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Prevent ‘summer slide’ with integrated faith activities

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Jim Rigg

Summer is here! As every parent knows, we are entering one of the busiest times of year. Summer is the season of athletic seasons and arts camps, of tutoring and travel. The school year, with its early morning wakeups, homework, and extra-curricular activities, has been replaced by a regimented schedule of – you guessed it – early morning wakeups, homework, and extra-curricular activities.

A former pastor of mine used to tell our church that “God does not take a summer vacation.” He decried the lower attendance at Mass during the summer, particularly amongst families with kids. With school out and parish religious education on summer break, he knew that many families had an array of other commitments that consumed the summer months. Mass and faith formation just couldn’t compete with the busyness of a child’s summer life.

God may not take a summer vacation, but we should not take a summer vacation from God. June, July, and August should be a time of continued faith formation for our children. We must make certain that the spiritual development of our children, fostered so well by our Catholic schools and religious education programs, does not falter during a three-month hiatus. We work hard to make certain that our kids don’t forget their reading and math skills during the summer. We must make certain that their spiritual development also does not succumb to “Summer Slide”.

Before you withdraw your child from soccer or science camp, you might think a bit creatively about how faith formation can become an integrated part of our hectic summer lives. Indeed, faith formation can complement our children’s summer schedules. Here are a few ideas that parents might try:

  • Take advantage of parish faith formation opportunities in the summer. You might be surprised at what is offered! Many churches have vibrant Vacation Bible School programs that are both fun and educational. Youth Ministry programs frequently have outings for teens to amusement parks, concerns, and other venues (and integrate our faith into these events). Even parish picnics and festivals can provide catechetical moments.
  • A number of other agencies and organizations offer faith-based experiences. Many of our young people attend Catholic summer camps and retreat days. Our Catholic high schools frequently have offerings. A simple internet search will reveal a number of opportunities, although parents should always research these thoroughly to make certain that they are appropriate and of good quality.
  • Summer is a season best spent outdoors, and parents should take time to connect our faith to the beauty of nature. Visits to parks, hiking trails, and the zoo can be wonderful opportunities to highlight the miracle of God’s creation.
  • Make certain to get the Mass! In addition to worship, Mass is also a time to connect to the broader parish community. Even when on vacation, parents should strive to find a Catholic church for weekend services. Parents can access a number of apps that will find the closet Catholic church and indicate Mass times. Remember that you are setting the example for your children!
  • Finally, make sure that you continue to pray with your children. Be conscious of the important Holy Days of the season. Talk about the meaning of “Ordinary Time” (hint: in the church, “ordinary” does not mean “plain”!). Seek out opportunities to talk to your kids about prayer, faith, and the church.

Parents and the first and primary religious educators of their children. True faith formation for children relies upon parents; even the best Catholic school or religious education program only has limited impact if parents are not doing their part. Summer is a season of relaxation for families. Let’s also make it a time to grow closer to Christ.

Jim Rigg is the archdiocesan superintendent of Catholic schools.

This commentary originally appeared in the July 2014 print edition of The Catholic Telegraph.

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