My very, very favorite Christmas tradition of all is our annual Christmas Eve Nativity reenactment. I’ve done it every year of my life as far back as I can remember, and probably all the years before I can remember too. But that’s not why it’s my favorite. It is my favorite because gathering with family and friends to read Luke 2 and recount the birth of Jesus Christ touches my heart deeply.
It’s my favorite because watching young children learn this story by helping to tell it moves me.
It’s my favorite because the chaos and the laughter and the reverence and the awe all combine into a perfectly imperfect form of worship that is incomparable.
Growing up as the oldest of seven, I remember there were always plenty of actors for all the parts. When Jon and I celebrated Christmas away from our families for the first time, it was just the two of us, and our first born, who was a toddler at the time. We have done this with big groups of friends and family, and with just us. But the feeling is always the same.
We love to incorporate some beloved Christmas carols into the reading of Luke 2, and of course, add the passage from Matthew to include the Wise Men. Costumes are usually just towels, scarves, and bath robes. We keep it simple.
If you’re new to staging a family nativity reenactment, I’m sharing the document we use each year to help you get started. It includes the cast of characters (though you could just read it without actors, or have only one or two), the scripture passages, and the songs to be sung at appropriate times in the story. Grab your free document below!
This year, as we’ve focused so much on the story of Christ’s birth, I wanted to see how much my kids remembered about the story. Without warning or preparation, I sat them each down and asked them to tell me the story of the Nativity on camera. They did a beautiful job, and got MOST of the details right. Here’s their retelling.
Merry Christmás! May the story of Christ’s birth light your life this December and always.
Traditions are important to me, but I try to think long and hard before adding any new ones, because simplicity is also important. But this tradition that we started just a couple years ago met all the criteria with flying colors: simple, sustainable, and meaningful.
I first heard about the idea of hosting a Shepherd’s Supper from Jamie Cook of @wander_and_scout, and I loved it right away. It’s basically this: one evening before Christmas (it could be Christmas Eve, but it could also be another time) eat a simple meal similar to what shepherds at the time of Christ’s birth would have eaten. Fruits, nuts, flat breads, cheeses. Eat outdoors under the stars, weather permitting, or on a blanket near your twinkling Christmas Tree. The authenticity of the meal isn’t really the point, rather the experience and focus on the events surrounding the birth of the Savior, so don’t stress too much about the food. Cheese and crackers work just fine.
This year, as we celebrate Christmás, intentionally focusing even more on Jesus Christ, I knew a Shepherd’s Supper was one of the traditions we were definitely keeping. It’s simple, delicious, and so sweet.
We lucked out with great weather here in California, so we took our supper onto the front porch, watched the sunset, and waited for the stars to come out. We read the account of the shepherds in Luke 2, and listened to carols about their angelic visitors.
The reminder that the humblest among God’s children were important enough to receive a heavenly announcement is one we can all use. Everyone around us is divinely loved. We are divinely loved. We all matter. And we will find joy as we come unto Christ.
Here’s our menu (though this is totally easy and you can customize it to suit your family)
Trader Joe’s Pita Bread
Mini Naan Breads (Sabra brand from Walmart)
Multigrain Pita Crackers (Trader Joe’s)
Fruits & Veggies:
Dried figs (from Walmart)
Dried dates (from Costco)
Feta-stuffed olives (from Walmart)
Sliced red onion
Honeyed goat cheese (Trader Joe’s)
Brie cheese (Trader Joe’s)
Caramalized onion cheddar (Trader Joe’s)
Sharp cheddar (Walmart)
Gyro meat with lamb and beef (Trader Joe’s)
Here’s our program:
Pray over food and eat
Read Luke 2:8-18
Sing or listen to “Angels We Have Heard on High”, “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear”, “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks”
(We love using the Sacred Music App from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. It’s free and full of sheet music and recordings of so much incredible music, including these Christmas hymns!)
If you host your own Shepherd’s Supper, I’d love to hear about it! Come drop me a comment or a message on Instagram! May your Christmas week be full of love and meaningful traditions!
A special part of our Christmás celebration is helping our children develop the attribute of generosity. Looking beyond their own wants and needs and thinking about others is a great way to be more like Christ, and do His work during this special time of year.
One way we have always done that is by having our children exchange gifts. In the past, we have helped them purchase small gifts, but for the last couple years, we have had them create homemade gifts for each other. It has been even more special to see them really give of themselves, and work on something for their siblings.
It was important to me to keep things simple this year, so I made sure that they chose things that they could do (mostly) on their own, and that didn’t require a whole lot of materials or make big messes.
For simplicity’s sake, each child made the same thing for all of their sibling, but they each chose something unique, and they turned out so cute! Here are the five handmade gifts that my children are giving each other this year. I hope they inspire your family to get creative and generous toward one another!
My oldest chose to customize pillowcases for each of her siblings. We bought a multi-pack of white pillowcases on Amazon, and she drew a special design on each one with fabric markers. She spent a lot of time designing and executing these, and it was a true labor of love. She’s had them wrapped and labeled for weeks now (I, on the other hand, haven’t started wrapping…) and she can’t wait to share them with her siblings.
My second daughter dreamed these up on her own. Mini monogrammed plaques for each of her siblings to keep in their rooms. We ordered all the supplies online. Wooden plaques, burlap tape, and decorative sea shells. But what I love about this project is that the options are limitless. These could also make really cute ornaments if you used just one plaque and attached a loop of ribbon or twine.
Don’t tell, but this one might be my favorite. How cute are these little snowman socks? My seven-year-old used fabric markers to make several pairs of customized socks for each sibling. I love how thoughtful she was! This project is so easy, and all you need are some plain white socks and a set of fabric markers!
My son was absolutely delighted to work with me to create these sweet treats for his sisters! They are made of Jolly Ranchers, and so SO simple to do! On parchment paper, line up three Jolly Ranchers for each lollipop, making sure to off set each group so you have room to add the sticks later. Bake for 6-8 minutes at 275 degrees Fahrenheit, then pull them out and press 4 inch lollipop sticks into the melted Jolly Ranchers. Twist the sticks a bit to cover them completely with candy, and put them back in the oven for a minute to make sure they get fully covered. Press and twist again if needed, then allow them to cool for 25 minutes at room temperature. We wrapped them in little cellophane bags and added colorful twist ties to finish them off.
Homemade Play Dough
My two-year-old loves to help make play dough, so I thought it would be fun help her make a batch to share with her siblings. Our very favorite recipe for homemade play dough is below:
Best Ever Play Dough
1 C flour
1 C water
1/4 C salt
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 tsp cream of tartar
Stir ingredients in a pot until smooth. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until dough forms a ball. Separate into several balls, add a few drops of food coloring to each one, and knead to reach the desired color. Store in airtight containers.
One more thing we do to make this gift exchange extra special is to do it a day or two before Christmas. That way, these sweet handmade gifts aren’t overshadowed by some of the bigger things we give our kids, and it has become a really special night that everyone looks forward to! Happy creating, and happy gifting!
It may be December 2nd, but it’s not too late to start a Christ-Centered Christmas Countdown. In fact, it’s always a good idea not to stress too much about missing a day or two. These activities are meant to make the holiday more joyful, not more stressful.
December seems to be filled with countdowns of all sorts, and we enjoy several in our home, from the little chocolate filled calendars from Trader Joe’s to a Harry Potter Lego Advent. But the most meaningful ones, and the ones we are trying to emphasize especially this year as we celebrate “Christmás” are those that teach us about Jesus Christ, and that help us become more like Him.
Here are a few of our favorites for inviting MORE Christ into Christmas this year:
Light the World Campaign is a series of daily prompts designed to bring more light to those around us. You can download the calendar here or text “LIGHT” to 71234 to receive the prompts directly to your phone. Our family has used this for several years, and it has always been such a wonderful way to connect to others in Christlike service and love.
The 25 Days of Christ from New Tradition Crafts is a series of ornaments and daily devotionals that teach all about the life of Christ. It’s on sale through today, but if it feels too late to get started this year, just file it away for next year. We’ve loved this one, and used it for years.
The Global Advent Calendar from my friend Peethi at Local Passport Family focuses on learning about other countries and finding service opportunities there. Everything she does is pure gold, and this is a fabulous way to develop the Christlike attribute of service, and includes this darling free printable!
When we were first married, we made a felt Christmas Tree with 25 pockets. Inside we placed two pieces of chocolate (one for each of us) and a scripture verse to read. It was such a simple and beautiful tradition, and while we no longer use that particular advent calendar (the pockets aren’t large enough for SEVEN pieces of chocolate each!), we still love doing daily scripture study. I’ve created a FREE printable scripture countdown for you guys that I hope you’ll love! Download it below!
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A couple weeks ago I saw the word Christmas differently than I had before. Christmás. Más meaning “more” in Spanish. More Christ. I realize that’s something my bilingual brain made up, but it felt so timely. This year, more than ever, we need MORE Christ in Christmas.
So while this blog is for people of all faiths and families of all belief systems, over the next weeks, I will be sharing a few posts for my Christian friends who would like to join us in celebrating Christmás.
One of the simplest ways to make the birth of Jesus Christ a tangible part of Christmas celebrations is with nativity sets. There is a wide variety available, and many people collect beautiful nativities from around the world. Those that have been most precious to me, however, are the ones my little children can handle with no fear. That they can play with, and learn from.
Our favorite is the classic set by Little People. Our collection has grown over the years, and my kids are always drawn to it. In fact, my children play with it year round, but I always make sure it’s out and accessible during the Christmas Season. There are a few sets available on Amazon from very simple to more complete sets that include additional characters. We have had and loved both styles.
When we were first married and having children, I didn’t feel like we could afford the Little People set, but I wanted my oldest, who was a toddler, to have a nativity set she could play with. I spent a few dollars at the craft store and bought these spools and large wooden beads. A bit of hot glue, some fabric scraps and a sharpie, and it’s been the sweetest, most simple little nativity that all my children have played with, and we’ve cherished over the years. I have seen tutorials for much more elaborate versions that include more characters, but I kind of love the simplicity of ours. At any rate, it’s not necessary to spend a lot of money to create something perfect for little hands. Also, hot glue comes in handy when little hands get too rough. We’ve put these back together many times, very easily.
Last year, my son received a sweet, plush Baby Jesus doll from his teachers at church. (I miss when my kids had teachers at church!) His baby sister loved it, and he generously handed it over. It has been a sweet treasure that has been loved on, snuggled, and had some of our baby’s first words “Bebe Jesus” bestowed upon it.
This year, our family will be delivering pieces of a wooden nativity set as 12 Days of Christmas gifts to another family. This set from jackzeeplace.com is a gem, and could be a beautiful set for kids to play with at home or to give away to another family. It’s simple, beautiful, and sturdy enough for even the most excitable little ones to handle. And with the code FEARLESS, you can get 20% off right now! (Order before December 10 for shipping in time for the 12 days of Christmas).
I hope you can find or create the perfect “please-touch” nativity for your family! It’s certainly one of the easiest ways to emphasize Christ in Christmas for small children!
As if 2020 weren’t complicated enough, we added purchasing a new (old) home and moving to the mix. The end goal will certainly bring more stability to our lives, but the process of getting there has been chaotic to say the least.
Through it all, we’ve learned a few things about homeschooling when life is in major transition, like a move, the arrival of a new baby, or a multitude of other situations, either expected or unforeseen. Here are our best suggestions to keep learning going even when everything is upside down.
Audiobooks. Turning on a great book will entertain children during a busy time, and also is the perfect way to teach even when you can’t be the teacher. Exposure to books, yes, even audiobooks, is a hugely important aspect of education, and a day reading (or being read to) is never a waste! This is the primary way we “schooled” during the week of our move when we were packing, loading, unloading and getting settled.
TV. Wait, what? I’m typically a big fan of dialing back screen time, but when life is topsy turvy, sometimes it’s a huge blessing. We were deliberate in choosing educational programs, and learned a lot of science and history by watching shows. My kids especially love learning about animals and geography, but there are documentaries and other educational programs on basically every topic imaginable, so the sky’s the limit here.
Use car time. I found it challenging to gather my children during our move. Everything just felt so chaotic and out of whack. But when we were driving, we were together. So we’d use that time to talk about what was happening in our week, discuss current events, review what we had been learning, and definitely to get in some good audiobook time on longer drives.
Make use of online learning. My preference is always learning together in person, but some of the online resources we use get even more use when I’m less available. We like typingclub.com, code.org, i-ready.com, abcmouse.com, pbskids.org, and prodigygame.com to name a few.
Physical books. Toddlers to teens can spend time with (and learn a lot from) a good stack of books. Keep it simple. Keep your kids reading. When life is really crazy, that might just be enough.
Take a break. With the exception of a few of the craziest days, we tried to fit in language arts and math at a minimum. But even those formal lessons dropped off when we were really busy. And we felt completely ok with that. Other subjects like history and science took a longer break from formal lessons (though we were still covering them through the books we were reading the programs we were watching.). It’s ok to take a break, and that flexibility is actually one of the best parts of homeschool!
On Instagram I recently shared one of our favorite hacks to keep my toddler and preschooler busy during school time, and got lots of questions about it. We keep a “school box” full of special activities and educational toys that only come out during school time, and my little ones love it! While it may not keep them completely happy and occupied 100% of the time (anyone have a trick for that??), it’s pretty darn helpful. Here are some ideas of what to keep in your school box (and remember, the trick is to keep it up and out of reach except for when you’re working on school with older kids!)
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We love these babies! All of us do! But they are particularly helpful with my little ones who can easily build creatively with them for long periods of time. I recently discovered a brand called Tytan Tiles that are great quality and a fantastic price! I loved them so much that the company offered to give my followers a 30% discount on their products through August 20, 2020 with discount code “fearlessmom1”. Go snag them while they’re hot!
My kids absolutely love to play with kinetic sand, and I love how is sticks to itself, making cleanup super simple. Pull out the cookie cutters and measuring cups and you’ll have mini-sandcastles in the making in no time.
Even my one-year-old loves to watercolor. I like to put just a small amount of water in a shallow bowl to avoid spills, and let them paint their hearts out. Fat paint brushes make it even more manageable for little fingers.
My four-year-old loves to use this learning tablet along with the coordinating set of books. The books have symbols and highlighted letters that coordinate with the buttons on the tablet, so they can push them as they see them and hear the letter sounds, form words, etc. We like to do this one together, but he’s starting to get the hang of it himself. I love that it’s a screen-free option that still has the appeal of technology.
We go through so much playdough that I always buy this mega-pack. Don’t forget the cookie cutters, mini-rolling pins, and plastic knives. My kiddos can create with this for hours. We also have a homemade playdough recipe we love that I’ll share soon, but sometimes with all the real life happening, it’s easier just to order it and have it delivered to my door.
Color Sorting Bears
This is the cutest sorting set that my two little ones are always excited to see! They play with it both “as directed” and super creatively. It’s helpful for their young brains to learn about categories, colors, counting, practice fine motor skills, work on matching, etc. It comes with a storage container and bag too, which helps keep all the small pieces together. You’ll love this one!
Preschool Robotics Kit
We absolutely LOVE this STEM set designed for preschoolers. It has a darling story book that gives instructions on how to build each of the robots featured in the story. My little guy likes to give these his best shot, but this particular activity is best completed when I assign an older sibling to work with him. Even so, it’s great at keeping his attention, and he adores all the robots he builds.
I also love to scan the Target Dollar Spot for flashcard sets, magnets, felt activity packs, etc, and now is the perfect time, with back-to-school happening. Grab a box or bin and fill it up! You littles will feel so special during school time!
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If you were to ask me to list my favorite topics to teach my kids, the multiplications tables certainly would not be found anywhere on that list. Regardless, knowing them makes doing other math a lot faster and easier. So we study them. Multiplication facts are particularly helpful to know in the later elementary grades (3-5, or approximately ages 8-11) though homeschool really can be very fluid as far as when particular things are learned, so these tools can be helpful…whenever they’re helpful!
Unless you have a child who is prone to memorization, learning the multiplication tables can be challenging, and worse, boring. We’ve found three tools that have helped us along, and made learning multiplication facts a lot more fun.
The Multiplication Machine: this handy device made by Lakeshore Learning is a great way to practice multiplication facts. Each problem is a button, that when pushed, pops up to reveal the answer. It makes a satisfying click whenever it’s pushed up or down, and it’s especially great for sensory learners.
2. Musical Multiplication: this program created by The Good and The Beautiful targets multiple parts of the brain to aid in memorization. The four sets of facts come with four sets of songs (provided as mp3 downloads), and each math problem has a corresponding song that rhymes and has an illustration in the book the goes along with it. For example “Three times three is Nine, nine monkeys on a vine” has an illustration of nine monkeys swinging on a vine. The music, the rhyme, and the visuals all work together to help even kids who struggle with multiplication get the facts down pat. The songs aren’t annoying, and the pictures really are beautiful.
3. A good practice workbook. Of course, it’s possible to just print off multiplication fact practice pages from the internet, but I have found that it saves time and money to just have a good workbook on hand. We’ve tried a few, and I like this one by Kumon Math. We don’t necessarily try to complete the entire workbook, but it’s great to assign a page, or a few problems when some practice is needed.
If you, like us, are starting your homeschool year, but still nailing down exactly which math curriculum you’d like to use, brushing up on math facts is always a great way to ease into the year. It’s what my two older girls will be doing this year while we explore a couple options for our formal curriculum, and it’s simple way for any student to get started! Good luck tackling the math facts!!
After years of considering homeschool, what finally pushed us over the edge and helped us make the decision was the need to create an individualized education for our children. Some of their needs and learning styles were not being met in public school, and as a result, self-image, the desire to learn, and their feelings about school were being negatively impacted. We realized that we could fix those problems by providing an individualized education plan for each of our children at home. And while it’s an ongoing process of constantly trying new things, and tweaking our curriculum and our approach, we saw immediate improvements in both how much our children were learning, and also their feeling about education in general. We have been able to customize education and meet our children where they are instead of forcing a one-size-fits-all approach to learning, and the benefits have been HUGE!
Additional freedom and flexibility wasn’t the straw that broke my school-mom camel’s back, but it was the benefit that had long called out to me, and beckoned me to consider homeschooling. Jumping through school hoops, participating in fundraisers, dedicating our evenings to homework, and scheduling travel and family time around school vacations was always a thorn in my side. So having the flexibility to do it all on our own time-line, travel off-season without extensive homework packets or the threat of truancy repercussions, and reclaim family time every evening has been the biggest blessing! Just thinking about losing that freedom again makes me feel a little sick.
3. Family Unity
Increased family unity and sibling bonding has been one of those beautiful blessings that I didn’t really think about or expect. We’ve always tried to have a close family, and give our kids plenty of bonding experiences together, but there’s nothing like the TIME you get together as a homeschool family to really strengthen those bonds and create lasting memories. Shaping our family culture with intention has been a really wonderful way for my husband and I to work together, and nothing makes me happier than to see my children playing together, even conspiring together, and knowing that they truly are each other’s best friends.
4. Physical and Mental Health
The last year our kids were in public school, we dealt with a variety of health issues, from anxiety to chronic colds. There were many factors that contributed to this. Constant exposure to germs at school, high-pressure situations in the classroom, and being forced into a schedule that didn’t work for some of us. I have a child with ADHD who really struggles to fall asleep at night, despite our best efforts to maintain an appropriate bedtime. So early morning alarm clocks and the rush to get out the door did nothing for that child’s ability to learn and function in a healthy way. Sufficient sleep is so vital for children, and allowing our bodies to sleep until we are rested, and wake up naturally has made all of us healthier, happier, better learners. The anxiety that came from a variety of issues in the classroom has all but disappeared. And I’ve noticed that since most of our homeschool meet-ups and activities are outside, even when we’ve been around other kids, we haven’t been sick nearly as often. (Speaking of the activities we engaged in pre-COVID. Obviously those came to an abrupt halt in March, and thankfully we’ve continued to enjoy good health since then as well.)
5. Deeper Connections to Nature
A lot of time in public school is not spent on academics. I say that as a former-public school student and teacher. Whether or not that time is “wasted” is a matter of opinion, but when you cut out all that extra time, formal studies are so much more efficient, and leave ample time for doing what kids were made to do. Play outside. It’s made a huge difference for us to spend more time chasing lizards, and making fairy gardens, and hiking trails, and swimming in creeks and jumping in waves. I believe that it’s what childhood should be made of, and it’s thrilling to see it play out in the lives of my own children.
6. Ability to Incorporate our Faith into Our Kids’ Education
Although we have always studied scripture and topics of faith together as a family, being able to study history, science, art, music, literature and even math in the context of our beliefs has been a beautiful experience. Regardless of whether or not you are a family of faith, the freedom and time to share your own value system with your children instead of leaving it to teachers or schools is a huge benefit. We do our best to expose our children to multiple points of view, but at the end of the day when we can bring everything home in the context of our faith in a loving God, we know we are giving our kids a gift.