Families With Grace

Helping Christian moms create homes filled with grace, love & faith

Summer planning ideas and tips for family fun

15 Easy ideas to plan a fun and organized summer for your family 

Plus a free printable summer bucket list!

Figuring out how to spend a fun and organized summer break isn’t as hard as you think with summer planning ideas that really work!

Summer break can be such a high-pressure and stressful time. We know we have limited summers with our kids, but life doesn’t stop just because it’s summer. 

Balancing mom guilt and summer break is a very real struggle! Through the years I’ve learned a little planning for summer helps my whole family be intentional about spending time together so I don’t feel quite as guilty when I have to spend time at work.

1. Decide how many activities your kids can do for the summer.

We are intentional during the school year about how many activities our kids are allowed to participate in. We like for our children to have free time and don’t want them to be over-scheduled.

Summer is very similar. Their summer schedule isn’t quite a limited since they don’t have school in the mix, but they are limited enough so that we have plenty of quality time as the entire family to do fun things. 

Our kids have the whole rest of their lives to be busy. We do our very best to keep our summers low-key.

2. Make a list of summer family goals.

I tend to like my downtime to include a mix of relaxing and productivity. My husband and kiddos are pretty similar, so part of our summer planning is writing down summer family goals

I’m a list maker through and through, so a lot of our summer plans include using lists as a great way to keep us on track.

We make a list of goals as a family, such as organizing closets, walking the dog regularly and cleaning out the garage. The summer months really are a great time to get some things accomplished together with some family teamwork.

Our list of family summer goals

3. Make a list of summer individual goals.

Along those same lines, we also like to come up with individual goals for the summer. We each come up with things we’d like to personally accomplish over the summer and write them down. 

We use these as a perfect opportunity to get around to those things we have put off for too long during the busier school year. Sitting down as a family is the perfect time to give feedback and encouragement for the goals we each want to accomplish.

Just be sure to set goals that are reasonable and attainable. Sometimes my children have needed a bit of help paring down their ideas!

Another bonus to summer goals is that when the children get bored, we can point them to their list of goals and suggest they spend a little time working on it.

Our list of individual summer goals

4. Make a summer bucket list for your family.

But summer isn’t all about being productive. Summer planning also has to include some fun. My own family organizes fun summer activities with a summer bucket list

I love this for a couple of reasons. First, sitting down with our kids at the beginning of summer to come up with ideas of what they want to do helps my husband and I prioritize those things. 

Second, when my kids invariably start bemoaning that we haven’t done anything fun all break, we can show them the list with all the items we’ve done so far marked off!

Sometimes coming up with ideas can be a challenge, so I’ve put together a free summer bucket list printable full of ideas to get you started. They are all low or no-cost ideas that are great for making family memories together. 

Overall, the best summer bucket list is one that is simple and full of affordable, realistic ways to have some family fun!

Our summer bucket list took two pages this year!

5. Make a list of people to visit.

This goes right along with the summer bucket list and often makes it onto our list. Extra time over summer vacation means more time to spend with extended family members and friends. 

So part of the summer planning process for our family is talking about who we want to visit with, including any sleepovers with friends our kids want to plan or time with their grandparents. 

Having this listed helps me figure out our summer calendar more easily to make sure everyone is getting a chance to enjoy the time off from school.

6. Find all sorts of free activities.

With just a minimum amount of efforts, you can find all sorts of affordable ways to have some summer fun in your community and even your own backyard. 

Lots of communities offer a free outdoor concert or two during the summer. The warm weather is also a good time to visit local parks and check out the playgrounds or nature — depending on your children’s ages and interests.

Don’t forget the local library. For years, it has been a great source of free programs for my own family that’s included animal shows, magic shows and more.

Then, don’t overlook the fun at home. Buy some water balloons and spend a hot afternoon dousing each other outside. Or during cooler evening hours, plan outdoor games your whole family can enjoy like croquet or cornhole.

Rainy days are the best time to peruse your own game collection to make memories. Play board games, video games or whatever your family most likes!

7. Have an electronics plan.

Screen time is often a big debate and struggle during the summer months. I don’t mind for my kids to have some screen time, but I don’t want them to have lots of time just looking at a screen.

Figure out the best electronics plan for your own family. Some families go for detailed plans that include a daily schedule of items to do before allowing screentime.

For my family, a more laidback approach has worked best. When our children were younger, they had to always ask permission before getting on a screen.

Now, we use Google Family to monitor and limit their screentime as necessary.

8. Keep fun supplies handy.

Kids often forget about things that are out of sight, so keep fun supplies available and accessible. 

For example, make sure they can get to their bikes easily. Don’t forget other favorite summer activities like sidewalk chalk, rubber balls, outdoor games and water toys.

Having items easily accessible and even visible can help inspire your kiddos to find something to do on their own.

9. Organize your kids’ summer activities.

Summer planning ideas also include figuring out the activities your kids are going to be doing and when. I have a monthly overview I use along with printouts of calendars for June, July and August that help me organize my kids’ activities to make sure that we aren’t overscheduled. 

My in-laws like to have each of my kiddos over individually for about a week each summer. Seeing their schedule organized helps me best plan those times as well as when it would be good for us to take a family vacation, whether that’s for a week or just a weekend.

It also keeps me from overlapping activities and making our schedule too busy.

Our monthly overview for June, July and August
Our June, July and August activity calendars
Using the monthly planning page and calendars makes trip planning easier.

10. Plan for downtime.

Remember you don’t have to fill every minute of your kids’ summer break with activities. Right along with no overscheduling, you want to build in time for your kids to just have downtime. 

It’s OK to let them figure out what to do on their own (within reason, of course). We try to encourage our children to be intentional about doing an activity or two together each week during the summer.

So, we made a list of boredom busters to give them ideas of what to do together from reading a book to doing a craft to playing with the dog and so much more. 

Our page of boredom busters, including outdoor and indoor scavenger hunts

11. Have a daily routine, even if it’s a loose one.

I’m a fan of regular routines and schedules. In fact, routines really do make my family happier

Routines give kids a sense of stability. They know what to expect, and that’s less stressful for them. 

While I do loosen up a bit during the summer (bedtime usually moves later), we do stick with many routines for bedtime and mealtimes. 

Of course there are times that shifts around for special activities. However, maintaining our general daily routine helps us all.

12. Let them know what to expect each day.

Kids do best when they know what to expect. While we do maintain our routine somewhat over the summer, it is definitely more laidback and less scheduled. 

Every morning, I try to go over with the kids a brief outline of what’s happening that day. It can be as simple as, “We’re going to the grocery store this afternoon.” Their favorite tends to be: “We don’t have anywhere to go today!”

No matter what, they like knowing what the day holds and I do, too. Of course plans change sometimes, but setting their expectations for the day helps. 

That’s especially true when I do have an errand or chore that needs done. Though I also love telling them when something fun going is on that day, too, like watching a movie in the evening.

13. Think about your budget.

Part of my summer planning includes figuring out a budget for summer activities. I try to be as fair as possible between my two kiddos and how much money we spend on their activities. And sometimes we have to choose between a couple of activities not only for time constraints but also for budget reasons. 

If you want to plan a family road trip or weekly ice cream outings, make sure that you have worked those into your budget as well. Lots of “little” summer fun activities can add up to impact your budget, so you want to be aware of it.

Our activity budget helps us plan our costs for summer activities.

14. Have easy snacks ready.

Though they only eat three meals and maybe one snack during school days, summer break tends to make my kids want to graze. And since they’re usually more active in summer, I get it. 

They’re old enough now that they can usually fix their own snack if I keep things on hand for them. So, I keep things around that I can say yes to most of the time like Gogurt (frozen is super great for the summer!), boxes of raisins, 4-pack peanut butter crackers, Goldfish, pretzels, easy fruit I can prep ahead (grapes, blueberries, bananas, etc.), applesauce pouches, fruit cups and granola bars. 

I have a bin in our pantry where these mom-approved snacks reside. It’s makes life easier so the kids can know what is a snack I’ll easily agree to. 

Of course, I say yes to fun treats because it’s just fun for all of us!

15. Don’t forget to enjoy your kids.

No matter what you’re planning this summer, make sure to embrace feeling like a kid again yourself sometimes.

Last summer, for example, we had a family yes day and I felt like a kid myself during a water balloon fight we had. I squealed and giggled with the kiddos and we had a blast. 

Plan some low-key, easy, fun activities that will let you relax and enjoy spending time with your kiddos. Summer perfect for making good family memories!

I know that I will never regret the time I spent with my children but I might regret doing other things instead. So, I do my very best to carve out time over summer break that is just for fun for us. 

Make your summer planning even easier

If you’re interested in copies of the lists I’ve mentioned in this post and show in the YouTube video below, you can find my entire Summer Planner Mega Bundle in the Families with Grace Etsy store. Use the coupon code FWGFAN to get an additional 10% off your purchase! The Summer Planner Mega Bundle includes all of the following:

  • Summer family goals
  • Summer individual goals
  • 2 Summer bucket lists (one prefilled and one blank)
  • Summer trip planner
  • 2 reading trackers
  • 1 reading log
  • 3 chore charts
  • Weekly overview
  • Monthly overview
  • June calendar
  • July calendar
  • August calendar
  • Summer activity budget planner
  • Books to read list
  • Indoor scavenger hunt
  • Outdoor scavenger hunt
  • Summer boredom buster list
  • Rewards coupons for kids
  • Journal page
  • Notes page

Funny and silly lunch box jokes for kids (Free printable)

Silly jokes perfect for your kids’ lunchboxes

Every school day, I send along a note in my kids’ lunchboxes. I promise you that I’m far from super mom. Mostly, writing is my love language, and the notes evolved from there

My youngest is now in fifth grade, so just like I have gotten creative with the food I send, I have also gotten more creative with the notes. It started with Wacky Wednesday, which is when I send funny jokes for the kids or something funny in their note.
Now it includes a theme note for each day (some of which I’ve shared on here before).

  • Motivation Monday: an encouraging quote
  • Truth Tuesday: a Bible verse
  • Thankful Thursday: something I’m thankful for about them
  • Fun Fact Friday: an interesting fact they probably don’t know

I use paper from the Dollar Tree and a sticker or two on each note per day, because I love stickers! I keep a folder of all the supplies in a drawer in my kitchen to make packing lunches easier

It’s definitely time to share some of our Wacky Wednesday funny lunch box jokes for kids. Who couldn’t use a good laugh at a good joke?! Fair warning, I LOVE puns!

The benefit of lunch box notes

I do send a note every day, because it is my thing. I used to write the lunch box notes each night. Recently I’ve started writing a whole week’s worth of notes at the beginning of the weeks, and it make my life a lot easier.

You don’t, however, have to send notes in your kids’ lunch boxes every day for them to be beneficial. Even an every-so-often note can be a great way to connect with your kids and give them a small break in their day.

My daughter, who is the oldest, has always shared her notes with the others at her lunch table. In fact, it became such an ordeal that often others would read her note before she did! My son prefers to keep his notes to himself. 

Whether you have older kids or younger kids, a simple lunch box note can be the perfect way to make them smile no matter how the day is going. It’s one of the simple things in life that can make a big difference!

How to set up a note system

If sending a note in your child’s lunch is something you want to make a regular habit, you’ve come to the right place. I started writing notes for my oldest in kindergarten and never stopped. She’s now in 8th grade!

You have a couple of options for notes. You can use paid or free printables of notes or write your own. I usually do a mix of both.

I most love writing personal notes for my children, so if I use a free printable lunchbox note or one I make myself, then I add in a personalized note from me as well.

The best way to set up physically for lunch box notes is by having the supplies on hand. I have a drawer in my kitchen where I keep a flat box filled with stickers, note paper and an ink pen. A folder also works.

You don’t have to have anything fancy. Most of my supplies come from the Dollar Tree.

A collection of cute jokes for kids

Jokes are a great start to writing lunch box notes. They’ll bring a smile to your kiddos’ faced at lunch time and make school lunches seem even tastier. 

Plus we all know that laughter is the best medicine!

Scroll on down to find free printable lunch box jokes you can start using today!

Food jokes for kids

What is fast, loud and crunchy?
A rocket chip!

What's fast loud and crunchy? A rocket chip!

Why did the teddy bear say no to dessert?
Because she was stuffed.

What has ears but cannot hear?
A cornfield.

How does a lemon answer the phone?

Why did the cookie go to the hospital?
Because he felt crummy.

What did the little corn say to the mama corn?
Where is pop corn?

Why did the banana go to the doctor?
Because it wasn’t peeling well.

Why did the girl put her cake in the freezer?
She wanted to ice it.

What is cheese that doesn’t belong to you called?
Nacho cheese!

Where do hamburgers go to dance?
The meatball.

What kind of keys do kids like to carry?

What kind of key opens a banana?
A mon-key!

What kind of key opens a banana? A mon-key!

What do you give a sick lemon?

Space jokes for kids

How do you stop an astronaut’s baby from crying?
You rocket!

What do you think of that new diner on the moon?
Food was good, but there really wasn’t much atmosphere.

What’s the best way to throw a birthday party on Mars?
You planet.

What did Venus say while flirting with Saturn?
“Give me a ring sometime.”

Why did Mickey Mouse decide to become an astronaut?
He wanted to visit Pluto.

What kind of music do planets sing?

Animal jokes for kids

Why does a seagull fly over the sea?
Because if it flew over the bay, it would be a baygull. (This one does well read out loud!)

What animal is always at a baseball game?
A bat.

What do you call two birds in love?

Why couldn’t the pony sing a lullaby?
She was a little horse.

What do you say to a rabbit on its birthday?
Hoppy Birthday.

What do you call a sleeping bull?
A bull-dozer.

What do you call a sleeping bull? A bull-dozer!

Where do cows go on their first date?
To the moooooovies!

Why do fish live in salt water?
Because pepper makes them sneeze.

What do you call a bear with no teeth?
A gummy bear.

What do you get when you put three ducks in a box?
A box of quackers!

Why was the fish excited to go to school?
He heard they had bookworms.

What’s a cat’s favorite color?

What is a snake’s favorite subject in school?

What bone will a dog never eat?
A trombone!

Nature jokes for kids

What is a tornado’s favorite game to play?

What do you call a funny mountain?

What does a cloud wear under his clothes?

Why is grass so dangerous?
It’s full of blades.

What did one volcano say to the other?
I lava you!

What did one volcano say to the other? I lava you!

What happens when it rains cats and dogs?
You have to been careful not to step in a poodle.

What did the ground say to the earthquake?
You crack me up!

What kind of tree fits in your hand?
A palm tree!

School jokes for kids

Why did the math book look sad?
Because he was full of problems!

Where did the music teacher leave her keys?
In the piano!

Which school supply is king of the classroom?
A ruler!

What did the piece of paper say to the pencil?
Write on!

Where do math teachers like to go for vacation?
Times Square!

Why did the dog do so well in school?
He was the teacher’s pet!

Why did the dog do so well in school? He was the teacher's pet!

What did the buffalo say at school drop-off?

More fun jokes for kids

What did the golfer wear two pairs of pants?
In case he got a hole in one!

What kind of shoes do robbers wear?

What did one traffic light say to the other?
Don’t look! I’m changing!

What did one traffic light say to the other? Don't look! I'm changing!

Why didn’t the skeleton do well in school?
His heart just wasn’t in it.

What did one wall say to the other?
I’ll meet you at the corner!

Why do bicycles fall over?
Because they’re two-tired!

Fun printable lunch box jokes

Life is busy. To make yours easier, check out these fun printable lunch box jokes you can send in your kids’ lunches and give them a little laugh!

18 free lunch box jokes for kids

Check out these other options of Bible verse lunch box notes for children as well:

Christian lunchbox Bible verse notes for kids
Christian lunch box Bible verse notes for younger children

Free printable Christmas lunchbox notes and jokes

Spread Christmas cheer with these printable Christmas lunch notes!

I started putting a lunchbox note in my daughter’s lunchbox when she was in kindergarten — and I never stopped. We love lunchbox notes and having Christmas lunchbox notes is lots of fun.

What I love about putting note cards in my children’s lunchboxes is that it is a great way to encourage them in the middle of their school day. With premade free printable Christmas lunch notes, sending along a fun little note during the busy holiday season is even easier.

How lunchbox notes help our children

Lunchbox notes are a great way to encourage and connect with our children. One of the things I love about sending along a note in my kiddos’ lunches each day is that it gives them a pause to remember how loved they are.

Christmas lunch notes Pinterest image 5

We all love encouragement and support, and lunch box notes are an easy way to do that for our children.

The notes are also a great way to connect with our children throughout the school year. Even with children who are older, I love sharing something special with them each day in their lunch.

Lunchbox notes can also be a great way to build confidence in our children. They remind our kiddos of their support system and give us a chance to cheer them on, even when we’re apart.

And, finally, lunchbox notes can even be educational in a fun way. When my daughter was in first grade, for instance, I wrote a note for her on Fridays that included her spelling words. 

She had lunch before her spelling test, and I figured her seeing the words one more time before the actual test would be helpful!

All about creative lunchbox notes

Because I send a daily note in each child’s lunch box, I have to come up with things to write for them, so I have themed days. 

  • Motivation Monday: An inspirational, encouraging quote
  • Truth Tuesday: A Bible verse
  • Wacky Wednesday: A joke
  • Thankful Thursday: Something about them for which I’m thankful
  • Fun Fact Friday: A random, interesting fact

That remains the same throughout the holidays. So having themed lunchbox notes as a digital download comes in handy!

Christmas joke lunchbox notes

During the Christmas season, I like to use Christmas themes as much as I can. I started with Christmas jokes.

These free printables include 16 Christmas-related jokes that will tickle your kids’ funny bones! I’m actually planning to use some for our elf to deliver and hide around the house for the kids to find!

Kind lunchbox notes

And then these free printable lunchbox notes also include eight kind lunchbox notes filled with a sweet message for the middle of the day. It’s a simple way to remind your kiddos that you’re thinking of them and hope they have a good day!

​A sweet note with a bit of a pun is so much fun, and many of these notes include little jokes along with kindness.

How to get the Christmas lunch box notes

The last thing busy moms need are more hoops to jump through. So I’ve got these Christmas lunchbox notes for you as an instant download you can use right away!

The image below will take you to a digital PDF file that you’re welcome to use personally. This file is not for commercial use. It’s a Christmastime freebie!

Click here to download the free printable Christmas lunch notes

I hope you and your family have a blessed Christmas season!

Free Family Devotional

Free Printable Elf on the Shelf Letters with Elf Ideas

14 Ways to use Elf on the Shelf in a fun, positive way

My husband and I were originally resistant to Elf on the Shelf. When our oldest child was in preschool, she loved sharing the antics the school elf got into. She loved seeing what the elf was up to each day and wanted one for home.

The next Christmas season, we had a Kindness Elf show up who was plush. I loved the idea of a Kindness Elf that comes and gives the kids ideas of nice things to do throughout the holiday season. Our Kindness Elf was also OK to touch since he was a bit different. (And our youngest was a toddler!)

However, by the next Christmas season, our daughter was so looking forward to a naughty elf that she decided to write Santa a letter about how she appreciated the Kindness Elf but hoped he could go to someone else so she could have a fun elf.

That Christmas, our Elf on the Shelf showed up. But, my husband and I had a few plans for how we wanted to make our Elf on the Shelf fun but a bit different. We started with our Elf on the Shelf introduction letter.

Affiliate links are used in this post. If you make a qualifying purchase via my link, I receive a small percentage of the sale at no additional cost to you. Read my full disclosure here.

How we made our elf positive

A big premise of the elf is that he monitors bad behavior and reports back to Santa Claus. We didn’t want our Elf on the Shelf tradition to focus on misbehaving or be the reason why our children were on their best behavior. 

We want our children to behave well because they know that’s what is right and not for motivation to get a gift or reward. However, we also understand that our kids aren’t perfect and sometimes need grace. Having a family tradition that would stress them out when they make mistakes wasn’t a great way to celebrate Christmas time and the birth of Jesus.

So, we’ve found a few ways to keep our Elf positive while still having so much fun with our scout elf. We went with a boy elf, though we have both a son and daughter. But use these strategies with any family elf!

Ditch the book

When the Elf on the Shelf showed up, he came with a book explaining all about how he works. The book tells how the elf will monitor the kids’ behavior and report back to Santa each night. It emphasized how touching the elf will make him lose his magic.

We decided our elf’s arrival would include an arrival letter instead explaining how he would work. That way we could personalize the arrival letter for our family and how we wanted the elf to work. The first time our elf arrived, he had a personalized Elf on the Shelf introduction letter in tow instead of the book.

These two versions of an Elf on the Shelf arrival letter are free printables you can use for  your own elf this year! There is one elf arrival letter for the first visit from a new elf and another for your elf’s return if it isn’t your first year.

(You can also find a more personalized letter option with Elf on the Shelf letter template options that are available in the Families with Grace Etsy store. You’ll find some cute letters and other Elf on the Shelf printables to use this season!)

No behavior monitoring

We kept the arrival letter simple and explained the magic of the elf meant no touching ON PURPOSE and that the kids needed to come up with the elf’s name.

But our elf also explained that he’d be hanging out to help our family get in the Christmas spirit throughout the season and sometimes leave notes with ideas of nice things to do. Instead of reporting their bad behavior back to Santa, the elf would report their good behavior and good deeds.

We liked this idea better, because we wanted our kiddos to behave well since they are supposed to and not because they were afraid of not getting presents or having Santa be angry with them. 

Decide when the Elf on the Shelf arrives and leaves

Some elves arrive the weekend after Thanksgiving. Most go back to the North Pole with Santa on Christmas Eve. Our elf arrives on December 1st. He does go back to Santa on Christmas Eve.

However, our first year with an elf our kids were sad he wouldn’t be around to see them open gifts, so he was able to convince Santa he could stay that year for Christmas Day and then fly back to the North Pole on his own.

Avoid naughty pranks

Part of the draw for the kiddos with Elf on the Shelf is his antics. And I agree. That little guy can get up to all sorts of things! But one thing our elf hasn’t ever done is something naughty. He may do silly things and pull pranks like wrapping the table in wrapping paper, but he’s in no way destructive.

We’ve come up with one fun way after another for the elf to get into some silly — and sweet — shenanigans!

Have Elf on the Shelf focus on Jesus

Another component of our elf is that he focuses on Jesus and His birth. He doesn’t mention it every day, but at least once during the season he shows up in the manger scene. And he mentions in his arrival letters how much he’s looking forward to spending another season celebrating the birth of Jesus with our family. (You’ll find this mention in both of the free printable letters you can download above!)

We want our children to enjoy all of the fun of Christmas with gifts, decorations, Santa and elves. But more than anything we want them to remember we are celebrating Christmas for God’s gift of Jesus. 

Our family also reads through the Christmas story one verse a night through December and this year is pairing it with a devotion book, “A Family Christmas: 25 Days of 5-Minutes Christmas Devotions.” As our children have gotten older, we’ve evolved into the second version of “A Family Christmas: 25 Days of 5-Minute Christmas Devotions for Older Children.” Either way, Our elf always comments in his good-bye letter about how much he enjoys hearing our family go through the Christmas story each evening.

Use the elf for kindness

While our elf gets up to some silly antics, he does also suggest nice things for the kids to do. For example, last year he organized the shoes in our mudroom then suggested the kids do a chore for someone else that day. 

You can find some easy elf ideas for kindness with prefilled notes of kindness activities that include references to Jesus as well.

Let the elf bring treats

Our elf also likes to brings treats throughout the holiday season. It can be anything from Santa hats to Christmas crafts to candy coal. Our Elf on the Shelf comes with some treats throughout the season and gives the kids ideas to do with them or shares them just for fun as well. 

I know our fun little elf has found some great small gift options as the Dollar Tree and Five Below.

Make the elf posable

Elf on the Shelf has lots of accessories available to purchase. Our family has only gotten one accessory for our elf that I highly recommend: Elf Flex. It’s basically bendable wire that you help put into your Elf on the Shelf so that he or she can more easily stay in position.

Have a plan for touches

Invariably the elf is going to get touched. It was stressful to our kids, especially when they were younger. During the time we had a preschooler and toddler, our elf was OK to be touched. Once he wasn’t, we did our best to have him where he wouldn’t be easy to touch.

But, we also developed a system to counteract accidental touches or help him move if he falls. For accidental touches, we sprinkle a few grains of sugar on him and blow him a kiss. To help him reposition safely, we use gloves. The contact with human skin is often what can take away the magic from an Elf on the Shelf, after all!

Having a list of Elf Rules is the perfect way to let your kids know what to do in case of an accidental touching. The Rules can include other components of the fun tradition such as how the elf can deliver letters to Santa and how he or she is a good listener.

Plan ahead

Sometimes helping the elf decide what to do each evening can be a chore. For some of us who do our best thinking earlier in the day, it can be particularly challenging to come up with creative ideas in the evening.

Going through posts like this one and others is helpful. Doing so before the elf even arrives is better. I make a list each November of Elf on the Shelf ideas to make deciding what to do each evening easier. I include any treats he’ll be bringing as ideas so I don’t forget them. 

Set a reminder or alarm

By the end of the day, my brain tends to be shutting down. I have a reminder set for each evening to pop up and remind me to help our Elf on the Shelf with his plans.

Come up with a code name

Because adults sometimes need to talk about things related to the Elf on the Shelf, having a codename for him or her is a good idea. I use our elf’s code name on my reminder, on my list and when talking about him with my husband once the kids are in bed. 

(Fellow geeks might appreciate the code name is Legolas.)

Keep the elf out of the way

One of the issues I struggled with before our Elf on the Shelf arrived was all the elaborate set-ups I saw online. I didn’t understand how the elf wouldn’t get in the way. I still don’t understand some of them. But I do help our elf come up with ideas that will keep him out of the way. 

He doesn’t, for example, fill our bathroom sink up with marshmallows or sit on top of the gallon of milk I know we will need throughout the day. Even when he had some fun in our washing machine last December, he was smart enough to do it when laundry wasn’t going to be happening.

Elf on the Shelf introduction letter Pinterest image 9

Have some fun!

I’ve heard many different adjectives from other parents from creepy to annoying. I get it. But once you’ve decided to welcome an Elf on the Shelf into your home for the season, have fun with the process. It really can become a fun Christmas tradition for the entire family.

When we were staying with my parents over Christmas while our house was being built a few years ago, all four of us adults enjoyed the elf’s antics nearly as much as the kiddos!

The fun of an elf for Christian families​

If you are going to embrace the Elf on the Shelf for whatever reason as a Christian family, have fun with it. Look for free a printable arrival letter, like these, that include the true meaning of Christmas. 

Use these strategies to have fun with your elf. As I watch my children grow faster and faster each year, I treasure these years of having them at home and enjoying Christmas magic all the more. Make some fun memories this Christmas! 

In the end, there’s no better feeling than seeing your kids get excited to see what the elf has been up to and speculate about what he might do next.

Ideas for your Elf on the Shelf

I’m neither a crafty nor an overly creative mom. Below are a few simple ideas our elf has done over the past few years if your elf is in need of inspiration.

A Christian object lesson about obedience for kids

A positive parenting, Biblical approach to teaching about obeying

Obedience is hard to learn. It goes against human nature. We want to do what we want when we want.

It’s evident in the youngest toddlers who want their way. And it’s partly why our kids learn to say “no” quickly. They hear “no” often from us, and like to repeat it back because they want their own way.

But, obedience is important for our kiddos’ safety (like those times we say “stop!” so they don’t get hurt). Obedience remains important as they grow and go to school.

Most importantly, learning obedience to their earthly parents and trusted authority figures helps kids learn how to be obedient to God.

A simple object lesson about obedience can help your children learn to do the right thing. This easy object lesson can be used with your own family at home or as a full Sunday School lesson.

Affiliate links are used in this post. If you make a qualifying purchase via my link, I receive a small percentage of the sale at no additional cost to you. Read my full disclosure here.

The importance of obedience

​To begin with, we don’t want to confuse the word “obedience” with the word “control.” They are two different things.

When someone is obedient, he is making the right choice based on respect and trust. Being controlled, on the other hand, is taking away the ability for another person to make a choice. 

Sometimes, I admit, I’d like to be able to control my children so they always do things the best way and make the best choices. However, I also know that I’m not perfect myself. I rely on Jesus Christ, God’s commands and the Word of God to help keep me in line with making good choices and doing things God’s way.

Obedience works much better. It allows our children to choose the right way for themselves. They learn to honor and respect those in charge — both us and God.

The best results come when obedience is more of a character trait than an action. I want to teach my children based on the principle of Godly obedience. We certainly don’t want our children to obey the wrong people who will lead them into making bad choices. 

Object lessons about obedience can help our children learn the importance of following God through a Bible lesson and some fun activities as well.

Learning about obedience through the Word

Scripture basis

Joshua 6

Memory verse

“Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.” — Colossians 3:20 (NIV)

Memory verse activity

Between teaching kiddos at church and having my own children, I have learned that sometimes kids are able to listen better if their hands have something to do. My good friend and artist, Carol Daugherty, drew this awesome coloring sheet you can download for free and print by clicking the image below.

It shows both the story and the memory verse in one. This coloring page is great for kiddos and adults!

Read out loud

The Israelites, God’s people, had been wandering in the hot desert for 40 long years. They first followed a leader named Moses to the desert to escape being slaves to a wicked king. God promised Moses that He would lead the people to a Promised Land — a new land to call home that would be better than they had imagined.

However, before Moses was able to lead the Israelites to the Promised Land, he died and left Joshua in charge. Just like Moses, Joshua led the people through the desert until they came to the land God had promised them. 

Unfortunately, one thing stood between the Israelites and the Promised Land: Jericho. Jericho was a big city surrounded by a huge, thick, tall wall. The tired and weary Israelites felt discouraged. 

But then, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joshua and told him not to worry. God was with the Israelites. All Joshua needed to do was have the people march around the city for a week, and then the city would be destroyed so the Israelites could go through.

Joshua was probably a bit unsure about how this plan would work, but he trusted and obeyed God. He told the people God’s plan. For six days they marched once around Jericho. On the seventh day, they walked around the city seven times. Then Joshua told them to make as much noise as they could.

Just as God promised, the walls began to crack. The walls crumbled and soon Jericho no longer stood between God’s people and the Promised Land.

They were able to get to where God had promised to lead them because they obeyed their heavenly Father and followed His directions — even when those directions seemed strange. 

Talking about obedience

Being obedient can be difficult sometimes. Talk with your children about how hard it can be to follow directions. Share a time when you either obeyed or disobeyed God’s leading and the consequences as a result.

Next, talk with your kiddos about some situations they might face. How difficult or easy would obedience to God’s will be if you had to… (Feel free to add scenarios specific to your family and children.)

  • Share your favorite toy with your best friend.
  • Say something nice to someone who has been mean to you.
  • Invite someone to your party who didn’t invite you to theirs.
  • Make a card for your sibling(s) saying what you like about them.
  • Share a piece of candy someone gave you with someone else.
  • Give a bigger piece of dessert to your sibling.

Faith object lesson about obedience

We tried this using cotton balls, because I didn’t have any cotton swabs at the time. The swabs would work better, but cotton balls work in a pinch!

What you’ll need:

  • dirty pennies
  • vinegar
  • salt
  • small bowls
  • cotton swabs

1. Give each of your kiddos a small bowl and a cotton swab. Pour about 1/4-cup of vinegar into their bowls. Ask your children to use the vinegar and cotton swab to clean the pennies.

2. Pretend to be disappointed that it didn’t work so well to clean the pennies. Tell the kiddos you realized you missed something in the directions. Point out that the vinegar needs salt added to it in order to work.

3. Mix 1 teaspoon of salt into the kids’ vinegar, let the salt dissolve and have them try again. This time, the pennies should come nice and clean.

4. Talk about how obeying can be hard, but just like the salt and vinegar helped clean the penny, so the Holy Spirit and God help us to be obedient. We want to be like Joshua and follow directions, even when they don’t always make sense to us.

Family activities about obedience

Activities are a great way to help children focus on obedience. Depending on your kids’ ages and time you have, pick a couple of activities (or all of them!) to do as a family.

“Joshua Says” Game

If you’re familiar with the beloved game “Simon Says,” then you know how to play this game. Instead of “Simon,” change it to “Joshua” to help kids remember the story. (You can also use “God Says,” if you prefer.) Be sure to give everyone a chance to be Joshua.

Follow the Leader

This is a classic game most of us are familiar with. Have one family member be the leader and the other family members follow them, doing what the leader does. You can kick it up a notch to emphasize obeying and have family members be “out” if they don’t do what the leader does. Give everyone a turn to be the leader.

I would encourage you a couple of times to have mom or dad (or both at different times) NOT do something the leader does and have “trouble” as a result. For example, if the leader steps around a chair, one of you could walk into the chair and then point out the trouble you had because you disobeyed.

Blind Obstacle Course

Set up an obstacle course around your living room, yard or elsewhere. You can make it as simple or complex as you’d like. (I’d recommend starting simple and then working up from there if you’d like.) Use whatever items you have on hand. You can use painters tape to map out spots to hop on one foot, chairs that have to be navigated around, boxes to step over, etc. You can divide your family into teams or just take turns.

One person puts on a blindfold and has to navigate the obstacle course based on the directions another family member gives them. The success of the person going through the obstacle course depends on how well they obey the instructions.

Cook Together

Another great way to help kids learn about obedience is in the kitchen. Try a recipe that doesn’t require using an oven or heat like this yummy and easy whipped pudding pie. Let an older child or parent read the recipe while the others obey their directions.

Read more about obedience

Our family adores “The Jesus Storybook Bible” by Sally Lloyd-Jones. Its version of Joshua and Jericho, called “The Warrior Leader,” is great.

Check out this video of me reading “The Warrior Leader” for a recent Story Time with Families with Grace:

The classic book “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” is also a great book for encouraging obedience as poor Peter struggles to follow his mom’s directions and pays the price as a result.

If you’re looking for a longer book about obedience, consider “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” by Roald Dahl. The beloved book (which was also made into a movie in 1971 and in 2005) offers great lessons on obedience and the consequences of being disobedient.

Watch more about obedience

One of my all-time favorite versions of Joshua and Jericho is the VeggieTales version of the story from the 1997. It’s the first VeggieTales I ever saw; even though I was college student without children, I loved it! “Josh and the Big Wall” is a great (and humorous) way to reinforce the story and lesson of obeying. (Also, who doesn’t love to see peas pouring slushies onto other veggie people?!)

Both the original “Mary Poppins” from 1964 and “Mary Poppins Returns” from 2018 are terrific family movies that include lessons about obedience. Mary Poppins swoops in with a spoonful of sugar to help the children learn how to obey and behave well.

The bottom line

Using a simple Bible object lesson can help our children learn more about the importance of obedience whether you’re working as a family or a small group at church. We can a Bible study for children to help them learn about obedience even back in the Old Testament. 

The coloring page, faith object lesson, books and movies help our children develop a good attitude and a heart for obeying our Heavenly Father. 

This post is part of a DIY Summer Camp designed for seven days starting on a Monday, but you can adjust the schedule according to what works best for your family. If doing one character trait each day doesn’t work for you then spread it out between two weeks. Get the full details and lesson ideas HERE!

Raising a Christian child in public school

Nurturing your child’s faith amidst everyday challenges

When my husband and I discussed plans for our children long before they existed, our conversation included school. We knew the options available and decided public school was the best choice for us. Both of us were raised as Christian children in public schools, and we knew it was possible to do just that.

Each family has to make their own education choices based on beliefs and practicality. But, for us and many other Christian families like ours, public school is the right and best choice. We had about a year and a half of virtual schooling during the height of COVID, because that was right for our family. At the end of that period, I knew public school continued to be the correct choice for our family.

However, raising a Christian child in public school does take some thought and intentions. I want my children to get a great education — and they are. I also want them to be grounded in their beliefs — which they also are. Together, my husband and I work to make sure their education at school and at home are the best they can be.

Cultivating a strong foundation of faith at home

As Christian moms and dads, teaching our children about God is our most important task. This is even more important for children going to public school. I know my children’s school isn’t going to teach them about faith. In fact, I’m glad for that! My husband and I along with our church have that responsibility.

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Deuteronomy 6:6-9 (ESV)

From the beginning of the Bible, God instructs us to teach our children about Him as we are doing everything. Raising a Christian child in public school starts with nurturing their faith at home.

Free family devotion book Pinterest image 2

Working these things into your daily routines helps you instill them in your children even more. Family devotionals are a great way to spark conversation about God. Listening to Christian music shifts everyone’s thoughts to God. I especially love to hear my kids going around singing about Jesus because those are the songs in their heads!

We also make God a normal part of conversation. We encourage our children to ask questions, and we share with them how we experience God at work in our own lives.

Equipping your child for the challenges

My husband and I know our kids will face challenges as Christians in a public school. In fact, their school is not only a public school but is tied into a university and has more liberal leanings as a result. So, we use these things for open conversations and have ever since they were in kindergarten.

Educational material

While some parts of their education is completely fact based, like math and grammar, other parts are more up for debate. One great example of this is creationism versus evolution. Our family has had multiple discussions about this. We’ve spent time truly delving into what the Bible says and how science really does back it up.

As my children head into 5th and 8th grades this coming school year, they may continue to have educational topics arise that don’t align with what we believe. We will continue to talk about those things with them. I always want my children to feel comfortable questioning things. They challenge my husband and me to find answers sometimes!

One thing I’ve learned in all my decades as a Christian is that God stands up to questions. No matter what school is teaching my children, if we are exploring it from a faith-based perspective at home and examining the topic deeply, I know all answers lead back to God. If they didn’t, then He wouldn’t be worthy of my worship and devotion!

This all results in our children learning to ask questions and stand in their faith from an early age. We’ve found that they understand more then we expected so many times. As Christian moms and dads we need to do our best to listen to our children and really answer their questions. It will nurture our children’s faith and our own!


Another issue that definitely comes up when raising a Christian child in public school is their classmates. Not everyone is going to come from a Christian home. In fact, I’d say my children are in a minority at their school. The majority of families don’t have strong religious beliefs. They’ve encountered issues as a result.

For example, this past school year, my son came home upset because he heard a classmate declare he hates Christians. So we talked about it. We talked about how his classmate was certainly entitled to his opinions, but saying those things out loud are hurtful. We used it as an example for how important the words we use are. In dealing with classmates and friends, we want to show love and be an example of kindness — not hurt feelings.

Having classmates from different backgrounds have brought up secular topics as well that we have discussed as a family. We share our beliefs and why we believe how we do. But, we always come back to the message of love. I want my children to love others. No strings attached. No judgment or condemnation. Love like Jesus is our message. I tell my kiddos that they have never looked into the face of someone Jesus doesn’t love.

These encounters also give us an opportunity to nurture our kids’ resilience. They are going to be met with adversity throughout life whether for their faith or something else. Learning to let go of that barb and move forward is a life skill they need.

Raising a Christian child in public school Pinterest image 4


And then there are classmates that our kids grow close to. Friends can be both a blessing and a challenge. Not all of our children’s friends are Christians. We are OK with that. We continue with our conversations about different beliefs. Then we also talk about the usual parent things of making the right choices when they are at a friend’s house. For example, if the friend wants to watch something our kids know wouldn’t be allowed at home, then they say no and suggest something else.

All of my children’s friends know they are Christians. My kids have talked about God and their relationship with Him to their friends, in fact. While not all of them believe the same way, they have all respected my children’s beliefs.

Just like with anything else, talking about peer pressure and the challenges of friendship with others come into play. But, I think that would happen whether you are raising a Christian child in public school or raising a Christian child at a private school.

Partnering with the school

I may not be teaching my children myself, but I can still be involved in their education. We talk about curriculum. And we maintain an attitude of partnering with the school. Both my husband and I have volunteered for a variety of activities. In fact, I almost always go along as a field trip chaperone and volunteered at class parties when they were younger.

My children’s teachers know us. We maintain communication. Since my youngest is dyslexic, we have even more communication. We respect our children’s teachers, and they respect us in return. Having an attitude of partnership rather than adversaries only benefits our children.

And our school has been open to faith-based things. For example, my daughter has always been passionate about food banks. When she was in 4th grade, she held a food drive to benefit the food pantry at a local church. We were clear with the school where the food was going, and everyone was on board with it.

Embracing the mission field of the school community

When you’re raising a Christian child in public school, you really can think of it as a mission field. Honestly, anywhere we are is a mission field, right? But, this doesn’t mean going around preaching all the time or encouraging our children to do that. Nobody wants to be preached at!

Instead, we live our lives with integrity and an attitude of Christ that others may see — or they may not. One of my favorite things has been to send lunchbox notes to my children. I have themes for each day of the week, because otherwise I’d run out of things to say! Every Tuesday is what I call “Truth Tuesday,” and I put a Bible verse in their lunchbox note. I do this for my own kiddos to help them remember God’s Word.

However, it also has had an impact outside of my children. From at least 1st grade on, my daughter’s entire lunch table has read her notes. I didn’t learn about that until 2nd or 3rd grade. I knew they read the note sometimes, but I didn’t know it was daily. They continue to do that even now going into 8th grade. So at least every Tuesday, these kids are encountering a Bible verse as a result. Does that make a big difference in their lives? Maybe. I know God is powerful and can move in ways we don’t even know about.

Celebrating faith victories

Just like we talk with our kids about mistakes they’ve made, we also need to acknowledge the positive things they’ve done and celebrate with them. Take the time to point out when you see them acting in a Christian manner toward a classmate. Give them a big hug when they share about how they included a classmate everyone else was being mean to.

Of course you also want to celebrate any of their friends or classmates coming to know Jesus as personal Savior or having an interest in faith. We’ve experienced this with both of our children. And in maintaining open conversation with our kids about faith, we’ve been able to answer their questions as they are navigating talking about their faith.

Sharing our faith and living a life for Christ can be challenging even for adults. Celebrating the good things with our kids encourages and nurtures their faith. It reinforces lessons they will hopefully carry with them into adulthood.

Final thoughts

Raising a Christian child in a public school can be challenging, but with the right mindset and intentional actions, we can nurture their faith amidst the everyday challenges. By cultivating a strong foundation at home, equipping our children for the challenges they may face, partnering with the school, embracing the school community as a mission field and celebrating faith victories, we can make a lasting impact in their lives and the lives of those around them.

So, let’s continue to pour God’s love into our children, equip them to shine their light and trust that He will guide them each step of the way. Together, we can navigate the public school journey with confidence, knowing that our faith and love will make a difference in the lives of our children and the world they inhabit.

Find more Christian parenting articles:

5 Characteristics of good mothering for Christian moms

Being a grace-filled parent

How Christian mothers can teach their children about God

Prayers for your children

10 Ways to have a family live filled with grace, love and faith

Grace-filled sibling relationships

Connect with other Christian moms just like you

20 Spring break activities and ideas for at home

You don’t have to leave home for spring break fun!

Though spring break can be a time to travel, it can also be fun at home. Whether you’re staying home by choice or for budgetary reasons this year, these spring break activities will keep your family entertained and making memories. No need to pack a suitcase!

Before you start

The first rule is you have to treat spring break at home like a vacation. That means no chores! OK. You are going to have to do some basic chores like dealing with dirty dishes and preparing food. You may even have to do some laundry. But do your best to treat the time like you would if you weren’t home.

You also can designate your staycation days if you aren’t able to take the entire week off. Just plan for your spring break activities on Monday through Wednesday or whatever works best for your family. Whatever you pick, communicate about it so you, your spouse and your kids are on the same pages and know what to expect.

Another neat idea that we’ve done in the past and are doing again this year is a combination vacation and staycation. We’ll spend a couple of nights away on a family trip and then a few days at home for spring break. It’s the best of both worlds and, quite literally, what my children opted to do this year when we gave them choices.

Our family does like to have a meeting ahead of time to talk about what we’d most like to do. This helps us to prioritize our time and our budget for spring break activities. You can give your kids a list to pick from or just ask them for their ideas or both.

Finally, remember simple activities can be just as fun as more complicated ones. My kids’ biggest requests for the staycation part of our spring break this year were going to eat hibachi for lunch and playing games together.

1. Go see a movie.

We love movies in my family. Whether you go to the theater or watch something at home, a good movie is a great spring break activity. Find a movie you’ll all enjoy, have snacks at the ready and enjoy!

2. Check out local exhibits.

My family lives in a mid-sized Midwestern city. We’re not overwhelmed with choices of exhibits to visit, but there are always a few things going on. In fact, we have one art exhibit we’ve been talking about checking out and haven’t found time for. Spring break is a great time to make that happen.

3. Explore other nearby cities.

Because we do live in a city that’s not so big, exploring nearby bigger cities is a good option. We can drive an hour north or south and be in bigger cities that have more activities and things to do. Then, we come back home and sleep in our own cozy beds. Where you go will depend on what you do, but think about children’s museums, zoos, aquariums and any other family friendly venue.

4. Eat out.

Thanks to meal planning, preference and time constraints, my family only eats out on Sundays after church. Some weeks we have another meal out as well, but we don’t eat out very much these days. When we travel, though, we definitely eat out more often. So, another great spring break idea for at home is going out to eat. Go somewhere special or different. Or try a new restaurant.

5. Have a board game day, afternoon or evening.

We love playing games in our family. They can be a great way to pass the time and make some great family memories. Use games you already have, buy a new one or make one up.

6. Try out a new recipe.

Spring break can be a great time to try out a new recipe together as a family. Even better, find a recipe your whole family can prepare together like pizza subs, peanut butter honey nut cereal clusters or puppy chow. For even more awesome family recipes, be sure to get the “Favorite Recipes from Families with Grace” cookbook for free!

Spring break activities Pinterest image 3
If you’re staying home this year, these spring break activities will keep your family entertained and making memories. No suitcase needed! #springbreak #staycation #familyactivities #familyfun

7. Set up an obstacle course.

During remote learning, we had a gym assignment to set up an obstacle course at home. It was easier than I’d expected and we had way more fun with it than anticipated. Since then, we’ve done this a couple of other times. Use your chairs, pillows and whatever you have around to make a simple obstacle course. If you want, time each other to see who can do it fastest.

8. Have an indoor campout.

If you live somewhere warm, you can have an outdoor campout if you want. But for those of us in colder weather, an indoor campout is a much better spring break activity. Pull out sleeping bags, air mattresses or whatever works and sleep in the same room together. We used to campout in our living room, but now we campout in our bedroom.

9. Buy some “souvenirs.”

Our kids love buying souvenirs when we travel. They don’t have to be big purchases, but just something. Make souvenirs a part of spring break at home. Hit up the Dollar Tree and let them pick something. Or budget a set amount of money for souvenirs and head to their favorite store(s). Don’t forget a little something for yourself and your spouse, too!

10. Go to the playground.

Going to the playground can be a great spring break activity to help burn off some energy. Keep a check on the weather and pick a good time to go. Let your kids pick which playground they want to go to and plan to spend an hour letting them have fun. Be sure to get involved with them. (Personally, I love swinging with my kids!)

11. Play video games together.

If you’re a video gaming family, play together. Recently, my son was so excited to play Minecraft with both my husband and me. It was a treat for him to share that with us, and we all had fun with it.

Another great video game option is to have one person be in charge of the controller and everyone helps decide what he or she does. For example, we once had a blast playing Monopoly on the Xbox. My husband had the controller and we played against computer players. Our whole family talked strategies and made decisions for what to do in the game. It was incredibly fun!

12. Go to the library.

Libraries are awesome resources and can be great fun, even over spring break. If your town or city is small enough, chances are the library probably has some spring break activities of their own planned with extra story times and crafts. Check out those events or even just go and get some books to read together or individually (or both!) over break.

My kids always liked to play at the library when they were smaller. Our libraries offer a variety of toys and imaginative play items that are a hit. Explore the toys the library as well.

13. Try geocaching.

Geocaching was super popular a few years ago, but it still around now. We’ve had some fun with geocaching as a family. (It can also be a great date idea for parents!) Download a geocaching app and find locations around you. We’ve been surprised at the places we’ve found items. Our kids really enjoy it.

14. Get crafty.

Crafts aren’t really my jam, but small art projects together as a family can be fun. Color together at the kitchen table, use some of the craft kits you inevitably have stockpiled in your house, make cards or sweet crafts to send to grandparents or whatever you enjoy.

15. Volunteer.

Spending time together helping others is a great spring break activity. Not only do you get a chance to impact your community, but you show your kids the importance of helping others and get that warm. fuzzy feeling as a result.

16. Have a family yes day.

Having a family yes day can be great fun for kids and adults alike. Pick a day where you say yes to whatever your kids ask to do. We’ve done this a few times and do have some rules. For example, the kids can’t ask us to travel out of town or spend more than a set amount of money on something. We’ve been pleasantly surprised, though, at how well they work together and the fun activities they come up with. (Read more about how to have a family yes day.)

17. Make videos.

Speaking of family yes days, during our most recent one, we made movies together. My daughter and I paired up and my husband and son paired up. Each pair picked a song for the other to lip sync and make a video to. We had so much fun making the videos and then watching them together!

18. Have a cake decorating contest.

Our family enjoys watching baking shows on television. (Well, my son doesn’t so much if I’m being honest!) Seeing contestants bake and decorate cakes is especially fun. So we tried our hand at it. I baked a cake in two pans like it would be two layers. Each pair got a cake and a bowl of homemade buttercream icing. We picked a design to copy (a cartoon bear) and got to work. Without telling them who decorated which cake, we sent photos of the final versions to my parents and my husband’s parents to pick the winner. But, you don’t have to pick a winner.

And you can use store-bought cake, cupcakes or cookies along with canned icing to make it even easier. No matter what, it’s a great spring break activity that results in having some sweet treats!

19. Plan intentional one-on-one time.

When our two children were really young, we started having what we called “one-on-one playtime.” We’d set a timer for 30 minutes and separate so each child got one parent for a half hour. Then we’d switch kids and parents. During their 30 minutes with each parent, our children got to pick what we played. It’s a bit different now that they’re 10 and 13, but they both still enjoy having us to themselves. Spend the time talking, playing, reading or whatever you like to do to connect with each other.

20. Be lazy.

We all need downtime. Some of my favorite memories with my kids come when we are being lazy together. Put down electronic devices and see what you come up with wanting to do. Maybe you talk or make silly jokes. Maybe you put on a talent show or have a dance party. Unstructured time with our kids can result in the most awesome moments!

First day of school traditions to start this year

7 Simple first day of school traditions to kick off the school year

Back-to-school season can be exciting, stressful and downright overwhelming — all at once! In fact, I recently shared a short video about how overwhelmed I felt with the back-to-school to-do list for my kiddos! There are so many things for us moms to do to get ready for the first day of school. But one of the things I don’t want to miss each year is making it a good day for my kiddos. So, we have a few simple first day of school traditions we do each year.

I’m emphasizing the word “simple” here, because not only are simple traditions easier to keep, but the first day of school is exhausting. Nobody wants added stress and pressure — kids or parents! Plus the first day of school tends to bring along a lot of emotions as well, so it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Honestly, I get back-to-school blues each year as my kids return to school.1. Interview your kids.

OK. I know this sounds a bit weird. But, listen, I’m a journalist by trade and I love interviewing my kids each year a day or two before they start school. I ask them about their favorites (food, books, movies, etc.), what they want to be when they grow up and what they’re most excited about for the new school year. Later on, it’s so fun to go back and see their answers. I video these interviews as well. I also do a little something else with them that you’ll find in tip number four!

And you can make the interview a keepsake as well with a decorative interview page like these I have in the Families with Grace Etsy store.

2. Prayer together for the new year.

Another first day of school tradition just before the first day is praying together about the school year. Our family has prayer time each evening as part of our bedtime routine. So, on the night before the first day of school I pray for the kids and their new school year. I also start praying weeks before on my own that God is with them throughout the school year and for specific concerns I have about the upcoming year for each of them.

3. Let them wear something new.

I always felt special getting to wear new clothes on the first day of school when I was a kid, so I’ve continued the tradition with my own kiddos. It doesn’t have to be an entirely new outfit, but just something new. For example, our school year starts mid-August which is still hot here in the Midwest. So my kids usually wear the shorts or pants they’ve been wearing all summer, but we pair it with a new shirt and new sneakers. (By the time their sneakers have survived summer, they are worn out and need to be replaced anyway!)

4. Turn first day of school photos into a cool “magazine” cover.

Every year I love making a “magazine” cover for my kiddos. I have done this since the year my daughter first started nursery school and have one for each of them for each year. It’s our version of a first day of school sign. I usually share the cover digitally with friends on social media and then print out a copy of it to go in their folder for the school year that I use to organize their school papers.

Along with a photo of the kids that I take in the morning before we leave, I include a lot of the information from their interview in tip one as well as other things like their shoe size and teacher’s name. (Seasoned mom tip: Get everyone up 10 minutes earlier than necessary on the first day of school so you aren’t super rushed through photos!)

I’ve got a template for sale in the Families with Grace store on Etsy if you want to make magazine covers part of your family’s first day of school traditions. Check it out:

5. Send a sweet lunchbox note.

If your kids take their lunch to school, send along a sweet lunchbox note. Honestly, I send notes daily because I really enjoy it. But I know that’s not everyone’s thing. However, I encourage you to send one on the first day to help your kids feel special and have a sweet token from home on their first day back to school.

(Check out these printable Bible verse lunchbox notes for kids and these Scripture cards that would work well for tweens and teens.)

6. Have a special dinner or treat.

When it comes to first day of school traditions, this is not too hard to pull off. Our tradition has been to pick the kids up from school and take them for an early dinner at Fazoli’s, because it is their favorite restaurant. Fazoli’s is pretty quick, which is what we’re looking for. If you’d rather, though, plan to make their favorite dinner at home. Or have a special treat to commemorate the day. I have a cousin whose first day of school tradition involved a cookie cake each year. Go with what your kids will like, but keep it low-key. They’ll be hungry and tired. The biggest goal is to have time together to hear all about their days. For our family, letting someone else do the cooking means we get to have those conversations all together easier. And going out for dinner on a school night is a treat!

(Looking for a super simple homemade treat? Try this easy hack to make a boxed brownie mix so fudgy good or these easy baked sopapillas using flour tortillas!)

7. Plan for a quiet evening.

Everyone is tired on the first day of school, no matter how much you’ve been preparing for it. When my kids were little and just getting into the school groove, we’d start a week ahead of the first day and practice getting up earlier each day and making sure we were ready on time. Now they are older, and we’ve been at this longer. So, we have our school morning system down pretty well. (It also helps that they go to a K-12 school and always have the same start time!)

But no matter what, the first day back is exciting and exhausting. Planning some big celebration that night is just not going to go well. Let them be low-key on their first day back to school. Maybe even plan to watch a movie together!

What are your family’s first day of school traditions?

Allowance for kids

5 Ways to set up allowance for kids to teach money management

Teaching our kids life skills is important to my husband and me. Like all parents, we want to raise our kids to be productive and responsible adults. And that includes money management. We instated an allowance for kids when they were in preschool to help them learn some money management skills.

It’s now been nearly a decade since we’ve been paying allowance for our kids, and we have a system down that works well for them.

Start allowance for kids young

Preschool seems young to start an allowance for kids, but if dealing with money is part of their lives (even in small ways) from early on, then they get comfortable with handling it. My daughter, who is the oldest, was closer to age 5 before we started her allowance, but we started my son at age 3 since we were already in the allowance-for-kids groove by then.

We pay $1 per week, per year of age. Since my son is 8 right now, he gets $8 a week. My daughter is 12 and gets $12 a week. I have their allowances budgeted into our family budget to help me remember and take the expense seriously like we do other bills.

You don’t have to pay $1 a week per year of age. Find whatever works for you and your family. Maybe 50-cents is more feasible for you. That’s fine. No matter how much allowance they’re getting, kids are still learning the principles of managing money.

Set up a money management system

I’m a HUGE fan of simple systems, so our money management system of our kids’ allowance is simple. We divide allowance for kids into three parts: spending, saving and giving. Because kids are very visual and tactile creatures, especially when they are younger, I started out and have continued distributing allowance in cash.

To keep it organized, I have one letter-sized enveloped marked “Kids’ Allowance.” Inside that envelope are three smaller envelopes for each kiddo marked with their name and either spending, saving or giving. We put the biggest emphasis on savings as they get older. For example, my 12-year-old puts $3 in spending, $7 in saving and $2 in giving each week. In order to remember how we distribute their money, I have it written on an index card in the big envelope.


We pay for most of everything for our kiddos, including clothes, food, entertainment and toys. But sometimes they have things they want that we can’t justify paying for. These days it could be expensive face care for my daughter. (Well, my version of expensive being that it costs more than $10 or $15.) Or it could be a toy my son wants but we say no to because he has so many. Those are the types of things they can use their money for. One time, my daughter used some of her spending money to treat herself to an Icee at the movie theater.

If I know that we are going out shopping or doing something they want to use their spending money for, I grab the spending envelopes and put them in my purse. Sometimes they want to make a purchase while we’re out without their money or online. For those times, I pay and then they pay me back from their money. It works either way. (I will admit we’ve done this a few times and I haven’t taken their money afterward.)

Another option we sometimes do is split a cost of something. If there is something a kiddo wants that is more expensive, we can make a deal that we will pay a portion and then they pay the other portion.


Not too long after we started allowance for our kids, we set them up with children’s savings accounts. So when their savings money starts building up in the envelope, I deposit it into their savings accounts. Sometimes, like during 2020 when our buying changed quite a bit, I add some of their spending money into their savings as well if it starts building up.

Our kids are allowed to use their savings, but it has to be for a really compelling reason of something they need and are unable to save up for otherwise. Withdrawing from savings also requires a discussion between the child, my husband and me. We go over options for them and talk about the pros and cons. We’ve only withdrawn from a savings account once or twice so far. As they get older, they’ll need that money more for bigger expenses like cars, books and living expenses in college.


One of the neatest things we’ve seen happen through our system of allowance for kids is how they use their giving money. We have talked with each of them about how they want to use their giving money. They have the option of giving it to church, using it to help others in need or donating it to a good cause. When we started this with my daughter, I figured she’d want to give it to church. But one of the options we shared with her was about food pantries and how some families don’t have enough to eat. She was immediately drawn to that.

As a result, our family has been quite involved in donating to local food pantries and partnering with them. Just last year my daughter did a school project about hunger and how her classmates could help. She’s organized food drives at church and at school. I love how much has grown from this allowance category!

Most recently, my kids asked to use their giving money to donate to Team Seas to help remove trash from the oceans. They have also used it to go toward building wells for areas of Africa that are without access to clean water. Giving has become our favorite part of allowance — and that’s the truth!

Don’t pay for regular chores

My children don’t get paid for their regular chores like cleaning their rooms, cleaning their bathroom, picking up after themselves, doing dishes, folding laundry and doing other tasks we ask them to do. Those are expected in our family and considered to be part of family life. Life is easier when we work together!

We have sometimes (but rarely) paid for extra chores. Both sets of grandparents have done this as well, and I’m OK with that. I have told my kids that I will withhold part or all of their allowance if they don’t do their regular chores like they’re supposed to. But, I’ve only come close to doing that twice and have never had to actually do it.

Another reason I don’t like paying for regular chores is that then my kiddos would think the chore is optional. If they’re not motivated by money (and most younger kids aren’t), then they are happy to not do the chore and not get paid. So, we don’t pay for chores in our family.

Talk about the importance of saving

When it comes to allowance for kids, we have found that we need to talk most about savings. Our kids easily understand spending money and giving money, but savings is a bit more obscure. I have one child who is a natural saver, and one who is more impulsive. Talking about what they are saving money for and why is important so they understand.

Our kids have saved money short-term and long-term. We have short-term savings when they want to save up and purchase something specific. My daughter, for example, went through a phase when she was around 7 or 8 that she wanted to buy lots of furniture and accessories for her dollhouse. She’d save her spending money until she had enough to buy the next item she wanted.

But both kids have long-term savings as well and need a bit more help with understanding why. That’s the money we put in the bank for them and then they have to have a really compelling reason to withdraw right now. We talk about the things they can use the money for later when they are older. Helping them understand that having some money saved back for bigger purchases yet to come is important. Long-term savings doesn’t come naturally to kiddos.

Share money lessons you’ve learned

We don’t talk lots of details about our finances with our kids. But we have shared lessons we’ve learned and lessons we’ve seen others learn as well. Kids understand concepts better when there is a story and person involved. You don’t have to share only lessons learned the hard way. For example, we have explained to the kids that we budget our money to make sure we are covering our expenses for necessities first. And they also know about some times we saved money to purchase something.

Our money lessons have also included the importance of research before making a big purchase or financial decision. Recently they heard us talking about refinancing our mortgage payment for a lower interest rate and such. We explained why we made that decision and the benefit it had to our family. (Seven fewer years of payments for the same monthly amount.)

We don’t include our children in discussions about finances that they don’t need to be part of. I never want my children to draw inaccurate conclusions and worry about whether we have enough money to take care of them or anything else. But I do want them to have a concept of how money works and how to manage it responsibly. An allowance for kids gives them a chance to put those lessons into practice in small ways now that will benefit them in the future.

Why our family believes in Santa Claus

How we prioritize the birth of Jesus and celebrate with Santa Claus

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I originally wrote these words in December of 2013. My kids were 4 and almost 1 that Christmas. Now they are 12 and almost 9. We have had a conversation about Santa with our oldest who now enjoys sharing Santa with her little brother. Our Santa holidays are winding down, but I don’t regret them one bit. This post explains why.

Santa Claus. The jolly figure incites a variety of feelings in various folks. Some insist that they won’t let their kids believe in Santa. They contend that they won’t lie to their children or that Santa isn’t the reason for the season. Others insist that Santa is a huge part of their Christmas celebration and even as adults they believe in him to some degree.

What Santa is like at our house

Around my house, my kids believe in Santa Claus. However, they also know the full truth of the Christmas season. Well, at least the 4-year-old does, but the baby will learn about Jesus’ birthday one of these days, too. The Santa that exists around here is one who brings some gifts on Christmas morning. He is one we go to visit at the mall and smile for a photo. He is one for whom we leave out cookies and milk. Our Santa is one who leaves a letter for the kiddos and sometimes sends a video message. And that’s pretty much our extent of celebrating with Santa.  

We don’t threaten that if behavior isn’t good then he won’t bring gifts. We expect good behavior year-round just because that’s what is expected. Our children must learn obedience as simply the right thing to do. We have a trust relationship in that way. We won’t lead them astray if they follow our instructions. (That’s the theory, anyway. The practice is just that — practice!)

My history with Santa

My husband and I both grew up believing in Santa. I very distinctly remember finding out that he wasn’t real. My mom was drying my hair. I asked her if Santa really existed. I think she tried to change the subject, but I was as persistent with my questions then as a child as I am now as a journalist. She told me gently that he was pretend. It didn’t traumatize me at all. I just understood that I was old enough to know and be in on the other side of the fun secret. I understood the tradition of Santa as well. In fact, I continued to leave out milk and cookies for him into my teen years and quite enjoyed doing so.  

One of my family’s traditions of Santa included a letter from him. I do remember noticing that his handwriting looked a lot like my mom’s the year before I found out the truth. (Thank goodness for computers! I now type the letters for my kiddos.) My mom was creative and I looked forward to those letters, even after I knew the truth.

The real meaning of Christmas

So, I will let my children continue to believe in Santa Claus as long as they can. While we didn’t really introduce Santa to my daughter from the start in a very tangible way, she learned about him and fell in love with him. But she also learned about Jesus’ birth and fell in love with Him. That’s the most important part. In our slew of Christmas books, the vast majority focus on the birth of Jesus. My daughter can tell you all about how Jesus was born in a manger because there was no room in the inn and that a bright star lead shepherds to find Him. For example, last week we were outside after dark and she saw a bright star. She thought that was the Star of David.

Even better to me, my child fully understands why the birth of Jesus is so great. We read the story of Jesus’ birth the other day. Then she turned to me and said, “Now let’s read the other story of when Jesus grows up and goes back up into heaven.” She gets it as much as a 4-year-old can get it. Believing in Santa and the fun that comes with that belief hasn’t impeded on her understanding the true meaning of Christmas.

We also very much enjoy the VeggieTales story of St. Nicholas. St. Nicholas, in whom Santa is rooted, is a testament to giving to those in need. That gives us a chance to talk about giving gifts as a celebration of Jesus’ birth. We talk about how Santa is good. After all, what I like most about Santa is his spirit. He has a spirit of kindness and generosity. He has a touch of magic with flying reindeer, laying his finger beside his nose and disappearing. And he has a spirit of fun and laughter with his jolly “Ho, ho, hos!” Santa offers a wonderment that enhances a Christmas season with little ones.

The future

One of these days, my children will learn the truth. We’ll talk about it. I’ll answer any questions they have and I will tell them some of these very things. I will tell them that the spirit of Santa is very real in spite of his lack of corporeal form. I’ll tell them that they are now old enough to be in on the secret and help share in the wonderment of the little ones that come after them. And we’ll continue any holiday traditions they enjoy. At the end of the conversation, they will still trust me. I am their mother. A trusting relationship is of the utmost importance to me.

Even by now, my almost 11-month-old knows he can trust me to take care of his needs. If he’s crying in his crib, he stops as soon as I enter the room. He’s learned I’m on it and will take care of him. Believing in Santa and later learning the truth isn’t going to change the innate trust and relationship we’ve built.

And so this year, my kiddos will believe in Santa Claus. I make no apologies for that and am not ashamed of that. I look forward to the excitement that will come in picking cookies to leave out for him and see what he’s brought come Christmas morning.

An update from the present (2021)

In the years since I first wrote this post, some things have changed. My kids have gotten older. When she was 10, my oldest had a few experiences that led her to believe maybe Santa wasn’t real. My husband and I took her out to dinner to her favorite restaurant and we chatted one-on-one.

She wasn’t devastated. Of course she had some questions, but she was fine about it. And she was super excited to help continue the spirit of Santa with her younger brother.

My youngest will be 9 in a couple of months. I know it won’t be much longer until we’ll have a similar conversation with him. We have had some great family memories made over these past few Christmases that I am thankful for.

A few years ago, we also introduced our version of Elf on the Shelf. Much like Santa, the elf isn’t about monitoring behavior in our family. He is about having some clean fun. (Check out “14 Ways we made Elf on the Shelf work for our family” for more info. You can also find some elf pose ideas and a free Santa letter printable.)

How we’ve kept Jesus the focus of Christmas

We have also worked to make sure that from the beginning our kids knew Christmas was more about celebrating the birth of Jesus. One of the first ways we did this was by reading a Bible verse or two a day from Dec. 1 through 25 that led through the birth of Jesus. Each night, we’d review what had happened in the story so far. (Check out “8 Simple Christmas traditions to bring your family closer” for more info on how we did the verses as well as free printable verses your family can use.)

The verse tradition has grown into a devotion time each evening in December. We started with “A Family Christmas, Volume 1” and are now moving on to “A Family Christmas, Volume 2.” Both books have 5-minutes daily devotions for Dec. 1 through 25 to go through the Christmas story.