Families With Grace

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

Plan a Halloween party at home (with recipes and FREE Halloween charades!)

Everything you need for a fun and easy Halloween party at home!

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. I only recommend products and services I use and love. It helps support my blog, so thank you for your support! Read my full disclosure here.

Last year we knew that trick-or-treating wouldn’t be an option for our kiddos in the midst of COVID-19. This year, things aren’t looking so great either. But we did learn last year how to throw a fun Halloween party at home that our kids enjoyed more than even trick-or-treating. I know. It was hard for me to believe, too. And the party didn’t take lots of planning, time or money.

Because we had all sheltered in, we included grandparents for our Halloween celebration. Everyone wore a costume. We had snacks, games and lots of fun! Most of the decorations were things my family and I made, which is an accomplishment considering I’m craft-challenged. But it all turned out great!

Halloween party DIY decorations

Decorations that are easy to do are my favorites. And all of these are easy. Basically with some construction paper, markers, crayons and scissors you can make most of them! (I did very little shopping for this party. Most stuff I had on hand at home because it was so basic!)

Paper ghosts

One of the biggest hits for our decor was these paper ghosts. When it comes to Halloween, I’m all about fun decorations and not scary ones. So I cut out some ghost shapes out of white construction paper and then my husband, kids and I all decorated them. We had various themes for each of them. They turned out so incredibly cute! We hung them with fishing line and tape.

I used white construction paper folded in half and cut out this shape for the ghosts. (The fold in half was so I could cut two at a time.) You can make it any shape you like! And you can make them different shapes as well.
A few of the finished ghosts that we decorated with markers and crayons. You can tell that we didn’t go super spooky! And, each ghost comes complete with its own back story that we came up with while working on them.

Light covers

My original plan was to cut out pumpkin shapes and have us decorate them. Then my son suggested that instead we cut jack-o-lanterns out of construction paper and tape them to our dining room light. It was cute. They didn’t look perfect, but that didn’t matter. They turned out well and were nice and festive.

The pumpkin light cover turned out pretty cute! I put them on with tape and did so just before the party. I didn’t want to worry about the over-heating or anything.
Another look at the pumpkin light. This was the first one I put up. Cute and easy!

Monster door

This monster door isn’t new to us. We did this a couple of times on the front door at our old house. But especially since we were almost never leaving the house, I decided to have the monster door be inside instead on our pantry door. We just used crepe paper (which I had from birthdays), paper plates, 2-inch painters tape and markers.

I flipped over the paper plates. We had two sizes, so we made his eyes different sizes this year, but we have also made them the same size. Then I cut out black circles to glue onto the plates and make the eyes. My son cut a nose out of a paper plate and colored it. You can also make the nose with construction paper. Then painters tape made up the mouth. Easy peasy and adorable! We had the monster door at our house for most of the month of October.


Of course you can’t forget jack-o-lanterns for Halloween. We let each of our kiddos pick out a pumpkin and then decide how they wanted to decorate it. One decided to carve and the other decided to paint. For the carved pumpkin, we used a battery-powered tea light inside of it. We set both of them on the hearth of the fireplace for additional ambiance.

Easy and delicious Halloween-themed food

Every good party has to have food! I didn’t want to order pizza, because Halloween is one of the busiest nights for pizza places. And I also wanted to control when the food was ready so we weren’t waiting around for it. I’m not a master chef, but I found a few recipes that were festive and went well for our party. I served up some grapes, a veggie platter and cheese balls along with the following festive Halloween food.

Jack-o-lantern sandwiches

Of all the food I made for the party, this took the most time simply because I had to cut out the jack-o-lantern faces. But they turned out so cute that I’d totally do it again. And they were so delicious! Refrigerated pie crusts give these a decadence that works well with the salty ham and cheese.

Jack-o-lantern ham and cheese pockets


  • 1 box refrigerated pie crusts
  • 8 oz. thinly sliced Black Forest or Virginia ham
  • 8 oz. thinly sliced Cheddar or Swiss cheese
  • 1 large egg beaten
  • 1-2 tbs. honey mustard


  • Heat the oven to 425-degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with nonstick foil.
  • Unroll the pie crusts. Use a 3-inch cookie cutter to cut each crust into 24 pumpkin shapes. With a sharp knife, cut out eyes and a nose from 12 of the cutouts. Place the 12 plain pumpkins on your baking sheet.
  • Top each of the plain pumpkin cut-outs with a slice or two of ham, folded to fit. (You could also cut out the ham into circles, but that seemed like too much extra work to me!)
  • Put about 1/2 teaspoon of honey mustard on top of the ham.
  • Layer a slice or two of cheese on top of that and then top with another slice or two of ham. (I say "a slice or two" because it depends on your preference. I did one slice each with mine because my family's preferences.)
  • Brush the beaten egg around edges. Top with the pumpkins faces, then carefully press on the edges to seal.
  • Brush tops with beaten egg.
  • Bake for 12 to 15 minutes until light golden.
  • Let them cool for about 5 minutes before serving.

Reese’s Pieces cookie bars with eyes

I love Reese’s Pieces. They are so incredibly good. When I came across this recipe from Betty Crocker for Reese’s Pieces cookie bars that included candy eyes, I knew I had to make them for our Halloween party at home. I love that these can be made ahead of time. Cookie bars are also grand because you just mix them, bake them in one pan and then cut them. They’re less work than making actual cookies. This particular recipe uses a pouch cookie mix, so it’s even easier. Look how cute they are! And so yummy!

These Betty Crocker Reese’s Pieces cookie bars use a pouch cookie mix for a base and are easy to put together!

Sweet festive popcorn

I love popcorn. My mom and son love it, too. I was curious when I came across a recipe for sweet popcorn, so I decided I had to try making it. I learned some things from the Halloween batch I made and made it better at Christmas. So, I’m going to show you the Halloween batch, but give you the instructions I learned later to make it better!

2 bags of microwave popcorn, popped
1 12-ounce package of candy melts (I used orange for Halloween)
Halloween sprinkles, optional

1. Pop two bags of white popcorn in the microwave. Spread it out on wax paper or parchment paper.
2. Put the candy melts in a microwave-safe bowl. (I used a large glass bowl.)
3. Heat the candy melts in the microwave in 30-second intervals, stirring in between, until they are fully melted.
4. Carefully pour the melted candy over the popcorn. Move the popcorn around with a spoon if needed to get most of the pieces coated.
5. Sprinkle the sprinkles over the top if desired.
6. Let it sit until cool before placing it in a bowl. Store in an airtight or zip-top container. It lasts for a few days of snacking!

PBJ spider sandwiches

Since my husband and son are more particular eaters who I knew wouldn’t eat the ham and cheese pockets, I looked for something they’d enjoy. These PBJ spider sandwiches were just the thing! I made both PBJ and plain peanut butter sandwiches (as you can see from the smear on one in the photo to denote it is plain). My son doesn’t like jelly.

I used a drinking glass to cut the sandwiches into rounds and then stuck in the pretzel stick legs. Easy-peasy and festive. These would be great to send in your kiddo’s lunchbox on Halloween as well!

Fun, simple Halloween party activities

While decorations set the mood and food makes everyone happier, you still need activities for a party to be successful. We’re a relatively low-key bunch, and we live in the Midwest where it can be 75-degrees on Halloween or 30-degrees. We didn’t want to risk planning anything outside. But we came up with some good options and both kids and adults had fun during our Halloween party at home.

Monster egg hunt

The biggest thing for our kids at Halloween is trick-or-treating. During the pandemic, that wasn’t possible. We debated about how to make it happen. We thought about stationing ourselves and our grandparents in different rooms around the house for the kids to visit and get candy from. But then I came across the idea of monster eggs. And that’s what we went with.

Before the party, I tracked down our plastic Easter eggs that were brightly colored, got out some Halloween stickers and got to work making the eggs look a bit more Halloween-ish. I had some face stickers left from a Halloween craft we’d done the previous year and then other Halloween stickers as well. (I love stickers, so I didn’t have to buy any. But if you aren’t a sticker-loving fiend like I am, you can either purchase Halloween stickers or use a Sharpie to draw on them.)

Once they were decorated, I filled the eggs with candy. During the party, we sent the kids upstairs and some of us adults hid the eggs all over downstairs for the kids to come and find. They had fun doing so, and we had the challenge of trying to remember where we put all the eggs! In the end, everyone ended up with candy and was happy. (I kept a candy bucket sitting out throughout the night as well.)

The monster eggs were a hit. If you need eggs, Amazon has your back. Find them here.

Pumpkin ring toss

When we were shopping for pumpkins to decorate, we also looked for a small pumpkin with a tall stem. (Pie pumpkins are a perfect size for this!) We found one and brought it home. Armed with some glow bracelets, we turned off the living room light during our Halloween party at home and had a ring toss to see who could get the most rings (a.k.a. glow bracelets) on the pumpkin’s stem.

Halloween charades

Charades is one of my kids’ favorite games to play. So, we had to include it for some Halloween party fun. We came up with our own ideas, so I’ve put them together in a free printable for you. There are two versions: one with pictures and one without. If you have an early reader who wants to participate, the one with pictures would work well for triggering their reading. I like the picture version as well to make it easier for my 8-year-old who is dyslexic. Click on either image to download and print the version you prefer.

Halloween Bingo

Our final activity for our Halloween party at home was Halloween Bingo. You can buy adorable Halloween Bingo games online. Or you can find free printable ones to use. Since we had a small group, I went with the free printable route and then we used candy corn for our game markers. Yep, we totally snacked on some along the way. If you don’t like candy corn, you can use another candy, marshmallows or even cereal to mark your game.

My favorite site for free printables for games and activities is DLTK Kids. (I have no affiliation with them whatsoever.) They offer lots of easy-to-customize options. I have used their site many times for Sunday School classes and my own kiddos. DLTK Kids has a page full of a variety of Halloween activities for kids, including Halloween Bingo.

This is life with dyslexia

A 24-hour look at life with a dyslexic child

Recently, I went into my son’s room to wake him up for school. Being tired, he protested a bit. I told him I understood but it was time to get up and have a good day. He replied that he wouldn’t have a good day. In fact, throughout the entire morning, he talked about not having a good day.

Yes, it sounds dramatic. Kids can be dramatic. But this wasn’t about drama. It wasn’t about my son being difficult. It was because that day meant more assessment testing in reading. And he was trying so hard on the test, yet not being effective at it. This is life with dyslexia.

On the way home from school the previous day, he told me he silently cried in his head while working on his test. His teacher told the class not to guess their answers, but he just couldn’t read the text and was stressed. He describes the letters as looking slanted, shaky or both. This is life with dyslexia.

That same day I reassured him that all we want is for him to do his best. I reminded him that his dad, his teacher, his school and I know the challenges he has with reading. And we all just want him to do his best. Without missing a beat, he replied that his best isn’t good enough. My heart cracked. This is life with dyslexia.

On the same afternoon, I got a call from the special education coordinator at school seeking more information before we have a meeting to discuss how to best help my son. She needed me to scan and send in a 25-page report about him. This is life with dyslexia.

That evening he was working on a project with his dad building rockets. The kit had a small booklet with information in it about outer space. I mentioned my son could read parts of it instead of having my husband read it all. Without even looking at the text, my son declared it was above his level. This is life with dyslexia.

Still the same evening, my daughter asked whether my son had spelling words, yet. I told her not so far. Then I got a pit in my stomach. Spelling tests are so difficult. All last year as we did virtual schooling, I saw my son work so hard on spelling words. He went over and over them. We got creative with how we practiced them. Then he would get to the test and all the spellings flew out of his head. Sometimes spelling tests ended in tears and often they ended with him beating himself up over all the words he had missed. This is life with dyslexia.

After I saw my son off to school the morning that he insisted would be a bad day, I prayed. I prayed for strength for him. I asked God to be with him. Seeing your child struggle is beyond difficult. Knowing that he is in for a tough time as you send him out the door is heart-wrenching. I want to wrap my arms around him and never let him go. But that wouldn’t help him most in the end. This is life with dyslexia.

Not long after he left, I read my devotion book, and two things struck me. One there is a passage where Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as our Advocate (John 16:7). My son needs an advocate right now, so that really stuck out to me. God has him covered. And then in the devotion book was a reminder that when we let loved ones go, we can trust that God is covering and taking care of them even more than we are able to. I thanked God for that reminder I so desperately needed. This is life with dyslexia.

As I headed into my office that day, I started thinking about how to help my son. I want him to fly and not fall. His teacher mentioned earlier in the week that the school is short on aides right now, so she wasn’t sure if someone would even be available read his math test to him if needed. I wondered if I’d be allowed to go into school and read things to him in that situation. I actually looked to see if the school had jobs for aides posted. Because I would apply in a heartbeat if I knew it would help my son. This is life with dyslexia.

For the past year, I’ve been doing research. I’ve been learning all I can about dyslexia. I know more now than I did previously, but I don’t feel like I know enough. Can I ever know enough? Probably not. To me, reading has always been a source of joy. I love reading, writing and words in general. Etymology excites me. Grammar makes me happy. Reading a good book is how I relax. Knowing reading and all that goes with it is a source of stress and frustration for my son breaks my heart. This is life with dyslexia.

I also know resources are available to help my son. Dyslexia fonts are available for ebooks. My son has tried such a font and agreed it was easier to read for him. There are audio books. Technology offers talk-to-text. I am thankful for these resources while at the same time sad that we need them. This is life with dyslexia.

I don’t know what the future will hold. I know this school year holds stress ahead. My son is in third grade, which has two standardized tests along with the three usual math and reading assessment progress tests. My heart sinks thinking of the challenges that are coming for him. This is life with dyslexia.

Thankfully we have a school that I think is going to do well in helping him with his challenges. I am impressed with our school in so many ways. We have a meeting coming up, but I don’t really know what to expect. I’m doing yet more research so I know what to even ask for. Mostly, I just want my son to be able to learn without so much extra stress. I know his challenges will always be there, but I have to believe we can make some accommodations for him so it won’t be as incredibly difficult. This is life with dyslexia.

For now, we will keep pressing on. I won’t stop advocating for my son and what he needs. I will be with him every single step of the way. My husband and I will continue to celebrate with him when he gets excited to read a book to us so proudly. He has grown so much, is working so hard and is reading so much better. But his challenges certainly remain. He is a persistent little dude. I have known from the beginning that once he makes up his mind to do something, it’s as good as done. That’s both a frustrating and awesome trait. Managing dyslexia will be no different. Together, our family will work to encourage him, help him, believe in him and love him through any challenge he faces. Because, this is life with dyslexia.

Family read aloud chapter books for kindergarteners through 5th graders

20 of the best read aloud chapter books you and your kids will enjoy!

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. I only recommend products and services I use and love. It helps support my blog, so thank you for your support! Read my full disclosure here.

When my oldest kiddo was about 3 months old, we began reading aloud to her before bedtime every night. She’s now 11-1/2 and we still haven’t stopped. Our reading now includes her 8-year-old brother. We have evolved from short, board books to chapter books. Around kindergarten, my kiddos were able to keep up with read aloud chapter books. We’ve found quite a few that we’ve enjoyed together as a family.

While my kids can read on their own, we enjoy reading books together. We make it a priority to spend 15-20 minutes together before bedtime each evening. Our kids get ready for bed, we pray together and then we read together. We’ve read all sorts of things. We’ve navigated through series and gotten enveloped in worlds as well as read stand-alone books. With our youngest being 8, we also read picture books.

Reading together before bedtime helps our kiddos settle down from the day and get ready for bed. Plus, we also enjoy the time together. (And I’m all for snuggling together to read!) Sharing a book together is fun. In fact, we often reference the books long after reading them. As an avid reader myself, I absolutely love that! We also pass time on road trips by reading together.

Both of my kids spoke early and well and have great vocabularies, which I attribute at least in part to our reading time. And, if you need more convincing to read aloud to your kiddos, all sorts of statistics show how beneficial it is to children. Reading with their parents encourages children to love books and exposes them to language they won’t hear elsewhere. Regular reading time is also linked to kids’ academic success.

So, pick a book off the list, order a hard copy or e-edition and get to reading with your kiddos! The majority of them are book series, so you’ll find way more than 20 books represented here. I’ve organized them by age range, but you know your kids best and what they’d like. We have read some of the books for third to fifth graders with our younger son, and he loved them as well!

Kindergarten through 2nd grades

We love “The Jesus Storybook Bible” from Sally Lloyd-Jones so much. Every story points to Jesus. We’ve read it through many times, and I love it just as much as my kiddos do! It’s divided into stories rather than traditional chapters, but it counts as a chapter book to me since you don’t read it all at once.

One of the first chapter books we ever read with our kiddos was the “Mr. Putter and Tabby” series. These books from Cynthia Rylant are divided into short chapters. For younger kiddos, a chapter at a time is just right, but as they get older, you can read then entire book at once if you’d like. This series is also great for emerging readers to try on their own with you and they don’t need to be read in order.

Another Cynthia Rylant series our kids have loved is the “Henry and Mudge” series. My son especially enjoys these books because he loves his dog so much just like the main character, Henry, loves his dog, Mudge. Again, the books have short chapters, are great for emerging readers and can be read by chapter or all at once. While the first book of the series introduces the characters, the books don’t have to be read in order to make sense.

The “Geronimo Stilton” books follow a journalist mouse who goes on all sorts of adventures. We’ve enjoyed quite a few of these books together. The fun part of Geronimo Stilton books is that you can find them for most any setting since sometimes Geronimo travels through time. Each book includes an age-appropriate mystery. This series is OK to be read in a random order.

We love, love, love the Humphrey book series from Betty G. Birney! (Humphrey likes to emphasize words sometimes by using them three times in a row, so I couldn’t resist.) Humphrey is a hamster who is a class pet to a second grade classroom and gets up to all sorts of things. The 12-book series is entertaining with great character development and plot lines. Humphrey books are good to read in order starting with the first one, but they make sense even if you don’t read them in order.

You also can’t go wrong with classics, like E.B. White’s “Charlotte’s Webb.” Both of my kiddos read this book with their classes in kindergarten during class story time. And they both enjoyed it. This pair of unlikely friends — a pig and a spider — have a heartwarming story that has been enjoyed for generations.

A newer-to-us series is again from Cynthia Rylant. “The Lighthouse Family” series of eight books follows a mismatch family of animals who come together by the end of the first book to run a lighthouse. There is just the right amount of trouble to keep young readers interested but not so much as to make them anxious or worried. Read this series in order.

Another great series of 26 read-aloud chapter books is Ron Roy’s “A to Z Mystery” series. My daughter read them on her own in second grade, but we’ve read a few of them aloud together. Both of my kids love this series. They both dressed as characters from this series for a dress-like-a-book-character day at school when my son was in kindergarten and my daughter was in third grade. Each story in the series is independent, so they don’t have to be read in order.

My son and I have recently read a few of the “Magic Treehouse” books by Mary Pop Osborne together. This 28-book series follows the adventures of a brother and sister, who travel by treehouse to various locations and time periods. While reading them in order is a good idea, they don’t have to be read in order to make sense.

Based off the characters from the “Fancy Nancy” picture books, the eight “Nancy Clancy” chapter books by Jane O’Connor follow along with an older version of Nancy. My daughter, in particular, enjoyed reading through these books with me. We read them together before my son was old enough to enjoy chapter books. With great story lines and just the right amount of tension, these books are best read in order.

3rd through 5th grades

Two years ago, we planned to take our children to Orlando, Fla., on spring break. Since we wanted to take them to both Disney World and Universal Florida, we started reading J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series with them. To say they fell in love would be an understatement. The 7-book series is definitely one of our family’s favorites. We’ve read all the books and watched the movies afterward. It took us time to get through all of them; we only managed book one before our trip. But we all loved rooting for the boy wizard who had to overcome so many obstacles. I read the series years ago on my own as an adult and enjoyed it even more reading through it again with my children. The story lines continue from one book to the next, so read this series in order.

Because our family also loves Judy Garland movie and because both of my kids were munchkins in a K-12 production at their school, we also have read L. Frank Baum’s “The Wizard of Oz” out loud together. It’s a great read-aloud chapter book that you can then follow up with the movie, especially if you’ve not watched it with your kiddos before. There are additional books as part of this series as well. I’ve only read the first one with my kiddos.

If you’re not looking for a read aloud chapter book series, consider “Because of Winn Dixie” by Kate DiCamillo. My daughter read it for school in third grade and we read it along with her at home. All four of us enjoyed this story that has well developed characters and many touching moments.

Growing up, I loved Judy Blume books so much that I picked her as my career inspiration in fifth grade. So, I was excited to share her books with my kiddos. Neither have enjoyed them as much as I did, but the 5-book “Fudge” series is great for reading out loud and best for reading in order.

L.M. Montgomery’s “Anne of Green Gables” 8-book series is another great read aloud chapter book for upper elementary kiddos. My daughter and I read through the first book together a few years ago. It’s one we’ll come back to. Because my daughter has red hair, we enjoyed reading about a main character with red hair! (And note that the Netflix version of Anne isn’t completely in line with the books and has darker content.) As Anne grows up from book-to-book, it’s best to read this series in order.

Another book I loved as a child and have been excited to share with my kids is Madeleine L’Engle’s “Time Quintet.” Just a few years ago, I learned “A Wrinkle in Time,” the first book of the series, was actually the first book of five. So, I read the remaining four and they are just as terrific! I’ve read part of “A Wrinkle in Time” aloud to my daughter, but she was too young to grasp it. I can’t wait to read it with my kiddos again now that they are older. This quintet is on my list for us to read together. I love the characters and lessons woven into these books, which you should read in order.

Our current read aloud chapter books have been “The Mapmaker Chronicles” by A.L. Tait. I bought the first three books for us and we loved following along with 15-year-old Quinn Freeman on his dangerous task of mapping the world. He had all sorts of adventures that kept us all intrigued and interested while also being age-appropriate. I found the fourth book in the British version recently and we just started reading it. Read this series in order.

Another great read aloud chapter book is Roald Dahl’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” The book is such a fun read (even more so than either of the movies). Charlie is an easy underdog for whom to cheer. A sequel to the books, “Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator,” continues the story. I read the sequel myself when I was a child, but I haven’t read it with my kiddos.

The 7-book “Chronicles of Narnia” series from C.S. Lewis is great for family reading. We’ve not yet read through the series together, though my daughter is about halfway through the first book. This series is also on my list for us to read together. And the movies made from this series are pretty excellent. Just like with other books I’ve mentioned, we’ll watch the movies together after reading the books, which are best to read in order.

And, finally, I’m rounding out the list with Rick Riordan’s “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” 5-book series. My daughter recently finished this series and fell in love with it. When we were talking about chapter books to recommend for families to read together, she insisted I include this series. We watched the first movie together after she finished reading the book, and I have a feeling we’ll read this series as a family together pretty soon. The story line continues from one book to the next, so you should read them in order.

10 More virtual school success tips

More ways to set up for virtual school success

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. I only recommend products and services I use and love. It helps support my blog, so thank you for your support! Read my full disclosure here.

Back in August, I shared virtual school success tips that we’d learned from spring until fall. Now, we are just over halfway through the school year and, as a family who has chosen to virtual school this school year, I have even more tips to share!

We’re in this for the long haul, and we know it. That’s a nice change from when virtual school was sprung on us in March 2020. We are also blessed in having an awesome school that gives us great virtual learning options for our second and fifth graders. We don’t have to come up with the curriculum but rather keep everything organized and running smoothly.

1. Use your phone alarms.

I love my phone alarms. When my kids were in school in-person, I had an alarm set for each day for when I needed to get ready and leave to pick them up.

This school year kicked that up a major notch. My son, our second grader, has a variety of Zoom calls throughout the day connecting with other virtual learners his age. Some calls are only on certain days and some are every day. He uses a few different Zoom meeting rooms for his calls. So, I set recurring alarms for the appropriate days that go off five minutes before each call. The five minutes allows us to finish what we were doing, get out his needed supplies and dial into the call.

My daughter in fifth grade is more independent and spends most of her day Zooming with her classmates who are both virtual and in-person. I don’t have to set alarms for when her calls start, but I do have other alarms set for her. I use an alarm for when she needs to head back to a call after lunch and gym a couple of days a week.

Speaking of lunch, I even set a daily alarm to start making lunch. My daughter, especially, has a more limited lunchtime.

2. Use your calendar.

This may sound like overkill, but I use my phone calendar and my paper planner. My phone pops up with reminders 10 minutes before calls start, but I have those same times written down in my planner for each day so I can easily see them if I’m scheduling something for us.

Honestly, using a calendar (or two) is one of my best virtual school success tips. With so many schedules to organize, including my own work schedule, having it all in one place is so helpful.

I set calendar appointments and reminders for just about everything in my life!

3. Prepare for calls.

My son’s teacher usually posts the day’s assignments around 6 a.m. each day. One of the first things I do when I get up is check what he has going on that day. It helps me plan in my head for times he needs help and times he can work independently.

But as we get our day underway, I also take that information and organize supplies and assignments for the day. We have different colored folders for each subject. So I make sure the papers he needs for each subject are in the correct folder for that day.

The prepared folders are great to pull out as he is logging into a Zoom call. He’s quickly and easily ready to go. And he isn’t scrambling around looking for what he needs and missing instructions or making his classmates have to wait for him.

4. Have a spot for storing extra and seldom used supplies.

In the previous post of virtual school success tips, I told you how we use baskets for each kiddo and their related school supplies and materials. We still do that and absolutely love it!

But we also needed somewhere to store extra supplies (hello, glue sticks and pencils!) as well as supplies we don’t use as often. I had an extra portable file storage container, so I just used it. You can use whatever you have on hand or even a cabinet.

Ours has some gym supplies, music supplies, extra school supplies (glue sticks, pencils, pens, markers, etc.) and even an extra math book we’ll need when we finish the current one.

The nice part about having a specific spot for extra and seldom used supplies is that we know where to go when we need them and can find them quickly. Our day doesn’t get interrupted searching all over the house to remember where the extra glue sticks are.

Our basic art supplies go in two drawers in our kitchen because we use them more often. That includes crayons, markers, watercolors, colored pencils, white art paper and construction paper. My son’s pencil box has twistable crayons, scissors and glue sticks as well as his pencils. And both kids have a stack of white paper in their art folders.

5. Communicate with the teacher.

I’m an introvert. And to boot, I’m also a bit on the shy side and don’t want to pester people. But, another of my top virtual school success tips is communicating with the teacher.

Virtual schooling is basically a partnership between parents and teachers. Our teachers have communicated well with us, but questions and problems arise. Sometimes one quick email can make all the difference on how well an assignment goes.

6. Communicate with independent learners.

My daughter works well on her own, but communicating with her is still important. If you have a kiddo who is older and working solo, check in with them regularly to see how things are going.

I love that we have lunch together and I can get updates about how things are going. We have navigated a few issues that have come up this year. As a fifth grader, my daughter has continued to work well independently. If that weren’t the case, she would have more oversight.

And my final thought on communicating well with independent learners means a certain level of trust between you and your kiddo. Even within that, stay on top of messages from their teachers to ensure work is turned in and completed as it should be. I have our school account settings so that messages my kids get from their teachers also come to my parent account and alert me on my phone.

7. Sometimes an attitude adjustment is necessary.

Working together all day every day means that you’re going to have grumpy moments — and so are your kids. My attitude directly affects my son’s attitude. If I’m grumpy and short, so is he.

I do my best to keep a good attitude as we are working. If I’m struggling, because some days are just hard, then I call break time. Recently, on a long school day, my son and I hung out on the stairs petting our pooch for a few minutes. We needed a school break to regroup.

And other times, I tell my son that I need him to change his attitude. We aren’t fighting each other, we are working together to get school done. Sometimes we all need that kind of reminder!

8. Ask for help when you need it.

Virtual schooling is often busy and overwhelming, especially if you are also trying to do work as well. Pay attention to what exactly you need help with and then work to figure out the best solutions.

My husband also works from home, so we’ve talked a few times about what I need for my own wellbeing. Earlier in the school year, he encouraged me to go to our bedroom and shut the door to get a break when I was overwhelmed and needed some quiet to regroup.

Now my biggest need is having time to get my own work done as my son’s work has gotten more involved and some of my work has gotten busier. So right now, we are having my husband take over schoolwork after lunch on Tuesdays and Thursdays. That gives me a few hours in the office to get work done.

9. Set realistic expectations all around.

As an adult, I want to hit tasks hard in the morning and work until they’re finished. That’s not what works best for my 7-year-old. He has to have brain breaks. Sometimes that means I set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes and he takes a complete break or we switch to something like an art project.

Another one of my best virtual school success tips is to set realistic expectations for yourself and what you can get done. My productivity level is lower while we are virtual schooling than when my kids are at school in person. (Go figure!)

To keep frustration at bay, I adjust my expectations for what I can do from household chores to work tasks.

10. Take care of yourself physically.

After the first week of school, I spent the weekend on the couch with horrible hip pain. While I have hip pain normally thanks to my fibromyalgia, this was above and beyond. I realized it was from how I was sitting while we were doing school.

My son and I sit at the kitchen table for school. Our table is counter height, so my feet were tucked a bit behind me on the rung of the chair all day every day, and it made my hip very angry. So, I moved a footstool under the table and that helped tremendously.

When I dealt with a sciatica flare, I realized sitting on the hard kitchen chair all day long wasn’t doing me any favors. I got a seat cushion and love it! Now I don’t feel as compelled to try and move school to the couch or somewhere more comfortable to sit.

The final thing I do to take care of myself is wear shoes all day. My low back and hips have been so much happier! I got a new pair of Brooks Ghost running shoes on the recommendation of my physical therapist. I only wear them at home, so I don’t have to worry about tracking in dirt or germs all over the place. Considering I’m home 99% of the time right now, it’s not so hard.

With virtual schooling, I am on my feet more often throughout the day than usual. I’m constantly getting up and down working with the kiddos. I spend more time on my feet even at lunchtime now that I’m making lunch for all of us rather than just for me. Since we don’t have carpet anywhere in our house except the stairs, the hard floors were doing me in.

The other bonus to wearing shoes is that it also makes me feel more serious about what I’m doing. I seem more purposeful somehow. And some days, I really need that!

Find more virtual school success tips here!

A family Christmas devotion book

A Family Christmas: 25 Days of 5-minute Family Christmas Devotions

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. I only recommend products and services I use and love. It helps support my blog, so thank you for your support! Read my full disclosure here.

While the Christmas season is all about celebrating God’s gift to us through His Son, Jesus, it is also a hectic time for most families — mine included! In the midst of the busyness, I don’t want to miss the real reason for the season. So I put together a Christmas devotion book for my family that I’m sharing with you as well.

All about the Christmas devotion book, “A Family Christmas”

Maintaining a home filled with grace, love and faith during hectic times is challenging. However, “A Family Christmas” helps your family do so for a few minutes each day Dec. 1 through 25. While each family is different, I estimate each devotion time will take around 5 minutes.

You’ll find a Bible verse (or two), a discussion question and a prayer for every day. The Bible verses are all included for you from the International Children’s Bible.

The discussion question allows you flexibility. Share from your own life and experiences. Spend as much or as little time as you want. Some days you may chat together for a few minutes while other days may go quicker.

Finally, the daily prayer can be read as written or you can pray your own prayer – however God is leading your heart.

I encourage you to make this devotion time part of your December routine. You can let your kiddos take turn reading the verses, leading the discussion or saying the prayer if you’d like. Or you can do all of that. Find what works best for your family and go with it!

I’m excited to share “A Family Christmas” with you through Amazon where you can download it for your e-reader or tablet for only $3 or for free if you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited. It will become a great part of your family’s Christmas traditions.

More Christmas traditions you’ll love

Two years ago I shared with you 8 simple Christmas traditions to bring your family closer. I think the simpler the tradition, the easier they are to maintain. The Christmas devotion book, “A Family Christmas” was inspired by one of those traditions.

One of my family’s traditions is to read a Bible verse of the Christmas story each night from Dec. 1 through 25. I built on that with the devotion book this year by keeping it simple, yet more impactful.

I combined the Bible verses with another tradition we have of unwrapping a Christmas book each night from Dec. 1 through 24. I usually buy a couple of new books each Christmas season. But most of the books I wrap we already owned. Then my kiddos get to unwrap one book each evening that we read at bedtime.

The bedtime Christmas book unwrapping and reading has been an awesome tradition my kiddos have loved since they were toddlers. If you’re looking to get this tradition started or in the market for some new Christmas books for kids, check out the following titles that are great reads for the holiday season!

The unexpected safe space for introverted children

Helping introverted children find their safe place to regroup might be even easier than you expect!

Growing up as an introverted child, I felt like I was a bit just odd. I wasn’t around all that many other introverted children. As an adult I learned the difference between being an introvert (we refuel our energy solo) and an extrovert (they refuel their energy with others). Suddenly, I made a bit more sense and, quite frankly, didn’t feel so weird.

These days, I can more easily identify my needs better for when I need downtime. I recognize when I feel antsy and irritated because I need some quiet and space to myself.

I had a pretty good handle on my introverted self. And then we decided to start our family. I wondered how I’d manage the needs of an extroverted child without completely draining myself. I wondered if I’d be able to teach an introverted child how to embrace their introversion and find their place in the world.

My extroverted child — the toddler years

When my daughter was born 11 years ago, she was our first child. We were so excited for her arrival. I remember looking into her eyes and wondering what she was going to be like.

It wasn’t long before her personality started emerging. Before she turned 1, she was vocal. She started speaking early and plainly, but even before she used actual words, she babbled pretty much all the time. I used to joke that she’d talk herself awake and asleep — and that was true!

When we’d go to the grocery store, she’d wave at everyone who waved at her. As we’d go get the mail, she’d happily get the attention of our neighbor and chat. It didn’t take me long to realize that she loved interacting with other people.

We hit up library story time once a week for a couple of years so she could hang out with some other kiddos. She didn’t always want to play with the kids, but she liked being around them.

The other thing we noticed about our daughter early on is that she is pretty even-keeled. Of course she got upset about things and wasn’t happy all the time, but she was so verbal that we could talk about things with her to keep her frustration to a minimum. She was neither overly happy nor overly unhappy.

My introverted child — the toddler years

Then my son was born three years later. He started off a bit more challenging right away. In fact, he was born not breathing and was “Code Pink” (the infant version of “Code Blue”). He spent about 20 minutes needing help to breathe before he breathed on his own.

But as he grew, we noticed right away that he had big feelings. He was happy or he was sad. The kiddo didn’t have much middle ground. He definitely was more physically attached to us. Our son loves snuggles.

He was also an early talker. While he was a friendly toddler as well, he was also a bit more laidback about it than his sister. He seemed fearless to us in some ways because he wasn’t nearly as cautious as his sister when it came to trying things.

We learned that whatever he did, he’d do full force and woe to anyone or anything who tried to stop him. He liked things like library story time enough but he wasn’t as excited about them as our daughter was.

My extroverted child — the school years

After a couple of years of part-time nursery school, my daughter started kindergarten with nary a fear. She was so excited and happily waved good-bye to us on the first day.

She soon made new friends. And we were careful to talk with her about her leadership skills so that she wouldn’t be too “bossy!” Her ideal birthday party was inviting everyone she could. I had to limit her to what was manageable or she would have invited all 44 kids in her grade.

She has remained this way. These days she prefers birthday parties with a few close friends to spend the night. But I’m pretty sure she’d invite even more if I agreed.

I have never had to wonder if she’d speak up for herself or talk during class. She can happily chat with adults and kids anywhere she goes. She has no qualms about talking to people and I’ve seen her work to include quieter classmates as well.

When I went on a field trip with her last year, she opted to sit with her friends on the bus instead of with me (with my blessing). She’s happiest right now when she’s on her tablet video-chatting with friends. During this time of isolation, we have continued to check in with her and help her connect safely when she can. We are so thankful for video chatting!

My little extrovert happily messages and chats with her teachers. She thrives and re-energizes with others.

My introverted child — the school years

When my son started kindergarten (again after two years of part-time nursery school), it was a bit different. While he didn’t have a complete meltdown as his dad and I left the classroom on day one, I saw tears spring to his eyes briefly as he waved good-bye.

For the first week of school, he came home drained and sad for having been away from me all day. He continues to have big feelings. He is happy or sad.

When I have gone on field trips with him, he most enjoys being with me as much as possible. Even when I suggest he sit with a friend, he still picks me.

At home, he is chatty and plays. He has an exceptionally good imagination and can easily give me long explanations of plans he comes up with to solve pretty much any problem someone could have.

He likes tagging along with his sister when we are out. Before the pandemic, he was happiest when he got to be with her like during children’s church. He would often pick hanging out with her over hanging out with other children.

For his most recent birthday turning 7 (pre-pandemic), he asked only for his three best friends to have a party with. He found the idea of inviting the entire class or too many extra people appalling.

Yet on the playground after school, he plays with a variety of classmates and comes up with some great imaginary play ideas as well.

I had a couple of people tell me my son was quiet and was surprised at first. I didn’t see that side of him like his Sunday School teacher and ninja zone teacher did.

It wasn’t until we started virtual schooling that I realized how quiet he is. The chatty kid I know is not so chatty in group settings. Unlike my daughter, he doesn’t strike up conversations with anyone and everyone. But when he is in smaller group meetings for school, he is more inclined to speak up.

When we are in the car, especially just the two of us, he will ride quietly for a couple of minutes and then we will have deep discussions about things he’s thinking about. He has some serious ponderings for a little dude!

I have realized that my son is an introvert like I am. I can’t say for sure he will always be this way, but from what I’m seeing right now, he is skewing much more introvert than extrovert. He loves when we can just stay home and not go places. (Good thing since we are staying socially isolated!)

The pandemic isolation hasn’t bothered him as much as it has my daughter. He’s enjoyed some video chats with his friends, but he is more reserved about chatting and doesn’t do it very often. (And I also know that his age and gender probably play a role as well.)

Finding my introverted child’s safe place

Having my kiddos home again all the time during the pandemic has given me even more insights into them and their temperaments. And I’ve been thinking about it.

As an introvert, I understand the need for a safe space. While I often think of my home as my safe and happy place, the truth is anywhere I am either alone or with those closest to me (my husband, children and parents) is my safe place.

I shared once about how being inside a tent in the middle of a busy theme park automatically put me at ease. I could breathe easier knowing that I was away from strangers.

How to help your introverted child find their safe space

I’ve wondered about my son’s safe place. Of course I think he feels safe at home overall, but I think his safe “place” is actually me. He is happiest and most content when we are together.

In fact, at first I thought he was an extrovert because at home he much prefers being with his dad, sister or me than being alone. That didn’t seem very introverted to me as an adult when I find myself craving alone time. And then I thought about it some more.

I realized I felt the same way growing up. My mom was my safe place. When we were out somewhere with lots of people or even just a few people I didn’t know, I’d gravitate toward her. I remember her lying in bed with me some nights when I was really young because that’s what made me feel safest and happiest.

I’ve seen other introverted kids act the same way. During uncomfortable situations for them (which can just be a noisy, busy atmosphere), they gravitate to a parent or trusted adult.

You are the safe space for your introverted child

So that leaves me thinking that one of our roles as parents of an introverted child is to be their safe space. Behavior that may come off as clingy may really just be your overwhelmed introverted child seeking consolation.

One of the things I established with my son a couple of years ago (before I really knew whether he was even an introvert) is that he can always ask me for alone time when we are out places. He struggles with big emotions; sometimes he needs to regroup. In talking with him about it, I realized that he regroups best with me.

Whenever he starts to feel overwhelmed, upset or like nobody is listening to him during times we are with other people — whether in a large group or small — he knows he can ask for one-on-one time and I will make it happen. We may make a trip to the restroom or go into another room if we are at someone’s house. But, he can trust that when he’s overwhelmed, I’ll be his safe space wherever we are.

So far every single time, after a couple minutes of talking privately together he has happily resumed the activity. It’s a strategy that works for him right now — and that definitely works for me!

I’ll keep learning as I go through phases of parenting how to best meet the needs of my extrovert and my introvert. Of course as two different people, my kids aren’t identical in what they need. With two opposite temperaments, those needs may be very different sometimes. My job is to keep paying attention and tweaking strategies to help them most.

How to set up for virtual schooling success

10 Practical tips for easier virtual schooling

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. I only recommend products and services I use and love. It helps support my blog, so thank you for your support! Read my full disclosure here.

Last spring, the majority of us parents were thrown into virtual schooling our kids with little time to prepare. I was caught off guard, especially since virtual school started four days after my husband had major surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff. He was down to one arm and needed lots of help.

I kicked into survival mode and we made it through virtual schooling relatively unscathed. If you’d have asked me then whether virtual school would still be an option for the 2020-21 school year, I’d have said no way!

Yet, that’s exactly where we find ourselves this year. Some school districts are starting the school year virtually. Many others are offering the option for virtual and in-person learning. And all teachers and parents are wondering just how long in-person instruction will be able to continue.

For a variety of reasons, my family decided to utilize the virtual learning option offered by our school from day one of this school year. My kiddos are in second and fifth grades this year. Knowing ahead of time that we are going to be virtual learning and not being in survival mode has given me a chance to actual prepare our family and home for this option.

Because we are using our school’s virtual learning option, I’m not in charge of curriculum. Instead I’m in charge of organizing the logistics of it all for our family. We’ve found a few things that work. I’m guessing as the year progresses we’ll find more for me to share as well.

1. Create baskets or bins for each of your kids.

I learned this last school year as I was trying to figure out how I’d ever keep all the papers and supplies organized for each kid without them taking over the kitchen table or counters — or both! I needed some sort of bin for each of them.

In the spring, I had two decent sized shoe boxes that I covered in wrapping paper to make them look a bit cuter and each child had one. They were large enough to fit papers, books, folders, binders, supplies and iPads.

The bins worked so well that I knew for longer term virtual schooling, we needed something sturdier. I found some plastic storage bins that work incredibly well for this. They have handles, so we can easily move them where we are working and then clear the space again when we’re finished.

These bins from Amazon are perfect. They’re a good size to fit lots of things but small enough to be manageable and keep things easy to find.

For organization within the bins, we use two-pocket folders and school boxes.

2. Keep the right supplies on hand.

I’ve found that a big part of keeping us organized is not over-filling our bins with things they don’t use regularly. My kids continue to have their special classes during virtual learning including art, music and gym. Those supplies I typically keep separate.

Their school boxes include a few pencils, scissors, crayons and glue. Both kids still have assignments they do on paper and not digitally, so they need actual supplies like these.

Hands down, though, my best virtual school supply purchase has been new styluses. Once the kids did virtual learning last spring, I realized that the blunt-tip styluses I had weren’t working so well. For this school year, I found styluses with a fine point and blunt end. These work so incredibly well for writing on the iPads for assignments and have been my kids’ favorite supply. (And I love that they come with extra tips to replace them as they get worn out.)

3. Get headphones with microphones.

My kids have headphones each school year for their iPads. But with virtual learning, having headphones with microphones has been fabulous. If they are having any sort of interactive class or meeting they are awesome so the kids can still not be as disruptive to their siblings.

My husband found these Besom headphones for the kids that are comfortable, work well and come in colors they like.

4. Set up your own work area.

I’ve worked from home as a freelance journalist since 2002. My husband joined me in working from home a few years ago, so working from home wasn’t new to us. While I lightened my workload during my kids’ early years, I increased it once my youngest headed to kindergarten.

Over their breaks, I could usually plan to work for just a couple of hours a day and then be free. My kids can easily entertain themselves for a couple of hours.

But, virtual schooling is a whole different thing because they need help. My daughter, who is in 5th grade this year, can be mostly independent in her work. My son, who is in 2nd grade this year, needs more help with reading directions and such. Figuring out how and where to work to best help with school was a challenge last spring.

I can’t continue working in the home office during school, because my husband is in there and has conference calls. (My work is much more flexible than his is.) So I’ve found being with my son is easier.

I bought a plastic paper tray bin and use it to move between my office and the rest of the house now. I love it! The small bin fits my planner, papers for my current project and even my laptop and its cord. This setup lets me be more mobile and get more of my work done during times nobody needs assistance.

I have also learned to be creative in my work times. This blog post, for example, has gotten well underway on a Sunday afternoon, which isn’t a time I typically work. But life is atypical right now. I’m thankful to have the flexibility to be creative with my work times.

5. Plan your kids’ work areas to minimize distractions.

When we first started virtually school last spring, my kids and I all sat together at the kitchen table. By week two, my daughter migrated upstairs to the desk in her room so she could concentrate better.

For us, having the kids separate helps, especially this fall because they both have multiple Zoom meetings a day. The headphones help with the noise control, but since my daughter can work mostly independently, separating helps.

Whatever that means for you, the fewer distractions the better. During the hour each morning of live instruction that my son has, I put our puppy in his pen so he won’t be a distraction. The television and music stay turned off. My husband and I work so that if either of us has a call, the other one is on school duty so that we can do calls in the office.

You might consider creative lap desks, clipboards or folding desks to provide a good workspace for your kiddos.

I have tried sitting on the couch with my son for work and found it is too distracting for most assignments. I have also tried allowing toys on the table away from him and those also tend to get distracting. Toys have to be put in another room during school.

6. Use the weekend to your advantage.

Enjoy family fun and downtime on the weekend, but also use it to organize for the school week ahead. Throughout the week, clutter and papers can pile up where they shouldn’t. Because we all work better in clean spaces, we do straighten up when we have time. The weekend is ideal for that.

I also try to do some of my own planning on Sundays. In just a few minutes, I can organize my planner for the week with tasks I have going on. I also try to keep an updated list of meal options we have ingredients for. I’ve found that works better for my family than making a menu day-by-day.

7. Maintain a schedule.

I’m a huge fan of schedules and routines. My family works well when we all know what to expect. For some virtual schooling, your kids may have an exact start time each day. Others are more flexible. Between last spring and this school year, we’ve had both.

But both times schedules have been our friends. While the goal isn’t to recreate their exact school day, having a schedule will help. We have a set start time each day. This year, we also have a set-in-stone lunchtime due to my daughter’s call schedule.

Don’t forget to allot some downtime for the kids. I heard my son’s teacher lead them through some stretches on Zoom that she called a “brain break.” All kids need breaks. Playing outside, with pets or with toys can be a great way to let kids have a break.

I love using a timer to help make the shift from playtime to school time easier. This helps especially with my 7-year-old. I set my phone time for 20 minutes, and we play with his toys. I tell him what I’ve done and when the timer goes off, it’s easier for him to shift back to school — and the timer gets to be the bad guy who says play time is over!

Whatever you pick for downtime, having that time away from their work area is going to help most in making the shift between play and school.

8. Remember to dole out grace.

Virtual school is a different environment for teachers, students and us parents. The early days especially are going to need lots of grace all around. There is a learning curve. And there are technology issues to resolve.

My son started the school year, for example, with his last and first names switched in the online learning program the school uses. His teacher knows his name and knows the mistake is there. She’s working to correct it when she can. We’ll be patient, just like she was patient when we had an issue with a Zoom call that ended up with us disconnecting and calling back.

Don’t forget about yourself. You need grace, because this is a big change whether you usually work from home, at the office or run a household without kids during the school day. Prioritize what has to be done, do your best and don’t beat yourself up on the days you fall short. Remember that if laundry piles up all week, the sink is overflowing with dishes, you are working in the evening or you missed an email about your child’s assignment that it isn’t the end of the world. And it won’t be like this forever.

9. Keep your tasks organized.

I mentioned above that I set a timer for play time with my son. But I set alarms for so much more! So much! My daughter has a half hour for lunch and that’s also her bathroom break and such. I have a daily alarm set for 10 minutes before that break so I stop and make lunch. It helps to have her lunch ready to go.

I set alarms for Zoom calls my son has since I’m his schedule manager. Timers help me remember to switch out the laundry. I use reminders for everything from taking my medicine to calling a family member to wish them happy birthday.

With virtual schooling, I need to check my email and related apps throughout the day to make sure we don’t miss something. I have push notifications turned on where I can.

I’m also a HUGE fan of lists. My son’s teacher last spring would send out a weekly schedule of assignments. I printed it, added his assignments for music, art and gym and marked things off as we went. His teacher this year sends us an assignment list to check off each day.

If I have tasks that need to be done for the day, I will often make a list that includes school, work and personal tasks.

10. Involve your kids around the house.

If your kids are old enough to be in school, they are old enough to help with some chores. And if you are virtual schooling, chances are good you could use some help. Plus the bottom line is that we are trying to raise humans to be productive and competent adults. They need to know how to do household chores.

Just because school isn’t meeting in person doesn’t mean that some of their school chores have to slide. For example, it may be easier for your family to still pack lunches the night before so you don’t have to have the time to do so in the middle of the day. Think about what would realistically help virtual schooling go easier and involve your kids.

Find more virtual school success tips here:

Prayer envelope project for kids

How to help your kids pray for others

One of my favorite parts of each day is bedtime. We sit together as a family and read a devotion, the kids pray and we read a book together. The devotion has been added just in the last two years, but everything else we’ve been doing since our now 10-year-old was a baby.

I have loved hearing how my children’s prayers have evolved through the years as they get older. But sometimes they get stuck on repeat. A few years ago we used prayer envelopes for them. About four months ago, we decided it was time to use prayer envelopes again. And I’m so glad we did!

What are prayer envelopes?

Very simply, prayer envelopes hold slips of prayer requests the kids come up with. Each night, they draw out a new slip of paper of someone or something to pray for. While they can and do pray for other people and things as well, this gives them something specific to make sure to pray for.

I love that this reminds the kids of people they want to pray for that maybe they had forgotten. When we sat and made their lists a few months ago, I was flabbergasted by the topics and people they came up with. Of course there are expected names like grandparents, their dad and me, each other and the puppy.

We have encouraged them to pray for their teachers and friends, so those made the list. And we have talked about praying for our church and specific leaders at our church. Those made the list.

They both also decided they want to pray for the food pantry ministry that we work with, which blessed my heart. My kids are praying for the right president to be elected for our country this year. My daughter is praying about global warming. Their prayer requests are sincere, sweet and surprisingly insightful.

How to make and use prayer envelopes

You can certainly make the prayer envelopes look cool or fancy, and you might totally have a better idea for how to do them, which is great! I am not crafty and tend to be pretty darn simple. Here’s how we did ours.

First the kids made a list of their prayer requests. My daughter wrote hers out and then I typed them up. My son, who is newer at reading and spelling, just told me what he wanted to pray for and I typed it.

We printed out the lists and cut each request into a strip.

The strips went into a small envelope marked “To pray for.” We then put that envelope into a 5×7 size envelope with their name written on the outside.

Each evening, they draw a slip of paper out of their small envelope. That request then goes down into the larger envelope and the small envelope goes back into the larger envelope one as well. Basically, we keep the “prayed for” requests, so that when the small envelope is empty, we can refill it and rotate through the requests again.

And that’s really it. Prayer envelopes are a simple concept, but can have a big impact on our kids in teaching them how to pray!

More prayer resources from Families with Grace:

How to make packing lunches easier

8 tips to reduce the stress of packing lunches

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. I only recommend products and services I use and love. It helps support my blog, so thank you for your support! Read my full disclosure here

For the last 4-1/2 school years, I’ve been packing at least one school lunch a day. Since last school year when my son started kindergarten, I’ve been packing two.

Along the way, I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t. I’ve come up with ideas to keep things interesting and healthy. While both my kiddos have regular go-to favorites, they also don’t want the exact same lunch every day, and I don’t blame them!

I don’t mind packing their lunches. It makes me feel connected to them and part of their day. And, well, taking care of them is part of my job! My husband and kiddos have both participated in lunch packing as well, so it isn’t always just me making lunches happen. But no matter who is packing them, we’ve got a system down that works for us.

Pack the night before when possible

My absolute best tip for packing lunches is to do whatever you can the night before. I am a morning person, and I usually don’t have to get myself ready until after my husband and kids leave for school drop-off, yet I still find it easier to do everything I can the night before.

The majority of the time I can pack everything except drinks the night before. Lunches are stored in the fridge and Thermoses are ready to be filled, so that in the morning, I only have to add the cold pack, fill the Thermos and put it all in their lunchboxes.

Napkins, notes and non-refrigerated items go into their lunchboxes the night before as well.

Buy good food containers for cold lunches

Finding the right lunch containers for cold lunches was a game changer for me. I’ve tried a few different options through the years, but by the second year in, I’d come across Rubbermaid Lunch Blox and haven’t looked back.

They are seriously awesome because they stack together with the ice pack, come in a variety of shapes and sizes and are incredibly durable. They wash well in the dishwasher, which is important to me!

The only time I’ve had to throw out these containers was when the lid fell down onto the heating element of the dishwasher (totally my fault on that one) and once my daughter threw away the lid to her lunch container.

Otherwise, we are still using the original containers along with the additional ones I’ve bought. I have enough cold lunch containers to get us through two school days without doing dishes.

Finding good reusable containers is not only cheaper in the long run but also better for the environment.

Along with the Rubbermaid LunchBlox containers, I also love silicone baking cups. I use them a few times a week to divide up food in the large container. I use them for boiled eggs, crackers, croutons and pretty much anything I need to keep separated in the same container.

Purchase good drink containers

My daughter was going into kindergarten before I thought to look for something that would keep her drinks cold. And, hands down, the best options we’ve found are Thermos brand.

My kids love the Thermos Funtainers. They start with the 12-ounce Thermos Funtainers with a straw. In third grade, I switched my daughter to the 16-ounce Thermoses and anticipate doing the same for my son.

My kids have only needed new Thermoses when they outgrew the characters on them. (But I still have Blaze and Paw Patrol Thermoses in my cabinet, because they come in handy around the house when the kids are sick and need cold water!) And with knowing that, I went with plain or long-lasting patterns for them when I bought new ones.

Outside of lunchtime, we use them in the car, for their weekly sports practices and more. They last so well and you can even replace the rubber parts if needed to make them last even longer, but I’ve not had an issue with them.

For cleaning, they are a bit trickier in that they aren’t dishwasher safe. The Thermos part (where the drink goes into) is stainless steel and dishwasher safe, but the lid and straw parts are not. They work so well and last so well, though, that I happily hand wash! All the components pull apart to make an easy, thorough cleaning possible.

Make a routine

To make my life easier, I’ve developed a routine for our lunches. My kids don’t like and eat many of the same foods, but I have a same basic plan for their lunches.

  • Mondays: sandwiches
  • Tuesdays: snacky lunch (think peanut butter and crackers or a boiled egg and croutons)
  • Wednesdays: hot lunch
  • Thursdays: sandwiches or snacky lunch
  • Friday: non-perishable lunch in disposable containers

Each week doesn’t always look exactly like this. In fact, this week is all out of sorts. We were out of bread for Monday’s lunch, so Monday was snacky lunch. Then today, I had an early appointment. So hot lunch switched to Tuesday instead.

But, no matter which option I choose, I go with it for both kids. They may not have the exact same items, but they have the same type of lunch. For example, my daughter may have a turkey sandwich while my son has a peanut butter sandwich.

When I’m trying to figure out what to pack, having a category to look for helps me.

The only day that is different for them is Friday, because my son chooses to buy school lunch on that day for pizza. I have opted to send my daughter lunch in all disposable containers most Fridays so I don’t have lunch dishes to deal with going into the weekend.

Figure out hot lunch options

To help give my kiddos more lunch options, I send hot lunch once a week. That works for us. Your schedule may be different, and that’s OK!

Again, Thermos brand food containers make hot lunch days easier. I eased my way into them during my daughter’s kindergarten year with a Disney “Frozen” Thermos Funtainer Food Jar for her.

By the time she was headed into third grade, my son was headed to kindergarten, so I decided to get hot Thermoses for both of them. I picked up some off-brand ones at a discount grocery store. They were awful and nearly impossible to open once they had hot foot inside.

So, I went back to Thermos Funtainer Food Jars and have been using the same ones for nearly two years now. I love that they have folding spoons in the lid so that I don’t have to remember to pack utensils!

Like the drink Thermoses, the Thermos food jars need to be hand washed — at least the lid and its components. But they wash up well and don’t stain.

I do follow the suggestion to fill them with hot water before putting hot food in them. Usually on hot lunch days, I leave the hot Thermoses on the counter and put a big measuring cup of water in the microwave for 3 minutes and 33 seconds (because I only have to hit one number that way!). I pour the hot water into their Thermoses and let them sit for 15 to 20 minutes while I’m doing other things.

I usually pack their hot lunches around 7 a.m. and when they eat at 10:30 or 11 (depending on the kiddo), they both report their food is still nice and warm.

Involve the kids

I don’t make my kids pack their own lunches every night, but I do like to involve them as much as possible. I will often talk with them about what I’ve been sending and ask for suggestions on what sounds good as I’m making my grocery list.

They have each come up with different ideas that have surprised me and weren’t what I would have thought of. My daughter has requested salads and wraps. My son has even asked for a slice of bread plain with the peanut butter in a dip cup on the side. He’s my particular eater, so I am always looking for ways to get him to eat. If a deconstructed peanut butter sandwich works for him, then I’m fine with it!

Keep easy food on hand

Figure out what lunch plan for the week as you go grocery shopping. Then also make sure to stock favorite items that can always fill in lunches like raisins, canned fruit, crackers, granola bars, gummies, gogurt, graham crackers, peanut butter crackers, yogurt covered raisins, string cheese, etc.

I’ve found that having a few staples for lunches always in my pantry keeps me from freaking out that I have nothing to pack the kids and getting stressed out about it.

Purchase the right disposable products

While I love reusable containers for the vast majority of what I pack, the other thing I use a couple of times a week is 2-ounce disposable dip cups with lids.

These are great for packing dips, dressings and even peanut butter. I’ve utilized them to make sure that carrots get eaten. (I am a big fan of Ranch chip dip versus salad dressing because it is healthier and less messy.)

For sending in a disposable lunch on most Fridays, I also love Glad Press’n Seal. It actually stays on the sandwich and keeps it well wrapped. Then it works as a handy placemat as well! (I use Press’n Seal for many things!)

“Breakfast with Jesus” book review and giveaway!

“Breakfast with Jesus: 100 Devotions for Kids About the Life of Jesus” by Vanessa Myers

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. I only recommend products and services I use and love. It helps support my blog, so thank you for your support! Read my full disclosure here. I was given a free copy of the book “Breakfast with Jesus” to review; all opinions are my own.

For years I’ve enjoyed having a daily devotion book to go through on my own. In fact, these days I use two. I pick one out for myself for the year and then also use the devotion book that is put out by my denomination and given out at my church.

But something newer to me is devotion books with my kids. We have read through the Bible and Bible stories many, many times. We have done short devotion series for toddlers and read through one or two verses a day during Advent. Going through an actual daily devotion book together wasn’t on our radar until last year.

How my family uses a devotion book together

We started the year with my daughter and I each using the same devotion book, “Grace for the Moment” by Max Lucado. I had the adult version; she had the children’s version. We found that just before bed was her best time to read it, but it was also a difficult time for her because it got her thinking about serious stuff that caused her to have trouble relaxing.

So we decided about a third of the way through the year to change it up and read the devotion book together each evening before we did our bedtime book. That format has worked so well for us.

While our kids have always prayed at bedtime, having the family devotion time each evening has been a blessing. Our kids, who are 6 and 10, have come up with terrific questions and insights that have lead to great family discussions.

All about “Breakfast with Jesus”

Heading into 2020, I have been thinking about what we’ll do during family devotion time. We don’t want to go through the same devotion book again. But it is also tricky to find a good devotion book for kids younger than teenagers. When fellow blogger Vanessa Myers mentioned a blog tour for her new devotion book for kids in a blogging group I’m a part of, I was excited to participate.

As a graduate of divinity school, children’s ministry director and mom of two girls, Myers knows a thing or two about sharing Jesus with children. While she had previously written two devotion books for adults, “Breakfast with Jesus” is her first devotion book for kids and, frankly, she’s done a great job.

I started reading through the devotion book on my own first to see what I thought about it and whether it would be a good fit for my family. I’m not interested in vague stories covering board topics. I shy away from writing that talks down to kids or talks above their understanding. I want something with a life application for them for now.

I was reading with a critical eye. And I ended up reading twice as many devotions as I planned to. They drew me in. The devotions go through the four Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and focus on the life of Jesus from his birth to his death to his ascension into heaven.

Each day has a short Bible reading, a focus verse, a devotion and a suggested activity that can be personal (starting a prayer journal) or community-oriented (donating to a food pantry). They were all practical ideas that worked or could be easily tweaked to work for most families.

(For example, one of the first suggestions is to go on a hike with your family and thanking God for the beauty of nature. If the weather isn’t agreeable for a hike, the car ride to school or even looking at photos of nature online could work the same way.)

While this is a book that my 10-year-old could read through on her own, it’s more than my 6- year-old could handle just yet. However, the book lends itself well to reading as a family.

My 10-year-old daughter read through a few on her own to give me feedback and really liked it. Her input was that she felt like Myers knew what she was talking about and made it relevant to her daily life. She liked that each devotion had a related prayer as well as feasible activities to live it out.

Myers suggests starting the day with the book, hence its title “Breakfast with Jesus.” The book even includes some breakfast recipes. It could be read at the family breakfast table. One Amazon reviewer said her kids read it out loud on the way to school. I think those options would work, but reading it in the evening would also be OK if that works better for your family. (It does for mine!)

The point is to help our kiddos develop a habit of getting into God’s Word and applying it to their lives in relevant ways that are based on sound doctrine. “Breakfast with Jesus” accomplishes that.

Giveaway details

You can buy “Breakfast with Jesus” on Amazon as a paperback for $13.99 or for Kindle for $8.99. But, you can also enter for a chance to win a complimentary copy from Vanessa Myers just for Families with Grace readers! You have a week to enter through the link below. Paper copies can be mailed within the United States while international copies can be sent digitally.

In order to enter the giveaway, you MUST “like” Families with Grace on Facebook and complete the giveaway form (below). You can earn extra entries by signing up for the Families with Grace email list (which will also give you a free copy of the 7-Day Acts of Grace Challenge Devotion AND 10 Ways to Start Living as a Family with Grace Now!), follow Families with Grace on Instagram, follow Families with Grace on Twitter and follow Families with Grace on Pinterest. Just indicate those options on the giveaway form. (You do not have to be new to Families with Grace to participate!)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The giveaway starts at 12 a.m. EST on Dec. 30, 2019 and ends at 12 a.m. EST on Jan. 6, 2020. A winner will be randomly selected and, once confirmed that they fulfilled the mandatory guideline of “liking” Families with Grace on Facebook, will be announced on the Families with Grace Facebook page by 2 p.m. EST on Jan. 7, 2020.

Find the next stops on the “Breakfast with Jesus” blog tour on Jan. 6 at Fruitful Vine Woman and Homeschooling One Child.