Craft Gathering for Families

We tried this idea out with our home school group as a Christmas Gathering with mostly Christmas themed activities, but you could do this any time of year with other craft/activity ideas.  It’s a great way to share talents and enjoy a multi-generational afternoon with friends.  Our Christmas Gathering, by the way, was a grand success and included about 50 families.

Ours is a 3 hour event with multiple craft/activity stations set up all around a large hall allowing children of all ages to freely move from station to station creating projects or participating in games/activities.   Naturally, we provide a snack area as well.

All participating families “fund” this event by either providing the supplies and supervision for a craft OR  by bringing 2 liters of juice, 3 dozen cookies (or equivalent amount of healthier options), AND $5 to go toward the cost of paper goods and rental or donation for use of the hall.   My goal is to have at least 20 craft/activity stations set up.  Any last minute families are expected to choose the juice, snack and cash option.

While teens enjoyed some of the activities, it is probably a better idea to include them as assistants.  They can man the food area, be in charge of or assist a craft/activity table, or assist moms with multiple children in taking their children to the various booths.  Don’t forget about the older generation either.  Invite grandparents along to teach a craft or participate with their grandchildren.

I let parents come up with their own crafts or activities, but also supplied a list of possibilities for those who were willing to host a table but were lacking ideas.

Here is a plethora of ideas, but be sure to read all my TIPS at the end of this article as well.


  • Beaded bracelets
  • Bookmarks
  • Cake pops
  • Christmas Origami
  • Christmas ornaments
  • Cookie Decorating
  • Gift jars (This one could get pretty costly though.)
  • Gift Coupon booklets.  (Coupons good for help with a chore, providing a service, guaranteeing a good attitude, etc.)
  • Graham Cracker “Gingerbread” houses.
  • Hot Cocoa in Bag (Provide a variety of additions to layer.  Use the clear, cone-shaped, decorating icing bags with curling ribbon to tie them shut.)
  • Little gift boxes made from old Christmas Cards
  • Marshmallow Corn Flake Crispy Wreaths (with red cinnamon candy “berries”)
  • Paper chain for the Christmas tree OR a count down ‘til Christmas chain (rip off a link every day)
  • Potato Print Wrapping Paper
  • Puzzle Piece Wreaths
  • Refrigerator Magnets
  • Scrapbook paper cut in triangle flags and paper-punched to string together for a wall banner.
  • Scrapbook Style Christmas Cards
  • Sock snowmen
  • Snowflake Cutting
  • Snow globes – using baby food jars



  • Balloon Animals
  • Christmas Jigsaw Puzzle
  • Coloring / word search table
  • Face Painting
  • Grand Prize Game
  • Guitar Accompaniment to sing Christmas Carols
  • Hand bells or xylophone  with charts to follow to play Christmas Carols
  • Kid’s’ Karaoke
  • Letters to soldiers
  • Nativity Costume Corner (just a dress up corner to act out the Christmas Story – not take home costumes)
  • Puppet Booth
  • Temporary Tattoos

TIPS Image

  • Be sure to give families at least a 2 month notice of this event to allow them time for preparation and to watch for sales for their crafting supplies.
  • It’s best to do this somewhat messy activity in a tiled rather than carpeted area.
  • I do not run this as a drop-off activity.  It is expected that every child in attendance will have an adult that is keeping an eye on them.
  • You may want to station a worker at the door to take the cash donations and keep children from leaving the area.
  • Keep the food and drink contained in a specified area.
  • Be sure to assign someone to oversee the snack area.
  • I hate for families to miss out on the fun, so I ask “food families” to register, but also allow last minute families to show up as long as they bring the required food and cash donation.
  • Set a deadline for craft families to register their craft at least a week before the event.  (Most will need more time than that to prepare anyway.)
  • If two or more families have a very similar craft idea, the 1st family to register their craft gets to do it.
  • You may want to allow 2 families to sign up to do a craft together for two reasons.  1) It allows the expense and preparation time to be shared.  2) One of the moms can keep an eye on both families’ children as they move from station to station and the other can man the booth.
  • I wouldn’t allow more than 2 families to work a craft together or you will not have enough activities to keep the children occupied.
  • I suggest craft families be prepared for about 100 kids to visit their booth.  This is based on 50 families.
  • My other suggestion for crafters is that their craft can be completed in less than 10 minutes.
  • I try to have a number of crafts for every age group and some that are fun for all ages.
  • We suggest each family bring a box or bag in which to collect all their children’s creations, but also have on hand a supply of plastic grocery bags for whoever needs them.
  • You could alternatively set up a concessions area to sell snacks and charge admission if you want to do this as a fund-raiser.  I know WE were working with large families on tight budgets so I tried to make it as economical as possible.  Know your participants.
  • Reminder for the organizer – don’t forget nametags, ice, cups, plates, napkins, plastic table covers.
  • This is a big event for a single person to organize.  Find yourself an organizing buddy.God bless your efforts.  May your event be as much fun as ours have been.

Lively Literature Discussions with Middle Schoolers

Middle School BooksOf all the academic things we can teach our children to love, reading and writing are my favorite. Now, for some reason I’m actually better at teaching other people’s children these subjects, but my sons got a good exposure.  Although some of my adult sons don’t make time for reading books now that I no longer have the authority to make them, they do all appreciate the great literature we’ve shared together over the years.  Imagine my surprise when it dawned on me that there are actually mothers who hate teaching literature to their children.  We all have those areas.  I’ll hire someone else to teach my child science, but literature I love.

Several years ago, I got it in my head that this would be a good area to do a group co-op.  Now, we home school, so this is part of our school day, however anybody interested in inspiring students to read could start a literature discussion group.  You can do it on an evening just as well as during the day.  In this post I am going to tell you how I ran our middle school literature discussions which were tons of fun.  In future posts I will explain how we adapted this model for high school students and also what I did with elementary aged students.  In time you will also find several posts sharing book suggestions.

Just as I feel over-teaching grammar is a sure way to destroy a love for writing, I believe MOST literature guides do the same to destroy the joy of reading.  They might take a small detail of the story and have you make a project out of it, or otherwise go off on tangents that are just plain distracting and time consuming.  I did use a few (3-4 max.) Progeny Press literature guides over the course of 4 years of high school, but certainly not for every, or even most, of the books we read.  My philosophy is if you give the students an active role in choosing the questions, quotes  and vocabulary that they feel are vital to the story, they are far more likely to internalize the book, and far less likely to hate the experience.  It’s really OK if you don’t define every vocabulary word or get every concept the author put out there for you to ingest.

So, let’s get started.  I am first going to lay the foundation for how I set up our group and then take you through a typical meeting.  You might want to skip down to THE MEETING at this point and then come back and read the details of setting up a group like this if you like what you see.


Although I welcome suggestions and input, as the leader I choose the books we read myself because I have seen book clubs deteriorate over the entire group trying to decide which titles to read.  Too many opinions are bound to cause conflict.  Perhaps you won’t feel the same way I do, but I allow families to pick and choose whether to participate or not for any given title.   I invited probably 30 families from our home school group to participate.  About 10 families took me up on it.  Wanting to teach and encourage mothers to do this themselves, I required the moms to also read the book and participate in meetings.  Reading aloud together or even listening to an unabridged audio-book is acceptable; however I strongly encourage the students to follow along in a written copy of the book.  Because we were blessed to have a spacious church hall to meet in, we allowed younger siblings to come along.  Often they sat in on the reading at home and so they were able to participate in some of our activities.  Preschoolers sat at a table and colored, did puzzles, or Duplo blocks or whatever else their moms brought to entertain them.  One or two of the attending moms kept an eye on that group. Depending on the length and difficulty of the books you choose, you can decide whether to meet monthly or every other month.  The point is to meet after the families have FINISHED reading the current title.

Because a lot of the families at the time were skeptical of facebook, I set up a “members only” website where students and moms could communicate with me and each other while reading the book.  A “secret” facebook group would work perfectly for this.  These are my requirements:

  • Each student must submit (via the group page) a vocabulary word with page number and definition for set sections of the book.  This might be every chapter, or every several chapters depending on the layout and difficulty of the book.  Moms are welcome to submit vocabulary too if vocabulary words are plentiful, but should hold back if there are a limited number of difficult words.
  • Each student must submit (via the group page) a favorite quote, along with page number, from the same set sections of the book, AND tell why they chose that quote.  Moms are welcome to submit quotes too if they’d like.
  • Each student AND EACH MOM must submit one discussion question about the book before the meeting – also via the group page.  (This gives moms the opportunity to inject literary concepts if this is important to them.  e.g. “What are some examples of foreshadowing in this story?”)
  • Each student must bring a minimum of 2 trivia questions with them to the meeting.  These are to be written on 3×5 index cards with the answer and the page number for where the answer is found.  Students should also put their name on each card.  Moms are welcome to submit trivia questions as well if they choose.
  • At the beginning of the year, each family is asked to contribute a bag full of fun-sized candy OR $5 (to buy the candy) to be used as prizes throughout the year.  This gives us a good variety of candies which I take charge of storing between meetings.  If your group is opposed to sweets, you could alternatively have each family contribute a roll of quarters.
  • Students are expected to read through the group communications ahead of time so they have time to consider the discussion questions and learn the vocabulary words.
  • Students are also encouraged to make thoughtful comments on anything posted on the group page.



The day before the meeting, I copy the vocabulary word on one side of a card with the definition on the flip side – one word per card. I also note on the card who submitted that word, as you are not allowed to answer your own vocabulary submission.   Additionally, I copy the discussion questions in large letters on bright colorful half sheets of paper – one question per paper.  If you’re meeting area has a whiteboard, you can just write the questions up there instead.  Don’t forget the candy!

Before the students arrive at the meeting I set the vocabulary cards all around a table or two with definition sides down.  I place a small candy on each card (more favored candies on more difficult words).  I write the discussion questions up on a board or tape the colored papers up on the wall.

The quotes are only shared on the group page and are not addressed specifically at the meetings, though references might be made to them.  It’s a fun look into the students’ minds to see what they choose and why.  The quotes are sometimes very humorous and other times deeply touching.  The kids tend to be anxious to get their quote up there right away before somebody else “steals” it.


Our meeting typically lasts 60-90 minutes depending on how many students are participating.  We do the same routine each meeting – vocabulary words, trivia questions, discussion questions – in that order.

As families arrive, I collect the trivia questions from the students, making sure their names are on them.  (I also am prepared to add any last minute discussion questions to the board/wall.)  I shuffle up the trivia cards as I receive them and keep them closely guarded.  Moms settle in their little ones while unoccupied moms take their place around the vocabulary tables.  Students are allowed to peruse the vocabulary words if they get there early, but they may not touch them, answer them or move the candies.

Once the set time for the meeting arrives the vocabulary game begins.  This is a subtle encouragement for families to arrive on time.  Latecomers will have fewer words to choose from.  Students can grab the attention of any mom, claim a word and try to define it.  The mom checks to see if their definition reasonably matches the answer on the back and if so, she awards that student with the attached candy and removes the card from the table.  If poorly answered, the card and candy remain in place.  In the first round, students are allowed to “win” only 3 words.  Students are not allowed to answer the words they submitted (which is why I write the submitter’s name on each word).  After everybody has had the chance to get their 3 prizes, the remaining words are open to whoever wants to claim them.  If there are any words left on the table at the end of this time, I read the words and definitions aloud to the group just as a means of reinforcing them.  Alternatively, I might give the moms a chance to earn a piece of candy.

Next the students will answer the trivia questions.  Here is an example of the difference between a “trivia” question and a “discussion” question.  A Trivia question is very specific and has a correct answer.  For instance,  “Where did John hide his bear after being teased about it?”, whereas a discussion question would be more open ended.  For instance, “How would you have handled the teasing situation if you were in John’s shoes?”  We read the trivia questions first because some of the answers might be given away during the discussion questions.  For trivia questions, I first say who is not allowed to answer the question – the person/s who submitted it.  Then I begin reading the question until interrupted.  When a student feels he knows the answer to the question he stands up, at which point I stop reading.  It is essential that the other moms help determine who stood first as my eyes are focused on the card and the kids can get rather competitive with this.  A correct answer is awarded with a piece of candy and students are limited to earning only 2 pieces of candy during this game.  If the student answers incorrectly, I finish reading the rest of the question and again students who know the answer jump to their feet.  If nobody can answer the question, then students who have reached the limit may answer the question for an additional prize.  Once all the trivia questions have been answered, the extra prizes are put away and we move into the discussion part of the meeting.

With the questions visible to everybody, students and moms are welcome to refer to any question on the board and begin a discussion about it.  Moms are encouraged to hold back enough to let the kids participate and nudge them along to keep a vibrant discussion going.  As one topic gets spent anyone can introduce another topic off the board/wall.  I do it this way rather than going through the questions in the order listed because it lends itself to more lively conversation.  We make every effort to see that each discussion question gets some time.  Once all these questions have received enough attention we bring the meeting to a close and I give the kids a short introduction / teaser to the next book we will be reading and the whole process starts again.

I’m sure this all can sound overwhelming but you don’t have to commit to a full year.  Try out this system with just a single meeting after reading one book.  You may just find yourself hooked.

Groceries, Restaurants and Birthday Parties

Grocery Day

The JOY of Grocery Day!

Grocery day has always brought great joy to our household.  Sometimes it meant playing produce-weighing games with Dad while Mom shopped.  Most times though, it was Mom’s solo escape to the euphoric, peaceful and orderly world of the grocery aisles.  Often, it was the boys heading to bed with barren cupboards and waking to find the grocery fairy had paid us a visit during the night.  The mornings when I needed to make a milk run were particularly enjoyable because it generally meant fresh donuts would find their way into the cart as well.  But by far, our favorite memory associated with grocery day was “Restaurant Day.”

The Master Restaurant Cook

The Master Restaurant Cook

When my boys were growing up, the resulting well stocked pantry and refrigerator which followed grocery day often led to their begging me to let them play restaurant for lunch.  This could easily turn into a two hour project but it was pretty much a Mom-free activity and it was a wonder to experience. Even during school hours, I never felt guilty about letting them play this because it was such a fantastic learning experience to boot.  To begin with, menus had to be made.  This involved taking an inventory of what food was available, what food the chef had the ability to prepare, what prices should be charged for said food, and then the actual categorizing of the food and writing out of the menus, not to mention the tallying of bills and counting of money.  While all the kids cast their opinions in the menu-making process, they usually followed set roles in the game.   Generally, my oldest son was the cook, the second oldest was the waiter/cashier and the younger ones were the customers, but occasionally the roles were switched around.  Next the play money was divvied up between the customers and the menus were handed out.  The younger boys felt very privileged to be able to order whatever they wanted off the menu.  Their “money” allotment had to be taken into consideration, but with careful planning they could swing perhaps three entrees, a beverage and a couple of desserts.  My oldest took over the stove and I was free to accomplish whatever my heart desired while my boys occupied themselves with this game.

One year, when trying to brainstorm a birthday party idea for my youngest, someone came up with the idea of playing restaurant for his party.  This turned out to be one of our best birthday parties ever. (I’ll share our other birthday ideas in future posts.) With the birthday boy turning 9, party goers ranged in age from 6 to 10.  Guests were informed by mail that opening night of  “The Finicky Eatery” would be an invitation-only event, and THEY made the list!   We took extra care with planning and preparing the menus. The regular dining room table was removed and  replaced with several smaller tables which were covered with tablecloths.  Dinner music was turned on, the lights were dimmed (particularly effective for an evening party) and tabletop candles were lit.  Sons #3 and #4 finally got to play the roles of chef and waiter and excitement abounded as birthday guests arrived.  Each guest was given an allotment of play money and handed a menu as they were led to their table.  The amiable waiter began taking drink and appetizer orders as other guests arrived.  Soon the Finicky Eatery was filled to capacity with a lively crowd of children happily waving their paper money and ordering away to their hearts’ content.  To this day I laugh at the favorite menu item – Campbell’s Cream of Chicken Soup; the cook could hardly keep up with the orders!  One guest said, “Campbell’s soup is… SOUP?! – I always thought it was just for casseroles!”  Of course the meal ended with the staff bringing out a birthday éclair with a candle on top and asking all the restaurant customers to join them in singing happy birthday to the birthday boy.   The friends that participated begged us to repeat this birthday theme, but alas, this was our one and only “restaurant birthday”.

Have you ever felt like shouting at your family, “What am I, a short-order cook?!”  What child wouldn’t love to have a short order cook in their home?    If  you’re looking for a unique birthday plan or you’d like to kick your feet up some lunch hour (assuming there are enough children to play all the parts), be sure the fridge and pantry are well stocked, teach your child to cook a few basic dishes and introduce your children to the game of Restaurant.  Bon  Appetit!

Amusement and Tears

Bay Beach 2012

Raising children has done more to help me understand the love of my heavenly Father than anything else in life.  Now it is my six year old grandson Dylan who continues teaching me these lessons.  One day this summer, the two of us had a wonderful afternoon at a kiddie amusement park.  Toward the end of the day we went into the dining area for a slice of pizza and, as it turns out, to be awed by the enticing array of arcade games along the walls.  After my grandson finished his pizza, he did like his uncles before him had done and played the video games a’ la imagination (It’s free that way. J ).  After he’d had a sufficient amount of time to bask in the glory of pretending he was actually playing the games, I looked up and saw him with a gun in his hands pointed at a screen full of dead people.   Hmmmm… not the best fare for a young boy to be taking in.  As I was walking over to tell him it was time to go, I noticed a candy crane game, which he loves.  So I went up to Dylan and said, “This is really a yucky sort of game and I don’t want you playing it.  It’s time to go but I will let you have one time at the candy crane.”   He greatly resisted leaving his game; in fact I had to pry his little fingers off the gun.  As I was pulling him away from the game I told him, “Of course, if you aren’t going to come when I tell you, we will skip the candy crane.”  A second later he wrenched his hand out of mine and scooted back to the killing people game.  I took his hand, and dragged him out explaining that the candy crane was no longer an option, just as I’d warned him.

Here’s where it struck him that there were consequences for his disobedience and he began to rebel against that idea.  He dragged. He cried out. He pouted.  Then he began with his bargaining… er…demanding.  It went something like this.  “I’m not going with you until you let me play the candy crane!  … I’m not going to do anything you say if you don’t let me play the candy crane!  … I won’t go back to the hotel with you even!  … or even eat supper! … ”    Throughout all this, I calmly interjected that really he had no control over any of those things, that he got INTO this problem by not doing what I said and if he continued to not listen to me, he’d probably have more problems to deal with.   I took him to the car so he could finish his tantrum away from the public eye and he was now sitting in his car seat vainly trying to find an angle that would work for him.  He was really rather comical as he tried to convince me he was the one in control.  After I’d decided there had been enough verbal fencing, I chose to just ignore his pleas and accusations.  We were still in the same car together, I’d obviously not left him, BUT I left him alone to his own devices until he had exhausted them.  Turns out he exhausted himself.  After several minutes passed sans back seat chatter I turned around to see him fast asleep.  Well our time at the amusement park was over.  He was unaware that he missed out on more fun.  I gave away the remaining ride tickets I had purchased and somebody else received the blessings that were meant for Dylan.

Isn’t that a fine picture of how we sometimes interact with God?  “You have not given me what I wanted, so … I’m not going to ask for your help now… I’m not exactly speaking to you actually… I’ll just do this without you…”  Do we believe God has really left us all alone when he quietly quits interacting with us  and waits for us to come to the end of our own devices?  I wonder how many blessings we have missed because we stubbornly turned away from God’s plan for us.

The Birth of a Blog

I’ve struggled for years with the decision whether to blog or not, wondering      a) if I had the TIME to do it,      b) how to categorize it – I didn’t want to limit my subject matter to one focused area as “How to Blog” articles suggest,      c) if I could handle the criticism,  but mostly      d) why I would be doing it.

I used to write articles for our home schooling newsletter, which I believe really ministered to that segment of society, however personal circumstances created a decade long writer’s block. My writing is a tool God has given me, but I need His inspiration for what and how to write.  I’m convinced He put that gift up on the shelf out of my reach for these past years because I had other areas I needed to resolve.  Just a couple of years ago, I got a few closely-placed signs that my writing might be called back into practice and suddenly the ideas started flowing again.  Still, I had to do some soul searching on the above questions.

Finding the time will resolve itself.  If I’m inspired, I will make the time to write.  Today, I think I’ve resolved the categorizing issue.  I am a dance-to-the-beat-of-my-own-drum kind of person – always have been.  Rules can be useful, but I’m not averse to breaking them.   The thought of dealing with criticism so publicly is still a bit daunting, but I trust I will grow thicker skin if need be.  But the real question I’ve been chewing on is “Why”.

What are the reasons I feel led to blog?  What makes me feel like the world needs to hear what runs through my mind?  Am I seeking self-gratification?  Honestly, I do love hearing when people like what I’ve written, but this is not a good reason to start littering people’s lives with words.   Yet another question – am I doing this in the hopes of making money from it?  Well, money is a good motivator.  Still, that’s the wrong motivator in this case.  What I’ve come to realize is that I’ve got things to share that I think can bless those who read it.  One day during a sermon, our pastor used the phrase “bless and build” and it went straight to my heart.  Thinking those words so succinctly summarized what I was hoping to do with my blog, I realized that I’d just been given the name I needed.  So that is my purpose – to bless my readers and to build them up with encouragement as they journey through life.

Our Family 2014

Our Family 2014

I will fight the little voice that keeps telling me it is arrogant to assume people will want to read what I think.  I will write as I am inspired and we’ll see if it falls into a neat categorical focus.  I will share ideas about womanhood, motherhood and sisterhood.  My life experiences have taken me down roads in parenting, creating, reading, cooking, event organizing,  and home schooling.  I have walked through years of depression, discovered beauty about life as a “messie”, struggled through learning to forgive, learned the value of relationships and found out about the different ways men and women think.  I have known the good, the bad and the ugly of perfectionism, legalism and fanaticism.  I have raised five sons who have in turn raised me to new levels of understanding and maturity.   I have walked with my husband through the challenges and rewards of a 30+ year marriage.  All these subjects will no doubt turn up in my writing.  I look forward to sharing with and hearing from my readers.  My hope is that we will mutually bless and build one another through our communication here.