Monday, 19 December 2016

Advent activities and traditions

It's nice to sit down and reflect on the past few weeks - there has barely felt like a spare moment, and even though the days have been filled with good things, I have longed for a little peace. It was relatively recently that I discovered that my personality is more introvert than extrovert; people tend to assume that if you have a leadership role, and are comfortable with public speaking and teaching, that you love being surrounded by people all the time. It's not that I don't enjoy company, but if I really seek refreshment, some quiet time alone is more profitable.

Christmas is suddenly very close, and it is the related activities that have made the weeks busy. I'm going to reflect a little on some of these things. First and foremost, I have rejoiced that everything we have been involved in has been very Christ-centred, and represents a real change from the more materialistic, entertainment driven culture found back in the UK (at least in our experience!). I wrote a little about that last year here. Also, as a home educating parent, I find it interesting and encouraging to reflect on the lessons and skills that have been developed through a wide range of 'extracurricular' activities (or put less formally, through enjoying advent together as a family in the context of a vibrant church).

1. The children had the opportunity to join their choir singing at the national theatre over the weekend, and that involved plenty of rehearsals including seeing how the lighting and sound was set up. I was encouraged by the boost to their confidence that this was, and the things they learned through the experience (other than simply learning to sing in a group - in fact their part was relatively small, but as I realised watching them over that time, that didn't matter so much).

2. I recently reflected on multi-cultural celebrations, and last weekend our church had a day of sharing food, music and dance from our different cultures. The theme was 'unity in diversity' and it was like a small foretaste of heaven when 'every tribe and tongue' will be found rejoicing before the Throne of God. The children are old enough now to really enjoy these occasions, and they wore their national dress, learnt several songs and were involved in teaching a dance. Whilst the theme of the day was more about worship, it was also encouraging as a home educating parent to see the number of skills that they are developing without even really trying; relating to people from all over the world, being aware of their own cultural heritage (s), learning and singing songs in public, enjoying a range of different foods (my friend who was going to bring grasshoppers cooked in a kind of peanut butter sauce was unfortunately delayed and unable to bring his favourite dish).

3. This weekend was the Christmas production, and again, we were able to get quite involved as a family. So, there were days when we had 25 people over for breakfast (a bucket of local porridge, drank out of cups), followed by singing and dancing in the front garden. It was good for the children to see how a performance is developed - to see the mistakes made in practice, to see different people trying the different roles, to see songs abandoned and new songs chosen, to help decide how to build a set, to find out how to make multi-purpose costumes on a budget and to be involved in each step of the process. The actual event was fun (and got nice feedback), but for me, it was the practices that were most enjoyable. It is always through serving together that relationships move from being superficial acquaintances to something more meaningful, and it was very encouraging to watch all of the children interacting so well with their many friends at church. A year ago, we began to get to know people through being peripherally involved in the Christmas production, and I was able to look back and reflect on how God has blessed us this year through becoming integrated into our church and community. (In fact, it's that which has made me struggle to find time to blog lately - that the house has often been full. A blessing and a privilege, and I really would not want it any other way).

4. So now, we have a relatively quiet week heading up to Christmas. We will have our house group over to sing carols, and will be spending some time with friends, but we have more time to focus on the Jesse tree and related activities, something which is becoming quite a tradition for our family. (As an aside, I read this blog from somebody overseas about Christmas traditions, and it made me a little sad; I see that having your own family traditions assumes even greater importance in a cross-cultural setting) As well as the 'emblems' to draw or colour and hang on our spray-painted branch, we have a large timeline across the wall where the children are free to draw or write anything that goes along with the Bible narrative. It's been very interesting to see how their understanding develops year on year. I love watching how they draw some of the Bible stories as it shows their interpretation and understanding. I'd seen some other resources online about 'kindness' tasks to be done through advent, and I thought that might be a very useful supplement to what we were already doing. So in each of the Jesse tree envelopes, they have a 'task'. None of the lists available online were really applicable to our cultural setting, the resources we have access to or the ages and interests of our children. So I made a list. I thought about areas where they struggle. I also am keen for them to go through their books and toys and see what can be given away. Our church has an outreach into a nearby slum in January, so it is an ideal time to put things aside to give to those who have great need. It is also good for the children to see how much they have, and how they can bless others. Other tasks have been to write letters to the people who have taught them (choir, sports etc), to Skype somebody they haven't spoken to for a long time, to write home, to help cook, to read stories to their siblings and so forth. I've been encouraged by how much they have embraced these tasks.

5. In between these things, we've enjoyed making cards together as a family. Each person has had a task. We have palm trees that regularly shed leaves and sections of wood, and so we've been able to make a nice design, and get the children to choose verses and use nice pens to write the cards. Each time a person is heading to the UK, we've given a batch of items to post. We have also tried via the local post office, and will be interested to see whether things actually reach their destination. In amongst this, again there have been many valuable lessons - art and craft, design, team work, discipline, kindness and so forth. There have been some days where I have felt that we have been so busy having fun that we haven't done much 'school' (although we are keeping up with the schedule for the curriculum we are using). But then, I need to remember that at this age, many mainstream schools would spend a lot of time on art, craft, working on performances and so forth. As a home educator, that really isn't so very different, except that we can choose tasks that we feel build the skills we wish to cultivate.

So, five different areas where we have been blessed and encouraged. Personally, I am now looking forward to a slightly quieter week. The children are tired, and need a bit more rest. We are continuing our typical homeschool pattern (basically 'school' between 8 and 11am with extra things in the afternoons) right up until Christmas, as we all find the routine makes the home more peaceful. I know others take more of a break, but for us, it can be counter-productive and we do better with the discipline and structure.

I wonder how you have found advent? Have you any family traditions that help you learn and grow together?

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