Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Enjoy Saint Andrew S.K.I.L.L. T.I.M.E. + (including a FREE St. Andrew Christmas Novena Printable)

Tomorrow is St. Andrew's feast day, so in the morning, I will be giving my children the choice of making new beaded rebus bookmarks using our own FREE printable (since we've misplaced our old ones)or using the cute, little printable shared freely over at Life, Love & Sacred Art

{Disclosure:  Some of the links which follow are affiliate ones.  Should you click through them and make a purchase we may receive small income at no extra cost to you.  Anything we earn goes straight back into training happy hearts and sharing about it here. Thank you.}

We'll also be reading the St. Andrew portion of one or more of the following books (many of which are currently available for a penny used on Amazon).


Then, we'll see what unfolds as we learn and play during the S.K.I.L.L. T.I.M.E. + portion of our day and beyond.

As inspiration for the day, I have been revisiting what we did last year and thought you might be inspired by it, too.  

Among our regular life and learning activities, we included these St. Andrew-inspired ones:
S - Spell and Write Words

Even though my children are all at different levels with their spelling, they enjoy doing spelling challenges together, so one of the activities we did was to "write" "Saint Andrew" with our printed alphabet letters on the floor and, then, to see how many words we could each create by rearranging the letters.  Within 12 minutes (for the twelve apostles), we each recorded as many words as we could and, then, compared them.

K - Keep Reading to Yourself

My oldest, an independent reader, read some of the books listed above to himself.  My younger children read some simple Bible story books and fish-themed books with help.

I - Illustrate and Write

I gave the children the choice of creating their own Learn to Draw Saints Saint Andrew or coloring free printables offered at Catholic Playground.  Then, they glued images onto cardstock as the beginning of St. Andrew scrapbook pages that they fleshed out with brief narrations and whatever decoration they wanted to add.

L - Listen to Reading

We read from the books listed at the top of this post.

L -Learn and Play with One Another Using Language Arts


We passed around a figurine representing St. Andrew from our Galilee Boat Playset and shared facts we knew about him.  Then, we passed the figurine around again and shared how we, too, might be "fishers of men".


T - Think, Read and Write About Math

The children created story problems related to St. Andrew and challenged each other with them.

I - Investigate and Problem Solve with Math

Since St. Andrew was a fisherman, we used tangram pieces from our Tangram Race Game to make various fish shapes.

I  also had the children take all the fish and sea life puzzle pieces we have from old wooden puzzles and work together to find different ways to sort and classify them.

M - Master Math Skills Together

We then each took 12 puzzle pieces (to represent the 12 apostles) and, together, created an addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division problem a quickly as we could.

We also played Go Fish.

E - Exercise Math Skills on My Own

The children spent 12 minutes individually creating as any equations as they could that equaled 12 using our puzzle pieces as manipulatives.

+ Extra Learning and Exploration


  • P.E.:  We went to a local pool and brought bathtub fish to help us practice our swimming while being "fishermen" like St. Andrew.
  • Mercy and Virtue:  After finding our Works of Mercy Wise men, my children decided to add extra bread and fish to our grocery list so they could donate it to our local pantry.

  • Geography:  We located the area St. Andrew was from on a map.

  • Montessori-Inspired:  We did not revisit our Montessori-inspired mini-fish unit of old last year, but those with littles might want to check it out for themed ideas that could tie into this day for the fisherman become fisher of men.

 As always, I pray that the sharing I offer here blesses your family's life and learning.  
I'd also love to hear about your favorite Saint Andrew resources, prayers, and ideas. Links to descriptions of your devotions, studies and celebrations are most welcome.
  Saint Andrew, pray for us!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

10 Ways to Begin Advent

Happy Advent!

It’s that time of year again: time to celebrate the beginning of a new liturgical year and the end of the current calendar year.  It's time to wait with joyful anticipation for the coming of Christ - past, present and future.  It's time to prepare to celebrate the remembrance of Jesus coming to earth as a baby; time to continue readying ourselves to receive Jesus in the Eucharist each week at Mass as well as through the grace He extends to us; and it's also time to ready our souls for a future meeting with Christ on a day none of us can know.  Indeed, it's time to embrace the season of Advent, and, then, the joys of Christmastide.

As such, for weeks now, I have been taking pockets of time here and there to piece together my family's life and learning plans for this year' Advent through Christmas seasons. I had hoped to have our plans ready in sharable form today, but - alas - do not.  Thus, rather than sharing our full plans right now, I am offering snippets of how we kicked off Advent instead, including highlights of what we have planned for the coming week.  That way, if you, like me, are not 100% prepared for this season of joyful anticipation, you may at least enjoy a bit of last-minute inspiration to embrace Advent however life is going right now.

{Disclosure:  Some links which follow are affiliate ones.  Should you make any purchases after clicking through them, we may receive small compensation at no extra cost to you.  Whatever we make goes right back into training happy hearts in our home and sharing it with you.)

A Works of Mercy Christmas Countdown Chain

The children awoke to find our Advent Chain hanging up. 

They'd brainstormed ideas for it during our Christ the King day observances and busily written each of their ideas down on paper strips throughout the past week.  So, they were delighted to see the chain up and ready to go and, first thing this morning, my oldest took his first turn at pulling down a link, whereupon we all immediately paused our day to pray for unborn babies as that was the suggestion written on the link. 

Later in the day, since we'd completed the suggestion on the opened link, my oldest hung the link on our Jesse tree.  We took to doing that with our completed links last year and liked seeing the tree filling up, so we're doing the same thing this year.

A New Liturgical Year Celebration

Before heading off to Mass, where one child sang in the choir and another served on the altar, we celebrated the new liturgical year much the same as we have in the past by donning paper hats during a celebratory breakfast, chatting about what Advent and the liturgical year are, and, literally, ringing in a new year.

Works of Mercy Wise Men Fun

Two years ago, I thought about mixing picture books with Wise Men with service to create a new family tradition.  Then,last year, I actually did it.  It was so much fun, we've carried our "Works of Mercy Wise Men" on.

This morning, children discovered our Tales of Glory Nativity Playset Wise Men reading If He Had Not Come near a handwritten sign that said, "Reason for the Season".  So, we read the book and chatted about what the world would be like if Jesus had not come.  The children, then, decided to pray with the words the boy in the book prayed with and, also, to pray for the living and the dead by praying an additional prayer for babies. 

As the week continues, our Wise Men will likely find themselves reading:

  • Merry Christmas, Strega Nona near a foam question mark, whereupon the children and I might discuss how we prepare for Christmas and how we might help others prepare or, perhaps, how we might plan a big surprise in service to another.

  • The Catholic Children’s Treasure Box, Book 19 story about Rosemary and a cut out of a heart, whereupon, we will likely chat about how we can keep Jesus in our hearts – and share Him with others through some Work of Mercy that day.

  • Marta and the Manger Straw, a small wooden "cradle", and “straw”, thus beginning our Preparing the Manger for Jesus custom for the year, where the children may lay straw in Jesus' cradle each time they offer a sacrifice or kindness.

  • The Littlest Angel and a bag, whereupon we might consider what precious little items we have that we could give away to others that may need or like them.

  • The Friendly Beasts and bird seed, whereupon we may discuss how each creature in the book gives Christ what they can and how we can easily and simply give God’s creatures a gift.

  • The Small One and donkey figurine, whereupon we may chat about who or what needs a good home and how we can help with that.

Pageant Preparation
The children will be in a pageant this year on the eve of Epiphany, so I went to a planning meeting where we discussed details of how we will stage The First Christmas - A Children's Christmas Pageant Script (a free script.)  The children and I  begin practicing their parts for the pageant by reading the script with me regularly during our lessons.

Jesse Tree

As a family, we went on a short nature walk to find a fallen branch to act as our Jesse Tree this year.  Then, we came home and set up the tree. 

Later in the evening, we began reading the Jesse Tree, read some Scripture from the Old and New Testaments, and hung up one of our Jesse Tree ornaments.  (The ornaments we received in our swap last year do not correspond perfectly with the book, but we go with it, because we enjoy both the book and our ornament collection!)

Mary and Joseph's Journey and Our Nativity Sets

Over the years, we have collected a number of nativity sets, so, today, my daughter helped me to carefully unpack them and place them about the house. As always, we only set out full sets of three play ones we have.

Each of our other sets is currently set out without the Baby Jesus figurines (because those get put out by the children on Christmas) and the three Wise Men (because those figurines get placed on Epiphany.)  Our living room nativity set is also up without its Mary, Joseph, and donkey figurines, because those figurines take a turn in a different room in our house each week until Advent as we recall Mary and Joseph's journey to Bethlehem.  (Typically, we have a simple dinner and movie night once a week and, then, go move the Mary and Joseph figurines.)

This year, since I am not sure we've blessed all of our nativity sets before, we will do so later in the week with the Blessing of a Creche f
rom Catholic Household Blessings & Prayers.
God of every nation and people, from the very beginning of creation you have made manifest your love: when our need for a Savior was great you sent your Son to be born of the Virgin Mary. To our lives he brings joy and peace, justice, mercy, and love. Lord, bless all who look upon this manger; may it remind us of the humble birth of Jesus, and raise our thoughts to him, who is God-with-us and Savior of all, and who lives and reigns forever and ever. Amen.

The Feast Days of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal and of Saint Catherine Laboure

Because the feast day of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal fell on the first day of Advent this year, we decided to delay most observances of it and to simply set an Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal peg doll and prayer card we received a Marian peg doll swap earlier this year. 

Tomorrow, the 28th, which is Saint Catherine Laboure's feast day, we will learn, pray, and study through:

Source: Holy Heroes
  • listening to an Altar Gang CD that mentions Saint Catherine Laboure and the Miraculous Medal.


Candelight Readings by the Advent Wreath

Last week, I asked each of my children separately what book they absolutely did not want to miss reading this Advent, and they all had the same answer, "The next one like Jotham's Journey!"

Thus, my children were thrilled to see Ishtar's Odyssey come out and delighted in placing smooth, new candles in our old Advent wreath and then continuing our Advent tradition of nightly reading by candlelight.

Since we neglected to re-bless our Advent wreath today, we will do so later this week, using prayers in one of several booklets we have collected over the years or using the blessing found in a free printable at Loyola Press.  (The printable also contains a short history and prayers for each week during Advent.)


You might think that with all these Advent kickoff traditions, our day here was busy, busy, busy, but, honestly, although full, it was not too full.  In fact, I took heed of the message before Advent I received a couple of weeks ago and prioritized some pause during our day. 

The children played freely by themselves and with one another.  Daddy and the kids tossed a football about and watched some football online.  Daddy played guitar.  Little hands reached into an Advent book basket to begin perusing seasonal reads.  I took time to pray, think, do some organizing... 

Of course, read-together times happened, too, like with The First Noel.

Along with these simple pleasures, there were a few little bumps along the way (with a mislaid book, moments of misbehavior, and more "typical stuff"), but on the whole, the day was quite a beautiful start to our Advent.  I pray your Advent is already unfolding well, too!

What traditions, customs, and stories help you prepare your home and hearts for Jesus to come?

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Celebrating Christ the King Day with Stories, Symbolic Eats, and Starting Our Advent Chain

We have a sickie here today, so were unable to enjoy the Solemnity of Christ the King the way we had planned.  Still, the day held its own beauty and blessings, which I share with you here in case you want to borrow any ideas to use throughout the week or in future years.

A Chat about a Servant King

This morning, we chatted about what kind of king Christ is and how He is different than other kings.  Some kings wear jeweled crowns and carry a scepter. Jesus wore a crown of thorns and used a cloth to clean another person's feet.  He was a servant-king on earth and now reigns forever from heaven.  How might we serve as He did today?  May we one day sit near Him in heaven?  How and why?

Picture Books that Relate to Christ the King

We also enjoyed read-together times during which we connected picture books to the Sunday Mass readings and to the idea of Christ as King. The majority of the stories we read were suggested on Storypath, however, some were ones we own or had previously read for our geography club studies. 

As you can see, we read and chatted about A LOT of books today (with the starred titles being our favorites)  They included:


What did the king appreciate about the shepherd? Did the shepherd ever falter?  Do we have a choice to move towards good - toward God - or towards bad with everything we say and do?  Are there any thoughts or lessons you have to take away from this story about yourself or about your relationship to Christ our King?

Is there another story we have read recently in which someone was loved even when they did not do right?  Did the chick in it sometimes make its Mommy sad or mad?  Did the mommy sometimes make the chick sad or mad?  But how did they always feel?  Is there someone who always loves us like that?

Can you think of a book we've read recently where love was shown to someone outside of a family, where words were important and someone had a chance to move toward God or away?  A story that was about forgiveness? What happened in the story? Did the boy feel good when he got the other boy back? How did he feel once he forgave the other boy? Can you think what Jesus said about forgiveness? Have you ever gained freedom through forgiveness?

What is another story we've read recently where words hurt someone?  Why did the creatures who spoke mean words speak them?  What stopped the cycle of mean words?  Isn't reconciliation a fabulous thing?  Aren't you happy Jesus came so that we might be reconciled?  

What is there in the life of the herd boy that might prepare him to make a strong leader? Can you think of Biblical shepherd kings? How about kings that lead by service and protection?

Was this story silly and fun?  What happened in it? What would it be like to be invited to be royalty?  HOW was the girl's kingdom - temporary or forever? Where is the only "forever kingdom" and who reigns there? 

How did the leader in this book change? What makes a good leader? What connection to Jesus can you make?

Cass gathered orphaned lambs to build his own her. Who else asks his flock to be fruitful and multiple, increasing His kingdom?

What happened at the beginning of this story? And the end? Who was protecting and comforting who? When we feel scared or anxious, can we feel the presence of God growing bigger in our lives much like the teddy bear seemed to grow bigger?  Isn't it fabulous how He, as our king, protects and comforts us?

Was Troto mocked for being small?  Did he win anyway? Who else was mocked, but was, then, victorious? Are there times when our limited understanding of ourselves or a situation did not allow us to see the power or glory that, in the end, could unfold?


Arthur was small and young? Was he expected to become king? Can you think of a king in the Old Testament who was also small, young and unexpected? How about in the New Testament?

Who created our world and is king over it? (Are there any differences between this retelling of creation and the Bible? What are they?)

Three Blessings of Sickbed Sundays

This morning, we also lived our typical three blessings of sickbed Sundays. Some of us stayed home to watch Mass online while others of us went to Mass locally.  We all served one another in one way or another.

A Symbolic Meal

This evening, the healthy ones among us enjoyed a simple symbolic dinner that reminded us about Christ's kingship.

Nina set our meal up as a picnic.  We used a Sacred Heart candle to remind us that Jesus is a king with heart and king of our hearts.  Nina also made pineapple crowns.

Among the foods and drink we served were ground meat and salad to remind us of our earth, where Jesus came to be a servant king and "royal punch" (pomegranate juice) to remind us of the royal color of kings as well as the blood Jesus shed for us.  Brussel sprouts also reminded us of earth due to their spherical shape.

Berries added nutrition to our meal as "crown jewels.  They also remind us of the colors in the Divine Mercy image.  Christ our King loves us with such kindness and mercy.

A gluten free tortilla and casein-free "cheese" crown was meant to represent the earth and Christ's kingship over all. 

However, the children thought it would be more fun to play with our food, making kingly faces, before we actually ate. 

A Start to Our Advent Chain

After dinner, the children dictated ideas to me for Advent Chain

Their ideas this year were:

  • Give someone a hug. 
  • Give a sad person a hug. 
  • Donate clothes to the St. Vincent de Paul bin. 
  • Pray for Nana and Papa.
  • Pray for S.G.
  • Pray for everyone with cancer. 
  • Pray for everyone who is sick. 
  • Pray for M to be converted. 
  • Pray for the reversion of all sinners. 
  • Pray for the reversion of family. 
  • Pray for all babies. 
  • Pray for abortion to be stopped. 
  • Pray for C. 
  • Pray for I. 
  • Pray for J to be converted. 
  • Make a meal for someone. 
  • Make a meal for Mommy. 
  • Give someone a secret gift. 
  • Write a secret letter. 
  • Fast from eating treat, and every time you want to eat one pray. 
  • Give someone cookies. 
  • Make someone else’ bed. 
  • Smile at a random stranger. 
  • Ask Mommy if I can do anything to help. 
  • Forgive someone in your heart. 
  • Pray extra for Eddie’s soul, Adrienne’s soul, and souls of other deceased friends and family. 
  • Put some more money in the baby bottle. 
  • Give away some stuff. 
  • Give a gift to someone to celebrate Jesus’ birth.

The children will be using their self-generated ideas as copywork throughout the coming week as they make our annual countdown to Christmas chain we'll use throughout Advent.

I'd love to hear about your favorite ways of observing Christ the King and preparing for Advent.  Do share in a comment here or on our Training Happy Hearts Facebook page.  Thanks!


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