50 experience-based Christmas gifts (for millennials who don’t want anything)

It was our first moms’ group after Christmas, and believe me, we were hurting. We staggered into the classroom like zombies with a death grip on our coffee mugs and a vacant glaze to our eyes.

“I was up until midnight unpacking,” said Sara.

Becky nodded numbly. A flash of silver snapped my eyes into focus, and I noticed, blankly, the stray piece of tinsel stuck in her hair.

“I don’t know what to do,” Gina said in monotone, “with all of the toys.”

Have you been here? Even just a little bit?

If you’re a parent with young kids, I’ll hazard to say you have. Especially, I think, if you’re also a millennial.

Let me lay it out like I see it. We’re in the middle of a cultural shift when it comes to gift-giving. And millennial parents are leading the way.

Millennials (those of us born between 1980 and 1995, or 2004, depending on whose definition you’re following) are having babies – and we’re raising our kids under much different circumstances than the generation before us. Millennials have been described as a generation of lost innocence. We grew up in a period of economic prosperity and peace, but the Sept. 11 attacks and two successive recessions dashed the follow-your-dreams, you-can-do-whatever-you-put-your-heart-into mantra we believed as kids.

Our kids are growing up with more realistic view of the world. And as a millennial parent, I’m glad for it.

Still, many of us are caught in a gift-giving tradition that developed during a different time. Our cultural traditions emphasize making sure everyone has “enough to open,” regardless of if the gift recipients need anything new or not. We exchange “just something small” without acknowledging that that plastic toy we’re giving will still be lingering in a landfill 450 years from now.

Gift-giving, as our country currently practices it, is irresponsible and unsustainable. When Gus and Henry are adults, it is sure to be even more so. But as young parents starting our own holiday traditions, we can redefine gift-giving for our kids.

We can give experiences instead of gifts. We can give them to our kids, to our friends, to our families, to our neighbors. Anyone who has a stocked storage room and a garage bursting at the seams is scientifically-proven to be happier receiving an experience (and a donation made to a charity in their name). It’s true. Google it.

50 experiences to give at Christmas instead of more stuff.

Here is a list of 50 experience-based gifts you can give (or ask for!) this holiday season:

  • Passes to the art museum, children’s museum, history museum, science museum, or zoo.
  • Lessons. Swimming lessons are important for kids of all ages. Piano, violin, or ukulele lessons are great for music lovers. Horseback riding, martial arts, and rock climbing lessons make for memorable experiences – and they are activities most kids aren’t exposed to in the normal course of life and school.
  • Classes. In our city, there are several art studios and craft stores that offer weekly or individual classes on topics from pottery to pointillism. Music classes are also fun, and parent-child music classes make a great gift for a baby’s first Christmas. Community education classes usually have offerings for kids, with classes ranging from cooking to woodworking.
  • Sports leagues. Participating in athletics can be expensive, and gymnastic classes, enrollment in soccer leagues, or sign-up fees for the basketball team make great holiday gifts.
  • The great outdoors. The nature center near our house has dozens of classes for kids – animal tracking, campfire building, and bird watching, to name a few. What about renting outdoor gear for a holiday gift? Renting snowshoes, cross-country skis, paddle boards, or canoes are all great ways to get kids having fun outside. You could go further and give an outdoor experience – what about a dogsled excursion? A camping trip? Renting a yurt for a weekend at a state park?
  • Festival admissions or expenses. There are dozens of festivals and cultural events in Minneapolis year-round. The kite festival and Renaissance Festival are two of our favorites. Any local events calendar is sure to have listings for events in your area.
  • Excursions. What about a short road trip? An hour or two drive from our house takes us to several state parks, a giant water park, a ropes course, one of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s childhood homes, and a series of underground caves, to name just a few.
  • Everyday gifts. Many parents would be grateful to receive financial gifts to put towards their children’s college education – or daycare, preschool, or homeschooling expenses. Free babysitting is a welcome gift – and if the gift-givers live too far away to babysit regularly, Gus and Henry’s grandparents often read storybooks to the kids over Skype while Matt and I have a chance to talk or catch up on dishes in the next room. I love this one.
  • Give work. Most people have a few projects to do around the house, but need some extra help to get them done. We’ve received gifts of good work in the past, and working alongside the gift-givers have knocked a few of our projects off our list. Yard work, landscaping, and small household repair projects all could use an extra set or two of hands.
  • Give a meal. Choose the recipe, pick up part of the groceries, and help the gift-recipients cook a meal for a fun holiday experience to share together.
  • Charitable gifts. For the person who has everything and wants nothing more, consider giving charitable gifts at Christmas. Last year, I donated to Engineers Without Borders as part of Matt’s Christmas gift – a thoughtful choice, I hoped, as he’s an engineer who has considered volunteering with this organization in the future. You can donate to a non-profit that aligns with the gift recipient’s interests, or choose a small, local non-profit doing good in your own community.

What experiences have you given or received?


Slow down and say yes this Christmas

The holidays are about slowing down, coming together, and remembering what’s important.

But wait – there’s a handmade gift market on Saturday. And a Christmas concert on Sunday. The kids can pet live reindeer, and ride on a Christmas train, and eat a pancake breakfast with elves. Matt’s coworkers are throwing a holiday party, and so is our homeschool group, and the neighbors, and our high school friends, and our college friends, and the moms from that parenting class I took when Henry was first born, and no one wants to make a big thing about presents, but all of those $10-20 gifts sure add up fast.

(Deep breath.)

This Christmas, I’m trying to remember to slow down when it’s not important and say yes when it is.

Yes to skipping nature school when Gus would rather cuddle up on the couch and watch the snow fall.

Yes to staying up late to decorate the tree.

Yes to an extra cookie.

Yes to a simple Christmas.

To make room for the extra activities that happen around the holidays, other things have to go.

Bedtime, first of all. We’re staying up late, playing outside with Matt when he comes home from work, decorating the Christmas tree before bed, lingering at dinner parties with family and friends. And so the boys are sleeping in late in the morning. We’re staying in our pajamas longer. We haven’t made it to every one of Gus’s swim lessons this session, and he skipped a few days of nature class. I’m way behind on the laundry.

I’m finding a place for slow in the midst of all the fast.

I’m looking for yes, too. Not necessarily yes to another so-called Christmas activity, but yes to an activity that the kids choose themselves. As fun as the holidays are for kids, all the schlepping around from place to place, the itineraries, the timelines, the posed pictures in front of the tree – that’s all adult-led. It can be refreshing to let the kids set the pace.

This weekend, I’m going out of town to visit my new niece, and the boys are having a daddycation. Gus and Matt have big plans, as you can see.

I'm going out of town this weekend. Looks like the boys are making big plans for their daddycation. #dadlife #dad #sahmlife

A post shared by Alice Christopherson (@aliceinwondermentblog) on

How are you finding calm this holiday season? 

Teach your kids the people’s history of the United States

Embarrassing confession: Someday I’d like to be a historical interpreter.

You know what I mean. Those people who dress in pioneer costumes and shuck corn at historical villages. I think I’d be pretty good at it. No matter how hard you tried to trip me up, I’d never reveal that the president was anyone but Ulysses S. Grant or that I got to the village any way other than horse and wagon.

I don’t know why, but the Little House on the Prairie series is wintertime to me. Maybe because weather was everything to them, they lived and died by it, and much of Wilder’s writing focused on the seasons. For whatever reason, I crave those books in December, but I can’t read them past March.

Last winter, when Gus was three, we started reading Little House in the Big Woods. We had tried chapter books before, with more or less luck. But when we started reading about homesteading, he was hooked.

A five-page description of how Pa dug a well? Detailed instructions of how Laura and Mary hung onions in the attic? Keep reading, Mom! He could not get enough of it. (Of course, neither could I.)

One of our favorite winter activities is learning about how people long ago survived (and celebrated in) the cold.

The Minnesota History Center has dozens of historical farms, historical mansions, and living history villages – and we’re slowly crossing each one off our list. Last year, we learned about Victorian-era Christmas traditions at a mansion in downtown St. Paul. We rode on a one-horse open sleigh at a pioneer village, and we learned how ice from Minnesota’s frozen lakes was harvested and shipped as far away as India at an ice harvesting festival. Today, we went to the History Center itself, and I was impressed to see how much of the exhibit was dedicated to Native American cultures and history.

I find it important to remember that the Wilder family’s story of “settling” the prairie was not one of claiming empty land. The places they built their homes were on land already occupied by the indigenous people who had lived there for generations.

If I’m going to enjoy the Little House series for it’s good parts, I feel a moral obligation not to gloss over it’s bad parts.

And so I point out these issues to Gus when we’re reading. At four, he’s had conversations about indigenous people’s land rights. We talked about the many times Native Americans were made to move, and move, and move again. We discussed how the European settlers hunted all the buffalo intentionally to cut off the indigenous people from their main food source. I credit reading the Little House series as a major reason for why Gus felt as compelled as he did this fall to support the Standing Rock Sioux.

As parents, we want to protect our children from negativity for as long as possible. However, there is a way to present this kind of information to young children without harming them. I preview all content first (watch videos alone first, scan books for photographs I’m not ready for my kids to see). Then, I give one or two basic facts in simplified language. “The colonists made the Native Americans move because they wanted to live on their land.” After that, I wait for the questions to come and answer them as they roll in, continuing to use short, simple answers.

Remember also that it’s okay not to answer right away. If you can’t think of the right response, or if you’re unsure if your child is ready to hear the truth, think about it. Come back to it later. “Hey, I remember you were asking me about the Trail of Tears. Well, I had a chance to read more about it. Are you still interested in talking about it?”

It’s important to me that my kids don’t grow up learning just a rich, white man’s perspective of history.

The historical sites in Minnesota, for the most part, do a good job telling the stories in the indigenous people who lived here first, as well as the stories of the various immigrant groups who settled (are settling) in Minnesota and made (are making) it what it is.

Here are some other resources I plan to use to teach history in our homeschool:

A Young Person’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn

A Different Mirror for Young People: A History of Multicultural America by Rebecca Stefoff

Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years by Bill Bigelow

How are you teaching history to your kids?

10 breathtaking children’s books about winter

For many of us, December is a time of anticipation. For Christmas, for Hanukkah, for a vacation from work or school, for the gradual return of light.

It’s a time of coming together with family and friends. It’s a time of beauty.

It’s also unbearably cold.

All I want to do is curl up under a blanket and read the kids some Christmas books. But as a nonreligious mom in a household that doesn’t do Santa, our pickings are pretty slim.

So I started a search for some new reading material.

Here is my collection of 10 breath-taking children’s books about winter. I’ve chosen books that create a sense of quiet awe. There’s no gimme-gimme, where’s the presents? in these books. Most focus on the wonder of nature and the joy of being with loved ones.

I hope you enjoy them.

10 breathtaking children's books about winter. www.aliceinwonderment.com

Full list (To read book descriptions, see below):
Sky Sisters by Jan Bourdeau Waboose
When It Snows by Richard Collingridge
The Big Snow by Berta and Elmer Hader
Winter is Coming by Tony Johnston
Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner
Once Upon a Northern Night by Jean E. Pendziwol
Snow by Cynthia Rylant
Snow by Uri Schulevitz
White Snow, Bright Snow by Alvin Tresselt
Owl Moon
by Jane Yolen

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen


Late one winter night a little girl and her father go owling. The trees stand still as statues and the world is silent as a dream. Whoo-whoo-whoo, the father calls to the mysterious nighttime bird.

But there is no answer.

Wordlessly the two companions walk along, for when you go owling you don’t need words. You don’t need anything but hope. Sometimes there isn’t an owl, but sometimes there is.

Distinguished author Jane Yolen has created a gentle, poetic story that lovingly depicts the special companionship of a young child and her father as well as humankind’s close relatiohship to the natural world. Wonderfully complemented by John Schoenherr’s soft, exquisite watercolor illustrations, this is a verbal and visual treasure, perfect for reading alound and sharing at bedtime. – Publisher’s review

Once Upon a Northern Night by Jean E. Pendziwol


As a little boy sleeps soundly, wrapped up warm in bed, a winter tableau slowly builds outside, beginning with a single snowflake and culminating in a dazzling white wonderland. Pendziwol (Marja’s Skis, 2007) offers a quiet poem that beautifully and lovingly tells the story of how the scene appears. –review by Sarah Hunter, from Booklist.

Sky Sisters by Jan Bourdeau Waboose


Two Ojibway sisters set off across the frozen north country to see the SkySpirits’ midnight dance. It isn’t easy for the younger sister to be silent, but gradually she begins to treasure the stillness and the wonderful experiences it brings. After an exhilarating walk and patient waiting, the girls are rewarded by the arrival of the SkySpirits – the northern lights – dancing and shimmering in the night sky.

This powerful story, with its stunning illustrations, captures the chill of a northern night, the warmth of the family circle and the radiance of a child’s wonder. – Publisher’s review

When It Snows by Richard Collingridge


The magic of reading is the inspiration for this stunningly illustrated debut in which a little boy takes a long and eventful journey across a snow-bound imaginative landscape. The dream-like style of illustration makes this the perfect book for snuggling up with on dark wintry nights. – review from The Daily Mail.

White Snow, Bright Snow by Alvin Tresselt


When the first flakes fell from the grey sky, the postman and the farmer and the policeman and his wife scurried about doing all the practical things grownups do when a snowstorm comes. But the children laughed and danced, and caught the lacy snowflakes on thier tongues.

All the wonder and delight a child feels in a snowfall is caught in the pages of this book — the frost ferns on the window sill, the snow man in the yard and the mystery and magic of a new white world. Roger Duvoisin’s pictures in soft blue half-tones with briliant splashes of yellow and red emphasize the gaiety and humor as well as the poetic quality of the text. – Publisher’s review

Winter is Coming by Tony Johnston


Day after day, a girl goes to her favorite place in the woods and quietly watches from her tree house as the chipmunks, the doe, the rabbits prepare for the winter. As the temperature drops, sunset comes earlier and a new season begins. Silently she observes the world around her as it reveals its secrets. It takes time and patience to see the changes as, slowly but surely, winter comes. – Publisher’s review

Snow by Cynthia Rylant


A single snowflake on a midnight-blue marbled background ushers readers into this quiet celebration of snow that “comes softly in the night like a quiet friend” or falls so “heavy [it buries] cars up to their noses.” In brief, lyrical text, Rylant states that snow helps us notice “the delicate limbs of trees” and “the light falling from a lamppost.” It brings the delight of making snow angels and sledding and returning home to enjoy a warm drink. She urges readers to savor the phenomenon, for it remains only briefly. Stringer’s acrylic paintings make use of small boxed scenes, full and three-quarter spreads, or full-page pictures framed in white, to display a world of snow-filled wonders. Varying perspectives help readers come up close to a group of multiethnic children gazing longingly at the flakes falling outside their classroom window and then view them from above as, clad in their puffy winter gear, they are finally released to cavort in its depths. There are interior views of a grandparent and child enjoying cozy activities at home and exterior scenes of the two enjoying a walk as twilight bathes the snow in pink hues. This is a gentle gem while Uri Shulevitz’s Snow (Farrar, 2004) is a livelier treatment of the topic.—Marianne Saccardi, formerly at Norwalk Community College, CT

Snow by Uri Schulevitz


“It’s snowing, said boy with dog.
“It’s only a snowflake,” said grandfather with beard.

No one thinks one or two snowflakes will amount to anything. Not the man with the hat or the lady with the umbrella. Not even the television or the radio forecasters. But one boy and his dog have faith that the snow will amount to something spectacular, and when flakes start to swirl down on the city, they are also the only ones who know how to truly enjoy it.

Uri Shulevitz’ playful depiction of a snowy day and the transformation of a city is perfectly captured in simple, poetic text and lively watercolor and pen-and-ink illustrations. – Publisher’s review

The Big Snow by Berta and Elmer Hader


The woodland animals were all getting ready for the winter. Geese flew south, rabbits and deer grew thick warm coats, and the raccoons and chipmunks lay down for a long winter nap. Come Christmastime, the wise owls were the first to see the rainbow around the moon. It was a sure sign that the big snow was on its way. – Publisher’s review

Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner


Over the snow, the world is hushed and white. But under the snow lies a secret world of squirrels and snow hares, bears and bullfrogs, and many other animals making their winter home under the snow. This beloved nonfiction picture book exploring the subnivean zone reveals the tunnels and caves formed beneath the snow but over the ground, where many kinds of animals live through the winter, safe and warm, awake and busy, but hidden beneath the snow. – Publisher’s Review

What’s your favorite winter storybook?

This post was part of my collection of 25 secular Christmas activities. Want to see the entire list of all 25 nonreligious holiday activities? Click here.

We need more than random acts of kindness. How about some real service work?

When I was eight, I asked for an Easy Bake Oven for Christmas. Personal pan pizzas were all the rage, and nothing went better with a Book-It dinner than a single-serving slab of funfetti cake cooked underneath a blinking light bulb. This was the 90’s, after all.

It wasn’t long, however, before I realized that my Easy Bake Oven was not the real deal. The center of my desserts were always mushy, and no matter how long I stirred the powdery mix with my miniature plastic whisk, part of my cake always tasted like chalk.

Kids like to do real work. Montessori education is based on the idea that kids can contribute, and if you involve them in real work from the beginning, they grow not only to do it well but also to enjoy it. In a Montessori classroom or home, a child would learn to cook using real, child-sized kitchen utensils and would use a real oven with adult supervision. 

With the exception of the child-sized utensils, which I doubt existed in rural Minnesota in 1993, this is how I eventually learned to bake the best funfetti cake my Girl Scout troop ever tasted.

There’s a type of community service that reminds me of that Easy Bake Oven.

You might call it random acts of kindness, paying it forward, or filling someone’s bucket. The idea is that one good deed creates a chain effect. If we make someone’s day, they will in turn do something kind for someone else, who will do something kind for someone else. And so on and so forth.

It sounds nice, doesn’t it? Scientists even say it works

Except I don’t buy it.

A quick Pinterest search for random acts of kindness turned up these ideas:

  • Hold the door open for someone
  • Help someone carrying heavy groceries
  • Tape a bag of microwave popcorn to a Redbox machine
  • Let someone go ahead of you in line
  • Smile at everyone you meet
  • Return someone else’s shopping cart at the grocery store

These ideas sound like common human decency mixed with a little bit of silliness. When we tell ourselves, and when we teach our children, that this is what community work looks like, we’re doing everybody a big disservice.

Random acts of kindness are low-risk. They’re easy. When the random act is meant to be anonymous, you don’t have to interact with someone unfamiliar. You don’t have to go into a strange neighborhood. When you teach your children that helping someone means buying a triple caramel macchiato for the the person behind you in line at Starbucks, who most likely can afford the $6 extravagance (because why else would they be in line?), you don’t have to have real conversations about poverty or racism or war.

Like the Easy Bake Oven, this kind of community service is a cheap version of the real deal. But it sure is fun and cute!

Yes, letting someone go ahead of you in line will probably inspire them to do something kind for someone else, and don’t get me wrong, I’m not against spreading happiness. Completely the opposite. Searching for ways to encourage kindness and compassion in our children is admirable. We all should strive to bring joy to other people’s lives. For most people, random acts of kindness are the beginning of their community work, not the end. This is fantastic!

Random acts of kindness are pointless. Let your kids do real service work. www.aliceinwonderment.com

This Christmas, consider approaching community work from the Montessori perspective. Let’s graduate our kids to the real oven, so to speak, and with an adult by their side, guide them into meaningful community work.

This will look different for every family. Maybe you want to introduce the topic of homelessness to your kids for the first time. You can follow it up by making care kits for people who are homeless. Hand them out to the people holding signs at intersections and on-ramps. Make eye contact. Give a genuine greeting, or better yet, have a conversation. 

Or you could talk to your family about hunger and donate canned goods to a food shelf in your community. Maybe your kids can help you stock shelves. If there are customers using the food shelf, ask if you can bag their groceries. Wish them a nice evening. 

Are your kids ready to have bigger conversations? This summer, I began talking to Gus about racism – a sign of our white privilege, to be sure, as many kids experience the negative impacts of racism long before they’re four years old. We read books about the civil rights movement, talked about the role protesting plays in democracy, and participated in a family protest calling for justice for Philando Castile. The boys and I picked up a Black Lives Matter sign together, and together we placed it in our front yard.

So when the adults around him started talking about the Standing Rock protest this fall, Gus had an idea of what it meant:

“Are they using signs and their voices to tell people not to build that oil pipe? Are they walking back and forth and standing in a line with their arms crossed all day and all night?”

I answered his questions as best as I could, balancing honesty with my assessment of his maturity and readiness to contemplate tough issues. We read books about indigenous history and colonialism. We learned about Native American cultures today, listened to electric pow-wow music from a Tribe Called Red, and talked about what was happening in North Dakota.

When a friend from our homeschool group collected items to take to Standing Rock, Matt and I took the kids to Menards and had them help us pick out warm, waterproof gloves and tarps.


Yesterday, when it became clear that the easement would not be granted, and that the pipeline would be rerouted away from Standing Rock, Matt and I celebrated. I couldn’t wait to tell Gus when he woke up in the morning.

He studied me seriously, and then declared, “Mom, I think the water protectors won the good fight.”

Yes, indeed.

Kids know what’s real and what isn’t.

And like that 8-year-old me, chewing on another cardboard-flavored batch of Easy Bake brownies, they crave the real thing.

How does your family do community work? 

A kid-friendly service project that people really love

The boys and I had dinner at a friend’s house this week. I made a chopped salad at home to share. While I was dicing vegetables, Gus announced he’d be bringing his own fruit salad – and proceeded to gnaw all of the skin off apple before chopping it up with a butter knife. Each chunk had dozens of little bite marks all over it.

When I was in the next room, I heard him say quietly to himself, “I’m proud of my fruit salad.”

You better believe we brought that salad to dinner.

(I gave our hosts a quiet heads-up before we served it.)

Today I’m writing about the best Christmas gift ever: A meal train. I love food. I love it even more when other people cook it for me. As long as we’re not chewing up your food before we cook it, I think we can all agree that me making you a meal train is a great Christmas present.

Other people who probably love meal trains:

  • A person with new allergies or dietary restrictions (be clear on what that means before you cook for them, and give them the ingredient list when you drop off food)
  • A family with a new baby
  • A person who just moved into a new home
  • A person who just lost a job
  • A family with a parent deployed
  • A person experiencing an illness or injury
  • A person who recently lost a loved one
  • An elderly person who could use an extra hand

This year, one of our family members had to switch to a vegan diet after eating like a typical casserole-dish, extra-cheese-please Midwesterner for 50+ years.

So I got the kids in the kitchen, and we spent the morning whipping up a bunch of meatless meatballs, vegan lasagna, and black bean burgers. I froze them in individual servings to be pulled out and reheated one at a time.

Kid friendly ways to volunteer this Christmas. Give a meal train! More ideas at www.aliceinwonderment.comKids love cooking. A toddler can dump ingredients into a bowl and stir with a big spoon. Gus started cutting with a butter knife when he was three, and he’s recently graduated to a steak knife (with supervision) now that he’s 4.5.

The best service projects for kids are the kind they can be involved in every step of the way. With a meal train, they can help plan the meals, shop for the ingredients, cook, package the food, and deliver it.

And clean the dishes. If only I could get my kids to clean the dishes.

Looking for other kid-friendly ways to volunteer with your family? Check out this post.

Do you have a go-to recipe for meal trains? What fabulous recipes have your kids come up with in the kitchen?

Simple handmade gift a preschooler can make

My kid just doesn’t like to craft, I told myself when Gus turned four. It’s okay. Building with LEGO is completely satisfactory to me.

(Lies. Pure lies.)

I had almost given up on my vision of mornings sipping coffee at the kitchen table, while Gus and Henry knitted or modeled with clay…

(Maybe because most of our mornings involve half-naked couch acrobatics and breakfast is more often strewn underneath the kitchen table than consumed on it.)

…but then the boys and I discovered the Heartfelt store.

Imagine: wooden shelves filled with wooden toys. Hundreds of skeins of rainbow-colored yarn. Tiny ceramic mailboxes arranged outside a row of handmade fairy houses. A wall of wooden swords, bows, and shields… and the glittering crowns and capes to go with them.

It was Waldorf heaven.

It was there at the Heartfelt store that Gus first expressed interest in crafting, and my heart leaped for joy.

Last year, I encouraged him to make Christmas presents for the family, but he only wanted to work with “deer fur. Because you have the use the whole animal.” (Thanks, Little House on the Prairie.) Needless to say, I didn’t have deer fur on hand.

This year, though, we got crafty.

Homemade beeswax candles. Easy peasy. Gus could roll them by himself, and Henry helped decorate the finished products by sticking on little pieces of wax with his pudgy fingers.

Grandparent gift, check.


Here’s a link to Jordan from Oh Happy Day’s beeswax candle tutorial.



Teach kindness with the Elf on the Shelf

Winter is cold in Minnesota. Last year, our homeschool group worked together to assemble over a hundred care kits for people who are homeless to help them get through the chilliest months. This year, we’re doing it again.

Christmas service project for toddlers, preschoolers, and up. Teach kindness this Christmas with the Elf on the Shelf. Thanks to a little help from Taco, our house elf.

This year, Taco showed up on the doorstep with his Christmas sack, full of  the typical stuff – holiday-themed books, hot chocolate, sweets… and materials to create another batch of care kits for people who are homeless.

We have shampoo, soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, deodorant, granola bars, fruit strips, instant soup, hats, gloves, and warm socks.

This is a great project to do with a group – a homeschool group, parent/child class, a preschool class, extended family members on Christmas Eve. Whoever. It takes a little bit of organization so you don’t end up with 50 boxes of granola bars and nothing else, but once you gather the items, even the youngest kids can place them into bags. Some of the most dedicated kit assemblers in our group were two-year-olds.

Most of the people we see asking for help are men, but you can make a few women-only kits and include feminine hygiene items, which are always much needed. Summer kits are useful too. I put sunscreen and chapstick in ours.

I drive around with a handful of these kits in the car. You can toss a few in your bag if you get around by bike or public transit.


(Pin away, if you’re so inclined. I’d love to see more positive secular and nonreligious posts show up on Pinterest. The kind of posts that show what religious and nonreligious folks have in common, rather than what sets us apart.)


Countdown to Christmas with audio advent calendars

I’ve chosen the greatest thing to kick off my collection of secular Christmas activities.

Sparkle Stories.

If you’ve heard them, you love them already.

If you haven’t, you’ll thank me once you do.

Sparkle Stories “produces original audio stories for children, enjoyed by families around the world.” With a monthly subscription, you can stream their collection of 900+ stories, and I assure you, it’s well worth the price.

These stories are beautiful and wholesome.

In one story, Martin and Sylvia’s family cook Thanksgiving dinner using only locally-grown foods.

In another, the brother-sister pair welcome the Hadids, a family of Muslim immigrants, to their community.

There is a collection of stories about conserving water.

There are countless stories about creating rather than consuming, honoring nature, and valuing diversity.

I’ve included it in our secular Christmas Countdown because Sparkle Stories are loved by religious and nonreligious families alike. The stories are reverent, but not religious. They’re a perfect example of the common ground found between people of different belief systems.

There are several different collections of stories featuring different characters. Martin and Sylvia, the homeschooling brother-sister pair, are Gus’s favorites, but the animals from Junkyard Tales are a close second.

Both the Martin and Sylvia and Junkyard Tales collections have audio advent calendars, 25 audio stories, one for each day of December leading up to Christmas. You can subscribe the monthly streaming service or buy and download the audio advent calendars on their own.

Happy listening!

25 secular Christmas activities