A Day in the Life: Our Homeschool Routine

Poetry tea time!

We’re three years into our homeschooling journey, and my boys are currently ages six and four. I taught high school English for six years as a young adult; that experience solidified my desire to home educate my future children. Every day is an adventure, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world! As the seasons come and go, time has taught me that I’m not one to stick to rigorous time-stamped schedules. Routines and rhythms ebb and flow with our family’s needs, so following the Holy Spirit’s guidance it paramount to thriving where we’re planted. (Enter Sally Clarkson as my discipleship guru and mentor.)

At this age and stage of life, I’ve come to realize we (my two boys and myself) successfully operate in twenty-minute increments before we all need mental breaks. I follow a basic routine about three days each week. The other days are reserved for our homeschool community day, forest school (we take hikes in a local nature preserve), and field trips thrown in here and there. On Friday afternoons, we have a standing art playdate with our sweet friends in the neighborhood. We enjoy doing projects from Masterpiece Society!

Below is a general overview of our at-home days. Please understand we don’t follow this to a T! (Times are all approximations clearly denoted by the highly technical term “ish!”) I follow my boys’ needs as they arise, so it’s rather easy to switch, change, and rearrange our routine.

Play breaks are built in throughout the day; I don’t ever expect them to sit still for longer than five or seven minutes at a time, we’re not big on workbooks, and nature walks are my secret weapon! Sometimes those “play breaks” involve them helping clean the house! (These fun sweeper socks leave them practically begging to clean the floor.)

Cleaning is fun when we turn it into a game!

If things are going a little crazy, we pop on our shoes and go collect leaves or hunt for minnows in our neighborhood pond. If they’ve been big helpers around the house (or if I need a change of scenery), we’ll drop everything and head to the zoo, LegoLand, a museum, or the park. We listen to memory work, audiobooks, and fun learning songs as we drive.

The following “schedule” is an attempt to (hopefully) answer that persistent question all homeschoolers encounter: What do you do all day?!

6:30am — I wake up for quiet time and a cup of tea.

7:00ish — The kids wake up and eat breakfast.

8:00ish — Everyone brushes teeth and gets dressed.

8:30ishThe 3Rs: handwriting practice, read one book out loud to me (or Dad, if he’s home), and practice math facts.

9:00ish — The kids go play outside while I do a bit of dishes/laundry or finish getting myself ready for the day.

9:30ish — Morning Time, prayer, and devotional. Check out Pam Barnhill’s website for more info about Morning Time. We do a loop schedule for nature study, grammar, logic, and idioms at the end of Morning Time.

10:00ish — The kids go play in their bedroom or outside, depending on the unpredictable Texas weather.

10:30ish — Snack time!

11:00ish — Reading aloud and narration. I read while they “quietly” play with Legos/magnet blocks/playdough, and then the six-year-old narrates what he heard. Check out Know and Tell by Karen Glass for more info on narration, and Sarah Mackenzie’s website for info on reading aloud. Some days I read Story of the World for history, and other days I read a few pages of Theodore Gray’s books for science.

11:30ish — The boys continue playing with Legos/magnet blocks/playdough while I do more housework and make lunch.

12:00ish — Lunch time!

1:00ish — The boys watch some type of educational show while I do more housework. (Because it literally never ends!)

  • DVDs: Preschool Prep, WhistleFritz Spanish or French, Song School Latin, or Schoolhouse Rock
  • YouTube: Kids Learning Tube, Jack Hartmann, or NatGeo Kids

2:00ish — The TV is turned off, and the boys listen to educational songs, an audiobook, or memory work music while playing in their room.

2:30 (on the dot!) — TEA TIME! I read poems, a missionary biography, or a fairy tale while we have tea. The boys drink lemonade in the spring and summer, then cider in autumn and winter. I drink tea all day, every day! Check out Julie Bogart’s webpage for more info on Poetry Teatime.

3:00ish — The boys clean up all of their toys, and then I read aloud some more. This time they choose their own books; we snuggle up on the couch with soft Celtic music playing in the background. Sometimes they fall asleep…sometimes I do, too.

3:30ish — I start prepping for dinner while the boys color or do some other simple project. They can also play in their room, look at books together, or play outside. Basically anything that doesn’t require my help and doesn’t make a mess! Once I finish dinner prep and everything is in the oven, I attempt to kick back in my rocking chair and read for myself…this is a rare occurrence.

5:00ish — Dinner time!

6:00ish — While I clean up the kitchen, it’s Daddy playtime! Dad also gets them bathed and brushes their teeth. Then we put away more toys that have inevitably been hauled back into the living room.

7:00ish — Bible reading with Daddy — they cuddle up with pillows in the living room floor and listen while Dad reads Bible stories.

7:30ish — Bed time show. They’re really into Peter Rabbit since we’ve been reading lots of Beatrix Potter. So, one night they get to watch Peter Rabbit (Amazon), and the next night they’ll watch SuperBook (RightNow Media and Amazon).

8:00ish — Bedtime blessings and lights out! They fall asleep listening to Celtic lullabies and an audiobook. One night it will be James Herriot, the next it will be Beatrix Potter. We tried listening to The Action Bible for a while, but it just kept them awake!

Handwriting practice involves writing letters to family!
Drawing practice helps my 4yo learn proper grip!

That One Time God Hijacked Netflix…

abandoned antique close up design

Charles Stanley interrupted my Netflixing at 1:00am. I was halfway through one of my House Doctor episodes when the TV suddenly went black. The remote sat untouched on the arm of the chair, and I sat confused nestled down in the couch cushions. After a brief black screen, Charles Stanley – in all of his suit and tie glory – appeared behind a polished wooden pulpit out of nowhere. Now, I know too much about God to ignore something like that. As much as I wanted to see the chimney breast’s new wallpaper and updated master bedroom, I knew God was after my attention. I resisted the urge to grab the remote and troubleshoot the issue.

Earlier in the evening, while in a bit of a funk, I asked God for guidance in my spiritual life during a half-hearted journaling session. A few hours later, the power of the Holy Spirit broke through my complacent cookie-eating and chocolate-almond-milk-drinking pity-party to remind me of His power…and to show me point-blank how much I’ve been blatantly ignoring Him.

The past few weeks I’ve found myself dragging – up too late at night, in bed too late in the mornings, always trying to play catch-up. My lovely boys have seemed too loud, too much, and too needy. My husband has seemed too busy, too impatient, and too insensitive. I’ve been struggling to handle it all and instead of running to God and begging for his help, I’ve done my best to “just keep swimming” until I’m barely treading water. This whole time, I imagine God has been right beside me, just waiting for me to ask for His strength to continue. To cry out for his reserves of patience and energy. To diligently pray for guidance not just to make it through the day, but to thrive each day.

I have a terrible history of thinking that being self-sufficient is somehow godly or beneficial. That people who muse about “letting go and letting God” aren’t really trying – that they’re guilty of some pie-in-the-sky mindset that little songbirds are going to flit through their windows and clean their kitchen. I’ve often harbored the idea that God is needed so much more in Somalia and Afghanistan and China that I should just handle my life to the best of my abilities. In doing so, I’ve put God in a box. I’ve denied the Holy Spirit access to my heart and mind, and I’ve set myself up to think that I’m capable of loving my husband and children in my own power. I’ve placed my own needs last by not making time to sit in His presence. When I don’t drink the living water, how can I provide a peaceful home for my family?

The Holy Spirit is there.

When I’m struggling, it’s because I’m living in the flesh. I’m trying to take care of my family through my own power – not relying on The Helper. He has given me the capacity and enabled me to do everything God wanted me to do at this particular age and this particular circumstance, throughout the rest of my life.

He who has indwelled me and is running over inside of me is my guardian; the source of my energy, power, and purpose. Jesus Christ forgave my sins when I asked him, and the Holy Spirit sealed me at that moment. I immediately received the Holy Spirit. That receiving was instantaneous, but living it out is a lifelong process. He convicts me, forgives me, guides me, and guards me.

He intends for me to live for Him by trusting in Him every single day. (Luke 24:47-49, Mark 16:15)

I need to claim the presence and power of the Holy Spirit of God. I need to stop relying on myself and lean on Jesus, who is living in and through me. He is prepared to equip me…but I must be prepared to let Him lead. The power of the Deity is living inside of me, but if I’m not acknowledging or claiming Him, I’m ignoring him. He did not ask me to do the best I can. I am designed to do what the Spirit of God will enable and allow me to do.

The Power of the Holy Spirit is God’s divine energy and authority released in the life of the believer for the purpose of godly living and fruitful service. (So says Charles Stanley. I know because I took sermon notes in the middle of the night. While not watching Netflix.)

I’m equipped with the presence of the Holy Spirit, but I’ve been attempting to live in my own power. I haven’t given myself the time and space to sit in His presence, to reflect on His power, and to genuinely ask for His guidance. Lately, I’ve been overwhelmed, exhausted, stressed, and spread too thin. In the midst of it all, I have not stopped once to seek His help. I haven’t made time to seek His presence or counsel. He’s my seal, my salvation, my life. He wants me to live in His strength, His power, His life, for His glory and honor. To be spirit-filled means confessing, repenting, yielding, surrendering, acknowledging His ownership, and allowing Him into every nook and cranny of my heart and mind.

So, in response to my cursory prayers of “What should I do, God?” he gave me a very clear and concise answer! I will be looking up verses about the Holy Spirit and researching the Greek and Hebrew words referring to the Holy Spirit. I will be daily asking for His guidance and wisdom. And with his guidance and wisdom, I will be reading through Proverbs to hide that wisdom in my heart.

Ask and ye shall receive…even in the doldrums of midnight Netflixing.

 

My One Word

Since 2015, I’ve prayerfully considered and carefully chosen one single word to focus on each year. In lieu of New Year’s resolutions, My One Word allows me to cut through the ever-present pressures and white noise of life. At the end of 2014 I was juggling a new baby and a two year old; I was overwhelmed by parenting two little boys, preparing for the homeschooling adventure, and attempting to keep my head above water with household duties. The word nurture helped me rightly order my priorities. I needed to nurture my children, nurture my marriage, and — most importantly — nurture my relationship with God. That focus word became a lifeline while navigating the adventure that was 2015.

As 2016 loomed on the horizon, I longed for a purposeful vision that would sustain my hopeful family ideals. God placed the word intentional on my heart, and I began to focus on it with laser precision. By the summer of 2016, I had permanently deleted my Facebook account in an effort to be fully present for my husband and kids. I intentionally invested in specific books, authors, and podcasts that spoke into my life in a meaningful way. My broad and wide friendships were culled down to a small handful of deep and intentional relationships that can weather any storm. The ebb and flow of this intentional lifestyle anchored me to Christ and kept unnecessary distractions at bay.

As the sun set on 2016, the pace of life had quickened beyond our comfort level; the dawn of 2017 found my husband and I in need of rest. Simplify became the cry of my heart. We cut out activities that kept us on the go — to include bible studies and marriage-building classes at church — choosing instead to focus on our family at home. I purposefully stopped blogging for most of the year in an effort to simplify my mind and heart. It became a time of sheltering-in-place to build a biblical foundation that will (hopefully) sustain our family for generations to come. Instead of a weekly women’s bible study, I began to read the weekly Torah portion. As a family, we simplified life by celebrating biblical holidays rather than getting caught up in cultural, quasi-religious agendas that, in the past, just kept our wheels spinning. Friday nights have become a beautiful celebration of God’s commandment to rest; Shabbat dinners at the dining table on Granny’s fine China are now the highlight of each week. Far be it from me to alter our Shabbat routine — my children won’t allow it! Living a simplified life has blessed our family beyond anything I could have imagined in January of 2017.

Looking back, I can see how living a nurtured life led to an intentional vision of simplification. During the times I neglect nurturing my soul with God’s word, my stress levels rise and I become an impatient, graceless mess. If I allow myself to get caught up in the endless oblivion of my phone screen, I lose intentionality and am carried along by wisps and whims of nonsense. My family deserves better…and so do I. Were I to try and sign my kids up for every enrichment activity under the sun, we’d end up cranky and stressed from overextending ourselves. It’s my responsibility to carefully weigh our commitments and simplify family life. I am the gatekeeper and guardian of our home, may I not be caught sleeping or chasing after the wind during these precious, formative years.

As yet another year draws to a close, I am brimming with hope and possibility for 2018. The word flourish has been flitting and fluttering through my heart for the past couple of weeks; I long to see how God uses this new One Word to guide me through the next twelve months. I will continue to nurture my family and my soul. I will seek to be intentional in all of our dealings and decisions. I will carefully simplify anything that can possibly be simplified, and — with God’s help — I will flourish in the process!

A Season of Blessings and Thanksgiving


Late summer and early autumn swirled with Texas heat and ran high with emotion. We buried my grandmother in late August, started homeschooling in September, and tried to find a new life rhythm throughout many illnesses in October. The funeral brought with it hard questions from my four-year-old son. “Mommy, if you go to heaven before me, who will take care of me?” He would break down in tears for missing his great-grandma a few times a week. This little boy of mine has dealt with difficult things and shown wisdom beyond his years.

In this midst of trying to settle into a new normal, my two year old somehow managed to get salmonella poisoning; he’s an ardent thumb sucker, so he picks up germs like a magnet. We’ve gotten to the point of keeping him home from the church nursery – every couple of weeks he contracts some respiratory illness or stomach virus – my husband takes Asher to his class and volunteers at guest check-in, while I stay home with Keane and attempt to watch the sermon online. I’ve become a bible study dropout as well as a marriage class dropout…for the sake of keeping my little family unit sane and somewhat healthy.

The changing of seasons has brought a restful, hopeful anticipation (hopefully cooler temperatures will soon follow). To prepare my heart for the coming season, I’ve focused on finishing L.R. Knost’s Jesus, the Gentle Parent, as well as cultivating an atmosphere of thankfulness in our home. Amazingly enough, these two endeavors have gone hand in hand. One particular portion from the last chapter of her book birthed a purposeful question in my mind and heart.

She writes:
“So often when we read God’s word we hear what we’ve heard from the pulpit instead of hearing the voice of a Father who loves unconditionally, sacrificially, and eternally. And so often what we’ve heard from the pulpit is accusation, damnation, and condemnation. It’s no wonder we have problems trusting in God’s unconditional love if all we hear are commands, demands, and reprimands echoed in those misguided voices…it can feel like…you’re digging and sifting and winnowing your way through years of hearing human interpretations from God’s Word spoken from the pulpit and from Sunday School teachers and Bible camp counselors and parents and friends and relatives, etc…”

Those impactful words led me to this question: Am I listening to echoes of misguided voices, or am I listening to the still, small voice of God?

Granted, I’ve been blessed with fabulous parents, pastors, teachers, and counselors along the way. However, I have also been exposed to more than my fair share of skewed, judgmental, unloving Christians. None of us are perfect. Especially me. I’ll be the first to admit unloving, harsh, judgmental things have lived in my mind and heart, and have been spoken from my lips. I pray that I am forever changed in that regard. I can easily think back to my childhood and recall several poignantly defining moments that are forever etched in my soul. They shaped my views of God, because a child’s first exposure to God is based on the people in his or her life. We are either the hands and feet of Jesus, or a stumbling block in someone else’s path.

I remember hearing about the scandal of a pastor’s daughter’s teenage pregnancy…and I don’t remember any kind words said about that situation as it was whispered between the adults at church. I would have been four or five at the time, and I still remember the lack of grace. When I was in the seventh grade, I witnessed firsthand women from our church, who we called friends, tease my mother behind her back. I guess most people assume children don’t pay attention or won’t remember – I definitely did both. As a young teenager, I witnessed an adult youth group leader remove various students’ True Love Waits cards from a bulletin board when there were rumors of premarital sex. Inadvertently, I was taught to be judgmental and harsh from this lack of grace played out by those I looked to for guidance.

For me, based on my history of experiences, I know how easy it is to slip into those old mannerisms, because those old voices still roll around my heart and head. For better or worse, they became part of my formative years. My goal as a parent is to never let my children experience those types of behaviors in our home. I can’t control the outside world, but I can control the people we welcome into our lives. I can control my own words and responses to situations. I can teach grace and love by modeling them in my speech and actions.

As a pastor’s daughter, I’ve heard more of my father’s sermons than I can count, but one of the lessons I most remember came not from the pulpit, but at a restaurant. My family was eating lunch at Chili’s on a Sunday afternoon in Mansfield, TX. It was very busy from the church lunch rush, and our waitress was remiss in refilling our drinks the entire meal. When the check came, I urged my father not to leave a tip, because she had given such poor service. As I watched him write in an amount for the tip, I objected once more. He spoke words that I will never forget as long as I live, and bring tears to my eyes even now: “Robin, it’s called grace.” I remember feeling speechless, a major feat for my talkative teenage self.

Four words, not a three-point sermon, are what I’ve held on to throughout my adult years. I have been the recipient of God’s unfathomable grace more times than I’ll ever know. It’s that type of grace and love that I long to impart to my children. It’s this particular season of the year that heralds such a message. Before the craziness of Christmas comes the quiet of Thanksgiving. I will work to create a loving, graceful, thankful environment in my home. I will teach by living instead of simply speaking. I will strive to cultivate a safe, nonjudgmental space that speaks truth in love. The past couple of days have found me working to implement tangible traces of grace in our home. I’ve created a list of family goals for November, and have made a Doxology printable (complete with a photo I took in our neighborhood’s nature preserve). We begin our mornings by lighting our Thankful Tree and singing the Doxology. While these may not be monumental for my young children, they work to bring a sense of peace, calm, and an attitude of gratitude to my mama-heart. I pray you will find the same in this season of life!


What are you drinking?

My husband and I recently had the pleasure of hiking several trails in the Chickasaw National Recreation Area in Sulphur, OK. We spent twenty-nine kid-free hours reconnecting with one another, surrounded by natural beauty.

Before setting off on our hike, we chatted with a park ranger who proudly spoke of the natural features we would encounter. She told us her favorite trails in a friendly fashion, but her demeanor became a bit more serious when we asked which water sources were safe for drinking. Looking us square in the eyes, she explained that only one spring on the trail was safe drinking water, as it is filtered through miles of underground rock, but the streams — in spite of the flowing waterfalls — were not safe because they originated from stagnant sources. Important information, no doubt!

We returned home from our mini-getaway refreshed and ready to tackle the daily grind of life. The past several months have been busier than we could have anticipated — sometimes it’s difficult to come up for air. A new job for my husband, birthdays for all three of my guys, gearing up for homeschool in the fall, a discipleship class on Thursday nights, and a marriage enrichment course on Sunday nights. Bedtime routines have been in disarray since the beginning of our evening classes — which seems to overthrow daily schedules and nap times, too. Motherhood takes no breaks; some days I tread water, sometimes the current pulls me along nicely, and other days are hard-fought battles where I’m forced to swim upstream.

In the midst of this season of life, God has been gently speaking to my heart, pruning the overgrowth. He’s been drawing me into his arms, inviting me to sit at the table he has prepared specifically for me. For so long, I’ve danced around that invitation with the excuse of demanding children, laundry piles, and dishes that spill out of the sink. The thing is, I pride myself on not leading a busy life. I do my best to limit our commitments so we’re not constantly pulled in different directions…but the pace of my life still managed to overtake me. I’ve allowed the static to creep in and drown out the rhythm of Shalom. I did not protect the quiet places reserved for hearing the voice of God. Day in and day out, I drift past the table He set for me, letting my cup grow cold and leaving my Ultimate Companion with an empty seat.

I recently came across a quote by Derek Webb that deeply resonated within my core…

It gut-checked my newly-busy routine and harried schedule. The ugly truth is that I’ve been telling The Creator that I am too important for him.

When I filled what should have been quiet spaces with Facebook, articles, and other social media outlets, I drank from stagnant waters that could not satisfy. Sure, that stream may have looked appealing — babbling and bubbling with excitement — but it wasn’t a potable source for my soul. When God called me to sit at his feet and drink the cup in his hands, how many times did I walk away? In the spaces that should have been reserved for giving my children my full, undivided attention, how many times did they see a phone in front of my face?

Months ago, I felt God specifically speak to my heart that it was time to permanently walk away from Facebook. Please understand I’m not saying Facebook (or any social media) is wrong or evil or un-spiritual. That is absolutely not the case, and that’s not my intent for sharing my heart on this personal issue. At the time, I knew deep down what I was supposed to do, but I wanted to do it on my terms. I deactivated my account for a while…then logged back in and eventually resumed business as usual…then logged out and changed my password for a bit…then a couple of weeks later logged back in as usual. Each time, I was able to justify my actions; each time it was selfish disobedience. In my prayer time, I felt God telling me (time and time again) that I wouldn’t be able to fully hear him until I submitted this area of my life. I even wrote it down. More than once.

There were plenty of times I heard it again and again without writing it down…over a period of nine months. I could take the cute angle and joke about how stubborn I am, but I’m taking the honest angle and calling out my blatant, willful, repetitive disobedience. There even came a point when I knew full well that I wasn’t going to get the next piece of the puzzle, hear any sort of next steps or instructions, until I did what was asked of me. Yet I continued to ignore it, convincing myself it wasn’t truly significant.

It became so easy for me to justify keeping my account because I wasn’t engaging in anything shady or unscrupulous, I was simply connecting with friends and staying semi-active in a few photography, fitness, and mom groups. Nothing illicit or scandalous. Just run-of-the-mill, stay-at-home-mom Facebook stuff. But I was willfully ignoring a “small” thing God had asked of me. I wasn’t yielding and submitting in a very specific area of my life, which spilled over into my relationships with my husband and children. How could I be an attentive, graceful, loving wife if I wasn’t drinking from the Spring of Life? How could I be patient, merciful, and understanding with my children if I kept inviting distractions into my mind and heart?

I finally pulled the plug this month and deleted my account. Sure enough, as soon as I chose obedience and submission to God’s will, the static began to clear. The voice of truth once again became audible. My delayed obedience (which is actually disobedience) had, in essence, dammed the flow of living water within my spirit. Repentance and right action brought restoration. 

How about you, dear friend? Are you joyfully plunging headlong into the reckless raging fury they call the love of God? Drinking deeply from his living water? Dripping with overwhelmingly abundant life? I pray that you are! Maybe you’re like me…sipping stagnant streams and searching for Shalom. All it takes is one willful act of obedience to begin to break the barrier. Be willing. Your table is already set — he is ready, willing, and waiting!

Navigating the Seasons of Motherhood

It’s taken me almost four years to allow myself to begin following my passions outside of being Mommy. In the first few months of marriage I published a children’s book; it was an exciting project and my husband was my biggest fan! Fast-forward nearly five years, and mothering two small children is beyond a fulltime job — there are no nights or weekends off, no breaks, and no vacations (at least not yet). Being a nursing mother adds another plot twist that makes it quite difficult to just drop the kids off at Camp Grandma & Grandpa for a weekend of “freedom.”

Before Keane was born, I ventured back into the blogging waters. It’s been a great way to let my creative juices flow and fulfill my passion for writing. A year after he arrived, I decided to get serious about figuring out my DSLR…I didn’t want childhood moments left to chance on auto settings or my never-enough-storage-available iPhone. Now that I’ve gotten a handle on shooting manual and am developing my eye for photography, others have asked me to capture their special moments and beautiful families. It’s truly an honor that gives me a sense of joy and allows me to stretch my creative legs.

This new endeavor has been teaching me that it’s not always as easy to navigate the waters of motherhood and doing things for myself. There is balance for all things, but it’s not always easily found. Voices tear at me from all directions:

You’d be happier if you had a career.
Don’t define yourself by motherhood.
Just take a vacation without the kids.
Letting them cry it out won’t kill them.

While everyone is well-intentioned, my aim cannot be to hit someone else’s mark of motherhood. Advice that works for some women is not a fix-all bandage for all womankind. It’s easy to get caught up in other people’s ideals, but I’ve learned that my finger must be on my own pulse…not those of friends, family members, or social media personas. The one piece of advice that seems to surface from seasoned mothers is this: This is only a season, enjoy it while you can.

I find that particular wisdom to be of utmost help. My children won’t be so incredibly needy forever. One day (hopefully), they will both sleep through the night without assistance. There will come a day that they won’t crawl up in my lap, and will be out of the house more than I’d like. Until that time comes, God has placed it on my heart to savor this season. I can take care of my children while honing my photography skills; I can document their childhood with talent, but I don’t need to feel forced into a business that would just add unnecessary stress. As time allows, I can document other families’ memories on a more regular basis…but my priority remains at home. Of course it’s nice to get away for the occasional session, but I’m nowhere near ready to give up our family’s evenings and weekends.

This season will be over in a blink of an eye. I will pine for it in my old age. My goals for this season are simple: Glorify God. Nurture my family. Live a quiet life. Savor each day.

How we Celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas

I wait for Christmas all year long with great anticipation and excitement. Since having children, I long to impart that same hopeful joy to them throughout the holiday season. I credit my parents and Granny Jean for filling my heart with beautiful memories of advent, Christmas carols, and endless laughter with family. While I do remember a handful of my childhood presents, those pale in comparison to my memories of lighting advent candles, praying over the Christmas cards we received — asking God to bless those families throughout the coming year, and gathering around the kitchen table to swap stories over chips and dip.

This is the Christmas experience I want for my children. Not making endless lists of stuff and going over the top with gifts. Sure, it can be fun to spoil our kids…but not at the expense of losing sight of what truly matters. With at three-and-a-half-year-old and an eighteen-month-old, our little family traditions are just beginning, but I am very intentional about how we celebrate the birth of Jesus.

Christmas AND Hanukkah

We read in the bible about Jesus celebrating Hanukkah; it’s called the Feast of Dedication in John 10:22-40. Christianity, for the most part, doesn’t pay enough attention to the Hebrew calendar — which is a bit of a shame considering it is rich with tradition, history, and depicts a beautiful picture of God’s perfect timing. I have a fantastic book of biblical holidays that describes how Jesus fulfills each of the Jewish feasts. It is important for me to impart to my children how our Jewish roots are an integral part of Christianity. (For a concise reference to each biblical holiday, I also have a pamphlet that quickly ties everything together.)

This will be the first year we light the menorah, and I’m very excited about using one my dad brought back from Israel earlier this year. To explain the history of this sacred tradition, we read a children’s book about the Maccabees, and discuss how God miraculously allowed the menorah to burn in spite of a lack of oil. We have a traditional seven-branch menorah, as well as a DIY kid-friendly Hanukkah menorah (because toddlers and candles make me nervous).

For our family, the focus is Jesus. I adapted nightly Hanukkah readings from A Family Guide to the Biblical Holidays to fit our young audience’s attention span. Each night focuses on different aspects of Jesus being the light of the world. If you’re interested in learning how Hanukkah fits in with Christmas, here is a short, helpful blog and video. If you’re trying to navigate the tricky waters of commercialism versus Christ, there is a great DVD available for you and your kids to watch together.

Instead of building up a belief in Santa, we tell the story of the real Saint Nicholas. Even at three years old, Asher understands that every Santa Claus we see reminds us of the real Nicholas, and how he served others because of his love for Jesus. I want my boys to be rooted in the things of Christ from an early age, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re Santa-haters…it also doesn’t mean we tell them that he comes down the chimney to bring presents. We celebrate Saint Nicholas day by reading a book about the real person, then we playfully sneak around and leave coins in each other’s shoes. This year, Asher insisted on sneaking the coins into his own shoes — fine with me! He really enjoyed himself and fully comprehended the concept.

In addition to a traditional Christmas tree, we also have a Jesse tree that tells the story of Christ from Genesis to Revelation. Each day from December 1st to the 25th, the kids get a new ornament that depicts a piece of the story. We sit cuddled together to read the corresponding scripture before adding the ornament to our Jesse tree. This is our version of an advent calendar — Asher loves getting a new ornament and reading the Bible each morning! If you’re up for a crafty kind of Christmas, your kids can make their own Jesse tree ornaments.

Whatever your family traditions may be, I wish you and yours abundant blessings of peace, love, and joy this sacred season! May we be free of commercialism’s chains as we remember how Christ came as a baby, and wait with hopeful anticipation for his return. Merry Christmas!