Telling the Nativity Story with Lolly Stick Puppets

Talitha was ill and grumpy most of the day yesterday. Ill and grumpy in a way only a two-and-a-half-year-old can be. She spent quite a lot of it sitting on the couch and admonishing the cat not to look at her. Still, she lit up when I suggested we make something. “Make something”, “paint something”, “bake something” – I can count on these for a brightening of just about any mood.

I’d picked up some lolly sticks over the weekend so I thought – puppets? It made sense to do the Nativity since we’re having lots of chats about Christmas and I’m trying to dissuade her from thinking that it is, in fact, her birthday. So we got her children’s Bible out and started deciding what characters we’d make and with what. She mainly decided what colours we were going to use and insisted they all needed googly eyes.

Telling the Nativity Story with Lolly Stick Puppets

I was surprised by how much she got into it, particularly considering how out of sorts she was. I’d say, “Let’s make the donkey” and she’d go flipping through the pages to find the donkey. We had a minor falling out over how many angels to make. I’ve promised her we’ll make more later. She wanted to make hundreds like in the picture. We finally agreed on one when I suggested we could also make the star.

Lolly stick Mary and Jesus

They’re not the fanciest things you’ve ever seen but we’ve had such a good time making them and just grabbing bits and bobs from our craft and recycling cupboards to figure what could make the angel’s wings (white pipe cleaners from my days of dabbling in pipe smoking) or what would do for Mary’s hair (green yarn, of course). She got to be really hands on and do most of the sticking herself too, which made her even prouder of the finished product.

Lolly stick nativity puppets

It was a little tricky explaining to Talitha that we can’t make a puppet for God because He’s invisible. She flipped through the Bible and was convinced that anyone with a beard was God. I could see her point. God gets talked about in the story so where was he?

Lolly stick shepherd and angel

The best bit was reading the story and acting it out with the puppets together. When Laurence got home, she wanted to show him which puppet was which. I’m not entirely sure he would have figured it out on his own but to her it was all very obvious. Of course the pipe cleaner twisted around Jesus was his blanket. After all, the story says he was wrapped in swaddling clothes.

We had such fun with these it made me realise that we really need to do more with puppets. They add another dimension to our storytelling and are a much richer tool for comprehension than simply asking questions at the end, which she sometimes finds frustrating.

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Make an Advent Calendar from Toilet Rolls

I got all excited about making an Advent Calendar when I read this post by Along Came Cherry. I was totally going to follow her idea except I realised that I didn’t have any tissue paper. This meant I wouldn’t be able to place the rolls horizontally and forward facing so Talitha could burst the fronts. Wanting to use only what I already had, I ended up with something quite different – pockets! I’m really happy with the result.

Make an Advent Calendar with toilet rolls  Circus Queen

Here’s what I used:

13 toilet roll tubes
green gift wrap (to cover the tubes)
gold gift wrap (for the numbers)
red patterned gift wrap (for the backdrop)
red card
a star shaped cookie cutter
a big old box
a black marker
purple pom poms
a printer

What I wish I’d had:

a glue gun
gold number stickers

What I did

First I gathered materials. I didn’t use all these rolls in the end. The rest will come in handy for a star craft we’re going to do soon.

Toilet rolls for making an Advent Calendar

I had little hands to help me so, as you can imagine, it was slow work!

Gathering toilet rolls for Advent Calendar

Then, because I didn’t want the calendar to be huge, I cut the rolls in half and stapled one end to make them into pockets.

Pockets for toilet roll Advent Calendar

We covered the pockets with green gift wrap paper, making a couple of cuts into the loose end to fold the paper inside.

Covering pockets for toilet roll advent calendar

For the frame, I used an old box we had lying around. I laid out the shape first then worked out how big the tree needed to be before cutting. I covered the tree in red patterned gift wrap just in case any spaces between the pockets became visible. Then I taped the lot on. They’re secure but, to be honest, this would have been SO much easier with a glue gun.

Frame for toilet roll advent calendar

We used a cookie cutter to stencil stars on to the red card (left over from my wedding!) and wrote all our Advent activities them. We’re doing activities instead of chocolate. I slipped the red stars into the pockets. They kind of look like Christmas tree decorations!

Stars for toilet roll advent calendar

Then I printed off numbers and used them to cut our days out of the gold gift paper to glue them on. Believe you me, if I was doing this again, I would so just go get a pack of gold stickers from one of Hobbycraft‘s Advent calendar sets instead. This was UNBELIEVABLY fiddly! But I was determined to only use what I had. I happened to have some purple pom poms around so glued them on for nice a “Christmas decorations” touch.

Homemade Advent Calendar with toilet rolls

And le voila! Our 25-day Advent Calendar!

The activities are in but I’ve not yet put in the Scripture references and Children’s Bible references. I’ll slip those in later. I decided to forgo the raisins in the end as I think there’s enough going on in the calendar. If you’d like to see what activities we have planned, take a look at my 25 Advent Activities for Children post.

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PPS: I’ve added this post to Thinly Spread’s Festive Friday linky.

Learning about the weather with a toddler

Two-year-old Talitha has been fascinated with the weather recently. Most mornings, when we come down to the kitchen, she rushes to look out the glass doors and tell me: “It’s a bit sunny” or “It’s raining!” She loves adding “a bit” before most adjectives. I wonder if I do this subconsciously. Anyway, I’ve been going with this and observing the weather a lot more. Someone on the Circus Queen Facebook page mentioned that Autumn is such a good time to chat about it because there’s so much variation. Here’s how we’ve been learning about it.

1. Get out in it
By nature I’m a bit slothful. Well, actually, I don’t think it’s anyone’s true nature to spend excessively amounts of time sitting indoors but that’s become my conditioning and I’m so conscious that I don’t want that to become Talitha’s. She loves being outside. To her, it’s all fair weather. Rain? That’s for catching with your hands. It makes puddles for splashing. It’s weather for dancing. I’m all grumpy and “Argh! It’s RAINING!” but she’s like, “Yeah, bring it, rain!” I’m equally grumpy if it’s hot and sunny (not that we get much of that here in the UK) but for her, it means she gets to wear sunscreen. Goodness, this child loved slathering on sunscreen this summer.

Children’s nature seems to be to spend most of their time out in, um, nature. So, running about in the garden, pretty walks, time at the park, all of this is learning. She notices details about the world that I would miss. This morning she was intrigued by a slug on our front lawn and wondered if it was a poo. Some mornings we go snail spotting. I find myself naturally chatting with her about it and telling her the tid bits I know about why snails and slugs come out when it’s wet, how they move around and what they like to eat – our plants!

Making a weather chart with a toddler

2. Talk about it
She loves to exclaim that it’s raining. I respond by describing it: “It’s raining heavily – raining lots and lots and lots” or “It’s drizzling – raining a little bit.” If she says it’s cloudy, we might stop and look at the clouds. What colour are they? Some are white, some might be grey and is there a bit of blue sky somewhere? Can we see the sun? She’s started asking me why about lots of things and so far I’ve said that God has made it so the plants can grow but I need to refresh my memory on how the water cycle works because I don’t think it’s ever to early to start talking about processes like that in simplest terms, even if she doesn’t understand at first.

Make a weather chart with a two-year-old

3. Make a weather chart
Talitha loves sticking things and is fairly obsessed with glitter so we made a weather chart. It’s messy and not carefully planned (I had to ask Laurence what weather I was missing and he incredulously said: “Sunny!” There’s a reason I forgot!) but she got so excited about making it. We used cotton balls for clouds. She coloured in the thunder and I was surprised at how well she stayed inside the lines. Of course, she had to write numerous T’s at the bottom. You can’t put a pen in her hand and not expect that. It’s up on the wall above her little table and each morning we look at the weather then use the chart to describe it.

Snow Learning about the weather with a two-year-old

4. Notice the weather elsewhere
If there are any signs of what the weather is like in books we’re reading, we talk about it and compare it to whatever the weather’s like today. I’m thinking I might show her The Snowman DVD and talk about snow but it feels wrong to show it before Christmas time, so we may wait yet. At any rate, I don’t think she’ll really understand it until she sees it in person. She’s had two snowy winters so far but I’m not sure she remembers them. I’ve been showing her pictures of when it snowed last year. Hopefully, if it does again this year, she won’t hate it quite as much as she did!

There are so many weather crafts and activities on Pinterest (follow me there) and I’m so looking forward to digging into them too. Have you come across anything we’d find useful? Do you have any simple ideas to add?

When does home education begin?

We began talking about home education very early on in my pregnancy with Talitha. For me, it was something I’d been thinking about for a while. Laurence had never considered it before but he was open.

School was difficult for me. It wasn’t all negative but there wasn’t enough in my own experience to discourage me from exploring the alternatives. I found it an awkward social landscape to navigate – or rather I was the awkward one – and I was often really bored, either because of what was being taught or not taught, or the way in which it was taught. Laurence, on the other hand, has really healthy memories of school.

And we both have no doubt that Talitha would have her own experiences, independent of ours. The more we talked about home ed, though, the happier we both felt that this is what we wanted to do, at least for the first few years. The reasons are a blog post all their own. I think we keep discovering new reasons to go for it.

It comes up in conversations with friends, not because of some kind of weird, exhibitionist tendency on our part but because everyone keeps talking about school and, more surprisingly, pre-school. When is Talitha going to start pre-school? I have no beef with nursery at all. I think it really does benefit quite a lot of children and in fact, quite a few home educating families send their children to nursery. What I find interesting is the way that it’s become an expectation that children will go.

when does home education begin 3

I often respond to the question of whether Talitha’s going by saying that she goes to a childminder one day a week. This allows me to do some paid work and to get the space I need, while providing her with a change of scene with someone I trust and with whom she can form a healthy attachment. She also gets to do fun stuff that might not occur to me and spends time with other children she’s come to love.

But I’ve been really surprised that some people wonder if she’s missing out on being prepared for school, which I kind of think is a bit unnecessary at the ripe old age of two, if I’m totally honest. I think nursery can be brilliant for some children but I don’t see how it’s an essential, even if they are going to go to school.

Which, as far as we know at this point, Talitha isn’t. We didn’t even take a proper look at the schools in the area when we were moving. If it really comes down to it, we could move but, right now, we’re pretty happy with the decision to home ed. Even if the prospect is sometimes scary.

It’s become a bit more real for me recently because she’s definitely reaching that stage where she needs a bit more organised input from me. I hadn’t really noticed it until I was flat out in my first trimester wiped out by whatever these pregnancy hormones were doing to me. I didn’t even have the energy to read to her. I’d start and my words would slur, trailing off until she poked me in the cheek and said, “Mummy! Wake up!”

Sometimes, boredom did her good. Who knew that the cat would let her put bangles on it or a hat? Why, oh why did I not get a picture of that?! How else would we have learned that if you unroll a roll of rubbish bags, you can make a tiny road across the length of the kitchen and diningroom to walk up and down and that it’s just as fun trying to roll it up again?

And that’s great but we did too often get to the point when she’d beg to watch Peppa Pig on Youtube or her Sing and Sign or The Very Hunger Caterpillar DVDs. I’m not a purist about the whole screen time thing but I do wonder what she’s missing out on doing when she spends too much time watching television. It felt unavoidable when I felt that awful and I expect things will get tough again with a newborn in the house.

When does home education begin

We’ve realised that this is why people start thinking about nursery around now because this is the stage when a lot of kids seem to need more input from the adults around them, even if it is just a case of going out somewhere so they can do something different. It’s given me fresh perspective that I need to be a bit more intentional in how I plan our days. I won’t attempt to fill every hour because I don’t think it’s helpful for me to “entertain” her constantly but certainly a bit more structure would help us all. Even if it does have to go out of the window for a bit come February.

I wonder, though, why it’s so hard for me to “admit” to people we’re planning to home educate? I find myself doing one of two things. Either I get a bit shy about it because I think, well, until Talitha’s school aged, we haven’t really committed to it so mentioning it looks like the bold statement of a new parent who doesn’t know what she’s talking about.

Or, I actually feel like “we’re planning” is a ridiculous thing to say because we are doing it. Right now. We’re following her interests and informally giving her opportunities that match her natural development. The way we do that will change over time but, essentially, we’re doing what parents do. We’re educating her. We’re not necessarily teaching, mind, but we are guiding and that’s the kind of education we’re hoping to give her.

When does home education begin 2

How valuable is baby sign language?

A friend invited me to come along to her Sing and Sign class back when Talitha was nine months or so, I think. I went along mainly because it sounded like a fun structured thing Bristol offered and because I wanted to spend more time with my friend. I wasn’t too sure about baby sign language, mind. I mean, would it actually work?

Most of the way through the course, Talitha wasn’t signing at all. When I saw other babies in the class sign, their gestures seemed more like approximations than signs. You had to want to see the signs, really. Still, I continued to use the signs at home and counted the class worthwhile mainly because Talitha so obviously loved the music and Jessie Cat.

Then towards the end, she suddenly began to sign “Eat”. I wondered if it was a fluke so I tried to contain my excitement. But when I gave her some food, she practically cheered me for understanding her. From then, new signs kept being added. She also began to ask me to name and sign things. It was an amazing insight into what she thought was important: “cat”, “dog”, “drink” and, naturally, “milk”.

I couldn’t believe how much she understood. I still can’t. It blows me away that she can identify and sign some colours, most animals, vehicles and even feelings. If she weren’t signing as much as she does, I wouldn’t realise how many connections are rapidly being made in her mind.
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Making a treasure basket

OR Finding the time to write a blog post…

I noticed at a La Leche League meeting this morning that Talitha was particularly taken with looking inside the baskets on the floor and taking things out of them. So, I thought it was about time we made a treasure basket.

The idea came from Margaret Atieh’s article in Juno’s Winter 2011 edition. The idea is to fill the basket with safe objects from around your house and allow the baby to explore it. It’s both fun and a learning tool.

First, I emptied all the rubbish out of a basket. This included endless “New Baby” cards, the odd bank statement and some leaflets I was given about what her newborn poo should be doing. Better to put new toys in here than end up cleaning bits of card and paper out of her nappies, I thought.

Then I asked Talitha what we should put in it. She seemed to think bananas and my laptop would do the trick. I felt she was not taking the exercise altogether seriously.
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