Monthly Archives: May 2015

Go Out and Play! Ideas for Summertime Outdoor Fun

It is almost summertime! Families with school-aged children enjoy taking a break from the school routine. However, sometimes even just thinking about summertime feels overwhelming for parents. If you can relate to that, don’t worry! We are here to help! Here are some fun ideas we found that may help you and your children to get outside and enjoy the summer together! We will highlight a few favorites on the links that offer multiple ideas.

When you have a few minutes, visit these sites and scroll through their offerings. Make a list of ideas you like or copy/paste the links into a document for future reference. Or, make a “Summer Fun” jar. To do so, cut strips of paper before you begin looking at all the ideas below. As you look through all these great ideas, take a moment to write each activity that you like on its own strip of paper. When the strip has an idea on it, fold it up and put it in a jar marked “Summer Fun.” When you or your kids need a idea for something to do during the summer, pull out one strip and there you go! (Visit!) for more ideas of ways to present these ideas to your family.)
Here are a few great idea-finding spots:

Find 50 links for fun activities for both outdoors and inside at this webpage: Some favorite ideas found here include directions for making a summer reading teepee, building your own kiddie car wash for bikes (or just kids!), making your own ladder golf game, and ice excavating.

This page lists inexpensive ideas for summer fun: Favorites include directions for a pool noodle sprinkler, kickball croquet, backyard (or beach) Olympics, busy bag ideas for indoor days, and a shower-curtain-liner giant dry-erase sheet!

Whether or not you have a boy, check out the fantastic ideas on this page:! We especially liked the clothespin catapults, the mini ice boats, and the printable playground scavenger hunt (for visiting new playgrounds)!

Many simple ideas for entertaining children are found at this page: Our blogger remembers “painting” the sidewalk (and the house!) with water when she was a kid – so simple, but it was fun to do! The soap boats are also a clever idea, and kids would have a blast with the pool noodle “water wall,” among other great ideas.

Although this blog was written by a teacher for the last day of school, it contains a variety of fun indoor activities/challenges that kids would enjoy doing at home, as well.

Here are a bunch of clever outdoor game ideas: We especially liked the splash-the-ping-pong-balls-off-of-the-golf-tees challenge, the put-on-a-frozen-tshirt race, the squirt-gun powered matchbox car racing, and the car-wash-sponge-on-a-paint-stick balloon boppers. What fun!

Find directions to create an obstacle course featuring pool noodles for your backyard, here:

For particularly curious and/or science minded kids, offers ideas from creating a marble run (to learn laws of physics) to building a paper bridge (and testing its strength with penny weights) to experimenting with the chemistry that happens in your kitchen!

Find a pile of minute-to-win-it challenges for people of a variety of ages to try, at

Hot day? Need some fun ways to cool off with a group of children? Check out these watery games! Ideas include using water balloons instead of balls to toss around on a parachute (or a sheet) and playing “Dry, Dry, Wet” (“Duck, Duck, Goose” with a wet sponge). Find

more really fun water games (ie batting practice with water balloons) here:!

Plan an outdoor movie night a la Invite the neighbor kids or JOY Club, and have a fun evening together!

Challenge your family to see how many of these 50 “old fashioned” games you can play over the course of the summer! The rules are right here for hopscotch, Red Rover, I Spy, HORSE, and so many more!!!

Still need ideas? Check out,, or!

Note: in case you missed it, here’s another post we once offered, featuring more ideas of things to do with your children in the summertime:


Here are a few specific activities that sound like fun:

Make sponge “balls,” moisten them, and have a throwing-and-soaking party!

Cut a slice of a pool noodle, cap one end with a balloon, and end up with a pom-pom shooter!!! Great for outdoors OR inside!

Have a family game night with candy “medal” prizes:

Make a yard-sized Yahtzee game with a bucket full of super cool (and supersized!) wooden dice as per these instructions, then play the game on a giant scale in your backyard:

Print copies of this photo-based outdoor scavenger hunt, gather several groups of children, and send them out to see what they can spot!

Make paper rockets with straws:

Should you be stuck with some rainy days this summer, check out these web sites to keep them learning  and having fun:



On What is Truly Important

Parents nowadays are pulled in so many different directions. We want to provide well for our children, to work hard and have resources to meet their needs with extra left over so we can provide for some of their (and our!) wants, as well. It is easy to begin living a lifestyle that looks much like that of our non-Orthodox counterparts, unknowingly disillusioned by the culture in which we live. Activities, busyness, money, things: all are very important to current culture. It is easy for us to be sucked into believing that these things are necessary, that they are very important, and that pursuing them is how we should be spending our lives.

But we are Orthodox Christians. We are to be set apart from the world and living our life for Christ. So, what is truly important? On what should we be spending our time and our resources? St. Anthony the Great, considered by many to be the father of Christian monasticism, had the following to say about what is truly important in life. Although he lived on earth in the third century, his words apply just as much to us, today:

“Why do we not voluntarily abandon what must be destroyed when this life comes to an end, so that we might gain the kingdom of Heaven? Let Christians care for nothing that they cannot take away with them. We ought rather to seek after that which will lead us to Heaven; namely wisdom, chastity, justice, virtue, an ever watchful mind, care for the poor, firm faith in Christ, a mind that can control anger, hospitality. Striving after these things, we shall prepare for ourselves a dwelling in the land of the peaceful, as it says in the Gospel.” – St. Athanasius, Life of St. Anthony, 17

If we were to truly take St. Anthony’s words to heart, what would that look like? Voluntarily abandoning “what must be destroyed at the end of this life” would mean making a deliberate choice to let go of anything material, to relinquish things’ control over our time, our focus, even our desires. “Caring for nothing that [we] cannot take away with [us]” could mean not only not taking the time to nurture/acquire things, but also not even to have a desire for them. How often we hear “I don’t care about ___!” from our children? If we choose to truly live Christian lives, we should be able to say the same about all earthly/material things.

Releasing ourselves from the grip of earthly stuff opens our time, our hearts, even our very thoughts to the things of God. But don’t worry, St. Anthony immediately offers ways in which to fill the “gap” that worldly concerns take up! “We ought rather to seek after that which will lead us to Heaven…” This declaration is thorough in and of itself, but he goes on with specifics: “wisdom, chastity, justice, virtue, an ever watchful mind, care for the poor, firm faith in Christ, a mind that can control anger, hospitality.” Any one of those can take a lifetime to truly acquire. Aspiring to all of them together will easily fill whatever time we may have previously been pouring into the acquisition of material things!

So what is truly important? “Striving after these things” (wisdom, chastity, justice, virtue, an ever watchful mind, care for the poor, firm faith in Christ, a mind that can control anger, and hospitality) which lead us to heaven is what we should both care about and do. This is the lifestyle that we should be living. This is how we ought to spend our lives. Pursuing these things is how we can truly “prepare for ourselves a dwelling in the land of the peaceful, as it says in the Gospel.”

Thank you, St. Anthony, for your timeless wisdom. Please intercede for our salvation!

Read about the life of St. Anthony, as well as more of his wisdom (at the end of this page): Find information on his feast day, as well as his troparion and kontakion here:

Read St. Athanasius’ book The Life of St. Anthony online here:

The following quotes and readings are for each of the specific pursuits that St. Anthony encourages us to work towards.


Find a quote from St. John Chrysostom on wisdom, here:


Read what St. Nicholas says about chastity here:


Ponder justice by reading this blog:


Find a quote from St. John Chrysostom on cultivating virtue in our children’s lives here:


Find encouragement to maintain watchfulness in your life here:


Read about what St. Thomas did to care for the poor, in this story:


Find encouragement to stay strong in your faith in Christ in this blog:

Read this blog on the importance of controlling one’s anger:


Find out what St. John Chrysostom says about who should participate in hospitality in this quote:

The Akathist to the Mother of God, Nurturer of Children

While we are still thinking about mothers and Mother’s Day, having just looked together at the Theotokos as Mother, it seems apropos to take a look at one of the Akathist hymns, The Akathist to the Mother of God, Nurturer of Children.


The Akathist to the Mother of God, Nurturer of Children is a prayer for children which should be prayed by mothers to the Mother of God. (Simple word changes can make it a prayer fathers can pray for their children, or that parents can pray together for their children.) My husband and I pray a part of this Akathist together every evening until we’ve prayed the whole thing and begin again, and I pray the entire hymn several times a week as I am able. The more times I pray this prayer, the more I ask the Theotokos for help, the more I realize how carefully she cares for my children, for me, for the Church, for all of us. I also realize how much we all need her intercessions. Glory to God for providing a Mother for us all!

The hymn begins with this kontakion:

Victorious Leader and Good Nurturer of the Christian race, we Thy servants, delivered from evil, sing out grateful thanks to Thee. But as Thou hast invincible might deliver my children from all dangers that with tears I may cry to Thee: Raise my children (names), to be made worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven, and make them heirs of eternal blessings.

Let’s ponder what this part of the hymn says, phrase by phrase. The Theotokos is truly a victorious leader! She has set the example to us all of how to live one’s entire life in submission to God, as she was victorious over her own passions. She leads us humbly, by her own example. She nurtures us by providing sustenance to us all in the form of her Son, Jesus Christ, and also by her intercessions on our behalf. Because of her willingness to become His Mother, we are all delivered from evil and therefore it is appropriate for us to thank her. She truly does have invincible might – she has the ability to pray without interruption, to pray perfectly, directly before Our Lord Himself, and therefore she is the perfect person to ask to pray for our children’s deliverance from all dangers! Who better is there for us to ask to raise our children – both physically and spiritually, as she raises them in prayer to Christ Himself – than the Theotokos? She knows what they need in order to be worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven. She knows how to ask that they become heirs of blessings that last forever. She is truly our best ally in prayer for our children!

The hymn continues with this ikos:

Intercede with Thy Son and God, O most Holy One, that an angel from heaven be sent to my children, just as to Thee was sent a most mighty protector, the Archangel Gabriel; and vouchsafe me to cry to Thee thus:

Raise my children to be earthly angels.

Raise my children to be heavenly men.

Raise my children to be Thy servants.

Raise my children to cry out to Thee:

“Rejoice, O Full of Grace, the Lord with Thee!”

Raise my children (names), O Lady,

to be made worthy of the Kingdom Of Heaven

and make them heirs of eternal blessings.

This part of the hymn not only asks that the Theotokos pray that God will grant spiritual protection to our children, but also that they will act on that protection. It asks her to pray that an earthly change takes place in our children, so that they live not just “protected” spiritual lives, but physical lives in which their very bodies reflect the protection that God is granting them. It asks her to pray that our children live in a way that shows the world that they belong to God; that their lives be full of praise to God; and that their lives be directed towards the Kingdom of Heaven and towards blessings that are of true value.

The hymn goes on with 11 other kontakia and ikoi. Each is unique and focuses on a different theme important to the Theotokos and her intercession for our children. Each verse asks the Theotokos to take our children under her protection, to ask her Son to enlighten their lives, to raise them to live the Beatitudes, to travel with them throughout their earthly life, to unceasingly pray for them, etc. We will not look at all of them in depth, here, now. Rather, as we pray the Akathist, let us study each verse as we have time, and really think about what we are praying!

I especially love Kontakion 13. Repeating it three times helps me to focus on what I am saying, and gives me the opportunity to pay attention to what I might otherwise have missed. If you have no time in your schedule to pray the entire akathist, at least consider praying this kontakion for your children. It summarizes the rest of the prayer well, and succinctly puts our desire for our children’s salvation into the Theotokos’ capable hands:

O All Hymned Mother of our Sweetest Jesus! Accept this small hymn of supplication for my children as a sweet fragrance and take them under Thy compassionate protection. Grant them to think, know, hear, say and do, only that which brings them close to Thee and Thy Son, and helps them attain eternal salvation. And send them in this present life all that is profitable for the salvation of their souls, that they may cry to God: Alleluia.

The older my children become and the less I can physically do for them, the more I realize how much I need to pray for them. I wish that I had begun praying this prayer much sooner, asking the Theotokos to mother my children. After all, she is the best mother that ever was! And my children have needed her prayers from Day 1. (Mind you, she has been praying for my children since Day 1! But praying this prayer reminds ME of that fact.) Every part of this hymn speaks to a need in our children’s lives, and the Theotokos knows how to perfectly pray for those needs. I am so grateful to her for her intercessions for my children and for all Christians, and so glad for this way to participate in that intercession.

Most Holy Theotokos, intercede for our salvation! Amen.

Find the Akathist at so that you can pray it for your children, as well!
Here are additional links about the Akathist to the Mother of God, Nurturer of Children:


Find a printable copy of the Akathist to the Mother of God, Nurturer of Children, set as a service to be prayed in church, here:


Buy the booklet The Akathist to the Mother of God, Nurturer of Children, here:


Listen to Khouria Frederica Mathewes-Green’s reading of the Akathist to the Mother of God, Nurturer of Children, here:


Purchase a cd copy of the Akathist to the Mother of God, Nurturer of Children here:


“About nine years ago, a group of mothers in my parish discovered an Akathist to the Mother of God, called “Nurturer of Children.” We banded together to pray these prayers and were greatly comforted and encouraged. While spontaneous prayer from the heart is always blessed as well, the supplications of the Church are particularly good for verbalizing exactly what it is we need for our salvation.” Read these words by Virginia Nieuwsma, and more on her take of the Akathist, here:


On the Theotokos as Mother

Author’s note: as we approach Mother’s Day, I was thinking about this blog and wondering what we could post that would be helpful to the mothers (and, for that matter, to all women who care for children) in our Orthodox Christian Parenting community. Again and again, I thought of the Theotokos and her example to us. I am learning so much about the Theotokos and growing daily in my respect of and love for her. She is the best-ever-mother, a woman to emulate and aspire to, and a Christian like no other. (Addendum: most of the ways listed below are written in past tense, because they were things the Theotokos did while she was alive on earth. They could also be written in present tense, as she continues in her faithful love of Christ and His people.)

Ways in which we can aspire to be like the Theotokos:

The Theotokos willingly said yes to God, even knowing that what she was agreeing to would be culturally inacceptable and thereby very difficult for her. “Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38) were words that implied that Mary’s life would be completely changed, scandalously outside “the norm.” And yet she said these words. And then she lived them. I am a Christian whose faith is far from perfect. These words which the Theotokos spoke to the archangel – and to God Himself – imply perfect faith, perfect trust in His Omniscience. May we Orthodox Christian mothers also willingly say yes to God, whatever He calls us to do. May we aspire to be like the Theotokos and willingly “let it be to me according to Your Word.”

The Theotokos was thoughtful. “…Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2: 19) The Mother of Our Lord didn’t just allow things to happen and then gloss them over, or ignore words that were said to her. Instead, she was attentive to her son, she absorbed events and messages, and then she carefully thought about them. May we Orthodox Christian mothers also pay attention to our children, the events that happen to us, and the words spoken to us. Then, may we ponder these things and allow God to speak through them to us, for our growth.

The Theotokos knew that her Son would suffer, and that thereby she would also suffer: “Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, ‘Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against, (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also)…’” (Luke 2:34-35) She was aware that there is suffering in the world and that it would touch her Son, and therefore, it would also touch her. She did not allow any fear she may have felt of that suffering to stifle her life or her Son’s life. May we Orthodox Christian mothers also be aware of this truth: that our children will suffer, and that we will suffer as well. And may we not allow our fears of that suffering to keep us from doing the work that God has set before us.

The Theotokos was steadfast in her faith. “[Mary and Joseph]… performed all things according to the law of the Lord… His parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of the Passover.” (John 2:39, 41) Not just at the beginning of Jesus’ life on earth did Mary and Joseph follow God’s directions for faithful worship; but clearly they did so quite regularly! Making that annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem took effort and had to have been a challenge for the family, but they did it because it was the right thing to do. May we Orthodox Christian mothers make the steadfast efforts needed to strengthen our own faith and the faith of our children as well, no matter how difficult it may be. It is the right thing to do.

The Theotokos took her responsibility as a mother seriously. “Son, why have You done this to us? Look, Your father and I have sought You anxiously.” (Luke 2:48) Imagine having God’s own Son in your care, and then losing track of Him?!? It must have been a frightening moment for Mary and Joseph when they realized He was not traveling in the caravan with them and they did not know where He was. They clearly cared deeply about Jesus, and they carefully retraced their steps until they found Him. Once they found Him, they asked the above question, which indicates the depth of their love for Him and concern when He went missing. May we Orthodox Christian mothers also care deeply for our children, looking after them and asking questions that show our children that they matter to us.

The Theotokos was in the background, supporting her Child, all of her life. Here’s what we know about Christ’s childhood, from the Gospel of Luke: “And the Child grew and became strong in spirit…” (Luke 2:40) There is no mention of the Theotokos or all of the work that she was doing to help him grow and/or to nurture that “strength in spirit.” And when our Lord was an adult, she remained in the background. “While He was still talking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak with him.” (Matt. 12:46) Never front-and-center, the Theotokos nurtured, loved, served, cooked, sewed, cleaned up, and who knows what else, allowing Christ to grow. And even when He was grown, she did not demand or even expect the place of honor. She just stood outside and waited to have a chance to talk to Him. May we Orthodox Christian mothers serve and nurture our children, and be ready and humbly waiting for chances to speak with them all of their lives, as well!

The Theotokos prayed for those around her. “And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, ‘They have no wine!’” (John 2:3) She saw a need. She knew He could meet it, and so she simply stated the need to Him and asked Him to intervene. May we Orthodox Christian mothers also see the needs around us, simply bring them to Christ, and ask Him to meet those needs.

The Theotokos pointed people to her Son when they needed help. “Whatever He says to you, do it.” (John 2:5) Knowing that Christ can do anything, Mary pointed the people who needed wine in His direction, with the expectation that they would do whatever He said. May we Orthodox Christian mothers (because we, too, know that Christ can do anything!) also point our own children – and all others around us – to Our Lord, with the same expectation! May we also lead the way, setting the example of doing whatever it is that He says to us!

The Theotokos intercedes for us. Her proximity to her Son allows the Theotokos to continue in constant prayer for the world. There have been many examples of people throughout the ages who have asked the Theotokos to pray for them, and God has heard and answered her prayers. There are also examples of times when people have witnessed her praying (ie the Fool-for-Christ Andrew at Blachernae, who saw her put her veil over the people and pray fervently for them). Clearly, she prays for all of us. May we Orthodox Christian mothers also pray for others; and may we also ask the Theotokos to pray for us and for our children!

I’ll never forget one special Sunday morning when I walked into the nave of our parish for Divine Liturgy. It was the first time I saw the Platytera icon which had just been installed in the apse of our church that week. The sight of the Theotokos and our Lord literally took my breath away. I gasped, thrilled at the beauty of the icon and in awe of the reality that it represents. What a joy to “behold the maidservant of the Lord” (Luke 1:38): not just on “The Sunday After the Installation of the Icon,” but every single day of our lives. The Theotokos, the Mother of God, is a joy to behold, a mother to aspire to be like, and a fervent intercessor for us all. Glory to God for her love for Him and for all of us!

Most Holy Theotokos, please intercede for our salvation!

Here are a few links related to this week’s blog:


Find out why the Orthodox church so reveres Mary as the Theotokos, and find a myriad of her other nicknames, here:


Read more about the Theotokos, how we can be blessed by her prayers, and more about how much we need her, here:


Read answers to questions you may have (or hear!) about the Theotokos, here:


Ask the Theotokos for help every day of the week! Find a prayer every day here:


Pray the Akathist to the Mother of God found here:


Read the story of the Fool-for-Christ Andrew at Blachernae, who saw the Theotokos put her veil over the people and witnessed her fervent prayers on their behalf, here:


Find information about the Platytera icon and its beautiful symbolism here: