Keeping Christ in CHRISTmas

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It’s hard in the midst of the busyness of the Christmas season to keep the focus where it should be… So might I make a suggestion?  You’re already going to be doing craft projects and activities… what if you just tweaked them a bit to make sure that your focus is on Christ?  Don’t worry – I’m not suggesting you invent the wheel here!  Nope, Alicia Michelle of Your Vibrant Family has already done it for you!  (And no, it’s not too late to get it TODAY!)

When I found out about her Christmas system, I was excited to be a reviewer!  (Full discloser – I received the set in exchange for my review – these opinions shared here are my own, and links to purchase the set are affiliate links that financially benefit our family – THANK YOU!) But once we started using the system, I started to love it even more!  I read through her ideas, and something she said really hit me.  I mean, I had head knowledge, but there was something about reading it… this is what she said:

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And suddenly, reading this, I realized that it was ok to not cram pack every single day with activity.  It was even ok to not do our annual Christmas cookie exchange this year… and instead use the funds to purchase some special craft activities that we could do together as a family, and sponsor an angel from our church’s angel tree.

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Becca and I painted these wooden letters and as we did, we talked about why we chose “Joy” as her middle name, and also talked about that JOY can stand for putting Jesus first, then Others, then Yourself. It was a really fun time painting together, and a great, deep conversation!

Having this mindset and focusing on the true meaning of Christmas has helped my attitude toward the season so much!  It’s amazing.  I mean, it seems so simple.  Because it is.

Check out the Christ-Centered Christmas Banner we have put together from Alicia’s set… (You can purchase your copy of the set here!)

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How we used the banner pieces:
Gray is 2 1/2 and LOVES to stick stickers!  It’s a fabulous way for him to work on hand-eye coordination and build his fine motor skills, so I’m always looking for more sticker opportunities for him.  He decorated the “Light of the World” banner piece with sparkly star stickers, and we talked about the star that shone over the stable where baby Jesus was born.  We also talked about that Jesus can be called the “Light of the World.”  Did he get it? I wasn’t sure.  But the other night he made the connection when he made a star ornament at our church carnival and he said “It’s Jesus’ star over the manger!  Is the ‘Light of the world!'”  He also used stickers to decorate the “Merry Christmas” banner piece.  He really enjoyed decorating – and when I got the banner hung up, he loved seeing his work on the wall!

Becca is working hard on her handwriting skills, but isn’t super fond of copywork.  So – I thought it might be more fun if she could do her copywork onto banner pieces to be hung on the wall.  She jumped on it and was so excited!  She wrote Psalm 34:18 on the “Hope” banner piece, and on the “Joy” banner piece, she wrote “J is for Jesus” from the poem we read (also in the set!) about the meaning of the candy cane.  Then she chose to draw a picture of Jesus on that banner piece as well.

I added a couple of family pictures to the other banner pieces to tie the focus to our specific family.  Then, since we typically have a sign in the middle of our art display wall (I originally posted about this wall here), I used Alicia’s beautiful background paper that I printed on my color printer, and then ran it through my laser printer once it was totally dry… and developed a beautiful advent count-down calendar to fit in the frame that regularly hangs there… that we can mark with a dry erase marker!  (If you purchase this set, please let me know, and as a thank you for your purchase, I will email you your FREE PDF copy of the “O Come, O Come Immanual” advent countdown calendar – that can easily be printed on top of her decorative paper!  It’s not too late to start it!)

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I am so pleased with how the whole wall turned out.  I love that it’s visible from downstairs in our living room, and that it’s in a place where the kids will see it regularly (upstairs near their rooms) to remember where our focus should be this holiday season.

Another activity we did from this set was actually one I used with our AWANA K-2 group this week.  We talked about the meaning of the candy cane, and the kids strung beads on pipe cleaners to make candy canes.  They got to keep one, and take one to a friend at school – along with the candy cane poem printable from the set – as a Christmas gift to share Jesus with their friends!  The kids had so much fun and were really excited to have a gift to take to friends.  They colored the sheets in their classes once they had said their verses, or could take them home to color before giving to their friend.  I’ll be doing the same thing with Becca this weekend – she’ll get to make candy canes to give to her friends, and can color the sheet as a Christmas card.

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It’s so easy to use this set to stay on track, to keep your focus, and yet still accomplish all the goals you normally have during the holiday season!  I so appreciate Alicia’s creation of this set, and look forward to using these parts (and more!) next year.  I love that there’s so many different options, and I can use what works for our family now, and then still have new things we can add on or swap out next year, or the next!

Might I add…   Don’t think if it’s after December 1st that you can’t start this!!!!  It is never too late to get your focus right, and there’s always room to do stuff next year, but if you wait to get it, you’ll forget!  So click here to get it today and use what you can, and just allow it to build in the future.  You won’t regret it.  That I can promise.

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Click Here! Affiliate link – THANK YOU SO MUCH!

Thankfulness and Thanksgiving – for your Toddler

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Continuing my series on Thankfulness and Thanksgiving, I wanted to give you some ideas of things you can do with your little ones – the toddlers in your house who are just beginning to get the concept of saying “thank you” when you give them something.

I started with a very basic activity for Gray – I asked him, “Who are your friends that you thank Jesus for?”  Then, I wrote each of their names on a leaf – from this free printable (shown below) and then we hung it on the refrigerator.  He was so proud of his paper!  “Those Gray friends!  I say thank you Jesus my friends!”  Get your own copy of the printable here (it’s page 4 of the free document).

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I also wanted him to be able to participate in some of the thankfulness art he had seen Sister doing, by letting him make some of his own Homemade Cards for his teacher at Mother’s Day Out, and for his nursery teacher on Sunday mornings.  He also wanted to make pictures for his grandparents.  I started him out by simply painting over leaves, and then once it turned into a full-on sensory activity (I knew it would – the boy loves to paint his hands!) then, I grabbed more sheets of paper and helped him make hand prints, which I turned into turkeys.

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I have a couple of cute poems that I’ve pinned over on my Thanksgiving pin board, and I’ll select one of those to write inside the cards.  Super simple, but he had a blast feeling the paint, being tickled by the paint  brush, and feeling the silk leaves.  It was a great sensory activity that was lots of fun for him!

Note – I love using acrylic paint for kid projects because it easily washes off of skin, and dries quickly on paper.  BUT it stains clothing, so we usually do those projects either with a smock, or with him in his diaper.

Back to the original Thankfulness and Thanksgiving post.

Saying Thank You with A Handmade Card

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There are a million different ways to make cards.  But I wanted to do something unique with Becca.  I had a package of silk leaves from Hobby Lobby, and I was wondering what to do with them.  And then it hit me – leaf cards!

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As you can see, they turned out beautiful.  Here’s what we did, and the thoughts behind them.

  1. Peel the plastic stem backing off of silk leaves (or collect fresh fall leaves if you have them!)
  2. Gather card stock paper that is thick.  Fold each sheet in half.  (However many you decide to make is up to you.)
  3. Mix a little bit of water in a bowl with a lot of glue  – just runny enough to be able to paint with the glue.  Completely cover a sheet of thick card stock with the watery glue, leaves, and more watery glue on top.
  4. Lay them open flat to dry – on a plastic tablecloth or place mat.  NOTE – they will be wet enough that if you have used colored card stock, the wetness of the glue will leave color on whatever you let them dry on… I had to Ajax my white countertop to remove the orange.  Not even Magic Eraser would get it off.  Thankfully Ajax w bleach did the trick.  (So learn from my mistake!)  They will take quite a while to dry if you’ve used enough glue to truly hold the leaves on.
  5. Once they are dry, fold them back closed, and place a heavy pan on top of the stack of cards for a day or so to re-crease them. folded-cards
  6. Have your child dictate (or write) thank you notes to community helpers who make a difference, send to grandparents, or to other special people that your child wants to say thank you to.  (We are sending notes to our pastor, our local sheriff’s office, the guy at our post office who always helps us, and for the volunteers at our local fire department.)  If you’re going to mail, you’ll need to make sure that your paper starts out small enough to fit the leaves and everything inside an envelope.  Since we’re hand-delivering ours, we didn’t worry about the size, and I just used full 8 1/2″ x 11″ paper folded in half.

Looking for more Thankfulness and Thanksgiving ideas to use with your kids?  Check back here on Monday, and all next week!

The original Thankfulness and Thanksgiving post is here.

Pumpkin Dough

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I recently had a friend share a pin with me… because she knows I’m ALL about homemade play dough.  We seriously are play dough obsessed around here!  When I saw this recipe, I immediately knew it would be a hit with my kids, and it was similar enough to my favorite recipe that I already had most of the supplies on hand in my pantry.  Becca loves colored doughs, and Gray would love the scent (y’all, it really does smell like fall!)!  I followed her recipe exactly except that I doubled it, and I only made it orange, so I mixed the color in while it was in the skillet.  Rather than list the recipe here on this post, I’d love to give credit back to the original mama who took the time to post it, so please go check out her post HERE.

In her post, she also mentioned collecting items from nature to use with the play dough.  We already had some seeds from our Seed Collecting and Sorting activity, and then I gave the kids a bunch of silk leaves that I got at the craft store.  They also used some fall shaped cookie cutters (this super cute set is similar… aff link… thank you!) that I’ve had for a while.  They both had a blast making trees, bushes, and a variety of other pretend creations with their play dough and leaves!  (Gray wasn’t allowed to use the seeds since I was afraid he would eat them, and I was trying to get the dishes done while they played.)

I love how simple this activity is, but how entertained it kept them!  Typically their play dough play is simply with dough and cutters, or possibly different toy animals or cars to make footprints/tracks.  Adding the leaves and seeds aspect was new and exciting for the kids and they loved it!  I think I want to do something similar in December perhaps with buttons they could use to decorate play dough Christmas trees…. hmmm… my wheels are turning!  😉

What do your kids like to do with their play dough?  Do you have a favorite recipe?

Busy Hands, Happy Heart

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This post contains affiliate links.  Thank you for supporting my blog!

Most of my posts here are about homeschooling Becca, but this one is all about what to do with the little ones… and highlights what I do to keep Gray occupied so Sis can learn.  (And SHHHH! he’s learning, too!)  Keeping your toddler occupied while your older child does homeschool is NOT easy!  But hopefully a few of these ideas will inspire you and be helpful on your journey!

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One thing we really struggle with with Gray is that he still likes to put things in his mouth – a lot.  I can’t just give him an activity and pay total attention to Sis.  So, I have to very carefully select what he does when I’m busy with her.  He loves our pop beads set – so when I’m teaching her, I pull out only the large beads on a tray and let him sit on the bench right next to me in our family room (which doubles as our homeschool room).

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If we are doing something downstairs at the dining room table, he gets to do play dough next to me, and loves to make prints in the dough.  We have little stackers, dominoes, construction trucks, and dinosaurs that all make awesome dough stamps, not to mention our fabulous cookie cutter set.  He can stay occupied with play dough for almost an hour!  (Plus, I make my own dough, so I can make it any color I want, and he loves to take two different colors of dough and squish them together… which works on those fine AND gross motor skills all at the same time!)

Back upstairs in the family room, we have a little Duplo table (this is the one I’d like to get once we move up to only Legos) and some diaper boxes full of Duplos that Gray loves to build with.  Then we also have big wooden blocks (that my dad made for me when I was little!) with which he can build larger-scale items.  We also keep crayons and coloring books readily available so that he can color when Sis is illustrating – because nothing is more exciting and makes you feel big and important like coloring when Sis is coloring.  And he has been enjoying playing with window clings that I got from Dollar Tree!

There are so many fabulous things you can get your little ones excited about that are going to stretch them and help them grow their fine AND gross motor skills.

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Pretend play is so important for little ones, and Gray is all about pretending.  He is fairly quiet with his pretend play, so he doesn’t distract Sis too much.  If you have a louder child who likes to play really loudly, you might want to skip this section and move on down to the academic ideas, leaving the pretend play for non-school times.

Gray loves our new set of felt dinosaurs.  He likes to tell little stories with the dinosaurs, and can either use the portable board with which they came, or can use the larger cork board that I covered with felt that is up in our family room.  I love that both kids can stand together at the easel and play, or he can play alone right next to me while she works.  He also loves to drive his cars and trains on the activity rug that sits on the floor next to me, and cook “meals” for us in their kitchen, which is across the room. (This link is to a similar set – ours is no longer sold.)

He also loves to grab a reusable shopping bag and pretend he’s shopping, play dress up, and play with Little People figures.  The beauty of doing school in our family room is the multiplicity of options to keep him entertained.  We do not choose to have the tv on during school time.  That is far too distracting for Becca.

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Sometimes there is just no other way than to teach her with him sitting in my lap or standing right next to me.  (His love language is touch.)  For those times, I have some little academic activities that aren’t distracting to her that I can do with him while she is working independently.  We have number puzzles matching the numerals 1-10 to their values, and he can sometimes do 1-5 alone.  Sometimes he gets frustrated when they don’t fit exactly together (fine motor work!), but I can help him.

He also loves our pattern block shapes that I made out of thick colored card stock and laminated.  I use them with Sis as math manipulatives, and he also loves to sort them out and try to count them.  You can print your own here for free!

I have also laminated some little basic puzzles that have come out of magazines the kids get – he loves to put the three pieces together to make the trucks, and can put them together wrong to be silly and it’s ok, so he feels very successful with those.

I love the Target dollar section.  Sometimes I get surprised and find a $3 item that I love and just have to have, but normally I stick to the $1 stuff.  I got some really neat felt sticker numbers there (for $1), and placed one each on a set of 10 index cards so that he can actually FEEL the number, and attempts to put them in order.

He loves so much the big bin of Scrabble letter tiles at the DoSeum, so I finally bought this set so that he can play with the letters at home – and Sis can use them for spelling practice!  They are both so excited to have their own letter tiles at home now!  Sis also enjoys playing Scrabble Jr, so this now gives him letter tiles to play with, without messing up the board while we are playing!

I hope that you find these ideas helpful, and I so appreciate you purchasing via my affiliate links!  What helpful hints do you have to share?  What do you like to do with your toddler?  And which of these ideas that I’ve shared are you ready to try this week?  Let me know!  I love to hear from you!  Send me comments, and please be sure to head over to my Facebook Page to get involved in the discussion!