A sugar-free advent calendar

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We have several different Christmas advent traditions running throughout December, one of which is opening the little numbered boxes on our wooden stable. Magnetic figures are added to the stable scene each day to tell the Christmas story and traditionally there would be a treat of some kind for each child. In order to cut down the junk over this period we have opted for non-food related fillers for a while now. Last year I purchased a secondhand random assortment of Lego bricks. I had my eldest son make little things from the blocks for each child each day. There were miniature birdhouses, cars, furniture and all kinds of things to open. They loved it, but we don’t have the benefit of another pile of cheap Lego bricks to use so I am going to borrow a great suggestion from one of my readers Kath, who commented on my Christ Centred Christmas Traditions  post to say that she has purchased a 260 piece jigsaw puzzle for her advent calendar. She has split it up into 25 piles of pieces and each day the children will add them on to eventually complete the full puzzle.

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I have whipped out and bought a puzzle so we can do the same thing as I think it is a wonderful idea. I first made the puzzle which took both my husband and I over an hour (did I mention I hate doing puzzles?) then took out groups of around 10 pieces. I wanted each day’s pieces to be able to join up to form a section of the puzzle, rather than a random assortment that may not join together for quite some time. This puzzle is very detailed and shows many scenes from the biblical story of the first Christmas so I wanted to place the sections in the order that they occurred to slowly build on to the story. I also numbered the back of each set so that I NEVER have to do this jigsaw again because as I said, I detest doing jigsaw puzzles.

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The piles of pieces are safely behind each little wooden door, ready to build on to our masterpiece each morning and should provide some Christmas fun. Thanks Kath for the great idea.

 

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.

 

 

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.

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.

 

What’s in the box? Christmas activities for preschoolers part 2

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Today is the second instalment of our planned “What’s in the box?” activities for advent as we count down to Christmas. Our hopefully very excited toddler will search the house for this sparkly Christmas box each morning which will contain his morning table activity. Previous activities will be available in his “school” cupboard for use while his siblings are working on their Blessing Buddy act of kindness for the day.

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Day 6

Using tweezers to transfer stars into an ice cube tray will be new to him so I’m not sure whether he has the dexterity for the tweezers or not. The tweezers can be easily swapped with small tongs if need be.

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Day 7

Pretend cooking play is always popular, especially if I come over for a taste of Christmas cookies now and then. These large coloured glass stones and oversized marbles are from our local discount variety store. A mini muffin tray and tea bag tongs promote one-to-one correspondence practise and transferring skills.

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Day 8

Dotting with bingo markers inside do-a-dot pictures is a semi-controlled way to present a painting experience. I am quite certain however that dotting in the circles will not be satisfying enough and that the final product will be well and truly smeared with paint! (Better cover the tray with newspaper for this one.) Free printable pictures to dot are here and here or google do-a-dot for hundreds.

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Day 9

Decorating playdough Christmas trees with beads and tiny bead strings will be fun. Toddlers find it very difficult to roll out dough though and may also need assistance with the cutter. Be prepared to cut a bunch out for them if necessary.

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Day 10

This toothpick Christmas tree is great for fine motor skills. The child pokes toothpicks with coloured ends into holes in the top of the box lid (use a skewer to poke them through.) I used coloured contact for the tree and punched holes with a single hole paper punch before sticking it onto the box lid as I know from experience that poking holes through contact on cardboard can be difficult and doesn’t always leave a nice clean hole.

How is your Christmas planning going?

What’s in the box? Christmas activities for preschoolers part 1

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Our “What’s in the Box?” advent count down of Christmas preschool activities is a new tradition for us. While the older children are working on other projects for our Blessing Buddies acts of kindness, our toddler will be opening his special Christmas box to find his table activity for the morning. The sparkly box will be hidden somewhere around the house for him to find each day and will contain a new and exciting challenge for him to work on independently while I help with the older children’s more complicated projects.

Here are the first 5 days of “What’s in the box?”

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The first activity needs to be one that is guaranteed to hold his attention for a longer time span as it will be the only one available. As each new activity is introduced, I will place it onto our toddler activity shelves so that I can rotate between them when interest in the new tray for the day has worn off.

Day 1

This Christmas sensory tub will be filled with all the wonderful “Christmas” items in the photo above. (If it’s green it’s Christmassy right?) The items can be sorted, transferred with tongs or cutlery, hidden and found, tipped and poured and generally fiddled about with.

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Day 2

A new batch of green playdough formed into a rough Christmas tree with small lights cut from a plastic Christmas garland to poke into the dough. You could also use beads or any other small decoration.

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Day 3

A colour sorting activity with 3 colours of Christmas bows. I have included a toothpick with a large flat end to hold while sliding it into one of the loops of the bows to transfer them into the matching coloured bowls. We’ll see how difficult this is for him – it may be quickly changed to small tongs.

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Day 4

Simple pattern block puzzles.These free printable patterns are available here. I intend to laminate these for greater durability. My older children all jumped at the chance to fill these out for the photos and after watching me prep these trays throughout the day, my 11-year-old commented that he almost wished he was a toddler again, just so he could do the activities!

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Day 5

Threading bow-shaped beads onto coloured chenille sticks (pipe cleaners.) Make sure the holes are large enough so that this is not too difficult for little fingers. Older children could make patterns with the colours.

Stay tuned for days 6 to 24.

What are your toddler’s favourite Christmas activities?