I’ve wanted to post our Christmas plans for quite a while now, but I haven’t had wireless access since we’ve been on vacation. (See next post about our Disney trip!)
Since we are taking a week off this week, I wanted to still have something somewhat structured going on the week prior to Christmas - a unit that would really help us to focus on Christ’s birth. I have also wanted to do a farm animals unit this year but just haven’t figured out where I would fit it in. Sooo…we’re going to do a unit on the animals of the Nativity. We'll call it Around the Manger. I got the idea for doing a unit like this over at By Sun and Candlelight. Thank you, Dawn, for the inspiration! It has been incredibly fun to put this together. I began by searching for picture books about the animals who were possibly present at the manger. I was surprised at how many books there are that tell the Christmas story from an animal’s perspective. There are a couple that I didn’t include simply because I could not find them at the library or the bookstore: The Friendly Beasts by Tomie de Paola and A Christmas Story by Brian Wildsmith. I’ve read good reviews of both of these, so I hope to find them before we finish our unit.
One of the main things we’ll be doing is making a Christmas tree ornament for each book that we read. I love having ornaments handmade by the kids to hang on our tree. We usually make several in the weeks leading up to Christmas - some to keep and some to give away. This year I thought it would be fun to make ornaments that tell the story of the Nativity and hang them on a small tree. When we’re finished each child will have their own “Nativity Tree” for their rooms. (In case you’re wondering why we don’t just make a regular Nativity set, it’s because last year Superman and Giggly Girl wanted a tree for their room, and I also felt the ornaments had a better chance of not getting lost if they were showcased on a tree rather than on the top of a dresser!)
I planned nine days of books and activities, but it will probably take us longer than that to complete all of the ornaments. (We take our time when crafting around here!) I’d also like to do a little devotional based on the book of the day, and I’ve included some ideas for history, geography, science, etc. (There is no way we'll get to all of this, but there's always next year!)
Here are the books we’ll be reading:
Luke 2:1-20 (The Christmas Story)
This is the Stable by Cynthia Cotten
Who is Coming to Our House by Joseph Slate
The Donkey’s Dream by Barbara Berger
The Crippled Lamb by Max Lucado
Room for a Little One by Martin Waddell
Hark! A Christmas Sampler by Jane Yolen & Tomie de Paola (We’ll read “The Legend of the Birds” and “The Littlest Camel.” This is a wonderful Christmas resource of stories, songs, recipes, etc. Right now I’m using the library’s copy, but I’ll definitely purchase this to use in the future.)
Read: Christmas Story from Luke 2. We’ll use the flannel graph because it’s one of our favorite ways to do Bible stories.
Ornament: We’ll use old-fashioned clothespins to make Baby Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. I’m still working out the details on this one, but here is a cute example of how to make a clothespin ornament (scroll down a bit).
Bible/Devotional: Read John 3:16. Why was Jesus born? Talk about how much God loves us and cares for us that He would send His only Son to be our Savior.
Geography: Locate modern day Bethlehem on the world map. Talk about what it was like there when Jesus was born. Talk about deserts and show some pictures of what Bethlehem looks like today.
Read: This is the Stable
Ornament: We will attempt to make a little stable out of popsicle sticks. I haven’t tried to do a mock up yet, so if it appears that this will be too tedious a craft, I’ll have to figure out an alternative. Any ideas out there?
Bible/Devotional: What do you think the stable was like? Think about the barns we have visited. What are some of the sights, sounds, smells that you can remember? Talk about the fact that Jesus came to be our King. In what kind of place do you think a king would be born? How is this different from a stable? Why do you think God chose for Jesus to be born in a stable instead of a palace?
History: Talk about what a stable was like during this time period. (I’ve read some differing opinions on this subject. Some scholars believe it could have been a cave just outside of town reserved for the sheep that would be sacrificed in the temple. Others say that it was common for families to use the bottom floor of their homes as shelter for their animals, and that they even had a stone manger in this room. Families lived and slept in the upper rooms. I’m still researching this, so I don’t know if we’ll broach this topic or not yet.)
Science: Which animals do you think might have been in the stable when Jesus was born?
Field Trip: At some point during our unit, I’d like to take a field trip to a working farm where we can go inside of a barn and try to get an idea of what it might have been like inside the stable where Jesus was born. Even though the structure itself will be different, at least our senses can experience some of the same surroundings that Jesus, Mary, and Joseph might have experienced. This would be a good day for this trip, but we’ll fit it in where we can.
Go-along: If we have time, we’ll read This is the Star, which has a repetitive story structure similar to that of This is the Stable. Animals are also part of this story line. This would be a great day to bake star-shaped cookies!
Read: Who is Coming to Our House?
Ornament: With this book, we’ll begin to highlight one animal for each day. Today’s animal is the cow, so we’ll make a cowbell ornament from a small flower pot. Here is an example. We’ll probably paint them either brown or white with black spots.
Bible/Devotional: In this story the animals are all busy working in the barn to make it ready for Baby Jesus’ arrival. Read Colossians 3:23. Talk about doing everything as if we’re doing it for Jesus - taking pride in our work and doing our best for Him.
History: Talk about the types of work the animals of the stable might have been used for in Jesus’ day. (ex. sheep - sacrifices; donkeys - transportation; cows - milk, food)
Science: Make a classification card for the cow and sort onto our classification board. Since we already have most of these animals on our board from our Before FIAR books, we’ll include a fact on each of these cards mentioning what the animal was used for in Jesus’ day. If we have time, we might read a non-fiction picture book about cows.
Read: The Donkey’s Dream
Bible/Devotional: In this story the donkey dreams about the load he is carrying to Bethlehem. The author uses symbols in the donkey’s dream to represent Mary, but we’ll choose a couple of these (the fountain, the rose, and Heaven) and discuss them in the context of Jesus.
Ornament: I’ll cutout donkey outlines from grey felt and let the kids glue on the ears, face, and a colorful blanket for his back.
Geography: Locate Nazareth on the map. Talk about how far it is from Bethlehem and how long the trip would have taken, what it would have been like to travel by donkey, how tiring it must have been, etc. Talk about why they had to make the trip (Caesar ordering a census, taxing, etc.)
Science: Make a classification card for the donkey and add to our board.
Field trip: We have a farm nearby that raises donkeys and miniature horses, so we might try to visit there.
Read: The Crippled Lamb
Bible/Devotional: How did it make the lamb feel when the others made fun of him? Have you ever felt this way? God made us all wonderfully unique with different talents and abilities. Because the lamb had to stay behind in the stable, and because he wanted to help the mother and baby, he was able to give baby Jesus the gift of warmth. Look what he would have missed out on if he had been able to travel with the rest of the sheep! This would also be a good opportunity to discuss our reactions to people who may look or do things differently from us. We've already talked about this quite a bit, because Grammy is in a wheelchair, but this book offers another gentle opportunity for this discussion.
Ornament: Today we’re going to make a sheep from sculpey clay. We’ve never used this art medium before, but I think the kids will love it!
Science: Make an animal classification card for the sheep and place on board. Discuss possible uses for sheep during Jesus’ day (wool, sacrifices, food)
Read: Room for a Little One
Bible/Devotional: Read Revelation 3:20. Talk about making room in our hearts for Jesus and inviting Him in.
Ornament: Take a mason jar lid. Separate the ring and the lid. We’ll google a picture of an ox, print it out, glue it on the lid portion. Then we’ll decorate the ring with buttons, beads, ribbon, glitter, etc. Tie a ribbon hanger around the ring, then glue the lid into the ring.
History: Place the birth of Jesus on our timeline.
Science: Talk about oxen, look at some pictures, and make a classification card for our board. This is an animal we are not that familiar with, so we’ll try to spend a bit more time looking at pictures, etc.
Read: “The Legend of the Birds” from Hark! A Christmas Sampler
Bible/Devotional: Talk about how the bird was willing to sacrifice her own comfort for that of Baby Jesus. What do we have that we could give or do for Jesus? When we sacrifice something for Jesus (gifts, talents, time, money) that is a way we can worship Him. Read verses about all creation, including animals, praising and worshipping God (Rev. 5:8-13/Ps. 148)
We might also focus on how much God cares for the animals and everything He created. (Matt. 10:29; Psalm 50:10-11). If He cares that much about animals, think how much more He cares about you!
Ornament: Some of my favorite ornaments from childhood are some wooden cutouts of animals that my mother and I painted together. So for today we’ll paint wooden bird cutouts (robin redbreasts, of course!)
Language Arts/Types of literature: We’ll talk about what a legend is and how it is different from non-fiction (ex. The Bible)
Science: We’ll add a classification card for the robin.
Nature Study: We’ll make some pinecone bird feeders (spread pinecone with peanut butter and roll in birdseed), string some popcorn and fruit pieces and decorate a small tree for our birds outside our dining room window.
Then we’ll observe any birds who stop by for a snack. Hopefully we’ll see some robins, and if we do, I’d like to snap a digital photo of one and have the kids draw it in their nature journals.
Cooking: I found a couple of simple recipes for homemade suet cakes in my Birds and Blooms magazine. I think we’ll try our hand at making some of these treats for our feathered friends and then hang them out on our special Christmas tree for the birds
Go-Along: Tonight for one of our bedtime stories we’ll read Jingle, the Christmas Clown by Tomie de Paola. It is another story about some animals who gave of themselves for God’s glory. They weren’t present at the manger. Rather, they were a group of circus animals who, along with their friend Jingle the clown, performed their circus act on Christmas Eve for the people of a small, destitute Italian village. (This is such a sweet story.)
Day 8 (I might save today’s activities for Epiphany, Jan. 6, when we’ll focus on the wise men.)
Read: “The Littlest Camel” from Hark! A Christmas Sampler
Go-Along: The Story of the Three Wise Men by Tomie de Paola
Bible/Devotional: Read Luke 2:1-15, the visit of the wise men. Talk about their gifts for Jesus and think of some gifts we can give to Jesus.
Ornament: Glass balls. We’ll google a picture of a camel, cut it out, and insert into a plain glass ball. We’ll also insert some shiny beads, colorful raffia, etc. and tie with a pretty ribbon hanger.
Science: Add a classification card for the camel. Read a book about camels, look at pictures, etc. since this is somewhat of a new animal for us.
Cooking: Bake a king’s cake.
Read: Again read the Christmas story from Luke 2. The kids like to do a play of the Christmas story for their grandparents on Christmas Eve each year, so perhaps we’ll use today as a “dress rehearsal” and act it out.
Ornament: Finish up any unfinished ornaments.
Field Trip: We’ll visit a living Nativity at a local church.
Scripture Memory: Luke 2:1-20
Vocabulary: census, tax, inn/innkeeper, eider, legend, stable, manger
Music: Learn and sing “The Friendly Beasts.”