The end-of-school and the beginning of summer offer opportunities for new rhythms and routines for families with children at home.
For most, it’s time to play, travel to visit family, make memories of family togetherness, and, for the wise, to be still and rest.
In the going and doing, summer can provide time to intentionally help your children (or grandchildren) engage with God’s world and grow spiritually, too.
Here are nine ways that can happen. Each one will be good for the “inner child” in you, too.
1. Visit a mission site or go on a short-term mission trip.
Visit a Habitat for Humanity work site; Heifer International ranch, village or farm; a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship rural poverty initiative ministry or a similar project. It will help your children connect caring to gospel values of working for peace, wholeness and justice.
If you are staying home, connect with a summer pen pal from across the world through the mission ministries of your congregation.
Collect food needed for a food pantry ministry and then deliver it together, taking time to meet those who work there.
2. Plant and cultivate a garden.
In one of my favorite childhood hymns, we sang, “God’s beautiful world, God’s beautiful world, I love God’s beautiful world.”
Guided contact with nature helps children understand and appreciate the gift of God’s creation.
While it may be late for some planting outdoors, indoor gardening is a year-end possibility. You still have time to start late summer or fall vegetables and flowers outdoors.
3. Spend time with someone elderly, especially if they are a shut-in.
Getting to know those who are older will brighten the day of the person you visit as well as your own. Bake bread or cookies together or take flowers from your garden or the store to share.
You will help your child learn not to fear those who are older and affected by aging or illness as together you develop caring hearts for God’s children of all ages.
4. Be reasonable in your summer spending.
Memories are created by the quality of time and good feelings that come from the closeness you share, not the amount of money you spend. Resist the temptation to “keep up with the Joneses.”
Don’t let your good time together now be spoiled by the worry and stress that will come later when the bills for your good time come due.
5. Read a book together, either aloud or during family reading times at home or in the car on trips.
Books like “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” the “Little House on the Prairie” books, “The Secret Garden,” “Does God Know How to Tie Shoes,” “Stellaluna,” “The Selfish Giant,” “Old Turtle” and others have lessons about faith to impart while keeping you close together.
Remember, too, some food pantries and clothing ministries welcome donations of your gently used books to give to younger readers who visit the ministries with a parent or caregiver.
6. Pray before you begin a summer trip and each day at meals.
Faith is “caught” more than “taught.” Your children will know what you think is important more by what you do. Help them learn to talk to God and know God wants to hear from them every day.
7. Choose music with a message to listen to on car or plane trips.
Our twin grandchildren love listening to the CDs of the music from our vacation Bible schools over and over again as they travel and as they rest.
You can help your children be wise in their listening to music that combines fun with a message. The same goes for the DVDs, video games and other media you provide them.
8. Stay calm as much as it is within your power.
Closeness can increase intimacy, but it also can increase the opportunities for conflict.
Set expectations with children early for both home and travel. Plan ahead your several best strategies for enforcing discipline.
Keep your personal frustrations about your life separate from your frustrations with your children’s attitudes and behaviors. Be the grownup at all times.
9. Go to church.
There is no part-time Christianity – and that is a good thing. While on vacation, practice what you preach about having a relationship with God. Practice saying “thank you” to God in all things, starting with worship.
Be active participants in the vacation Bible school, summer camps and other opportunities your church offers to help your children grow spiritually, inviting friends, too, to learn along with your family the joy and depth the life of faith offers for us all.
Pastor of Freemason Street Baptist Church in Norfolk, Virginia.