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How did that first Advent week go with your children?  Did you ask them the questions I suggested to see what their framework for Christmas looks like?  I’m very interested in their answers. Please share them with us all. Use the “Comments” section to tell us what your child/children said.

For the second Advent week, we want to focus on the angel telling Mary that she is going to have a baby and on the story of the three wise men.

Text:      Luke 1:26-38

Big Idea:              Nine months before Christmas Day, God told Mary she was going to have a baby boy. Jesus was born like every other baby—fully human—but the Son of God.

Activities:

  1. You have to read the story to your children, but read it from The Message or a Children’s Bible—but not a story book.  Then use these conversation starters to talk about it at the appropriately level with your child.
    1. Why do you think God chose Mary to be the mother of Jesus?
    2. Who was going to be the father?  (You don’t have to get into sexual questions here—unless you need to—but it is important for kids to learn that God is the Father of Jesus, not Joseph.
    3. Why do you think Mary was a little afraid of the angel Gabriel?  Would you be afraid?
    4. How do you think Mary felt when she found out she was going to be the mother of Jesus?
    5. How long was she going to be pregnant?  Do you think she could talk to people about what had happened to her?
    6. You might visit with a woman that you know who is pregnant, if your child has not really experienced this with you.
    7. Look at the calendar to see how long Mary had to wait for Christmas Day.
    8. You might make a 9-day calendar, representing the 9 months and use it as a mini-advent calendar, especially if your child is interested in Mary.  Each day you could do something that Mary might have done to get ready for her new baby: make diapers, find baby toys, a blanket for the baby, etc.

You can also include the story of the three wise men from the East

Text:      Matthew 2:1-12

Big Idea:  The birth of Jesus was for the whole world!

Activities:

  1. Look at a globe or map and figure out how far it is from Babylon to Bethlehem. Then figure out how long it might take them to make this journey if they were riding camels.
  2. You might go to the zoo and look at the camels. Talk about how you would ride one and how they would carry their gifts on the camels. If you don’t go to the zoo, then search the internet together to find great pictures and information about camels?
  3. Talk about the star that the wise men followed. Go look at the stars! Are any of them moving? What if you saw one that was moving! What would you do?  Why did these men follow the star so far? What did they believe?

—You might make a series of stars, graduating the size of the stars from small to large, one for each day until Christmas. Then you could hang or stick them on the ceiling, starting from the farthest corner of your house, but with the largest one above your nativity scene on the night before Christmas, to create your own journey of the magi.

  1. Of course, you can gather golden coins (get the $1 coins from the bank), perfume, and spices and make little presents out of them, like the wise men did.
  2. With older kids, you can talk about whether the men were kings or not, you can talk about astrology, and you can acknowledge that they probably showed up much later than Christmas Day (Mary and Joseph are in a house, and King Herod has all babies under the age of 2 put to death!), but that’s not necessary for younger kids.
  3. Be sure and ask the question, “Why did God want these people from a foreign country to know about Baby Jesus?”  That will give you the opportunity to go back to John 3:16 – For God So Loved the World!

Both of these stories contain much more that is important and interesting for adults, but don’t be tempted to overuse them with children.  You can use the age-appropriate ideas and help them learn some of the most important truths ever revealed.

Music:

I have two recommendations for you:

Star Carol (by Hutson and Burt). It’s a modern carol, very simple, but beautiful. Simon and Garfunkel did a nice version, but one of the most elegantly simple renditions is sung by Anna Maria Alberghetti. Here is a link to Youtube if you would like to listen to it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CPeG0fMqPvE .

Mary, Did You Know?  is another good, modern carol. There are lots of good versions, so search  ITunes or Youtube and pick the artist you like.

No Gift Compares is a beautiful carol written by my friend Gary Bruce. You can hear his performance of it at Oklahoma Christian a few days ago on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rMBnoRVgzY4 . One of the early recordings on YouTube actually has the words to it.

I can’t wait to hear how it goes with your kids!

Next: For the Third Advent Week, we will focus on the Journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem.

 

(Reposted from 2012)

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Christmas-PageantThat’s the last thing my kids need! All they think about is Christmas!

I know what you mean. I remember one of our grandkids who, as a three-year-old, took all the toy catalogues that came in the mail and circled everything in each one that Santa should bring!  And, of course, almost everything was circled!

I just wonder if doing some things intentionally with our children to help them remember Jesus might counteract some of the overwhelming advertising that they see every day? 

Let’s do this first:  without any framing or context, just ask your kids why Christmas is a holiday. You might do it like this:

1)      Hey, kids, why do we have Christmas anyway?

2)      Does anyone know how Christmas got started?

3)      What’s the best thing about Christmas?

I’m guessing that at least 50% of the time, you’ll get something about presents. Older kids may mention Jesus, so if they do, here are some follow-up questions for you to try:

1)      So what does the birth of Jesus have to do with Christmas?

2)      Do you think most people are celebrating the birth of Jesus?  What do you think most people are celebrating at Christmastime?

3)      When do you think about Jesus at Christmas?

That’s just the starting activity for you as parents to find out where your kids are.  Knowing what they think will help you prepare for the rest of Advent.

Of course, I don’t know what your kids will say to these questions, so I’m just going to share with you some different activities that you might try to help your kids think about Jesus during this season.  You pick and choose what works for your kids–or discard completely and substitute your own ideas.

 

This first week of Advent is almost over, so use these ideas the rest of this week and on Thursday, I’ll post the second week of activities, and then each week, I’ll give you some more ideas for that week. I’d love to hear the ideas that you add to these. Please share them with all of us.

First Advent Week      God So Loved the World

The Big Idea:

From the beginning, God loved us so much that He planned to send Jesus—to the whole world!

Ideas:

  1. You might find an inexpensive globe—any size—and use it to talk about God making the whole world and loving every single person in every country.  You could take some modeling clay and let your child make a big Earth of clay and then “populate” it with dots.  Message: God planned when He made the world to send Jesus to help us because He loves us so much!
  2. I love advent calendars—you know, the ones with 25 little windows that children can open each day before Christmas. The typical ones have little pieces of candy behind each window.  Candy is part of God’s goodness, so I wouldn’t avoid those. There are also Christian advent calendars that have verses behind each window—or pictures of some nativity person or event.  You can find them at Christian bookstores or online.
  3. I saw a great idea for making your own advent calendar while we were in Germany.  They took a simple length of rope—maybe 4-5 feet long—and then they used very small children’s mittens, one for each day, hung on the rope by a wooden clothes pin.  I don’t think you put 25 up, rather 7 for each day of that week, and then you can put a little verse, a little picture you have cut out, a little figure perhaps—and don’t forget a little piece of candy!
  4. If your kids are a little older, you might try reading Isaiah 9:6-7, and talk with them about the fact that Isaiah is telling about Jesus 700 years before Jesus is born. God loved us so much that He began His plan hundreds of years (really thousands—you can go back to Abraham’s promise(Gen 12:1-3) —or further to the first prophecy of Jesus to Eve (Gen. 3:15).  Then, I’d suggest asking your older child, what could they do that would bless someone in the future, maybe someone who would be born 100 years from now—and let them do it!

I want to suggest some good music each time as well. I myself am a big believer in exposing kids to good classical music, so the first song I’d suggest is from Handel’s Messiah, “For Unto Us A Child Is Born”—one of my favorites.

If you need something lighter, but still classy, Mary Chapin Carpenter’s song “Come Darkness, Come Light” is one that has great words, a simple melody, and it will be new to your kids.  You can find both of these easily online.

That’s enough for the first week of Advent. I’ll have more for you for next week on Thursday.  Let me hear how this first week goes.

 

(Reposted from 2012)

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If you want your children to be thankful—grateful—adults, you have a great opportunity to work on them during Thanksgiving.  This holiday can be so much more than Indians and pilgrims or eating and football!  We Christians have a great opportunity to re-capture the holiday from the secularists and materialists and instill in our children a grateful spirit rather than an entitled one!

Here is a list of some of the things you can do for Thanksgiving that will move your children (and perhaps yourselves) closer to the spirit of Psalm 100:4-5 (NLT):

Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
go into his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good.
His unfailing love continues forever,
and his faithfulness continues to each generation.

  1. The Bible contains many good stories of people giving thanks for God’s goodness and blessings. One of the best is the story of the ten lepers in Luke 17:11-17. Tell or read your child this story and then ask why the one came back and why the others did not. What might have been their reasons for not returning to thank Jesus?
  2. Make calendars to record one thing each day for which you are thankful. See how many days you can keep this going. Be sure and not let it get silly. You can do this, for instance, by always asking “why are you thankful for . . . .worms?” You can also remind your child of how God is the source of that blessing.
  3. Teach your kids the principle of Philippians 4:6 (ERV): “Don’t worry about anything, but pray and ask God for everything you need, always giving thanks for what you have.” When you pray at meals or at bedtime with them, suggest that they first give thanks before they start asking.
  4. If you think your children might take their blessings for granted, you might suggest having an Africa day, or a “poverty” day where they must live without their tech toys and TV, and have a very small meal or two of very plain food (rice and water, or just one-half of a bread & butter sandwich and only water to drink.) You will need to talk about this with them to help them understand what is going on. A good time to do this is at a meal prayer when we casually slide over “Thank you for our food.”
  5. Have a day of “no complaints before giving thanks!”  No complaints are allowed about anything before a “thanks” for something is registered.
  6. The internet is full of Thanksgiving games, stories, poems, and songs. You might spend some time with your child finding appropriate crafts or expressions of thanksgiving.
  7. Another activity is to find images either in magazines or online and find all the things for which we could be thankful.  You might even insert some of your own family photos. Be sure and notice actions, emotions, and/or people in the pictures, not just “stuff!”
  8. You might enjoy letting your child help you with Thanksgiving Day dinner, first by helping pick out the menu, then shopping with you for the food you need, and then, when possible, with preparing the food.  This is great together time when you can talk about God’s goodness to your family, to the children, to your church, to the country—you have many different paths for conversations, but always let your children know how thankful YOU are to God.

As you know, the best way to help your children become thankful is to model it in front of them.  I’m reminded of the scene in the old movie Shenandoah(1965) when Jimmy Stewart leads his family in giving thanks at the table, but takes all the credit for putting the food on the table http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IzzyZ1M-kVU . Watch this and laugh—but be careful that you don’t live your life as if this were your prayer!

And if you do, don’t do it in front of your kids!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Colossians 3:17 (The Message): Let every detail in your lives—words, actions, whatever—be done in the name of the Master, Jesus, thanking God the Father every step of the way.

 

(Repost from November 2012)

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It’s graduation time, a wonderful time for parents to be very proud of what their kids have done, a time to brag on them and show off all their trophies to the grandparents and friends!

But wait!  Did you think I was talking about high school or college graduates?  No, I was talking about kindergarten and elementary school graduates!

It was the trophy thing that threw you, wasn’t it! But by the time an almost 7-year-old boy starts first grade, he could easily have half a dozen trophies for soccer, more for T-ball, and some for basketball. In addition, there are likely ribbons and medals, all displayed on the mantle with a couple of cap-and-gown graduation pictures, one from pre-school and one from kindergarten.

For a couple of decades now, our society has been very concerned about children growing up with

Self-confidenceSelf-regard

Self-worth

Self-love

Self-awareness

Self-esteemGood self-concept

Self-respect

Self-acceptance

Good self-image

Some are wondering if we aren’t using the word self much too often.

Recently, David McCullough, Jr., an English teacher in Wellesley High School in Massachusetts delivered the commencement speech for the high school graduates.  In the course of his address, he told the graduates and their parents, “You are not exceptional,”  and shocked people enough to cause a national uproar.

How dare he say that my child might be average! The nerve of a teacher to evaluate my child by some standard.  How could he sweep through our houses and make all of our kid’s trophies vanish?

I have some personal experience relevant to this topic from my own days in the classroom. For twenty years, I taught English to college freshmen and sophomores, and my annual evaluations were generally quite good—especially taking into account that I taught required general education courses that most students were poorly prepared for and didn’t want to take.

I noticed, however, in the last three or four years of teaching that some new comments started appearing in my evaluations that I had not seen before. Students started saying that I was not showing them proper respect and that I did not listen to them.

I took these comments very seriously, but was puzzled as to what I was doing differently. I prided myself on good relationships with my students, with lots of open discussion and exchange of ideas.  What was I doing suddenly that made them feel disrespected??

After probably a year of introspection as well as seeking the counsel of my colleagues, I came to the conclusion that I had really not changed, but that the students had changed.  My students were coming into the classroom with two completely new assumptions for which I was unprepared:

  • Assumption One:  The opinions of a student are as authoritative and valid as those of the professor.
  • Assumption Two:  It is disrespectful for a professor to suggest that a student’s opinion might not be right or might benefit from further research, especially in front of other students.

I know there are professors who act like they are the Alpha and Omega of all knowledge, but, you’ll have to take my word, that I am not of that ilk. Yet, some of my students had that impression and it really bothered me.  In fact, I haven’t been in the classroom for almost ten years now, and it still bothers me!

What we are asking ourselves is do we really build healthy self-confidence by giving every kid a trophy or are we promoting a sense of entitlement and rewarding mediocrity.  Here are a few symptoms of kids who might have learned the latter from our trophy mentality:

  • I should get a good grade just for coming to class.
  • I should get a good grade for turning in the work, regardless of the quality of that work.
  • Everybody should get to score a goal.
  • Children’s ideas about parenting are as valid as parents’ ideas about parenting.
  • What? I have to practice to make the team!
  • “You can’t tell me I’m wrong! That’s just your opinion!”

Sherrylee’s Aunt Jane, a long-time teacher and counselor at Greater Atlanta Christian School, once gave us good advice, saying, “A child does not become confident through compliments, but through competence.”

 Somehow this should all be easier for Christians because our confidence and sense of being loved comes from Him, not from ourselves.  A sense of entitlement is erased by His grace, which rewards us with what we do not deserve, but because of His Goodness, not ours.  Our striving for excellence grows out of a sense of worshipful gratitude.  Our motivations are Him-centered, not self-centered.

Teaching our children, both with words and deeds, about God is the only way to give them real confidence and competence.  And then, someday, as the song says, we’ll bow down and lay our trophies at His wounded feet.

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For our children, Easter has become more about baby chickens, bunny rabbits, and egg hunts and hardly anything about Jesus! Part of the reason is that the story is sad, brutal, and gory. We have sanitized the lives of our children to the point that the real Easter story just doesn’t work.  We need a Disney version for our young children.

On the other hand, my 8-year-old, 7-year-old, and 5-year-old grandsons have all seen Star Wars, and some of them have seen at least the first episode of Lord of the Rings. They have all seen the Narnia movies—and they have all been to funerals.  I think they can handle the basics of the passion story.

I’d like to just suggest to you today a schedule of possible readings and activities to do with your young children. You are the best judge about what age is appropriate to participate, but I think you can start younger than you probably imagine.

Each day will have four primary activities:

1.            Create a timeline and put it on the child’s wall or in a place where you do activities. These can be a sheet of paper for each day, or, if you can easily find it, a roll of paper that you can write/draw on.

2..           Read the story from the Bible, if appropriate. You can try the Children’s Bible version or some other easy-to-read version. You also can substitute a storybook version if the children are very young, but use the real Bible if at all possible.

3.            Have your child draw a picture to go with the story that they heard. Talk to them about their picture, letting them explain it to you.  Listen, don’t talk too much.

4.            Do the suggested craft or activity with your child/children and be sure to connect it to the story for the day.

I’ve arranged this so that you can start on Monday, even though the triumphal entry was on Sunday. This will give us an activity to do on Wednesday which was a day of retreat for Jesus.  I hope this adjustment doesn’t bother you. We will keep the timeline we make accurate.

Day Story/Scripture Activity
Sun Entry into Jerusalem  /Matthew 21:1-11 Child should sense joy—doing things that make God happy. Cut branches/tall grasses/have one parent be the donkey and let the child ride while the other parent or other children wave the branches.
Mon Cleansing of the temple/Matt. 21:12-17 Help child understand that Jesus was mad about people disobeying God, but he was not trying to hurt the people! Set up tv trays with coins or other objects “for sale” and let the child go through and knock them over.
Tues Widows Two Mites  /Luke 21:1-4 Your child can learn early to give “all” because you gave them to him/her. Give your child two pennies. You or other children then should drop 10+ pennies into a jar. Your child drops 2 and then you ask who gave more!
Wed (This happened Tues. night, which is Wed on Jewish time. Judas Betrays Jesus for 30 pieces of silver/ Matt. 26:1-5 & 26:14-16 Not only are you telling the story but you are teaching your child that money takes its moral value from how it is used, not how much one has. Bring out the two pennies from yesterday and then bring out 30 dimes or 30 quarters and put them in a sack or bag of some kind. Then ask the child which money was used for good and which for bad.
Thurs Last Supper /Luke 22:7-38  You can talk about how much Jesus loved his disciples. Eating together should be happy, but the one empty chair should be ominous, not mysterious.  Jesus knows what Judas is going to do. Find a recipe on internet and bake unleavened bread together.  If you want, get grape juice and have a little meal together—but leave one chair empty. One of Jesus’ friends with 30 pieces of silver got up and left—what is he going to do?
Friday Crucifixion / Matt. 27:33-50 What you are wanting to convey here is the sadness, not the grimness of Jesus’death. This is tricky and depends on your child/children. I suggest you find a small room which you darken as much as possible, then  light six long-life candles. Take the child in each hr and put out one candle. When the last candle goes out, explain that Jesus died—and it was dark!
Saturday Jesus was buried on Friday, but was in the tomb all day Saturday. The Tomb   John 19:30-42 Just make the point that Jesus was dead and in the grave just like all the dead people in the visited cemetery. Nobody really expected what was going to happen. It would be great to go to a graveyard and just walk for a while, reading what is on the tombstones. No need to make it heavier than the child will.
Sunday Resurrection/  John 20:1-18 Your goal is to create excitement that Jesus is not dead. He is alive! If possible, use the previous room that went dark. Just as the child wakes up on Easter morning, take him/her into the room, bright with sunlight and, if possible, lots of lit candles!

Even if you don’t use these exact activities, perhaps they will spark some ideas. I’d love to hear your ideas for sharing the Easter story with young children.  Let’s pool our ideas and reclaim Easter for Jesus!

This is a repost from 2011, but many new readers will be seeing it for the first time. 

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How did that first Advent week go with your children?  Did you ask them the questions I suggested to see what their framework for Christmas looks like?  I’m very interested in their answers. Please share them with us all. Use the “Comments” section to tell us what your child/children said.

For the second Advent week, we want to focus on the angel telling Mary that she is going to have a baby and on the story of the three wise men.

Text:      Luke 1:26-38

Big Idea:              Nine months before Christmas Day, God told Mary she was going to have a baby boy. Jesus was born like every other baby—fully human—but the Son of God.

Activities:

  1. You have to read the story to your children, but read it from The Message or a Children’s Bible—but not a story book.  Then use these conversation starters to talk about it at the appropriately level with your child.
    1. Why do you think God chose Mary to be the mother of Jesus?
    2. Who was going to be the father?  (You don’t have to get into sexual questions here—unless you need to—but it is important for kids to learn that God is the Father of Jesus, not Joseph.
    3. Why do you think Mary was a little afraid of the angel Gabriel?  Would you be afraid?
    4. How do you think Mary felt when she found out she was going to be the mother of Jesus?
    5. How long was she going to be pregnant?  Do you think she could talk to people about what had happened to her?
    6. You might visit with a woman that you know who is pregnant, if your child has not really experienced this with you.
    7. Look at the calendar to see how long Mary had to wait for Christmas Day.
    8. You might make a 9-day calendar, representing the 9 months and use it as a mini-advent calendar, especially if your child is interested in Mary.  Each day you could do something that Mary might have done to get ready for her new baby: make diapers, find baby toys, a blanket for the baby, etc.

You can also include the story of the three wise men from the East

Text:      Matthew 2:1-12

Big Idea:  The birth of Jesus was for the whole world!

Activities:

  1. Look at a globe or map and figure out how far it is from Babylon to Bethlehem. Then figure out how long it might take them to make this journey if they were riding camels.
  2. You might go to the zoo and look at the camels. Talk about how you would ride one and how they would carry their gifts on the camels. If you don’t go to the zoo, then search the internet together to find great pictures and information about camels?
  3. Talk about the star that the wise men followed. Go look at the stars! Are any of them moving? What if you saw one that was moving! What would you do?  Why did these men follow the star so far? What did they believe?

—You might make a series of stars, graduating the size of the stars from small to large, one for each day until Christmas. Then you could hang or stick them on the ceiling, starting from the farthest corner of your house, but with the largest one above your nativity scene on the night before Christmas, to create your own journey of the magi.

  1. Of course, you can gather golden coins (get the $1 coins from the bank), perfume, and spices and make little presents out of them, like the wise men did.
  2. With older kids, you can talk about whether the men were kings or not, you can talk about astrology, and you can acknowledge that they probably showed up much later than Christmas Day (Mary and Joseph are in a house, and King Herod has all babies under the age of 2 put to death!), but that’s not necessary for younger kids.
  3. Be sure and ask the question, “Why did God want these people from a foreign country to know about Baby Jesus?”  That will give you the opportunity to go back to John 3:16 – For God So Loved the World!

Both of these stories contain much more that is important and interesting for adults, but don’t be tempted to overuse them with children.  You can use the age-appropriate ideas and help them learn some of the most important truths ever revealed.

Music:

I have two recommendations for you:

Star Carol (by Hutson and Burt). It’s a modern carol, very simple, but beautiful. Simon and Garfunkel did a nice version, but one of the most elegantly simple renditions is sung by Anna Maria Alberghetti. Here is a link to Youtube if you would like to listen to it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CPeG0fMqPvE .

Mary, Did You Know?  is another good, modern carol. There are lots of good versions, so search  ITunes or Youtube and pick the artist you like.

No Gift Compares is a beautiful carol written by my friend Gary Bruce. You can hear his performance of it at Oklahoma Christian a few days ago on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rMBnoRVgzY4 . One of the early recordings on YouTube actually has the words to it.

I can’t wait to hear how it goes with your kids!

Next: For the Third Advent Week, we will focus on the Journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem.

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Amber Woodward, our daughter-in-law, has posted a wonderful description of her family’s faith adventure in Natal, Brazil, with Let’s Start Talking.  I promise you will enjoy both the description of God at work as well as the pictures of happy people.  Just follow this link to her blog.    amberwoodward.wordpress.com

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