights and wrongs of what is going on?
  • Teens take time – make sure you plan for it!
MULTIPLE AGES
  • Beware of dumbing everything down for the younger children, they will pick up more than you think.
  • use a mix of resources; some days may cater more for the younger, others the middle or older.
  • Young children may stay for the first part of devotions then head off to bed while the older children delve in more deeply.
  • Involve the older children in planning and running the devotion time.
  • Everyone may do the same bible study together, with younger children having a children’s bible story at night before bed and older children working through separate studies in the evening

FORMAT

  • Sing together. Perhaps a kids bible song, contemporary worship song  and a traditional hymn. Do not neglect the great hymns of the faith; the words in these will teach spiritual truths to children and will lodge in their memories for a lifetime. Voddie Baucham’s article on family worship touches on why we should sing hymns: http://web.me.com/voddieb/vbm/Blog/Entries/2009/11/5_Answering_Your_Questions.html
  • Study the bible. There are many ways to do this. A couple are: Chapter by chapter (simply work your way through books of the bible from start to finish in small chunks), following a theme or topic or read 1 proverb, a section of a psalm and a couple of verses from the New Testament each day.
  • Several great ideas are included in an article by Al Troester here: http://www.wholesomewords.org/family/famaltar.html)
  •  Perhaps Dad could read through the selected text to begin with, then ask those children who can read to take it in turns to read 2 lines each and those who cannot yet read to echo the words of each verse after you. Dad then teaches back through the selected text – children are asked to contribute to discussions or ask questions after he has explained each line or two. Each person finishes the bible study section by telling something they have learnt or can apply to their own lives. Always look for the applications and personal lessons after each reading and teaching time.
  • Pray. All family members take a turn to pray for whatever is appropriate that day. It is helpful to have some kind of prayer journal or recording system to help with purposeful prayer and to notice the answers to prayer that God gives us. Record the date it was prayed for, what was prayed and leave a column to record God’s answer.
  • Catechism. The catechism is a series of questions and answer that children memorise to learn the main doctrines of the Christian faith, building a strong foundation for world view and ensuring they know what they believe. (More info on this another time:)
  • Scripture memorization. (More ideas on how to do this another day too 🙂


Children who stand strong in their faith: Walking against the crowd

One of the topics raised amongst our GEMS leaders a little while back was how to go about raising children who are able to stand strong in their faith even when no-one else is walking with them and they are away from the sheltering influence of their parents and family. How do we prepare them to be in the world but not of the world; to be able to choose the narrow path and walk against the flow? (Even if that means standing alone because “every one else is doing it!”)

I believe the key is that our children must develop their own genuine saving faith and not be relying on ours to carry them through. They must have the Holy Spirit as their strength and their own conviction to stand on God’s word and to follow His commandments and statutes. Our teaching as parents must be overt, deliberate, ongoing, free from hypocrisy, giving a good role model and above all, reaching the heart of our children. Our teaching will be molding the external behavior of our children, but this must transition to heart knowledge, to the child internalizing the beliefs for themselves. We can only do so much here and pray that God will do the rest. In the end, when a difficult test comes, only if our children have chosen God and His ways for themselves will they make the difficult decisions and stand alone if necessary, because otherwise they simply will not want to!

Dads should be leading their family spiritually. There are many ways to do this, including holding family devotions, leading world view discussions on current affairs, discussing what they believe and why and relating that back to the bible. Be deliberate in teaching the bible, memorizing scripture, training character, reading inspiring books with a message and praying together. Soak your children in the beliefs, understandings and world view you want them to have well before a time of testing will come. Decisions made ahead of time without the emotions and pressure of the heat of the moment, decisions that have been discussed, thought through, prayed over and become an internalized way of life will not be overturned quickly. We all can think of actions and decisions made in the heat of the moment that we wish we could change and would have done differently had we previously thought through the issues involved.

You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

(Deuteronomy 6:7 ESV)

We need to keep the lines of communication open; talking about everything. Make time alone to share, bond and discuss those innermost thoughts and feelings. Work to surround your children with peers who are being raised with similar convictions, standards and beliefs. Two or more standing together is so much easier than one standing alone. Foster a close relationship. Fill their love tanks. A child who knows that they are unconditionally loved by their families will have an extra inner reserve of strength to stand firm. A needy, empty child will turn to those who fulfill those needs that are not being met at home.

Certain personalities will be more naturally able to take a leadership role and less likely to blindly follow the crowd. All of us need to be able to make the hard decisions though and learn not to follow when the leaders are leading in the wrong direction. Teach your children about personality types and love languages. Help them to identify their own strengths and weaknesses and areas that they will have to be particularly vigilant in. Help to identify why they feel the way they do and to be able to be objective about their decision making.

Guard your child’s ear and eye gate. Give them excellent literature to read that portrays great role models and biblical worldview; do not pollute their innocence with worldly ideas through literature, magazines or on screen. Choose television programmes very carefully or better still get rid of the T.V. completely. The more exposure to non-biblical thinking we give our children the more they will be subtly bought into the idea of the world’s norms and tend to adapt them as their own. Slow attitude change is often hardly noticeable but Hollywood has its own agenda and it shouldn’t fit with ours as Christians. If the role models they are watching and listening to are “doing it” then children are being nudged in that direction and may begin to normalize non-biblical behaviour and accept it as ok.

Shield your child by not putting them into situations that will likely test them before they are ready to handle it. Be aware of the scenarios faced at sleep-overs, parties, weekends away and the like. I had good friends who were fairly like-minded, with careful parents. It was only through the grace of God however that I came through the parties, sleepovers and get-togethers we attended relatively unscathed. I’m sure my parents would have been horrified to know what went on at some of the places we went to – even those with so-called responsible adults in attendance!

Substitute inappropriate situations with alternatives if there are such available. For example, the end of year 11 was a time to go away camping with all the highschoolers and a time of drinking, partying and a lot of other things we don’t need to list. There was no way my parents were prepared to let me go away unchaperoned and luckily for me many of my friends’ parents felt the same way. My Mother volunteered to take us all camping and attended as the supervising adult (much to my embarrassment at the time.) She did turn out to be remarkably “cool” and as it was this or nothing everyone came and we had a great time together.

There are no easy answers and no quick fixes. Equipping our children to stand strong on their convictions is a process and we build on to that equipping every day for years.

  [9] And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

(Galatians 6:9 ESV)

Preparing for a new baby: menu planning

A new baby on the way always prompts me to think about the areas that will need re-organising to make life as easy to maintain as possible. A small amount of preparation now goes a long way towards surviving enjoying life with a new baby after the birth! One area that usually gets tweaked is shopping and menu planning.

Menu planning saves me time: I remember to defrost the meat the night before I need it, I can quickly do a little prep towards dinner when I have a spare 10 minutes and I am not flapping around trying to come up with something to cook at the last minute. It also saves me money: I only buy what I need at the shops, I use what I have before it goes rotten and I am not as tempted to go running out to grab take-away at the end of a hard day. We also eat a more interesting and varied diet rather than dishing up the same old standby meals every week.

I have a bunch of lists and planning proformers that I print out and use to do my planning. They are in Word documents so feel free to print them out and alter them for your own personal use. They are not fancy (most are in black only because I don’t want to use up a bunch of coloured ink every time I print them) but they do the job.

Monthly menu plan. The 3 colour strips per day are for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I do not pre-date the planner so that I can use it for any month without having to make changes. I simply add the date in the corner of each day as I fill it in. I do plan all daily meals, however menus are very flexible and meals often do not match the day that I plan them for.

Weekly menu planner.  7 day planner for all meals plus morning and afternoon tea.

Index for menu planning. I have listed all the recipes I regularly use under meal types so when I sit down to plan a weekly or monthly menu I don’t have to search through recipe books.

Fruit and veggies shopping list. I print this out, cut it into strips, punch a hole in each one and hang them from a string inside the pantry door.  We shop for our fruit and veg separately to our regular groceries and when we want a list we rip one off and tick what we need.

Weekly groceries list. Again, I print this out, cut it into strips and quickly tick off what we need before a trip to the shops. I also have a pad on the fridge where we write items that have run out or are about to run out, or new items we need to remember.

Freezer stock-take list. This stays on the front of the freezer. As I add an item, I write the quantity on the stock-take list (adding a “1” to represent a meal amount) and when an item is removed, I cross it off. e.g. mince 1 1 1, chicken breasts 1 1  etc. This allows me to see at a glance what needs to be re-stocked when I am planning my shopping list, without scrabbling around in freezer drawers. It also helps me to use what I have first, rather than double up or buy unnecessary items.

The other thing I am doing is cooking heaps of bulk meals and freezing multiple dinners so that I have a couple of weeks worth of meals for after the baby comes. I have also cooked a heap of foods (meat balls, pizza, scrolls, sausage rolls, quiche etc) that can be plopped out to defrost with some fresh fruit or salad added to make a complete lunch. These are all cut into single serves so I can defrost only what we need for one meal at a time. Morning and afternoon teas are also stocking up. Again, all cakes, slices etc. are cut into small individual serves that can be pulled out and defrosted in a few minutes on the bench.

I don’t necessarily use these frozen items for straight after the baby’s arrival as my husband has holidays then. When he goes back to work for the first time is when I love the stocked freezer.

Surviving new babies, sick kids and interruptions

My child, who is normally a very light sleeper, slept on and off throughout the day on the couch in the middle of the gamesroom surrounded by siblings. He must be sick!

The larger your family grows, the more important it is to have some standby plans for managing those days when you have a sick child, the baby cried all night or unexpected interruptions take away all your usual “keeping things running” times in the day. It requires some preparation and planning ahead, but that investment is well worth it when one of “those” days arrives. Many of these tips are also useful if you are preparing for a new baby.

Here are a couple of my ideas to get our family through a day or two when life is just too difficult to even think about what you are going to cook for dinner.

Meals

  • Meals should be healthy – avoid takeaway if possible or sick children’s already overloaded immune system will be fighting off the effects of bad food on top of everything else.
  • Keep a supply of freezer stock meals to defrost for “those” days.
  • Make an emergency menu – meals that you or older children can put together in minutes and ingredients that are always on hand.
  • Put the crockpot/slowcooker on in the morning when sick children may be less likely to need your attention.
  • Have your regular menu already planned so that the meals do not require thought.
  • Teach your children to cook. In a pinch, my 6 year old can put together a salad, the 8.5yr old can prepare a simple main meal and the 4 year old can get the table set and water glasses set out. If your emergency meals are simple enough and you spend some time teaching your junior cooks how to make them without assistance, they will be well prepared and love to step up and help Mum out. It gives a child a great sense of accomplishment to be able to announce to Dad and the family that they cooked dinner all by themselves. (Obviously there are safety issues to consider – Mum may need to be the one who slides the casserole into the oven.)

Toddlers/preschoolers

  • Have a list of suitable toddler activities that can be pulled out from an easily accessible place with a good storage system (Ziploc bags, shoeboxes, crates etc.) Set it up so that an older sibling can get them out for your younger child.
  • Create a flexible routine that includes activities such as playpen time, table time, mat time and highchair time so that you know you will be free to attend to the children who need it. Implement it on a daily basis so that it is a usual part of your day and well established before “those” days hit.
  • Today it is ok to watch TV.
  • Today it is ok to play outside a lot (the well ones!)
Homeschooling
  • Teach your children to work independently.
  • Leave the subjects you absolutely must teach yourself for another day or a suitable moment throughout the day.
  • It generally works better if we go ahead with school regardless of sick children. Well children mixing with cranky sick children without a lot of structure is a recipe for a bad day.
  • Have systems in place so that all children, regardless of age, know what they should be doing on a daily basis and in what order, whether you are there or not. (Workbox systems, a shelf of activities per weekday, Ziploc bag tasks, workjobs in a shoebox, Montessori style tray activities, pictorial or written timetables and schedules or whatever system suits your children.)
  • Read aloud a lot while children colour/play quietly/fold laundry or simply rest.

Housecleaning

  • Train older children to help out with regular daily chores.
  • Do only what is essential (if today is washing day – skip it or use the dryer. You don’t have time to hang out those loads.)

Afternoon quiet time

  • This time is precious to me – older children have room time, younger children nap and I can then have a nap too (assuming the sick child does not require attention at this time.)
Remember that every day will not be like this and it is ok to just let it all slide and simply survive! Routines and schoolwork can all be quickly re-established, especially if your children are used to having a fairly structured day. With a new baby, you may be tired and lacking the drive to get things started, so perhaps putting in the preparation and endeavouring to keep things ticking along will be more successful than allowing it all to fall into a great heap that needs a lot of time and energy to get back out of later!
Mat time was uneventful this week – too tired to sit up, let alone play!

Montessori style tray activity for toddlers: Bucket of giant beads

Today I’m moving away from water transfer for all those who can’t stand the mess or have little ones who are just not ready for that yet! This is the second Montessori style tray activity for toddlers that I ever introduced, to follow on from the mega marbles transfer. Both require less fine  motor control and can be completed successfully by young toddlers. Easy to set up and adapt to the materials you have on hand, you can get this one together in minutes. A great highchair or table activity, it works well for keeping little ones occupied while homeschooling and can easily be carried to the Montessori mats traditionally used to delineate each child’s work-space.

DESCRIPTION:

  • The child uses the scoop provided to transfer the large wooden beads from one bucket to the other and back again.

CATEGORY/SUBJECT AREA:

  • Practical life: dry transfer

CONCEPT/SKILL:

  • Fine motor development
  • Control of ladle or scoop
  • Transferring dry materials

EQUIPMENT & MATERIALS:

  • Ladle (scoop, icecream scoop, measuring spoon, large spoon, pasta spoon or any other utensil that fits one bead at a time into it. Choose a short-handled utensil for ease of manipulation.)
  • Large beads or alternative material to transfer
  • 2  containers (metal containers make a pleasing sound as the beads drop in.)
  • Tray

Please see my articles titled “Workjobs and Learning Styles” and “Brief Montessori Overview” for more information.

Montessori style water transfer tray activity for toddlers

For those of you who like water activities, scooping water is another basic Montessori style tray activity for toddlers. Great for the sensory table, as a table activity or perhaps even a highchair activity if you can fit it on. Most toddlers love to play with water and this gives them a contained way of enjoying water while practising a worthwhile skill at the same time. If you are not afraid of colouring clothes then a few drops of food colouring adds interest. Ice blocks can also be added, as can a variety of floating objects to scoop out.

DESCRIPTION:

The child uses the scoop provided to transfer the water from one bowl to the other and back again. I normally include a small sponge to use for soaking up spills and squeezing the water back into the bowls. The cloth is for drying up the scoop and tray when the activity is done. A variety of scoops and containers can be used to keep the activity fresh and interesting over time.

CATEGORY/SUBJECT AREA:

  • Practical life (liquid transfer)

CONCEPT/SKILL:

  • Fine motor development
  • Control of scoop/ladle/spoon etc.

EQUIPMENT & MATERIALS:

  • Scoop (or other transfer utensil)
  • 2  stable containers for water
  • sponge
  • cloth
  • tray with a lip to contain spills (a baking tray or biscuit tray would do)

Please see my articles titled “Workjobs and Learning Styles” and “Brief Montessori Overview” for more information.

Montessori style toddler tray activities: Water transfer

A basic Montessori style practical life tray activity to set up for your toddlers or preschoolers is water pouring. A tray with low edges will contain any spills and little ones will have a great time pouring themselves cups of pretend tea and up their water intake for the day dramatically!

Start simple, with two small tumbler style cups that fit neatly into the hand for your toddler to pour from one to the other. Next try a small jug for pouring and finally introduce a teapot. Teapots are more difficult to manage as it is harder to judge the distance the water will pour out from the spout.

A good introduction to water pouring - a small jug (not too heavy for little hands) with a sponge to squeeze spilt water back into the jug and a tea-towel for the final drying up of the tray and dishes

For older toddlers more accessories and little tea-sets can be included with perhaps a dolly to hold tea parties with. An activity that is useful for highchair time and as a table activity, I prefer to use it at the highchair so that my younger toddlers can have a go without trailing water behind them.