Saturday, November 29, 2014

8 Easy Steps to Planning Advent (with Free Advent Printable!)

I know it's been quiet here on the blog since I last posted about looking back before looking forward.  That was because I was busy planning this year's Advent for my family.

This year, I took a somewhat different approach to planning our Advent celebrations, studies and schedule than I have in years past. In a nutshell, after praying and spending time revisiting personal computer files and a number of blogs written by others, I used the following eight steps to lay out our Advent of Discipline and Delight as We Wait for the Light of the World.

Step One:  Reflect on the purpose and meaning of Advent. 

Flashback to 2013: Focusing on the Christ Child

I thought about how Advent is a season of preparation and how the name of it comes from the Latin word "advenio" meaning "to come".  I continued on to ponder how, during Advent, we prepare for the coming of Christ in three ways.  With these ways in mind, I quickly jotted down a few practical ways we could prepare. My notes turned out like this:

1.  Remembering the past when Christ was born in the stable of Bethlehem (through picture books, dramatic play, Advent stories, the Advent wreath, Mass readings, Holy Heroes videos, etc.)—Super easy to do with our regular traditions, plus add the tradition of moving Joseph and Mary room to room, closer tot he crèche each week on Thursdays.
2.  Meditating on His present coming in the Eucharist and in grace (through Mass, Adoration. First Holy Communion Preparation, as well as through recognizing and giving thanks for blessings) — Not so easy to “be”. Remember to leave space to “be”, to pause. Leave some margins. Schedule down time and quiet prayer and reflection time, and, then, honor that scheduled space!
3.  Readying our souls for our future meeting with Christ (through prayer, Sacraments, living virtues, etc.)—Prioritize prayer and Sacraments; if warning signs” of easily pushed buttons, poor choices, etc. use prudence to cull schedule; offer challenges up; make sacrifices; increase habits for good/virtue.

Step Two:  Begin with what is already there.  

Flashback to Last Month: Geography Club (will tie in to Christmas this month!)

On my computer, I laid out  an "Ideal Daily Rhythm" and then an Advent planning table as I usually do. But, unlike in years past, this year, I did not lay our Advent planning table by date, letter of the alphabet, key words, read aloud titles, activities, etc. Instead, I did so by dates and portions of the day (Wake Up, Breakfast, Morning Experiences, etc.) 

I then transferred our existing calendar items to appropriate boxes on the planning table. That is when reality hit hard: So many boxes were already filled. 

It was glaringly obvious to me how full I’ve let life become again and how much I need to include “pause” and “space” in our family Advent this year. Thus, I decided to put a daily reminder to myself of the importance of pause within our Ideal Daily Rhythm.  Under the "Wake Up" section, I wrote, “Review plan for day and tweak to include any 'pause' that is necessary!” 

Step Three: Schedule prayerful pause. 

Flashback to September" A Prayerful Pause

With the idea of “pause” in mind, I then set about blocking off time for important faith practices such as weekly Masses, Holy Day Masses, Adoration, Reconciliation and times for reflection. Undoubtedly, such times of prayer, quiet and reflection are vital throughout every season of the year.  For my family, they become particularly important during Advent.  Remembering to make time them helps us stay true to the season and avoid getting too caught up in what can become just a temporal hubbub.

Step Four: Consider children’s input. 

Flashback to 2013:  On the Train at Edaville

I am not the only one living Advent here.  So, next up, I asked my children how they wanted to prepare this Advent.  Being young still, they know the meaning of Christmas and the purpose of Advent, but they also relish the FUN of the season.  So, we focused our chat on what they each wanted to make this Advent, what book they wanted to be sure to read, where they would love to go, how they would like to serve and what they would like to do. There answers were: 

  • Make: our Advent Chain (L) Cookies for Santa (N), Gingerbread (J)
  • Go to: Edaville Railroad (All), the Enchanted Village (L), Christmas on the Green (N- cannot due to existing conflict) 
  • Serveby giving stuff to poorer children (L), singing at church with a happy smile (N), giving cookies to people (J)
  • Do: buy presents (L), put a manger up and don’t put baby Jesus in it until Christmas (N), hang up stockings (J) Listening to their requests, I then plugged these things into our plan. 

(For the record, I also sought my husband's input, but he did not have much to offer since he just goes with the flow.)

Step Five:  Celebrate the Saints. 

Flashback to 2013: Celebrating St. Nicholas Day

We enjoy learning about the saints through books, movies and activities on their feast days. So, my next step was to plug in a few saint-related activities. We will likely read about other saints and do some spontaneous activities, too. However, I wanted to get a “bare minimum” of saint feast day celebrations on the calendar. 

Step Six:  Schedule time for preparing our home. 

Flashback to 2013: Habits to Better Homemaking

If Joseph and Mary were to come to the “inn” of our home, we would not turn them away. However, we also would not be able to offer them a well-made bed, or even a clean, uncluttered room. 

In all honesty, as I write this, the only area of our home that is not affected by clutter, disorganization and mess is our hallway. 

Despite many efforts over the years to improve our home, I dare say, it is in worse condition now than it has been at the start of any Advent prior – and that is a shameful fact. Thus, my next step was to schedule slots for homekeeping habit (re)building time: 15 minutes or more on all days but Sundays in order for our family to focus not just on tidies, laundry, dishes, etc., but attacking piles of clutter, disorganization, etc. These slots are in addition to the 15+ minutes I plan to spend each morning chipping away at clutter and disorganization before the children wake up. 

Step Seven:  Recall past traditions. 

Flashback to 2013:  Preparing Giving Tree Gifts

I then reviewed our free printable 2011 Alphabet of Plans for a Literature-Based Family Advent Rich in Sensory Input and Special Activities and free printable 2012 Literature-Rich Advent Alphabet of Faith, Others, then Selves Including Ideas for Montessori, Workboxing, Sensory, Motor Skills and Traditional Activities with an eye for traditions I might be forgetting – things we read and do on specific days such as saint days, Sundays before Christmas, etc. 

My review triggered a few ideas which I added which I added to this year’s plan. I also began a list of possible seasonal books that had not yet appeared on specific days of our Advent plan, but which I may to borrow from the library or dig out of the basement and attic. On the list, I copied some past discussion notes. 

Step Eight: Pray, print, review, pause and tweak. 

Flashback a Few Weeks: Rest is Paramount!

I took the first seven steps over many hours on different days, so my final step was to ask the Holy Spirit to move me towards any final tweaking that needed to be done before printing out and reviewing a draft of the plan. 

I took a full day’s pause before looking over the printout.  Then, as prompted, I went back and made some final tweaks to the plan.  Among these tweaks was being sure that each day has scheduled “Chill Time” – a period of the day when our family will have time to just pause.  I also double checked to be sure that, outside of Sundays, every day had scheduled S.K.I.L.L T.I.M.E – a dedicated portion of the day for us to focus the children on practicing and extending basic academic skills, for while such practice will not assure them delight in heaven, it will ensure that we are practicing some of the discipline I feel called us called to focus on this year.

A Plan to Share for Discipline and Delight as We Await the Light of the World

Thus it was that I finally settled on the Advent 2014: Discipline and Delight as We Await the Light of the World (with Free Printable Planning Packet) that I am sharing today. 

You will find that, on the plan, there are some portions blacked out. These are items personal to us – medical appointments, trips to local destinations, private information, etc.  Anything that I thought would be helpful to you remains, including Family Tradition ideas, Advent Custom ideas, Day-Specific book suggestions, etc. 

As you browse the plan, please feel free to borrow whatever ideas from my family’s Advent plan that resonate with you and to make them your own

  • Tailor my planning steps to your own needs. 
  • Take a look at our daily rhythm for inspiration about how you might weave meaningful Advent activities into the fabric of your daily schedule, too. 
  • Browse the table of our daily plans and borrow traditions, customs, activities and ideas that might work for your family.
  • Peruse our book lists and note which books you may wish to borrow or buy for your own family’s enjoyment. 

Plus, if you would, please share your own plans, book lists, activity ideas and reflections in a comment here or on the Training Happy Hearts Facebook page. Your ideas may just help me and mine as we live this Advent and future Advents. For, if there is one thing I have realized throughout Advents past, it is that there is truth in the old adage, “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.” The plan I have shared here is just that, a plan to help us rebuild discipline in our callings while still delighting in the season as we await the Light of the World. Undoubtedly, portions of this plan will become reality, but other parts will be tweaked further as each day of Advent unfolds. Your suggestions might just help me hear the Spirit whispering to me about a intentional choice towards change. Thank you. 

May we each prepare ourselves well this year for our Lord to enter our hearts, our homes and our communities, bring his Light and Love to us and through us! Happy Advent!


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