Peace in the neighborhood: Stories, Service, and Sweets

What’s a birthday party without cake??

We wanted our neighborhood party to have a sweet ending. After the kids were finished with games and crafts, we invited them into our living room for a story. This was a great “settling down” activity before we enjoyed a treat. I read a different story each year that we had this party, but I want to share two of my favorites:

Why Christmas Trees Aren’t Perfect, by Richard Schneider, is a beautifully illustrated fable. The story ties the Christmas message in at the end, but is not preachy, so it is a gentle choice when building relationships with new neighbors, and a nice introduction to the concept of Christ’s devotion and sacrifice. For a group of younger children, you’ll want to “story tell” this book rather than read it word-for-word…the language is beautiful, but it’s a long story, and you may lose the kids’ attention unless you abridge it.

The next story is A Tree for Christmas by Dandi Daley Mackall. This is a “pattern book,” which means that a line repeats throughout the story. (the kids will learn this quickly and they’ll be able to help you “read” by repeating the line on each page.) Mackall ties the tree theme to the life of Christ; his birth, childhood, ministry, death and resurrection are all mentioned with clarity and age-appropriate detail. Younger kids will be able to follow this rhyming story easily, and older kids will enjoy the lyrical stanzas as well. The illustrations are lovely, and include silhouettes that tie past and present together. I believe this book is out of print, but some copies are available on the web.

Thank you, Mitzie, for your assistance.

After our story time, we talked about our neighborhood service project. When we handed out invitations, we requested that the children bring a new, unwrapped book or toy to the party to donate to the local children’s hospital. We asked each child to show the gift he/she chose and then place it in a large gift bag. We talked about how much the children who were spending Christmas in the hospital would appreciate the caring gesture!

We also had an opportunity for children to share their gifts with each other! One year, a young boy played Christmas carols on his violin. Another time, a girl taught some simple sign language to the group. This is a great way for kids to get to know one another and appreciate each other’s strengths!

Finally…we sang a rousing chorus of “Happy Birthday, dear Jesus,” and enjoyed blowing out candles and savoring cake! (Please note: When planning a party like this, be sure to ask the parents if their children have any dietary needs/allergies/restrictions.)

It’s important to note that each time we had this party, we had a mix of “typical” kids and kids with disabilities…we planned carefully so that every child had enough support. In addition, we made certain that quiet spaces were available, as well as choices for activities…it was very important to us that no one felt left out…when Jesus was on earth, he clearly said, “Let the children come to me!” We felt certain that He would want everyone included at His birthday party.

Happy Birthday, dear Jesus!

Peace in the neighborhood: Crafts for the party!

When planning birthday parties for my kids, I usually included a craft activity. It’s fun for kids to return home a tangible reminder of the party (and this is also a good springboard for conversation with their parents!)

For our neighborhood Birthday Party for Jesus, we chose picture frame ornaments and angel “candy cans.” Both projects were relatively simple, and could be modified easily to accommodate different ability levels and ages.

Picture Frame Ornaments:
Materials: craft foam in sheets, tape, beads, or other embellishments, glue, glitter pens, pipe cleaners

Prepare for the craft by cutting the craft foam into small rectangles. Cut a hole in each piece. Punch two holes at the top of each rectangle and attach a pipe cleaner.

Take and print a picture of each child (or ask that children bring a picture of themselves to the party.)
Tape the picture into the frame.
Have kids decorate their frames with beads, stickers and glitter.

Angel Candy Cans
soup or canned fruit cans, (emptied and washed, labels removed) coffee filters (2 for each project: one for the “dress” with the center cut out and one for wings), circles cut from manilla folders, glue, crayons, spanish moss

Be sure that the inside rim of the can is safe for little fingers by covering it with duct tape!
Place one coffee filter over the top of the can and help kids tape or glue it in place to make a “dress.”

Help kids to create “wings” out of the second coffee filter by taping the filter in half.

Glue the “wings” onto the “dress.” Then, have the kids draw a face on their manilla circle and add spanish moss “hair.”

Glue the face onto the rim of the can and fill the can with candy. You can also add a paper halo if you would like!

(Note: I added an additional coffee filter around the bottom of the can to make the skirt longer.)

Note: It’s always good to have two helpers at the craft table so that everyone feels successful! Also, be sure to have extra sets of crafts for kids who might need to revise their crafts (or for kids who work quickly!)

Tomorrow: Stories and Service


Peace in the neighborhood: Activities for the party!

What’s a birthday party without a game of pin-the-tail on the donkey?

As we planned for our neighborhood Birthday Party for Jesus, we wanted to be sure that we had plenty of fun activities for our little guests. We also wanted to tie the theme of our party to the games. Here’s what we did…

Pin the Crown on Jesus.
Each child was given a construction paper clown to try to pin on a posterboard picture of baby Baby Jesus. Some of our little friends didn’t care for the blindfold, so they took their turns with open eyes!

Herd the Sheep
For this game, children were given a cup with a shepherd’s picture on it. Attached to the cup with a string was a cotton-ball sheep. The kids had a great time trying to scoop up their sheep, and seeing how many “catches” they could make in a row.
(Note: It’s important to add some weight to the sheep…we threaded a couple of small bolts through our string and then glued the cotton on top.)

Pack the Gifts
This game is basically the same as a ring-toss or corn hole…just “Christmassed up” a bit! We created a camel out of a carpet remnant that we found in the rafters of our garage when we moved in. We used dowel rods to help our camel stand up straight and then dressed him up with some fancy scarves. Kids had fun seeing how many beanbag “gifts” they could toss into the camel’s pack.

(Check out the Wise Men we drew and posted on the wall behind the camel.)

Each station had a Bible verse on the wall…we didn’t paraphrase the scripture, so that kids could see/hear it as written. As we played the games, we talked a bit about the Christmas story. However, we kept things light; this was a party, and not a lesson!

We were very flexible about games…some kids didn’t want to play all of the games while others worked through the stations quickly and wanted more turns. We had some “sponge activities” ready to “soak up” the extra time for kids who were less-interested in the games or who only wanted one turn. (coloring pages, dot-to-dots, and a story corner worked well.) As with any activity with small children, we had lots of energy and a variety of ability and attention levels…we found it was best to be flexible and keep things fun. It’s a party, after all!

Coming up next: Crafts