Tag Archives: Ideas

A Closer Look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home”- Introduction

Note: This series of blog posts will offer ideas of how to build up the little church in your home. The series will take a closer look at “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker. Each week we will take a look at one portion of the book and focus on the wisdom and ideas offered there. Find an overview of the entire book here: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/06/22/gleanings-from-a-book-blueprints-for-the-little-church-creating-an-orthodox-home-by-elissa-bjeletich-and-caleb-shoemaker/

We thank Elissa Bjeletich, Caleb Shoemaker, and Ancient Faith Publishing for granting us permission to share the book with you in this way. Purchase your own copy here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/blueprints

 

Week 1: Introduction

Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker begin their collaborative work, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” with important introductory pieces. Before they mention anything about building the family’s little church, they quite frankly (and repeatedly) urge their readers to each ask their priest which practices will be the best for their particular family. Each reader’s priest knows them and their family situation and thus can best speak to what will or will not be helpful to building the little church in that particular home.

The introductory chapter offers a bit of background for the book, including reasons the authors wrote it. They found that they needed a book like this when their children were younger, but there was none to be had. So they undertook the task to write this one. This introductory chapter offers suggestions of where to begin the process of creating an Orthodox home. It takes a moment to explain the concept of “the little church”. It also touches on what it means to live an Orthodox life. This first chapter is foundational to the book, and prepares the reader well for the subsequent chapters.

Do you have a parenting question for the “Blueprints For the Little Church” authors? Connect with Elissa here: https://elissabjeletich.com/contact/ and email Caleb at caleb.shoemaker@gmail.com.

 

Here are a few gleanings that can offer you a closer look at the beginning of the book:

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“As you attempt to implement the concepts you find here, you may run into trouble. Whenever you’re in doubt, please ask your priest.” (p. 5, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“‘Even at their age they are exposed to all sorts of folly and bad examples from popular entertainments. Our children need remedies for all these things! We are so concerned with our children’s schooling; if only we were equally zealous in bringing them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord!’” ~St. John Chrysostom (p. 7, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“This book is for parents… We offer this book from sincere hearts to you who desire to present the rich heritage of the Orthodox Church’s teachings for families — what our great saints and elders have often called ‘the little church’.” (p. 9, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“For many families, it is hard enough to get the family up and out of bed for the Divine Liturgy each week — let alone to take on daily prayer, frequent Scripture reading, weekly fasting, Lenten seasons, Vespers, vigils, Matins, and feast days! How can we do everything we’re ‘supposed to do’ when it’s hard enough to find time to do the bare minimum? How are we to raise saints when our toddler doesn’t want to keep his diaper on?” (pp. 10-11, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“‘My wise priest advised me to stop comparing, to know that we are all running this race together but we must run it with our heads down. When I stopped worrying about what others were doing, I was better able to focus and to lead my own family.’ ~ Elissa Bjeletich (p. 12, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“‘One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do as a parent was ask for help… Don’t be afraid to ask for help. You’ll never know what your family can accomplish when you seek counsel and guidance along the path.’” ~ Caleb Shoemaker (pp. 13-14, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“In our modern culture, we compartmentalize our lives… Yet Jesus clearly calls us to love Him with all our heart, all our soul, and all our mind. There is no compartmentalization in this, but true unity… Christ is calling us to a unified understanding of ourselves and our lives. Love for God must become the foundation of everything, and all aspects of our lives — our jobs and our families and our recreation, our meals and our entertainment — must all be connected to and part of a unified whole…” (p. 15, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“…the reality is that young people are fleeing the faith of their families, but not those whose families have instilled a deep faith within their hearts; and the little church is one of the defining reasons children stay in the Church as they grow up.” (p. 17, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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“The Orthodox life is not complicated. It is beautiful in its simplicity, wondrous in its depth, vivifying in its ritual and sacraments. The complications are typically self-imposed when, instead of following the Church’s teachings or the admonitions of our priests and confessors, we try to cobble together a hodge-podge religion based mostly on external trappings and false deadlines.” (p. 19, “Blueprints for the Little Church: Creating an Orthodox Home” by Elissa Bjeletich and Caleb Shoemaker, Ancient Faith Publishing, 2016)

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If you’re interested in learning more about the ideas found in “Blueprints for the Little Church”, check out this webinar https://www.goarch.org/-/blueprints-for-the-little-church; this keynote address https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WHPZ57H5zPo; Elissa’s author website https://elissabjeletich.com/; and/or Caleb’s YouTube channel, “May I Have a Word?”: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDmih9jUJ5QKGXfU8iKI-aA/videos

On the Gift of Story

When I was a child, I remember sitting with my family (and any guests we were hosting) around the table after dinner, and listening as the adults told stories and jokes. I have always loved stories, and this daily experience fed my hunger for them. Throughout my growing-up years, I remember begging my parents to tell me tales from their childhood. Sometimes they’d remember one, and tell it to me, and other times they couldn’t think of any story to tell. I remember adamantly thinking to myself that I was going to remember every single thing from my childhood, so that I would always be able to tell my own children stories when they asked for one. In my childhood mind, that was the best gift I could give to my future kids. (Unfortunately, my memory did not serve me as well as I intended, and therefore many times when my own children would ask for stories, I could not call any to mind! Now that my children are grown and no longer begging for stories, often something will jog a childhood memory, and at last I can think of stories to tell!)

It wasn’t until I was teaching first grade in a private Christian school that I began to appreciate the gift (and power!) of story. My favorite class to teach in those years was Bible class. One day, I realized why I loved teaching Bible class so much (besides the obvious fact that it was a lesson from the Scriptures). You see, it was in Bible class that I could teach in a way that engrossed my students: through story. Years later, after we had children of our own and I was no longer teaching in a classroom, our family began sharing other cultures with children and their families through educational gatherings which always included folktales. I am confident that the children (and adults) who attended may not remember any of the facts or activities from those gatherings. But if I were to ask them something about the folktale that we told, even years after the event, a light would go on in their mind, and a smile would cross their lips, as they remembered it. Stories are a gift, because they are memorable, and even children can understand them.

What is it about stories that entices children? And is it just a childhood thing, this longing for stories? I have noticed in my adult life that I am much better able to digest concepts if they are embedded in a story than if I am just presented with the idea. I retain much more from walking through a living history exhibit and speaking with its re-enactors than I do from visiting a glass-encased-artifact museum. As our family journeyed toward Orthodoxy, it was Frederica Mathewes-Green’s story of a year in their mission parish, her book Facing East, which made the Faith real to me, not a straightforward theological discourse. Story speaks to the adult me, just as much as it did to the child. I suspect that I am not alone. Given our whole culture’s renewed interest in storytelling (even businesses are utilizing storytelling for increased success!), it seems that stories are for everyone, not just children.

Perhaps this is why, throughout the history of mankind, storytelling was utilized as a means for communicating culture, history, and morals. That’s a tall order! But it was effective. Unfortunately, in the last centuries, we have begun to step away from the gift of story. As we rely more on technology for learning and less on sitting together around the dinner table (or campfire) and talking to each other, the experienced people in our midst are not as readily able to share their wisdom through their stories. This has reduced the organic transfer of culture, history, and morals. The recent “rebirth” of interest in storytelling in our culture is a step (back) in the right direction. Now it is up to us to move beyond interest in storytelling, and begin to actually practice it.

Stories are a gift, because they are a memorable (and fun!) way for life lessons to be beautifully conveyed. Our Lord Himself offered us this gift when He told stories. Remember all the parables that He shared? Many of them were great stories but they also incited discussion because they housed deeper meaning. Christ modeled for us the use of story for teaching.

We should be taking advantage of this gift! As we do, perhaps the stories that we share will come from our personal experience. As a child, I craved stories from my parents’ growing-up years. But even now, as an adult, I continue to savor the stories that they tell me from years gone by. We should not underestimate the value of personal stories. Retelling our personal history allows our listeners to hear what life was like when we were younger. The stories are engaging because they’re real, they’re about someone the hearer actually knows, and they bring the past to life. They can also teach a lesson, especially if we are humble enough to even tell the stories of our mistakes. As we share our stories, let us be careful not to gloss over those mistakes. Rather, let us allow our listeners to learn from them. God gives us opportunities to suffer and stumble and get back up again, not just for our own salvation, but also for the salvation of those around us who can learn from our choices (and even from our mistakes!).

Another way to share the gift of story is through reading books together. They may be Orthodox books and/or books that directly teach an important concept or lesson. At other times, we may share a story from a book that is not Orthodox, and maybe does not even directly teach a concept or virtue, but it opens up a way to speak together about one. Perhaps the main characters in the story actually make the wrong choice. Rather than throwing out the story altogether because of that wrong choice, we can allow such a story to become a launching point, a way to safely talk together about the Faith and our choices and to learn through the characters’ mistakes. This can save us from having to make the mistake ourselves. (Of course, each family is different, and is thus differently able to process the stories that they hear. Because of this, we adults need to decide which stories are appropriate to share with our listeners. This requires preparation through careful thought and pre-reading before sharing, but in the long run, it is very worthwhile.)

Modern schedules may no longer allow for the daily extended mealtimes that I experienced when I was a child. This makes it more difficult for storytelling to happen naturally. However, this gift is so valuable that it is worth investing the time and energy required to make it happen. Let us find a way to give the gift of story, and value it when we receive it in return!

Note: We are not all professional storytellers. That’s okay. The personal touch, the time that is offered in order to tell a story, and the beloved voice of the teller is what makes each story valuable and approachable to the listeners, whether or not the storyteller is a pro.

 

Here are some ideas and additional information that may be helpful as you begin to share the gift of story:

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Years ago we shared a series of posts about bedtime stories. In case you missed it: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/10/05/bedtime-and-other-rituals-reading-books-together-part-1-why-read-at-bedtime/

https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/10/12/bedtime-and-other-rituals-reading-books-together-part-2-books-to-read-with-younger-children/

https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/10/19/bedtime-and-other-rituals-reading-books-together-part-3-books-to-read-with-older-children/

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We wrote before about the value of sharing stories from the scriptures. If you missed that, check it out here:

https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/10/26/bedtime-and-other-rituals-reading-from-the-scriptures-part-1-introduction-and-a-few-resources/

https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/11/02/bedtime-and-other-rituals-reading-from-the-scriptures-part-2-old-testament-stories/

https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/11/09/bedtime-and-other-rituals-reading-from-the-scriptures-part-3-new-testament-stories/

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Did you see our blog post about telling the stories of the saints? If not, here it is: https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2016/11/23/bedtime-and-other-rituals-sharing-stories-of-the-saints/

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Would you like to read more about the value of telling your children stories from your family’s history and/or your own personal life? Check this out: https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2013/12/what-kids-learn-from-hearing-family-stories/282075/?utm_source=atlfb

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Most folk tales offer the opportunity for character-building discussions. Check your public library’s 398.2 section of the non-fiction part of the children’s department to find a multitude of such books (but, as always, read the stories yourself before reading them with children, to verify that they will work for what you’re trying to learn together). There are other character-building stories available, as well. For example, these: http://www.momentsaday.com/storybooks-that-build-character-printable-activity-pages/

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Here is a list of picture books that may be helpful to your family, if you are looking for stories that can encourage discussions on character building. (Again, we encourage you to read these books yourself before sharing them with your children, to make sure that they’ll work for your particular situation.) https://thecharactercorner.com/15-books-to-teach-character-to-kids/

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Here are some suggested chapter books that may be helpful to your family, if you are looking for stories that can encourage discussions on character building. (Again, we encourage you to read these books yourself before sharing them with your children, to make sure that they’ll work for your particular situation.)

https://www.notconsumed.com/chapter-books-teach-moral-lessons/

https://thecharactercorner.com/character-building-books/

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If you want to read more about encouraging character-building through stories, you may find these books helpful: https://www.christianbook.com/honey-for-childs-heart-fourth-edition/gladys-hunt/9780310242468/pd/42463?event=ESRCN|M and https://www.christianbook.com/honey-for-a-teenagers-heart/gladys-hunt/9780310242604/pd/42606?event=ESRCN|M

 

 

On Family Fun Ideas for Summer

We in the northern hemisphere are right in the middle of summer. For many of us parents, this means that we have more time and/or a different schedule with our children. There are so many ways to spend that additional time! We have gathered some ideas that can be tucked away if and/or when you would like to offer your children an idea of something to do.

If you already have ideas and plans with your children, that is awesome! You will not need these ideas! If you would like to add to your list of “things we may want to do”, perhaps something here will be of help to you. Check them out as you have time and energy.

Either way, God bless you and your family as you enjoy the summer time together!

 

Here are the ideas that we found. What ideas do you have to share with the community? Please comment with your own fun family activities!

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Before you get bogged down by too many ideas and the feeling that you must have every day scheduled for your children’s summer vacation, treat yourself (and your family, by applying your learnings) to this podcast. You will find that is an hour well invested: https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/hmhs/summertime_parenting
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The title may make this seem as though it is just for “littles”, but the myriad of kitchen-ingredient doughs could be fun for any aged child! https://team-cartwright.com/taste-safe-sensory-play/

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Here are fun ideas for your own backyard that will challenge your children to play and exercise: https://www.funlovingfamilies.com/diy-backyard-play-areas/?utm_medium=social&utm_source=pinterest&utm_campaign=tailwind_tribes&utm_content=tribes&utm_term=280897172_7438592_258321

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If your children are the crafty sort, you may want to take a look at these beautiful things that they can make with items found in nature: https://www.howweelearn.com/breathtaking-nature-crafts-for-kids/?utm_medium=social&utm_source=pinterest&utm_campaign=tailwind_tribes&utm_content=tribes&utm_term=723694014_29094136_80903

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Here’s a compilation of cool and clever ideas for summer fun! https://kidsactivitiesblog.com/72221/cool-activity-ideas-summer/

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If you have a beach ball or two, you’re all set for these fun games: https://www.birthdaypartyideas4kids.com/beach-ball-games.html

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From games to art, here’s a fabulous, screen-free collection of ideas of things kids can do: https://selfsufficientkids.com/screen-free-kids-activities/

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Here are some gender-specific idea collections. (We recommend that you look through both, though, because children like to try all sorts of activies, and the fun is not gender-specific!) https://www.moritzfinedesigns.com/25-summer-activities-for-boys/ and https://www.moritzfinedesigns.com/25-summer-activities-for-girls/

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Check out these fun science experiments! https://lemonlimeadventures.com/must-try-summer-science-activities-for-kids/

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Turn your backyard into a play space – or a gameboard! Check out these fun ideas: https://www.diyncrafts.com/17772/home/35-ridiculously-fun-diy-backyard-games-borderline-genius

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Giant painted “mural”, anyone? Waffle cone s’mores? Ice cube stacking? Here’s a large collection of  fun summer ideas! https://mothersniche.com/60-days-of-cheap-summer-fun/

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For the artists among us (or those who are willing to inspire their children to explore art) there’s this: https://www.artbarblog.com/58-summer-art-camp-ideas/

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These family fun ideas are all wet: https://whatmomslove.com/kids/best-outdoor-water-activities-to-keep-kids-cool-summer/

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On Ideas for Summer Family Fun

In the northern hemisphere, it’s summer time! For many families, this means a break from our usual school year schedule. We want to provide our children with plenty of time to regroup and rest after the intensity of their studies, because they have worked very hard. We want them to learn to have some unstructured time – and perhaps even a little taste of boredom – to give them the opportunity to invent and play their own games. But we also want them to continue learning, although perhaps in a different way than they are learning during the school year. And in the midst of all of of that, we want to make fun memories together as a family.

To these ends, here is a small gathering of fun activities, learning opportunities, and ways to make this summer a little more fun. Try one or all of them, if you are so inclined! Tuck your favorite ideas into your back pocket if you’ve already got a good handle on your summer. It could be that one or more of them will come in handy at the last minute!

Regardless of how we spend the summer, may we enjoy the change in schedule and savor the additional time to be together!
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Summer is already partly spent, so you may already have a routine that works for your family. But if not, or if you want to switch things up a bit, here’s a clever way to do something fun together each day of the week during summer vacation: http://citrusandstripes.com/summer-break-schedule/

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Need ideas for preschoolers? How about some of these? https://www.notimeforflashcards.com/2014/05/50-summer-activities-for-3-year-olds.html#_a5y_p=1729695

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This page offers 30 educational, creative, and budget-friendly (not to mention fun) ideas of summer-y things to do with kids! https://prettyprovidence.com/summer-activities/

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Got water balloons? Here’s a post that offers a pile of ways to use them (besides the usual!): http://www.agirlandagluegun.com/2013/07/water-balloon-summer-fun-roundup.html

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Hot day? No problem, if you have a few squirt guns and a couple of recycled plastic cups!

https://www.thisgrandmaisfun.com/squirt-gun-races/

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If your summer is hotter than usual, this may help: here are 25 water games to play with kids! https://itsalwaysautumn.com/water-games.html

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Here are a fun list of unplugged activities for tweens!

https://frugalfun4boys.com/2013/06/30/20-activities-for-tween-age-boys/

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Want to actually enjoy crafting with your kids? Check out these awesome ideas:

www.listotic.com/29-fun-crafts-kids-adults-will-actually-enjoy/

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This article lists 100 (!) inexpensive ideas to do with kids during the summer:

http://stepmomming.com/kids-summer-activities/

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Here are some ideas of ways to help your children learn more from the Scriptures this summer! Although the blogger is not Orthodox, many of these ideas can be used to help Orthodox kids (and parents) grow together in the Faith! https://thepurposefulmom.com/2016/06/summer-bible-study-plans-ideas-kids.html

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When everyone just needs to go outside for a while, consider one of these fun activities:

https://thejoysofboys.com/outdoor-summer-activities-for-kids/

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Road trips with lego fans just got a lot more fun! Check out these suggested ideas that can be pulled together quickly before your trip: https://mamainthenow.com/lego-road-trip-activities/

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Here’s a great list of fun summer activities for teens: https://mykidstime.com/things-to-do/50-fun-activities-for-teens-to-do-in-the-summer/

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Gleanings From a Book: “Everything Tells Us About God” by Katherine Bolger Hyde

Author’s note: This book is so eye-catching! As soon as I saw it, I was excited to read it! The illustrations are delightfully appealing. The book’s backstory adds to its intrigue. I couldn’t wait to crack it open! However, I had other writing that needed to happen, so when the book arrived, I reluctantly set it on the shelf to wait until now. It was hard to not peek, but I prefer to write about a book right after reading it, so I forced myself to wait. It was well worth the wait. This is a delightful book.

From the first glance, this beautiful book invites engagement. The cover sets the tone for the book: it creates an expectation for beauty, variety, and a joyful revelling in God’s generosity with His people. When the reader opens the book, the end paper catches their eye. It is a golden, nearly-completed puzzle. But why is that one piece missing? And what does this have to do with the title? Without reading a word, the reader is already curious and determined to know more!

The book begins by telling the reader that the world is like a giant puzzle. God made this puzzle to tell us about Himself. He designed each piece – each part of the world – to help us learn some of His secrets. When we really look at the pieces, we can learn about Him through them!

Page after engaging page, the book points out different things in our world and how God uses them to teach us about Himself. For example, the sun tells us we can’t live without God because His love warms our hearts and helps us to grow closer to Him. The food that we eat reminds us that God always makes sure we have what we need, and that He always takes care of us. The animals tell us about God, too: elephants help us see how mighty God is; hens and chicks remind us of how He cares for us; doves remind us of how the Holy Spirit brings us peace; etc.

Livia Coloji’s charming illustrations simultaneously cheer the reader and invite interaction. Bright colors, playful perspectives, and soft edges all help the reader to feel the warm message of the text. Readers can savor the images as well as the words. The first time through the book, the reader looks forward to turning the page to unveil the next illustration and the next piece of the puzzle. Every reading after that, the reader will anticipate the illustrations, revisiting old friends.

The book concludes with an answer to the reader’s initial question. The missing piece in the puzzle of God’s world is each of us! He gives us life so that we can be part of His puzzle. He wants to show the world part of Himself through us! When we love and serve God, we are able to be a puzzle piece to those around us!

The author’s note at the end of the book offers the reader a glimpse at its backstory. The concept of this book was initially presented to Ancient Faith Publishing by Fr. Thomas Hopko of blessed memory. He had written of a conversation with an elderly bishop on an airport run one day. As they drove, the bishop kept pointing things out in the world around them, and talking about how each thing pointed us to God. Katherine Hyde sent Fr. Thomas her rendition of his idea, but it got lost in the shuffle over the years. Fr. Thomas’ family has given their permission for her to publish it, so now we can read this book and marvel at God’s willingness to reveal Himself to us, one piece at a time!

The end paper at the back of the book shows the completed golden puzzle. The reader now knows why the piece was missing and can see how beautiful the puzzle is with all of its pieces in place. Glory to God for including each of us in the puzzle of His world!

Purchase your own copy of this book: http://store.ancientfaith.com/everything-tells-us-about-god/

Here are some gleanings from the book, as well as ideas of ways to incorporate it into a family time:

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“The sun tells us that nothing can live without God… His warmth fills our hearts, and His love shines on us every day.” (from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
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“The water we drink tells us Christ is our life…” (from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
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“Rocks tell us Christ is as strong as a boulder… Nothing and no one can ever defeat Him or make him stop loving us.” (from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
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“Small things, like flowers… tell us God cares about every detail of His creation.” (from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
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“Animals… tell us what God is like… The mother hen tells us He cares for us.” (from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
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“Schools… tell us Christ is our Teacher… And He Himself is the perfect student of God the Father: He always does His Father’s will.” (from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
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“The people we meet… tell us Jesus became human, just like us.” (from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
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“Some years ago, Fr. Tom Hopko submitted to Ancient Faith Publishing a story… In this story… a young Fr. Tom drove an elderly bishop to the airport, hoping to engage in some deep theological conversation along the way. Instead, the bishop humbly and simply pointed out how everything they passed had something to tell us about the nature of God.” (a bit of the back story of the book, from “Everything Tells Us About God,” by Katherine Bolger Hyde)
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If you have children who enjoy coloring, one of the first pages of the book has been made into a coloring page! Download and print it here: https://store.ancientfaith.com/content/everything-coloring-page.pdf
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Family time idea #1: Before reading “Everything Tells Us About God” together, hand each family member a blank puzzle. Provide watercolor paints, markers, and/or colored pencils and invite them to write a message or create an image that makes them happy on the puzzle. Share the book while the images dry. Then have each person turn their puzzle over, and on each piece, write the name of something or someone in their life that points them to God. Who/what are the pieces that God uses in their life to draw them closer to Himself? (Be sure to help family members for whom the writing is difficult!)

(You may want to buy different sized puzzles, depending on the ages of those in your household. You can find blank puzzles online – for example, this one: http://www.orientaltrading.com/compoz-a-puzzle-blank-puzzles-28-a2-13646291.fltr;
or in a local craft store – for example, this one: http://www.michaels.com/design-a-puzzle-set-by-creatology/10489364.html)
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Family time idea #2: Before sharing “Everything Tells Us About God” with the family, gather items (or pictures of them) that are mentioned in the book. Bring together a few rocks, some water, a cutout of the sun, some stuffed animals (an elephant, a hen, a bee, a lion, a lamb, and/or a dove), seeds, flowers, fruit, bread, stars, a picture of a playground, a picture of school, an article of dress-up clothes, a mini photo album, etc. would work. Place the items you’ve gathered on a large tray. Present them to the family, and ask why they think you’ve gathered these things? Then read the book together and ask the question again. Go through each item and ask how it tells you about God. What items did you miss that are important to your family? What if one of these “puzzle pieces” went missing from your life? What can we learn about how important each piece of God’s puzzle is to the world?
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Family time idea #3: Read “Everything Tells Us About God” together, and then engage in a discussion. How does God reveal Himself to us? What “puzzle piece” from the book did each family member like, and why? Go out for a hike together. Occasionally stop and look around. What “puzzle pieces” do you notice that God has placed around you, that point you to Himself? At the end of the hike, or when you get back home again, invite each family member to think of their own “puzzle piece” that could be added to the book, and draw or write about it on this printable pdf.

On Winter Fun and Learning

It is winter in the northern hemisphere. At least for some of us, that means it is very cold outside! In an effort to lift our chilled spirits, we have done some research and found a few websites that we hope will be helpful to the community. Keep reading to find some links that offer ideas for winter fun with the family and others that will help us to learn more about snowy weather. We also are including a few ideas of ways that snow can challenge us spiritually (beyond the inevitable plea, “Lord, help me survive being cooped up with all of these family members!”). May this winter be a memorable one, as we parents embrace the season and help our family to enjoy our time together; to continue to learn about the world in which we live; and to further our growth in the Kingdom of Heaven!

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Opportunities for winter learning: Learn how snowflakes form. With younger children, watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-M48RfaWcWA. With older children, watch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iOfkukhb1Os.

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Opportunities for winter learning: There are so many winter/snow/ice-related science experiments at these websites! Pick one or more and explore it together! http://lemonlimeadventures.com/must-try-winter-science-experiments-for-kids/ (Many of these do not require actual snow.)

https://igamemom.com/fun-snow-science-for-kids/ (These require snow.)

https://igamemom.com/winter-science-activities-for-kids/ (200 winter science activities for those of us whose children really love science!)

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Opportunities for winter learning: Inflate a plastic zipper bag “snowman face” using only snow/finely chopped ice and alka seltzer tablets! https://sciencekiddo.com/snow-science/ offers directions, and also explains why it inflates, so you can guide the discussion of “why does it do that?”

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Opportunities for winter learning: looking for wintry books to read together? (As always, we recommend that you read these before sharing them with your children, so that you can screen them according to what will be helpful to your family.)

Here are some snow-themed picture books: http://paulaspreschoolandkindergarten.blogspot.com/2017/01/12-awesome-books-about-snow.html

Here you’ll find a few wintry chapter book suggestions: https://www.whatdowedoallday.com/winter-chapter-books/

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Opportunities for winter games: these sites offer ideas of snowy games to play outdoors: https://www.familyeducation.com/fun/outdoor-activities/top-10-wintertime-neighborhood-games

https://www.outdoors.org/articles/amc-outdoors/winter-olympics-inspired-winter-games-for-kids

http://www.kidactivities.net/category/games-winter-outside.aspx

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Opportunities for winter games: If the weather is too cold or there’s too much precipitation to play outside, consider trying one (or five) of these fun indoor activities. https://www.momooze.com/indoor-activities-winter/

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Opportunities for winter games: Create your own indoor snowballs to use for snowball fights or other indoor snowball games.
Wads of white tissue paper make great indoor “snowballs.”

Grab fuzzy white yarn, golf practice balls, and a crochet hook to wrap some realistic “snowballs.” (see http://www.sewcando.com/2014/12/tutorial-time-make-indoor-snowball.html)

Create pompom “snowballs” from thick white yarn: http://aparentingproduction.com/2016/01/craft-for-kids-diy-indoor-snowballs.html

Once you have a stash of indoor snowballs, use them to play some fun games. Here are a few suggestions: https://confidencemeetsparenting.com/indoor-snowball-activities/

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Opportunities for winter arts/crafts: Find a huge variety here: http://www.kidactivities.net/category/Seasonal-Winter-ArtsCrafts.aspx

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Opportunities for winter arts/crafts: Create your own squishable, buildable “snow” to play with indoors: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AZbjrYcNpPs

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Opportunities for winter arts/crafts: If you don’t have snow, or just want to decorate with a snowy flair, here are templates for pretty paper snowflakes cut from folded paper: https://www.easypeasyandfun.com/how-to-make-paper-snowflakes/

https://www.itsalwaysautumn.com/cut-snowflake-video-tutorial-free-templates.html

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Opportunities for winter arts/crafts: Create some sock snowmen for decoration or for play: https://www.easypeasyandfun.com/no-sew-sock-snowman-craft/

Or build this ping-pong-ball “snowman” that doubles as a nightlight: http://www.willowday.net/2017/12/snowman-nightlight-ornament/

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Opportunities for winter arts/crafts: Remember “pet rocks?” Here’s a wintry take on that: create your own “pet snowball” as suggested here: http://thepurplepug.blogspot.com/2012/12/the-snow-bro-tute-pet-snowballs.html

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Opportunities for winter arts/crafts: Finger paint some snowmen using your thumb and a smaller finger. When the paint is dry, draw on the facial features, stick arms, hats, etc. Challenge your family with these questions: How many of funny snowmen can you create? 

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Opportunities for winter arts/crafts: Invite friends over for a snowman party just for fun, using some of the food and craft ideas here: https://happyhooligans.ca/25-snowman-crafts-activities-treats/

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Opportunities for wintertime faith-expansion:

This blogger invites parents to make a snowflake cross to remind them to find Christ in the midst of the “snow storms” of life, especially in the context of parenting!

https://raisingorthodoxchristians.com/2017/12/07/finding-christ-amidst-the-snowstorms-of-life/#more-158161

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Opportunities for wintertime faith-expansion: If wintertime gets you down, ponder these words from St. Ambrose of Optina: “In nature we see that there are not always pleasant springs and fruitful summers, and sometimes autumn is rainy and winter cold and snowy, and there is flooding and wind and storms, and moreover the crops fail and there are famine, troubles, sicknesses and many other misfortunes. All of this is beneficial so that man might learn through prudence, patience and humility. For the most part, in times of plenty he forgets himself, but in times of various sorrows he becomes more attentive to his salvation.” Choose to allow the wintry struggles to remind your soul to be more attentive.

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Opportunities for wintertime faith-expansion: Talk together as a family about this verse: “Though your sins be like scarlet, they may be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18). How white IS snow? Most often, it appears to be super white, especially when the sun shines on it. However, in reality, the snow consists of translucent ice crystals, all reflecting the light. Since they reflect all of the light (every color in the light spectrum), they appear to be white. If we live lives of repentance and virtue, as Christians should, our hearts will be clean and our consciences clear. Then we will reflect the Light of Christ, radiating His purity to all. (Read the science behind snow’s “whiteness” here: https://science.howstuffworks.com/nature/climate-weather/atmospheric/question524.htm) Talk together about how to live in such a way that Christ can be reflected more fully in your family’s life.

 

On Orthodox Christian Principles of Child Rearing: Principle 6: Teach the Joy of Repentance

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 #6: Teach the joy of repentance

Dr. Philip Mamalakis’ book “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” is filled with wisdom and encourages godly parenting. The sixth and final principle, “Teach the joy of repentance,” is yet another challenge towards godliness, and is as invaluable to the souls of the parents who follow it as it is to those of their children. He begins with a chapter on repentance, then discusses the joy of repentance, and closes with the encouragement that Orthodox Christian homes nurture repentance and confession.

The chapter on repentance begins by encouraging parents not to focus on “doing” parenting, but rather to focus on loving God while responding to our children. He emphasizes that only a saint would parent perfectly, and that we should not expect ourselves to be able to do so. Rather, we should expect ourselves to learn and grow, just as we expect our children to learn and grow. The Holy Spirit will raise in us the fruits necessary to be the parents we must be. If we want to best reach our long-term parenting goals, we need to labor to acquire the Holy Spirit. As we work towards living a Godly life, it is important that we not cover over our mistakes; but rather that we use those mistakes to teach our children the joy that is found in repentance. Since repentance is at the heart of our Christian life, it follows that teaching repentance should be at the heart of our parenting.

Dr. Mamalakis begins the chapter on the joy of repentance by stating that joy and repentance are not usually associated with each other. However, he continues, it becomes apparent that learning to repent brings about healing in our lives, and that healing in turn, brings joy. When we make mistakes, it is important that we reflect on what we’ve done wrong, repent, and have a plan for how to learn from that mistake. When we do so, our children learn that Kingdom values/virtues are real as we are teaching them how to attain those values and virtues.

The final chapter of the book encourages us to nurture repentance and confession in our home. He suggests that including forgiveness with our other parenting interventions is an appropriate way to nurture such an atmosphere. He encourages the reader to be quick to forgive and to only keep track of our children’s misbehaviors so that we can better figure out how to help our children work through them, not in order to use those misbehaviors against our children. He recommends that families regularly ask each other for forgiveness as part of their Saturday evening preparation for communion. This sets the stage for a natural affinity for confession, wherein we restore our relationship with God by asking His forgiveness for our sins. He encourages the reader to nurture a culture of prayer in the home. Prayer helps us to better parent while also allowing our children to personally experience God’s grace. He reminds the reader once more that the ultimate goal of Orthodox parenting is that when our children are grown and leave home, they carry with them Christ and His Church. Repentance, confession, and prayer along the way will help us achieve that goal.

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 #6:  

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“Ultimately, children need to be loved. If we are more focused on parenting the right way than loving our kids, that’s not good for our kids.” (p. 281; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“The truth is, we don’t have the patience, kindness, gentleness, wisdom, and self-control to be the types of parents we might want to be, but God helps us acquire these virtues as fruits of the Holy Spirit. If we focus on trying to do everything perfectly, we will fail. If we focus on acquiring the Holy Spirit, the values and virtues of the Kingdom of God will fill our hearts and our homes.” (p. 284; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“The ascetic self-denial required of parenting is an act of love directed at our children and, we believe, toward Christ. We, as parents, are invited by Christ in every parenting interaction to turn away from our own impulses and desires and draw close to Him… As we respond to God’s invitation, we teach our children how God is inviting them, in every interaction, to love.” (p. 287 ; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Our children don’t need us to be perfect to teach them the right way to live, but they do need us to admit when we’ve fallen off the path. The very act of admitting we made a mistake teaches our children that there is a right way, and we blew it. When we repent we show our children both the right path and how to get back on the path when we fall off.” (p. 288; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“When we embrace repentance and forgiveness, our mistakes and failures are no longer fatal. Repentance, confession, and forgiveness are the antidotes to sin, hurt, and our human failings Sin and failures are a fact of our human condition and of family life… We can either give our children a legacy of our sins or a legacy of repentance. We don’t need to be perfect families, but if we want to grow, learn, and  be perfected as families, we need to be repentant.” (pp. 292-293; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“As we understand the true nature of repentance and confession, we can see that it is more about love, joy, and freedom than sin, criticism, or blame. It only makes sense to learn to do this as often as possible.” (pp. 296-297; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“…the goal of parenting is to have children internalize the joy of repentance as one of the greatest gifts we have to thrive in marriage and in life. Children don’t need consequences as much as they need repentance in their hearts. .. When our children experience the joy of reconciliation that follows the pain of sin and repenting, they learn that our sins are temporary, but God’s love and mercy are eternal.” (p. 298; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“It can be difficult for our kids to see that we are human Our mistakes hurt and confuse them. But if they see that we are repentant humans, they learn that we really love them and that repentance is real. Consider how you want your children to respond when they misbehave, and model that for them when you misbehave… Even in our failures—particularly in our failures—we can teach our children how to thrive in life.” (pp. 302-303; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“Teaching children to ask for forgiveness allows us a pathway to address misbehaviors when there are no consequences or when consequences don’t make sense. If we hand out consequences for every misdeed, family life becomes nothing but a series of consequences for mistakes. Rather, if we require our children to ask for forgiveness, family life becomes filled with constantly getting back on the right path.” (p. 305; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“When our children misbehave, we need to be quick to forgive them as we take the side of their feelings and set limits to their behaviors. Forgiving our children means letting go of our feelings of fear, hurt, shame, frustration, anger, or resentment when they misbehave… Forgiving our children is about healing our hearts as our children learn and grow. It is an inner disposition in our hearts that says, ‘I will not hold your misbehaviors against you. I love you no matter how long it takes you to learn how to behave. And you have to learn how to behave.’” (pp. 307-308; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“When our children see that we are trying to live out the Gospel in our homes and going to regular confession as part of that journey, they make the connection between the Gospel they hear in church and the struggles and learning that happen in the home. In this way, our children learn that God and His Kingdom are real. Parenting is not about stopping misbehaviors but about shaping children’s hearts and minds according to the Gospel and God’s Kingdom.” (p. 314; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“We don’t always know how to respond to our children, where to set the limits, and what the consequence should be, but we can always pray. As we learn to turn to Christ in prayer and to parent with prayer, we will discover the endless love of God, which enables us to parent in peace and raise our children in peace, joy, and love.” (p.316; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)

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“To parent toward the Kingdom requires us to improve the way we interact with our children in every situation and to connect our hearts and homes to Christ and His Church… That doesn’t solve their problem or make their lives easy, but it does allow them to internalize the reality of God and the values and the virtues of His Kingdom deep within their hearts. That way, when they leave our home, they carry within their hearts Christ and His Church to guide them toward the Kingdom.” (p. 319; “Parenting Toward the Kingdom” by Dr. Philip Mamalakis)