Saturday, November 27, 2010

Family Advent Night Ideas

Family Advent Nights

Here are suggestions for four family Advent nights.

To make it easier for young children to understand, you may wish to choose a simplified Bible version such as the NIrV.  Your children can take turns reading the Scripture verses for each evening.  If your child struggles with reading, assign just a verse or two, and have them practice it ahead of time.

It may also help to provide song sheets for when you sing the Christmas carols.  You can download lyrics from the web (I have provided the links) and print them out.  You can even talk about the historical backgrounds of some of the carols.

These ideas are just suggestions.  You can choose whatever Scriptures, songs and activities fit your family.  I found it helpful to weave in things we already wanted to do, such as drive around to see Christmas lights.

When we did this in 2005, our four nights were crammed into a one week period.  I took a bright yellow piece of paper and divided it into several blocks, one for each day until Christmas.  Then, in bold letters, I wrote out a brief description of what we had planned for each evening, including the four family nights and other planned events, such as a child’s basketball game or the Christmas Eve service at church.    Last year, we spread it out, doing an Advent night once a week for four weeks.


Family Advent Night #1
“God is With Us – Prepare Your Heart!”

Tell your children ahead of time that you will be having a special time in the evening.  Talk about a few of the things that you will do together.   If you can think of a way for your child to participate, ask him to prepare for this, such as practicing Bible verses to read out loud, or a song on the piano, etc.  Another child might make copies of a song sheet.   You will talk about this advance notice and preparation a little later.


  • Isaiah 7:10-14 – Immanuel promised
  • Isaiah 9:2, 6-7 -- darkness and light, a child shall be born, Wonderful Counselor
  • Isaiah 53:10-12 -- the suffering Savior
  • Isaiah 61:1-3 – the ministry of the Messiah
  • Matthew 1:18-25 – Immanuel comes
Discussion: Immanuel means “God with us” and Jesus means “The Lord saves.”  Why do we need a Savior?  Because we are sinners!  Remind your children that you told them ahead of time some of what you would be doing, so they could know what to expect and how to prepare.  Relate this to how God took the time to tell his people, through the prophet Isaiah, several hundred years early, that a special messiah would be born.  He told them many details so they could know what to expect.   


“O Come, O Come Immanuel” – The lyrics of this song (originally written in Latin) are a prayer for the Messiah to come and set the people free from their misery in sin.   The tune was written in a minor key, which makes it sound melancholy to fit the lyrics.  You may wish to point this out to your older children.  What makes it a minor key?  If you play a C major chord, it will be the notes C, E and G.  If you play a C minor chord, you will use C, E flat and G.  If you sing this TO your children, have them join in on the chorus after each verse.

“Joy to the World” – The lyrics of this song are an answer to the lyrics in the last one.  The Messiah has come, so we can rejoice.   What can we do to prepare room in our hearts for God?

“O Come, All Ye Faithful” – God has come to us, but each of us must come to him in faith.

Handel’s Messiah – play a selection such as “For Unto Us a Child is Born” (which is from Isaiah 9) and tell your children how George Frederic Handel wrote a whole concert using verses from Isaiah that prophesied about the Messiah.


Drive around through different neighborhoods to look at Christmas lights.   Remind your children that Jesus came to light up the dark world.  We should be lights in the world, too, if we have Jesus in us.


Family Advent Night #2
“Jesus is Our Glorious King!”


Luke 1:26-56 -- The angel told Mary that she would give birth to a king.  When she visits her relative Elizabeth, she speaks forth what is now called the “Magnificat” – a psalm of praise to God.  When you read the Scriptures this evening, choose people to read the parts of the narrator, Mary, the angel and Elizabeth.  Practice ahead of time, if possible. 
Discussion: Ask what good things we can say about God and what he has done for us. 


“Joy to the World” (try to sing this one every night for continuity)

“O Little Town of Bethlehem” – talk about how “the hopes and fears of all the years” were met in Jesus

Choose other favorite Christmas carols.


Watch the movie The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which you can rent or buy on DVD.  Talk about it and how Aslan represents Jesus as the King who came to redeem his people.

You can also have each family member write a psalm of praise to God.

Allow one of your children to perform a song he or she has learned to sing or play on an instrument, or read a poem.  This will be good practice for tomorrow night, if you choose to visit other people.


Family Advent Night #3
“Angels Sing!”

Luke 2:1-21 – the birth of Jesus
Colossians 1:15-20 – the deity of Jesus (optional)
Discussion:  Who was Caesar August?  What is the census?  Talk about how many people would have to travel to Bethlehem for the census, and that’s why there wasn’t any room in the inn.  Shepherds were some of the lowliest and least respected members of society, but God chose them to be the first visitors to the newborn King.  Perhaps that is because Jesus is our Good Shepherd, who lays his life down for his sheep!


“Silent Night”
“Hark, the Herald Angels Sing”
“Angels We Have Heard on High”


Go Christmas caroling!  You can walk around your own neighborhood, drop in on special friends or relatives, or visit a nursing home.  If you do visit a nursing home, check ahead with the administrators to make sure this is OK, since there may be other groups visiting or the residents might go to sleep really early in a particular facility.

If you plan to stay home, choose another activity, such as:
  •    Read your favorite books about the first Christmas.
  •    Act out the Christmas story.
  •    Draw pictures of the Nativity scene.
  •    Make a simple nativity scene with felt or clay.

Family Advent Night #4
“Wise Men Still Seek Him”


Luke 2:22-40 – Simeon and Anna were very old, but they had been waiting many years for the Messiah to come.  They were wise enough to recognize baby Jesus as the one God had promised through the Scriptures – and to praise God for it!  The Holy Spirit even told Simeon to go to the temple courtyard that day!  

Matthew 2:1-12 – The Wise Men had come from a long distance to see the newborn King.  God can even use a special star to guide someone to Jesus!  Compare their response to Jesus to the jealous reaction of King Herod.  You can also talk about the meaning of the gifts the wise men brought.   If you sing all of the verses of “We Three Kings” (as listed on the Cyberhymnal site linked below) they tell us that gold is for a king, frankincense was used for prayer and worship, and myrrh was a burial spice reminding us that the Messiah would die for our sins.
Discussion:  Are we led by the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit?  Do we love to spend time at the Lord’s house like Simeon and Anna did?  Are we willing to go anywhere for Jesus, even if it is a long way from home?  What gifts can we give to God?


“We Three Kings” -- we don’t know how many wise men there were, and the Bible doesn’t say they were kings, but the song is good anyway!  In this song, orient means the eastern region of Asia.  That’s why we say people from China, Japan, Korea and other countries in that area are oriental.  Maybe you could eat oriental food for dinner tonight!

“O Come, All Ye Faithful” – we, like the wise men, are to come and worship the Savior.


Decorate Christmas cookies which you have baked ahead of time.  Deliver some of them as a gift to someone who might need a lift in their spirits – because what you do for other people in his name, you do unto Jesus.  Or, if you want to be really ambitious, choose a needy family and buy presents for them.  Enclose an encouraging note with Scripture, and deliver the bundle secretly to their doorstep.

The Wexford Carol
12th Century Irish
Good people all, this Christmas-time,
Consider well and bear in mind
What our good God for us has done
In sending his beloved Son.

With humble hearts we all should pray
To God with love this Christmas day;
In Bethlehem upon that morn
There was a blessed Messiah born.
With thankful heart and joyful mind,
The shepherds went the babe to find,
And as God's angels had foretold,
They did our saviour Christ behold.
With humble hearts we all should pray
To God with love this Christmas day;
In Bethlehem upon that morn
There was a blessed Messiah born.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Elementary Writing Ideas

Elementary Writing Ideas

This post is excerpted from the Language Arts chapter of my book Common Sense Excellence: Faith-Filled Home Education for Preschool to 5th Grade.

Writing Formats

For a well-rounded education, your child needs to learn several different kinds or formats of writing. Here are some of the most useful ones:

Lists: These may not seem creative, but they help your child organize thoughts, and serve as an introduction to the venerable outline which he will use in later writing projects. He might write a list of:

  • foods he wants served at his birthday party
  • things he wants to do during the summer
  • kinds of insects he has seen in the backyard
  • books he has read this month (let him keep his own school records!)
Acrostic: An acrostic is a rather creative list in which each item starts with a different letter in a chosen word:
Graceful dancer
Red polka dot shirt
Always hugs and kisses
Neat house with lots of toys
Doesn’t scold
Makes yummy cookies

Poems: There are many different forms of poetry: simple rhymes and jingles, Limericks, free verse, haiku, etc. A good poetry anthology is a treasury of examples, but a book on writing poetry will give you specific instructions.

Letter writing: What a practical way to build writing skills and communicate with others! This can start with a preschooler’s simple “I LUV U” notes, and progress to letters to relatives and friends outside of your home. Grandparents always seem to appreciate this, and many children will want pen pals. When my oldest daughter was first starting to write letters, I got rather tired of her asking me how to spell “Dear Grandma” over and over again. I made her a letter writing guide on a piece of sturdy white poster board. It had names of all family members to whom she might be writing, plus common phrases like, “Thank you for the...” and “Please write soon!” and “Love always.” It also had the format for writing addresses on an envelope. If your child is not ready to write a whole letter by himself, you can help him with it. For example, you could have him tell you what he wants to say. You write it out neatly, and he can type it or copy it in his own handwriting. Using attractive stationary is a great incentive for neatness. Letter writing is a project with a purpose! The main parts of a letter are the heading (date and address in upper right corner), the salutation (“Dear Grandma”), the body (the child’s thoughts and ideas), the closing (“Sincerely” or other capitalized phrase followed by a comma) and the child’s signature.

Family newsletter: Send this to friends and relatives. If you do this each year, why not have each child write a paragraph about his or her own life? You might be surprised at what they think is important or not. Family newsletters are often produced on a computer, so this may be a good time to introduce inserting graphics or digital photographs into a word processing file, using a column format, and playing with fonts.

Realistic descriptions: Before you set off on a big writing project, start at the word, sentence and paragraph level. A full writing assignment for a 2nd grader might only be two or three sentences at first. Work at developing the child’s power to describe an object or situation with specific, interesting words. Many writing teachers explain that our words should “show and not just tell.” Painting a vivid picture with words helps the reader imagine it in his head. Instead of saying “I ate some food,” a child should progress to describing what kind of food and how they ate it: “I munched on a crunchy red apple” or “I gagged on that last disgusting spoonful of slimy noodles.” You can make a game out of this. Give him a very general word, such as furniture, and then have him get gradually more specific: seat, couch, green couch, sagging green plaid couch, sagging green plaid couch that is covered with cat hair. This activity helps teach observation and classification skills.

Short story or narrative: This can be something that happened to the child (“Write what you know!”) or a made up tale. One of the key things to remember is that a story needs a beginning, middle, and end. In the beginning, you introduce the setting, the characters, and the start of the plot, perhaps the dilemma of the main character. Then you develop the plot throughout the middle part of the story. At the end, you attempt to resolve the problems and bring closure to the situation. (For a young child, this usually means, “And they all lived happily ever after!”) Meanwhile, back at the sagging green plaid couch: “Tony flopped down on the sagging green plaid couch. Muffin, his plump tabby cat, rubbed against Tony’s blue jeans. Tony reached down to stroke her velvety fur and sighed. At least he had one friend in this world!” Ah, do you see the story unfold? Now, why is Tony upset? What are you going to do to solve his problem? The plot thickens! No, you don’t have to write a whole story right now. It’s OK to leave it hanging; this might just draw your child back for another exciting session tomorrow! You could also start with a plot idea and then fill in the character and setting details from there. If your child can’t think of a story topic, you might want to give a story starter; Harvey Weiner includes several pages of these in his book Any Child Can Write. I once gave my eight year old daughter three random words/phrases (clown, school bus, and flower pot) and asked her to tell me a story about them. I was trying to make it very easy for her by doing it orally. Instead, she giggled, snatched a pencil and paper, and disappeared. A half hour later, she handed me a hilarious tale which she hadn’t bothered to punctuate at all. The words had just gleefully tumbled out on the page. If I had made her do spelling and grammar at the same time, I would have gotten only two or three very dry and dutiful sentences. I’m just glad she had a fun story writing experience, because attitude is everything!

Picture journal: Show your child a picture (photograph, masterpiece painting or simple illustration) and ask him to write about it: what he sees, what may be happening, what the people in it may be thinking, etc. You could also use a series of pictures, such as snap shots he took on your last vacation, and ask him to write a short narrative or even simple captions. Many families use acid-free archival quality albums, colorful background papers, plastic templates and special markers to create beautiful lifetime memories with their children. Another option is for the child to draw pictures and then write the text to go with them.

News report: Answer the 5Ws and the H: Who, What, Where, When, Why and How? Check your facts. Write a spiffy headline. How about doing a whole neighborhood or home school support group newspaper?

Biography or autobiography: The word biography, translated from the Greek, means life-picture. An autobiography is a self-life-picture, and can be an expanded personal narrative covering the sequence and flow of the child’s life thus far, rather than a single event. If your child likes to read biographies of famous people, he might want to write a simplified version about one of his favorites. Create V.I.P. page forms with spots to record the name, their claim to fame, when and where they were born, what their childhood and/or family life was like, a quote, other interesting information, and a list of books they have read about the person.

Factual report: This is the format which most extends into other areas of the curriculum, such as history (“Living in a Sod House on the Frontier”), geography (“Let’s Explore Italy!”) or science (“All About Bobcats”). A kindergartner might start out with one or two sentences: “A turtle is green. It has a hard shell.” A first grader could write one paragraph, a second or third grader might do up to a page, and an ambitious older elementary child might complete up to two or three pages. A longer factual report is usually divided up into sections, requires an outline, and has a short bibliography of resources used; it obviously takes more planning and more abstract thinking. If your child is producing this report using a computer, teach him how to import pictures (maps, photos, diagrams, etc.) from an Internet site, CD-ROM encyclopedia, digital camera or scanner.

How-to Instructions: Your child gets the chance to be the teacher with this format of writing! “How to Eat a Bowl of Spaghetti Without Getting a Red Face” or “How to Make and Fly Paper Airplanes” could be useful topics for this age. Here are a few things to remember when writing how-to instructions:
Essay: Also known as an persuasive piece or opinion piece, the essay gives your child a chance to speak her mind. In a one paragraph format, the first sentence can tell her main point, the next few sentences can expand on it or prove it, and the final sentence can restate or summarize it. If the essay is longer, the first paragraph will state the thesis, the middle paragraphs will cover each supporting point, and the end paragraph will summarize the writer’s opinion. Don’t worry if you never get to this format in elementary school, as it will resurface in high school. However, if you have an ambitious writer in your house, it never hurts to prepare ahead of time! One of the best motivations for essay writing is when your child wants to persuade you to do something or buy something. Then you say, “So write me an essay on why you think I should take you to Sea World next week!” This is another fine example of writing with a purpose!
  • Be complete. You know all of the steps and ingredients in your brain. Make sure they all make it to the paper.
  • Be sequential. Don’t skip back and forth between steps. People will be doing them exactly as you write them.
  • Be consistent. Each of your steps should be presented in the same basic sentence style, which will usually be a command.
  • Be flexible. If there is an optional way to do a step, and it can be explained simply enough, add it in.
  • Be interesting. Find a way to spice up what could be a dull list of instructions.
Book report: What did you like about that book? What did you learn that you hadn’t known before? What were your least favorite parts? Who was the author? Who were the main characters?

The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name

Dear friends,

I love stories and I love the Bible, so it would stand to reason that I love Bible story books.  That's true.... sometimes!  Since I have 10 kids, we've bought at least a dozen different Bible story anthologies over the past 23 years.  Some of them are too stuffy and dry, others too silly or dumbed down.  Others have been downright inaccurate or misleading.  Sigh...

Yet there is one I turn to most often when I want to read to my kiddos.  It's The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones.  Granted, the illustrations by Jago are sometimes a little bizarre for my tastes, but there is nothing really wrong with them and the kids love them.  The strength of this particular storybook is hinted at by the subtitle: "Every Story Whispers His Name."  No, this isn't just a book of New Testament stories.  Every story, starting with Genesis, tells us something about Jesus.  It's foreshadowing for kids, and it's done very well, very poetically (not rhyming, but profound), very humorously, and very appealing even to young children.  It is not an early reader's Bible, so don't try to use it to teach your child to read.  It is, however, designed to kindle your child's sense of wonder about Jesus.  It sure kindles mine, too.

A couple of weeks ago, I finished up reading Genesis to my kids from the real Bible.  (We read at least a chapter a day; now we're well into Exodus.)  I wanted to spice things up for my younger kids, so I also pulled out The Jesus Storybook Bible and read the story of Joseph, called "The Forgiving Prince."  In this story, Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, accused of wrongdoing by his master, and sent to prison.  Later, he interpreted Pharoah's dream, saved the entire region from famine, and then was reunited with his unsuspecting brothers, whom he reminded of God's sovereignty in using this evil for good purposes.  The story ends this way, looking forward to Jesus: "One day, God would send another Prince, a young Prince whose heart would break.  Like Joseph, he would leave his home and his Father.  His brothers would hate him and want him dead.  He would be sold for pieces of silver.  He would be punished even though he had done nothing wrong.  But God would use everything that happened to this young Prince -- even the bad things -- to do something good to forgive the sins of the whole world."
I had never before quite seen the story of Jesus in the life of Joseph, but I love the comparison.   Or how about the ram that Abraham caught when he had intended to sacrifice Isaac? 

I can't quite do this book justice in my brief descriptions, but fortunately you can see a whole lot more right here at the official web site:  Each week, they feature a short video of a different story from the book.  The book is also available in Spanish or in audio format.

Download free sample PDF stories and MP3 audios here:

Don't miss the interview with the author here:

Christmas is coming, friends, and The Jesus Storybook Bible makes an excellent Christ-centered gift for any child ages 4 and up!  You can order it for only $9.99 (which is 41% off list price) at Christian Book Distributors here: The Jesus Storybook Bible.

"A Bible like no other, this book invites children to join in the greatest of all adventures, to discover for themselves that Jesus is at the center of God's great story of salvation--and at the center of their story too." (from CBD's web site)

Virginia Knowles
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