The Practice of Pondering: Teaching Children to “Be Still and Know.”

On the surface, it would seem that I’m the least likely person to teach anything to anyone about being quiet.  Or still.  I promise you.  My whole life has essentially been a series of suggestions to “sit still,”  “stop talking,”  “wait a minute,” “slow down,” “take a breath,” “hang on a sec,” or “let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”

I’m a learn-out-loud, talk-it-out, idea person.  My thoughts tend to take u-turns when I don’t verbalize them.  That’s just who I am.

But, I’m learning.  And growing.

And, it turns out, you CAN teach an old dog new tricks, despite the conventional wisdom – especially when we are talking about the Lord.  Because… “He who has begun a good work in me will be faithful to complete it…”  Hallelujah!

A few years ago, God highlighted an innocuous little verse for my restless heart, and it became a clarion call for my life.   “But Mary treasured up all these things, and pondered them in her heart.”    The verse is found in Luke 2:19 right after the telling of the “Christmas Story.”

Picture Mary here, holding her infant child.  Less than a year before, she was just an average girl, but then, she is visited by an angel, told that she has been impregnated by the Holy Spirit, and that the child she is carrying is the Savior of the world!?  Christ is then born in a dirty stable, in a town far away from home,  and soon, strangers suddenly start visiting them – guided to them only by the hand of God, and then they begin worshiping her baby – right there in that dirty stable.

Instead of freaking out, instead of drowning in her overwhelm of the entire situation, instead of emotionally imploding at the sheer weight of God in her life (like MY postpartum self would have done)….. it tells us that Mary “treasured up all these things, and PONDERED them in her heart.”

I was suddenly so struck by this phrase.   And challenged by it.  Perhaps I could spend more time just”treasuring and pondering”

So, I purposed to start “practicing pondering.”    Just a daily time of quiet thoughts – meditation – about what God is doing in my life.

I know – I said the “M-Word” – MEDITATION.  Cue the patchouli incense and crystals.  We are talking here about Biblical meditation.  Psalm 77:12, “I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”

Meditation is simply disciplined thought.

As this new habit began to enrich my life, I quickly realized that my kids needed a dose of this as well.  But, teaching kids to “meditate” quietly isn’t easy.  I needed some practical tools, so I set out to find some.  I’d like to share what I’ve learned in the hope that you can use it to teach the children in YOUR life the art and discipline of quiet time.  Or maybe you need these tools for yourself!

First, we must understand that children crave time to be quiet and still.  They NEED it to mull their BIG thoughts about God.  Having a practice of meditation as a child is a great navigational tool for relationships as well.  There are many studies that demonstrate its lifelong benefits.

In the beginning, the empty quiet space feels like eternity.  One way to help define this time for children is to use music.  Choose a 2-3 min hymn or inspirational (but low-intensity) worship song, and have children find a comfortable spot on the floor to “think” about God while the song plays.  After the song, simply ask them what they thought about.   Don’t be surprised or discouraged if it’s NOT God at first, just keep encouraging them.  Children love routine and the consistency of the familiar, so consider using the same song every time for a while, but eventually you can choose longer songs or two songs to extend this time.

Any good teacher will tell you that “prompts” are another great tool.   Each night before bedtime, we started giving our kids a high/low prompt.  It’s a simple way to get their brain reviewing the day and thinking about moments and experiences, and the feelings they associated with them.  It’s a very simple concept – “Take a moment and think about your day.  In a couple of minutes, I am going to ask you to tell me about your high moment and your low moment today.”  What was the best thing about today (high)?  What was the worst thing (low)?

One of my favorite prompts came from a VBS that my kids attend every year.  It is the “God-Sighting” prompt.  They give all the kids a silicone bracelet with the words “Watch For God,”  and each morning they ask kids to recall “God-sightings” from the day before.   It’s so great!   I always stay for this part of the VBS morning, and it makes me cry EVERY.TIME.  Hearing kids talk about the rainbow they saw, or the friend who sat with them…or whatever little pint-sized anecdote they come up with to illustrate where and how THEY saw God in their life is so heartwarming.   We’ve adopted this in our lives.  It’s as simple as a morning reminder to “watch for God” today.  And an evening moment to stop and think for a few minutes (ponder), and then let’s talk about your God-sightings for the day!   (HINT:  if your kids take showers or baths unsupervised, that’s a great time to encourage them to do this!)

Finally, and unsurprisingly, consistency is key, like anything with children.   Find a time or two that makes sense in your family’s day,  and implement one or two of these ideas daily.  I think you will be encouraged by it.   Try it for a week, and then share how it has worked for you.  Share with your child’s Sunday School teacher, your small group, your church elders and pastors, or on your church social media pages.It’s a great way to testify of the work of God in your family and encourage others in the process.

Repurposing Plastic Easter Eggs

As the impending giant community  Easter Egg Hunt draws near, I’m already seeing mounds of multi-colored plastic bubbles in my sleep.   I don’t know about you, but at our house, those things NEVER seem to disappear. They lie, in wait, in the darkness of my hallway, just outside the bathroom, so that my middle-of-the-night, jammie-clad trek to the “facilities” is interrupted with either; the obnoxious sound of a crunched plastic egg piercing the peacefulness of the night, or the slightly more obnoxious sound of my muffled scream as said egg pierces the tender skin of my recently pedicured, statue-esque feet.  (Okay, fine…truth be told, my feet are more like Hobbit feet, but you get the picture!)

But I digress…

Anyway, long after the masses of freckle-faced children in pigtails and denim overalls (yes, I live in Mayberry in my head), leave the carnage of their epic hunt behind on the grass, and long after your little angels have eaten their fill of “individually wrapped, non-melting” sugar bombs, YOU will be left picking up the plastic, multi-colored pieces. 

Never fear…..Corrina is here! 

When I took acting improvisation classes, we played a game called, “What is it?”  An everyday object is tossed around a circle, and each person must come up with a new idea for what the item is.  (Simplified Example:  A paper towel roll becomes a telescope…etc)  I found it very stimulating to make my brain do this, and I have compiled this list for you, in hopes that you will be inspired to think about everyday objects in a new way as well.  It can be a frugal, GREEN (yes, I said it), creative and fun way to engage your family and be better stewards of the things you have at home.  I have included ideas for learning tools – either for home or classroom – as well as household uses.  If you have other ideas for creative repurposing, please submit them in the comments section below!  

So without further adieu, here’s the list:

Using Plastic Eggs as Learning Tools:

1.       Resurrection Eggs – An Easter Advent calendar.  For the 12 days, leading up to Easter, have children open one egg each day.  Contained inside is one item representing an element of Passion Week – i.e., a nail, a sponge, a cloth, a rock, etc.  Here’s a link to a great demonstration of how to make Resurrection Eggs.

2.      Spring Advent Eggs – A less religious version of the above, you could substitute items representing new birth, such baby chicks, flower seeds, etc to countdown the days until the first day of spring.  (This obviously may fall before Easter, so save the eggs, or plan ahead)

3.      Vacation Eggs – Same idea as above….getting kids to countdown to vacation with small items representing the trip in each egg.  You could also include “coupons” for things to redeem whilst on vacation if your child will need extra incentives to behave or participate.  For example, you could offer a coupon good for a “before dinner ice cream cone,” to be redeemed after child has successfully carried their own luggage through the airport….or whatever works for your family. 

4.      Math Eggs – There are many variations on this idea, and it can obviously be adjusted based on the level of your child (mine is a preschooler), so think outside the “egg carton.”  Here’s a few;  1.) Using a marker, write a number on each half of the egg. These two numbers will be added together. Give the child dried beans or jellybeans to use as manipulatives, and have them put the “answer” inside the egg.  2.) Same as the addition, but start with the largest number of beans already in the egg.   They then subtract the smaller number to leave the answer.  After child has completed the dozen, have them write out each sum in long form with the answer, and then recite them to you out loud. 3.) Here’s a different twist as they get better at “head math.” Break the eggs apart completely. Write out a sum on one half of the egg, and the answer on another half (keeping the halve colors the same will give help, so adjust accordingly).  Have the child match until the dozen is complete.  4.) For young children, you could draw dots on one end of the egg, and have the numeral on the other half for matching.

5.      Language Eggs – Thinking just like the math concept, you can do; 1.) Rhyme matching, 2.) Uppercase/Lowercase matching, 3.) Synonym/Antonym matching, 4.) For young children, a sticker with the “first letter” – i.e..(Ant picture with an “A”) 5.) Sentence making – this is a longer, more independent activity, and can be adjusted to the difficulty level.  It does require some prep on an adult’s part.  Have parts of speech (pieces of a sentence) in each egg.  The children can hunt for the eggs first, and then put the pieces in order to make a sentence.  This activity can be expanded for a classroom setting, or over the course of a week if needed.  In a classroom, you can divide into groups and have each group come up with the parts of speech, and then hide the eggs for the other group.  Make it a race.  To expand further, make it a paragraph with multiple sentences, and require the story written out with illustrations to be complete. This can be really funny if you use silly verbs (think Mad libs), and have interchangeable options for the story. 6.) Foreign language Eggs – Useful for drilling vocabulary.  Have the English word on one half, and the translation on the other half.  Make it a timed drill. 

6.      Social Studies – 1.) Label an egg carton with the name of a president (or other historical character).  Have facts about that person written on slips of paper inside plastic eggs.  This works best if you have either; more than one character to work on, or more facts than are true for the one character.  Have the child correctly place all the “true” facts about the character into their egg carton.  2.) Timeline Eggs – Have important events inside each egg.  Number the inside of the empty egg carton 1-12, have the children place the eggs in chronological order.

7.      Science Eggs –Just adapt the concepts in the other subjects to fit. Here’s a couple of quick thoughts; 1.) Phases of metamorphosis, 2.) Scientific names of plants or animals matched with layman names, 3.) What’s Inside?  Fill each egg with a different substance. (Dried corn, oatmeal, flour, beans, Jell-O, etc.)  Make sure you use different weights, sounds, textures, etc.  Have all the items available to look at, and using only feeling and listening, the children must guess what’s inside. 

 Using Plastic Eggs as Household Tools:

1.       Store pantyhose

2.      Store individual necklaces to keep from tangling.  (Especially useful for trips).

3.      Fill with Potpourri, and place in a drawer, or the bottom of a trash can for freshening. (Be sure it’s the type with holes, or you’ll need to poke your own holes in it.)

4.      Fill an egg with sand and use in the bottom of a “too light” gift bag.

5.      Store crafting supplies or beads.

6.      Store small hygiene items such as tweezers and nail clippers in eggs in your bathroom drawer for ease of finding.

7.      Strings eggs together and make an Easter garland for the mantel or as a window decoration during Easter Season.  Also consider turning those Fichus in your house into an Easter Tree.  Decorate it like you would your Christmas tree – ribbon, garland, eggs etc.

8.      Store spare buttons.

9.      Make your own mini travel sewing kit.  Store some thread, safety pins, and a small piece of sponge with a couple of needles poked in it. 

10.   Make your own mini first aid kit to store in the glove box or purse.  Include Band-aids and a mini tube of Neosporin.

11.   Store USB or SIM cards inside an egg in your desk drawer.  Keeps them protected, and easy to find when you need them!

12.   When traveling, store cotton swabs or cotton balls in an egg to keep them clean and ready.

13.   Use to hold small “servings” of play-dough.  Take a few in your bag – great for restaurants and waiting rooms. 

14.   Use to hold single servings of snacks – for you or the kids.  Keeps the portion size right and its fun to hand an egg full of cheesy fishes to the back seat when needed.

15.   Use as reinforcement for good behavior. Fill with surprises and give one to your child when deserved.  EXCELLENT for plane travel or long car trips.

16.   Homemade Croquet!  Use sticks and plastic eggs, and fashion makeshift goals in your yard for a quick family game!

17.   Decorate with ribbon and lace and fill a basket for your table.

18.   Decorate eggs with googly eyes and felted features, glue to a popsicle stick and have a puppet show!



In Praise of Family Night

In our home, we try to have at least one night each week which we dedicate to a family night.  Depending on my hot date schedules (ahem….with my husband), family nights generally occur on Friday or Saturday night. This usually consists of some kind of fun meal (either out at a restaurant, or cooked together as a family), and a planned activity that all three of us will do actually at the same time. 

I know that’s an odd way to say it, but let me clarify. 

My husband and I have a pretty good system worked out for most evenings – so that we alternate who is the “on” parent.  This means that while we are all usually together at home most evenings, both of us have time to do a thing or two without the kidlet (hence, I’m blogging at the moment, and kidlet’s bath is being facilitated by the husband unit.)

So, on family night, we purpose to put our “other things” aside to all focus on SOMETHING together. 

Our family night exploits have included such simple thrills as homemade pizza and a game of LIFE (the board game) – which is amusing to play with a precocious five year old.  Last time we played two things happened; 1.) He cried when he didn’t land on the square which forces the player to pay $40,000 for an SUV.   When we asked why, he explained, “I have three kids now, and I need a van…this car is too small, and the kids keep falling out of my car.”  2.) He danced around the living room in glee when his “college tuition loan notes” were paid off, chanting in a sing-songy voice, “I’m debt free, I’m debt free!”  Stifling our giggles, husband and I exchanged knowing glances, and I silently prayed that only ONE of these would happen again in his lifetime. 

Rarely, we choose outrageous evenings, such as a 9pm trip to a fancy restaurant for appetizers and ice cream sundaes or the classic pajama run to McDonald’s for French fries and milkshakes (don’t judge).

Tonight, we did something so quintessentially American that I nearly broke out in a rousing chorus of “Yankee Doodle Dandee” on the way home.  I know, I’m dramatic.

We began the evening at a place called, “Jimmy’s Diner.”  Yeah  – it’s really called that.   At said diner, we ordered a tuna melt, a patty melt, and a shrimp louie – seriously, how cute are we? And then, the pièce de résistance……we went to the drive-in!  Yes, the movie kind!!  Now, let me just be clear – the drive-in theatre in our town doubles as a flea market on Saturday and Sunday, so there’s a little strategic driving maneuvering necessary if you want to avoid taking home a stall with you.  But, it’s a drive-in, nonetheless.  We all sat in the front seat of the truck, and shared blankets, popcorn and a kit-kat, while we watched Tangled, which was surprisingly entertaining. 

Yes, I’ll be hanging the star-spangled bunting on the eaves in the morning. 

Seriously, kidlet couldn’t have been happier, and I was reminded again that it’s the simple things done TOGETHER that make life special. 

Maybe we’ll have TWO family nights this week.  

As for you, you still have time to make a special family moment – the weekend is just beginning. 

Go out and play!

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