Today's the first of December, which means it's time to start our Advent calendar (even though the Advent season doesn't technically begin until the 3rd). When my kids were littler, we used to get those cardboard Advent calendars with the pop-out windows that are filled with chocolate. A few years ago, though, I bought a wooden one that we could use every year, and for a while, I filled each little cubby with chocolate, or sometimes change, or some other small token. But here's some truth for you: our kids get enough at Christmas time. They get enough presents and toys, and they certainly get enough junk food.
So last year, I decided to institute a new tradition: simple acts of kindness in our Advent calendar. It's nothing earth shattering, and it's been done plenty, but I really like that this little change helps us focus more on the true meaning of Advent, which is a season of preparation for the birth of our Lord, Christ. It helps our kids to focus less on Santa and more on doing for others, spreading joy and kindness, and being a little bit selfless. And, as it turns out, the kids really enjoyed it.
Yesterday, I spent some time planning and prepping our Advent calendar. That may seem weird, but I find it's much easier to carry it out if I'm a little bit intentional about it. My goal is to make sure that we are able to carry it out without falling behind, because I know from experience that if it starts to feel overwhelming, we won't follow through. And I don't want that to happen.
Three things that I think about when planning our calendar are:
1. Variety: because I have 4 kids between the ages of 4 & 15 and I want to engage them all. Also because some days we have more time than others, and because the idea is to inspire my kids to always be kind in little ways. I thought up a list of activities last year, and this year I changed a few so that this calendar will continue to grow with the kids.
2. Schedule: because, let's be honest, if our days are too busy and full of school and homework, we'll get behind and then we'll feel overwhelmed and it'll all fall apart. And there are something (like school and homework) that we can't just neglect, even if we want to. So having some easy ways to show kindness helps us make sure we do it every day.
3. Supplies; because it is much easier to follow through in a timely way if the supplies you need are available. This doesn't mean I choose only activities that fit with the supplies we have on hand, but I try to make sure I have everything available to them when the task comes up. In some cases, the "supplies" are just money, so I set aside what we'll need for the calendar in cash. If the supplies (or money) fit in the calendar boxes, I go ahead and just stick them in with the paper listing the activity for the day.
I guess you might be wondering what acts of kindness we'll be doing this year, so here's our full list:
- Rent a DVD; return it with money for snacks for the next family
- Compliment at least 3 people today
- Leave change in a vending machine for someone else to use
- Leave a treat in the mailbox for the letter carrier
- Leave random notes of kindness where ever you go
- Smile at everyone you see today
- Make cards for soldiers and send them overseas
- Go to school early- take breakfast for your teachers
- Make playdough & leave it for neighbors with little kids
- Go to Aldi- put quarters in as many carts as you can
- Let someone go ahead of you in line today
- Read to or play a game with a sibling... let your sibling choose the book/game
- Write down 5 reasons you are thankful for your family- 1 for each member
- Hand out sheets of stickers to other kids you see in the store, etc.
- Help out by doing an extra chore today
- Write a thank-you letter to your teacher & give it to him/her
- Donate blankets to the shelter
- Clean out your toys- choose at least 2 to donate
- Donate items for the Giving Tree at church
- Go through the books & choose some to donate to the doctor's office
- Take cookies to the local fire house or police station
- Leave a friendly note or picture in your library book before returning it
- Start a "Have a penny/need a penny" cup by the pony ride at the grocery store
- Go to the dollar store and buy items to fill "care bags"- give them to those in need
Pretty simple stuff, right? I try to choose things the kids can do mostly on their own. Yes, some things require me to take them places, and yes, some require some money. I mkae sure they have what they need, but they are always welcome to add their own to it. Ultimately, my goal is to help them see that small gestures can sometimes make a big difference.
What kinds of things do your do with your kids to get into the Christmas spirit?