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!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Discipline and Delight for Advent: A Look Back Before Looking Forward

We are but a week away from Advent 2014 and I have just found a post I began writing on November 30, 2013. Oh my! 

As I reread my thoughts on Advent 2013: Discipline and Delight as We Await the Light of the World I could not help but to inwardly chastise myself.  Looking around at my my messy home and busy calendar right now leads me to think that Advent 2013 and subsequent days unfolded here with less discipline and delight than I felt I was being called to focus upon. 

However, I also smile as I reflect further, flipping through pictures from last December.  Advent 2013 had its own merits and beauty and did, in some ways, continue to prepare us for our Lord's coming - past, present and future.  See..

Advent 2013 Plans for Discipline and Delight as We Await the Light of the World (Which Were Not Fully Realized) 

Nina was delighted on Christmas morning 2013, putting baby Jesus in one of our nativity sets.

For the past two weeks, I have been praying and thinking about our family’s Advent plans for this year. Sitting down with our 2011 Alphabet of Plans for a Literature-Based Family Advent Rich in Sensory Input and Special Activities and our 2012 Literature-Rich Advent Alphabet of Faith, Others, then Selves Including Ideas for Montessori, Workboxing, Sensory, Motor Skills and Traditional Activities made me smile with memories. However, it did not stir my heart this year... nor bring my Advent 2013 planning any closer to its conclusion. 

In fact, every time I sat down to write out our Advent 2013 plans, I got side-tracked. Day-to-day duties, children’s needs, distracting health concerns... These things and more worked against me wrapping up our family Advent planning prior to Thanksgiving as I had hoped to do. 

Now I know why.

I needed Thanksgiving to unfold so that I would recognize that an ABC Advent may not be the “right” framework for us this year. In fact, it might not even be the best starting point. 

The middle of a Thanksgiving that was filled with so much literal thanks giving...

I needed to listen to the homily at Mass on Thanksgiving morning while my husband graciously stayed home to take care of two awake children and one sleeping one. Yes, I needed too get a fuller message of “Give!”

Making ornaments for others and sharing love and service through our annual Advent chain was a part of our Advent 2013, but there certainly could have been more giving.

I also needed to look up at the stained glass image of Jesus above the altar. To understand, “Focus on me. Focus on beauty.”
Time in Adoration, at Mass, with devotionals and engaging the children in impromptu Nativity Story play helped focus us on the Lord last Advent.

I needed to cry with unexpected, grateful silent tears after sharing in the Eucharist. To be grateful to be His child and to be the mother of my own children

How could I not be so grateful for my silly children as they celebrated the new liturgical year?

I needed to come home to see my husband and children playing with a toy that the kids had been begging me to bring upstairs for them, but that I had not wanted to be “bothered” with due to its many small pieces. Yes, I needed to recognize that we are blessed with abundant “stuff” and those blessings become exponentially magnified when we take the time to share enjoyment with that stuff together. Too often, I busy my children with one thing so I can go do another. My presence should be their present more often

They may not remember simple sled rides when they grow up, but I sue hope they remember Mom enjoying everyday time with them!

Still further, I needed to click through a number of years worth of snapshots looking for a good one for my niece’s birthday card, but instead bumping into many forgotten images of Mike, mine and our children’s past. Images that made me cry – with thanksgiving and with sorrow. Thanksgiving for challenges overcome and blessings enjoyed. Sorrow at photos that evidenced how purposefully and fully I began our homeschooling adventures and how distracted I have become at times since then. It is time to dispel distraction and to sharpen focus once more. 
Jack loved working with me on these Montessori-inspired phonics sound boxes I made him last Advent.  Why did we not continue to learn with such materials?  Distractions! 

Still further, I needed to bake up the cod that my children had requested and that my husband had run out to get... to pack that cod with asked-for corn, squash, GFCF pumpkin pie filling and organic cranberry sauce into a laundry basket to bring to our extended family’s Thanksgiving table. Happy to accommodate our children and to provide them with healthy options for eating, grateful to be able to tailor simple things to their needs and desires.
Someone liked his turkey leg, too!

Then, as I departed for the extended family Thanksgiving, I needed to glance at the rooms of my home with an “ugh”, unable to overlook what disarray the house was in before I departed for a family feast at my parent’s house, which my mother has always kept in homey order. Yes, I needed be honest with myself: The need to prepare our home is ever-present

When messes like this blanket for from Advent 2013 happen, I am okay with that.  It's the disaster the rest of my house is that makes me continue to recognize the need to prepare our home.

I also needed to spend time together with extended family. To share boisterous conversation and feasting balanced by a quiet game of checkers with my son and some special one-on-one time with a niece that I don’t see often anymore. Yes, I needed to have the afternoon and evening reiterate a message I have heard more and more often lately – Pause! Pause is good. Breathing in space is vital

I am so thankful I made room in our schedule for pause some days last Advent and that weatehr brought more.  Moments like this when Nina beamed as we tracked animal prints were so simple, yet so powerfully joy-filled!

Finally, I needed to sit, quietly, after putting away leftovers and tidying up a bit at home, reflecting, praying and letting the blessings of the day – and the messages of it – sink in: 

Discipline. Delight. Giving. Purpose. Prayer. Pause. Balance. One-on-one time. Preparing our home. Opening our hearts. Listening to our Lord and being moved to better accept and express love. 

These things are what this year’s Advent must include for our family this year..."

How is the Spirit working in you to direct your Advent this year?  I do believe I am being called once again toward Discipline and Delight.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Visit Our Mysteries of History Fair Project!

This week brought so much fun and learning that there was little time for blogging!  Among other things, we were out and about at field trips, meet ups, classes and a Mysteries of History fair!

When the children first heard about the fair a couple months ago, they picked their topics right away.

Nina decided on "Who was Dr. Joseph Warren's informant?"

Luke chose, "Who shot the "shot hear 'round the world'?"

And Jack chose to help his siblings.

Thus it was that our living room exploded with piles of library books and audios, and we found ourselves traveling to Lexington and Concord one lovely fall day.

Through the weeks, the children immersed themselves in all things Revolutionary, including D.I.Y costumes!  (Luke's and Nina's D.I.Y costumes, that is.  Jack went for the easy knight costume.)

Then, about a week ago, they began to put their display together, asking for my help with parts of it, but designing most of it on their own.

Luke's panel included a super-sized flap book with some of the theories about who might have shot the shot heard around the world.

Nina's side included a pull-out book of some of the historical figures connected to Dr. Joseph Warren.  She proudly explained who each of these figures was to those who asked her.

All three children designed their own games -- a project fair tradition that began with our first homeschool fair, an Endangered Species one.

When we played Luke's at home, we realized it was a bit more complicated than it seemed and may need a Version 2.

But that did not stop Jack and I from enjoying it at the fair.  Some others played it, too.

Jack's game was more straightforward.  

We enjoyed it before, during and after the fair.

We had a lot of fun with Nina's too!

Besides the tri-fold board and games, the kids' display included a few of the books we'd used as resources and models made by Luke and Jack to help explain what happened at North Bridge at the start of the Revolution.

Nina made a small booklet about spies and laid out some photos of our Concord and Lexington family field trip

Luke had wanted to make flapjacks, but I was out of corn flour.  Nina then recalled that the Colonial people enjoyed popcorn, so she and Jack popped some up to share.  That popcorn was such a hit that only a few kernels remained minutes into the fair.

Two things that did not disappear the entire night were proud smiles and loads of sharing.

By the time the children dashed up for their participation certificates, they had learned a bit about the Bermuda Triangle, the Bridgewater Triangle, the Lost City of Atlantis, Area 51, Roswell, Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster, Mysteries of the Mona Lisa, Stonehenge, Lizzie Borden, the Mary Celeste and more.

Meanwhile, I was again impressed by how children from preschool age to high school age created and shared such a wide variety of unique projects and, then, interacted with one another with enthusiasm and respect.  Homeschool fairs bring so much fruit!

Want to host your own fair?

Feel free to use the 8 Easy Steps I shared at Upside Down Homeschooling in late October and have reshared here on this blog.

We have a Cultures Past and Present Fair and an Art Fair coming up later this year.  We've done an Endangered Species one, a History one, a Nature Explorers one and a Geography one.  What fairs have your enjoyed?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

When Siblings Serve at Mass...

Disclaimer:  This post contains links for your convenience, including affiliate links to Amazon.  Should you click on an Amazon link and make a purchase, we may receive small compensation.

The other day, I went to clean our Dry Erase Peel & Stick Whiteboard Dry-Erase Board and found this:

I smiled, guessing it had been Nina who had sketched the simple drawing of the Mass, and went to find her to ask if it was okay if I erased it.  

When I found her, she was fetching water and crackers for Jack, who was doing this:

Jack was setting up an altar with our miniature Mass kit from Our Father's House and a bowl he had purchased at a neighbor's yard sale this summer.  He, then, proceeded to alternate between playing altar boy and priest.

Meanwhile, Nina alternated between chatting with me and playing choir member/parishioner.  She told me that she loves serving at Mass by singing at Mass and wants to continue to serve our church "in any way possible" as she grows.

I have no doubt -- and every prayer -- that Ninaa will.

In fact, I pray that each of my children will joyfully serve our local parish community in their own ways right through adulthood and, that, our entire family will grow in service to the larger Church as well.

Already, I see those prayers being answered. Undoubtedly, each time Luke serves on the altar and Nina in the choir, the desire to serve in a specific way grows in Jack's heart, too.

We are learning here that when siblings serve at Mass, blessings unfold.

As a side note, I'd like to add that we love, love, love our miniature Mass Kit!  It was a purchase we had to save for and I am glad that we did.  It' beautiful and our children use it regularly.

Since we bought our realistic looking kit, however, another Mass Kit for children has come onto the market.  It is a soft version that I think would be wonderful for small children to use at home or as a quiet bag at Mass.

May your family be blessed as each person within it answers specific calls to service.  Let's pray for one another to hear and heed calls to use our personal gifts and desires to serve the Church.

If you leave a link to a faith formation idea or a reflection relevant to raising young children in the faith in a comment here or on our Training Happy Hearts Facebook page, I will pin it on the Training Happy Hearts: A Call to Faith Formation in Young Children Pinterest board

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