Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Little Prayer Books

A quick little organizational tool that has changed my classroom? $1 photo albums.

As we work on developing and memorizing standard prayers, I always make prayer cards for the kids to have on hand.  Not only can they use them to help as they are memorizing, but then they also have them as a resource for the future as they add to their arsenal of prayer.

But honestly, those prayer cards never stayed where they were suppose to be or could be found when needed.  Last school year, I finally solved the problem by purchasing an inexpensive "brag book" photo album for each student.  At a $1 a pop, they have saved my sanity and provided a personal prayer book that each student can keep and hopefully use in the future.

I purchased the photo albums from Dollar Tree (I ordered online- in store won't always have enough for a whole class).  These photo albums perfectly fit the prayer cards, which are one-fourth of an 8 x 11" sheet of paper.

I was even organized enough to print a bunch of the prayer cards on cardstock before school started, so now all I have to do is pull out the next set when I am ready to introduce a new prayer.

A super easy and practical way to help me foster an environment of prayer in my classroom, as well as give my students the tools they need as they grow in faith.

Interested in some of those prayer cards you see in our little prayer books above?  I organized all of my prayer cards and mini books, complete with original illustrations, into a free 90 page ebook.  You can print any or all of the prayer cards to use with the kiddos in your life and make their own little prayer books!

The free Prayer Card Collection ebook is a special gift for my subscribers- and it can be yours too!  Just enter your email over in the right column of my blog, and your ebook will be on its way!

***2022 Update- The Prayer Card Collection is still available, but it is updated and better than ever! If you are a current email subscriber, you should have a link to the 2nd edition at the bottom of each monthly newsletter. If you would like to be a subscriber and receive the free ebook, just add your email to the navy subscription box on the right. (If you are viewing the blog on a mobile device, you may need to scroll to the bottom, click "View Web Version," and then you'll be able to see the sidebar where the subscription box is located.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

St. Terese Novena for Vocations {Color-a-Novena}

I do love praying novenas, but find that I sometimes have a hard time keeping track of the days or holding myself accountable to the set of prayers.  Last year in preparation for St. Terese's Feast Day, I joined in this novena (she is the patroness of vocations in my Diocese) and wanted to try something different.  I wrote out the main prayer in my journal, and ended up doodling in a rose each day as I prayed.  I added in the date, theme for the day, and a brief quote from the reflection.  It kept me on track, and made the novena much more present in my mind and therefore more meaningful.

A novena is simply nine (or sometimes more) consecutive days of prayer for a specific intention often leading up to a Saint's Feast Day or other Liturgical celebration.  You can read more about what a novena is here and about the history of novenas here.  You can even sign up to have novena prayers and reminders sent straight to your inbox at Pray More Novenas.

I thought that this journaling strategy might be great for kids (or other adults) to use as they prayed a novena, so I started making Color-a-Novena sheets.  St. Terese is the first one I have to share with you!  This sheet features the main prayer for the vocations novena and a numbered rose to color for each day.

To finish the novena on October 1st, the Feast of St. Terese, you start the novena on September 23rd.  However, you can pray this novena for vocations any time of the year.  The full novena has themes, meditations, and prayer for each day. You can find the novena in its entirety here and print a pdf here.

Click on the image below to download the St. Terese Color-a-Novena:

Do you have any favorite novenas that you would like to see as a Color-a-Novena?  I'll happily take your suggestions in the comments, and then I'll get to work adding to the collection!

***Update- Prefer the spelling Thérèse? Here's the same color-a-novena with the alternate spelling:

***Update- If you're praying this as a class or in a group, here are a couple of sets of Google Slides with the full reflections from the Diocese of Peoria Novena.

This one just has the novena prayer:

This one has nine days of reflections and the novena prayers:

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Woodburned Peg Doll Nativity How-To

I know, I know... it's only September. But in my book, its never too early to start planning for Advent and Christmas and gift giving.  I'd rather do a little work early on so that I can enjoy the season.  Last Christmas, I made this peg doll nativity for my just-turned-one year old niece, and it was a big hit.  The peg dolls are just the right size for a little fist, they make satisfying banging noises, and are fun to chew on (and later will hopefully help her understand the true meaning of Christmas). We've added two new nephews to the family this year, so I wanted to make another nativity.  After watching my niece play with hers I was inspired to think a little differently about the next set.

When making toys for babies & toddlers, you have to consider that everything is going to end up in their mouths.  With that in mind, I still made Baby Jesus a tiny size, but as He is a choking hazard, my sister has Him stored away until the kiddos are bigger.  When I painted last time, I also made sure that my paint and sealer were non-toxic.  This time considering my nephew is even younger, I knew that there was an even higher likelihood that he would have these pieces in his mouth all the time.

After a friend gave me a woodburner this summer, I knew that it would be the perfect medium to make more baby-friendly peg dolls.  I woodburned the peg dolls, stained them with coffee, and sealed with mineral oil and beeswax- all non-toxic, food safe materials that a mama can feel a little better about her baby chewing on.  Not only that, but I l-o-v-e the style of the Nativity and how simple and beautiful it looks.  Plus, they smell delicious- a combo of the burned wood, coffee, and beeswax is like a campfire and incense all rolled into one. :)

If you want to try this technique, I've got a lot of pictures to help you along the way.  If you stumbled upon this and want to paint a set of nativity peg dolls, you could easily use the woodburned patterns below as outlines and you might want to check out this post.  Also, this post has ideas for painting animals for a peg doll nativity, and this post has a set of Saints, a cathedral, and a Mass set.  I think the kiddos in your life would love any of them!

Note: Many of the links to products in this post are affiliate links.  That means that if you click on that link and make a purchase through it, I receive a small percentage at no cost to you.  I only recommend things I already have used and have been happy with.  I appreciate your support!

Here are my supply recommendations based on what I used:
-Wood Doll Bodies Man 3 9/16" (Although I bought in bulk last time to save!)
-Wood Doll Bodies Woman 3 1/2" (Also bought in bulk)
-Wood Blocks 2"
-Wood Blocks 1/2"
-Wood Eggs 2 1/2"
-Woodburning Kit
-Mineral Oil
-Baby Jesus was from Hobby Lobby, but this wood doll is similar
-All of the boxes used (large stable for whole Nativity, small box for Holy Family, and tiny box for Baby Jesus) were from Hobby Lobby.  Unfortunately, I can't link right to the products I used, but I love these boxes.  They are sturdy and you can get them individually in store.  The medium one listed at that link is the one featured in this post.

(*Update- A reader asked about the total cost for this project. I based on amounts from buying the peg dolls in bulk from the links above and I used a 40% off coupon on the large wooden box from Hobby Lobby.  With those discounts, all of the items you see in the first picture cost me about $30.  This doesn't count the cost of the woodburner, wax, oil... or coffee :) It would be a bit more expensive if you purchased the peg dolls in smaller quantities, but you could always find someone to split a larger order with, do a peg exchange, etc.)

First up, sketch lightly in pencil.  Totally worth the time, because then you concentrate on small areas while wordburning without trying to figure out the big picture.  And there's no need to erase unless you miss some lines.  You can keep an eye out for any rough edges that might need some light sanding at this point.  All of the supplies I mentioned above have always been very well made and I haven't had to worry about sanding, except on the edges of the boxes.

The woodburning kit I used (listed above) came with a few standard tips.  I almost exclusively used the fine and round tips.  I did use the straight tip in some cases for hair and a couple of lines, and I used the shading tip to create the angels' wings.  I hadn't woodburned in many many years, but it actually was easier than I remembered.  I would recommend practicing with a scrap piece of wood to get a feel for the tips and to also be very careful with your fingers when you start working on the pegs. :)

As great as the woodburning looked, it needed a little contrast.  I decided to use a coffee stain.  I brewed double strength coffee and brushed it on with a paint brush.  I had planned on adding water to dilute it and make lighter shades, but actually ended up letting it dry and adding more coats to create darker shades.  The coffee obviously soaks into cut ends and smooth ends of the wood differently.

Here you can see what a difference the contrasting brown colors makes.  I let the stain dry completely before adding sealer.

Also, the wooden blocks, especially the 2" size, seemed to have very sharp corners.  Not only did this make me nervous if one of the kids fell onto it, but it also seemed more likely to wear down and splinter.  I could have sanded the corners, but again, thinking about preventing splinters I tried another technique.  I put one corner of the block on a steel plate I use for jewelry making (you could use any hard surface, like the bottom of a skillet) and then whacked the opposite diagonal corner with a hammer.  The result was a dented in corner on two of the eight corners that looks much more baby safe.  It only took a couple of minutes to do this on all of the blocks.

Next up, sealing the wood.  I used mineral oil and beeswax to create a food safe sealant for the natural wood.  Using a one part wax to four parts oil ratio, I warmed up the mineral oil in a double boiler and then added small pieces of the wax, stirring until melted.  I waited for it to cool a bit and then used a rag to rub into the wood while it was still warm.  As it cools, it gets too solid to work with, so I just put it in a hot water bath to warm it back up.  I let the sealant sit for about 20 minutes (basically the time for me to put it on every piece and then get back to the beginning) and then buffed off the excess with another clean rag.  I put two coats on some of the rougher piece of wood, including the box.

Ok, ready to get started?  Whether you decide to paint or woodburn, it can be nice to have a pattern to start with.  I always like to have one peg doll to look at, so I took pictures of the front, back and side of the various people and animals in the Nativity:

Here's the Holy Family:
The Wise Men:
Their Camels:
The Angels:
The Shepherds:
Their Sheep:
And the Cattle and Donkey:

And finally, I woodburned a big star and lots of little stars inside the lid of the box listed above.  It is the perfect size to function as a stable for play and also for storage.  Baby Jesus is lying in swaddling clothes in the bottom of a tiny wood box (from Hobby Lobby) for His manger.

If you don't want to start with the whole Nativity, you could make just the Holy Family in a small box like this.  I made these for some baby showers this fall.

Aren't they so cute?!? I just love how this turned out :)

If you are interested in more Catholic peg doll projects, check out these posts:

Peg Doll Nativity:

Wooden Animals for a Peg Doll Nativity:

Passion & Resurrection Peg Doll Set:

Saints, Cathedral, and Mass Set:

Friday, September 9, 2016

Dear Moms: What Your Kids' Teacher Wants You to Know

It's a new school year.  My time is spent organizing school supplies and teaching routines, introducing new concepts and getting to know new kids.  This season of change is exciting, sentimental, and challenging not only for the students, but also for their teachers and parents.  Last year, I was asked to give a quick talk on thing teachers wished parents knew.  This post is the fruit of notes from that night of sharing and collected conversations, and it seems like a great time of year to share it.

Here are the seven things I wish every mom (and dad) knew:

1. You are the first and most important teacher of your children.
Nothing can replace your influence. We are your partners in this endeavor to help your child grow into the kind, loved, talented, responsible, intelligent person God created him to be.

2. If you are wondering what you can do to help your child's education: Read & Pray. 
Read to them, read with them, let them see you read.  
Pray for them, pray with them, let them see you pray. 
Both of these things, although they may seem simple, matter and influence every other part of a child's formation and education.

3. Love multiplies, not divides.  
Your child is everything to us, but she is also one of 25, one of a whole school. We strive to see every individual, to know her, to support and challenge her, and we also have to care for every kid in our classroom, each year, in every school.  

4. "Fair" and "Equal" and "Same" are not black and white words in our classrooms.  Please don't compare what has been determined to be the best educational plan for each student. I won't talk about another child with you, but you can be assured I won't talk about your child with another parent.

5. We appreciate your communication.  
A quick note, an emailed question, checking in during pick up- You are your child's best advocate, so certainly speak up when you have a concern or question. But please, in tough situations, don't assume the worst of us. Be willing to listen to another adult perspective before jumping to conclusions.  We are so grateful to be respected as partners in your child's education. 

6. To be honest and practical: 
A teacher will graciously accept the pinterest created/inspirational nik-nak/cutesy collectible as an appreciation/Christmas/end-of-the-year gift. But do you want to know our real love language?  Give us a handwritten card from you and your husband and/or a picture or letter created by your child- I will keep and treasure those long after I have to figure out what to do with this year's collection of gifts.  If you really want to spend money, buy us classroom supplies.  Ask us for a wishlist and stock up on all the things we love to provide for our students that don't fit in the school budget.  Or donate to a charity in honor of our class.  And if you must... Starbucks Gift Cards are always welcome :) 

7. Most importantly, it is a privilege for us to teach your children.  
We are blessed to spend time with them, to help form them and watch them grow. We are grateful to be a part of your family, even if it is only for a school year. Your children will always matter to us.

And a few bonus topics that came up in conversation as a result of my talk:

-When I spoke to several teachers from different schools and grades, ALL of them brought up communication as something they wished teachers and parents were on the same page with.  Here are a few of their thoughts:
Talk to us instead of your child's classmates' parents.
Expect a reasonable response time, especially when emailing outside of school hours- we respect your family time and appreciate the same consideration.
Take advantage of the many ways that most schools communicate- websites, social media, newsletters, etc.
As is age appropriate, have you asked your child first? Help him to be accountable and responsible.  

-How do you support your child when they have a teacher they don't get along with?
This is tough.  My thoughts are a balance between advocating for the well being of your child as well as helping them grow in the virtue of fortitude and the skills of navigating challenging relationships.  Your reactions could range from teaching your child coping mechanisms and helping them self-advocate to intervening on their behalf.  It all depends on the maturity of the child and the severity of the situation.  

-When do you intervene in your child's school social situations? (Building friendships, helping them learn to play with others, etc.)
Social growth develops so differently for each child and doesn't always follow a specific "grade level" trajectory.  Again, it's important to advocate for your child and keep the teacher in the loop with social situations that might be happening outside of school, but you also need to let the kids stretch their wings.  An intervention from a parent can end up being the worst thing when trying to foster social situations, especially as kids get older.  It is important to encourage your child to build lots of types of friendships in different situations, even with kids of different ages.  Play groups, activities, neighborhood friends, etc.- these all can help model appropriate social behavior and how to be a friend.  

-How can you encourage a more Catholic atmosphere in your child's classroom?
My suggestions for this are to help the teacher by "finding" great resources for them to make it easy to weave in faith throughout the school day.  Purchase a favorite Catholic book and donated it to the class.  Loan Catholic books or a DVD from your family's collection for an upcoming Feast Day.  Offer to come in to lead an art lesson or story time that relates to the Liturgical Season.  Email links to solid (educational, well made, age appropriate) Catholic printables/activities.  When you are involved in classroom parties, take advantage of the time to infuse the faith as you plan games and activities.  Invite the teacher to local retreats/studies/speakers to strengthen his/her own faith.  And super importantly- pray for your kids' teachers.  We all need your prayers more than anything! :)

So those are my thoughts.  Educators of all kinds, what else do you wish parents knew?  Parents, what do you want teachers to know?  I'd love to hear your ideas in the comments! :)