Friday, January 29, 2016

Grief and Anxiety Part 2: Regaining Control of Your Feelings

In my previous post, I shared some of the struggles our family has faced over the past six years.  I confessed that my husband and I turned to a child psychologist for help when our daughters' worries and fears began interfering with daily lifeI don't know why our loving and powerful God has allowed this suffering, but I do know that we can use our experiences to help others who are struggling.  Though I am not a psychologist or a counselor, I hope to reach others who are suffering so they might gain the confidence to seek the help they needIn this post I will share some helpful tools we learned during our counseling sessions to help deal with stressful situations.  These tools are not meant to serve as a substitute for professional care but to help you get through the tough days leading up to that first appointment.
Jeremiah 29:11  "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

In our family, anxiety manifested itself by disrupting sleeping and eating patterns.  We learned that falling asleep about 20 minutes after your head hits the pillow is a healthy goal for everyoneIf you are not getting an adequate amount of sleep, you will not be as successful when dealing with stress and anxiety.  Here are some suggestions that may help when anxiety is causing a disruption in sleep patterns:
  • Use a white noise machine.  It helps drown out the sounds that prevent you from falling asleep or those that wake you from your sleep.
  • Avoid caffeine for four to six hours before bedtime.  Caffeine is a stimulant that will keep you awake.  It can be found in coffee, tea, chocolate, soda, and some pain relievers.
  • No screen time two to three hours before bedtime.  Our computers and other personal electronic devices emit blue light which is stimulating and not conducive to a good night's sleep.
  • Sleep in a dark room.  Use a red night light which has been found to have the smallest effect on mood
  • Be active during the day.  Get some exercise, outdoors if able, to increase your exposure to natural light
As is required to change any behavior, we had to make short-term goals with our girls.  At first, they wanted the bedroom AND hall lights on as they were falling asleep.  We started by turning off the bedroom light but leaving on the hall light.  They did also have a night light, and it had a regular bulb, not a red bulb as recommended.  The following week we tried turning off the hall light as well.  A few weeks and a few setbacks later, the girls were able to fall asleep in a dark room with a night light on in the hallway.

As I mentioned in the previous post, dear friends of ours referred us to a child psychologist practicing at a Christian counseling center that focuses on healing the mind, body, and spirit through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy   
"The central premise of CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) is that thought patterns and beliefs, emotional state, and behavior are all interconnected...How individuals perceive a situation and interpret it often determines how they feel and what they do...Research has shown that the perceptions and interpretations of depressed persons are usually not accurate (Beck, Rush, Shaw, & Emery, 1979; Beck, 2005) and can initiate a vicious cycle. Those who are depressed have a greater tendency to engage in “cognitive errors,” such as jumping to conclusions, using a negative mental filter, all-or-nothing thinking, or catastrophizing. CBT teaches individuals to identify, challenge, and replace maladaptive thoughts and distorted thinking styles with healthy thoughts and behaviors... Religiously integrated CBT adheres to the same principles and style of conventional CBT and uses many of the same tools. What is unique to religiously integrated CBT is the explicit use of the client’s own religious tradition as a major foundation to identify and replace unhelpful thoughts and behaviors to reduce depressive symptoms. "
While our family was dealing with anxiety and not depression, the treatment plan followed these same principles.  Since we are followers of Jesus, and we chose to attend a Christian-based counseling center, the Bible served as our source of truth.  I borrowed the following information from handouts we were given by the psychologist during our sessions.  I will cite the sources if provided.

BE CALM:  This is an acronym based on key principles from the Spiritual-Cognitive-Behavioral perspective.  In this post, I will focus on the "B" and "C," leaving the rest to the professionals.  These were the first tools taught to us, and they seem to be the tools we initially try when we become anxious.
B:  Breathing--In the midst of our worries, we feel out of control.  This breathing exercise helps us control our feelings when we begin to feel anxious.
  • Inhale slowly five times through your nose.  
  • Exhale slowly out your mouth.  Pretend to blow out candles.  Children can even hold up five fingers, lowering them as the breaths are completed.  Remember the exhalation is longer than the inhalation.  
NOTE:  Sometimes it's helpful to come up with a word or phrase that you repeat as you do the breaths.  Examples may include:  Be (inhale), Calm (exhale).  Chill (inhale) Out (exhale).  Relax--Re (inhale), lax (exhale).  My personal favorite is "Breathe in everything that is God, breathe out everything that is not God."  Because it is a longer phrase, the breaths are sure to be slower.  But this can be simplified as Light / God (inhale), Darkness (exhale).

C:  Call on God--prayer.
  • Be specific.  How do you want or need God's help in that particular situation?
  • When we believe God is there and that He's all-powerful, and we choose to turn to him with our troubles, we build our relationship with Him.  
Have younger children?  It may be easier for them to remember the acronym NAP.  Different letters and words here, but we're talking about the same principles.
N:  Nose--breathing
A:  ANTS--another acronym I will leave for the professionals.
P:  Pray

Lastly, I will discuss the idea of journalingAccording to one of our handouts, "research has found that people who journal during challenging circumstances have less depression, stress, and anxiety as well as better immune systems." 
  • Others should not read your journal entries unless you decide to share them.  Some people write in a notebook or keep their journals in a special folder or binder.  You may even wish to save your journal in a file on your computer or other personal electronic device.  Consider creating a password to protect this file.  A child may feel more comfortable knowing he or she is the only one who knows the password.  (In Microsoft Word, typically go to Save As, then Tools, then Save Options to find how to password protect your file).  
  • Journal at least three times a week for 15 minutes.  Reflect on the day and write down your thoughts as they come to mind.  
  • Don't worry about punctuation or grammar.  
Instead of recording your free-flowing thoughts, maybe write down three blessings that happened that day:  What went well?  What are you thankful for?  What made you happy?.  (The Three Blessings Exercise, Martin Seligman, Ph.D.).

A friend of ours implemented a journaling technique with her daughter, and they found it worked quite well for them.  The daughter seemed to enjoy having this special secret with her mom.
  • Explain to your child that you'd like to get a special journal to use so the two of you can have private conversations through your journal entries.   
  • If the child agrees, go to the store together and purchase a journal.
  • Agree on a hiding spot for the journal so the conversation remains private.  
  • Write the first entry.  You could share something you are thankful for or something that made you happy during the day.  Keep it fun and light at first.  Be willing to share when something doesn't go quite right during your day, but use caution, being sensitive to your child's fears and worries.
  • Return the journal to its hiding spot and make a mental note to check back the next day for your child's response.  
For our friends, as this "conversation" progressed over time, the daughter began to discuss her worries and fears with her mom in a way that did not create more anxiety for the child.  This technique was still working for them the last time we talked.  I tried this with one of our daughters, and we were successful until I asked a question she wasn't quite ready to answer.  After that, she was resistant to try again even after I tore that page out of the journal and promised not to ask the same question.  We began our counseling sessions shortly thereafter. Through these sessions, my husband and I learned the best way to communicate with our daughters about their fears and worries without increasing their anxiety.

Unfortunately I know what it's like to feel helpless when loved ones are hurting.  There was a point when I was willing to try anything to comfort our daughters.  If struggles are interfering with daily life, I strongly suggest making a sacrifice by reaching out to professionals for help.  In the meantime, I hope those of you in similar situations can implement these tools when faced with stressful situations or teach them to your loved ones when they become anxious.  It truly does help.  Blessings to you, and thank you for reading.       

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Grief and Anxiety Part 1: Struggling Through the Season of Sorrow.

NOTE:  I wrote this blog post in August, and I have been sitting on it for months, unsure if I wanted to be this vulnerable online.  But I know there are  many people who are struggling with grief and anxietyIf you're not personally affected, you most likely know someone who is sufferingI decided to share our story to let readers know there is hope.  
Our girls boarded the bus yesterday and headed off to start a new school year.  While I am sad summer has come to an end, I'm truly looking forward to this new beginning.  For the past several months, I have been feeling prompted to share our family's story here on this blog.  In previous posts, I've given glimpses of it, but I feel it's time to put it all out there--our losses, our struggles, and our hope.  Why?  Everyone experiences loss and grief:  death of a loved one, loss of a treasured family pet, divorce, deployment, abuse, loss of possessions, moving from all that is familiar, and list goes on and on.  Though we all endure loss somewhere along the road, we may cope differently.  There are many families who are struggling to make it through the storm.  While this blog is geared toward Girl Scout troop leaders, I feel it's appropriate to share my family's experiences here since we leaders are connected with people in our troops, schools, and throughout the community.  I am willing to be vulnerable if our story can help one person.

In July of 2009, my mother-in-law was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of brain cancer.  She lost her 21-month battle at the age of 58 in April of 2011.  For years, my father-in-law had been struggling with medical issues of his own.  He passed away at the age of 62 in November of 2014.  During this period, there were many days when my husband needed to split his time between home, his job, and caring for his terminally-ill parents.  I needed to stay strong for him and for our family, keeping everything as normal as possible for our kids.  Fortunately we were blessed to be surrounded by amazing family and friends who were always there to help.  Though my in-laws died when they were relatively young, their deaths were a blessing because they were no longer suffering.  My husband and I eventually came to the realization that they were never going get better.  We knew it.  Our children did not.  It's important to note that in the years between the time they passed away, we lost my uncle and a dear neighbor to cancer.  I've labeled the past six years the "Season of Sorrow," and life has been challenging, overwhelming, and exhausting at times.  While the physical demands on our time have decreased following their deaths, the mental, emotional, and spiritual demands on us have only increased--increased to the point that we had to reach out to professionals for help.  

Though our family has shared a million happy times together, a loved one has been terminally ill for as long as our kids can remember.  Throughout this "Season of Sorrow," we have maintained open communication with our daughters.  We are followers of Jesus, and we believe Biblical scripture to be true.  My husband and I prayed with and for our girls, and we asked family and friends to keep us in their prayers.  We read scripture with them, and we read books about death and God's Plan.  After losing two grandparents, grief manifested itself differently for each of our daughters.  They both began to worry, and these worries developed into unnatural fears and anxieties.  They struggled to adjust to a "new normal"--life without Grandma and Grandpa.  When their anxieties began to interfere with daily life, my husband and I knew they needed to hear these messages from someone other than us.  Dear friends of ours referred us to a child psychologist practicing at a Christian counseling center that focuses on healing the mind, body, and spirit through cognitive behavioral therapy.  We've been attending sessions for several months now.  Sometimes it feels like we take one step forward and two steps back, but overall, our girls are making progress. 

I will admit I have been struggling with feelings of failure through all of this.  I mean, I'm a stay-at-home mom.  It's my job to make everything okay, and my kids aren't okay.  My heart breaks for them, but I can't fix it this time.  I've learned through the counseling sessions that my feelings of failure are a belief--they are not the truth.  Though we are meeting with a child psychologist, I am healing along with our children. 

On page 104 in The Five People You Meet in Heaven, Mitch Albom wrote 
"All parents damage their children.  It cannot be helped.  Youth, like pristine glass, absorbs the prints of its handlers.  Some parents smudge, others crack, a few shatter childhoods completely into jagged little pieces, beyond repair."
Our daughters' hearts have already been broken.  As their parents, we are not going to allow anxiety to shatter their future.  I don't know why our loving and powerful God has allowed this suffering.  I do know that we can use our experiences to help others who are struggling.  I invite you to check back soon.  In my next post I will share some helpful tools we've learned during these sessions to help deal with stressful situations.  I am not a psychologist or a counselor, but I am a mom who loves my family.  By writing this post, I'm reaching out to others who are suffering.  I encourage you to schedule an appointment to talk with someone.  There are trusted medical professionals who can help.  In the meantime, prayer is powerful, and I encourage you to take your concerns to God. There's no reason to live in darkness. 
Matthew 11:29  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 

Update:  We finished our counseling sessions in December 2015.  I am so very pleased to report that both girls are doing wonderfully well.  When they are faced with adverse or unfamiliar situations that in the past would have caused great anxiety, they are using the tools they learned to deal with these stresses in a healthy manner.  Now that we are finally on the other side of this storm, I am giving the glory to God.  I feel like sharing this story is the final chapter in our healing.  I want others to see that there is hope, peace, and joy in suffering. 
Thank you for reading.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Meeting: Brownies Family Story Badge and Cards for Veterans

When my older daughter was a Brownie, she was flipping through The Girl's Guide to Girl Scouting and came across the Family Story badge.  Even though our troop was not going to be working on this badge, she wanted to complete it on her own.  Now that my younger daughter is a Brownie, I thought it would be fun for all of our girls to complete the badge steps.  Even though our Juniors wouldn't officially earn the badge, I thought they would enjoy the activities.

I have only "assigned homework" one other time in the six years I've served as a Girl Scout Troop Leader.  As Daisies, the girls seemed to enjoy completing the Amazing Daisy packet I created.  I made sure the families knew this was not a mandatory project.  Since this "homework" was such a success, I thought we'd try it again.  Over the holidays, I asked our Brownies and Juniors to complete the five badge steps for the Family Story badge.  I assumed most families would be getting together with extended family during the holidays, and I thought it would be rather easy for the girls to ask about a favorite recipe and an heirloom or treasured photograph. 

A few days before the meeting, I learned a couple girls would not be joining us specifically because they didn't want to dive into their family histories.  While being extremely sensitive to family situations that are different from my own, I was unaware of their feelings about this project.  I would never ask the girls to do something that caused them emotional pain or discomfort.  If your troop decides to earn the Family Story badge, just keep this all in mind.

In preparation for the meeting, I planned some additional activities to keep the girls entertained, knowing there would be a good deal of time remaining after the presentations.  Once the girls had finished sharing their projects, we played a Cookie Sale version of the Paper Plate Game. The girls really enjoyed it and asked to play it a second time!  We spent the remainder of the meeting making cards for Veterans and their families at the Fisher House in Cincinnati.  

For the cards, we used 8.5"x11" sheets of white cardstock.  A package of 50 sheets can be purchased on sale or with a coupon for under $3 at Hobby Lobby.  Prior to the meeting, I cut each sheet in half along the 11" side, making two 8.5"x5.5" cards.  The girls each received two folded cards, and they decorated them with markers and crayons.  For the girls who wanted to add inspirational quotes and Bible verses to their cards, I provided the following list (most of them were found online by searching for encouraging words):
  • "Valor is stability, not of legs and arms, but of courage and the soul." --Michel de Montaigne
  • "What defines us is how well we rise after falling."  Stay strong!
  • "God's plans for your life far exceed the circumstances of your day."  --Louie Giglio
  • I hope you wake up feeling exceptional.  You are important, needed, and unique.
  • "When you feel like giving up, remember why you held on for so long in the first place."
  • "Be strong because things will get better. It may be stormy now, but it never rains forever."
  • "Smile and let everyone know that you are stronger today than you were yesterday." 
  • "You are much stronger than you think.  You are in my thoughts."
  •  "Don't lose hope.  You never know what tomorrow will bring.  Stay strong!"
  • Thank you for your service.
  • Get well soon.
  • Romans 15:13  May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • Jeremiah 29:11  "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
  • Joshua 1:9  "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."

We trust that the Fisher House Staff will distribute the cards to patients and their families appropriately.
Before I close, I will outline what my daughter did to earn her Family Story badge.  Compared to other Brownie badges, this badge can be incredibly easy to complete.  
STEP 1:  Explore family stories.  
STEP 2:  Know where your family is from.
STEP 3:  Make a story tree.
STEP 4:  Find an object that means something to your family.
STEP 5:  Share your family story.

My daughter made a family tree to satisfy the requirements for Step 3.  In my online search for a free family tree template to print at home, I discovered there is a website that provides family trees for non-traditional families.  Knowing such a template is available may make this project more appealing to girls whose families are not traditional. 

My daughter chose to learn more about her great-grandmother who I wrote about in a previous post.  She discovered that GG used to always make homemade peanut butter fudge when we arrived for a visit.  By following her recipe, my daughter was able to combine Steps 2 and 5--she made a family recipe, and she shared the fudge with the girls in her troop.

She was also able to combine Steps 1 and 4.  GG's ring is a family heirloom that will eventually be my daughter's.  We told her the story of how her great-grandparents met in rural West Virginia during the Great Depression and how hard her great-grandfather had to work really hard to save money for the ring.  We took a picture of the ring, and she wrote down the story to share with the girls in her troop.

This is my favorite of all the Girl Scout badges our girls have ever earnedThough there will be unique situations and painful times for every family, there's always something to be learned from those who have gone before us.  I was incredibly happy to learn that one of our girls worked on her family tree with her mom, and this project created a spark in them.  They are going to do further genealogical research and contact long-distance relatives.  I hope this post inspires readers to work on this project with their children and relatives regardless of family dynamics.  As always, thank you for reading.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Craft: Stuck in a Snow Globe

For one hour each week, I volunteer in my daughter's fifth grade class.  Sometimes I read with the students, asking comprehension questions from the teacher's book.  Other times I help edit creative writing assignments.  Recently the students have been working on figurative language.  The last time I visited the classroom, I got really excited when I learned the teacher wanted me to help with a craft!  The students were working on a writing assignment, describing how they got stuck in a snow globe.  Another teacher originally saw this idea on Pinterest and shared it with my daughter's teacher.  There are a million different ways to do this project...just ask Google.  This was the first time I'd ever seen this snow globe craft.  I am sharing it here because I thought it could be a fun winter project for Daisies, Brownies, and Juniors.

Supplies needed: 
4x6 photos of the kids
6" clear plastic plates
Mod Podge
paintbrush or sponge brush
white glitter
assorted scrapbook or constructive paper
hot glue gun (not pictured)
scissors (not pictured)
1.  Have the kids bundle up in their winter coats, hats, scarves, and gloves (or not).  Take a picture of each child.  Print 4x6 pictures.  If working with a Girl Scout troop, take a group picture.  It would be fun to read how the troop ended up getting stuck in a snow globe.
2.  Have the kids cut around themselves to eliminate the background.
3.  Spread a thin layer of Mod Podge down the center of the plate.  Assure the kids that it dries clear. 
4.  Place the photo on the Mod Podge face down.  When the craft is finished, the photo can be viewed through the convex side of the plate (like the rounded edge of a snow globe).
4.  Apply an additional thin layer of Mod Podge along the bottom third of the plate and sprinkle glitter over it. (Left photo below).  To achieve a "just shaken" effect, apply a thin layer of Mod Podge all over the plate before adding the glitter.

5.  Have the kids cut a shape for the base out of cardstock, construction paper, or patterned scrapbook paper.  The students in my daughter's class cut squares, rectangles, triangles, and trapezoids.  
6.  An adult can hot glue the base to the bottom of the plate.
7.  Cut about 3-4" pieces of ribbon and have an adult hot glue one to the top edge of the plate.

The teacher instructed her fifth grade students to explain how they got stuck in a snow globe.  She encouraged them to describe what it felt like, what they saw, heard, and smelled.  She wanted them to use figurative language as they were writing.  

If your Scouts haven't already done this activity at school, consider incorporating it during your next winter meeting.  If your Junior Girl Scouts are interested in earning the Scribe badge, this activity could potentially satisfy the requirements for Step 1 (Start With a Poem) or Step 2 (Create a Short Story).  Challenge your girls to get super creative by describing how they got stuck in a snow globe in the form of a haiku, limerick, or sonnet (Step 1).  

When I did a brief search for this craft online, I came across a website that provided a great writing prompt for younger kids.  The teachers used the prompt in their kindergarten and second grade classrooms.  I really like how Tori's students embellished their snow globes, and I love that they used fake snow!  Depending on the materials chosen, the cost of this project could vary.  Remember when using fake snow, a piece of paper needs to be adhered to the back of the plate.  The kids can decorate this paper with crayons and markers as they did in Tori's postWhile these additions will most likely increase the cost and the time required to complete the craft, the effect is quite different and could be well worth the additional expense and time.  And if you're like me, you might already have most of the supplies on hand.  

During our next meeting, the girls will be making cards for Veterans and their families staying at the Fisher House in Cincinnati.  Out of curiosity, I did a Google search for "haiku for veterans."  I was directed toward a website with poetry for and by Veterans, and I was completely surprised to find several haikus.  If your Junior Girl Scouts are working on their Scribe badge, have them write a haiku or poem in a card for a Veteran. Not only are they completing a badge step, they are participating in a service project.  I hope you will check back with us soon.  Thank you for reading.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Cheers to Art

For our birthdays last year, my parents gave Cheers to Art gift certificates to my 9-year-old daughter and me. We finally took the opportunity to paint together over Christmas Break.  Typically, the two Cincinnati studios offer evening and weekend sessions, but I noticed there were Open Studio sessions on their December calendar.  

I made our reservations online, and I learned the seats must be reserved individually when using gift certificates online.  I went ahead and registered for all three seats at once and paid for the three seats with my credit card.  Upon our arrival at the studio, I produced the gift certificates.  The employee kindly asked me to repay for the seats, using the gift certificates and my credit card to cover the small remaining balance.  This was not a big deal to me as I was assured the owner would refund the original amount to my credit card.  With one quick email to Nancy Luensman, the owner of Cheers to Art, the refund posted to my account almost immediately.  This was the only hiccup we encountered throughout the entire experience. 

While I have not yet attended a typical studio session, I was told that generally everyone paints the same painting while instructors guide participants through the processThe painting schedule can be viewed on the studio website.  Since we were not attending a typical session, we were permitted to paint anything during the Open Studio hours.  A few weeks prior to the day we planned to paint, we visited the Cheers to Art website and perused their Gallery (linked to their Facebook page).  With ideas in mind, we arrived just after Open Studio hours began.  We couldn't wait to get started!

After checking in, we were given aprons to wear to protect our clothes.  As we were shown to our seats, the instructor invited us to look at the art hanging on the walls around the studio.  She asked what we wanted to paint and said we could paint something original if we desired.  The canvas, brushes, water, and paper towels were set up at each seat.  There were also stencils available to use.  We retrieved our paint from one of two stations in the large room.  As I mentioned, during a regular session, the instructors walk around the room providing step-by-step instructions.  Since this was Open Studio, the instructors were unable to give detailed instructions, but they visited each table and did their best to help every artist achieve the desired look on his or her canvas. 

  • Paint the background first.
  • Add a little water to the paint on your palette.  The water thins the paint which improves coverage (important when you're painting the entire canvas one color!) 
  • You can not make a mistake when you're painting.  An unintentional stroke or a color that is not quite the shade you imagined only adds to the beauty of your unique piece.
We had a blast at Cheers to Art!  As we were leaving, my girls asked when they could come back again.  I bet I know how they'll be using some of the money they received for Christmas! 

I encourage you to grab someone special or gather a group of friends and schedule a session at Cheers to Art.  This would also be a great way for Girl Scout troops to use some of the money they earn during the Cookie Sale.  You won't be disappointed!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Cookie Sale Paper Plate Game

Our Brownies have been working on their Family Story badges at home over the holidays, and the plan was to have the girls share what they learned during our next meeting.  I recently learned that half of the girls in the troop are not going to be there.  Knowing there would only be a couple of Family Story presentations, I decided to plan some other fun activities to keep the girls entertained for the remainder of the meeting.  In my last post, I provided some alternatives to the popular Pinterest Paper Plate Game.  As I was running errands this morning, I came up with a paper plate game related to the Girl Scout Cookie Sale.  Hope you enjoy! 

Cookie Sale Paper Plate Game
1.  Draw a table.
2.  Draw boxes of Girl Scout cookies on the table.
3.  Draw a Girl Scout next to the table.
4.  The Girl Scout is wearing a vest.  Add badges to the vest.
5.  The Girl Scout is holding a sign with the cost of one box of cookies.

2 points if your cookies are on the table.
1 point for each box of cookies.
1 point if your Girl Scout is next to but not touching the table.  
1 point if the vest is on the Girl Scout.
1 point for each badge that is touching the vest.
1 point if the Girl Scout is touching the sign.
1 point if the cost of a box of cookies is correct.
2 points if the cost of the cookies is on the sign.

Girl Scouts at all levels can enjoy this fun game, and I think it can be played at any time of the year.  Cookie Sales in our area started yesterday.  I invite you to check out the other posts I've published describing how our girls have geared up and prepared for Cookie Sales in the past.  (Look for the Cookies! label in the left margin as you scroll down the page).  During this cookie season, bundle up, stay safe, and have fun!  

Friday, January 8, 2016

Christmas Party Agenda with Modifications for Additional Celebrations

Due to our girls having busier schedules than in past years, we did not have a troop Christmas party this year.  I did, however, plan the Winter Party for my daughter's third grade class.  There are 20 students in the class, and we had one hour for the party.  Instead of having the kids rotate through different stations, I decided to plan games they could play as a group.  By combining activities that have worked well during troop parties in the past, I developed the following agendaThough I originally came across these ideas online, the links below will direct you to my previous blog posts.  There you will find more details about the games and a link to the original source of each activity.

1:30pm  Paper Plate Game

Certainly a Pinterest favorite!  Such an inexpensive activity, too!  Pick up a pack of paper plates from Dollar Tree and have the kids used their own pencils.  I'm sure you'll hear many giggles during this one!

1:45pm  I Spy Tray Game

Since our Girl Scout Troop had so much fun with this activity last year, I decided to try it in the classroom.  I collected items we had around the house, so again, party planners don't have to spend a penny.  As I mentioned, there were 20 students in the class.  Their desks happened to be grouped in three sections in the classroom.  I gave each group one minute to study the tray.  Once everyone had taken a peek, they were given five minutes to write down everything they could remember seeing.  I told them they didn't have to have the correct name for each item.  (For example: one student called the extension cord a plug, and the cinnamon was called spice).  Once they had finished their lists, we ran through each item on the tray.  After the kids tallied up their points, we recognized the winner, but no prizes were awarded.  They didn't seem to mind because they were excited for the next game.

1:55pm  Minute-to-Win-It Cup Stack Game
I've played this game with kids and adults in small and large groups.  It's ALWAYS the favorite!  This time we divided the kids into five teams of four, keeping them in their desk clusters.  I moved a couple kids around to make the teams even in number for this relay race.  Each group was given 15 cups, and they began with a row of 5 on the bottom.  They proceeded to stack a row of 4, 3, 2, 1.  Once the cups were in a pyramid, the child took it down and passed the stack of cups to the next person.  Instead of a relay race, you could have one child from each of the groups compete against each other, having one minute to complete the task.  Have a final round for the winners from each round to determine the Grand Champion.  Setting a time limit for each round may help keep the party on schedule when playing with larger groups of people.

2:10pm  Pass the Book Game
When you are out buying party supplies, pick up a $1 activity book for each child in the classroom or troop and individually wrap them.  Select a holiday book to read to the class, and make sure this book has one word that is continuously repeated throughout the story.  I like to read the book Snowmen at Christmas by Caralyn and Mark Buehner because it's an adorable story, and the word snowman is repeated many times throughout the book.  This game is also fun to play at a Valentine's Day party.

2:15pm  Snack:  North Pole Cupcakes

If you Google "North Pole Cupcakes," you will see many variations of this adorable treat.  The day before the party I baked the cupcakes and assembled the poles.  I used a box cake mix, store-bought frosting, Wilton white sparkling sugar, Bob's Sweet Stripes peppermint sticks, and sour cherry balls.

To make the poles, invert a 1-cup glass bowl in a large mixing bowl.  Place an 8.5" plate on the glass bowl.  Set the cooling rack across the mixing bowl.  Attach the sour cherry ball to the peppermint stick with a small dollop of icing squeezed from a baggie with a small hole cut in one end.  

Each pole slid perfectly into the rack, the end resting on the plate as the icing dried.  

The cupcakes were assembled at the party.  I would suggest having a small amount of icing on hand to replace any sour cherry balls that have detached from the peppermint sticks.  (We had four casualties).   

I also served a Snickerdoodle dip with pretzel sticks.  It was a store-bought mix that I combined with cream cheese and butter.  FYI...not a hit with the third grade crowd.  Almost everyone asked for pretzels though.  

2:30pm End of Party

*In my experience, it's always better to plan too much than to be scrambling to entertain a group of kids.  I was prepared to play Pictionary if there was additional time to fill.  As it was, the students finished their snack and immediately started flipping through their activity books.  They were perfectly content tackling word puzzles

If there had been time to play Pictionary, I would have divided the class into a team of boys and a team of girls.  One student would have been chosen to draw for each team.  The girls would have been given 30 seconds to see how many pictures they could correctly identify before the boys were given their turn.  We would have continued to play, rotating artists, for the remainder of the time.  Here is the list:
angel                              present                            snowman
candle                            Santa hat                         stocking
snowflake                       reindeer                           sleigh
fireplace                         wreath                             ornament
tree                                candy cane                      milk and cookies
bow                                gingerbread man              star
Nutcracker                      jingle bells               

This agenda could easily be modified for Halloween and Valentine's Day parties and even birthday parties.  Swap out the snack with a treat that fits the theme.  Fill the tray with odds and ends associated with the occasion for I Spy.  And here's a fun twist for the paper plate game based on the original game:
Birthday Paper Plate Game
1.  Draw a table.
2.  Draw a birthday cake on the table.  You can add decorations.
3.  Draw candles on your cake.
4.  Draw a gift on the table.
5.  Add a bow to your gift.

  • 2 points if your birthday cake is touching the table.
  • 2 points if your gift is touching the table.
  • 1 point for each candle you drew.
  • 1 point if your candles are on your cake.
  • How old is the birthday boy or girl?  2 points if you drew that number of candles.
  • 1 point if your bow is on your gift.
  • 1 point if your bow is not touching the candles.
  • 2 points if you decorated your gift.
A spooky version popped in my head, so I won't stop just yet...
Halloween Paper Plate Game
1.  Draw a house.  Add windows and a chimney.
2.  Put a ghost in a window.
3.  Draw bats next to the chimney.
4.  Draw a jack-o-lantern at the bottom of the front door.
5.  Draw a spider on the roof.

  • 2 points if your windows are touching your house.
  • 1 point for each window.
  • 2 points if your ghost is in the window.
  • 1 point for each bat.
  • 1 point if your bats are next to the chimney. 
  • 2 points if your jack-o-lantern's face is on the pumpkin.
  • 1 point if your spider is touching the house. 
Valentine's Day is just around the corner.  I'll have to give a little more thought to that one.  This month our Brownies are working on the Family Story badge.  I hope you check back with us soon!