Helpful Back to School Tips for Catholic Families
The proverbial return of "back to school" naturally turns our attention to the value of education. However, education is not solely or even primarily the task of our local school district or catholic school. The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church states “The right and duty of parents to educate their children is ‘essential, since it is connected with the transmission of human life; it is original and primary with regard to the educational role of others, on account of the uniqueness of the loving relationship between parents and children; and it is irreplaceable and inalienable, and therefore incapable of being entirely delegated to others or usurped by others’.” (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, Paragraph 239)
Expanding upon this teaching, the compendium gives the family the title of the “first school” and refers to parents as the “first educators.”
“By exercising its mission to educate, the family contributes to the common good and constitutes the first school of social virtue, which all societies need” . (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, Paragraph 238)
“Parents are the first educators, not the only educators, of their children. It belongs to them, therefore, to exercise with responsibility their educational activity in close and vigilant cooperation with civil and ecclesial agencies.” (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, Paragraph 240)
Back to School Practices for Catholic Families
Now let’s take a look at some back to school practices which can be essential in fulfilling our role as the first educators. We have tried to group the list by practices which pertain to kids of all ages, practices for younger children and practices for teens.
For All Ages
1. Eat dinner together as a family
We rarely think about it, but sharing a meal is one of the most intimate and relational acts. The beginning of a new school year is one of the busiest times of the year. Sports practices, band practice, debate club, and all sorts of extracurricular activities compete with family time and the bonds we may have formed throughout summer vacations and camping. However, sharing a meal can be a powerful unifying force. At meal time, kids can learn social skills and the essential skill of conversation. Conversation is a truly human skill which is being lost. As an educator, I see daily how poorly my students are able to form relationships because they have lost the art of engaging in conversation. Many will not make eye contact, cannot carry on a conversation, and are lost without their phones. They are highly connected but quite lonely.
2. Attend Mass on Saturdays/Sundays as a family
School brings a lot of competition for time. Sports and other events quickly fill our weekends. Make Mass a priority. There is no greater investment that you can make in your child’s faith than to keep the Sabbath holy.
3. Pray together as a family daily or weekly
Pope Francis had has consistently reiterated the necessity of a strong family for both the individual and society. One key to family unity is prayer. Prayer in the home does not have to be complex. In fact, Pope Francis teaches that “…we need simplicity to pray as a family: simplicity is necessary! Praying the Our Father together, around the table, is not something extraordinary: it’s easy. And praying the Rosary together, as a family, is very beautiful and a source of great strength! And also praying for one another! The husband for his wife, the wife for her husband, both together for their children, the children for their grandparents….praying for each other. This is what it means to pray in the family and it is what makes the family strong: prayer.”
Our family has recently begun to utilize the “My Little Prayer Process” card from Dynamic Catholic with our 6 year old. This little card asks six prayerful questions which form the steps of the prayer and then ends with the Our Father. We go around the room and answer each question out loud. Questions include thanking God, reviewing our day, and praying for the people who are important to us. The cards are available here.
Additionally, one friend has made the practice of blessing his children by tracing the sign of the cross on their forehead each time the children leave the house. This serves as a reminder that God goes with them.
4. Make sure your child is enrolled in your Parish School of Religion or CCD
While you are enrolling in all those other extracurricular activities, don’t forget about religious education. Chances are your parish is enrolling kids in your Parish School of Religion, CCD, or children’s sacramental preparation right now. Be sure you are preparing your children to receive the sacraments, whether it be first reconciliation, first communion, or confirmation. Note also that if you are not Catholic but interested in learning more that most RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adult) programs are starting now too. Think about enrolling yourself.
5. Know what your children are learning in sexual education
If your children attend public schools, chances are that they are being taught things that you don’t believe. Here again, the Compendium on the Social Doctrine of the Church offers a bit of wisdom.
“Parents have, then, a particular responsibility in the area of sexual education. It is of fundamental importance for the balanced growth of children that they are taught in an orderly and progressive manner the meaning of sexuality and that they learn to appreciate the human and moral values connected with it. “In view of the close links between the sexual dimension of the person and his or her ethical values, education must bring the children to a knowledge of and respect for moral norms as the necessary and highly valuable guarantee for responsible personal growth in human sexuality”. Parents have the obligation to inquire about the methods used for sexual education in educational institutions in order to verify that such an important and delicate topic is dealt with properly.” (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, Paragraph 243)
A child’s introduction to sexuality influences so much, touching both on human relations and their understanding of their very selves. Unfortunately, modern culture is wrestling with a great confusion regarding the very nature of man and woman, the function of sex, and life issues. We as parents must take an active role in order to ensure our children’s “balanced growth.” It is essential that we read, study, and learn how to articulate the beauty of the church’s teaching on all these issues.
6. Attend Parish Faith Formation events as possible.
Check out your parish’s events and offerings to determine how you and your children can deepen your faith and learn about God. We cannot give what we do not have.
7. Ask Father!
When your children ask hard questions about God (like mine do every day), encourage your children to ask your parish priest to get the answers. Each week, as Father greets people after Mass our children take their turn by asking Father a weekly question. We prepare them each week by asking what question they would like to ask and then helping them practice their question. This is another great way to help kids learn how to converse. It is also a great way to get to know your priest.
For Younger Children
8. Mix in religious books with your non-religious books
Chances are your child’s teacher is encouraging you to read to your children. Mix in religious books with your non-religious books. Our children’s bookshelf situates stories on the lives of the saints along with bible stories for children right next to Dr. Seuss. We never know what the children are going to pick. This mixing and matching helps integrate faith in a natural way into family life and helps to keep faith from being just something we do on Sundays.
9. Read one good book
Encourage your teens to read one good book regarding the faith this school year. There are hundreds to choose from, but I would recommend Made for More by Curtis Martin. It is a simple explanation of the faith which is highly engaging and intellectually formative. You can find it here.
10. Encourage your teens to get involved with Youth Group
School is a time when kids are coming back together with old friends and making new ones. It is very important that they make the right ones. Contact your parish’s youth minister and find out what the youth group is doing. Encourage your kids to get involved.
We pray these suggestions will help you and your family grow in faith this year!