Trees and lights, gifts and bows, party invitations and brightly colored cards, the excitement leading up to Christmas can tempt us to lose focus of the important task of preparation. Advent, however, invites us to slow down and make ready our hearts and minds. Like the Magi, we can spy the eastern star in the distance and take our time traveling the path towards it. Additionally, if we give Advent its due, then we can avoid the premature rush to throw Christmas to the curb on December 26th.
Years ago we were gifted with an advent box that has a numbered drawer for each of the December days leading up to Christmas. Each drawer gets filled with a piece of candy or a quarter for each child. As you can imagine, my children love the sweet beginning of a day that starts with a yummy treat. Of course, you could fill an Advent calendar with all kinds of non-edible items, but I like to keep it simple and it’s fun to allow a little innocent self-indulgence once in a while.
As a small child I remember the anticipation of opening the paper doors on my advent calendar. After searching the pictured scene for the proper number of the day, I was rewarded with a tiny image of an angel, a shepherd or a manger animal. I was an only child at the time so there was no one to argue with about whose turn it was to flip open the little flap. I’ll be honest and admit my own brood isn’t quite as interested in our card stock calendar, but the wait time in between turns may have something to do with it.
the wreath of candles
Of course, we couldn’t celebrate advent without the traditional wreath of candles. We place ours in the center of our table (around which most of our life revolves) and I have a set of the Holy Family to accompany it. The warming glow of the candles invites us each evening to recollect where we are in the journey toward Christmas. Also, this tradition welcomes our older kids to get involved as only they are allowed the privilege of lighting the candle. For the little ones I have a felt wreath with four flames that Velcro on the three purple and one pink candle.
st. andrew novena
In the past I’ve prayed the St. Andrew novena by myself, but this year I’m going to introduce it as a new tradition to replace our regular family bedtime prayers. Honestly, our night time invocations can become rote at times so this seems a wonderful way to inject a bit of newness into those evening petitions and thanksgivings. Since the novena is meant to be recited 15 times a day, we may split it throughout the day.
Our priest encourages everyone to wait until Christmas Eve before erecting their Christmas trees, but I have to admit that with eight children that idea invokes images of a stress-filled day. Additionally, I relish the fragrance of the tree and the magical luminescence of colored lights so we opt to trim our tree about one week before Christmas day (this way we can enjoy it all the longer). So as not to get stuck picking through the remainder of rejected trees, we usually purchase one earlier in advent and simply leave it outside in a container of water. This method insures our tree will last throughout the twelve days of Christmas without turning into a fire hazard. Last year was one that had us postponing our hunt for the perfect evergreen, but to our delight we got a great deal on the price as the local salesman wanted to move his remaining inventory and close up shop.
Perusing blogs, several others have suggested starting a family story time tradition to keep the excitement and joy enduring all Christmas long. The idea is to wrap twelve children’s books and open only one each night during the twelve days starting on Christmas day. Thinking that a brilliant idea, but wanting to avoid breaking our budget, I sent a son to retrieve all the holiday themed books we already own (so that I only had to purchase a handful more). Later during a shopping spree I happened upon a providential find at Barnes and Noble bookstore. They carry a book that contains 24 stories to be read throughout Advent, so we’ll begin with that one. Going forward, I’ll send all of the books into the attic once Christmas passes. This way the stories will be “new” again year after year.
My stepdad hand made a manger for our family when our numbers were far fewer. Now that he’s left our earthly embrace, that gift has become my most favored decoration. After the advent box, it is the next thing to be carried down from the rafters. It remains empty, albeit for some animals and a lone shepherd boy, until Christmas eve. The wise men are positioned in a distant “land” while Joseph and Mary begin their travels from shelf to shelf. Rather than just setting up this piece and leaving it untouched until Epiphany, I find it helpful to engage our senses by moving the holy players about. The manger is also the last reminder to get packed away because I feel compelled to allow the Magi their time in adoration.
praying through the twelve days of christmas
During the twelve days we, as a family, assign each day for a particular person/persons. We pledge to offer up the whole day (our actions, sacrifices and prayers) for the person of the day. Preparation for this happens in Advent. I print up slips of paper with blanks for the assigned date and name then we determine who will be the designated recipient from December 25th through January 5th. To save on postage we include these love offerings in the envelopes with our cards (that way I also don’t forget to mail them later in the season when life gets busier- I make sure to keep a list of names and dates on our own calendar).
Our family has a few tried and true traditions that we look forward to each year, but this year we’re adding some new ones. My goal is to keep us focused on the true purpose of the season, a preparation for and anticipation of the joy to come on Christmas. Craft fairs, parties, gift wrapping and cookie exchanges are all fun ways to fill up our holiday dance card, but the preceding ideas are meant to call our family closer and to quiet our bodies and minds for awhile each day. From the sweetness our the early morning treat to the evening’s story time snuggles on the couch, we’ll be reminded that the joy of this season lies nestled in our hearts and in our faith.
I will not talk in class
I will not talk in class…
This idea didn’t knock one out of the ballpark, but it certainly has become one of my constant classroom tools. In fact, my twelve year old daughter decided she wanted a niche of her own, so she recently hauled up her own brown board.
|“You gotta be kiddin’ me” face|
Once complete I set that jar in a prominent spot and declared that the word bored was no longer listed in the Brelinsky dictionary. Henceforth all residents heard proclaiming the banished term would be immediately required to remedy their own ills by picking a boredom buster from the jar.
|not my kid|
do ___ jumping jacks
sing a nursery rhyme
pick up __ sticks
find a white rock
We’ve always schooled at the dining room table (which is centrally located) because I found, with little ones toddling about, it was easier to make sure the preschoolers were in clear sight and had ready access to their play area. Of course, this means we have to pull out and put away our school books each day. To make the movement of books easier, every child has his/her own school box with their current grade books inside. When deciding what works for you, consider what ages you need to monitor and which household chores will require your attention during the day, than select the location that works best for everyone.
Shop ’til You Drop?
Now with twelve plus years of home schooling on my resume, I have to admit the basics are the better deal. Think about it, little Dick and Jane were just as equipped educationally (in some cases better equipped when compared to today’s youth) and they didn’t require fancy new books and educational toys to absorb their reading, writing and arithmetic. Keep it simple, stick to a solid foundation of thorough basics and resist the temptation to buy into every new idea if the old one worked well. I remember in my Catholic grammar school there were lovely, decorated bulletin boards lining the hallways, but I can’t remember that those pretty pictures actually taught me anything of importance. In contrast, I did learn plenty from the information in those well-worn textbooks (I also learned to treat things with greater care because our supplies weren’t disposable).
Just the Right Price = Free
|Okay, I’m dating myself with this picture|
Learning All the Time
How better to learn real life skills and religious lessons than by putting ideas into action? The Corporal Works of Mercy are an abstract for little ones until you have Bobby dress the baby and then point out that he has just clothed the naked. As Julie makes piles of laundry for each family member, you might tell her that she’s classifying items like in science. The point is if you are having an off day and you didn’t finish that whole page of math, Timmy and Tammy didn’t miss out on a whole day of learning. In days of old, parents understood this concept. Great minds were formed at the hips of their fathers and mothers; they still are.
Train Good Communicators
Obviously, some people are introverts, but we will all need to navigate through life, so teach your children these skills from the beginning. On a confessional note, I have a child who hates to ask for help, so I had to quite literally force him to call the home school counselor on occasion. It was well worth the effort because now as a young adult he is able to handle his own affairs.
Teach Them to Love
house was fraught with stress and disappointment. From our dogs attacking the goats (they came with the house) on moving day, to kitchen cabinets lined with mouse droppings, I quickly saw every imperfection. The bathrooms needed to be scrubbed with super-human strength elbow grease and nearly every light switch cover had to be replaced. Add to those stressors the fact that our third son was making his First Holy Communion the next weekend and out-of-state company was scheduled to arrive to share in the celebration.
complained why did you lead us out here to die; the food isn’t good enough; where’s that Moses because he’s been gone too long; we want an idol to worship, etc. Here were God’s beloved chosen ones, who’d witnessed the ten plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, ate their fill of manna in the desert and yet they still weren’t satisfied.
Without rehashing old posts, I have to say first and foremost that you need to prayerful discern God’s plan for your child’s education. Home schooling is my vocation. You need to discover if it’s yours as well. Days will come when you’ll second-guess your ability to endure one more minute as the ringleader of your 24/7 school house and knowing that you’re doing God’s work will give you the grace to continue the task.
Encourage your children to read, read, read. There are books on every imaginable topic, so if you can read, you can learn anything. An old friend’s daughter called home from college and thanked her parents for encouraging her to become an avid reader. She explained that college courses consisted of mostly textbook reading and so she had an advantage over some of her classmates, who didn’t like to read.
Honestly, I’m not very picky about what my kids read and I don’t have the time to preview their choices, so I’ve tried hard to teach them to recognize what isn’t appropriate. On more than one occasion, they’ve brought me a book and pointed out a “bad” word and they’ve agreed not to read it further. I’m okay with silly books for my younger kids, the boys especially, because for me the goal is to get them to enjoy reading and want to read more. Remember reading can lead to better vocabulary and spelling skills as well.
Stick to a schedule. Children thrive on schedules and households are generally less stressful when everyone knows what to expect. I find it helpful at times to post the schedule, especially if I’ve made a change. This also prepares our children to be able to self-direct their studies as they get older and prepares them for schedules in the workplace.
Flexibility is essential if you’d like to retain your sanity (or at least some portion of it), especially if your running a large household. As important as a schedule is, I think it is equally valuable to learn to make changes when needed. When we’ve had a baby, I’ve made a point to not get too attached to a hard and fast schedule for naps and breastfeeding. I nursed on demand and allowed my little one to sleep in my arms wherever we were and that philosophy carried over into all of our days. So, if the opportunity for a play date suddenly presents itself or a fabulous field trip is proposed, we can be flexible enough to take advantage of the blessing and make up the leftover work throughout the rest of the week.
I never “school” on the weekends, but occasionally when necessary I’ll add an extra week to our planners for the purpose of getting caught up. Perhaps, this is more of a personal preference, but I find it helpful to teach my kids to be able to “go with the flow” without falling apart.
Remember to nurture and protect your marriage. When our children were little, we instituted Daddy and Mama Time which began at 8:00pm. I hold this time as sacred for both my own peace of mind and for my marriage. All of our children must go to their bedrooms at that time. The older kids are free to quietly play a game, read a book, chat with each other or study, but that must take place in their bedroom. It really helps to have this time to look forward to each day and it allows dad and mom the opportunity to focus on one another. There are days when 8:00pm can’t come soon enough! I think this also establishes a boundary for the children because they come to understand that dad and mom have a separate relationship (as opposed to just being dad and mom). A strong marriage makes for a stronger family which makes home schooling easier.
Keep the house tidy and get dressed every day. While I wish that my house looked like those in Better Homes and Gardens, it doesn’t. Throughout the years and with the addition of children, I’ve had to become more Mary than Martha (and that is a HARD lesson). With that said, there are days when the beds don’t get made until lunchtime and there are school books still strewn on the table at 5:00pm.
Teach yourself and the children to tidy up throughout the day, so the house can be generally in order by the time dad gets home. For example, after you take a shower take the extra minute to hang the towels up neatly and pick up any stray items from around the sink. This way when you visit the restroom later, you won’t feel overwhelmed by “another mess.” Obviously, the house needs some serious cleaning, too, but I find it easier to pick one day a week for scrubbing and dusting.Just as a tidy looking house helps to bring about a feeling of tranquility (just tune out the screaming children from this vision), a tidy looking mom will help motivate everyone. You are a teacher, an organizer, a motivational speaker, and a counselor, so look the part. Yes, the baby’s spit up may be on your shoulder and your pumps were traded in for flip flops, but you should still start every day by getting dressed, brushing your hair, etc. My grandmother and mother always “put their faces on” and “fix their hair” which is a good way to force yourself to look in the mirror for a few minutes every morning and recognize that you are beautiful and that you are YOU and not “just mom.”
If something doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to throw is out or give it a rest. Maybe you’ve tried to implement a suggested schedule in your house and it just isn’t working; by all means, stop and find what works for YOUR family.
Does that grammar book that worked wonders for your son, work as well for your daughter? If not, don’t be afraid to shelf it and try another route. I used to get up and stay up at 6:00am. For a time it was a great blessing, but then life changed and my needs changed and getting up that early led me to feeling tired and grumpy in the afternoon. I decided to give that schedule and myself a rest by sleeping until 7:00.Throughout the years, I’ve implemented many chart/reward systems, and they usually start out well. My kids have seen behavior charts, time charts, consequence charts, privilege charts, chore chart, enough charts that they should be aces if they are ever called upon to give some big graphic presentation to a future employer. Oh, and that’s not to mention the ticket, treat and time reward systems that I’ve offered. In time, these become less effective because the novelty has worn off or the goal was reached, then it is time to give it a rest.
Consistency is key. Most parents spend a lot of time seeking the magic trick to get their kids to behave. We buy books and listen to tapes, hoping to garner the secrets to success. Dr. Ray Guarendi tells us wisely that consistency is the real key. Really, no matter what the lesson we’re trying to teach, we need to be consistent if we want the lesson to “stick.” Unfortunately, the child’s brain doesn’t come with settings, so it may require mom to consistently say “Clean up your room” one million times or more rightly to say “clean up your room” and then consistently enforce a set consequence if it isn’t done.
Simplify your life and your household. Years ago I collected knick knacks, but today I just view them as more stuff to dust. As a family, decide on what your mission is and then set your priorities. Strip away the things that distract you, discourage you or handicap you (no, not the kids!). Don’t over-extend yourself with too many commitments or extracurriculars. When your children are all grown up, they will remember the times you shared together, the lessons you instilled, your examples of faithfulness and your love; when the days are hard focus on THIS.
Lastly, live your faith in plain sight and love your children in the moment. All the lectures and book-work in the world won’t go as far as your example will (which your kids will be studying at every moment). Remember, this time with your children (while it may seem endless on the difficult days) will pass by before you know it, leaving you a clean house and an empty school table. Tomorrow they’ll be heading out the door to fulfill their own vocations, so enjoy this time and know that your sacrifices of time, self and sanity won’t have been in vain.
A regular occupation, especially one for which a person is particularly suited or qualified.
An inclination, as if in response to a summons, to undertake a certain kind of work, especially a religious career; a calling.