Our Easy Advent Calendar

20 11 2012

(Karen) I am still in disbelief that it’s nearly December and therefore Christmas is just around the corner!

This year, I’ve decided to go with an easy option for our advent calendar which involves virtually no preparation at all – and yet it looks so good!

In case you also would also like an easy option this year just follow these steps!

1.Go to www.thegoodbook.com.au

You can find three different pre-prepared advent calendars there.

2. Type in the discount code: AUSCHR12 and you will get 20% off your order.

They usually arrive within a day or two so you still have time in the coming week to organise this before December arrives!

The calendars are A3 size and full colour with little windows to open each day & a Bible verse with each picture window. It comes with a little booklet for family Bible time. Every day there is a simple discussion starter or activity that leads into a short Bible reading from the Christmas story. This is followed by some questions and suggestions for prayer.

This will be the first year I’m using one of these calendars but they look great and suitable for wide range of age groups. I think our 3 eldest (4,6 and 9) will love it. A fantastic way to be reminding our children every day in December what Christmas (and life) is really all about – Jesus.



Helpful Apps

23 10 2012

(Karen) One of the advantages of having a husband who likes to regularly update his technology is that I get some of his ‘hand-me-downs’! Since inheriting his old iphone I have discovered some really useful apps which help organise my (often chaotic) life. I thought I’d share some with you:

Youversion: I have been using this app for my Bible Reading for the past year. It           allows you to choose from a range of Bible Reading plans from daily devotionals to reading the whole Bible in a year. You can also just use it as a portable Bible to look up a passage wherever you are – just remember to download an offline translation of the Bible. Some other great features are: a verse of the day, a highlighting function, being able to share verses with friends through facebook, a section to write notes of things that have struck you from each passage and a way to bookmark a section. You can choose your translation and your language. They even give you reminders to read the Bible that day if you are behind. Did I mention that it is free?

Shopper: We have been using this to do our grocery shopping for quite a while. It allows you to categorise your groceries into aisles (at a specific store if you always go to the same one) & tick them off as you shop. I find it easy to create the shopping list at home & you can keep regular items which you buy every week (like milk) on the shopping list so you don’t have to re-type. It costs $0.99 which I think is quite reasonable. I also use it for other lists which I like to tick off as I go (like things to take when travelling with young children). The only drawback I find with this is that lately there have been some advertising popping up on it. I’d love to hear of any other shopping apps that people have found helpful – has anyone tried the Coles or Woolies ones?

Fighter Verses: This is a great app put out by Desiring God. It cost $2.99 and is a fantastic resource to have on your phone when you are out and about. It is a Bible memory system that was designed to help Christians ‘persevere in the fight of faith by arming them with God’s Word’. What a fantastic idea! You are able to choose sets of verses according to topic that can be memorised at your own pace. I love that you can set your preferences to different translations and you can quiz yourself (using fill in the blanks) when you have memorised a verse. I often take it out if I’m waiting at school or for an appointment. It is so helpful when I do use it – this is a good reminder for me to use it more. Another feature which I want to make more use of is the section for children called ‘Foundation Verses’. You can help your children memorise short verses using pictures as memory aids. Much better than giving them a game to play while waiting for a train together!

Prayer Points: This is a free app that I have only recently started using. It’s an attempt to organise my prayer list and prayer journals better and keep a better track of how and when God answers prayer. Up til now I have been using A5 notebooks to keep a track of prayers and those I pray for regularly. Using this app, you can organise your prayers into categories and set reminders/alarm for yourself to pray for people. I think I will find this really helpful! You can also journal things that God has been teaching and reminding you of. You can update prayers regularly as things change and there is also a function to share requests or answers with friends via email. I guess I’ll let you know in a few months time if it has been as helpful as it looks!

I would LOVE to hear from others what their favourite apps are for helping to organise and prioritise their lives. Please do share!

Fighting the Terrible Twos

7 09 2012


(Pete) The ‘terrible twos’ is a misnomer. It starts before 2 and ends after 3.

As I write this, my wife has just had a long drawn-out battle with our 21 month old. It was about a 1/2 hour battle of making him ‘stand and think’ in the corner until he had said ‘sorry’ for throwing a tantrum earlier.

This is our fourth child and believe me, it doesn’t get easier.

But while the tantrum was fresh in my experience, I thought I’d jot some notes down in the hope that though this might be our last child, it could be something that will help others along the way.

So in point form:

  • Choose your battles wisely but know that the war is won in winning lots of little battles. Little ones at this age test every boundary possible. If you consistently give up or give in with little battles such as ‘no protesting’, ‘say sorry’, ‘say thank you’ etc., your little one will think that they are in charge and that they are the centre of the universe. This will lead to far more difficult battles later on when the stakes are higher.
  • Persistence pays off. It took half an hour this morning, but my wonderfully wise wife persisted until finally he said ‘sorry’. The child needs to know that you don’t mind battling it out with them and you will persist until they yield.
  • In order to do this, you can’t be angry or lose control of your emotions. Battling with a calm and cool mindset will teach the child that the discipline is done from the place of love, not anger and hurt. Also, calm dispositions will positively affect the mood of the child. They will feel the tantrum is out of place rather than feel that their tantrum is completely in line with your tantrum.
  • Choose age-appropriate punishment and age-appropriate responses that constitute ‘repentance’. Our 21 month old is more than capable of saying ‘sorry’, so we required that of him. It may be different for another child whose spoken language is not as developed, and therefore some sort of sign for ‘sorry’ (as long as they know what it means) may be more appropriate.
  • Remember that it does get better. Winning these battles now will yield children in their 3s and 4s who know what their boundaries are, and more importantly, yield children who know that they are not the centre of the universe.
  • When the child does ‘yield’, offer love and forgiveness straight away. So this morning when Ethan did finally say ‘sorry’, we gushed with over-the-top congratulations and cuddles. His tears stopped immediately and he now knows that obedience and repentance leads quickly to reconciliation. We want to make obedience desirable and joyful.
  • There are times and places where this kind of persistent battling just isn’t going to work: e.g. in a shopping centre or away from a place of safety and security for the child. In those instances, just cut your losses and fight another day.
  • And of course it goes without saying that both parents have to have a united front in any disciplinary action. Even little ones know how to play us off against one another.

Though unpleasant, Karen and I have to remind ourselves that we are the means through which our children will understand how good and delightful it is to live under authority. In their toddlerhood, God’s loving authority is necessarily mediated through us. It is a supremely unloving act to allow your children to grow up thinking that authority   is an unpleasant thing to be rebelled against at all cost. If they do not experience good and loving authority from us, how are they going to understand it in relation to God?

So parents of toddlers, persist and fight the good fight. Then afterwards, give your child lots of cuddles and have a long drink.

Taking time out to read to our kids

9 07 2012

(Karen) I have always loved the relational nature of reading aloud to our children. I know it has lots of other benefits too (like  instilling a lifelong love of reading, creating learning opportunities, increasing vocabulary and so on) but I also just think it’s a fun thing to do with your children. You can laugh with them. They can ask you the most amazing questions and you can find out more about your child and what they’re thinking and feeling.Reading together really does build intimacy between parent and child.

But making the time to do it is hard, especially doing it one on one with each child. I realised a few months ago that I was only really reading regularly with my two youngest (19 months and 3 yrs old), leaving the older two to read to themselves before bed each night. I’ve tried to change that lately and have been amazed how my relationship with the children and knowledge of them have improved.

Here’s a little window into what’s been happening with each child:

(Ethan 19 months): He is at the amazing age when everyday his vocabulary grows. I realise through reading books with him that he actually understands everything we say! His favourites at the moment are ‘zoo one’ which is ‘Dear Zoo’ by Rod Campbell and ‘Where is the Green Sheep’ by Mem Fox. He often gets angry when I say no more books because it’s time to sleep! Reading to him, with him snuggled in my lap is a fantastic way to build closeness with him at this age.

Bethany (3 1/2 yrs): Bethany does not concentrate very well when we have family devotions (she is easily excited!) but one on one she loves reading her bible every night and comments on all the pictures and the emotions people must be feeling. We have been reading about Joseph being sent to Egypt and she remembers every detail from night to night, asking lots of questions along the way. We have also been reading a lot of Pamela Allen books to her and her favourite at the moment is ‘Is your Grandmother a Goanna?’. Once she knows a story well, she starts changing people’s names in the story and coming up with all sorts of crazy comments and dissolving into laughter. I love spending this time with her and have learnt a lot about her sense of humour and interest in how people are feeling.

Andrew (6 yrs): I’ve been encouraging Andrew to read his own beginner chapter books (really easy ones) but he has been slower than my elder daughter at getting into it. I decided to read a chapter of ‘George’s Marvellous Medicine’ by Roald Dahl to him each night a few weeks ago. He has LOVED it! I think it has to do with having a special book that just he and Mummy are reading together. He pleads with me every night for ‘just one more chapter!’ and sometimes I do give in. I’ve also been helping Andrew with his bible reading (XTB notes) each night and have had SO many wonderful conversations with him as a result. We have talked about judgement, whether he is ready for Jesus’ return, heaven and all sorts of things in the last few weeks. We’ve also been regularly praying for a friend of his each night. I amazed by how much this 10mins each night with Andrew has helped me engage with him where he’s at and help create many opportunities to talk about important things.

Emily (8 1/2 years): I had thought that Emily (who is a bookworm) was past the age of me reading to her! I was secretly quite glad that she could read by herself every night – it was one less child to have to read to. What I have only been realising lately is how much she had been missing that one on one time reading with me and actually craving it. A couple of months ago I started reading a chapter of ‘Treasures of the Snow’  by Patricia St John with her. I remember having read it as a girl and loving it. I have also been praying that I would have opportunities to talk more deeply with Emily. Having this one on one time with her each night has been AMAZING! I climb up to the top bunk with her while the others (sometimes) go off to sleep. The book is written by a Christian author and we have had so many great discussions about Emily’s own spiritual state through reading this book together. We have grown closer as mother and daughter and God, in His kindness, has used these times to bring Emily closer to Himself.

Sometimes, it’s been the nights I’ve felt so tired and didn’t want to read to them, or the nights I’ve wanted to rush because I needed to go out that have actually ended up being the most precious times of reading and relating. I do miss days and some days it seems more of a duty than a pleasure. Some nights I’m tired or busy and tell them we’re having a night off reading because Mummy has a headache! But overall, I’ve rediscovered the joy of reading to my children – no matter how old they are – and my relationship with each one of them has grown and continues to do so.




Patience with Personalities

9 06 2012

(Karen) I am constantly in awe of how wondrous a Creator our God is. As my children grow and develop, I see how incredibly unique each one is and I realise how special they are in their own way. Not only do they look different but they have distinct personalities and character traits, they enjoy doing different activities and they respond differently to the various challenges that come their way.

One of our children is a quiet bookworm who is cautious, loves structure and a few close friendships. Her sister is so different, loving being the centre of attention and always open to meeting new people and going new places. Our son is very easy-going, at times he’s shy and at other times he loves acting the clown! We’re still getting to know our littlest one (18mths) as his personality begins to emerge but already it’s obvious that he LOVES the outdoors much more than our others did.

I delight in how different my children are but I also find it VERY frustrating at times! I think this is especially the case when they are different from my own personality type. It can also be very confusing (and disheartening) when the methods of discipline or relating that have worked well with your first child, seem to have the opposite effect with another child. Sometimes it feels like becoming a first-time parent all over again!

These past few weeks have been a bit of an emotional roller coaster with our eldest daughter (nearly 9) and I’ve often been in tears trying to understand why she acts and responds in the way she does. A book that’s been on my shelf for a while but I’ve recently taken out again has been really helpful in this tumultuous time. It’s given me a new perspective which has enabled me to better understand my daughter and gain some helpful insights into how best to nurture her without trying to change who she is.

The book is called ‘Nurture by Nature’ and uses personality type profiles to examine which type best matches your child. Every child is different of course and may demonstrate each characteristic in different degrees. All I can say is – when I read the profile for my ISFJ daughter most of the description was amazingly accurate! The authors examine how each personality type affects a child at different ages: from babies, pre-schoolers to school age and adolescence. It gives examples of the ‘joys and challenges’ of this type of personality and deals with a range of challenging situations you might find yourself in as parents.

So one of the many ‘challenges’ with my daughter has been her attitude in the morning before school. She is often cranky and easily upset at this time. She stresses about being late, asking me every 5 minutes ‘Are we going to be late?’ I, on the other hand, am trying to get 4 children fed, clothed and their lunches made ready for school or pre-school. I’m not always in the calmest frame of mind to reassure her and her worrying often makes me more emotional too! After many long (and emotional) discussions I have realised she is very worried about being late for school because she might have to get a late note. Because she has never experienced this new (and to her scary) situation it is something she wants to avoid. My son is the complete opposite and would happily be late for school if it meant he could finish watching something on tv!

This personality book helped me to understand that my daughter tends to trusts things she has experienced before and is often skeptical or even fearful of new situations to a bigger degree than other children might be. She is also a feelings person who is sensitive and emotional, particularly with those closest to her. It doesn’t help for me to try and change her. It also doesn’t necessarily help if I push her into those situations or criticise her for worrying over them. What is helpful to her is providing her with information about the new experience or relating it to something she has done before. For example, thinking through what she might do if she was late has been helpful. She also appreciates it when, instead of communicating impatience, I am gentle and supportive (not easy!).

I really like the insights that the book gives and the way it values each child’s individuality. Of course, it is not written from a Christian perspective and so I find it valuable only as I integrate it into my Christian worldview. My children are sinful, just as I am. Because my daughter’s personality tends toward anxiety in new situations, I want to encourage her to trust in God and lay all her worries before our loving Heavenly Father. We have actually laminated Philippians 4:6 and stuck it next to her bed, so she can be reminded who to turn to when she is worried. And of course all the ‘challenges’ of personalities are often used by God to show up my own sins of selfishness, anger and impatience. Thank you Father for all the joys and for all the challenges.


Easter is nearly here . . .

28 03 2012

(Karen) I am using this blog as a reminder to myself (!) of all the great things we can plan for our families around Easter time in order to make this time of the year meaningful and God-focussed. The last few weeks have seemed very busy in our house  and planning things does take time and effort. But hopefully by the end of reading this, we will all be spurred on to pick something that will help our children to be thankful to God for Jesus this Easter.

Here are some things on my mind:

1) Easter Readings with the kids: 

My eldest (8yrs) has been doing this 3 week bible reading guide by herself and I have started doing it with our 6 yr old (who can read but still needs some help with something like this) before bed at night. It has a great emphasis on Easter being all about a great RESCUE and my children are enjoying it.

2) Family time: 

This will be the third year in a row that we are using this great resource called ‘Resurrection Eggs’ to read through the Bible as a family, focussing on Jesus’ death and resurrection. I’ve had friends who make their own with those cheap plastic eggs that $2 shops sell around Easter but I like using what other people have already prepared! Each egg contains a small object that relates to the Easter story (e.g. a donkey, nail, crown of thorns) and it also comes with a suggested Bible reading. Even though the kids have done it before, they love anticipating what will be in each egg. I have just realised that this needs to be started tomorrow in order for the last egg to be opened on Easter Sunday so I’d better get moving! If you want to make your own this Easter – just do a search on the internet – there are lots of ideas around.

3) Easter books: By far the best book I’ve found for young children about Easter is:

‘Jesus is Alive!’ by Kirsten Long and Deema Percival. I love how the book came into being -the authors were young mums who struggled to find an Easter book that was good for the 0-5yr range and so published their own! I have used it teaching both Sunday School and playgroup (you can order an accompanying activity book) but I also keep a copy at home because I just love it.

Here’s a taste of the first page: ‘At Easter time, we have lots of fun eating chocolate eggs and hot cross buns. But Easter is really about a very special person called Jesus . . .’

4) Hat Parades!: Our kids go to public schools and have Easter hat parades. As we prepare their hats, we chat about what we often do at Easter but what Easter is really all about. If our church is having a special Easter service, I encourage the children to think of friends in their class they might like to invite. Last year, one of my daughter’s friends started coming regularly to Sunday School after this one-off invitation.

5) Songs: One of my pet hates around Easter is that Easter bunny song that the kids learn at school and gets into your mind (Hop, hop, hop the Easter bunny hop!’). But there are some great songs about Easter for young kids. On ‘My God is a very, very, very big God’ CD there is 1,2,3,4,5 Jesus Christ is now alive or ‘Easter Friday’ on ‘J is for Jesus’ CD. These are especially good for pre-schoolers. Does anyone else have any good ideas for songs at Easter? I’d love to hear them!

6) Other activities: I have friends who have made hot cross buns with their kids but that sounds a bit scary to me so I haven’t tried it! Last year, I tried to make resurrection cookies with the kids. I LOVE the idea, because as you go through the recipe, you basically tell the Easter story – even to the point of sealing up the oven like they sealed Jesus’ tomb! The kids had a lot of fun doing it but I was disappointed that my cookies didn’t turn out how they were supposed to. I’m not sure if I’m game enough to try it again this year (!) – maybe if I have time I’ll try and do a few practice lots!

Do you have any ideas to share for making Easter a meaningful time with your family? Please share what has worked for you!

The beginning of the birds and the bees . . .

20 02 2012

(Karen) A couple of weeks ago I took our oldest daughter (8yrs old) out on a Mummy-daughter date. To be honest – we don’t do these as often as I’d like because of the logistics of having a larger family.When we do manage this precious time, both mummy and daughter are very happy! I’m amazed at how a simple 30 min or 1 hour of ‘alone’ time with a single child demonstrates to them how loved and special they are. The dates are always fondly remembered and talked about which helps me understand how important they are in the lives of my children.

I must admit though, that I had an agenda for this latest date with my daughter. It was to be my first talk about ‘the birds and the bees’ with her. This is what we did: We went out together for a milkshake and after chatting and reading one of her books together, I showed her a book I had brought along called ‘How God makes Babies’ by Jim Burns. This book is aimed at introducing children to the basics of human sexuality. It answers the question of where babies come from and how God has designed our bodies in His plan for families. We read through the book together and my daughter was interested and listened attentively. I was surprised that she didn’t have lots of questions, although I’m sure she will in the future. She is only 8.

My main aim in bringing up the subject so early was that I wanted to be the first one to talk to her about God’s design for sex. I know a time is coming when she will hear all sorts of messages about sex from friends and the media. I don’t want it to be a taboo subject at home but something that she knows I’m willing to talk about very openly and naturally. And so I was relieved that our first talk had been relaxed and open, without any awkwardness!

The author of the book, Jim Burns, says that according to experts, ages 6-9 yrs old is a crucial time to start laying the foundations for God-honouring instruction about sex. I think this book is a great way to start. It talks about God’s plan for husbands and wives in marriage and refers to Adam and Eve in Genesis. It looks at how God has made girls’ and boys’ bodies different for when they grow up. I especially like how the author spends time talking about how these are ‘private parts’ and no-one else is allowed to touch them. No matter how old your child is, I think this is an important topic to reinforce regularly for your child’s own safety.

The book goes on to explain how a husband and wife make love and a baby is made. It then follows the growth of a baby until it is born – all with fantastic pictures. If you are about to have a new addition to your family – I would recommend just reading this part of the book to younger children – it’s fantastic. The book also looks at adoption as a part of God’s plan for families too.

And so I guess this talk is another ‘first’ in my child’s life and my parenting experience. It wasn’t as daunting as I thought it might be. But I know that it will be something that I keep talking to my daughter about through the coming years. And I will keep endeavouring to have those special date times with each of my children so that I can give lots of ‘safe’ time for them to ask questions and chat about issues as they come up.

Do you have any experiences to share or helpful resources about this important topic? Would love to hear about them.