Advent Activity Calendar :: The Middle School Edition

How it got to be December already is a mystery to me. Also a mystery to me? Why I decided six years ago to set myself up for endless pressured creativity and activity for Advent every year. But when my sons were in kindergarten, that’s exactly what I did, by creating an Advent Activity Calendar for them, with a slip of paper for each day with a family activity on it. I was such a gung-ho Mom back then. Also, my kids were young and seemed to appreciate any idea I came up with.

Advent 2009

But my kids are in their first year of middle school now, and let me assure you that they no longer automatically appreciate any effort or idea. Also, I am tired and not very gung-ho.

And yet, my little men-children still want an Advent calendar. When I raised the possibility that perhaps they were too old for such a thing this year, they were shocked, scandalized, and horrified. What? Not do an Advent calendar? That is unacceptable. (It was basically the exact same response I got when I suggested they were maybe too old to go trick-or-treating.)

And that is how I found myself last night, hanging up the garland.

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Those little mittens bring me so much joy, even though I’m now faced with the daunting task of coming up with 24 family activities that middle schoolers would enjoy. I’ve been working on a list, but if you have suggestions, I’m certainly interested to know what they are. Each year, I do some of the favorites from years past (making homemade marshmallows, for instance, is an absolute tradition at this point), but I also like to introduce some new possibilities, too. My ideal activity is one which engages the kids, is in harmony with the spirit of the season, and doesn’t wear me out. Pretty tall order, eh?

If you are interested in seeing what I’ve done in the past, you can click the Advent Activity Calendar tab above, or choose the Advent Activity Calendar category on the right side of the screen. I used to be way better at documenting our activities than in recent years (like I said, I’ve lost my gung-ho-ness), but those first three years have plenty of ideas you can use or build on.

And whether or not you are making an Advent activity calendar, I can’t recommend the Smitten holiday garland pattern highly enough. I’ve made two sets so far and could see more in my future someday (possibly handspun). These little mittens are so fast and so fun and so absolutely adorable.  If you are looking for some instant gratification or quick gift, you can’t go wrong in casting on for a single wee Smitten (but you probably can’t stop at just one).

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Smitten Advent Garland

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Oh, wait, it’s Advent again?

So Advent has snuck up on me, y’all. Which is kind of hilarious and kind of ridiculous, given my line of work. At work, I’ve been seeing Advent coming for awhile, but at home, I’ve been focused on Thanksgiving preparations (it was such a good holiday this year! I hope yours was, too!) and somehow overlooked the fact that I needed to get our Advent calendar up. Like, tonight.

I started a tradition when my kids were in kindergarten, of an Advent Activity Calendar – each day of the calendar held a slip of paper with a family activity for that day. It was a sweet idea, and the kids loved it. But let me tell you, the expectations have ramped up each year – the boys expect new activities. They like to be surprised. In other words, I can’t keep rehashing the same old ideas. But I am tired, y’all, and I don’t have any new ideas. I barely even have the energy to do the old ideas. Also, older elementary school kids have a lot more going on than kindergarteners do, and it’s a lot harder to fit special family activities in. But Tiny Dancer got out of bed tonight to ask me why the Advent calendar wasn’t up yet, and I realized that yeah, I need to get to work.

All of this reminds me to make sure you know that I have documented (somewhat) my previous attempts at this activity, so if you are tired and out of ideas, you can see what I’ve done in the past. And hey, if you have any great ideas of things I haven’t done, shoot them to me, okay? Because I have to fill 24 little mittens with ideas, and right now I have approximately two.

Smitten Advent Garland

Smitten Advent Garland

Advent Calendar Activity :: Day 13

Get out of school early and go see a movie.

Every now and then it’s fun to pick the boys up about half an hour before school is out on a Friday afternoon and go see a matinee. This time, there was a lot of drama over which movie. Three of us wanted to see The Hobbit (it was opening day), but one child was concerned it would be too intense, and in our house “no” trumps “yes” on things like that. So we went to see Frozen, which was a great choice. It was a fantastic movie and we all four loved it.

I didn’t get a picture at the movie, but here is what “frozen” looks like here lately:

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Advent Calendar Activity :: Day 12

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Bake bread – one loaf to give to the neighbors and one loaf to keep.

A few weeks ago, representatives from King Arthur Flour went to our elementary school and taught the fourth and fifth graders to bake bread as part of their Life Skills Bread Baking Program. They sent the kids home with recipes and ingredients, and gave them an assignment to bake bread to donate to a school bake sale. My kids really enjoyed the assignment, and it was great to work on it with them. I thought it would be fun to do it again, for Advent, to keep their interest up, and also as a fun thing to give to the neighbors. We used the easy Life Skills Bread recipe from the King Arthur website.

I never baked bread until my twenties, and once I learned how, I did it often. But it’s probably been four years since I’ve baked a loaf of bread from scratch. It felt really good to do it again, especially with my kids. I know bread is kind of out-of-fashion these days, but baking it just feels so elemental – I love the physicality and rhythm of it.

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And of course eating a fresh, warm slice with butter and a cup of hot tea is perfection.

Advent Calendar Activity :: Day 11

Make a gingerbread house.

I’m not going to lie to you, I always kind of dread this one. Putting these things together in the past has sometimes been tricky business. But not this year! Trader Joe’s to the rescue! TJ’s kit rocks hard, y’all! First of all, they come with these sweet little figures:

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Little Buddha loves stuff like that.

But the best is that TJ’s makes the kit super-easy to go together. It’s an A-frame style house, and it hangs together so much better than the more elaborate kits we’ve done in the past. We got it put together pretty quickly. After it dried, the babysitter helped the boys decorate it.
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Pretty cute!

Advent Calendar Activity :: Day 10

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Buy food kids like for the church food drive.

The kids got really into this activity this year, and I had to rein them in a bit on buying lots of holiday goodies (as you can see, I did give in to the Chips Ahoy).

This activity is part of this year’s Advent Activity Calendar. You can find more Advent activities by searching the category “Advent Activity Calendar,” or by referring to the page “Advent Activity Calendar,” where I have tried to catalogue all the activities from 2009 until now.

Advent Calendar Activity :: Day 9

We’ve reached the point in the season where I am barely holding all the details of the day together, but I do want to remember these Advent Activities (not to mention keeping my December NaBloPoMo streak going), so here we go. This was Day 9:
Bake cookies for students (keep a few to eat).

My church baked cookies to give to students in our neighborhood, and I thought it would be a great opportunity to try something new(ish). I was so intrigued by this article a friend posted on Facebook recently, and I decided try one of the variations that sounded best to me. So the boys and I got to work, using the 1/2 baking soda, 1/2 baking powder option.

mixer in motion, captured by Little Buddha

mixer in motion, captured by Little Buddha

Monday night was just filled with various frustrations and aggravations, with multiple meltdowns and dramas happening throughout the evening, so that by the time we were ready to bake cookies, I really wasn’t sure we could manage it. But the thing about baking cookies is, eventually, everything gets better.

group selfie by Little Buddha

group selfie by Little Buddha

I mean really, how long can you stay frazzled when you’re dealing with the simple magic of flour, sugar, butter, and eggs? Not long. Because the next thing you know, there is this:

chocolate chip, butterscotch chip cookies

chocolate chip-butterscotch chip cookies

This activity is part of this year’s Advent Activity Calendar. You can find more Advent activities by searching the category “Advent Activity Calendar,” or by referring to the page “Advent Activity Calendar,” where I have tried to catalogue all the activities from 2009 until now.

Advent Activity Calendar :: Day 8

Y’all, this day has been long, and the night went sideways, and our Christmas tree went literally sideways when it almost crashed to the floor while we were decorating it earlier tonight, and I am keeping my December NaBloPoMo streak going by the skin of my teeth! I started a blog post (not this one) at 6:48 this morning and here it is 10:56 at night and I am just getting back here and it will not be to write the post I started earlier today about crafting fails and the art of unknitting, but to document very briefly our Advent activity from Sunday.

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Create a Christmas comic or Scratch program.
(excuse the non-exciting picture)

My boys love creating comics, but lately they love computer programming (Scratch) even more. So I gave them the choice. They both selected making a program, but it takes awhile, and neither of them is done yet, which is why I took a picture of a blank screen. The end.

Advent Calendar Activity :: Day 7

Day 6 :: Advent, originally uploaded by earthchick.

Eat a piece of candy with breakfast.

This is one we do every year; I pull it out on a day I know there won’t be time for much else. It’s not super-exciting, but hey, who’s going to complain about having candy with breakfast?

This activity is part of this year’s Advent Activity Calendar. You can find more Advent activities by searching the category “Advent Activity Calendar,” or by referring to the page “Advent Activity Calendar,” where I have tried to catalogue all the activities from 2009 until now.

Advent Calendar Activity :: Day 6

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Get a Christmas tree.

It was unbelievably cold on Friday and the last thing I wanted to do was stand outside picking a Christmas tree, and we usually actually take a ridiculous amount of time to decide, but this was what we did anyway. We always go to a local shop in downtown Ann Arbor called Downtown Home and Garden. I love this store so much, and they have a sweet selection of trees. In the bitter cold, I was determined that we were going to make a fast selection. Lucky for me, the store made it easy. This year, they had a new (to them – and to us) variety, called a Nordman Fir – a beautiful conical tree with excellent needle retention; that’s what we went with, and I love it!

But the real fun of this activity was what the owner of the shop had brought in as a surprise for customers:

baby farm animals!

baby farm animals!

Look at those adorable animals!! I was dying. Goats, sheep, an alpaca, a baby donkey, and something called a zebu – a little water buffalo. They were so, so sweet.

Tiny Dancer with the animals

Tiny Dancer chatting up the alpaca

I had desperate thoughts of absconding with one of the fiber-bearing animals, but I refrained.

Little Buddha charming the alpaca

Little Buddha charming the alpaca

Little Buddha checking out the alpaca's teeth

Little Buddha checking out the alpaca’s teeth

look at that face!!

look at that face!!

Last year, after we got our tree, we went across the street to Sweetwater’s Cafe for a couple of slices of chocolate cake. For Little Buddha, one good experience is always the making of a new tradition, so of course we followed up our tree-buying, store-browsing, animal-petting experience with our new chocolate cake tradition.

It was a great afternoon!

This activity is part of this year’s Advent Activity Calendar. You can find more Advent activities by searching the category “Advent Activity Calendar,” or by referring to the page “Advent Activity Calendar,” where I have tried to catalogue all the activities from 2009 until now.