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Christmas Countdown Advent Wreath for Special Needs Environments

November 19, 2012

Countdowns can be helpful for students who thrive with order and sequence.  And it can add anticipation (in the best way) to the Christmas season.  Growing up, my father (a church pastor) offered a children’s sermon each week.  Children ages 4 through the 4th grade were invited to come sit on the front steps of the platform inside the worship center.  For about five minutes my father would share an anecdotal story or analogy to explain an abstract concept about God.  Every year during the Christmas season, dad used this time to explain the season of anticipation with an Advent wreath.  So for me, this tradition brings special memories.  As I was brainstorming on ways to help kids with special needs develop a sense of celebration, the advent tradition came to mind.  This activity is ideal for ministry environments that include older children and teens with learning differences.  The end product wreath (shown here) is fun to touch although not super sturdy.  Invite participants to carefully touch the fuzzy wreath.

What You Need:

12” Wide Styrofoam Wreath Base Tack-It Fabric Glue
Flameless Tealights 20 feet of Green Chenille Pipe Cleaner
3 oz. Green Spray Paint Red Pom-poms for Holly Berries
Pink Ribbon Nail (for Tracing around Tealights)
Purple Ribbon Box Cutter

Step 1:  Place tealights equally apart on wreath.  Trace around each tealight with a nail or pin.  Then cut a circle for the candle to rest in.

Step 2: Spray paint on the wreath.  You could eliminate this step if you have participants extremely sensitive to the smell of paint.  (If you air this out it shouldn’t be a problem.)

Step 3:  While paint is drying, wrap and glue ribbon around tealights.  To follow the tradition of Advent (and feel free to deviate!) 3 candles should be wrapped in purple ribbon and 1 candle  in pink ribbon.  An optional 5th candle can be left white.

Step 4:  Wrap the wreath in green chenille pipe cleaner.  (Pardon the blurry picture below…I snapped the photo while holding the wreath in the other hand.)

Step 5:  Place the tealights in the circles.  Cover any obvious spots where the chenille pipe cleaner didn’t cover by gluing red pom-poms to look like holly berries.

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December 2nd Purple Candle Celebration of Christmas
December 9th Purple Candle Love
December 16th Pink Candle Joy or “Feeling Happy”
December 23rd Purple Candle Peace or “Quiet”
December 24th  or 25th (optional) White Candle Christ Child

Script:  

We are going to do a Christmas countdown each week by lighting a new candle. Each candle will help us praise God for sending His son.

December 2nd  At Christmas we celebrate that God sent his son Jesus.  Jesus came as a baby.  Jesus was born in a stable.  There are four weeks until Christmas. (Hold 4 fingers up).  Let’s light the first purple candle to begin our month of celebration.    (Turn the candle on)  This is just like we would light a candle on a birthday cake to celebrate someone’s birthday.  Today we light the first candle of this wreath – that’s candle #1. (point to candle)  We are beginning the celebration of Jesus’ birth.  Next week we’ll light candle #2.  (pointing to that candle)  And then the following week we’ll light the pink candle. (point) The last Sunday before Christmas we will light the last purple candle. (point)  After this week, there are three weeks until Christmas.  (Count the remaining unlit candles.)  Let’s pray.  Thank you God for sending your son Jesus, who came as a baby born in a stable.  God, thank you for Christmas.

December 9th  (Before starting, have the first candle “lit” last week already turned on)  At Christmas we celebrate that God sent his son Jesus.  Jesus came as a baby.  Jesus was born in a stable.  There are three weeks left until Christmas.  (Hold 3 fingers up)  Last week we lit the first purple candle, beginning our month of celebration. (Point to lit candle)  Let’s light the second purple candle.  (Turn the candle “on”)  Let’s think about love as we light this candle.  (Consider making a homemade valentine card out of red paper and passing it around for children to look at and touch as you talk about love.)  God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son.  Repeat the Bible verse with me:  God loved the world so much that He gave His only Son.  Great job!  Next week we’ll light candle #3 (pointing to the pink candle)  Then, the last Sunday before Christmas we will light the last purple candle (point)  After this week, there are two weeks until Christmas.  (Count the remaining unlit candles.)  Let’s pray.  Thank you God for loving us so much that you sent your son Jesus, who came as a baby born in a stable.  God, thank you for Christmas.

December 16th  (Before starting, have the first two candles turned on)  At Christmas we celebrate that God sent his son Jesus.  Jesus came as a baby.  Jesus was born in a stable.  There are two weeks left until Christmas.  (Hold 2 fingers up)  The first week we lit the first purple candle to begin the celebration of Christmas.  (Point to candle)  Last week we lit the second purple candle and we thought about love.  (Point to candle)  God loved us so much that He sent His Son.  Today, let’s light the pink candle (Turn the candle “on”).  Let’s think about feeling happy as we light this candle.  In our Bible story today we are going to talk about some shepherds who heard about Baby Jesus when they were in their fields watching their sheep.  I bet the shepherds felt happy when they heard about Jesus!   I feel happy knowing that God sent His Son Jesus!  A person might show they are happy by smiling.  Let’s smile together.  (Point to face, make an exaggerated smile.)  Next week we’ll light candle #4 (pointing to the remaining purple candle)  After this week, there is one week until Christmas. (Point to remaining candle.)  Let’s pray.  Thank you God that we can feel happy because you sent your son Jesus, who came as a baby born in a stable.  God, thank you for Christmas.

December 23rd   (Before starting, have the three previous candles turned on)  At Christmas we celebrate that God sent his son Jesus.  Jesus came as a baby.  Jesus was born in a stable.  There is one week left until Christmas.  (Hold 1 finger up)  The first week we lit the first purple candle to begin the celebration of Christmas.  (Point to candle)  The second week we lit the second purple candle and we thought about love.  (Point to candle)  God loved us so much that He sent His Son.  Last week, we lit the pink candle and we thought about feeling happy.  The shepherds felt happy when they heard about the birth of Jesus.  Today, let’s light the fourth candle (Turn the purple candle “on”).  Let’s think about quiet.  God sent His Son Jesus to bring quiet. Shhh…let’s all be quiet and just listen.  I don’t hear anyone fighting.  I don’t hear a baby crying.  I just hear quiet. When I lay my head on a pillow at night I just hear quiet.  (Consider bringing a pillow from home.  Invite participants to pretend putting their head against the pillow.)   Ahhhh…it sounds so nice to just hear quiet.  It sounds so peaceful.  Let’s pray.  Thank you God for the peace and quiet we have because you sent your Son Jesus, who came as a baby born in a stable.  God, thank you for Christmas.

Christmas Eve or Christmas Day  (Before starting, have the four previous candles turned on)  At Christmas we celebrate that God sent his son Jesus.  Jesus came as a baby.  Jesus was born in a stable.  There are no weeks left until Christmas.  Today is Christmas.  The first week we lit the first purple candle to begin the celebration of Christmas.  (Point to candle)  The second week we lit another purple candle and we thought about love.  (Point to candle)  God loved us so much that He sent His Son.  The third week, we lit the pink candle and we thought about feeling happy.  The shepherds felt happy when they heard about the birth of Jesus.  Then we lit the last purple candle.  We thought about the quiet that Jesus brought when he was born in a stable.  It was so quiet and peaceful when Jesus was born.  Now, let’s light the last candle (Turn the white candle “on”).  The white candle makes us think about the birth of Jesus.  Jesus came as a baby born in a stable.  Today is Christmas.  (Pass around a baby doll or baby Jesus from a Nativity set.)   Let’s pray.  Thank you God for sending your Son Jesus, who came as a baby born in a stable.  God, thank you for Christmas.

Note:  For lower functioning and literal learners, you may want to adapt this script so that each candle represents a character from the Christmas story.  The suggestions below compliment the 2012 December weekly Bible stories for Orange’s First Look curriculum.  Bring in a Nativity scene and pass around the corresponding character for each child to touch and feel as the week’s candle is explained.

December 2nd          Purple Candle Angel that visited Mary
December 9th Purple Candle Baby Jesus
December 16th Pink Candle Shepherds
December 23rd   Purple Candle Wise Men

I owe huge thanks to Janice Stewart CCC SLP for her consultation on this script.  Janice is the clinical supervisor for speech pathology majors at Baylor University (Sic ”Em Bears!)  She is also the special needs ministry leader for her church in Woodway, Texas.  Janice is consulting on a project with me to create curriculum for ministry environments serving students with special needs.  Yes…we (Orange) have a special needs curriculum in the works.  Stay tuned for more info on that subject in the coming weeks and months!

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