Count down to a Christ-Centred Easter

We are reading the Easter story broken into daily segments for our count down to Easter and each morning the children come out to find a symbol matching the day’s reading on our Easter coffee table display. It is helping the younger ones understand the events surrounding this important time in the Christian calendar and allowing the older children to discuss, explain and notice things they haven’t bought about before. In depth discussions have been held about all sorts of things relating to the story, from scourging methods and what kind of damage was done to what our heavenly homes will be like.

Starting each day with circle time helps us get our focus right for the morning and means that I do not let the opportunity that Easter brings pass without ensuring that my own children understand what the death of Jesus means for them. They need to know that salvation and forgiveness for their sins is available  because Jesus died in their place. They need to understand that being a “good person” is not enough and that only through complete forgiveness in Jesus can we be made clean and ready to face God. Easter is a wonderful opportunity to focus on what God has done for us and the amazing simplicity of the cross and all it signifies.


Empathy in action with a family “night” activity

IMG_9720Family nights (or mornings, afternoons or whenever!) with our children are important to us and we try to do something special at least once a week. It need not be fancy or expensive, as long as the family enjoys some time together as we seek to build a strong family identity and close relationships.

With colds passing through the family, we didn’t have the energy for a physical activity the week so we decided to do one of the ideas from those we have been discussing and using to build empathy, compassion and thoughtfulness during our Easter circle time.

Each child was given $2 to spend at a secondhand shop. The catch was that they were not allowed to spend it on themselves. Each person drew the name of another family member out of the hat and endeavoured to find something special for them within their budget. We all helped with spotting good ideas and all purchases had to be approved by Mum and Dad first. (No, our oldest son does not want a Barbie doll!)

While many broad hints are given as to what might be a great idea for themselves, we usually manage to keep most of the gifts a surprise and smuggle them home without the recipient seeing them or at least without them being sure of what they are getting. Each child wraps their gift and we all get together for the presentations.

We took the opportunity for a review of gift giving and receiving etiquette  and how to show thankfulness when receiving a gift, which is so important.

Today our gift exchange morning led to a spate of tidying out desks and wrapping up even more gifts for each other which was lovely to see as these ones really did come from the heart. Those children who’s love language is gift giving were particularly over the moon and were seen dancing about with huge smiles on their faces for the rest of the day.

Empathy, Compassion and Serving Others


Empathy is a character quality that we would love to see in our children. A willingness to see things through another’s eyes and put the other person first is so important, but it can be difficult to teach. Some children are naturally empathetic, thoughtful of others and eager to serve another for the joy of doing so. Others seem to be missing the empathy gene and need to work at learning empathy until it becomes something they choose because it is good and right to do so.

We seek to provide our children with many opportunities to develop empathy. As we participated in our count-down to Easter with Jesus tree symbols, readings and activities this week, we arrived at the story of Jesus washing the disciple’s feet. We discussed Jesus’ act of service and then participated in it by washing and drying one another’s feet.

IMG_9709We talked about stinky, dirty feet that would have been dusty and perhaps have walked in camel dung along the way! We discussed how washing another’s feet required pride to be put aside as we put them higher than ourselves. Afterwards we brainstormed ways we could serve each other throughout the day and put each other first. Tonight we will ask the children to tell everyone how someone else served them today and how it made them feel.

IMG_9707There are other ways to work on empathy – the following are just a few. Some of them cross over into love languages and building each other up but they are all closely related to the character of empathy.

Praying for each other. Lifting up the sick, hurting or those who are otherwise needful of our prayers is one way to help the children focus on the needs of others. Sometimes we pair the children up and ask them to pray for each other, or go around the circle and have everyone pray for the person on their right.

When a child is hurt, have a volunteer (or the responsible party if it was deliberate) look after the hurt child, providing them with tangible ways to serve and show empathy such as getting ice packs, cold towels, drinks of water, bandaids, teddy…..

When a child is sick, other children bring teddy, books, read a story, wipe their forehead with a cool cloth, sit with them, make them a lemon and honey drink….

When one child attends a special event that the others are not invited to,encourage them to bring something home for their siblings; save their piece of birthday cake, share a treat from their party bag, keep an eye out while op shopping for something their brother or sister will love…..

Being happy when something good happens to someone else. Birthdays are a great way to do this. There are so many opportunities to serve and think of the birthday child; volunteering to take over one of their chores, finding extra ways to bless them throughout the day, NOT expecting to get something on their birthday, using the star plate for the birthday child during their special birthday dinner and speaking words of blessing over them; perhaps taking turns to tell them why they are special.

Brainstorming ways they can make their sibling happy, choosing one and planning to do it today.

Teach children to use “When you ……… I feel …….. “ statements. Ask children how they would feel if they were in the other person’s place.

Give children $2 to spend on a sibling rather than themselves at a discount variety store or op shop.

Hold family secret service missions. Make a pile of “You have been served” cards to leave at the scene of an act of service. For example, make someone else’s bed and place the card on their pillow. It must be done in secret with nobody else finding out who has done the serving.

Choose one child to love bomb. Perhaps someone is feeling down for some reason. Everybody else gets together to write a stack of encouraging post-it notes and secretly sticks them all over a place that child will find them. Or if their love language is physical touch, every time a family member passes by that person they give them a kiss, hug, pat, hair stroke, wrestle or stacks-on (for boys usually!) or some other form of physical affection. If their love language is gifts, then children can bless them by making them a card, cooking a treat, purchasing a small gift etc. If they love quality time, then you may organise the day so that they are with others, doing something they would enjoy. Perhaps siblings could go on a “cheering up” roster all day so that the down child is never without company. The acts of service love tank is easy for the family to fill together as they look for ways throughout the day to help out.

Introduce praise plates.

Study empathy in the bible, in character stories or with other materials that will teach children exactly what it looks like. The Character First programme is useful for this and includes empathy under the character quality of compassion. It teaches children that “compassion begins with sympathy, which is seeing someone’s pain or being alert to a weary co-worker or a stranger who needs assistance. Once you notice an injury, empathy means you imagine how much it hurts. This creates a feeling of duty, responsibility, and sometimes urgency to help find a remedy.”

Character First resources always include 5 “I will” statements that explain what the character looks like in action, making it doable for children. The “I wills” for Compassion, as explained in Character First are:


  • Notice when others are hurting.
  • Stop to help.
  • Take time to listen.
  • Do what I can.
  • Be kind, regardless of differences.

What other ideas do you have for teaching empathy in your family?




Homeschooling 6-year-olds; Writing


Diary writing is a wonderful way to teach writing skills with young children. The topic is relevant and interesting to them (all about themselves!!) and it provides a wonderful keepsake in the years to come. All aspects of spelling, grammar and punctuation etc. can be covered as the child writes and it includes copywork practice which I believe is essential for learning strong writing skills.

If you are not familiar with the concept of copywork and the reasoning behind it, the basic ideas is that children’s writing will best develop as they see excellent writing modelled. As they copy correct spelling, punctuation and other building blocks that successful writers use, they become familiar with these skills and are then able to put them into place in their own writing. (Google Charlotte Mason copywork for more information on this concept.)

The modern idea of children just “having a go” as they spell phonetically means that they are seeing incorrect “pictures” of wrong spelling, reinforcing these mistakes in their memory, rather than the correct spelling that they will see in copywork activities.

Once or twice a week I have my 6-year-olds draw a picture of a significant event that has occurred recently and then tell me about it. As they speak, I write down their words, leaving a line between each line of my writing. As I write, we discuss concepts such as:

  • punctuation; capital letters and full stops
  • spelling (I may have them tell me how to spell a sight word they are familiar with)
  • phonics (I might ask how to write the “sh” sound in a word for example)
  • descriptive words (is there a more interesting way to say “good?”)

Diary writing for children who are not yet forming letters correctly: 

Another way to use diary writing  that also works on reading skills and letter/word recognition is to have the child dictate a single sentence to you about the drawing they have made. You write the sentence into their diary book, leaving a full line blank between each line that you write and also write it a second time onto a separate strip of paper. The child then cuts the separate strip up into single words (word recognition is a concept in itself, as well as requiring scissor skills) which are then mixed around out of order. They must then match these words back up to the ones you have written on the page and glue them underneath, re-reading with your help to ensure it makes sense and is matched correctly.

For my son who struggles with fine motor control, pencil grips are a must. He also cannot copy the words underneath my writing, but traces over the top instead. I let him use good quality gel pens with a pencil grip at times because they make a nice dark line without much pressure being required and he likes them – anything to encourage writing!


When young children are doing any kind of writing, correct pencil grip is important. The longer they practise writing with incorrect grip, the harder it is to correct later, just like any other habit. For those who struggle, a good quality pencil grip is a must. It should be very soft and molded to keep fingers in the correct place. Our favourite has flaps like wings that spread out over the top of the thumb and pointer finger, stopping children from sliding their fingers up and over the top of the pencil grip in a fist style. Be wary of purchasing cheaper brands. I did so this year, being very happy to find 5 grips in a packet for the same price of just one I had bought previously, however these turned out to be made of a much firmer rubber and the children do not find them comfortable to use.

Other writing activities that my year 1 homeschoolers participate in:

  • handwriting book. (Individual letter practice because learning to make letters the correct shape and starting at the right place is still important. Most children at this age are still making mistakes with this and again, we don’t want bad habits to form and have to be re-learnt later.)
  • copywork. (Bible verses, character related, good quality literature examples.)
  • finger strength building activities. (Plenty of time on activities that require fine-motor skills such as hand sewing, threading beads, Lego, playdough etc.)
  • free time to choose drawing and writing. (They have desks in their bedrooms well-stocked with a variety of papers, envelopes, notepads, drawing and writing tools that they have access to during room time after lunch each day. They are always drawing or writing notes, cards and letters to friends and family. My reluctant writer has spent anything up to 30 minutes a day for several weeks now filling every single line of an A5 notepad with squiggly lines – his “writing.” Nothing I could have set for him would ever have got him to spend this long using a pencil!)
  • writing in family birthday and thank you cards and letters to friends and relatives


That’s about it for writing in year one for us. With this foundation in place I know from experience that they will go on to successful writing in the future.

What do you do for writing in your homeschool?


A Christ-Centred Easter


We missed the start of Lent again this year, however we randomly started our count-down to Easter last weekend with this simple daily plan. The stones and candles represent the days until Easter, with the candles being lit to correspond with the number of days remaining until Good Friday. The candles go out one by one as each day passes, leading up to Jesus’ death on the cross – as the light of the world dies. (A large white pillar candle will be lit on Easter Sunday to represent Jesus’ resurrection.)


Each day in the little wooden bowl there will be a new object that represents the section of the Easter bible story that we will be reading and focussing on for that day. On day one it held palm branches and a donkey as we read about Jesus’ entry to Jerusalem. Day two was a small red bag of silver coins for the 30 pieces of silver paid to Judas to betray Jesus – red because it was “blood money.”The symbols will be added to the base of the large vase, building up into a collection that reminds the children of all the events we have learnt about.IMG_9681

I have printed out some pictures from the web to go with each day’s event for the little children to cut and colour and hang on the bare branches of our Jesus tree.

We will also be reading or listening to a book each night about Easter, exactly as we do at Christmas time in our book-a-night advent count-down. These books are wrapped and the children take turns to choose and unwrap one to read each evening. I am interspersing these with a free downloadable audio recording of “The 12 Voices of Easter” as we don’t have enough books to get us all the way to Good Friday just yet. This tradition is one that they love at Christmas time and are very pleased to repeat for Easter. They are also excited to see what the new object will be each day. These are the simple traditions that we hope will give our children memories that last a lifetime.

If I get the chance, I will come back and add photographs of the symbols as I use them, but for now, here is a list of the ones we plan to do. I am reading from “The Children’s Bible” because it is simple enough for my young children to follow, yet has enough detail to cover all the main events of the Easter story and hold the attention of the older children as well.

IMG_9830Triumphal entrance Palm branches, donkey

IMG_9820I go to prepare a place in heaven for you

IMG_9828Last Supper Goblet, bread

IMG_9831Servant King Bowl of water, washcloth, soap – wash each others’ feet

IMG_9827Judas 30 silver coins

IMG_9826Garden of Gethsemane

IMG_9818 (1).jpgCaiaphas torn cloth for his torn robe, cotton wool ball clouds of heaven

IMG_9824Simon Peter Rooster feathers, handcuffs (arrested)

King Herod Crown, purple cloth, jewels

IMG_0109Pontius Pilot Bowl of water and jug, shimmering blue stones for water

IMG_9815The soldiers Dice, spears, crown of thorns, red cloth, scarlet cloak, nails

IMG_0110Simon of Cyrene Wooden cross

IMG_0111The thieves 3 crosses standing in bowl of sand

Mary Hearts – Mother’s love and sorrow

The person with the sponge Sponge with vinegar on a stick

Jesus’ Death on the Cross black cloth – darkness covered the land, piles of blocks – earthquake


The Roman soldier Skewer spear (pierces Jesus’ side), little bowl of water and another with wine for blood – water and blood came out from Jesus’ side.

The Centurion Pile of tumbled blocks and heavy cloth (torn temple curtain) Jewelled cross symbolising Centurian’s belief

Joseph of Aramathea Stone and tomb

IMG_0124IMG_0114Nicodemus White shroud

IMG_0103IMG_0107The women spices; cloves, cinnamon, jar of ointment

IMG_0115The Tomb Empty eggs, empty tomb, butterfly (risen and changed)

IMG_0119Jesus appears – various; Fish & camp fire, sheep (feed my sheep)

us – the people of God Tray of sand for children to “write” their sins,  confess then wipe away. A pile of rock “burdens” imagine Jesus lifting all of your burdens off your shoulders and place at the cross. Playdough – sculpt things in our life that may become idols then crush them.

Ascension Cotton wool “clouds”

Holy Spirit Descends Candle, matches, oil lamp?

For more Christian Easter ideas see these posts;

Christian Easter activities for children (minus the bunny.)

“Grandpa’s Box” book review – a great book for any time but excellent as an Easter or Christmas count-down. The same bible stories told from a completely different viewpoint; as if we are engaged in a battle, which of course we are. Children who have grown up on the story surrounding Easter and are perhaps a little too familiar with it will be enthralled.

Jesus trees, Lent and Christian Easter ideas for children

Amon’s Adventure – another excellent daily reading book that is designed to be used as a count-down to Easter. There are several more in the series that we have used at Christmas time and the children love them. Each section ends on a cliff-hanger that has them begging for more as they have to wait for the next instalment the following evening. A fictional story set at the time of Jesus’ death on the cross. Good for 6-year-olds plus, although we read it to our whole family including the younger children as well.

Creating Christian Easter traditions

Jesse tree symbols for advent (can be used for Easter as well)

Christian Easter ideas for 2015

Creating Christian Easter traditions for children



Homeschooling 6 year olds – reading

Teaching a child to read in the early years is not as daunting as it at first seems. There are so many different methods out there and honestly, a child that does not have any developmental issues will learn using any of them – just pick one and go for it! Some will need a little more time with the same materials but will get there in the end and others may need you to find them something that addresses their particular needs. Of course, reading excellent literature to children on a daily basis is so important for their development in this area.

The methods I use work for me and have adapted easily for the little ones in my house who needed a little more time. I have already discussed how to lay the foundations for teaching reading in teaching children to read – where to begin so I’ll leave that for now.

Moving on from ear training, a good phonics programme is a must, some sight word practise is helpful and a good quality set of early readers is useful.

I use Letterland for phonics. It was developed to help children who were struggling and was so successful it came into mainstream education. Initially I introduce 1 new letter a day using the abc book, with both its alphabet name and sound, and we spend 5 minutes reading the little story and finding a bunch of items starting with that sound. On the following day we review the sounds and letter names previous learnt before introducing a new letter. At the end of 26 days, with daily reviews of sounds already covered, our 3 year olds will usually know around 20 of the 26 sounds, many of the letter names and be able to work out the rest of the sounds using the Letterland character’s names to prompt them. Not bad for 10 minutes a day.

The 4 and 5 year olds go on to initial sounds experiences, alphabet activities and 3 letter words. (Put “preschool” in the search bar to find my many posts for preschool activities that include alphabet charts, spinny spellers, Duplo 3 letter words, Montessori trays etc.) Our focus this year is now sight words and more advanced digraphs – the sounds that letters make when they get together. Letterland has the cleverest stories to explain these changes.

For example, “H” is Hairy Hat Man who hates noise and whispers his soft “h” sound and the letter “S” is Sammy Snake who hisses his “s” sound. When Sammy stands behind Harry in words his hissing is so loud that Harry turns and says “sh” which is why you can hear a “sh” sound when you see “sh” in words such as shop and ship. Easy isn’t it! Once the children have heard these stories they rarely forget them and they provide very easy prompts when working on decoding words for reading. Even my older children can sometimes be prompted in their reading or spelling of a difficult word with the reminder of one of the more advanced Letterland stories.


For beginner readers who find reading akin to pulling teeth, putting the readers aside and focussing on building a bank of sight words may be helpful. I type out all the words necessary to read their first Bob Book and we use those for sight word games, flash card drills and other simple activities until they are known by sight. That way, when the child attempts to read the actual book, they are able to breeze through and wonderingly say at the end “I read it!” rather than feel like pulling out their hair (or is that just me?) as they laboriously sound out 1 word after another.

In the sight word mastery file above, the words are moved from pocket to pocket as the child reads them successfully. If they forget the word it goes back to pocket 1 and starts again. That way, by the time words make it into the review envelope they have been read correctly 6 days in a row and are probably quite well known by then – enough to be recognised in the book later.


The Montessori pink series  starts with simple phonetic words that are matched to pictures. It is an independent activity that requires no supervision other than me listening to the words being read once they have matched all the pictures. In graded sets that get gradually harder, these are free to print out and there are heaps of free resources for them on the web.

There are so many more ideas for teaching reading but these are a few that we have used repeatedly over the years during a short period of one-on-one time with each child, coupled with a little independent work on a daily basis. One they have that lightbulb moment they will be off and running and you will need to restrain yourself from telling them to put that book down and go out and play!