Christmas in the Classroom

One of my favorite things about teaching young kids is the sheer amount of themed projects you can do around the holidays. Literally every concept you could teach can be tied into Christmas in some shape or form. I love it!

Here's a glimpse of some of the Christmas projects we did throughout the month of December, all from Pinterest (of course).

Handprint Christmas trees given to moms and dads. Every month I try to do something with handprints or fingerprints as mementos for parents.

from here

A felt Christmas tree and felt shape ornaments to decorate over and over again. The tree was a big hit all month.
from here

I found this super cute font at dafont.com and had to use it for name practice. I cut out the ornaments and the kids worked hard to color them and spell their names.

ornament font found here

I found the motherload of all printable units from Confessions of a Homeschooler. Twenty plus pages of prewriting practice, coloring, sequencing shapes, and so on. I promptly printed the packet out and slipped them into our "marker pages" for handwriting practice.

 from here

We also did candy cane patterns, colored nativity scenes and read plenty of Christmas books. One of my favorite Santa + Jesus books is Santa's Favorite Story by Hisako Aoki and Ivan Gantschev.

I've gotten quite a few non-Christmas activities from Pinterest as well, and all of them have been pretty popular.

These are what the kids call our "counting flags". They're not the most popular activity, but the kids come over, play with them for a few minutes, then leave for something else. (Since they're only three, I rarely make them do an activity once their interest wanes. Learning should still be fun at this age.) They all quickly picked up that zero means "nothing" all thanks to the flags. I told them its a trick number because it doesn't get any beads.

 from here

This next counting activity is another one from Confessions of a Homeschooler. Its very simple-- place one object on each square, then count.

from here

This clothespin ABC activity has been used for the longest amount of time and is still going strong. I don't bring out each activity every day, but the clothespins appear pretty consistently. We have name cards that all the kids use and this ABC strip for the ones who know more of their letters and are more willing to sit still for longer. :)

 from here

 Last but not least, I've gotten a few ideas for file folder games. I had a ton of paint strips at home that I've accumulated from various projects, so I cut them up and attached velcro and a color matching activity was born.

 idea from here

I've got plenty more activities pinned and waiting for January, most around the theme of 'snow'. We'll be lucky if we get any actual snow, but at least inside we'll be seeing plenty! 

See my Pinterest board here.


Home for the Holidays

Deric and I are visiting both sides of the family for Christmas this year. We're at my parents' house in Virginia through Christmas, then we head up to visit his family in Indiana for the remainder of the week. Yep, that's a lot of driving. (26 hours total.) But worth it to see both families for Christmas. 

I haven't been back to my parents' house in over a year, and they've changed almost the entire downstairs of the house in that time. New flooring, new paint colors, new furniture, new fixtures...the works. I'm working with Mom to find 'before' pictures of the house so I can show you the before and afters, but today I thought I'd share Mom's Christmas decorations. 

Some decorations I remember, and some are brand new.

For instance, the tree is new. Growing up we'd get a real tree, but this year they found a 9' tree for a whopping $30 at a garage sale. 

Most of the nutcrackers I remember, but this is the first year they've patrolled the stairs.

The ornaments are a hodge-podge of old and new.

Isn't my thumbprint so cute? ;)

Santa in the snow globe is a new one.

Sarah's angel ornament is a favorite every year. 

More nutcrackers.

I don't know where this wooden angel originated from, but she's been with the family for a while.

The straw ornaments have been around forever. They're slowly dying out since they're fragile and we weren't always careful, but a few still make it onto the tree.

The ornaments on the mantle are a new decoration, and I'm going to copy it next year. I love the look of the glittery ornaments nestled into the greenery!

Mom carried the ornament theme onto the front porch as well. Again, such a simple look that I'll have to borrow for next year. :)

Mom got her inspiration for the hanging ornaments from the inn we stayed in last Christmas.

I really think I'm going to steal her entire look for next year. Gonna have to hit up Target's clearance sales after Christmas to stock up on ornaments!

 And last but not least, a simple sign hanging in the entryway as a small reminder of the Savior we celebrate at Christmas.

Merry Christmas Eve Eve! I hope everyone is enjoying time with family and friends, and remembering the gift God gave to us! 


Recipe: Chai Tea

Also known (by me) as...

I was introduced to chai tea by Arin, a friend of Deric's from his days at camp. She used to make it for Deric and it was one of his favorites, so she passed along the recipe to me when Deric and I got married.

This fall, Deric let me try some of his chai tea latte from Starbucks and of course, I loved it. Before that, there were only two drinks I'd get from Starbucks: frappucinos for the summer and hot chocolate for the winter. But their hot chocolate isn't actually that good, so winters were kind of a bummer. (Side note: We get Starbucks less than five times a year. The introduction of chai tea lattes is really testing my willpower.)

Anyways, back to homemade chai tea. Chai tea really tastes like Christmas to me-- the ginger and cardamom make it nice and spicy but still sweet. Its perfect, and a welcome reprieve from my almost-daily hot chocolate (most people drink coffee in the morning-- I drink hot chocolate).

Here's Arin's recipe for chai tea (serves two).

1/2 cup water
1 bag of tea
1 stick cinnamon
2 cups milk
2 tbs. raw sugar or honey
1 tsp. vanilla
1/8 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground cardamom
(optional: I sometimes add a dash of allspice for extra Christmas-ness:))

In a small saucepan, combine water, tea, and cinnamon. Bring to boiling.

Remove from heat. Cover and let stand for five minutes. Discard tea bag and cinnamon.

Stir milk, sugar/honey, vanilla, ginger and cardamom into tea.

Stir over medium heat just until mixture is heated. Don't boil.

Serve in Christmas-themed mugs. Turn on your Christmas lights and some Christmas carols, and you're good to go!


A Fireplace Fit for Santa

Besides our Christmas tree, the only other Christmas decorations we have in the house are on our mantle (which was cleaned up and painted recently) so we're all ready for Santa to visit.

First, let's see the mantle before I started painting.

After some paint, but still with a bulky, broken glass fireplace screen stealing the show.

Here's what was hidden behind that screen. Not too clean, and kinda scary--who knows what bugs lived (and died) in there?!

With our two-year-old nephew, Isaac, coming for Thanksgiving, I was worried about that screen. It wasn't very stable and was already broken in places, and I worried it would fall (possibly on him) and we'd have broken glass everywhere. Not good.

So I grabbed our vacuum and some dark gray paint (aptly named Charcoal), and got to work.

Two minutes in, I knocked over the quart-sized paint can (thankfully into the fireplace), but I still did some damage:

Nothing catastrophic, but paint on the brick was definitely still noticeable. So we had to paint the brick too (which I wanted to do anyways, so now I had a reason). 

And here's the mantle today, all bright and shiny and clean (and childproof)!

Our stockings and the initials are from my mom.

I made this felt garland back in August after seeing tons of inspiration on Pinterest. Cutting out the felt circles was tedious, but besides that, this was definitely an instantly gratifying project.

After decorating our tree, Sarah and I filled the vase with the extra ornaments.

 She also helped me make these yarn trees. They're very simple: construction paper rolled up tight with yarn hot-glued on top.

Also time-consuming, but its easy and free. Watching Elf while gluing makes the process much more entertaining.

There you have it. Our Christmas decorations that we'll enjoy at least halfway through January. I go through Christmas withdrawal, so I slowly take down decorations and wean myself off Christmas music. Its a sad thing, when Christmas is over. So I'm enjoying this last week of the Christmas season as best as I can!

P.S. We've bought one Christmas gift so far. Holy cow.


The Great Why of God

The book had been sitting on Deric's nightstand for the past month. I'd glanced at the cover once and immediately begun ignoring the book, despite its bright orange cover. The book is entitled "Radical" and the tagline is what scared me away: "Taking back your faith from the American dream."

Nope, no thanks, not for me. I rather like the American dream. Good jobs, owning a nice house, being financially secure when kids come along, being able to go out to eat, buy clothes, go on vacations. All good things that I'm really looking forward to.

Here was my plan for our American dream, as decided by me upon moving to Tennessee:

1. Deric gets a job. (Check.)
2. I get a job teaching, and we put all of my salary into savings and live off Deric's.
3. In two years of living off one salary, be able to put money down on a house.
4. Buy a house and start fixing it up.
5. Babies. I become a stay-at-home-mom.
6. 18 years later, we pay for our kids to attend college so that they can start their life debt free--a gift that both my parents and Deric's did for us, so we want to do the same for our kids.

That's a solid plan, right?

One problem: We haven't yet gotten past step one.

I've had no luck finding a full-time job. I've looked at all kinds of options: teacher, nanny, assistant director of a preschool, office jobs, etc. So far, Mother's Day Out and substituting are the only doors that have opened.

No job for me means not saving for a house for the foreseeable future. And I surely don't want to have kids before we own a house! Come on, now. Only the best for our future children.

Back to that bright orange book. With some encouragement and prodding from Trinity's blog [go read it--every post is motivating, honest, and a kick in the pants, which is good for everyone], I got up the nerve to read a few pages in Radical. I'd really been resisting this book though-- I didn't want to become aware of my sins, because once I knew about them, I'd have to do something about them. And like I said before, I like the American dream. I want it, and I was determined to stick my head in the sand and go on believing that God's best for me is the American dream.

I'm now halfway through Radical by David Platt, and every chapter is convicting me. I can't cover everything I've been convicted of in one post, so I'll be back with more.

Let's start with what I read on Saturday night. I can't explain this better than David Platt, the author, so I'll leave it up to him...

[from the chapter, "The Great Why of God"]

In Genesis 12, God forms his people by saying to Abraham, "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing." Then God connects his promise to Abraham with a deeper purpose: "All peoples on earth will be blessed through you." God blesses Abraham abundantly but not for Abraham's sake. He blesses Abraham so that Abraham might be the conduit of God's blessing to all the peoples of the earth. [p. 65-66]

God really is in the business of blessing his people in unusual ways so His goodness and His greatness will be declared among all peoples. Verses that reiterate this truth abound throughout the Old Testament. [p. 67]

Ezekiel 36:22-23
This is what the Sovereign Lord says: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I show myself holy through you before their eyes."

God blesses his people with extravagant grace so they might extend his extravagant glory to all peoples on earth. This basic, fundamental truth permeates Scripture from beginning to end. Yet I wonder if we unknowingly ignore the great why of God. [p.69]

We [the church culture] bask in sermons, conferences, and books that exalt a grace centering on us. And while the wonder of grace is worthy of our attention, if that grace gets disconnected from its purpose, the sad result is a self-centered Christianity that bypasses the heart of God. [p.70]

If "God loves me" is the message of Christianity, then who is the object of Christianity?

God loves me.
Christianity's object is me.

The message of biblical Christianity is not "God loves me, period" as if we were the object of our own faith. The message of biblical Christianity is "God loves me so that I might make him--his ways, his salvation, his glory, and his greatness--known among all nations."  Now God is the object of our faith, and Christianity centers around him. [p.71]

God centers on himself, even in our salvation. Remember  his words in Ezekiel: he saves us, not for our sake, but for the sake of his holy name.

God is at the center of his universe, and everything he does ultimately revolves around him.

If this is true, we may wonder, then does this make God selfish?

Whom else would we have him exalt? At the very moment God exalted someone or something else, he would no longer be the great God worthy of all glory in all the universe, which He is. [p.71]

The Bible is not saying that God does not love us deeply. On the contrary, we have seen in Scripture a God of unusual, surprising, intimate passion for his people. But that passion does not ultimately center on his people. It centers on his greatness, his goodness, and his glory being made known globally among all peoples. And to disconnect God's blessing from God's global purpose is to spiral downward into an unbiblical, self-saturated Christianity that misses the point of God's grace. [p.71]

I know that's a lot (I basically wrote out his whole chapter), but I can't explain it better than Platt can.

In that chapter, Platt said that when asked to summarize the basic message of Christianity, the average Christian would give you something along the lines of "God sent His Son to die for my sins so that I can go to heaven".

Average Christian that I am, I agreed. John 3:16--every Christian knows that. But I too had left out the second half of the message: we're saved so that we can spread God's glory. It's not about me. Duh.

I find it sad that I've been a Christian for over ten years, and those ten years have been spent focusing on me with God as the blurry background. Not focused on God (although I thought I was) but focused on my life, my struggles, my sins, my passions.

God, save me. God, help me. God, bless me. God, keep me safe. God, give me good things. God, what do I do with my life? God, bless my plans for my life. God, keep me comfortable.

This realization of my self-centered version of Christianity has been plaguing me since Saturday night. That's a good thing-- I need to be disgusted by it so that I change how I think, and change my focus.

This alteration of my mindset will be a process. It'll suck too. I like thinking about myself. But deep down, I'm glad that I am not the center of God's attention.

"God blesses his people with extravagant grace so that they might extend his extravagant glory to all peoples on the earth." (Platt, p.69)

I'm pretty sure this is the beginning of giving up my American dream for God's purpose for my life.


Trimming the Tree

Deric, Sarah and I decorated our Christmas tree the Saturday after Thanksgiving. One box for the tree and one box of ornaments brought in from the garage, and we were in business. Its a pre-lit tree from Target, so decorating took no time at all. 

 Our decorations consist mostly of ornaments from Target: the simple ones that come in the tubes, plus some I got during the after-Christmas clearance. Sarah was taking a picture of me showing off the ornaments when Deric swooped in. I love him. :)

I just love his face in this picture. He thinks he's so funny!

(I think he's pretty funny, too.)

Besides our generic ornaments, Deric's got quite a few ornaments from his childhood--mostly the ones he received from his grandparents.

By far the fanciest ornament on our tree is from an ornament swap I went to this past week. It puts all our other ornaments to shame!

I love the way our tree looks this year, but I'll be glad to replace the generic ornaments with handmade ones over the years. Growing up, our tree was full of handmade ornaments-- baby Jesus with our fingerprint as his head, pictures of us framed with red or green construction paper, and so on. 

With some help from Pinterest, I played around with the settings on my camera to get some fun pictures once it got dark. Apparently, we've got quite a gap in lights right smack in the middle of our tree but I'd never noticed until I took this picture, so we won't worry about that.

As we decorated, we watched Elf for the first time this season. What better movie to spread Christmas cheer? ;)

"The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear!" (Or in my case, to put up pretty decorations, 'cause no one wants me singing loud!)