By Kate Ristow
Soon you’ll bid farewell to your students. You’re likely to have a year-end party in your classroom, play a variety of review games, take time to underscore the important truths the children learned this year, and share with them the growth in faith you’ve observed in them. However, in no way do you want to close the book on learning for the year. It’s important to help the children recognize that—no matter how young or old we are—faith is a life-long journey. God does not take a vacation from us. God wants us to stay close to him throughout the fun and sunny days of summer, even though no formal learning is scheduled.
Develop a Program-Wide Approach
Ask your DRE to call together a committee of catechists and a few parents before classes end for the year. Begin by brainstorming this question: What can we do to foster faith this summer? Remember that brainstorming is a free-wheeling device designed to generate ideas. Emphasize that at this stage, there are no right or wrong answers.
Explain some of the things you are already doing: providing a summer kid’s page in the bulletin, conducting a Vacation Bible School program, organizing a monthly family Mass followed by snacks, and so forth. Call for new ideas and list them on the board. If at all possible, divide the suggestions into categories—small or large group, young children or tweens, individual families, at home or in parish—that will help you to provide a variety of opportunities.
Choose the ideas you want most to implement. Start small and build from there. Plan events and publicize them well. Afterward, get input from everyone who participates. Invite parents and kids to suggest other ways you can build faith together during the summer months. The ideas below might provide a springboard for activities you are interested in implementing.
The Blessing of Bikes
Invite everyone to participate in a bike blessing at the parish early in the summer, or send home a simple bike blessing ritual for families to conduct on their own.
Combine this with a “bumper sticker” activity at the parish or at home. Before the blessing, distribute small sheets of white self-adhesive paper and markers. Invite each student to design a sticker that represents Jesus, their Catholic faith, or your parish. When finished, ask volunteers to share their work with the group and then encourage everyone to display their stickers prominently on their bikes. Conclude with a bike blessing, asking God to keep all children safe and encouraging the youngsters to keep the Fifth Commandment (avoiding reckless behavior that might harm our bodies) by obeying traffic regulations when they are at play.
As an alternative, send home the white sticker sheets (or set up a table at church where they can be picked up) and a copy of the bike blessing. Include directions with the packets you provide. This is an easy activity for parents to do with their kids and it reinforces their role as the children’s primary religious educators and examples of faith. Plus, it is one of those activities that makes sense to parents—which is half the battle!
Finding God on Vacation
Ask students how many are going to take a family trip this summer. Invite the kids to share where they are going and what they are most looking forward to about their vacation. Then discuss with them what they do about participating at Mass when they are away from home. Many families do not even give celebrating the Eucharist a second thought because they are “on vacation.” Recall that God never takes a vacation from us and that God wants us to stay close to him. Announce that one of the ways families can easily do this is through a website called MassTimes.org. Explain that it provides Mass times for people who travel in the United States and other countries and its entire purpose is to help Catholics get to Mass wherever they are. Tell the children that it lists Mass times, church locations, maps, and even contact information. It could not be easier to use!
Using a tablet or a laptop, give the kids a brief demonstration. Go to the MassTimes.org site. Invite students to name their summer vacation destination, such as Walt Disney World. The program is set up to recognize big attractions like this, even if the kids don’t know the name of the town (Orlando, FL). Show the children the information provided. Try out a few other examples with the class (Eagle River, WI; Valley Forge, PA, etc.). Locate the posting for your own parish to show the class.
Send home a notice explaining and listing the website. Parents can bookmark the site on their smart phones as a handy reference. Suggest to parents that they double-check the Mass times on the parish website.
Invite the children to bring home a parish bulletin from any Catholic Church they visit over the summer. Most priests and parish staff enjoy reading what is going on in other faith communities around the country. Create a colorful “We Find God Everywhere!” poster for the church vestibule and promise the children that anyone who submits a bulletin from another parish will have their name added to the poster, along with the name and location of the church they visited.
The Promise of Prayer
At the last class, most catechists remind the children to say their prayers every day during the summer. But frankly, this advice often goes in one ear and out the other. We need to be specific and help children to develop a plan. You can do this with kids of all ages.
Encourage volunteers to share times when it is important to pray (when we wake up, before we go to sleep, before and/or after meals, when we are sorry about something we have done, and so on). Then have the children name the prayers they most often pray at these different times (the Our Father, an Act of Contrition, etc.). Emphasize that sometimes it is easy to forget to pray when our schedule is relaxed as it often is in the summer.
Distribute writing paper and markers. Invite the children to create an individual, reasonable prayer schedule. After they have completed the schedule, ask them to explain what they will pray at each of these designated times. Walk a fine line during this discussion. While you want the children to be able to tap into specific memorized prayers, you want to avoid discouraging spontaneous prayer in which the children use their own words. For example: Invite them to suggest what words they might use to praise God for a colorful rainbow or brilliant sunset. Discuss what they might pray if they fall and hurt themselves. Remind students that God wants us to share our thoughts, hopes, and disappointments with him and that we can always talk to God using our own every day words. He wants to hear from our true selves. Impress on them that even saying, “I love you, Jesus” is a powerful prayer.
With younger children, you may want to print out two or three prayers and have them glue the prayers on tag board. Encourage them to decorate their prayer cards and put them on their dressers at home or under their pillows so that they will be reminded to pray all summer long.
Loving Our Neighbors
Encourage the children to suggest ways they can show love for others during the summer months. They might choose toys to clean up and donate to a shelter in your area. Working with their family, they can shop for food to donate to a needy family in the community or for your parish pantry. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul can assist you in determining often-requested items for the needy.
Talk with the children about cleaning out their closets (with parental supervision!) and donating gently used clothes to people in need. This is a great family project.
All Parish Barbeque
Invite families to bring their charcoal grills and gather in the parish parking lot for a shared meal. Families should bring whatever they want to grill and beverages. Ask families with last names ending in A to L to provide side dishes and families whose last names begin with M to Z to bring a dessert to share. All the parish needs to supply is paper goods. If possible, begin with an outdoor Mass. Plan several large and small group games for kids of all ages to play during the event.
While this activity does not foster faith per se, it builds community and gives kids a great sense of belonging to the parish. It also gives them the opportunity to see parish friends over the summer.
Drop your students an occasional email or note over the summer. Greet them when you see them at church or in the community. Keep reaching out to them. It’s one of the best ways you can imitate God’s love for each of us.
Kate Ristow, contributing editor to Catechist, has worked in Catholic publishing for more than 30 years as a national speaker and writer, building on a wealth of experience in the religious formation of children and catechists in both parish and Catholic school programs.
Summer Faith Promises
After having the students discuss their prayer plan and what they are going to do to show love for their neighbor during the summer months, distribute writing paper and pens.
Ask the children to write their specific commitments in a letter to themselves. Caution them to be realistic;
it’s better to make fewer promises that they will actually be able to keep rather than setting impossible goals.
Give each student an envelope and ask them to self-address it, insert their letter, and seal the envelope.
Three or four weeks after classes end, stamp the envelopes and mail them. Follow up with an email encouraging the children to again commit to their promises to pray and show love for neighbor. The children’s efforts will allow them to put into practice much of what you taught them this year.
CLICK HERE for a Summer Faith Promises worksheet the children can fill out to help them remember to keep the faith alive during the summer months.
Kate Ristow has worked in Catholic publishing for more than 30 years as a national speaker and writer, building on a wealth of experience in the religious formation of children and catechists in parish and Catholic school programs.
Image credit: George Martell/ Bayard Inc.
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This article was written by the Catechist Staff and appeared in Catechist magazine, July 2016.
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