Saturday, December 19, 2009

Advent #7

One thing I've learned over all of the Advent seasons celebrated thus far within our family, is recognizing the blessing associated with offering young children manipulatives, those which they are actually "allowed" to touch, use, and admire when retelling the story of the birth of Christ.

And....who says these great narrative items HAVE to be put away after Epiphany anyway?

He saith to him; "Feed my sheep"...

There are occasions when our children's readiness is not similar to the timing of our own, for they may prefer to linger, to ponder and to revere well the sentiment and validity for the "reason of the season" longer than we do.

Why not then just allow for a time shifting period in a case such as this, that is, if it's necessary.

Some Children See Him

Some children see Him lily white
the infant Jesus born this night
Some children see Him lily white
with tresses soft and fair

Some children see Him bronzed and brown
the Lord of heav'n to earth come down
Some children see Him bronzed and brown
with dark and heavy hair (with dark and heavy hair!)

Some children see Him almond-eyed
This Saviour whom we kneel beside
Some children see Him almond-eyed
With skin of yellow hue!

Some children see Him dark as they
Sweet Mary's Son to whom we pray
Some children see Him dark as they
And, ah! they love Him so!

The children in each different place
Will see the Baby Jesus' face
Like theirs but bright with heav'nly grace
And filled with holy light!

O lay aside each earthly thing
and with thy heart as offering
Come worship now the infant King
'tis love that's born tonight!

'tis love that's born tonight!

~ Alfred Burt

Advent Calendars....
... more about another older one of ours;

When our older children were quite young, my husband and I were determined to begin making Advent items for them. As we sipped our tea many evenings in a row, we colored at the kitchen table, he and I, and with the older two at that time (almost thirty years ago now), together we eventually completed the topical decor "a la wax crayon" upon the Advent calendar below.

Though I have no photos of those memorable evenings artistically working as a family, the memories still pour forth from my heart every time I pull it out each Advent.

Year after year when hanging this particular Advent calendar, heart swelling moments result for me when noting the coloring details (scribbles) of our now adult children's efforts after begging "please, oh please can we help?". And help they did!

Removed from its original packaging for the 29th year...
(with adapted readings from; "Celebrate Advent" - Our Father's House)

This calendar hasn't been used every single year since, but almost. For the most part it's been rotated upon occasion with others we have accumulated within our Advent bins.

And yet, every year the children view it once more, it continues to serve as a reminder that no matter what humble beginnings a family has, preparing for Advent must include the children, both young and old!

It's very obviously been well used, and has always been hung in a prominent spot, usually right on top of a large framed piece of art work in the center of the kitchen.

Over the bulk of these years during Advent, our children have glanced up and pondered the story it depicts daily, noting what the next shape will be and asking who's turn it is to adhere it to the calendar.

Eagerly all have taken turns to hang up one piece at a time, and no fighting or bickering ever seemed to come of this unusual family Advent calendar. Still it remains a visual so many years later and continues to be even now...while living here in the east. :)

I admit to having a sentimental fondness for this

I've since had to laminate all of the pieces and will place a note to self to (finally) have the main page also laminated after this Advent season, mostly to keep it protected and available for many more years to come.

Another thing I've realized over the years is the sincere desire to keep Advent alive and active for our children, within reach and sight in as many rooms as possible inside of our home.

This is not been a very easy task, and yet, with our ever-growing collection of child friendly manipulatives, I've realized how possible it is to do this, even if it's just a craft or hand made item to offer reflection for the "reason for the season".

It's simple really - lay out the Advent symbols or other assorted items and...
  • they will play
  • they will retell
  • they will set it all up
  • they will perform
  • they will giggle
  • they will reflect
  • they will dream
  • they will hope
  • and indeed - they will pray.
They will...I promise you they will.

Christmas Evening - 1988

They offered all present an impromptu performance

(Note the Nativity figures on the table here and then below...)

Part of the best shopping endeavors for collecting items for our Advent bin have come soon after Christmas when retail stores both local and online, offer their goods for half price, or less. This is when families can also afford to add to their own collections for future, and also, don't forget to check out thrift stores for many assorted gems just waiting for a new dwelling place.

In our home, our children are encouraged to retell, to narrate each day's Jesse tree or Advent reading using a manipulative of choice.

Usually our favorite feast days are also narrated using specialty items found within our bulk bins of goodie items.

Here are a of our favorites presentation methods below;

Story Felt figures and backgrounds;

An improvisation for "no room at the inn"...

Many years ago I invested in the "Betty Lukens Bible story felts". I cannot tell you just how great this investment has proven to be for our family over the years!

It's been wonderful for gathering children close and holding their attention during all seasonal, liturgical, or historical presentations.

I've used these pieces in our vacation bible school teachings, Little Flower lessons, Blue Knights, homeschool gatherings, with our grandchildren, for our homeschooling studies, and everything in between.
We've used them for retelling of stories and history lessons, picture book stories and other schooling items of interests.

The Annunciation!

They've been used in catechism classes aplenty, group settings in our homeschooling gatherings and for retelling the lives of saints, martyrs and holy heroes.

And speaking of
"Holy Heroes", what fun to see there is a corresponding felt story in almost all of the daily presentations during Advent on their website.

Our children love to absorb every single detail of those stories, running off as soon as the video sessions are over to create a similar scene with our own felt figures and backgrounds.

The flight to Egypt

My husband's art easel works wonders for our current set up, fabulous in fact, sitting in the midst of our learning room with plenty of "sorting room" around on the floor beneath it for laying out all of our many felt story items to choose the ones perfect for creating a new story. (This year our younger two children have been giving me performances and not the other way around, something new for me.)

Another improvisation, guess where this is?

Helpful hint to those who do not own a bible story felt set;
Use children's coloring pages or pictures of characters in magazines (or old catechism books) by cutting them out and backing them with a small self stick piece of velcro or glue on a small piece of sandpaper.

Purchase or find a large piece of felt material for use as a background. The velcro and/or sandpaper will stick to the felt and story telling will be possible without pieces falling off the background if one chooses to hang it up for all to use or see. Voila, instant manipulatives for story telling.

Playmobil figures;
Unbreakable plastic pieces are often best used for older children due to small bits and pieces, though if the characters are stripped of the wee things, younger children can happily carry these in their wee chubby hands like their older siblings.

These are a family favorite and can be found in many rooms in our home every year, always a surprise for where we'll find them.
And besides, all of the pieces can be used year round for many other historical or biblical story telling moments.

And they followed the bright star...

You see, our children take the three kings and the shepherds away most times and allow them to "walk their journey" to Bethlehem throughout the house.

We might find the three kings in the library, on a bookshelf, on a windowsill, in the kitchen , in a washroom, they move forward toward that bright and shiny star to find the new King, the Christ child - Jesus.

One year we found three of our kings in our family vehicle. When asking what they were doing out there, one child responded; "in the van they can move even faster towards the baby"....snicker.

Our "adultish" three kings are also on their journey

Children's creches;

When our older children were little, there was no such things as a playmobil nativity set. We usually just adapted things our way using child friendly (but glass) creches, and our children soon became fascinated with each piece, lingering for long hours with their friends, gazing and touching the pieces, retelling the nativity story and teaching non-Christian friends all about the nativity by encouraging them to also touch, to move, to feel and to observe them all, calling them by name and not ceasing the play until the entire story was complete. Hours could go by before the children had to be on their way back home again, consumed by such "play" at our house.

Ever cute!

Child friendly nativity set is always in use by children

For the entire Advent season, one could find a neighborhood child or family friend around one of our children's creches, with their sweet story telling in progress and all of the creche pieces moving about a room or two.

Located under our Christmas tree, this creche is all about children, set out on the floor for easy touching and feeling abilities. Retelling the nativity story over and over again and moving pieces about the room as both kings and shepherds journey towards the bright star, was a topic of conversation among the neighbor parents, happy to know their children were learning all about it.

A gentle note to mothers...

I'd just like to interject here with a small confession.

At first, I wasn't extremely eager to allow young children usage of one of our glass nativity scenes and perhaps having any of the glass pieces broken by a small child's hand, however if encouragement is key for a natural and continuous review and/or retelling of the nativity, it soon became crystal clear to me to invite and welcome the children to touch and feel each piece, no matter the conseqences. Safety was my only key so I was always nearby, observing and on hand, just in case.

Initially I would hold up each piece while to explain who the characters represented and proceed by retelling the Christmas story to them. Eventually, they too would be tempted to touch and move pieces around with me.

Gradually, I retold the story less and less because they very soon took over being narrator as well stage set up manager, always such a sweet thing to hear them repeat almost word for word from memorizing my own script.

I am the one who had to learn to relax and rest easy about allowances for using these sets. Tell me, might you too be like that?

In training...23 years ago

Consider the benefits the learning experience offers, and the resulting "wonder and awe" as you might also watch one youngun pick up the baby Jesus and kiss him sweetly before resting him down near his mother's knee.

Sweet surrender allows for mighty gifts, both seen and unseen from encouraging your children's interaction with a "special" nativity set in your home. Add to that the benefits of heavenly blessings from your young children responding to grace, when "saying and praying" while using these pieces.

Beautiful...and so very precious to watch the gaze of a young one as he begins to grow in love for the big picture.

There is something most reverent about owning a set which portrays beauty and results in even more reverence towards remembering the Christmas message. We own quite a few of these special, adult-type of sets as well as many assorted "children's sets". It's a great type of loot to behold I might add. (wink)
As a balance; rather than own them and never allow our children use of them, we've allocated several sets around the home for their childhood chubby-handed usage, anytime they wish to use them, and we've also stipulated the need on the other hand for our family to have our special ones segregated and out of bounds for viewing only.

One of our "child friendly" sets

This particular set below was acquired before I married when my parents gifted me with it. The characters are simple and ordinary children who are obviously only actors in a nativity play.

I have always found the three king's gifts so sweet and dear, offering their toys in their acting.

When I first read the book "The best Christmas Pageant Ever" aloud one year to our older children (and laughed my head off!), it became all too clear that this nativity set would now represent innocent and wholesome children who make efforts in performing nativity plays.

Often we've tried to imagine how the characters in our set might compare to those funny children with their quirks and quirms in the book.

Characters from a play, these children are so sweet!

In closing, no matter your angle on presenting the nativity to your young children, best advice I could ever give to you is simply - back away after offering first a parental presentation. Review a couple more times and then, hands off and lips sealed.

Just enjoy, snap a few photos and become truly "heart swelled" with the love of the scene before you.

Oh, and one more thing... none of our family sets have been offered to our older children when moving from our home to their new nests. No, none. Mean mother syndrome? Never! This is what I mentioned before; a nativity set is the very best Christmas gift of all for a young, engaged or newly married couple, a set for the beginning of their own journeys into Advent for their future together. As for our many sets, one day, they will become a whimsical sort of family heirloom collection no doubt, one I hope will evoke many warm memories of Christmas' past in our home. I want our grandchildren to want these, or maybe our great grandchildren, who knows. :)

The Christ-child lay on Mary's lap

The Christ-child lay on Mary's lap,
His hair was like a light.
(O weary, weary were the world,
But here is all aright.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary's breast
His hair was like a star.
(O stern and cunning are the kings,
But here the true hearts are.)

The Christ-child lay on Mary's heart,
His hair was like a fire.
(O weary, weary is the world,
But here the world's desire.)

The Christ-child stood on Mary's knee,
His hair was like a crown,
And all the flowers looked up at Him,
And all the stars looked down

~ G. K. Chesterton

God bless you all during this season of Advent;

~ Renee