These activities can be used both at home and in classrooms.
They accommodate children between the ages of 2-8.
Advent: A Time to Play at Waiting
Our Season of Hope
Advent Pantomime: a story for home or classroom
Advent: A Time to Play at Waiting
Advent is a time for waiting. It is the long, night watch, as we hope and long for the coming of our Lord.
We adults may have to work to create Advent in our hearts. Children, however, have no such difficulty. Are there any people more capable of experiencing and exuding joyful anticipation than young children? Perhaps there is no other time in our lives when we await Christmas with as much glee and excitement than when we are young.
Children’s joy is enviable but it makes them especially susceptible to the onslaught of commercialism surrounding Christmas. It is very difficult to shield them entirely, but we can offer them a way to focus on what Advent is really about. This can be done through play, children’s work that comes so naturally to them and opens up their minds and hearts to new knowledge and experiences.
Waiting for Jesus through play:
- Provide props for dramatic play of the Nativity story:
- A ‘manger’—a box or doll cradle
- A doll and swaddling clothes
- Clothing for Mary and Joseph, shepherds and wise men (capes, adult tee shirts, towels, etc.)
- Stuffed animals to be sheep
If your classroom has a climber or a dramatic play corner, arrange this area to look as much like a stable as possible. Lengths of burlap cloth draped over the climber for a roof, wooden boxes, blankets, buckets—use anything that creates the sense of a stable. Items that reflect modern times more than biblical times won’t bother the children as long as they can ‘feel’ that it is a barn. Consider bringing in hay if you don’t have any children who are allergic to it. It will be messy but it is only for four weeks! And besides, Jesus wasn’t born in an antiseptic hospital!
If you are offering this at home, you may not want to bring in the hay, but couch cushions, a cardboard appliance box, a blanket over a card table will work the same magic for a stable.
- If possible, get a child’s nativity set, one that is made for play. Look for ones that portray the characters as Mideastern or of various ethnicities. With their Fair Trade program, Catholic Relief Services offers colorful ones made by artisans in several countries. Catholic companies that carry statues, medals, etc. often have children’s nativities for sale in the fall of the year.
- Dollhouse dolls can be adapted for this with simple clothing cut from felt.
- Add small toy animals such as horses, cows, sheep and dogs.
- Provide building blocks or small boxes for a stable, the inn, and other buildings
If you have a nativity set for your home, and your children have toy farm animals, let the children all their animals to this display.
- For children who love to draw, put a large piece of paper on a wall. Over the four weeks of Advent, have them first draw shepherds and sheep. Each time you meet, suggest figures and details to add, such as:
- Stars in the sky
- The inn and other buildings
- The stable
- donkeys (more than one child will want to draw these!)
- water for the animals
- wise men (only the mention of three gifts in scripture limits us to three wise men; there may have been more or less than three!)
To keep the sense of waiting for Jesus’ birth, don’t add figures of Mary, Joseph, and the Baby Jesus during Advent. Before the children return after December 25th, add these figures you or a child has made.
During Advent, many people despair over the commercialism of Christmas, with good reason. You may feel pressured to provide the best gift, to spend too much money, to use time for shopping rather than on being with those you love, etc. Often children are overwhelmed by the sheer number of things they receive.
However, long before television began blasting news of pre-Christmas sales, people have given gifts to each other at Christmas time. We love to give gifts. We love to be surprised and to surprise. Perhaps gift giving at Christmas persists not because of commercialism but in spite of it. Gift giving, done with care, can be a joy-filled experience that reflects Christianity, not commodity.
Preschoolers will naturally be anticipating the joys of receiving gifts at this time of year, but they are equally capable of finding joy in giving gifts. This Advent, help little ones to become the gift-givers.
Start with a Story
St. Nicholas, whose feast day is December 6th, is beloved for his gift giving. The element of surprise is part of his legacy too. Tell children about St. Nicholas and his gift-giving ways, as well as his other attributes. For a wealth of stories, see www.stnicholascenter.org. You will most likely be inspired to create a St. Nicholas celebration once you have found this website!
The rest of Advent can be spent helping children become gift-givers in the spirit of Saint Nicholas. Remind them of Nicholas’ secret ways of surprising people. Then provide ideas and materials. You will find you have also provided the joy of giving!
Ideas and Materials
The following is a list of ideas of gifts young children can give to surprise someone. Some are actions, not physical gifts. The materials you will need for physical gift are listed. The preparations range from simple to involved.
- Sneak into the kitchen early in the morning and put the spoons and cereal on the table.
- Make a gift certificate for five kisses and hugs. Save it till Christmas and give it to someone you love.
Provide: paper, markers, stickers
- If your family members leave their shoes near the door, line them up neatly when no one is watching.
- Make a paper chain to give to someone for a Christmas tree decoration.
Provide: construction paper cut into strips, and tape.
- Draw a picture of the Nativity and give it to someone on Christmas Eve.
Provide: drawing paper, pencils, markers
- Give someone a nativity set.
Provide: wooden peg figures from a craft store, markers, paint, and shoe boxes for stables.
- Make ‘bags of gold’ and with an adult, secretly leave these gifts for siblings, neighbors, relatives, etc. as St. Nicholas did.
Provide: yellow tissue paper, yellow ribbon, candy or cookie treats.
How to: Cut the tissue paper into 12” squares; place treats in the center of the tissue paper; gather the paper into a ‘bag’ and tie with ribbon.
- Feed the birds.
Provide pinecones, bird seed, peanut butter, table knives, sandwich bags, a plate for the bird seed, and a wash cloth.
How to: Help children slather peanut butter onto pinecones with the table knives, then roll in birdseed; place in sandwich bags to take home; wash hands.
- At home, if you have a pet, give it fresh water without being asked to do so. Only your pet will know this secret!
- See if you have any treasures in your closet or toy box that someone in your family would like, such as a small toy, a colorful pen, or a hair barrette. Put it into that person’s shoe and hide and watch for him or her to find it.
Our Season of Hope
Advent is our season of hope. Preschoolers tend to be hopeful people and are also at an age when they are very open to spirituality. However, they may not be able to speak about hope, for it is a feeling more than a concept. Also, with all the attention gift-buying gets, it may be difficult for children to differentiate between hope for Emmanuel and hope for a specific toy.
A short and simple ritual you can share will give young children the beginnings of an understanding of Advent and hope for things outside of themselves.
You will need a green cloth and a candle in a holder, and matches.
Explain that the color green is often used to show hope. Hold up the green cloth, then lay it on a table. Place the candle on this and explain that we see candlelight as a sign of hope. You need not explain this further.
Teach them this song, sung to the tune of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”
We live in hope of Jesus,
we live in hope of Jesus,
we live in hope of Jesus,
because we know he is near!
Then talk about things you as a class/family can hope for, such as:
- That hungry children get more food
- That homeless people find warm places to sleep
- That a sick person (name) gets well
- That travelers get home safely
Several times during Advent, repeat this little ritual about hope.
** If you have introduced children to the liturgical colors, you will have to explain that just for this prayer, you are using the color of hope, green; otherwise in Advent you use purple/blue.
Advent Pantomime: a story for home or classroom
Help children understand that Advent is about waiting for the birth of Jesus by telling them the nativity story little by little. Here the story is told in four parts, one for each week of Advent.
Combine these stories with the lighting of the Advent wreath candles—tell the first story in the first week of Advent and then light the first candle, etc.
In telling the stories, you will pantomime the words you speak, and the children will imitate your motions.
The First Week of Advent: Mary and the Angel
|Long ago, there lived a young woman named Mary. She would soon be married to Joseph.||Stand and have the children stand.|
|One day, when Mary was home alone, an angel appeared to her! She was so surprised!||Jump back as if startled, put your hand over mouth in surprise.|
|It was the great archangel, Gabriel.||Straighten your arms, hold them slightly out from your sides, move arms a bit to look like wings.|
|The angel said, “God loves you very much, Mary.||Hug yourself.|
|“Because of that, something special will happen. You will have a baby boy.||Hold your arms as if cradling a baby.|
|“Name him Jesus. He will be God’s own baby and he will be very great!”||Gesture upwards to indicate God, then spread your arms out, palms up to show greatness.|
|Mary was astonished.||Draw in your breath, and put both hands on your cheeks.|
|But she told Gabriel, “I will do what God asks of me.”||Point to yourself and nod your head.|
Light one candle. Explain that you will wait until next week to hear the next part of story. Sing a song or say a prayer as you sit with the candle for a few moments.
The Second Week of Advent: Mary and Her Cousin
First briefly review with children the story from the previous week.
|Mary decided to visit her cousin Elizabeth.||Mime walking.|
|Both women were expecting babies. Mary’s baby was Jesus. Elizabeth’s baby, John, would become a great saint.||Hold your arms as if cradling a baby.|
|Mary wondered if Elizabeth would understand that the Angel Gabriel had said Mary’s baby would be God’s child too.||Put your chin into the palm of one hand and look puzzled.|
|When Mary arrived, she called out to Elizabeth.||Put a cupped hand to your mouth.|
|Elizabeth came quickly. She was so happy to see Mary! They hugged.||Hug yourself.|
|Elizabeth said, “Welcome, Mary! You are full of God’s grace! Blessed is your child! When I heard your voice, my baby inside of me jumped for joy!”||Jump.|
|The Elizabeth said, “I am honored that the mother of my Lord has come to see me.”||Bow.|
|Elizabeth had understood that Jesus was God’s child! And her baby had too! “God has done great things for me,” Mary exclaimed.||Hold out your arms, palms up and look upward.|
Light two candles. Explain that you will wait until next week to hear the next part of story. Sing a song or say a prayer as you sit with the candles for a few moments.
The Third Week of Advent: Mary and Joseph and a Little Donkey
Review with children the stories from the previous weeks.
|It would soon be time for Baby Jesus to be born and Mary and Joseph had a problem. They had to travel to a small town called Bethlehem.||Put your hand to your forehead and frown to mime worry.|
|Could they drive in their car? No, for there were no cars back then!
Did they fly in an airplane? No, for there were no planes either!
Did they take a train? No, there were no trains!
|Shake your head after each question.|
|What they did have was a donkey. Joseph held the little donkey still while Mary climbed onto its back. Slowly, slowly they traveled to Bethlehem. It must have been a bumpy ride for Mary.||Mime sitting on the donkey by swaying back and forth and bumping up and down once or twice.|
|When they reached Bethlehem, they found there were many other travelers there. Every place was crowded. They looked and looked for a place to stay.||Shade your eyes and look from side to side.|
|Finally, they found a place that was a kind of cave used for animals to sleep. They made themselves as comfortable as they could there and rested.||Take in a deep breath and put your head to one side and close your eyes.|
Light three candles. Explain that you will wait until next week to hear the last part of story. Sing a song or say a prayer as you sit with the candles for a few moments.
The Fourth Week in Advent: Mary and Baby Jesus and Some Visitors
Review with children the story from the previous week.
|In the stable for animals, Mary and Joseph stayed. There they welcomed Baby Jesus into the world! What a wonderful gift to this world—to all of us!||Rejoice by jumping up and down and clapping your hands.|
|God wanted others to know about the gift of Jesus. So God sent many angels to earth to sing and rejoice.||Flap your arms like wings and dance around a bit.|
|Not far from where Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus were, some shepherds and their sheep were spending the night outside.||Sit down and put your cheek into your palm and close your eyes.|
|All of a sudden, the sky above them was filled with angels! The shepherds were startled! Some were frightened.||Still sitting, open your eyes wide, point upwards and show astonishment or fear.|
|But the angels calmed them down and told them about a baby born nearby that had been sent by God to us all.||Clap your hands to show that the shepherds understand.|
|So the shepherds went to the stable. They found Baby Jesus asleep. He was in the arms of his mother, Mary, and she was smiling at him, this most special baby from God.||Hold your arms as if cradling a baby and smile.|
Light all four candles. Now that you have waited all these weeks, there is only a little time left to wait until you celebrate the birth of Jesus! Sing a song or say a prayer as you sit with the candles for a few moments.