Birthdays and travelling with toddlers

Our wonderful twins turned two today. It’s amazing to look back at their birth photos and remember how it all began.

Our three eldest chose to make gifts rather than visit the Mummy and Daddy shop and as we are travelling via plane to Melbourne this week we thought activities to keep the toddlers occupied while travelling were a good idea. They will also be good to add to the homeschooling activities for when school starts again as there will be no morning nap to keep these little ones occupied while I school the older children anymore.

Our 6 year old used coloured contact paper to cover a small box to make this Montessori style practical life activity. A bunch of straws to post through the hole at the top and a small window on the side to shake them back out again did the trick. It was a hit immediately and I had to hide it away to ensure that the novelty hadn’t worn off before we even got to the plane as our youngest lady seemed determined to repeat the activity over and over!

Our 8 year old designed this one completely on his own without any input from me at all. He covered strips of cereal box on both sides to make them look attractive and pulled out a plastic money-box to post them in. Another Montessori style practical life activity for the plane trip.

This was the four year old’s creation. Strips of contact around a baking powder tin, several length of ribbon tied together and a cross shape cut into the lid to pull it through. Again, it was a great hit with the ribbon being pulled out and stuffed back in (by a grown-up) at least 5 times in a row. This one is more a baby activity but will keep their interest for a while. For many more ideas for keeping children happy and content during a plane or car trip, check out this post on travelling with young children. We will be making up our snack bags and pulling out the water painting, drawing and other ideas again and hopefully this trip will go as smoothly as the last one did.

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Christmas Traditions: Memories for a lifetime

Christmas is a special time for most families and it is such a great time to deliberately focus on creating family traditions that will be remembered and treasured for a lifetime by our children, grandchildren and perhaps on through the generations. Traditions help to knit families together; they are part of the glue that keeps families whole, fostering interdependence as a family rather than independence from the family.

Each year we add a few more traditions and carry on with those we like that we have already started. Here are some of the many things we do together as a family and extended family that help make Christmas special for us:

  • The children decorate the Christmas tree on December the 1st while the grown-ups take video and photos. Christmas carols play in the background and the kids have a wonderful time handling all those sparkling decorations and arranging them any way they please.
  • The youngest child (who is able) tops the tree with the Christmas star.
  • The Christmas books that only come out at this time of year are placed in a basket under the tree for reading in the evening after dinner. The tree lights are turned on and I read aloud from one of the  stories. I try to purchase a couple of new books each year in the after Christmas sales so that there is something new for me to read. There are some wonderful stories that are designed to be read piece by piece across advent and other beautiful Christmas tales that we read a chapter a night from.
  • A selection of carols and Christmas worship music is available, as are a stack of Christmas videos for those days when everyone is way too tired to get along. (Usually the day after “Carols in the Park” for example when we stay up way past the kids’ bedtimes.)
  • We read daily bible readings from our Jesse tree scrolls and each child takes turns to unwrap the related symbol for the tree.
  • Every morning one child takes their turn to open the little wooden doors of our advent calendar and add the next character to the nativity story display. On a few surprise days there are little treats hidden in with the characters.
  • The advent wreath and candles are set up and we light them during our daily Jesse tree devotion or at another time such as the evening meal.
  • The nativity scenes are set out and available for little ones to play with; a sturdy china set for the older children and a fabric set for the little ones.
  • We make Christmas crafts together. Nothing super tricky or spectacular and often the same ones each year such as paper chains, recycled greeting card sewing cards and a multitude of home-made Christmas cards using different craft techniques (the more glitter and sparkly glue the better according to the girls!)
  • The Mummy and Daddy shop opens for business. The children use their hard-earned pocket-money to purchase small gifts for their siblings from a selection I purchase for this purpose.
  • We visit a local carols service with activities for the children, wonderful colour changing candles that they can all safely hold (the days of burning patches in the grass with real candles are long gone, sigh..) and yummy snacks. We set the kids up in their little camping chairs wrapped in blankets and we all have a ball staying up late and soaking up the festive atmosphere. Sometimes we meet up with other families and usually at least one set of Grandparents is able to come along and enjoy the evening.

    Grandma has her own tradition of fancy Christmas headgear, flashy Christmas light earings and necklaces or similar. The church congregation look forward each year to seeing what she will be wearing to the Christmas service!

  • We are taking a break this year, but for the past several years my husband’s side of the family have made gifts for each other, instead of purchasing. Each name is drawn out of a hat and each adult hand-makes something for that person. Some of the resulting gifts have been quite spectacular and always involve much love and care. And yes, even the men do it and they have been just as creative as the women.

    Last year I hand painted a chicken hutch that we had been given for my brother-in-law who keeps chooks.

  • To cut down the number of gifts we all need to buy, we have long since instigated the plan that we only buy for the children in each family, rather than the adults as well. (Excepting families who had no children.) To keep it fair, now that we have so many children in our family we will be suggesting that perhaps a family gift will be better for next year. Other families we know do this and they have some wonderful ideas for inexpensive gifts that the whole family can enjoy together. One family we know is giving tickets to a water playground (entry is not expensive) along with a couple of toys to play with in the mini river while they are there and a few special snacks to share together. Sounds good to me!
  • We haven’t pulled this together this year, but our suggestion for next year on the Pascoe side is that all the children prepare an item (song, musical instrument piece, short play etc.) to perform for the whole family. We think this will be fun and add to the day.
  • I’m not going to get into the rights and wrongs of guns here (I know people feel very strongly about that!) but the water pistol fight is turning into a yearly tradition that is enjoyed by all. Christmas day is almost always hot and some cooling yet boisterous activity to burn off all that dessert and surplus child energy is needed.
  • The meal itself is always simple. We are usually outdoors, so the BBQ is fired up and a range of cold meats and seafoods or BBQ meat is prepared with delectable salads and accompaniments. Everyone pitches in to bring food and the host family rotates each year so the load doesn’t always fall on the same person. What food is served is never a big issue but it is seldom the traditional turkey and roast.
  • The Christmas table is usually set with bonbons and we all read out the obligatory bad jokes and wear the paper hats while we eat.
  • The Pascoes take a yearly family photo which provides a nice keepsake for everyone. Traditionally it is done at the last-minute when we are all looking our worst and wondering if we have food stuck in our teeth.
  • On Christmas morning we begin the day with the final advent reading. Our hope is that throughout this day and the entire Christmas season we can keep the focus as much as possible on Jesus’ birth and the real meaning of Christmas. (See Christian Families and Father Christmas.) We give our own children their gifts and they give their gifts to each other. We all take turns to open the presents, with only one child at a time unwrapping gifts so we can all see and appreciate what has been chosen for them. We then share a light breakfast together before getting dressed and heading out to church.
  • At the Pascoe celebration, the children’s gifts are given out before the meal. Grandpa or another family member hands out the gifts to one child at a time, starting with the youngest. They sit on his knee to open them and again we all have a chance to admire the gifts and to see what the child receives. We all spend a long time choosing special gifts and like to take the time to really enjoy each one as it is given. 
  • The McEwan side of the family has a very similar celebration with a large family get together, feast table and lots of gifts, however the gift giving is much more spontaneous and the deafening roar of crackling paper is heard as everyone rips into gifts at the same time and we race around afterwards trying to work out who gave which child what! Lots of fun but much more chaotic!

However you choose to celebrate this year, remember to focus on the birth of Jesus and the amazing salvation that we can all have as a result of this sacrifice from God.

Cheap Christmas gift ideas for kids: Treasure Rocks

If you are looking for an inexpensive gift idea for children this Christmas, why not try treasure rocks. Treasure rocks are made with a simple dough mixture that is baked until hard. The recipient uses a hammer to crack open the rocks and reveal the treasure inside; usually some coins, although any little item that would survive the baking process without melting would be suitable. For a more girlish result, you could paint a layer of glue over the rocks and add glitter. The overall cost of making the rocks is negligible and the amount of money you include in the form of coin treasure can be as much or as little as you like.

I like to give mine with a poem I have written (see below) and a little hammer as part of the gift, although this does raise the price a little. All the children seem to love them and hammering them open is lots of fun. Don’t forget to wrap the coins in plastic kitchen wrap or they can be very difficult to get clean before spending! For a gift that can be made for under $5 or even under $2, these are a winner.

You can find the recipe for treasure rocks (google treasure stones) on so many websites I didn’t include it here. I have modified the online recipe because I don’t have coffee grounds and while my rocks look great they are a little harder to crack open. Very little children needed help but my older boy was just dying to get in there and give it a bash – I’m sure he could have had them smashed to smithereens in a few minutes!

Here is my poem:

Happy Birthday dear _________
May these bring you much pleasure
Hidden inside is your very own treasure
Give them a smash and a bash, but DO NOT EAT!
These treasure rocks are yours as a treat
Hammer away with all of your might
To find your surprise, hidden from sight

The recipe I use:

  • 2 cups of plain flour
  • 1 cup of table salt
  • 1 cup of strong coffee (water if you don’t want brown)
  • glue & glitter to sprinkle over rocks if desired
  • coins wrapped in plastic kitchen wrap (Gladwrap etc.)

Mix the flour, salt and water or coffee together to form a soft dough. Form into balls with a wrapped coin in the centre of each. Bake at 120 degrees until hard. Paint with glue and sprinkle with glitter or leave brown.