Thanksgiving has come and gone, and now we have officially entered the Christmas season. This weekend is the first Sunday in Advent, and next week the month of December begins! Rather than focus on a character trait this month - although several appropriate ones came to mind - I decided to focus on the Christmas season. Here's a roundup of my ideas:

I love advent calendars! There are so many ideas out there, some of them simple and some quiet complicated. There are also many different ways to do Advent. Some use a piece of candy for each day, or a slip of paper with a verse of the Christmas story. Another idea is to have a Christmas-related activity for each day of advent.

Of course the simplest is a paper chain with 24 links, to count-down to Christmas.

I also found another cute one that can just be made with paper and string.

This idea uses an egg crate, with a small candy or a slip of paper for each day. You could use your own picture to make it nicer.

Here's an idea that uses an object paired with a Scripture each day to tell the Christmas story. You may not have all the objects needed, but be creative - maybe you could find pictures or make the objects you don't have?

This is a printable of twenty-four Bible verses telling the Christmas story. You could use them for Advent, or chose a few of the "best" to use as memory verses this month.

Here's a list of activities you can do, whether as part of your advent calendar or just for fun when you have time:

  • Serve a red and green themed meal
  • Make homemade caramel corn
  • Make gingerbread cookies
  • Make snickerdoodles
  • Make eggnog
  • Make hot chocolate - even if it is 100 degrees!
  • Decorate a gingerbread (or graham cracker) house.
  • Invite a few friends over for a cookie decorating party
  • Make a birthday cake for Jesus
  • Have a birthday party for Jesus
  • Use nativity figurines to act out the Christmas story
  • Write a letter to Jesus
  • Make paper crowns while talking about the wise men
  • String a popcorn garland
  • Make a paper chain garland
  • Make paper snowflakes
  • Make thumbprint snowmen
  • Add food coloring to bubble solution, to blow red and green bubbles
  • Make red & green playdough - and use it to build a nativity scene
  • Make a video of your family singing favorite Christmas songs and reading and/or acting out the Christmas story. Then email this video to far away grandparents and friends.
  • Have a treasure hunt for anything red or green around the house & yard
  • Have a pajama party, eating special cookies and reading the Christmas story
  • Share homemade cookies or other goodies with all your expat friends
  • Write special letters and cards to family far away
  • Clean out your toys and give the extras away to neighbors or friends

If you're looking for nice nativity coloring pages, I found a few that aren't silly cartoons:

Nativity story

Christmas story

Baby Jesus

And lastly, two winter crafts that don't necessarily have anything to do with Christmas:

Make your own snow globes

Ice sculpture fun

Our boys are still young, and we haven't established any Christmas traditions with them yet, but I'm looking forward to doing some special things together this year! Let us know what you're doing as a Christmas countdown, or what kind of activities you're planning for this month!

Family time is important no matter where you live. We all know how good it is for children to have positive memories of special family traditions and activities. But it seems harder to make time for it, and harder to find "fun" things to do, when you live overseas. Yet how much more important it is for your children to see you making the effort to put them first, even when it's not easy.

I was recently reading a book that had a couple great ideas, and that is the inspiration for this post. Most of these ideas are not original with me - some of these ideas come from that book and some are from other sources.

Ten Great Ideas for Family Fun:

  • Have a "brothers day" and a "sisters day" to go along with Mother's Day and Father's Day. Encourage your children to honor each other and plan a special day for each other.
  • Plan a once-a-month (or more often!) "YES day". Do you feel bad about all the times your children ask you to do an activity with them and you have to say "Not now" or "I don't have time today"? Instead, have them write those things down and put them in your "Yes day" jar. Then clear your schedule for a day (or at least an afternoon) and do as many of the things in the jar as you can.
  • Encourage your children to share their experiences and feelings with a simple supper time tradition. Go around the table having each person take a turn sharing the best thing from their day and the worst thing from their day. Make sure Mommy and Daddy share something too.
  • Use candles or a lamp to have a special candlelight supper. Children really love the atmosphere this creates! (If the electricity goes off at mealtime, don't start the generator. Make a fun night of it with candles and lanterns instead!)
  • Let your children make supper once a week - and let them plan the meal as well as prepare it!
  • Have a family talent show and/or a "show-and-tell" night. This is a great way to share in each other's interests and also learn to encourage each other. Again, make sure that Mom and Dad have something to share as well!
  • Make a family radio program. Interview different family members, read stories with dramatic sound affects, and do musical numbers. Record everything on your phone or laptop so that you can play it back later - and maybe share it with Grandma & Grandpa! :-)
  • Do a skit or play - and video it.
  • Have a family pajama party in Mom & Dad's bed. Eat a special snack while reading stories or watching a movie. OR have a family camp-out on the living room floor!
  • Celebrate strange holidays. There are all kinds of "national days" and 'holidays' that nobody knows about. You can look them up on "Days of the Year" websites like this one. Here are a few to get you started:
    • Sat. Sept 12th is Chocolate Milkshake Day. Who needs a better excuse to enjoy one?
    • Tues. Sept 15th is Make a Hat Day. Let your kids design their own headgear and photograph the results!
    • Wed. Sept 16th is Collect Rocks Day. What child doesn't love collecting rocks?
    • Tues. Sept 22nd is Elephant Appreciation Day. Make it a mini unit study if you're homeschooling.
    • Sat Sept 26th is Love Note Day. A great opportunity to write a love note to each of your family . . . and encourage them to do it too!
    • Thurs Oct 1st is Poetry Day. You can do all kinds of things with this one! Learn to write poems, memorize a poem, have a poetry reading show, or pick a favorite poem and do something around the theme of that poem.
    • Sat Oct. 10th is Cake Decorating Day. Get the whole family involved!

       

Do you have any family traditions or ideas for family fun nights? Please share them with us!

It suddenly struck me, when my firstborn was about two and a half, that he needed something to play with. He was done with the toddle-around-and-play-with-anything stage. He was bored of the few baby toys we'd brough over when he was four months old. He had a few Matchbox cars and a small collection of MegaBlocks that constituted his daily occupation. And he needed more.

I found a few Mommy-Blogs which threatened to send me into instant depression. These moms had multiple sensory bins (what's that?), water tables for tactile play, all manner of arts and crafts ideas, and even ABC worksheets to use with special "dot markers" - for their 18-mo-olds! My children were growing up deprived! I wanted to run to the store and spend hundreds of dollars on all the important items my children were missing out on.

Except that there wasn't a store to run to. Nowhere to buy supplies for arts and crafts. No playdough. No finger paint. No dot markers. I took a deep breath and suddenly realized that somehow I made it to 30 years old without sensory bins. I even got good grades in highschool in spite of my deprived toddlerhood. Maybe my boys would be okay. ;-)

But I still wanted to find something to keep them busy, so I did a little more research, and some experimenting of my own, and came up with a great recipe for playdough. It was an instant hit, and continues to be an often-asked-for favorite, over a year later. There's so many uses for playdough, from play-cooking to sculpting, to re-inforcing learning (we count balls as we make them, or shape bits of playdough into the letters that we're learning).

The Best Playdough Recipe

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tsp. cream of tarter
  • 1/3 cup salt
  • 1 TBS vegetable oil
  • food coloring
Instructions
  1.  Mix together all the ingredients, except the food coloring, in a medium saucepan.
  2. Cook over low/medium heat, stirring. Once it begins to thicken, add the food coloring.
  3. Continue stirring until the mixture is much thicker and begins to gather around the spoon.
  4. Once the dough is not wet, remove and put onto wax paper or a plate to cool.
  5. After cooling (30 minutes) knead playdough for a few seconds.
  6. PLAY!

What activities have you found to keep your children busy? Any recipes or suggestions for craft supplies that aren't available in your location? Maybe you have a favorite playdough recipe that you'd like to share. Has anyone tried making playdough without cream of tarter?