Sunday, February 16, 2020

6 Lessons to Be Learned from St. Peter Damian

February 21 is the Optional Memorial of St. Peter Damian, bishop and doctor. 

As I read about the life of this saint, considering how I might best share about him to my children, several "lessons" stood out to me. I am sharing those lessons here in case they might inspire you as you seek to teach the children in your lives about saints.

My intent with my own children is not to share these specific lessons, but rather to simply have the lessons in mind as I tell my children each portion of St.Peter Damian's story and, then, chat about it, encouraging my children to voice their own "lessons".

What Lessons Can You Learn from St. Peter Damian's Life?

1. Do not fret. Provisions come and, with them, opportunities to express great gratitude.

Peter was born in 1007 in Ravenna Italy as the last of seven children. 

At a young age, Peter was orphaned and was taken into the shabby care one of his brothers who treated him poorly forced him to do menial tasks.

In time, however, Peter was entrusted to the care of his eldest brother Damiano who was an Archpriest in a parish near Ravenna and sent Peter off to good schools, which enabled Peter to become a professor.

In gratitude for his eldest brother's care, Peter added the name Damian to his own.

2. Seek lasting joy for yourself and for others.

Peter's first biographer St. John of Lodi recounts that when Peter was a boy, he found a coin, delighted over it, and thought he would buy a toy or a cake. Peter then suddenly realized that anything he bought would give him only momentary joy. Thus, he changed his mind, took the money to a priest, and had a Mass said for his deceased parents, aiming for their eternal joy.

3. Put others before yourself and listen for your personal calling.

St. Peter Damian's first biographer St. John of Lodi also recounts a pivotal luncheon that Peter had with a poor blind man.

He says that, during the lunch, Peter chose to server himself fine white bread while offering the blind man a darker, lesser quality bread. At that moment, Peter felt like bone had gotten stuck in his throat. He chose to repent of his selfishness, exchanged his bread with that of the blind man, and discovered the feeling of the one in his throat disappeared. As a result, Peter decided to consecrate himself to God alone and to embrace a monastic life.

3. Follow your calling and let the light of your heart illuminate another's, which, in turn, could illuminate another.

Driven by a need for solitude, meditation and prayer, Peter Damian gave up teaching in the year 1035 and became a priest at the Camaldolese monastery of Fonter Avallana. There, he quickly became a spiritual guide for the monks and, this, was invited to teach at other monasteries, which he did. 

After returning to Fonte Avallena, he was elected Prior and reorganized 
the rules of the order to return to its original spirit and purpose. This drew men to the monastery, and inspired the establishment of new houses in neighboring regions.

4. Fight for truth.

Peter Damian's zealous activity drew the attention of the Bishop of Ravenna, and, although Peter Damian was a monk at heart, when he was asked for assistance by the bishop, he obliged, leaving the quiet and recollection of the monastery.

Then, by 1057, Pope Stephen IX called Peter Damian to Rome to help with clergy reform. For, at the time, the Church was afflicted by two evils: Simony, or the buying and selling of church offices, and Nicolasim, or the non-fulfillment of celibacy.

The Pope made Peter Damian Cardinal and Bishop of Ostia and, in this position, Peter Damian continued to work fervently for peace and reform. He was called to attend sy
nods, settle disputes, and fight abuses. In this capacity, Peter Damian was sent on missions to Milan to quell an uprising, to Cluny to defend the rights of Benedictine abbots against the Archbishop of Macon, and more.

5. Live here in a way that leads to eternal life and leaves a legacy for others to inspire them to do the same.

After years of work as a reformer and papal legate, or representative of the pope to foreign nations, Peter Damain returned to his hometown of Ravenna and was overtaken by fever while visiting the Benedictine monastery in Faenza, where he died on February 22 surrounded by monks who were praying the Divine Office.

Immediately after Peter Damian's death, he was acclaimed a saint by the people. Then, in 1828, he was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by Pope Leo XII.

A scholar, 
a preacher, a monk, a cardinal, and a person who dedicated himself to fasting, penance, and long hours of prayer, St. Peter Damian greatly impacted those around him and left a legacy of letters, sermons, biographies, stories, and poems that encourage others to restore discipline to their lives.  

6. Let your hardship seed blessings for others.

Peter Damian undoubtedly had great impact on the church and the world - and much of his impact was made one person at a time.

Having experienced the burden of poverty in his childhood, Peter Damian was known to have a heart for the poor. It was said to be an ordinary thing for Peter Damian to have a poor person or two at his table and to minister personally to the needs of the poor.

Having lived with injustice in his youth, Peter became a staunch advocate for what is morally right. 

A strong figure and one of the greatest reformers of the Middle Ages, Peter Damian preached of penance and live not only by words, but by the examples of his life, asking others to do only what he himself would do. Following in Peter Damian's footsteps, might we, too, seek reform, justice, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving? And might we always remember the wonderful words of St. Peter Damian that echo through the ages to speak to us today:

Do not let your weakness make you impatient. Instead, let the serenity of your spirit shine through your face. Let the joy of your mind burst forth.  
 St. Peter Damian
By the way, this quote - in whole or in part - would make a wonderful piece of copywork, studied dictation, or note in a commonplace book, I believe.

Additional Ideas for Celebrating St. Peter Damian with Children

Some other child-friendly ideas for remembering St. Peter Damian might be: 

  • Recalling how St. Peter Damian often taught principles through stories, write and illustrate a story that shows virtue in action.
  • Since St. Peter Damian lived an austere life, brainstorm ways to simplify your life and act on them. Perhaps make a list of 40 micro-steps towards simplification that you can make this Lent.
  • Share a meal with the poor - or the poor in spirit - in the spirit of St. Peter Damian who had a special heart for the poor.
  • Pray for the deceased, or better yet, have a Mass said for your beloved dead as St.peter Damian was said to have done for his parents when he found a coin.
  • Since St. Peter Damian exemplified a life lived with prayer, fasting, and penance, begin to consider the specific ways you will pray, fast, give, and offer penance during Lent
  • Pray this prayer:
Grant, we pray, almighty God,
that we may so follow the teaching and example of the Bishop Saint Peter Damian, that, putting nothing before Christ and always ardent in the service of your Church, we may be led to the joys of eternal light. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
-The Collect 

St. Peter Damian, pray for us. 

Sunday, February 9, 2020

8 Easy Steps for Hosting a Homeschool Project Fair

host a project fair
{This post initially was initially shared in 2014 at the now defunct Upsidedown Homeschooling Blog, which can only be found using the Wayback Machine. I am resharing it here since someone asked for tips on how to host a fair and I wanted to offer them these. I pray it benefits you as well should you wish to host a project fair.}

Much to my amusement, the other day, my children woke and began transforming our hallway into a project fair.

I smiled as I prepared breakfast, listening to my oldest son read information to his sister about hyacinth macaws, Japan, knights, tarsiers, Bunker Hill, Germany and more and, then, hearing my daughter, in turn, share recalled facts with my youngest child, whose little feet were pattering off to his bedroom to get a stuffed animal in order to complete a rabbits project set up.
It had been nearly a year since we’d participated in our first project fair, an Endangered Species one, seven months since a History one, six since a Geography one and five since a Nature Explorers one.  Yet, there all three of my children were gleefully hosting an eclectic “just us” fair in our hallway.  

Reading, public speaking and more unfolded at the children’s morning micro-fair, just as it had at the original fairs that we had prepared for and presented at throughout last academic year.
As each of my children enthusiastically shared their prior projects with one another, it struck me:  a seemingly “one time” event can – and often does – hold residual effects.  

Planning, preparing for and presenting at project fairs is well worth the effort, and, in our experience, a whole lot of fun, too!  I encourage you to participate in such a fair, and, if none exist in your area, to host one.
It is not difficult to host a project fair.  In fact, I have found that it’s fairly simple and well worth the effort!

In my tried-and-true experience, hosting a project fair can as easy as eight simple steps!

1.Choose a fair topic.  
Animals, History, Geography, Art, Nature, Science, Saints, Holidays around the World…  Ideas are endless.  Keeping the topic broad offers participants freedom while also providing a bit of direction.

2. Contact a host location to nail down a day and time. 
My family has participated at project fairs at a local library’s community meeting room and hosted one at a parish center.  At all of these locations, we have found a three-hour block works well.

3. Get word out.  
Use a local homeschool networking page to get word out.  Share the time, date and RSVP deadline for the fair.  Then, consider creating a special contact list for participants to share ideas, questions and concerns.  All communications or the fairs our family has participated in has been by word of mouth and private Facebook groups.  Other such social networking paths could work just as well!

4. Offer suggestions and ideas.  
Once you have a participants list, periodically remind folks of the date and time of the fair, offer tips for research and presentation and outline the agenda for the fair day. 

For the fairs we participated in, all this was done through brief posts on a private Facebook group.  For the one I put together and hosted, I created an information packet with research tips, presentation ideas, an agenda, FAQ’s, and more.

5. Ask for set up and break down volunteers.  
Many hands make light work; too many can result in chaos.  Thus, I have found that asking only a few families to help set up and break down tables and chairs works best.

6. Print participation certificates. 
Creating and printing personalized participation certificates to hand out at the fair adds a special touch and allows parents who need it “evidence” to put in children’s portfolios.

7. Prepare your family’s projects.
Leave plenty of time for your own children to research and prepare their projects.  Nothing is worse than putting your efforts into hosting a fair only to forget to work on your own family’s projects until the last-minute.  A little bit done over a number of weeks adds up to less stress and more fun!
8. Set an agenda and enjoy!  
For the fair I hosted,  which happened in a three-hour block, I found the following agenda worked well (and included 15 minutes of unscheduled “wiggle” room.)
Set Up
  • 30 min. -Event organizer and several volunteer families arrive and begin to set up tables and chairs.

  • 20 min. - Participants arrive and set up.

Fair Opens
  • 20 min. - Geography Fair Opens; parents or other non-participating family members or friends “man” students’ displays so children can circulate

  • 20 min. - Participating students return to their displays while parents and guests circulate

  • 30 min. - Oral Presentations begin; those who wish to may continue to quietly circulate among the display areas. 

  • 30 min. - Participation certificates distributed.

Fair Closes and Break Down Begins
  • 30 min.- Break down displays and clean up.
I hope these tips help you to plan and enjoy learning and sharing together with a fair!

Enjoy a St. Valentine Potluck Picnic and Nature Walk with a FREE St. Valentine Nature Scavenger Hunt Printable!

It is said that St. Valentine was a priest and doctor who, at one point, had a young, blind girl under his care. It is also said that St Valentine would take the girl on long walks where they would pick flowers for her to smell.

Taking a cue from their walks, a nature walk with those you care about seems an ideal way to celebrate part of St. Valentine's Day.

Image may contain: 8 people, including Martianne Stanger, people smiling, table, tree, child, outdoor and food

That is just what my children, some friends, and I enjoyed last year on Valentine's Day: a St. Valentine Potluck Picnic and Walk and using a St. Valentine Nature Walk printable that I had whipped up and am sharing now here.

Enjoy a St. Valentine Potluck Picnic!

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With a traditional theme of love, it is easy peasy to whip up a wide variety of snacks and dishes to share at a St. Valentine picnic as this sampling from our picnic demonstrates:

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Juice Wiggler Hearts

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Gluten Free Muffins with Gummy Ducks (since one of St. Valentine's symbols is birds)
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Probiotic Gummy Ducks (since one of St. Valentine's symbols is birds)

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Beet Puffs (Red for Love)
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Tofu Hearts Filled with Heart-Healthy Vegetables
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Clementine Hearts

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Black Rice with Tofu Hearts
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Seaweed Snack Hearts

Learn about St. Valentine with a Nature Scavenger Hunt!

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You can also enjoy a St. Valentine Nature Scavenger Hunt using the FREE printable here.

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On it, kids can sketch what they find, check things off as they take photos of them, or write notes about what they find.

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Ideas for things that can be searched for and discussed are:

  • something that offers comfort: In 3rd such Rome, Emperor Claudius II persecuted Christians. It is said that St. Valentine and St. Marius comforted fellow Christians during the persecutions.
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Checking out roots.
  • an interesting root: As a doctor in the 3rd century, St. Valentine likely made medicines by pounding and grinding roots and other natural things.
  • an herb or edible plants: St. Valentine was a doctor and priest. He likely made poultices using herbs and plant matter.
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Entwined Things.

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More Entwined Things
  • two entwined things: In the 3rd century, Emperor Claudius II wanted to increase his troops. He believed single men made better soldiers than married ones, so we forbade young men to marry. St. Valentine defied Claudius edict and encouraged young couples to come to him in secret to be joined in the sacrament of marriage.
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Snow can be converted into water, the kids said.
  • something that can be converted: After St. Valentine was arrested for illegally marrying couples, he is said to have been brought before Claudius, who was impressed by him. Claudius attempted to convert St. Valentine to Roman Paganism, but, instead, St. Valentine attempted to convert Claudius to Christianity.
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This cool pattern frozen into the ice made the kids think that you could "write" messages on ice.
  • something you could write a message on: When imprisoned, St. Valentine was said to be tended by a jailer, Asterius, and his blind daughter, who was very kind to St. Valentine, bringing him food and messages. St. Valentine and the girl developed a friendship and, toward the end of his imprisonment, Valentine was able to convert both her and her father to Christianity.
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A tree growing around a wheel sure seemed interesting!
  • something beautiful or interesting to look at: It is said that Asterius’ daughter was blind and St. Valentine miraculously restored her sight.
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It's a heart!
  • something with a heart-shaped: It is said that before his execution St. Valentine wrote a farewell message to Asterius’ daughter to thank her for her friendship and encourage her in her love for Christ and that he signed the message affectionately "From Your Valentine.” This phrase lives on even today. 
On the nature hunt printable, there is also a "free space" for St. Valentine, whose patronage includes affianced couples, against fainting, bee keepers, betrothed couples, engaged couples, epilepsy, fainting, greeting card manufacturers, greetings, happy marriages, love, lovers, plague, travelers, and young people.

Symbols for him include birds, roses, a bishop with a crippled or epileptic child at his feet, a bishop with a rooster nearby, a bishop refusing to adore an idol, a bishop being beheaded, a priest bearing a sword, a priest holding a sun, and a priest giving sight to a blind girl.

St. Valentine was executed on February 14th, 273 AD in Rome and the valentine has become the universal symbol of friendship and affection shared on each anniversary of the priest's execution -- St. Valentine's Day.

Take Time to Explore!

Of course, part of the fun and blessing of a Potluck Picnic and Nature Walk on St. Valentine's Day is simply being with those you love and care about and letting explorations take you where they will.  

Here are some snapshots of the fun we had exploring.

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It truly was a blessed and beautiful St. Valentine celebration!

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I pray with our FREE printable and inspiration from the snapshots and explanations here, you might enjoy a similarly blessed and beautiful time.

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You can find other nature study, outdoor ideas, and free printables here, too.

If you go on a St. Valentine's Day Nature Scavenger Hunt we'd delight in hearing about it or seeing your snapshots. We also always welcome your ideas for living the liturgical year with children - especially outside, so, please, share here or on our Training Happy Hearts Facebook page.

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St. Valentine, pray for us!

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Snacking with the Saints: St. Dorothy

{Disclosure: Some links which follow are affiliate ones.}

I just love when whole food snacks and saints go together!

That's just the case on February 6, when apples make a perfect snack for celebrating Saint Dorothy. Just set a basket with three apples and three real or faux roses on your table, and you'll be all set for an easy saint day snack.

Or, if you want to get fancy and have time for more elaborate snack preparation, you could make vegan / paleo / glute-free / grain-free apple roses as directed at Nest & Glow, Apple-Honey Roses as found on Feed Them Wisely, or any of the more conventional apple rose recipes that can be found through a quick online search.

Inspiration for a Simple St. Dorothy Feast Day Snack

File:Girolamo Donnini - Santa Dorotéia.jpg
Source: Wikipedia

When Saint Dorothy, who was martyred, was on her way to be killed, a young lawyer named Theophilus mocked her belief that when she was dead she would be transported to a heavenly garden filled with flowers and fruit.

"Send me fruit and flowers, then, when you are dead," he taunted.

Source: Wikipedia
Later, a boy - thought to be an angel- carried three apples and three roses to Theophilus who then converted to Christianity.

A Prayer Before Snacking

Between Grace and snacking, pray this prayer found on Prayers to Our Saints.

Prayer to Saint Dorothy

By the radiance

Of thy holy life

Thou did'st draw

The two sisters united

In spirit into the Eternal Light;

And did'st send roses

And apples from Paradise

To Theophilus.

O Dorothy, as fellow-contestants

You were counted worthy

Of divine glory.

Ask that we who praise

You may receive

The forgiveness of our sins.


You might also read the child-friendly biography of St. Dorothy at Crusaders of Christ, which reminds us:

Today let us pray especially for someone who is far away from God, so that he will return to our Heavenly Father.

Additional Ideas for Celebrating St. Dorothy's Feast Day


Along with your snack, you might also enjoy:

  • Praying for Christians throughout the world who are still persecuted.

    Francisco de Zurbarán 038.jpg
    Source: Wikipedia
  • Doing a picture study of images of Saint Dorothy, who was a particularly favored subject of German and Italian artist.

  • Preparing for spring gardening or doing some indoor gardening, since St. Dorothy is patron to gardeners among others.

    File:Cranach, Lucas, d.Ä. - Die Heilige Dorothea - c. 1530.jpg
    Source: Wikimedia
  • Learning more about St. Dorothy and what was happening around the world during the time in which she lived. (A quick snapshot for this can be found by viewing page 7 of the St. Dorothy presentation at You can also read more about St. Dorothy at Sensus Fidelium.)

May learning more about St. Dorothy bless you and yours and encourage you to come closer to Christ.

    I would love to hear about your favorite traditions, resources, and ideas related to St. Dorothy as well as any other Snacking with the Saint inspirations you might offer.

    Saint Dorothy, pray for us.

    Sunday, January 26, 2020

    Get FREE Printable Apostles' Creed Copywork in Cursive and Printing

    Have you been looking for a free Apostles' Creed copywork printable?

    Training Happy Hearts

    I was doing so earlier today as I prepared lessons for the coming weeks.

    When I could not find one, I decided to make a simple one myself and am sharing it with you here.

    The printable includes a cursive model:

    A print model:

    And a blank line sheet:

    That way, your children can choose to practice printing, cursive, or both. (Just print extra blank-lined pages if they want to do both printing and cursive.)

    It also has a double thick line at the base of each line to help children remember to "ground" their letters, and spaces between words on the model to help children remember to leave spaces between words.

    I hope this simple sheet blesses your and yours as you work on practicing prayers and handwriting.

    You can find more free, printable prayer copywork here!

    May your day be blessed!

    Saturday, January 25, 2020

    Add This Sweet Saint Book to Your Collection!

    Training Happy Hearts

    Disclaimer: I received a FREE copy of this product in 
    exchange for my honest review. I was not required to write a positive review nor was I compensated in any other way.

    As I was preparing for this week's feast days, I pulled out a favorite little saints picture book of mine - Boys Saints for Little Ones by homeschool mom and authro Kimberly Fries of My Little Nazareth - since it contains two of this week's saints: 

    St. Thomas Aquinas

    St. John Bosco

    I also went to share an image of a review I thought I had written about the book on Facebook to remind others who have it to pull it out this week and to suggest to those who don't that they consider adding it to their collection.

    Sadly, when I went to do this, I realized I had never finished writing and posting a review of the book after author Kimberly Fries so kindly sent me it for review.


    I was quite upset with myself, because I love author Kimberly Fries and illustrator Sue Kouma Johnson's work and did not mean to be so long in sharing it about it.

    So, with no further ado, let me set the record straight: Boy Saints for Little Ones is one fabulous little saint book that is perfect for more than just little ones!

    Why do I say this? Because my children are now 9, 12, and 14, and I find myself pulling out Boys Saints for Little Ones often.

    What I Love About Boy Saints for Little Ones

    Boys Saints for Little Ones provides a simple, beautiful introduction to (or review of) 12 inspiring male saints through a short biography, quote, vibrant illustration, and explanation of symbols for each saint.

    Although the brief biographies in 
    Boys Saints for Little Ones are written simply, they are not oversimplified. Rather, they are easy, short explanations that key into things children can grasp, retain, and relate to, such dreaming of becoming a knight, helping others, persevering through hard things, and more.

    Not too detailed nor esoteric, nor too simplistic and dull, I have found the short biographies in 
    Boys Saints for Little Ones perfect for reading to little ones who visit, offering my dyslexic child to read for practice, and reading to all ages when celebrating saint days.

    The quotes at the end of each biography are well-chosen, such as "The greatest kindness one can render to any man is leading him to truth." - St. Augustine. These quotes can be used for memory work, copywork, or just to inspire!

    Likewise, the bright and engaging painted illustrations in the book can inspire children to remember things about the saints and to connect with Catholic art.

    Each illustration contains a special symbol that children can associate with the saints, such as the traditional symbols of St. Francis of Assisi's stigmata and the dragon that St. George slays, or the original symbols of a light-blue halo around St. John Bosco's head and musical notes surrounding St. Gregory. These symbols can help children recall details about the saints while also inspiring them to look for the rich symbolism inherit in other Catholic art. 

    For a 30-page book meant for little ones, Boys Saints for Little Ones packs in enough to make the book in purpose as children grow - first engaging with bright illustrations, then inspiring with well-written text, then offering opportunities for copywork, memory, and art study. Plus, since the book is slender and has full-page illustrations, it is ideal for slipping into a bag to bring to saint day celebrations where it can be read aloud and then decorate a feast day table!

    My Children's Thoughts

    Each of my children has read 
    Boys Saints for Little Ones on their own and has revisited the book when we have used it on feast days.

    Some of the things my children said when I asked them about the book are:

    "I like how they just have a short blurb about each saint - not a whole, long, big story - just enough to get you interested."
    "I really like how every saint has an illustration and how the illustrations are big and painted. Some of them I really like, such as the one on the cover and the St. Thomas Aquinas one."

    "I like the simpleness of the illustrations, but how good they look, too with the color schemes."
    "I also like how they give a quote for each saint."

    "I also like how it has some of the more popular saints - like St. Patrick and St. Francis of Assisi - and some less popular saints like St. Gregory."
    "My favorite part was about St. George." 

    "They tell about the symbols and colors in the paintings to help you search for meaning. What a great way to engage younger children." 

    "The amount of white space on the page and large font make it easy to read." 
    "I like the big print. It helps you read."

    Obviously, kids appreciate this book!

    Learn More

    Boys Saints for Little Ones is available on Amazon for $12.99.

    Since the book contains short biographies of 12 saints, it makes a perfect read on their feast days. A listing of each saint's feast day is the only thing I think the book lacks, so I will add one here for easy reference:

    • St. Thomas Aquinas - January 28
    • St. John Bosco - January 31
    • St. George - April 23
    • St. Patrick  - March 17
    • St. Ignatius - July 31
    • St. John Vianney - August 4
    • St. Maximilian - August 14
    • St. Augustine - August 28
    • St. Gregory - September 3
    • St. Pio - September 23
    • Blessed (now Saint) John Henry Newman - September 24
    • St. Francis of Assisi - October 4

    Boys Saints for Little Ones can also be a great resource for:

    • All Saints Day, since you could base a game on each saint in the book or use the symbol ideas to create easy and unique costumes.
    • copywork, since there is a quote at the end of each biography.
    • practice with narration. The biographies are short and can provide brief, pointed practice with listening then narrating details back.
    • writing. Older children can note how the author picked and chose interesting, relatable, and/or inspirational details to share about each saint's life and can use the examples of the biographies in the book when writing biographies of their own.
    • seeking inspiration for art projects. The paintings in the book are vibrant and text boxes draw attention to symbolism in art. These could inspire children to create their own Catholic artworks rich in symbolism.
    • introducing or reviewing saints. Since the biographies are brief, they can quickly spark further research and/or act as a catalyst for children to remember more that they have previously learned about the saints.
    • reading practice. One of my children has dyslexia and appreciated the large font, ample white space, and simple language used in this book which made reading this book easier than reading some others.
    • gift giving. Simple, beautiful, and inspiring, Boys Saints for Little Ones would make a wonderful gift for Baptism, First Holy Communion, Christmas, or Easter.

    Boys Saints for Little Ones certainly can inspire children to deepen their faith and follow in the footsteps of the saints!

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    Image from My Little Nazareth

    My Little Nazareth publishes a host of other wonderful faith-focused books, too, including plenty more gems for little (and bigger!) ones and a prayer book for women.

    I encourage you to check out there ever-expanding line of Catholic books!

    Watch the book trailer on YouTube:

    Connect with
    My Little Nazareth


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