Jesse Tree Symbols; Unwrapping the Greatest Gift

We use a Jesse tree of some sort to count down to Christmas each year. Every day there is a section of the bible to read and a corresponding symbol to add to our tree, beginning with the creation of the world and moving on through some of the main events of the bible to finish on Christmas day with the birth of Jesus.

We started with traditional Jesse tree symbols (ideas for symbols here) to go with scrolls of bible verses, reading from the scroll each day and unwrapping the corresponding symbol. Another year we used clear glass jewels with Jesse tree symbol pictures behind them to make a magnetic Jesse tree (free printable here) and another year we counted down throughout December with the names of Jesus as our symbols. Other times we have used books like “The Jesse Tree” by Geraldine McCaughrean and “Grandpa’s Box” by Starr Meade.

This year we are reading a section a day from Ann Voskamp’s “Unwrapping the Greatest Gift” and using her free printable symbols as well as our own that we have collected from previous years. I usually wrap the symbols because this makes it all the more exciting and the children take turns to open each one. This time I have sewed up some drawstring bags because wrapping them takes ages and from now on I’ll never have to do it again!

Here are our symbols to match the readings in Ann’s book:

  1. Jesse tree – stump of Jesse prophesy (Place where love grows)
  2. The world/planets/solar system – creation of the world (Created by love)
  3. Apple – snake in the Garden of Eden (God is looking for you)
  4. 3 birds that Noah sent out from the ark – Noah’s Ark (God’s tears)
  5. Tent – Abraham follows God’s call (Count the stars)
  6. As many descendants as the stars – Elizabeth’s baby (The gift of laughter)
  7. Ram – Sacrifice of Isaac (Here I am)
  8. Ladder – Jacob’s ladder dream (Climbing up)
  9. Joseph’s coat (Surprise gifts)
  10. Mini photo frames with the 10 commandments (Ten love rules)
  11. Red rope – Rahab (The red rope)
  12. Wheat – Ruth (The little things)
  13. Crown – Samuel (Looking at things inside out)
  14. Candle – Isaiah predicts a light in the darkness (A candle in the darkness)
  15. Fire – Elijah calls down fire (Bowing down)
  16. Whale – Jonah (Turning around)
  17. Cottage – Bethlehem prophesy (A true fairy tale)
  18. Shoe and “E” keyring – Esther (A bridge to the king)
  19. Tower – Habakkuk (Watch and wait)
  20. Angel & heart – Zechariah & Elizabeth (God remembers)
  21. Fish – John the Baptist (Thunder in the dessert)
  22. Heart with wedding rings – Mary (Wide-awake dreams)
  23. Tools – Joseph (He can’t stay away)
  24. Mary holding a baby – birth of Jesus (Kneel at the manger)
  25. Star – leading to the manger (Never-ending Christmas)

What’s in the box? Christmas toddler tray activities; sensory tub

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Each day throughout December our older children work on a gift or craft of their choice, however these are often not toddler friendly, so we started this “What’s in the box?” tradition a couple of years ago. Each day the younger children search the house for the sparkly red box that houses an activity for them to play with during highchair/table time while their brothers and sisters are happily wielding needles or hot glue guns and crafting away.

I will post new ideas for these as I present them, but here is one to get you started. (Last year’s ideas start here.) The young ones simply love sensory tubs and I find of all the activities I prepare for them, these are the ones that keep them occupied for the longest times and for day after day. Include something to tip and pour and manipulate with lots of containers to open, shut and fill. Objects to search for and sort and a variety of scoops and utensils for tonging, spooning, scooping and pouring go down a treat. I will add couple of these to this tub once the initial interest has worn off somewhat.

I have many ideas for sensory tubs on this blog so simply type the term “sensory tub” into the search bar to find them. Once you get the idea of how these are put together it doesn’t take too much imagination to create a Christmas version for your little ones.

img_1772With rice and other messy fillers it is a good idea to spread a sheet or mat under the play area to catch the spills. At the end of play time it can be lifted up and simply poured back into the container without a lengthy pack-up, which will quickly dampen enthusiasm for sensory play in the future. I also find that the children always want to take the materials out of the main tub and work next to it rather than in it. Instead of fighting this continuously I now place a large shallow tray (or lid from the tub itself) next to the main tub so that they can set out the material as they please without creating a horrendous mess outside of the box itself.

I also use sensory tubs for mat time rather than in the highchair as the children need to be able to move around and see what is inside the tub without dropping items they are playing with out of reach. Be wary of choking hazards and perhaps hold off introducing sensory tubs to children too young to resist putting items into their mouth.

 

A Christ-centred Christmas

Each year we endeavour to keep Christmas centred around blessing others and keeping our hearts focussed on Jesus. We have many family traditions that we repeat yearly to build memories and make the Christmas period a special time for our children without it being about Father Christmas (Santa) or the presents they will get.img_1710We usually decorate the house on the weekend closest to the 1st of December but this year we have some busy times coming up so we decided to get an early start. Our Christmas tree is decorated fairly sparingly because it will become our Jesse tree come the start of December as we add a symbol each day. This year we will be reading from Ann Voskamp’s book “Unwrapping the Greatest Gift” and opening a corresponding symbol to hang on the tree as part of our daily reading.img_1744 One tradition we like is to have the youngest child in the family place the star on top of the tree once the decorating is done.img_1758Watching Daddy as he turns on the tree lights for the first time. The children tell us that one of the things they love to do through December is to lay on the floor in the dark each evening and listen to our Christmas stories while watching the Christmas tree lights. img_1752We have collected several nativity sets over the years and have looked hard for those that can be handled by little fingers without being easily broken. This year we have bought out the same sets again but presented them a little differently with this large mirror I found secondhand as a backdrop. With the rocks and small stones to manipulate and create with, along with our wooden blocks, the children have enjoyed setting up all sorts of arrangements already, even if I do have to take out the occasional truck or car at the end of a day of play in Bethlehem.

To the right we have our golden bags filled with a Christmas book for each day of December. Over the years I have been building our collection by adding a few new titles each Christmas. The children take turns choosing and opening one bag each night to find the story we will share before bed.

We now have so many books (mostly secondhand) that we have a basket of Christmas stories available to read whenever the children wish as well as the wrapped titles. These stories are packed away throughout the rest of the year and old favourites are treated with joy as they come out for the Christmas season. img_1761We try to make as many of our decorations as possible about the real meaning of the season. We want people to walk into our house and be able to see that we love God. While everything is not beautiful, perfectly coordinated or particularly fancy, the children love setting it out and we like the festive feel it gives the room.(Not that we have anything against beautiful or fancy – I think Christmas decorations make wonderful Christmas gifts!!)img_1762 Our advent wreath and candles are lit each evening as we read and count down the days to Christmas day, when the white candle symbolising the birth of Jesus is lit. img_1753We have delivered a knock and run nativity to different neighbours for a couple of years now and enjoyed blessing them in secret. This year someone is blessing us with pieces to add to this beautiful nativity. Whoever you are, we love it and NO, the children are not allowed to play with this one!!

Our Blessing Buddies will be appearing soon for a Christian alternative to the Elf on the Shelf and the usual Christmas crafts and daily activities will be starting in a couple of weeks. Keep an eye out back here for lots of ideas for What’s in the box? toddler activities and ways to bless others throughout December. I would love it if you would share your favourite Christmas traditions with me – I am always on the lookout for new ideas.

 

 

Coming of age ceremony; 13th birthday

Our eldest son turned 13 recently and to mark the occasion we held a coming of age ceremony. We wanted to set this birthday apart as a symbol of stepping into manhood. While he is by no means fully a man, he is a young man and as such, this is an important occasion. Endless adolescence (often considered by our culture as a period of expected rebellion, irresponsibility and generally having a good time without any ties) is not something we want to encourage in our family. We want our children to use their young years (their youth) wisely and to grow in Godly character.

If you would like more information about coming of age ceremonies, check out another  post I have written, with book reviews and links to useful websites and this one for a girl’s version. Ours was a simple evening, with Fathers and sons invited for food (make your own stuffed potato bar), a campfire and some time set aside for the men to share letters of wisdom that we had asked them to bring along for our son to keep and learn from.

My husband had chosen bible readings and words of wisdom of his own to correspond with special gifts that we presented to mark the evening. These were a bible (true wisdom comes from God), a Leatherman (be prepared for the future that God has for you) and a survival knife (because it’s cool because you are dangerous now – your strength can be used to protect and serve, or to harm.)

Needless to say, he LOVED the knives, as did the other young men, but has also shown us that he has the responsibility to handle them appropriately. We still had an element of “just for fun” with the Millennium Falcon landing on his Planet 13 cake (warning: uncharted territory ahead) and the ice-cream Sundae bar for dessert, as well as plenty of time just to hang out and enjoy his mates. While we could have gone all out, we chose to keep it simple, knowing that we have 6 more children coming along behind him who we will also be celebrating this milestone with.

If you have any wonderful ideas for blessing ceremonies or the like, I’d love to hear them.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

A Christ-Centred Easter

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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.)

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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

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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

 

 

Christmas Blessings

IMG_9054We have been searching out our Blessing Buddies each day to find out how we will be blessing someone else rather than ourselves this Christmas. Rather than a new blessing every day we have chosen a few bigger blessings to work towards this time.

The two eldest girls and myself participated in “The Road To Bethlehem” which is a live nativity show that takes 30 minutes to progress through as groups move from scene to scene. We enjoyed selling cloth and news scrolls to the crowd and working on our funny banter. While we enjoyed it, there certainly was an element of work as we repeated the same scene over and over again for around 4500 people over 3 nights. It was good for the girls to be reminded that it wasn’t about them and that the purpose was to bless those coming to view the show, rather than what we could get out of it.IMG_8969 We cooked up a storm for a ladies high tea at our home which was a blast as we served 22 hard working women from our church as a way to thank and bless them for all they do throughout the year.IMG_8931 The children made take home gifts for the ladies. These snow covered luminaries were very effective and so easy. Jars painted with PVA glue and sprinkled with epsom salts sparkled and the electric tea lights gave a lovely glow to the tables. We found an old Christmas tree on the side of the road during verge collection and cut off all the branches and berries to make the napkin rings and jar decorations, as well as mini Christmas trees is pots.IMG_9045IMG_9078We will be dropping off biscuits to the pastoral team and workers in the church office today as a thank you to them. The children have created hand-made thank you cards to go with them. The Blessing Buddies did get into the choc-chips first though!IMG_8929My eldest son used branches from the park to put together the stable we used for our new nativity this year and the separate parts have been arriving daily with the Blessing Buddies.IMG_8943 Occasionally the blessing of the day includes the children and they were lucky enough to be able to eat the Blessing Buddies’ bowling balls.IMG_8950 “What’s in the box?” hasn’t been that much of a hit this year. The purpose of this in the past has been to give the youngest child (usually 18 months to 2 1/2 or 3) something new and interesting to play with while the older children work on the craft or blessing of the day. This year though the youngest is too young for it and has her own table activities and the next youngest (3 1/2) would rather do the same activities as the other children. Next year it will be back in full force as our little one will be the perfect age but I have let it slide for now in favour of our craft of the day. The pretend play cooking activity above would have been loved last year but just hasn’t hit the mark with the in-between ages this time.

What are you doing in your family to help them focus on blessing others this year?

For a tonne of acts of kindness blessing ideas see blessing buddy ideas, Christmas “What’s in the Box?” ideas are great for toddlers and we used many Christian craft links for our Advent craft count down. Ideas for family traditions for a Christ-centred Christmas are here.

Christmas Traditions 2015

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The Christmas season is in full swing for us as we begin our many special traditions again this year. As always, we have tried to keep the focus on Jesus and blessing others over this period, rather than on presents and “getting.”The Blessing Buddies have arrived with their acts of kindness  for others and the children are excitedly searching for them each morning to see what they are up to. (Full explanation, printable poem and many acts of kindness ideas here.)

We are opening one special Christmas book to read each evening. This year I have sewed 24 bags for the books that I can reuse year after year.

The child of the day rushes out each morning to open the advent calendar and place the nativity figure onto the stable. Rather than treats this year, our advent calendar has an envelope filled with a handful of Lego for each child to open on their appointed day.  I was able to buy a huge bag of secondhand Lego cheaply at an op shop and had my eldest make up little sets for each day.

The same child takes their turn to pull out the day’s Jesse tree reading. This year we are focussing on the symbols of Christmas, looking at their meanings and how they can help point us and others to God.

Decorating the tree was eagerly awaited as always and our youngest placed the star on top as is our tradition, despite the fact that Daddy had to hold her hand in place to do it.

Another morning search finds our “What’s in the box?” Christmas table activity tray for the day. These Montessori style trays are for the toddlers and young children to do while the older children work on more difficult crafts or activities.

After our morning devotion using the symbol of the day we look in the craft box to find a special Christmas activity for the morning. With carols in the background we create something special, often related to the blessing of the day and meant to be given away to bless others.

We will be cruising the canals admiring the Christmas lights soon and attending the living nativity in a couple of weeks, with one important difference this year – the girls are in it. Our high tea for the senior church ladies is all set for a couple of Saturday’s time and we have a full schedule leading up to Christmas.

Having asked the children some weeks ago what they remembered as special about Christmas in our family I was glad to see that they did recall most of the traditions we have started and were looking forward to doing them again. Hopefully they will look back on this family time with fond memories and a heart that is knitted to us and their siblings for life.

For a full list of all our Christmas tradition and family identity building ideas for the Christmas period, see this post.

Healthy Christmas day snack idea.

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I just wanted to show you all our healthy snack alternative for Christmas day nibblies. Just point the children at the “Christmas tree” table and let them snack away. Even if they are full before the big feast, at least it’s healthy food. Plus it looks cool too!

Blessing Buddies; What have they been up to?

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Making flour footprints with an invitation to cook something tasty for the ladies who meet in our house once a month.

Since their arrival on the first of December, the children have been enjoying searching for the Blessing Buddies each morning and finding out what their act of kindness for the day is going to be. Our 2 1/2 year old is also loving searching for his special Christmas activity box each day.

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The Blessing Buddies were found on the front doorstep on Dec 1, along with the special sparkly box with the day’s toddler Christmas activity and supplies for the first act of kindness.

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Baking biscuits was messy but fun – 6 children in pairs baking 120 biscuits was a bit crazy but we did it!

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My favourite blessing so far. We went down to the local shops and surveyed the shopkeepers of the smaller stores, asking them to name their favourite chocolate bars. We then went into Coles and purchased their choices and delivered them back with a note from the Blessiing Buddies explaining the real reason for the Christmas season. Lots of fun seeing their faces when they received their chocolate. We deliberately waited until they were busy to stealthily (not so much!) place the bags on the counters and dash out again before any reward other than their smile could be forthcoming.

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The children were outraged that the boy Blessing Buddy was being mean! I thought it was funny but they could only focus on the injustice! They don’t seem so concerned when they are doing similar things to their own siblings!

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The end result of the previous blessing craft. These felt trees were very easy to do (hot glue gun the bits together for the young ones and sew them on for the older kids) and the end result was really stunning. They look a lot nicer in real life than the photograph shows. They will make lovely Grandparent gifts this year.

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The Blessing Buddy bead ball-pit! The kids thought it meant we were going to an indoor playground! Had to disappoint them there and make beaded animals and other creatures to give away instead.

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Our church is collecting food for Christmas hampers so we added to the collection.

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One of our Christmas traditions is to buy a new nativity scene each year. The Blessing Buddies bought this one and were found worshiping Jesus.

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We made Christmas tree cross ornaments to give to the ladies who attend our yearly Christmas high tea so the Buddies were found swinging from the Christmas tree. The odd decorations they are on are our Jesse tree symbols.

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One of our children has a December birthday so the blessing for the day was all about them. The Buddies were found hanging out of her birthday gift.