Advent with Toddlers

4 years ago

So, fellow Adventers, how's it working out for you? Soon after I posted about Advent last week, I felt a need for transparency in how this all plays out. You see, I'm kind of an Advent rookie, and I'm not great with crafts or planned activities for my kids. So sitting down to plan a month of reading and playing together left me feeling uncharacteristically prepared and excited. But I'm also a realist. My favorite James family motto is "Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly." So we'll try sticking with an Advent calendar this year, and we'll give ourselves the freedom to do it poorly. I want to make sure that's clear.

We're a couple of days in and here's how it's gone so far:

Day one- Duff read The Story and The Song, based on Psalm 19 and Hebrews 1. It's the intro to the Jesus Storybook Bible and, big news here, I made it through without crying! It's beautifully written, but it's hard to get choked up when one daughter is shoving a Sesame Street book in your face, while the other is laying on her back saying she doesn't want to read at all. Advent with toddlers, my friends! Do it poorly! We decided to finish the story later, and headed out for some family fun: breakfast at City Bakery and a quick stop to see the Gingerbread Houses from the Grove Park Inn display. Except we couldn't see the actual ones because we weren't paying guests so we had to settle for the side show at the Grove Arcade. It lasted about 3 minutes which is exactly how much time we could put on the meter with the change we found in the car. The girls munched on gingerbread cookies from a friend at the bakery (meaning they licked the icing off) on the way home. We finished our bible reading before nap time and talked about it through out the afternoon.

Day two- Liv and I read The Beginning: A Perfect Home together while Eliza napped. Then we made salt dough ornaments...while Eliza napped. We sort of left her out this day. I gave myself the freedom to do that because she won't remember. This is about celebrating and focusing our attention the King who came, not about forcing things. Liv had a great time and if Eliza asks which ornaments she made in 2012 we'll tell her not to worry about it and to go take a nap. I kid!

I made Eliza dress up to feign participation. Liv said "Look mom, we're makers!"

Here's the recipe I used for the salt dough ornaments from (I looked at a few and was glad I went with this one. The dough was the perfect consistency. And the smell brought back memories, because what's more synonymous with "I grew up in the church in America" than salt dough ornaments. And McGee and Me.)

Salt Dough Ornaments:

4 cups flour

1 cup salt

1- 1.5 cups water

salt dough ornaments, salt dough handprint

I threw everything in the mixer and let it spin till a ball formed. We floured the counter, rolled the dough and cookie cuttered our hearts out. For about two minutes, then Liv lost interest. SIDENOTE: I also made little hand prints because we had tons of extra dough and they're always sweet to look back on. I used a straw to poke holes in each ornament before putting them in the oven. The recipe said to bake at 225 for 3-4 hours. (Yes, 3-4 hours. Doesn't that seem absurdly long?) I left mine in for three hours and turning the oven down a little after two, because I'd read that cooking them too high could cause bubbling. Before looking at the recipe, I'd estimated they'd take about 15 minutes to bake so this threw off my plans to make and paint ornaments on day two. Instead, we made them and baked them, then painted on day three. We decorated the tree with them later that third night, which was what I'd planned for that day anyway.

painted salt dough ornaments

So far, my Advent-with-toddlers tip is make your schedule in pencil, not Sharpie.

We've continued like this, trying to prioritize the bible story while enjoying the craft or activity. Last night we were supposed to string Cheerios for a garland, and no one was interested but me. Eliza just wanted to eat them, Liv wanted to watch Diego and Duff wanted to watch the news. So I made a "garland" on with 5 Cheerios on it and threw it on the tree. Not a battle I wanted to fight.

So, if you're attempting some sort of Advent festivities with your family, feel free to do it poorly with us. The point is the interruption, the breaking-in, the beholding of the baby who slept in a feedbox. The point is not perfect memories or gorgeous salty clumps of flour hanging on a tree branch.

Thank heaven for that.

Cross posted at


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