Creative, diverse, week-by-week faith formation activities • Pair it with Menagerie at the Manger Christmas Pageant! • Also available as paperback + eResource
In Critters around the Crèche ...
- a donkey guides us to hear love,
- a dog leads us to smell hope,
- a dove helps us to taste peace,
- a cow steers us to touch joy,
- a lamb shepherds us to see light,
- and a camel prompts us to follow faith.
Critters around the Crèche weaves together several themes: animals that might have been present at the time of Jesus' birth, each "critter's" connection with the five senses, and words traditionally associated with the weeks of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany. As humans, our primary way of learning from the world around us is through our eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and skin. Our senses evoke both our physical awareness of the world and our spiritual perception beyond this world. Using the gifts each animal brings to these seasonal stories emphasizes how we can better sense God’s presence in our lives.
- Weekly sessions with prayer, Scripture, music, ritual, visuals, story, and talking points.
- Prayer resources for celebrating the Christmas story and Epiphany.
- Eleven animal crafts, plus reproducible outlines for all featured animals.
- Rich ideas for "sensory" bulletin board decorations throughout the season.
- A weekly "Riddle Me!" game.
- Music suggestions, including a theme song and two anthems.
- Six interactive hymn stories telling the backstory behind familiar Christmas songs.
- Six animal-themed snacks
- Weekly family time pages, plus at-home "Come to Your Senses" reflections and "Advent Festival."
- Additional "Sharing the Story" activities and service projects.
- Connections to the Menagerie at the Manger Christmas Pageant.
The beauty of this thematic approach is that it also benefits learners who may prefer one style of understanding over another. Some are inspired by seeing, many by hearing, and still others by their sense of touch, or taste, or smell. Using a theme that emphasizes each of those senses challenges participants to use sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch to appreciate the true gifts of Christmas: faith, hope, light, love, joy, and peace. Activities used in church, home, and school provide many ways for children—as well as youth and adults—to explore, learn, and remember as they use their senses to celebrate the birth of the Savior.
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The Pastoral Center
As a religious educator, PHYLLIS VOS WEZEMAN has served as Director of Christian Nurture at a downtown congregation in South Bend, Indiana; Executive Director of the Parish Resource Center of Michiana; and Program Coordinator for ecumenical as well as interfaith organizations in Indiana and Michigan.
In academics, Phyllis has been Adjunct Faculty in the Education Department at Indiana University South Bend and in the Department of Theology at the University of Notre Dame. She is an "Honorary Professor" of the Saint Petersburg (Russia) State University of Pedagogical Art where she has taught methods courses for extended periods on several occasions. She has also been guest lecturer at the Shanghai Teachers College in China.
As founder of the not-for-profit Malawi Matters, Inc., she develops and directs HIV & AIDS Education programs with thousands of volunteers in 200 villages and more than 1,500 schools in Malawi, Africa including “Creative Methods of HIV & AIDS Education,” “Culture & HIV-AIDS,” and “Equipping Women/ Empowering Girls.”
Author or co-author of over 2,000 articles and books, she has written for over 80 publishers.
Phyllis served as President of Active Learning Associates, Inc.; a consultant or board member to numerous local and national organizations such as the American Bible Society, Church World Service, LOGOS, and the Peace Child Foundation; leader of a six- week youth exchange program to Russia and Ukraine; and Project Director for four Lilley Worship Renewal grants. She is the recipient of three “Distinguished Alumni Awards," the Aggiornamento Award from the Catholic Library Association, and the 2021 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators (APCE).
Wezeman holds undergraduate degrees in Business, Communications, and General Studies from various institutions and an MS in Education from Indiana University South Bend.
Phyllis and her husband Ken (who met when they were in second and third grade in elementary school) have three children and their spouses, Stephanie (Jeff), David, and Paul (Deha); five grandchildren, Quin, Ayle, Lief, Ashley, and Jacob; and two great-grandsons, Maddox and Troy.
View all resources by Phyllis Vos Wezeman
ANNA LIECHTY taught English to high school students and served as adjunct faculty for Indiana University South Bend for many years. Anna also worked as a mentor trainer and teacher coach with adult learners for the Indiana Department of Education. She won numerous educational classroom grants, including the Eli Lilly Teacher Creativity grant.
As a life-long church educator, Anna worked with all age levels, directing Sunday morning and youth programming, consulting with congregations about their educational ministry, and writing a wide variety of religious education materials. She served as Vice President of Active Learning Associates and co-authored four Lilly Worship Renewal grants.
Anna’s undergraduate degree is from Bowling Green State University in Ohio and her Master’s degree from Indiana University South Bend. She was certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards in Adolescent and Young Adult English Language Arts.
In retirement, Anna continues to pursue a variety of writing projects, receiving an Individual Artist Grant in Literature from the Indiana Arts Commission. Now living in Florida, Anna enjoys traveling with her husband Page Foster, a retired pastor, and counting the days between visits with six children, twelve grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.