A few years back, a group of friends of mine, all moms of 2-ish year olds, sought out the wisdom of some dear friends. Women who had kids just a tad bit younger than us, who were active in Christian Education. We wanted ideas to start traditions to make the season of Advent special and memorable for our kids. Even more importantly, to help our children realize the true meaning of the anticipation and the season.
Gail wrote to us about the importance of starting early so that our children would start having traditions to look forward to. A way to bring authenticity, remembrance and meaning to our homes and families during a notoriously insane and busy season.
We were given some great resources to help. One was the book, To Dance With God by Gertrude Mueller Nelson. She offers family ritual and celebrations throughout the church year.
Here’s an excerpt of what Gail shared, “It truly is a gift when the meaning of our Lord coming to earth for each one of us, is celebrated as a family. And for little ones, starting with the animals and the manger is a natural… a ‘no-brainer’ so, rather than focusing on Dasher and Blixen, go for the animals in the manger! They are more believable and more humble anyway. If you don’t already have it, do purchase the book, Who’s Coming To Our House?
The repetitive simple text is suited to the young child and to all of us, really. The illustrations are simple, but well done. I really care about books that draw children in with good artwork. Some books I close up immediately because I know right away, if I don’t like the artwork, I won’t want to read it. A perk in being a parent: you choose the books for the first few years!
She also encouraged us to purchase an Advent Calendar that the kids could open each day! She encouraged us to shy away from the chocolate calendars and from experience, I agree. Last year, my son ended up not wanting to finish it. There wasn’t the element of surprise and chocolate at 7:30am each morning got old, surprisingly. Maybe a better idea for the adults?!?
There are many options for advent calendars. I searched high and low for a felt-pocket calendar to put a verse in it for each day and a little trinket that can then be placed on a tree or a scene or something on a felt board type of arrangement. Gail also putting a piece of straw or wheat inside each pocket and build a little manger bed for baby Jesus in a simple little box or basket. Last year we began to use daily “ornaments” that were little books telling the story of Christmas. The year before was a mad, daily scramble to find a little something to throw in before he woke up—stickers, toy cars, pencils, etc. Not much meaning and a whole lot of stress. You could also create an Advent chain where your child tears off one ring each day, and the rings have different verses on them and/or special activities.
This year, we are going to use our advent stocking/mitten garland and I have compiled a ton of ideas from other blogs and friends. I will be picking and choosing 24 items to use this year and see how it goes. I took out our family calendar and tried to plan out some special activities, that require more planning and organization, ahead of time. That way, the kids can be surprised by a visit from Grandma to make Christmas cookies or a trip to Zoo Lights or a day to label and address Christmas cards when it also coincides with time in our schedule.
Gingerbread House Construction (thank you, Trader Joes!)
New Christmas Jammies (actually Drew will have hand me downs again this year…yippee!)
Anything ceremonial and “building toward” his birth of Christ is best. Advent means waiting and anticipating with hope. Many families already use a crèche or nativity. You can find stuffed animals or dolls that are kid-friendly. I have seen other families add different items to the nativity throughout advent, or have the characters and animals physically move through the house, toward the stable. Not an option for us this year with a mobile 1 year old!
Another great addition during Advent is a wreath. Many churches have a special day to create a wreath with your kids. Once completed, each Sunday becomes special, as you light the Advent candle for the day at breakfast, lunch or dinner. That’s when a little Advent book or devotional can be read…simple and interesting. Each Sunday can focus on another image: the shepherds, the wise men, the magi etc, or hope, peace, joy, love etc. Whether reading a simple or a Christmas book each Sunday, it adds some special rhythm and focus to the season.
The Read Aloud Bible Story Books-Volumes 1-4 by Ella K Lindvall are an excellent resource and have clear interpretations of the stories from the season (Volume 3 has the birth of Jesus, but I think all four are amazing!!). Gail turned me on to these books 2 years ago and my 4 year old LOVES them (and has from age 2.5 on!). As she told us, “These start at the beginning with creation and go through Christ’s life. The artwork is big and bold, the texts are s-i-m-p-l-e, and a great place to start. I even read them to my First Graders because the pictures draw the child in…and are so bold that they can draw a group of kids in! They are direct and no nonsense, but delightful! They also come with a few questions for the reader at the end, making the time a natural devotional. You just have to purchase 4 volumes—but any one is a great start.”
Tomorrow I will post a huge list of fun ideas for daily advent calendars and one other option called the Jesse Tree. Both were “Beg, Borrow, Steal” lists and ideas. Why hoard them, though…share the wealth!