Category Archives: Christian Education Archive

Advent Faith Practices – 2018 Calendar

Traci Smith is a minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA), and a faith-filled parent with her spouse to a young family. Traci cares deeply about how families can talk about and ‘do’ faith at home through nurture and simple practices. She has a great book out for families, Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home, filled with engaging and easy ideas for conversations, rituals, prayers, and family activities for families to do together at home. Traci also sends out a weekly email to  families called Treasure Box Tuesday. You can sign up for this great email of ideas and recommended resources at her website,

Get to know Traci through her 2018 Advent Faith Practices calendar that is linked to this posting. Please feel free to circulate it among your congregation members and to others. Please just ensure that it is circulated free of charge, and with the acknowledgement included in the bottom box of the calendar.

Click here for Traci Smith’s Advent Faith Practices Calendar

Come to the Pre-Advent Retreat at Crieff Hills for Church Leaders

Before the hustle and bustle of the season takes over your days, take time to relax, refresh, and/or plan ahead away from the busyness of it all.

Pre-Advent Retreat Special 

Leading others through the season of Advent requires careful preparation. This year, Crieff is offering a reduced rate for church leaders, preachers and Sunday school teachers for nights between November 4th to 9th and November 11th to 16th. Book an overnight stay for $80 (+HST) per night and receive:

  • overnight accommodation in a one-bedroom suite at the Pines

  • access to a special Advent resource center in the Pines Common Room       

  • opportunities for walking the labyrinth and hiking our extensive wooded trails 

  • unhurried time to prepare Bible studies, write sermons and plan children’s programs   

Call 1-800-884-1525 to book your stay. Ask about discounts on shared rooms and multiple night stays! Let us help you quiet your heart, wait on God and prepare for the upcoming holiday season.   

How to Choose Curriculum

Choosing curriculum for the Sunday School, Nursery, Youth Group, and Intergenerational activities can be a challenge. How do you ever decide? There are so many options on the market and there are pros and cons to each and every one of them. Where do you start?

While there is no one perfect curriculum for every church, making a curriculum choice is not impossible and can be a wonderful opportunity to reflect on your church’s goals and prayers for great faith formation for the children and youth of your church community.

Finding the one that’s right for your church’s needs means beginning with a good understanding of your church’s theology, and a some knowledge of how children, youth and adults best engage in learning. Knowing these things helps the teachers, parents, minister(s) and session review each curriculum option with a more critical eye.

Attached to this post you will find an article entitled How to Choose Curriculum that includes a ‘cheat sheet’ designed to assist your church in reviewing curriculum resources through a theological and educational lens, as well as assess the practical implications of each of curricula you’re evaluating. Begin by downloading a few selected curriculum samples off of the internet (more about these later). With samples of two or three appropriate curricula to evaluate, thoroughly read each of the lesson plans for each selected age group, noting what each says about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the church, sin, faith, baptism etc. Use a separate evaluation sheet for each resource, note what each says about God and our relationship to God using these  prompts. With your list of what each curricula says about God etc.  you are then better able to answer the question, “Is this what our church believes?” for each of the resources. If the theology of the curriculum is not consistent with the theology of your church, then it is not a curriculum suitable for your church. Having established which of the resources you reviewed is theologically consistent with your church, you can now begin to look at its approach to learning.

Answering questions about the lesson’s educational stance helps you to determine if the curriculum is suitable for your congregation’s approach to faith formation. Consider the following:

  • Does the session outline have a way of introducing the biblical theme that engages the participants and draws them into the theme even before the story is presented?
  • Are there a broad variety of ways of presenting the biblical story, or is the biblical story simply read directly from a text? ‘Hearing’ the story through drama, pictures, story-telling, and experientially draw the participants into the story in a more memorable and personal way.
  • Do the questions have right and/or wrong answers, or does the curriculum encourage the children/youth and teachers to wonder together about the possible answers, honouring each child’s contribution?
  • Do the lesson activities embrace a variety of learning styles? The more learning styles embraced in a lesson the more open the lesson is to all of the participants entering into and engaging with the lesson.
  • Are there options for the participants to choose from? for the teacher to choose from? If the teacher knows something just won’t work, are there other options to choose from, or will the teacher be stuck trying to come up with an alternative option on their own. With a broad variety of learning styles and ages in a classroom, being able to offer more than one activity for the participants to choose from allows each to learn in a way they learn best and enjoy.
  • Do the activities invite the participants to delve deeper into the focus of the lesson, or does it feel more like filling time?
  • Is there an opportunity for participants to reflect on how they might apply the lesson focus in their own life?
  • Does the lesson conclude (or begin) with a short time of worship?
  • Are their additional materials, biblical and educational, for the teacher to learn how best to present the lesson? Is the lesson exciting and engaging, inviting everyone in to the subject, or does the lesson feel flat or school-like?

Answering these questions point to the educational stance of the curriculum and helps you to assess whether memorable and transformative learning will take place using this curriculum.

Lastly, consider some additional questions. Will the curriculum work with the facility, and technological resources you have? If the curriculum depends on large, well-stocked classrooms and/or DVD players and screens in every classroom, and this does not describe your church, are you willing to make changes to your circumstances, or should you pass on this curriculum no matter how wonderful it appears? Will the curriculum work well with the average weekly attendance of the the children in your church? A curriculum designed for large classroom numbers, when you have only two or three in each class will be a constant frustration for everyone and demand constant adaptation. What is the cost of the curriculum when you add up the cost of leader’s guides, student resources, and additional resources (music, DVDs, magazines, curriculum specific bibles, take him papers etc.)? Is this in line with your CE budget? Does your budget need to change or do you need to consider a less costly option?

Now that you know how to review curriculum, you need to know the curriculum options available to you. There are as many curricula as cereal options at the grocery store. We can begin by narrowing down our curriculum list to those that fall within the reformed theology and educational practises of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. While the PCC does not publish its own curriculum, it does recommend a number of curriculum that fall within the theological and educational parameters of our denomination. You will find a list of recommended curricula attached to this post. The list divides your options into a number of categories, with some of the curricula appearing in more than one category. Curricula is itemized by age groupings as well as specific categories such as lectionary based, intergenerational, and broadly-graded. Each is listed alphabetically and not by preference of this writer. Links to publishing websites are also included at the end of the document.

Please, also remember that the curriculum you choose is only one piece of your church’s overall approach to faith formation with your children and youth. Finding a well-written and suitable curriculum for your church is important, but it isn’t everything. Great faith formation happens through the caring relationships your children and youth form with all of the members of your church and as they hear the stories of faith shared with them by those who love God and live their faith in every aspect of their lives.

Click here to view the document, How to Choose Curriculum

Click here to view the document, Curriculum Options for Churches

Christmas Gift Boxes

Is your congregation considering participating in a Christmas gift box project this year? Such boxes are often filled with toys and toiletries by caring individuals and groups, returned to the sponsoring agency, and sent to children living in vulnerable communities in countries around the globe. Yet, this hands-on means of gracious giving may not be as helpful as you think.

Before signing on to participate in a gift box program please read the following article from Presbyterian World Service and Development written to help you consider this way of assisting children and communities who are at risk, including some great alternative options for caring for vulnerable children during the Christmas season and throughout the year.

Following the article is a link to an more extensive article about the Showbox programme from the baptist news.



Click here for a link to a more extensive article posted in the Baptist News

2016 Family Advent Devotional Booklet

IMG_0046 - Version 2

Advent is a perfect time to come together as a family daily and prepare for the coming of Christ. In the rush and worry of Christmas, we often forget to hear and see what God is doing all around us. Pausing, hearing anew the prophesies and stories of watchful waiting remind us what exactly it is we are waiting for. Sharing our thoughts, prayers, and joys with one another helps us all grow in faith and faithfulness together.

Attached is a easy to use advent devotional booklet written particularly for families with children. Each day, following the lectionary texts, families are invited to pause, pray, read scripture, and discuss together a variety of themes over the four weeks of Advent. Each week there are additional songs, storybooks and activities that draw families in to the traditional themes of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love as they move towards the day of Jesus’ birth.

The file attached has been laid out as a document for assembling as a booklet. Because of this when you open the file you will see that it doesn’t make a lot of sense if you read it as is – it is only when it is assembled as a booklet that it ‘reads’ logically. If you only want only one copy of the booklet, print out the file as a double-sided, short-side, 5 page document, and then fold it into a devotional booklet and staple on the fold (much like a bulletin looks). Or, if you want multiple copies of the booklet for distribution to your congregation, print it out as a single-sided set of 10 pages and then photocopy these using the double-sided setting on your photocopier, fold into a booklet and staple down the middle seam. If you are printing the file single-sided for photocopying you will see that the second page is blank. This page needs to stay in your set as it is the blank inside cover page and if it is removed all of the other pages go out of order.

If there is a problem please don’t hesitate to email or call me for some help (647-348-0879,

Enjoy this very special time together as you grow in knowledge and faith as you anticipate this great coming of Christ into our lives and our world.

  Click here for the Advent Devotional Booklet file

A Bibliography of Children’s Christmas Books


The following is a list of beautifully written and wonderfully illustrated children’s picture books that tell the story of the birth of Jesus and unwrap some of the major themes of the Advent and Christmas season. Each of these books are suitable for reading during worship, Sunday school, at home or as a beautiful gift for a child. I have sorted the books under headings that might help you think about which books would work for your church or family.

Most of these books are readily available at Chapters/Indigo or other bookstores with good children’s book sections, and are also available for download on Kindle/Kobo.


If your church collects warm mittens and hats during this season

Mittens to Share by Emil Sher.
A child playing outside in the snow loses her mittens and digs through the mitten box filled with all sorts of shapes and sizes of mittens and is able to go back outside to play in the snow


Advent 1 – Year A – Waiting and Preparing for Jesus to Come

Who Is Coming To Our House by Joseph Slate.
All of the animals in the stable prepare a cozy welcome for baby Jesus

Waiting by Kevin Henkes.
Each of the toys on the nursery room window are waiting for something. Then a cat with patches joins them on the window ledge. She didn’t seem to be waiting for anything, until one day the thing she was waiting for is revealed.

The Man With the Violin by Kathy Stinson
This true story of musician Joshua Bell takes place when a little boy witnesses Joshua playing his violin in a Washington subway station. No one notices the musician except the little boy who is filled with the music he hears and dances with delight. Watchfulness at what is being displayed around us reminds us of our need to wait with our eyes and ears open.


Advent 2 – Year A – Peaceable Kingdom and Welcoming Others

Room for Little One: A Christmas Tale by Martin Waddell.
On a cold winter’s night one by one animals make their way to the warm stable and make room for each other, until all of them make room for Mary and Joseph and their baby. Take note of each of the animals and wonder how each animal was able to welcome another who they would normally not be with.

God’s Dream by Archbishop Desmond Tutu
This story opens with children wondering what God dreams about. The story tells of God’s dream of people getting along even when they are different. Sometimes we don’t get along, but even then God dreams that we will not get angry or hurt one another. The children then wonder how God’s dream can come true. If you are reading this in worship you may want to read a limited number of pages from the book to keep within time limits.

Last Stop On Market Street by Matt de la Pena.
As CJ and his Nana ride the bus after church, going across town to volunteer in a soup kitchen, CJ wonders why they have to go by the bus. Nana reveals to CJ the beauty of all of the people on their bus as each person shares with the others their music, compliments, and experiences. Through the bus ride and his time at the soup kitchen CJ discovers how his Nana sees things differently.


Advent 3 – Year A – Joy and Joy Shared With Others

Great Joy by Kate DiCamillo.
This beautiful book shares the story of a little girl who watches an organ grinder and his monkey out in the cold of the city. She wants to invite the man in, but is discouraged by her mother. She invites the man to her church Christmas play, and when he arrives she bursts out her line of great joy.

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathon Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski.
A gloomy wood carver arrives in the town and is approached by a woman and her son to have him carve a nativity set that was lost some years ago. Through a number of visits and kindnesses the man becomes friendly and teaches the boy how to carve as the boy teaches the man about his most loved figures in the nativity.

Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett.
A little girl discovers a box full of yarn of every colour. As she knits sweaters and hats and mittens for everyone, every creature and even the buildings of her village the town brightens with her work. The box never runs out of wool until it is stolen by an archduke who wants it all for himself. He opens the box to find it empty, but when the box returns to the little girl the knitting carries on.

The Night Gardener by the Jan Brothers
In the darkness of the night the trees of the town are slowly being transformed into beautiful shapes by someone unknown. William must discover who is doing all of this. After waiting all night William spots the night gardener and is invited to share in the work that brings joy to the town.


Advent 4 – Year A – Love Shared

Beautiful Hands by Kathryn Otoshi.
Vibrantly painted handprints come together to display pictures of all of the wonderful things hands can do to share love with the world. Simply told and colourfully illustrated this book is a great conversation starter for how we display our love with the world.

Plant a Kiss by Amy Krouse Rosenthal.
In this simple book a little girl plants a kiss, and then tends and waters it day and night and waits for it to bloom. Her friends come to see it as it blossoms, but caution her against sharing it because of it’s rare nature. She ignores their words and spreads her love with everyone. All this from one simple kiss!

Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts.
Jeremy wants the black high tops with two white strips, but hi Grandma reminds him what he really needs is boots for the winter. Everyone else has them, well almost everyone. In the end he gets the boots, but finds the high tops in the thrift shop for only $2.50 and buys them with his own money. Just because they are too small doesn’t matter – he’ll stretch them. But his friend Antonio needs shoes, and his feet are smaller, and so Jermey gives his precious high tops to his friend.


Christmas Day, Epiphany, and the Flight to Egypt

The Friendly Beasts: An Old English Christmas Carol by Tomie dePaola.
Through strong images and words of the this Christmas melody the story of the birth of the baby is retold.

One Wintry Night by Ruth Bell Graham
Caught in a snow storm in the mountains of North Carolina, Zeb Morris is taken in by a woman to wait out the weather. Sitting down in front of the fire Zeb’s host retells the story of Christmas beginning with creation, sharing highlights of the Noah’s Ark, Moses and God’s chosen people, Samuel, David, and the prophets. Mary and Joseph are both visited by the angel and together they travel to Bethlehem where Jesus is born. The book concludes with the crucifixion and the resurrection as Zeb hears how this little baby could save the world. The artwork in this longer, chapter book is absolutely incredible and a page or two could be lifted from book to tell just a piece of the story while showing the art to draw listeners in.

To Whom the Angel Spoke: A Story of the Christmas by Terry Kay.
In this story of three very different shepherds with very different feelings, a voice interrupts their evening to tell them of the birth of Jesus. Unifying belief brings them together to celebrate the thing they all believe together.

A Shepherds Gift by Mary Calhoun
Matthew sets out to find his lost sheep and is lead to the stable with a gentle couple and their new baby.

The Grumpy Shepherd by Paddy Devon.
Joram is a habitual grouch until he is faced with the words of an angel telling the shepherds about the birth of Jesus. His sadness and loneliness are changed to love and hope when he meets Jesus.

Jesus, the Word by Mark Francisco Bozzuti-Jones.
This beautifully written and illustrated book retells John’s prologue (John 1:1-4, 14) and encourages the contemplation of the question, “Who is Jesus?”

Refuge by Anne Booth.
This gentle retelling of the nativity focus’ particularly on the flight to Egypt with the search for finding kindness in the strange places and among the people they will meet. The dream of Joseph to go is shared in the story, but the particular reason for going to a new land is not revealed – they just need to go and found refuge in the welcome of Egypt.

Click here for a printable file of this bibliography