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 – 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.


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.


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


Christmas Traditions 2015

IMG_8682 fireplace

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.

Christian Easter ideas for 2015

c holding string cross IMG_6150

Easter is here and with it the bombardment of chocolates and commercialism that threatens to take over any meaningful celebration. If you are looking for some Christian Easter activities and traditions that help make Easter a Christ-centred affair, take a look at this post or for Jesus trees, Lent ideas and other Christian Easter activities see here and lastly, my Pinterest board with some more activities is here.

Easter decorations

Our Easter space with books and objects that help direct our attention to the real meaning of this season. We used palm branches to act out the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. The kids threw down blankets as cloaks as well as the branches and made crowd noises to help tell the story. It was a little chaotic but lots of fun.

cross string up close IMG_6152

An up close view of our string crosses that we made this year. (Original idea and instructions here.) As we hammered the nails into the wood blocks we talked about Jesus being nailed to the cross and what that must have felt like, comparing the size of our nails with the nails that would have been used to pierce Jesus. My oldest son’s comment was “Children’s bibles always make the cross seem so pretty!” It doesn’t hurt our kids to get a better picture of what the events surrounding Easter were really all about. Giving them some understanding of what our sin really cost is so important, especially for those who grow up so saturated in bible stories that they grow immune to the importance and reality of it all.