There and Back Again ...
Late Summer in the Garden

The Real Learning Conference: My Transcript

The following is my original speech for the Real Learning Conference. As I mentioned in my previous post, I had to cut a bit out here and there to keep within the time frame, so it might read a bit differently than what you heard at the conference, as well as what ends up on the DVD! :)

Also, please see these two links for my Tea-and-Craft handouts:

If you have any questions, please leave a comment below and I will address them as soon as I can. I still plan to follow up with some more detailed posts about the file-crate system. :)

(Note: Sorry about all the asterisks, but the text pasted strangely when I cut it from my Word document, so I did what I could - short of having to re-type it all - to make it readable.)

Introduction

Good morning, and thank you very much! My name, as you have probably gathered by now, is Dawn Hanigan. My husband Bill and I are blessed with three boys ages 12, 8 and 5 ½. If you read my blog you might know them as Bookworm, Crackerjack and Earlybird. We are from Massachusetts, and this September we will begin our eighth year of home education.

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I would first like to thank all the gracious women behind the 4Real conference for inviting me here; I am extremely honored to be included. I also would like to say a quick thank you to my husband Bill (who is sitting right over there) who not only insisted I come to the conference (when I really never thought I could), but drove all day yesterday - literally all day- to bring me here (because I was too nervous to fly!). Thank you honey!

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And though flying would have undoubtedly been quicker and easier, because we drove down, I was able to bring along with me some of the materials I use for planning our liturgical year celebrations. If you happen to know my blog at all, then you know that organizing and planning out family activities is a favorite subject of mine. I will talk more about these tools in just a bit.

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Home-education, as you all know is an adventure made all the richer when shared with like-minded friends. And so a little over two years ago, I joined the 4Real Forums where I found not only wonderful friendship and thoughtful conversation, but also inspiration and ideas like I had never dreamed. I found a warm and welcome place where I could learn more about my Catholic faith, and even better, discover easy ways to incorporate it into our home learning lifestyle. Very soon I was tweaking our methods and striving to resemble, in some small way, the beautiful vision set forth in Elizabeth’s book.

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Swept up by the blogging bug that hit our 4Real community within the past year, I started my own and called it By Sun and Candlelight, a play on the words of a favorite poem. Here I could share snippets of our everyday family life, and hope that in some small way something I share might be helpful to someone else. It has been an incredibly gratifying experience and every day I learn something new from someone who leaves a comment or from someone else’s blog that I visit. I think the advent of blogs – and the internet itself – has been a huge blessing to home educators and I will be forever grateful for my online community. Without it I would never have found myself here in your company.

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Well, today I am going to talk a bit about some of those blog snippets, in particular, our weekly Tea-and-a-Craft days, through which I bring the rhythm of the liturgical year into our home, and into the hearts of my children. For it is through these simple, child-friendly projects that we follow along with the Church year, grow closer as a family and learn about our Faith in a fun and memorable way.

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To begin with I’d like to talk about how we got started following the liturgical year.  We began – and continue - with a weekly teatime, a simple sit down time filled with faith, food and fun.

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When I first read Real Learning, one chapter in particular resonated with me more than any other – the chapter on religion in which Elizabeth described the way she wove her family’s faith into their home education, indeed into the very heart of their home. The following quote literally jumped off her page and right into the page of my own journal:

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“Teatime is my liturgical year tableau.” Elizabeth Foss

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It was meaningful to me and I wanted to savor it, ponder over it. And so I did, and with that simple phrase – that beautiful and intriguing concept – I began to look at our home learning in a new way.

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We were already big teatime fans. Elizabeth didn’t have to sell me on the merits of tea, having grown up in a big tea-drinking family. Early on in our home learning journey I began a weekly tea or snack time with my boys. These little gatherings were often focused on a favorite picture book, or a poem, or perhaps a simple nature craft, something that reflected the current time of year.

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But when I read Elizabeth’s description of her liturgical tea, it hit me clearly – here was a way I could infuse our week with a rhythm for faith and family. Here was an opportunity to share faith with our children – really, to learn right alongside them – by exploring the liturgical year on a consistent basis and in a child-friendly exciting way. Here was a way – for starters – to help our children get more from Sunday Mass.

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Weekly Tea

I decided to start out small – it is very like me to plunge into something in a big way and then to fizzle out fast. At this time I was picking up a copy of Magnificat magazine every now and then and when I decided to pursue a subscription online, I came across a fabulous resource, the first I would use in planning our weekly liturgical tea: Magnifikid.

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I am sure this resource is well known to many of you here, a small booklet containing the entire Liturgy for the coming Sunday’s Mass. A whole month’s worth is delivered at one time – one for each Sunday, as well as any holy days of obligation - which makes it easy for planning ahead. Also included is a thoughtful parent’s reflection page – for example, September’s prayer focuses on a back-to-school theme, suggesting a litany of family intentions for the new year.

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My oldest son began using Magnifkid a few years ago, and it was here that I turned for the Gospel each week. I would read aloud as we shared a special snack together, and hoped this small action would help all of us – not just the boys, but all of us – to focus more fully on the week’s message, to follow along better with the homily. I was gratified to find it did so - especially when my Crackerjack’s little face turned to me and he whispered, “Hey, I remember that!” or when the boys looked eagerly for the new vestment colors, knowing they would signify a new season upon us.

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We continue to subscribe to Magnifikid and my Crackerjack is just getting ready to use it as well. As he is new to reading, he is a bit overwhelmed by, as he says, “all the words” inside, cheerfully though they may be presented. My mum had a great idea for me the other day; she suggested using a highlighter pen on just one part of the Mass each week. For example, last week it was the Gloria – this week it is the Opening Prayer. In this way, CJ can get used to following along with just one part, and within a few months, it will all seem much easier to keep up with.

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In the years since, I have found a nice repertoire of resources to help us prepare our hearts and minds for the good word each week. Two of my favorites are:

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Celebrating the Gospels by Gaynell Cronin

The Complete Children’s Liturgy for Children by Katie Thompson

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I use both these books looking at the suggested activities for each week, and using just what appeals to me, or rather what I think will appeal to my boys. I like the discussion questions in Celebrating the Gospels and the simple crafts for a younger child in here The Complete Children’s Liturgy Book.

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There are also resources available online where you can find coloring pages, word puzzles, Mass worksheets, discussion questions, Biblical maps and more. Two of my favorites places for these materials are Catholic Mom.com and Open Wednesdays, and they are both listed on our handout.

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It might seem like a lot of choices, maybe too much information, but because they are all so simple to use, I find that it’s easy to pick and choose what I like from each resource – a coloring page here, a seasonal prayer here, a hands-on project there. Looking at each of them ahead of time gives me time to piece together a simple presentation – it also helps me get my own feel for the coming Sunday liturgy.

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Prayer Corner

The next thing we did was to set up a small prayer corner, a spot for a weekly focus. Actually what I did was to adapt or rather combine our nature shelf with a prayer corner. I often blend the two areas of our life – faith and nature - as they overlap so nicely – and right now our prayer corner holds a candle, a crucifix and some seashells to represent the late summer time of year. Also on display is a holy card showing the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the August devotion.

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Ours is a small corner shelf in the dining room (otherwise and sometimes better known as the learning room). But there are many ways to make up a prayer corner if a corner shelf is not to your liking. You could buy an unfinished wooden lazy susan for the center of your dining table - stain it to match your woodwork, or paint it in the colors of the liturgical wheel. You could place a small size bulletin board on the wall - back it with felt in purple, green or white, according to liturgical season. You could make a small portable prayer box, using a wooden hinged box from the craft store, or an empty cigar box if you can find one. (This is an idea I gleaned at 4Real from the always gracious Alice Gunther, author of one of my favorite blogs, Cottage Blessings.) Fill this box with holy cards, small statues, rosary beads and a prayer book or Bible. This would be a really fun project for the children to work on together as you start the new academic year!

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Candles

(Please see Handout1)

Candles are such a big part of our Catholic tradition, and so an important aspect of our prayer corner is a softly lit candle. Usually it is a beloved Irish crystal square holder cut with a cross, a gift from my parents. It has special meaning to us and so it has become the designated prayer candle in our home, but we still like to experiment with other kinds of seasonally themed candles. I’d like to describe a few of our candle projects from the past year, and you can see and read more about them at my blog under the Tea-and-Crafts index.

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I often begin with a small glass votive holder (which you can find for $1 or less at the craft store). I like to keep several of these on hand in my craft bins and brainstorm how we might incorporate them into our liturgical year celebrations. For example, last fall we made a colorful set of three candles for the Feast of the Archangels. I gave the boys silvery stickers to apply to the sides of the glass first and then we wrapped sheer ribbon around them - each one in an angel’s symbolic color (gray for Raphael, orange for Michael and blue for Gabriel). I secured the ribbon with a bit of glue from a hot glue gun and dropped a tea light in each one.  I found inspiration for this craft in Meredith Gould’s The Catholic Home.

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During Advent last year, we took a similar glass votive and applied a sparkly star sticker to the outside – one each night, counting down all the way till Christmas eve. We used this candle for evening prayers, and by Christmas it was aglow with soft starlight. This idea was posted by Sherri Weaver Smith at CatholicMom.Com.

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Another fun craft is a seashell candle we made on The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. This was a craft I adapted from the British Festival book, All Year Round. We melted a few tea lights and poured them into a clean open scallop shell; just as the wax began to harden I inserted a birthday candle and held it for just a moment till it solidified fully. As a final touch, we floated this shell candle in a bowl of water during our teatime.

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Another candle craft I have not yet tried is to make a stained glass candle by pasting bits of colorful tissue paper onto the outside of the glass votive. I first saw this idea in Magnifkid as a suggestion for All Soul’s Day. It has been on my mind to take a few months to observe the stained glass windows in our church and those in neighboring parishes. (Stained glass windows being another Catholic tradition) I think this would be a nice project for the late fall days when the outdoor natural light fades and the inner light of our hearts and our homes grows brighter.

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Or, instead of small glass votives, you might choose to use elegant tapers in colors according to season. Wooden candleholders are available at the craft store that you could paint in corresponding shades or perhaps a glitter gold.

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So as you can see, it is very easy to turn a prayer candle into a seasonal craft (or perhaps I mean vice versa), and in my experience kids of all ages enjoy candles and candle crafts!

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Holy Cards & Images

Now, like many Catholic families we have a sizable collection of holy cards, and they are familiar and favorite images to display in our prayer corner. Two quick ideas for your collection – for displaying, you could easily find small ornate frames at the craft store or plain unfinished ones for the children to decorate (which would be a nice project for patron saint feast days); alternatively you could pick up 2.5 by 3.5 inch clear magnetic refrigerator frames. I use tiny golden prayer card holders which I buy at my local Catholic gift shop for 99 cents each. I only noticed in this latest batch that a small peel and stick strip is included which of course makes it very handy for standing a small prayer card up anywhere you wish, for instance a nightstand or a dashboard.

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Now this next idea I am borrowing from another beloved 4Real friend and Catholic Mosaic author, Cay Gibson. How does one keep all those holy cards organized? Our own collection has been assigned rather unceremoniously to a tin bucket that just fits on our liturgical bookshelf. Well, Cay has a much nicer and more efficient means of keeping tabs on her family’s cards, and if I may I will quote her here so as not to miss one tiny detail.

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Cay says:

One thing I do...have done for years...with those saint prayer cards is to put them all in a small recipe box and keep them on our altar. The children look through them sometimes. Sometimes they play a game of matching saint cards. When all else fails for the saint's feast day, the prayer card can be found as well as the appropriate Mosaic book.

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What a wonderful system, and a lovely addition to a family altar or prayer corner. As a variation on Cay’s theme, I found this hinged wooden box at the craft store that neatly holds index card dividers – these here are labeled by month. And inside each section you can insert the appropriate cards, perhaps along with a notecard indicating books or recipes for those particular feast days.

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A few final notes about the Tea before I move on to resources and the organization of ideas …

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Elizabeth described a beautiful idea in Real Learning – matching her tea table linens with the liturgical color of the season (or feast). So then, there would be a green cloth for the Ordinary Times, a purple for Advent and Lent, and white or gold for Christmas and Easter as well as perhaps red for martyrs and blue for Marian feasts. I tend to serve tea on a plain wooden table and this might be because my boys are a bit spill-prone, but I think this year I would like to begin collecting colored linens for our tea table. I’m thinking it would be nice to have a special storage bin just for our tea linens.

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I also found plain wooden napkin rings at the craft store and these would be lovely, painted by the children in purple, gold or green, to use during their teatimes.

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On page two of my handout (Handout2) I have listed a few favorite recipes for teatime - because in our home tea can mean a hot cuppa decaf or a tall cold glass of punch. Just as long as its yummy and comforting, or festive and fun. Some weeks it's just cookies and milk, while others it's a snack that is symbolic of the day - such as when we had dove-shaped cookies for a week when the Gospel message was "Peace be with you." Food is a fabulous medium for liturgical celebrating, and there are several cookbooks listed on our Resources handout.

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And finally, we always say grace, and often we find just the one to say in Let’s Say Grace by Robert Hamma, a book Elizabeth recommends in Real Learning. There are graces to say on “everyday special occasions” such as the first day of school or a First Holy Communion as well as numerous prayers for holy days and holidays throughout the year.

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Our weekly Gospel teas, as we came to call them, became a familiar routine, a comforting and happy pause in our week and a great way to prepare the boys for the Sunday Mass ahead. Once I started investigating the liturgical year further, I found all kinds of themes to add to our routine – feasts and devotions, special foods, projects and more. Between books, blogs, magazines and websites, there were so many fabulous ideas it made my head spin. It is impossible to do everything of course, and yet without a system of some sort it also seemed impossible to do anything. So next I would like to talk about how I organize my planning for the liturgical year in our home.

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All these resources provide an incredible – almost overwhelming wealth of ideas. But what do you do with an idea when it pops up? If it can’t be used that minute – or maybe even that year – how do you file it away so it does not get lost. Because I don’t know about you, but my mind does not store information as well as it once did, and that’s why I need to store information physically.

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What I would like to do next is to show you is my file system, which I used for planning and organizing all areas of our family life – including home education, family activities, nature study, household maintenance, and most of all seasonal celebrations.

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File Crate System

I’ve used a variance on this theme for many years. As I began looking for ways to collect and organize liturgical living ideas – and to actually put them into action - I realized my file folder system would be a good fit. Not a perfect fit mind you – I have yet to find the perfect system, but I stick with this because it does work well for me.

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So here is the heart of my system, my file crate. It is just a simple, inexpensive plastic crate such as you would find at any household goods or office supply store. (I think I got this one at Staples.) Inside I have hanging folders, six in all. Each hanging folder is labeled with two months – September/October, November/December, January/February and so on. Inside each of these hanging folders are eight or nine manila letter-size file folders, each one of these is labeled with a week of the year. For instance, the first folder in the September/October folder is labeled September 3rd – September 9th. The last folder is labeled October 29th – November 4th. I like to run my weeks Monday through Sunday, Sunday being the culmination of the week in my mind.

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You might want to separate your weeks in a different way – this is what works for me. In my mind I’ve always grouped the months into six seasons – September and October are the autumn months (and ordinary time), November and December are the holiday season (Thanksgiving, Advent and Christmas), January and December are deep winter (also Christmas, ordinary time and this year the beginning of Lent), Marc and April are early spring (or Easter), while May and June are late spring (or Pentecost and Ordinary time), and finally July and August are high summer and back to ordinary time again. 

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I also keep in here a few more planning tools – a Catholic calendar positioned in front with the current month in view (this one is from Take Out: Family Faith to Go, a neat magazine published by Our Sunday Visitor). Also tucked inside here are my month-at-a-glance planning calendar, a clipboard pad which serves as my master to do list as well as a homemade weekly planbook.

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Now let me just say that all of this could be contained in a binder – and quite successfully too - but binders have never worked for me. And as much as I crave a planning binder – and I have tried them in all kinds of variations - I have leaned to stick with what works. Which is something I would stress in organizing is to give yourself time with any system to see if it is something that works well for you. I have spent countless hours setting up binders to use in my planning, and it always boils down to the same thing  - I just don’t find the time (or take the time) to either hole punch a piece of paper or to file into a sheet protector. What would happen is I would end up with what I call a slush pile of papers to be inserted into the binder and that pile would grow and grow and ideas and information would get buried and lost deep within. Having folders lets me quickly file a piece of information quickly and I then I know it will not get lost. This might speak volumes about the volume of papers I save – but I think the paper tiger is something we all wrestle with on some level in our homes.

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I set it up in this way. At the start of the year (which for me means August, but for you might mean January 1st or the First Sunday in Advent) I add all new folders. (By the end of the year my used files are usually pretty ragged so I don’t try to re-use them.) I handwrite all the tabs, but I believe there are labels you could make on your computer.

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The next thing I do is to fill in my month-at-a-glance calendar. I use an academic calendar that begins anew each summer and I have found the best thing to do is to use it daily and keep it available at all times. Mine never leaves my side it seems – it fits in my bag, it lies open on my kitchen counter and for storage it stands up in my crate.

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I find out as much information as I can to fill in the generously sized squares – liturgical seasons and feast dates right alongside family commitments, birthdays, holidays, the full moons, appointments, even movie premieres and book publication dates. It all goes in here, all the areas of our family life are represented. I like having everything in one place – it makes planning so much easier, and it helps me make decisions about how much we’ll try to fit into a week.

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For liturgical year information, I use a handy Catholic calendar passed out by our pastor each year, but there are many places online where you can find liturgical information for future months. For example, Women for Faith and Family (listed on our resource sheet) has one that goes through November 2008.

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Once I have the information entered (as much as I know at the time anyway, obviously it fills up even more as we move along through the year) I make up a planbook where I can have a planning page for each week of the year, as well as a brainstorming page for each month of the year.

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I used to keep this in loose-leaf form within the files themselves – just a sheet with plans and follow up notes in each folder – because I liked the idea of filing each week’s folder away along with a “weekend” report, or an overview of what we did - but I realized I liked having access to my weekly plans all in one place. So here I have a notebook with a page for the month of September, followed by a page per each week in the month, another page for October, and so on. To give you an idea of what these pages look like, I recently began a series of posts at my blog called Themes and Plans for the month. The information includes the areas of nature, food, faith, home, family life, crafts and activities, storybooks and field trips. I then set about gathering information.

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Now my files are ready to receive any and all kinds of materials as we move through the year. Two keys to this system are keeping the crate in the open and available to me and setting up a schedule for addressing the folders.

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First let me acknowledge that my crate is bulky, and I don’t really have a specific or convenient spot to store it. A home office would of course be ideal, but really I have found with any planning system you use, you have to keep it where you going to be. It might look nice in a corner of the bedroom or den, but if it’s not where you are during the day, you are far less likely to use it.

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I keep my crate in our family learning room – sometimes right on the dining room table and sometimes on a small tray table beside it – all so that it is in sight and in mind. This area is the hub of our family activity and where I find myself it seems most of the day.

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And as I come across ideas – a fun craft online or a feast day recipe in a magazine or a photocopy from a library book – or if an appointment card comes in the mail - I file all these things in my folders.

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But that’s not the end of the story because if it were, those ideas and items would be lost forever (at least to my mind they would be).

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If something is timely – for instance, our parish fall barbecue – I write it down on my calendar and I also write it on my planning page for the week. If I need to do something for it (such as RSVP or donate a certain item) I write that on my to-do list. The paper itself, the flyer, gets filed in the week the event is planned.

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For example, here is my folder for next week. In it I have so far:

·       Magnifkids for Wednesday’s Assumption Mass and Sunday’s Mass

·       A birthday card for my son as well as a print out of a toy he’d like (brought to my attention by his older brother)

·       A print out with information about the meteor showers this week.

·       An invitation to a birthday party – I noted the RSVP info on my to-do list

·       A print out of a 4Real thread with ideas for the Assumption

·       Some paperwork for a doctors appointment on Thursday.

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Once a month I look over the materials in the current month’s folder and the notes in my planbook. I make up a list of books to request from the library or to order online as well as a list of special ingredients and craft items I’ll need in the month ahead. Food and beverages for tea I pick up on a weekly basis during my marketing trip, but I try to limit my craft store runs to once a month, and I try to go with a detailed list of the few items I’ll need for specific feast days and holidays.

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And speaking of craft bins, I would like to mention a fabulous organizational idea posted by my friend Jennifer at her blog As Cozy as Spring. Recently she posted about a bureau she set up with a nature shelf on top and four drawers worth of craft supplies underneath. In each drawer she keeps one season of craft materials. So if say, she finds a poinsettia craft she'd like to do during Advent, into that particular drawer it would go.

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I don't have an extra bureau (nor the room for one!) but I thought this idea could be replicated on a smaller scale using those office supply storage boxes (the kind you fold open and piece together). This would be an easier way to store craft materials - placing things directly into a seasonal box where they will be ready when you and your children are.

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What’s been great about my file folder system is using it as a prompt when writing my end of the year reports. It is a helpful way to reflect back upon the year that was.

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And speaking of reflection, as a final step in liturgical year activities it is nice to have a scrapbook of sorts – virtual or physical. You might keep a binder for storing the children’s weekly activities – coloring pages, activity sheets, narrations from Mass, copywork, and perhaps even photographs of crafts and other activities. This would make a lovely Sunday afternoon project for the family to work on together.

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An alternative idea is to keep an online journal in the form of a blog – private or otherwise – in which you can keep all the same kinds of things.

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But whether virtual or physical, keeping a memoir with the children is a fabulous way for them to remember what they’ve learned and experienced and to carry with them a semblance of continuity and a feel for the turn of the year. This is something they could share with family and friends, perhaps, or just a nice thing to look back over now and then.

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Well, I think that’s all I have time for today! Thank you again to our lovely conference organizers for the kind invitation to speak with you all, and thank you to Jenn for sharing this talk with me today!

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And there you have it! Boy, that's a whole lot of words, lol! It was so much fun putting this talk together, and I had a wonderful time at the conference "talking shop" with friends old and new. Thanks for stopping by and have a wonderful night.

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