For Parents and Grandparents: 5 Ways to Enrich Summer Life with Kids
With long, warm days and schools on break, summer can be a wonderful opportunity for some much-needed family down time from the hustle and bustle of the school year. But summer can also be a challenge for many families as young kids suddenly find themselves with loads of unstructured time on their hands, leaving their parents and grandparents to figure out how to fill it. Here are some practical, faith-building, and fun ways to enrich your family life this summer.
1. Start a small garden in your backyard or a potted garden on your deck.
It’s not too late to take advantage of the growing season by involving your kids or grandkids in starting a garden. There are a plethora of scripture verses that use plants, seeds, soil, and fruit as metaphors for how to live a life of virtue. In the midst of planting and nurturing fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers, as well as harvesting the fruits of your labors, use biblical lessons to bring the faith alive for your kids. Here are a few examples.
- As you plant seeds in your garden beds, discuss the Parable of the Mustard Seed (Matthew 13:31-32) with your children and how even the smallest seeds can grow into the largest and most beautiful plants; so too, can our faith if we remain close to God and follow His commandments.
- As you involve your kids with picking weeds out of your garden beds, talk about the Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:1-20) and the importance of keeping weeds and thorns away from plants, mirroring the importance of avoiding sin in order for us to thrive. You can also share about the importance of rich soil for plants to grow best, just like the vitalness of communion with Our Lord and His Word in order for our souls to be nourished.
- Plant “lamb’s ear” and talk about how Jesus is the Lamb of God (John 1:29, 1 Peter 1:19, Revelation 5:12, etc.) and how we can be as gentle as lambs while at the same time boldly make sacrifices for the good of the kingdom.
- Share with your children about “fruits of the spirit” if you have fruit trees and act out different scenarios (love, kindness, self-control, etc.). You can also read “A Garden in My Heart,” a children’s book that uses gardens as a metaphor for the Holy Spirit in a way that children can understand.
2. Add depth to mealtime and baking.
Every meal or tasty treat has the opportunity and potential to be something richer and deeper. Allowing children to be involved with food preparation makes meal or snack time an experience that they will remember. One idea is to start by reading scripture or a Bible story connected with what you will make. Then talk about it, asking lots of questions and encouraging the child to do the same as you create something beautiful and tasty together. Here are a few ideas:
- Bake an angel food cake for a lesson on angels.
- Bake a lamb cake for a lesson on Christ as the lamb of God.
- If your church celebrates liturgical seasons, you can use books like “Feasts” and “More Feasts!” by Daniel and Haley Stewart for biblical reflections on the different seasons and recipe ideas that match up with all the seasons of the year. Here are some more ideas for meal types in different food categories for Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter.
- Decorate your own apron and start cooking!
3. Read good books and make it an experience (not something rushed).
Some would argue that there is nothing more engaging for a child than a good story. A good story doesn’t necessarily have to teach about Christ, but really any natural virtue for children to strive for. Books that lack depth and meaningful content are usually not worth the precious time that we spend with our children or grandchildren.
That said, a child will remember the experience of reading with you just as much as he will remember the content of the book. Make it cozy, give them your full attention, read with an enthusiastic, expressive voice, and ask lots of questions afterward about the book, allowing the child to ask you some too. If grandparents live far away from their grandchildren, they can still ship a book to their grandchild and use FaceTime to read it together.
To make a book reading experience become more alive, you could take your kids on a field trip to somewhere like in the book or bake something that the characters were eating.
Here are some book recommendations:
- The “Alfie” series by Shirley Hughes are classic stories that make the ordinary, day-to-day lives of young children and their parents beautiful and life-affirming.
- The “Frog and Toad” series by Arnold Lobel combines unique humor with heartfelt lessons on friendship, the importance of a positive, can-do outlook on life, patience, kindness, and other virtues.
- The “Read Aloud Bible Stories” series for young kids uses simple yet impactful illustrations and clear language for a one-of-a-kind presentation of well-known Bible stories for young minds. Build on the reading experience by acting out the story with young children or play charades to narrate what happened.
Suggestions for good books lists:
4. Have a Vacation Bible School in your own home/backyard.
Here are some fun activities for a Vacation Bible School right in your home when your church’s VBS is out of session:
- The walking with faith of Peter craft kit: When we doubt, it is like we stop walking. We need to keep moving closer to Jesus in order to walk with eyes of faith and not fall into the water.
- Noah and the flood craft: God is always faithful to his promises.
- Make your door or window “stained glass.” Create something beautiful that can spark conversation with the mailman and other visitors — a great way to build community. Talk to your child about the beauty of the colors God has created and the importance of using your gifts and talents to create beautiful things.
- Fishers of men: Who are you and your family praying for? Use this craft as a visual aid to your prayer for young children.
- Armor of God craft kit: There are so many temptations in our culture. We need to be spiritually strong in order to remain close to our Lord. Here are some more craft ideas for creating your own armor of God set at home. You can pray the prayer of St. Patrick — “ Patrick’s Breastplate” — as a family when you finish or help your kids to memorize the last part of it:
Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
5. Write letters to your kids or grandkids and/or make a book with them.
- Buy some blank books and help your child create their own story. If they are still learning how to write, you could have them draw the pictures and narrate the text of each page to you so you can write it down.
- Create your own bookmark with a scripture verse to go with the story.
- If you have multiple kids/grandkids, set aside their “birthday day” each month as the day to write to them or do something special with them.
- When writing letters to your kids or grandkids, you can talk about your thoughts about a certain parable/Bible story or retell it yourself, or talk about an experience you had that may have had a similar lesson to something Christ taught.
Special thanks to Sarah Hart for her contributions to this article.
Dan Hart is senior editor at The Washington Stand.