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)

Why our children stay in “big church” with us.

Our church has a huge Sunday School programme. Many dedicated and passionate people give up their time to serve there and seek to teach the children who attend about God in the best way they can. We however choose to keep our 7 children in the adult church service with us. This is a controversial decision and not one we came to quickly or lightly. I came across an article by John Piper and his wife today at desiringgod.org that summarises some of the reasons we have for doing so. I would encourage you to head over and take a look.

 

 

Hands-on maths; skip counting

I like to keep much of our early mathematical skills as hands-on as possible. If an area will need to be drilled over and over again until mastery is achieved, then it is far more interesting for my children to do that using Montessori style tray activities rather than repetitive book work. Learning addition and subtraction facts, multiplication tables and the like are great examples of this. Lots of work is necessary, but it need not be all written bookwork.

This week my 6-year-old son needed to polish up on his skip counting. I pulled out some plastic Easter eggs and wrote the 2, 5 and 10’s on each hump of the caterpillar, poking a pipecleaner through the first one to make the caterpillar’s head. He placed each in order and recited them to me once finished. Next time I will remove a couple and get him to say them (including the missing numbers) until he can eventually say them all without any numbers as prompting.

Epsom salt snowscape mini-world

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Our latest mini-world invitation to play has been a hit with the children 6 and under. As is usually the case, the older children love setting it up but don’t actually sit and play with it.

IMG_1077Epsom salts spread onto a mirror gives the impression of snow and the mirror showing through appears to be ice. I purchased a selection of miniatures that are actually terrarium decorations very cheaply on eBay and added brushes and some jewels and rocks. I later added a small sweeping brush to keep the salt off the edges of the mirror.

Epsom salts can also be added to a sensory tub for imaginative play or tipping, pouring and filling activities.

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As interest wanes I’ll add a couple of extra items I’ve kept in reserve for further exploration.

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The folding mirror is a new ($10 secondhand!) addition to our school area. The moment it was on the table my two daughters were found seated side-by-side in front of it drawing self-portraits as they observed themselves in it.

Children just love to watch themselves in mirrors and including one behind pretend play areas adds another dimension. There are also lots of ways to use them for symmetry activities, multiplication and art projects where being able to see behind what they are manipulating  is an added stimulus. The Reggio educational approach includes mirrors in many of their classroom activities and I have a host of ideas pinned to try in the future.

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We later added the bulldozer to the snow mini-world which the little boys loved, plus a Lego slide and matchbox sled made by one of the children for the rabbits to pull. I filled a salt shaker with epsom salts which allowed the children to make it snow and a variety of jewels and rocks to build onto the scene. This has probably been one of our longest lasting mini-worlds and the children are still using it most days after having had access to it for more than 3 weeks.

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

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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:

I WILL:

  • 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?

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Homeschooling 6 year olds – maths

It is fairly well understood in the preschool years that children need many hands-on experiences as the best grounding for mathematical understanding. However, it is too easy to fall into the trap of thinking that as soon as a child starts school he or she must “hit the books.” There is still a need to manipulate, play and explore concrete materials in the early years and rushing too fast into abstract concepts (ie. “on paper” solutions) to mathematical concepts can hinder a child developing true understanding.

So, with this in mind, do I use a maths programme for my 6 year olds? Yes, but as a spine from which other maths experiences flow. It helps me to know that I am not missing any skills along the way. Those children who have a good grasp of number concepts can skip through very quickly and often will plead to just write out their answers in the book rather than use manipulatives. If I can see that they truly grasp the skills (understanding the why and how of each problem) then they go ahead. Learning styles do differ after all and not everyone needs the manipulatives. However, other children will need to go through basic concepts such as one-to-one correspondence with manipulatives over and over and over and over again!

IMG_9625In the early years we use Math-U-See because it does include manipulatives, has a DVD lesson format which means the children are not dependent on me to give them one-on-one teaching to explain each lesson and has a clean and simple set-out with a good progression from skill to skill. Early writers are given enough space to write large numbers and opportunities to use their manipulatives throughout. When more practise is required, I provide Montessori style hands-on activity trays until the concept is thoroughly grasped before the child continues on in the book.

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Reluctant writers and maths:

When a child has difficulty with fine motor control and writing skills it can slow them down in all their subject areas. Maths however is one area that can be easy modified to eliminate this problem. Ask yourself – “Am I teaching handwriting or maths?” Do you want your child to progress in maths or hate every minute of it because they have to sit there laboriously writing numbers in their painfully slow style?

My son would take ages to complete this page if he had to write the answers down, plus I would struggle to read them anyway! Given this inexpensive box of wooden letters, he can work through the problems, calculating some in his head, putting out manipulatives for others and using the wooden numbers to “write” the answers. Quick and easy and demonstrating his understanding of the subject at hand, rather than his handwriting ability.

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When more experience is needed with a concept, he works on Montessori style trays such as the one above, giving him lots and lots of repeated practise of the same skill over and over again until it becomes second nature. We made up little stories about customers in restaurants who were sometimes greedy (according to the numbers on the spoons) and he enjoyed choosing the food (jewels) to serve.

With the combination of bookwork plus hands-on trays, my 6 years olds feel that they are doing real “school” like their older brothers and sisters and all ability levels are being catered for. One is zipping through the book at a great rate (she LOVES book work!) and the other is taking a more leisurely course with lots of hands-on experiences along the way. Individual children,  individual abilities, individual learning styles. This is one of the reasons why we homeschool after all isn’t it?

Next up: Homeschooling 6 year olds – reading and writing