The Gifts of Observation and Thankfulness
While families may be encountering difficult economical times, there are still many things for which to be thankful. Give your little students the gifts of observation and thankfulness with these simple experiences.

As Thanksgiving approaches, take just a little time each day to help children become aware of the abundance of the little miracles we receive each day.  For example, when the children are outside, have them hop, jump, run, climb, etc. Then, as soon as they have settled down, help them reflect on the many subtle aspects of this experience. Lead a discussion with these questions:
  • What did you just do? (climb, run, etc.)
  • What did you use to do these things (legs, muscles, lungs, bones, arms, fingers, knees, elbows, heart)
Then lead the children in a short but joyful prayer:
Blessed are you, oh God, for giving us lungs,
muscles, bones, fingers and elbows! Amen.

If you do this regularly, children may want to add to the prayer. Welcome this and say your own prayer of thanksgiving for the grateful children!

Always keep in mind, of course, any limitations a child in your class may have before choosing your topics.

Here are further suggestions for experiences of observing and thanksgiving:
  • Think as you breathe in and out a few times. What are we breathing in? What is air? Can you see it? Can you touch it? What are our lungs doing? What are our noses doing? Did you ever think about God making your nose?
  • Listen to recorded music. God gave these musicians gifts so they can play, sing, write music. What about the instruments they are playing? What are these made of and how to they work? Who made the CD player? What are the parts made of and where did they come from? Who first figured out how to make a CD? What are we using to listen to it? What amazing things our ears are!
  • Point out beauty (a houseplant, a bird on the wing, a piece of art, a smile). As this is an opportunity that presents itself frequently, begin by appreciating that you have eyes to see it, that colors are amazing, that shapes are pleasing, etc.
  • Discover textures. Touch bark on different kinds of trees. Check out houseplants for smooth and fuzzy leaves, etc. How does the outside of an orange feel differently from an apple? How do the textures of sidewalks and carpeting compare? Touch satin, leather, burlap, wool. In addition to all these wonders, our fingertips are amazing as they tell us about these textures. And what about the sensitivity in cheeks and noses? Do you ever rub a favorite blanket against your cheek?
  • Go outside on a windy day and watch how trees, bushes, fallen leaves, etc. react. Hold up a handkerchief and watch it fluttering, point out any flags or even laundry on a line, or other light fabrics in the wind. Why do we need wind? What does it do for the growth of plants, etc.?
  • Become cloud watchers. Why do we need clouds?
  • Explore picture books. Enjoy the stories, the different kinds of illustrations, and the colors. Recognize the talents of writers and illustrators, photographers, and librarians. Realize all the “ingredients” of a book and where they come from: paints, paper, inks, glue, printing equipment, etc.

Introducing Young Children to the Liturgical Year
While young children do not have a clear sense of time and sequence, teaching them about the Church’s liturgical year need not be difficult. Unlike the secular calendar, with its numbers and month names, the liturgical calendar is read by color. Add symbols children recognize, and their natural sense for seasons and celebrations will do the rest!  This will help children link their every day lives with that of the Church year, an essential for a Catholic life!

Create a felt board liturgical calendar. Just as the new year is about to begin (the first Sunday of Advent), show children the calendar. To help them understand why it is circular, speak briefly of the natural seasons, making a circle with your hand as you explain: summer comes, followed by autumn, winter, spring, and then summer comes again. Then point to the Advent section of the calendar, saying that Advent is the time you are now entering. Explain the other sections, coming around to Advent once again. Then discuss the symbols and have children put the symbols into the correct sections.

Display the calendar all year, with the symbols placed only on the section of the current season. This helps children remember what liturgical season they are experiencing. Refer to it, and change the symbols, whenever a season changes.

You can enhance this awareness by covering a prayer table, a bulletin board, etc. in the colors of the appropriate seasons. If you have a snack, use napkins or paper plates in liturgical colors. Drawing paper or paint at the easel could also be in the colors.
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To create a large calendar that can be used from year to year:
Materials:
Large foam board (approximately 3 by 4 feet), available in office supplies stores, in a neutral color other than white
Pencil or marker
Pattern
Felt: green, white, red, and purple. If possible, have two shades of purple: a blue-purple and red-purple.
Smaller felt pieces of various colors
Glue
Fabric scissor

Directions:
  1. Draw a large circle in the center of the foam board, covering most of the board.
  2. Using the pattern, draw the divisions in the circle to correspond with the seasons of the church year. Put Advent at the top of the circle.
  3. Cut the appropriate colors of felt to the size of the sections on the calendar: blue-purple for Advent, green for both sections of Ordinary Time, red-purple for Lent, white for both Christmas and Easter, and red for Pentecost.
  4. Glue them onto the circle.
  5. With smaller felt pieces, create symbols for each season that children may recognize. These can be simple outlines, or elaborate with details. Include some symbols that are not directly liturgical but will help children identify seasons, such as a pumpkin. Some suggestions:
  • Advent: stars, four candles
  • Christmas: a baby, angels, sheep, Christmas tree
  • Ordinary Time between Christmas and Lent: heart for Valentines Day, mask for Mardi Gras, snowflakes if appropriate for your region
  • Lent: a cross, hands in prayer
  • Easter: lily, Risen Christ (a smiling figure dressed in white), an empty tomb
  • Pentecost: dove, flame
  • Ordinary Time between Pentecost and Advent: sun (for summer) or flowers, Mary (feast of the Assumption), pumpkin, turkey, a crown for Christ the King

Preparing to Prepare: Just Before Advent Begins
Advent is a time to prepare. However, when you teach excited preschoolers, it is helpful to prepare for the preparation time!

The story of the Nativity is probably the favorite of all scripture stories that young children are told. From a child’s perspective, it is intriguing and filled with possibilities for imaginative play. It is also a story that helps children begin to have a sense of Jesus being close to them which can stay with them all their lives.

As you share this story with your tiny students, you may likely be faced with numerous questions. So be prepared! Below is a list of questions to ask yourself or may be asked. Take time to reflect on them, and look forward to the time when you can bring the children to the stable through this glorious story.

Do the children understand:
  • why Mary and Joseph had to travel?
  • travel was not by car or plane?
  • what is a shepherd? Why were they outside at night?
  • That the magi were wealthy, well-educated people that lived far from Bethlehem?
  • That some people could use the stars to navigate? That there not maps as we know them, nor was there directions from the Internet?
  • That a manger is a container to put hay for animals to eat

Help them understand:
  • Why Jesus is so special
  • that Jesus is so special, God sent angels to announce his birth
  • that both the very poor and very poor came to see Jesus—Jesus came for all of us

Consider how you will deal with the issue of King Herod. Preschoolers are not ready to hear about his violence towards babies.  You may be asked:
  • Was the stable dirty because of the animals?
  • Would Joseph have taken the animals out of the stable? Did the animals try to eat the food Jesus was laying on?
  • Was there snow, was it cold?
  • Were there Christmas trees?
  • Why didn’t Mary and Joseph go to a hospital to have Jesus?
  • Who delivered Jesus?