Tag Archives: Children

On Orthodox Christian Principles of Child Rearing: Principle #2: Respond, Don’t React

Note: This series of blog posts will focus on principles important to Orthodox Christians who are raising children. The series will feature a closer look at Dr. Philip Mamalakis’ book, “Parenting Toward the Kingdom: Orthodox Christian Principles of Child Rearing.” Each week we will take a closer look at one section of the book, which is divided into 6 basic principles of child rearing. Find an overview blog post about the book here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2017/02/08/gleanings-from-a-book-parenting-toward-the-kingdom-by-dr-philip-mamalakis/. We thank Dr. Mamalakis and Ancient Faith Publishing for giving us permission to share his wisdom with you in this way. Purchase your own copy of his book here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/parenting-toward-the-kingdom/.

Principle #2: Respond, Don’t React

In the chapters that address Orthodox Christian parenting principle #2, “Respond, don’t react,” Dr. Philip Mamalakis encourages parents to think about “Responding to Our Children” and “Why Children Misbehave.” He begins in chapter 3 by talking about how easy it is to react to our children’s misbehaviors: and how little good results when parents react instead of responding. He compares our children’s misbehaviors to weeds: reacting to them is mowing them off – a temporary fix. Responding to the misbehaviors, however, is akin to pulling weeds with their roots and then fertilizing where the weeds had been to encourage proper growth. Responding requires intentional thought from parents and helps children towards the long-term goal of godliness by addressing the reasons that they were misbehaving. The chapter continues with a discussion of these parenting truths: discipline is more effective long-term than punishment; reacting while angry does not teach our children what we want them to learn, so we must always exercise patience; leniency/permissiveness are not in our children’s best interest; micromanaging/criticizing our children strains the parent-child relationship; and commending positive behaviors should happen with words that reinforce effort or virtues rather than statements that reflect back on us parents (ie: “I noticed your patience with your sister” vs. “I am so proud of you”). He goes on to acknowledge that reacting is much easier than responding, but suggests that responding is actually our vocation as parents, for it raises our children in godliness, while also shaping us. He suggests that if we consider the reasons behind our children’s misbehavior, we will better be able to figure out how to respond.

Chapter 4 focuses on why children misbehave. There are many reasons why a child may behave wrongly. We parents need to respond to our children’s behavior based on the reasons behind that behavior. He addresses a few reasons for misbehaviors in this chapter. When it seems that children are seeking attention, most likely they are just wishing to connect with us, as is their innate desire. Connecting with our children and teaching them how to connect with others is essential to parenting because we humans are wired for connection. Dr. Mamalakis addresses negative interpretations of our children’s behavior, showing that such interpretations are really judgments and criticisms which will result in negative parenting behavior. We need to be careful not to overreact or under-respond. He states that although we should expect poor behavior, we should not accept it. And, although it is very difficult, regardless of how long it takes our children to learn, we must be consistent, firm, and patient. We also must live in the way we expect our children to live: modeling with our own interactions and responses how we want them to interact and respond. Responding instead of reacting focuses on our long-term goals for our children, and gives us the opportunity to focus on each child and their personhood, not just react to their behavior.

May God help us all to learn to respond, not to react.

 

Have a parenting question for Dr. Mamalakis? Ask him here (at the bottom of the page): http://www.drmamalakis.com/contact.html

Here are a few gleanings from the chapters related to Principle #2:

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“Reacting is usually about stopping behavior we don’t want to see in the short term rather than teaching skills, behaviors, or virtues we do want to see in the long term. Reacting to our children’s misbehaviors short-circuits or co-opts their good learning process. They will still learn; they just won’t learn anything good.” (p. 45; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“The most damaging thing about reacting to misbehaviors is that it communicates to a child that he is bad and that we do not love him because of a choice he made. That teaches a child that there is something wrong with him and our love is conditional, that he needs to earn our love by behaving well. Children learn to comply so they can receive our ‘love,’ but they can grow up confused about their real worth and identity and become really good at pretending to act a certain way so they will be loved by others.” (pp. 45-46; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Only by responding to misbehaviors can we communicate to our children that we are interested more in loving them as persons than in controlling their behaviors… Reacting to children ignores the reasons for the misbehaviors and, as a result, communicates a lack of respect for the person of the child.” (pp. 46-47; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Parenting is about guiding the souls of our children rather than just correcting behavior. To teach proper behavior, we must respond to our children rather than reacting to their behavior.” (pp. 47-48; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Responding gives children the freedom to learn free of criticism, shame, judgment, anger, and blame. Responding does not mean being lenient. It means being calm when we are strict. Responding communicates to our children the truth about the gospel that they are deeply loved in the midst of their failures and struggles. It communicates our respect for our children as persons in the midst of their learning and mistakes. In this way, we model God’s love, which becomes embedded in their hearts.” (p. 51; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Learning how to parent is not about learning how to get our children to behave; it’s about learning how to get ourselves to behave. Remember, modeling is the most effective way to teach our children.” (p. 51; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Responding requires us to be intentional, patient, kind, gentle, self-controlled, long-suffering, meek, faithful, wise, and loving when our children misbehave. Responding is the way we model all the virtues we want our children to learn. Responding to our children is the way we venerate them as icons of Christ and requires a certain amount of trust that Gdd is working in our children through the struggles over time… Reacting reflects a lack of faith that God is working in our child’s soul.” (p. 60; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“We can’t respond effectively until we understand what exactly our child is struggling with.” (p. 64; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“While some children act up because they want everyone to look at them, I’d like to suggest that most often our kids are looking for a connection with their parents, not for mere attention. Children desire to connect with us all the time by being physically close, spending time with us, getting to know us, and letting us know them. Connection is central to our human nature, and children are wired to seek it. Connection is food for our children’s souls. We are created as relational beings in the image and likeness of a relational God who is three Persons in one communion of love. Its through our relationships with each other and with God that we experience intimacy and develop as human beings.” (p. 66; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Children will model our behaviors and mannerisms and adopt our values more thoroughly the more connected they feel to us… Learning how to parent is about learning how to connect with our children all the time, as we get our tasks done throughout the day.” (p. 68; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“No matter why they are misbehaving, connecting with our children needs to be central to how we respond to any misbehavior… Nurturing connection with our children strengthens our relationship with them and empowers them to make good decisions.” (p. 72; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Your child is not supposed to be hardworking, selfless, kind, and patient. He is supposed to be learning how to be hardworking, selfless, kind, and patient. If our children are learning, we should expect struggles and mistakes, and we should interpret our kids misbehaviors in a way that reflects these long-term goals. (p. 72; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Instead of an attitude of ‘I don’t care what you’re feeling; you can’t behave like that,’ we can take the attitude of ‘I care about how you’re feeling, and you can’t behave like that.’” (p. 78; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

 

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On Orthodox Christian Principles of Child Rearing: Principle #1: Always Parent with the End in Mind

Note: This series of blog posts will focus on principles important to Orthodox Christians who are raising children. The series will feature a closer look at Dr. Philip Mamalakis’ book, “Parenting Toward the Kingdom: Orthodox Christian Principles of Child Rearing.” Each week we will take a closer look at one section of the book, which is divided into 6 basic principles of child rearing. Find an overview blog post about the book here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2017/02/08/gleanings-from-a-book-parenting-toward-the-kingdom-by-dr-philip-mamalakis/. We thank Dr. Mamalakis and Ancient Faith Publishing for giving us permission to share his wisdom with you in this way. Purchase your own copy of his book here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/parenting-toward-the-kingdom/.
Principle #1: Always parent with the end in mind.

Dr. Mamalakis encourages us to “Think Long Term” and to consider “How Children Learn” in the first two chapters of “Parenting Toward the Kingdom,” which address the first principle of parenting: “Always parent with the end in mind.” Parenting with the end in mind requires that we think beyond the moment and our short-term goals (ie: for peace and quiet at the dinner table) to what our long-term goals for our children may be (ie: for them to learn to work out their disagreements in a godly manner) and act towards that end. To be able to do so, we need to think first of what type of adults we wish our children to be when they are grown. Dr. Mamalakis suggests that, as Orthodox Christian parents, we think far beyond earthly “success” as a goal for our children, and look instead to what will make our children successful followers of Christ. He cites examples from the scriptures and from Church tradition that can help us to know the values and virtues that should be our goal for our children. He urges that we parent patiently and consistently, always keeping our end goal in mind. He offers a list of short-term goals that can easily tempt us away from our long-term goals. He shares this list so that we can be aware of these potentially-hazardous short-term goals and how they can harm our long-term desires for our children. He reminds us that we will struggle to succeed in this; but that our children need to see us struggle. The important thing is that we respond in an adult-like manner, and that our responses move all of us toward our mutual goal of godliness.

Parenting with the end in mind also requires that we give consideration to the way that children learn. Rather than learning about how they should live and conduct themselves best through lecture, our children are best able to learn this through their daily interactions with us. Struggling to acquire the values and virtues of the Kingdom of God will help our children to better learn and thus acquire them. In that sense, struggle is good. Our children need to experience everyday struggles with life, while being guided by parents who are struggling as well but firm in our convictions to lead our children to the Kingdom of Heaven. Dr. Mamalakis suggests that our three most important parenting tools are our life example, our relationship with our children, and how we speak to them. He states that the thing that teachers our children the most is our own behavior. He gently reminds us that God is at work through matter, both in icons and in His living icons (everyone around us). Dr. Mamalakis advises us to remember that our children are icons of Christ, and that we must treat them as such, and thus teach them to treat others in the same way. He reminds us that because children are always learning, we must always be intentional in how we live our life, how we relate to our children, and in what we say to them.

Chapter 1, “Think Long Term” can be read in its entirety (along with the acknowledgements and introduction to the book) at http://store.ancientfaith.com/parenting-toward-the-kingdom/, if you would like to sample it for yourself!

Here are a few gleanings from the chapters related to Principle #1:

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“The best place to begin a conversation on parenting is at the end. We need to know what we’re working toward so we can talk about how to accomplish our goals. Parenting is a long-term commitment and a long-term process.” (p. 17 ; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“Sometimes our short-term goals can distract us from our long-term goals. Parents are tempted to intervene to stop misbehaviors in the short term in a way that undermines our long-term goals. That is like giving your child the answer to his math homework. In the short term, he finishes his work more quickly and without struggle, but in the long term, he doesn’t learn math. Getting a child to stop misbehaving can solve the short-term problem of misbehavior, but it does not necessarily teach him, long-term, how to control his own behavior. Sometimes we need to give up our short-term desires to work toward our long-term goals.”  (pp. 18-19; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“God’s desire is for us to raise children who know Him, who live in His love, and who walk in His ways. God wants our children to know who He is and grow up near Him, to become saints. That is success.”  (p. 20; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Successful children are those who internalize the values and virtues of the kingdom of God, so that when they go away to college or get married they live according to these values—not because we are watching or because we say so, but because they believe these things deeply in their hearts.” (p. 23; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“Parenting requires patience—not the patience that puts up with inappropriate behavior, but the patience that intervenes effectively, repeatedly, as long as our child struggles. This allows our children the opportunity to struggle to grow, to learn, to love, and to acquire the values and virtues they will need as adults. Patience means we respond consistently and appropriately every time they struggle, because we have our long-term goals in mind.”(p. 25; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“If we love our children, we walk with them through the struggles; we don’t remove the struggles.” (p. 28; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Parenting itself is a struggle we cannot escape… Children need human parents who struggle to learn with them. If you’ve taken a moment to consider your long-term goals for your children, or God’s long-term goals for them, you’ve already taken the first step toward helping your children. We should expect children to act like children. The best we can do as parents is to act like adults in the way we respond, and choose the response that moves us toward our long-term goals.”(p. 28; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“Children are shaped in and through each interaction we have with them, from the moment of conception to the moment we depart this life. God gives us each interaction with our children as a means of communicating His truths.

“More specifically, children learn most by how we respond when they misbehave. Children learn that we love them no matter what when we respond respectfully and effectively when they fight, talk back, disobey, or stand on tables…”(p. 31; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

“The three most important tools we have as parents are:

>> The way we live our own lives,

>> the way we relate to our children, and

>> what we say to them.” (p. 32; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Children will learn what is true by how they see us behave more than by what they hear us say.” (p. 34; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“The truth is that God loves us deeply and cherishes each and every one of us, no matter how we behave. Each of our children is uniquely loved and adored by God—so much so that He gave His only Son for each one. Our children are incredibly valuable and special to God, not because they are perfect and no matter what they say or how they act. God simply loves them…
“Children will internalize this truth about themselves and God if we treat them with love and respect—all the time, but particularly when they misbehave. Children can only learn unconditional love when they experience their parents’ love and respect when they misbehave.” (p. 35; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Parenting is about raising children who understand themselves and others as icons of Christ. This is true self-esteem.” (p. 36; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“If we want to teach our children respect, they need to feel respected by us, even when they talk back. If we want them to learn how to listen, they need to feel heard, even when they don’t listen to us. If we want them to know the nature of God’s love for them, they need to experience God’s love from us, particularly when they are unloving toward us. Children really do learn what they live—most deeply when they struggle and misbehave.” (pp. 37-38; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

***

 

Gleanings From a Book: “We Pray” by Daniel Opperwall

I never expected to be charmed by a nonfiction book. However, “We Pray,” written by Daniel Opperwall and illustrated by Jelena and Marko Grbic is no ordinary nonfiction book! It is a beautiful Orthodox Christian children’s book that helps children (and those reading to/with them) think about prayer. Each spread of the book talks about a different aspect of prayer and includes some of the basic theology behind that aspect. Some pages offer specific prayers that we can pray, along with ways in which we pray (with incense, with a prayer rope, etc.). Other pages talk about where we pray, how we pray, what we pray, and for whom we pray. “We Pray” may be an informational book, but it is not at all tedious. Instead, the book has an almost lyrical tone, so the spiritual instruction in “We Pray” is both approachable and enjoyable.

But the tone of the book and the knowledge it imparts are not nearly the only charms of this book! Its physical size is lovely, too. Ancient Faith Publishing has printed “We Pray” in a very “holdable” size for children. At 8 ¼” square, the book is a comfortable size for children to hold. And even better than its size are the book’s delightful pictures! Jelena and Marko Grbic’s charming illustrations are both colorful and enticing. Each drawing is whimsical, yet true to the Faith. The book’s pages are quite sturdy, which was a smart design choice, because children will likely return to the illustrations again and again, taking in all the beautiful details included in each! (To be honest, adults will do the same. I have paged through this book countless times just to savor the illustrations!)

“We Pray” is an excellent addition to any Orthodox Christian library. Its readers will learn about prayer and be encouraged to pray more fervently. Its size and darling illustrations will appeal to children of all ages. My guess is that you, too, will find it charming!

To purchase your own copy of “We Pray,” visit http://store.ancientfaith.com/we-pray/.

Here are a few excerpts from the book, as well as some activities that you can do together as a family after reading it!

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“We pray with lighted incense, making smoke like sweetened flowers, for its scent is a reminder to turn our thoughts to God.” ~ from “We Pray” by Daniel Opperwall, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2017

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“We pray The Jesus Prayer each day, repeating and repeating, so that words of asking mercy may be written on our hearts.” ~ from “We Pray” by Daniel Opperwall, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2017

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“We pray for all our families and everyone we love, that God’s great love would bless them in their sadness or their joy.” ~ from “We Pray” by Daniel Opperwall, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2017

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“We pray for all the world, every child, man, and woman, that all may come to know God’s love and learn to seek His face.” ~ from “We Pray” by Daniel Opperwall, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2017

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Look closely at the illustrations in “We Pray.” Talk together about how they fit with the words. Consider discussing things like this: “Who is holding the long prayer rope on the prayer rope page, and what can we learn from someone like that? Why are the people in a tree on the family page? How do the souls in the giant hand look, on the departed page? Who is that angel behind the child on the page that talks about praying in silence? Why do you think the Grbics chose that Person to hold the chalice on the page where the children are about to receive communion? Which illustration is your favorite, and why?

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Can you find the hedgehogs in “We Pray?” Perhaps hedgehogs are not the first thing you think of when pondering the theology of prayer, but they are an excellent example the level of detail in this lovely book! Take a closer look at the artwork in this book. Challenge your family to fill out this printable counting page (WePrayCounting), just for fun. You can work together on it or print two copies, split up the family, and have a friendly competition to see who can find everything (and how many of each thing can be found!)

Gleanings from a Book: “The Suitcase” by Jane G. Meyer

Orthodox Christian author Jane G. Meyer has written a new picture book called “The Suitcase: a Story about Giving.” The book was illustrated by Chiara Pasqualotto. It is the story of Thomas, a boy who may be autistic but does not let his challenges keep him from being an active participant – even a leader – in entering the Kingdom of God while bringing others with him. Any reader, regardless of age, will be challenged to find ways to make God’s Kingdom happen in the world around them after meeting Thomas through this book.

Here is a brief summary and review of the book:

Thomas is like clockwork. He is so precise with his preferred activities that you can almost predict what he will do each day. So, when he randomly shows up at the family supper table one night with a suitcase, declaring that he intends to leave for the Kingdom of Heaven, it catches everyone’s attention, for this is far from his routine! With his family’s love and support, Thomas shares his plan, showing his family (and the reader) each item that he has packed and explaining why he has packed it. As he does so, Thomas unknowingly reveals how carefully he has been paying attention to teachings about the Faith, and unveils his commitment to following Christ, even though it means stepping away from his beloved routines.

The colorful watercolor illustrations in this picture book are gently realistic. They invite the reader to feel comfortable in Thomas’ home and with his family. There is just enough detail to illustrate the story in an orderly manner, just as Thomas likes his world to be organized. (There is also just enough missing in each illustration to leave room for the reader’s imagination, inciting curiosity.)

“The Suitcase” is full of scriptural references. The reader can’t help but try to make connections: What was Thomas thinking about when he packed this item? Where did he hear about that one? Where can I learn more about it?!? Parents and teachers will find in “The Suitcase” more than just a lovely story. They will find in it an opportunity to delve into the scriptures with their children, to ensure that they know the source of each of the contents in Thomas’ wonderful suitcase.

Readers of all ages will be challenged to think beyond their own routines, consider what they should be “packing” in their own suitcase, and then reach out into the Kingdom of Heaven by finding ways to love and serve all those around them. The resource page at the end offers an excellent place to begin!

“The Suitcase” will be a welcome addition to any Orthodox Christian family’s library. It offers a sweet story as well as many opportunities to learn from the scriptures. Thomas’ preferences of routine and order can give families the opportunity to discuss autism and the challenges that people with autism face (especially if the family does not have a family member or friend living with autism). The story also gives its readers a chance to learn from Thomas’ determination to step outside of his comfort zone, and makes each reader think about how to do likewise in order to attain (and extend) the Kingdom of God in his/her own life!

Note: the author of this review was given a reading copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review. Visit http://www.paracletepress.com/Products/7763/the-suitcase.aspx to order your own copy of the book.

 

Here are ideas of ways to learn together as a family after reading this wonderful book:
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Read author Jane G. Meyer’s take on “The Suitcase,” including why she wrote the book, here: http://www.janegmeyer.com/books/the-suitcase/

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Take time to investigate the scripture passages that are alluded to in “The Suitcase.” You could look them up and read them all at once, or read and study them one at a time with your family after reading the book together. Scriptural allusions include:

Feeding the hungry (Matthew 25:35)

Clothing the naked (Matthew 25:36)

Giving to those in need (Deuteronomy 15:11)

Being a good servant (Matthew 25:21)

Praying for the world (James 5:16)

Having Faith like a mustard seed (Matthew 13:31-32; 17:20)

Talking less and listening more (James 1:19)

Entertaining angels (Hebrews 13:2)

Keeping ourselves pure (James 1:27)

Building things if God tells us to do so (Genesis 6:14-22)

The pearl of great price (Matthew 13:45-46)

The hidden treasure (Matthew 13:44)

Submitting to others (for example, allowing children to lead us) (Ephesians 5:17-21)

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Talk together as a family about Thomas. In what ways is he just like other kids? In what ways is he maybe a little different? What can we learn from him? Then think about each member of your family and talk about each person. In what ways is each family member like others their own age? In what ways are they different? What do you learn from that family member that makes you a better person? Encourage each other to remember to love and learn from everyone else, especially those who are different from ourselves. God has given them to us for that very reason!

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This (non-Orthodox, but encouraging) blog post shares the story of a mom who learned something from her child just as Thomas’ family learns from him in “The Suitcase.” http://www.thebettermom.com/the-better-mom/2011/12/15/lessons-we-learn-from-children-and-a-little-child-shall-lead-them

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Find opportunities to serve your own community, just as Thomas’ family did. Need ideas? Check the back of the book! Author Jane G. Meyer has listed a whole page of ways you can serve your community! Your priest will also have some ideas, as might the principal at your local school, or the volunteer coordinator of your local homeless shelter/soup kitchen. Contact them if you find that you need more ideas!

***

“Working together on outreach projects as a family not only allows us to follow Christ’s teachings, but it strengthens family togetherness, helps children learn, and empowers them to understand that they can help others. Serving others benefits a child’s psychological, social and intellectual
development. It increases self-esteem, responsibility and helps children develop new social skills. The time that you spend together as a family helping others will be rewarding and more memorable than almost any other family activity this year.” ~ “Building a Strong Family by Serving Others” by Nicholas Chakos, “The Orthodox Observer,” Feb/March 2015.
If your family is looking for an opportunity to serve an Orthodox outreach beyond your parish/neighborhood, check out the Fellowship of Orthodox Christians United to Serve (FOCUS). FOCUS North America operates a variety of ministries in more than 20 cities in the United States. FOCUS’ director wrote the above-quoted article, citing how serving through FOCUS changed his own family for the better. We highly encourage you to take a moment and read the rest of his article, which is found here:
http://focusnorthamerica.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/Orthodox-Observer-Family-Ministry-Article-Feb-2015_printed-copy.docx.pdf

Bedtime and Other Rituals: Conclusion and Facing Fears at Bedtime

We have examined so many different aspects of an Orthodox Christian family’s bedtime routine. We discussed winding down together; reasons to read books (as well as suggestions of what books to read); scriptures to share together; learning about the saints together; singing together; and praying together before bed. If you have missed any in the series, you can find it in its entirety on our blog at https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/category/bedtime/.

We have come to the end of the series, but before we conclude, we wish to once more thank those of you who participated in our survey over the summer! Your myriad of ideas and suggestions were indispensable to us in this project. We are sure that your responses have been helpful to the rest of the community as well. Thank you for taking the time to share them!

To conclude our series, we will begin by offering the following meditation called “the Liturgy of Bedtime.” It reaffirms some of the things that we have discussed in prior posts. We also know from experience that nighttime can be a fearful time for children, so occasionally “the liturgy of bedtime” is still followed by children feeling afraid. Thus, we will also offer links to ideas of ways to help children face their nighttime fears. Speaking to our children about God and leading them to Him on their way to bed during the “bedtime liturgy” is the best way to begin to address nighttime fears.  

May God grant you wisdom to know exactly what your children need at bedtime to help them relax and rest in the safety of God’s protection and the Theotokos’ watchful prayers. May He bless you as you then create and carry out that bedtime routine. May He grant peace to your children and great joy to you in the process. And may He have mercy on us all and save us. Amen.

“The Liturgy of Bedtime,” an excerpt from “Talking to Children About God”

By Dr. Albert Rossi, Ph.D.

Published originally in Orthodox Family Life,  Vol 2 Iss 3,

reprinted with permission (entire article can be found here: http://www.theologic.com/oflweb/inchurch/talkgod.htm)


One of the more regular times of “Letting the children come” to God is bedtime. Often stories and prayers at bedtime can be relaxed, non-competitive time with children. When everything is right, bedtime can be a time when the unconditional love of parent for child is almost tangible. Children are usually tired and sometimes less frenetic. It also goes without saying that some nights seem more like thinly veiled chaos. But, hopefully, most nights are more peaceful.


Going to sleep for children happens gracefully only within an elaborate ritual. This is the liturgy of going to sleep and is not totally unlike other liturgies. Father Alexander Schmemann spoke of the Eucharist beginning with the long ritual of getting dressed for Church and continuing through the trip to Church and all the beautiful liturgy preceding Communion. In a similar way, children go to sleep after intricate ceremony. This usually includes taking a bath, putting on pajamas, brushing their teeth, kissing everyone in the household goodnight, hearing a story, saying prayers, getting tucked in, and for little ones, a Linus blanket and Teddy for special security. This is the liturgy of bedtime. It’s a tender time, a loving time. It’s a rare and precious time. It’s a time to be close to each other and to God.


There are many ways to talk to children about God at bedtime. As was said, we do this primarily by the way we put them to bed. We do this by mustering patience as our own busy day comes to an end. We do it with a tender kiss and an “I love you” as we leave the room. But, we can also do it with stories.


Children love stories, stories, stories. In our family there is one type of story which is the regular, nightly request. It takes the form of “Daddy (or Mommy), tell me a story about when you were a little boy.” This has been going on so long that I am running dry of stories, or so it seems. Rather than forego a story, Beth will beg for a re-run of some oft-told story. I have overheard her telling these stories to her little friends as they played in her room. As I get older I am beginning to appreciate this form of story more. It tells of heritage, of lineage, of roots. Inevitably, these stories involve grandparents, moments of virtue, of relatives, humor, tales of Church events. All this is a remembrance of God’s activity in one’s personal history, and can occasionally be explained as such. Grandparents can have a incalculable value in strengthening the faith of a child with stories about “When Baba [grandmother] was a little girl.”

Here are some ideas of ways to help children face fears at bedtime. (Note: Not all are Orthodox, but there is enough that is helpful in each that we are sharing them anyway.)

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This blog post is written in the context of Halloween, but the Orthodox Christian suggestions of what to do when your child is scared suggest very practical steps that every Orthodox parent should “have in their back pocket” and be able to offer to their child anytime he/she is afraid. http://www.theorthodoxmama.com/what-to-do-when-your-child-is-scared/

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Here is a concrete way to show our children how prayer helps us to face fear. This piece is not Orthodox, but is a very helpful visual for our kids. (We should also be sure to remind our children that we have the added peace-giving knowledge of the prayers of the saints as an additional, much stronger protection for our little “flame” than just our own prayers can offer!) http://www.playeatgrow.com/2013/02/grow-helping-your-child-deal-with-fear.html/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed:+PlayEatGrow+(Play+Eat+Grow)  

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Here are two blog posts related to bedtime prayer by Fr. Stephen Freeman. We are including them here because of his son’s personal bedtime prayer (in the first blog) which he wrote when he was 4 years old. His sweet prayer includes a sound answer to what to do with bedtime fears: ask the saints to extinguish them! https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2009/10/14/what-do-you-say-when-you-turn-out-the-light/  And this post is an interesting look at a non-Orthodox children’s bedtime prayer: http://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2007/11/05/now-i-lay-me-down-to-sleep/
The comments after each blog are both interesting and helpful, should you have time, read them as well! (Comments include some practical suggestions such as sprinkling the bed with holy water before going to sleep.)
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This blog post recommends praying the Jesus Prayer if you (or your child) are having trouble sleeping: http://simplyorthodox.tumblr.com/post/32070899950

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When our family was in the process of converting into the Orthodox Faith, my young children found that having the “new-to-us” opportunity to make the sign of the cross to be helpful to them when they had bad dreams or felt afraid at nighttime. This book can help children learn how and why to make the sign of the cross: http://www.theorthodoxchildrenspress.com/our-books/on-our-shelf-every-time-i-do-my-cross/

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Find ideas for helping your child with bedtime fears/sleeplessness in the “When a Child Sleeps Poorly” section of this Orthodox Christian psychotherapist’s booklet: http://www.fatheralexander.org/booklets/english/orthodox_psychotherapy_d_avdeev_e.htm

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This non-Orthodox post offers practical Christian solutions for parents to extend comfort to their children after bad dreams: http://www.faithgateway.com/praying-through-bedtime-fears/#.WBDN31QrLIU

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In previous blog posts, we talked about sharing the scriptures at bedtime. Here are some suggestions of specific scripture verses that we can share with our children for them to think about instead of focusing on their fears at bedtime:

http://www.graceparenting.com/BibleVersesAboutPeacefulSleep.html

http://learnscripture.net/verse-set/5-sleep-not-sheep-bedtime-verses/

Bedtime and Other Rituals: Reading From the Scriptures Part 1: Introduction and a Few Resources

In prior posts, we have discussed the importance of establishing a bedtime routine. Gathering together as a family, calming down together, and reading together are all things we can do as part of a nightly routine that benefits our children. For the next few posts, we will take a look at reading stories from Scripture. This post will share the survey results along with a few possible resources. In forthcoming posts we will suggest stories to share with your children from both the Old and New Testaments.

Once again, we thank the participants who filled out our summer survey. Of those who took time to complete our survey, 70% answered the “how do you select which Scriptures to read?” question, implying that they include reading scriptures in their routine.

Here is how they answered:


22 %  – We follow the daily Bible readings prescribed by the Church.
45% – We read from a Bible storybook.
10% – We are reading our way through the whole Bible, one section at a time.

The rest offered these answers:

  • “Our kids go to a Christian School and we may start with what they’ve read that day to discuss our perspective as Orthodox Christians on the topic.”
  • “We may read the children’s Bible if she shows interest.”
  • “Either a Bible storybook or from the daily readings. Sometimes both.”
  •  “Kids may request certain stories, or I choose, or we try and find something close to the church calendar.”
  •  “Our kids choose daily stories, we read them stories that go with the Feast Day.”
  •  “We follow the readings, though not perfectly, and we read additionally from various story books or according to relevant feasts or lessons.”
  •  “Sometimes we follow daily readings, sometimes we are inspired by the upcoming feast, sometimes we just work our way through Bible storybook.”
  •  “The daily Bible verses and a Psalm or a chapter from Proverbs.”
  • “Home school lessons.”

And these respondents’ families include Scripture reading in their routine, just not at bedtime:

  • “We don’t read scripture at bedtime. We do that after lunch.”
  • “We read through a Bible storybook in the mornings.”
  • “We read from a Bible story book on Sunday afternoons.”

As you can see, there are many ways to select which Scriptures/Bible stories to share with your children. Here are a few related resources that may be helpful to your family. Note: not all of them are Orthodox, but they are helpful enough that we decided to  included them. What Scriptures and/or Bible storybooks does your family read together? Please share them in the comments below!

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“Bible stories can be paraphrased in simple language and told enthusiastically to your youngsters. If possible, try to follow the church calendar of daily readings for your selection of a Bible story on a given night. With younger children, the focus can simply be on the Sunday Gospel and Epistle reading. As a means of introduction, as well as reinforcement, the reading can be discussed daily on the week prior to that Sunday reading.” https://oca.org/the-hub/the-church-on-current-issues/nourishing-children-in-christ1

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This Orthodox Bible storybook, The Children’s Bible Reader, is written at a 3rd grade level, but children of other ages can definitely enjoy reading it or hearing it read to them. http://www.svspress.com/childrens-bible-reader-illustrated-old-new-testaments/

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The Children’s Bible Reader an Orthodox Children’s Bible storybook, is also online! Read (or listen to) the stories here: http://cbr.goarch.org/

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In case you are not aware of it, we offer a weekly podcast featuring Sunday’s Gospel, told in simpler words for younger children, and read for older children. Listen to the podcast, called “Let Us Attend,” here: http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/letusattend. There are also printable handouts at five different levels available to share with your children: http://www.antiochian.org/christianeducation/letusattend

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The Read and Share Bedtime Bible and Devotional offers 200 simply-written stories from the Bible, as well as 50 devotional readings that can help families focus on God before going to sleep. Geared to young children, it can also be enjoyed by slightly older ones. https://www.amazon.com/Read-Share-Bedtime-Bible-Devotional/dp/1400320836/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1476889361&sr=1-1&keywords=9781400320837

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Words to Dream On: This Bible storybook has selected Bible stories that focus on “God’s love, care, protection, trustworthiness, and power.” It offers 50 different Bible stories, each with a short Bible verse for the family to ponder, as well as a prayer related to the story. http://www.thomasnelson.com/words-to-dream-on#

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365 Bible Stories for Young Hearts offers one story for each day of the year. This book is an easy way for families to read their way through the Bible (well, through many of its stories) in one year. https://www.amazon.com/365-Bible-Stories-Young-Hearts/dp/158134807X

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Bedtime and Other Rituals: Reading Books Together, Part 3: Books to Read With Older Children

Author’s note: a few of my personal favorite chapter books and/or authors are represented in the photo. Many of them showed up again in the survey we conducted. What are YOUR family’s favorite chapter books and authors to read aloud together? Please comment below, and help our community meet some new book friends!

Orthodox Christian parents want to instill the values of our faith into our children’s lives. We desire to protect them from the deception that is so prevalent in our culture while also teaching them to live as Orthodox Christians in that culture. How can we do this? One way to work at this is by reading books together and guiding natural discussions that can come about as a result of that reading.

There are many wonderful Orthodox books out there for kids, and more are constantly being produced. We are blessed to be raising children in this time period, for there are more Orthodox Christian resources available to English-speaking children now than ever before. We need to take advantage of these helpful resources and provide them for our children!

It is also important that we not limit our reading to Orthodox books. We are not living in an exclusively Orthodox world, and we must teach our children how to live in the world without compromising their faith. One way we can teach them to do so is by reading together books that are not Orthodox, viewing what we read through the lens of our Faith, and then talking about it as a family. While we read we will have opportunities to show our children how we should always live our life: constantly bearing in mind what Christ taught us about how to live; what the Ten Commandments teach; what the Church Fathers have taught; and so on. We can then talk together about how the characters in the book are following or ignoring those teachings. These discussions can help our whole family learn how to apply the Faith through someone else’s (in this case, a fictional character’s) experiences. Nurturing our children’s Orthodox faith through books and ensuing discussions can help them to learn to look at all of life through the lens of our Faith, to evaluate their own life in its light, and to make choices that lead them towards Christ and His Church.

These discussions can happen with younger children and picture books. However, their value and importance increase as our children grow older. “Older children’s” books tend to deal with issues and characters’ choices that are even more conducive to these discussions. Bigger kids have bigger issues and tougher choices. Discussing those choices and issues in the context of a book character allows us to help our children shape their understanding of the Faith. Then, when similar situations arise in their own personal life, they already know what is the right thing to do.

The opportunity to teach our children how to apply the Faith intensifies the importance of finding time to read to them, even if they have “outgrown” picture books. We already know that reading to them increases their vocabulary and intelligence and that it is fun! But this may well be the best benefit of all: reading to our older children offers us a natural way to shape their understanding of the Faith by providing examples of how to apply it to their daily life.

 

Not sure what to read? Don’t worry! The respondents to our summer survey have given us a list of fabulous chapter books that can be read aloud to children. Some of these books are Orthodox, but many are not. We will share them below in alphabetical order by title. (Note: please bear in mind that you know what is best for your family, so some of these books may not be what they need to hear or what you wish to discuss with them. As always, please use your own best judgement for your family.)

“Basil’s Search for Miracles” by Heather Zydek is the story of a middle-school boy’s reawakening to the Faith through unusual circumstances related to an article he’s writing for his school newspaper. (Available many places, including here: http://bookstore.jordanville.org/9781888212860)

“Children’s Bible Reader” published by the American Bible Society. This Bible story book illustrated with icon-style pictures tells stories from the scriptures using words that children can understand. https://www.amazon.com/Orthodox-Childrens-Illustrated-American-Society/dp/1585168270

classic fairy tales – You can find fairy tales appropriate for children in the 398.2 section of the children’s department of your local library.

“The Five Little Peppers” (and the ensuing sequels) by Margaret Sidney tells the story of a family consisting of a mother and her five children who have fallen on hard times. They work diligently, love each other fiercely, give generously, and learn much as they rebuild their life together. https://www.amazon.com/gp/bookseries/B00CJDDPOO/ref=dp_st_1450558518

“Heidi” by Johanna Spyri is the story of an orphaned girl who goes to live with a crochety mountain man and turns his world around with her love for life. (Note: Spyri wrote many other wonderful children’s books as well.) https://www.amazon.com/Heidi-Childrens-Classics-Johanna-Spyri/dp/0517189674

“The Hobbit” and its sequels, including “Lord of the Rings” by J. R. R. Tolkien are all fantasy stories of an honest, “homebody” hobbit whose reluctant choice to join in on a quest begins a chain of events that lands him a very difficult, but very important, job. His adventures, (and the adventures of others after him that come about as a result of his adventures) enable him (and them) to help restore good and peace to their world. https://www.amazon.com/Hobbit-J-R-Tolkien/dp/054792822X

“Let the Little Children Come to Me” by Cornelia Horn and John W. Martens takes a look at childhood in the early church. http://cuapress.cua.edu/books/viewbook.cfm?Book=HOLL

“Miracles of the Orthodox Church” by Mary Efrosini Gregory is the story of Christ’s miracles and how they are continuing today. https://www.amazon.com/Miracles-Orthodox-Church-Original-Continue/dp/1933654244/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1476281097&sr=8-2&keywords=miracles+of+the+orthodox+church

“Mission in Christ’s Way” by Archbishop Anastasios of Albania is a collection of his essays on missions. https://holycrossbookstore.com/products/mission-in-christs-way?variant=697122139

“The Orthodox Study Bible” is the Bible, complete with footnotes written by Orthodox theologians. http://store.ancientfaith.com/osb-hardcover

“The Prologue from Ochrid” offers daily readings for Orthodox Christians, including the lives of the saints, homilies, and more. It can be found online at http://www.rocor.org.au/?page_id=925)

“Where the Red Fern Grows” by Wilson Rawls is the heartrending story of a boy and his coon dogs and their adventures in the Ozarks. https://www.amazon.com/Where-Fern-Grows-Wilson-Rawls/dp/0440412676 

“A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeline L’Engle is the story of a family who works together across space and time to try to save their father. Sprinkled with science, this book allows its readers to learn while suspending disbelief. It is a true work of science fiction, and is the first in a series. https://www.amazon.com/Wrinkle-Time-Quintet/dp/0312367546


The following authors, publishers, and chapter book series were also recommended by those surveyed:

Beatrix Potter wrote and illustrated a delightful series of books about animals, from the animals’ perspective. https://www.amazon.com/Beatrix-Potter-Complete-Tales-Rabbit/dp/072325804X

The Chronicles of Narnia books by C.S. Lewis are beautifully told tales of high adventure and quests with strongly Christian overtones. https://www.amazon.com/Chronicles-Narnia-Box-Set-Lewis/dp/0061992887

George MacDonald was a prolific writer who “wrote for the child-like.” He wrote for all ages, but his children’s books can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_fb_1_25?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=george+macdonald+children%27s+classics&sprefix=george+macDonald+children%2Cstripbooks%2C285

The Harry Potter series of books by J. K. Rowling follows an orphaned boy through his wizard-schooling years as he learns how to surrender his own safety/security and use the gifts he’s been given for the good of others. http://harrypotterbooks.scholastic.com/books/original-series

Patricia St. John wrote many children’s books that bring the adventures and learnings of children in other parts of the world to life, in the context of Christian (though not Orthodox) life. Find one of her books, “Rainbow Garden,” (and links to others) here:  https://www.amazon.com/Rainbow-Garden-Patricia-St-John-ebook/dp/0802400280/ref=sr_1_7?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1476285820&sr=1-7

Spiritual Fragrance Inc.’s books: This Orthodox publishing company features children’s books about Our Lord, His mother, and the saints. Find them here: http://spiritualfragranceinc.com/home/

Lois Lenski wrote (and illustrated) period-appropriate regional books that give the readers a taste of life in different regions of the USA in different time periods. Favorites include “Strawberry Girl” and “Indian Captive.” https://www.amazon.com/s?field-keywords=lois+lenski+books

“The Little House” books, semi-autographical books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, offer the readers a taste of life in the American frontier. “Little House in the Big Woods” introduces the reader to the Ingalls family and their adventures as they decide to leave Wisconsin and head west. The other books follow as the Ingalls girls grow up. http://www.littlehousebooks.com/

Thornton Burgess’ books about animals: especially “Jimmy Skunk”, “Bob White”, and “Peter Cottontail.” These simple chapter books were written with the intent of helping children appreciate nature and wildlife through stories in which the animals can talk and share their adventures. (Find a thorough list of his books here: http://www.thorntonburgess.org/PDF’s/Thornton%20Burgess%20Books.pdf)  

 

Author’s additional recommendations:

This just in: this sweet chapter book tells the story of a boy named Sam who doesn’t want much to do with church or monasteries, and a corgi named Saucer who lives to herd, and how their stories entwine. The story is so believable (as long as the reader is willing to imagine that animals try to communicate their thoughts) that the reader feels as though she’s watching it unfold. The book has just the right touches of humor. The illustrations are few, but fit the book perfectly. This book is a great addition to any Orthodox Christian family’s bookshelf! http://store.ancientfaith.com/shepherding-sam/

“A Bear Called Paddington” and the ensuing sequels by Michael Bond. Paddington bear is found by the Brown family in London’s Paddington station after his Aunt Lucy cannot care for him any longer, so she ships him away from “deepest, darkest Peru” in hopes that he will have a better life. He gets into all sorts of mischief, usually completely by accident, throughout his life but is forgiven again and again, and remains much-loved by the Browns. https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062312181/a-bear-called-paddington

“Betsy Tacy” and the rest of the series by Maud Hart Lovelace offer readers the opportunity to grow along with Betsy and Tacy in small-town America at the turn of the 20th century. https://www.harpercollins.com/9780062095879/the-betsy-tacy-treasury

“The Bronze Bow” by Elizabeth George Speare offers its readers the opportunity to join a young man, Daniel bar Jamin, who is involved in the rebellion against the Romans in the time of Christ. What happens when he and his needy sister Leah come into contact with Christ Himself has the potential to be life-changing for them if they allow it to be. http://www.christianbook.com/the-bronze-bow-paperback/elizabeth-speare/9780395137192/pd/137195 (All of Speare’s historical ficion books are a wonderful way to learn about history in the context of a story.)

“Facing East” by Khouria Frederica Mathewes-Green gives readers a glimpse into the life of an Orthodox mission across the time span of one year. https://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0060654988/?tag=holycrossanti-20

The Prydain Series by Lloyd Alexander take readers on an adventure with Taran, a boy who knows little of his personal history except that he is an assistant pig keeper who dreams of grand adventure. Thrown into the journey of a lifetime in the very first book, “The Book of Three,” Taran learns the value of friendship and how to do the right thing even when it is impossibly hard. https://www.amazon.com/gp/bookseries/B00CKCWI2O/ref=dp_st_0805080481

“Queen Abigail the Wise” by Grace Brooks offers Orthodox girls a chapter book they can read and relate to! Abigail learns how to handle life as an Orthodox Christian, helped by her friends and her priest through all the adventures an Orthodox girl of today encounters in life. https://www.amazon.com/Queen-Abigail-Wise-Grace-Brooks/dp/1518600115/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

 

Want even more ideas? Find a purely secular list (you will notice that some of them overlap with our lists) of the top 25 chapter books to read aloud here:

http://thestir.cafemom.com/big_kid/178053/25_top_chapter_books_to