I’ve been running an Advent study at my church. I couldn’t find any resources online that were quite what I was looking for so I developed my own. The upside of this is I am approaching Advent much more mindfully than I usually do.
Last Christmas I was just emerging out of the reflux baby fog when it was like blam! Christmas is here! I felt that I hadn’t prepared my toddler properly. I didn’t even teach her any Christmas carols, and other than reading a few nativity-related stories she ended up being a little confused as to what Christmas was all about. Was it Jesus who left her a stocking at the end of her bed?
This year is going to be different. Here’s a round-up of what we will be doing:
- Learn Christmas carols. We’ve already started playing Christmas music at our house, and I’m playing a mix of traditional Christian carols, and more modern songs like ‘Jingle Bells’. Sausage is picking up the songs quickly, and Chip currently loves to spin around and around to ‘We wish you a Merry Christmas’.
- Celebrate St Nicholas Day (Dec. 6). There is Dutch heritage in our family, so this is a nice nod to that. We don’t do Santa, but I am happy for my kids to learn about St Nicholas who was a real, and inspiring person. Our tots will wake up to a few chocolate coins in their shoes in memory of St Nicholas. (We tell them the coins are from us by the way.)
- Open an advent calendar every day. Growing up my brother and I took turns opening our calendar. It was hugely exciting, and after a few years I figured out that if I opted to go second, I would be the one who got to open the double doors on Christmas Eve. Oh the anticipation! Anyway, I have a beautiful calendar from Germany which will do the job nicely.
- Read from the bible and make a simple craft each day. I really love this idea. Sausage and I will be doing this while Chip sleeps, as he wouldn’t a) sit still to read more than a page of story and b) will want to eat the crafts. Now I can understand that doing a craft or activity EVERY day may seem rather overwhelming, but these crafts are seriously simple. Most of the supplies I have to hand, and my hope is that they will help solidify some of the messages in the Bible readings.
- Light an advent wreath. We have a wreath with different coloured candles: green for hope, yellow for joy, red for love, blue for peace, and white representing Christ. Show me a toddler who doesn’t like candles. No really, show me.
- Buy a present for a less fortunate child. Oh man, if there is one thing I want my kids to know, is how blessed they are. They have it so good, compared with many other kids. Sausage is not quite three, so there’s a limit to how much she will actually understand, but I plan to chat about some children not getting presents at Christmas, and will take her to choose a gift for a little girl like her. I’m guessing Paw Patrol will win on the day…
- Make gifts for others. The other thing I want my kids to know is how good it is to GIVE. We will make some very simple and frugal gifts (cookies etc) to give to some friends, family and their play group leaders. We’re also going to make our own wrapping paper and cards this year.
This may seem like a long list, but most of these things either don’t happen every day, or don’t take more than an afternoon to complete.
At 16 months, Chip obviously won’t be so involved, but I’m sure he will enjoy eating chocolate coins, singing carols and watching us light the candles.
My tips for celebrating Advent with toddlers are:
- Keep it simple. An advent calendar, a decent story book on the nativity story, and a simple carol like Silent Night are all that’s needed if your December looks frazzling already. Christmas doesn’t (and shouldn’t) have to be filled with all the bells and whistles that our consumerist society says it should.
- Get good books and a decent kid’s Bible. This is true for children’s literature in general, but wow, some children’s books are appalling. With many Christian books aimed at toddlers, the language is often too advanced (try explaining what a prophetic dream is to your toddler! This was in a book about Joseph and his coloured coat…) or the concepts are too complex. We love the Rhyme Bible Storybook for Toddlers, and the Jesus Storybook Bible is also highly recommended. Both my tots love Scripture Union’s Christmas Bible Storybook. Hands down, their books win my award for Most Appropriate Use of Language.
- Don’t be too ambitious. Your toddler isn’t going to grasp that Christmas isn’t all about the presents for a while. But now is the perfect time to create giving traditions so that they become a natural part of Christmas for your child.
- Play to your child’s strengths. If your child loves books, read the Bible and other Christmas books to them. If they love crafts, make some Advent crafts. If your kid won’t sit still for more than five seconds, make a game of tossing a ball to each other to count the days left until Christmas.
Wishing you peace, love and fun as we move into Advent.