As we approach the beginning of the school year, it can be a difficult time particularly for those who have a child starting school or going away to college. For children, it is often a difficult transition fraught with anxiety and worry.
Adjusting to new routines — with earlier bedtimes and mornings and replacing outdoor time with indoor study time — can be trying and unsettling. This picture of my son Ian and daughter Ava sums up the mixed reaction. On the one hand, my daughter Ava is excited beyond words for her first day in preschool. For her brother Ian, the first day of school is one filled with dread. Side by side, they are a study in contrasts and they mirror the emotions we may feel as parents or grandparents at this time of year.
As people of faith, how do we enter into this time with a peaceful heart? We can get so caught up in preparations, checklists and school shopping that we struggle to keep our Catholic faith at the center of this time. The rhythm of prayer has grounded Christian life for 2,000 years. Praying throughout the day using some wisdom and rituals from the ancient Celts can help to ease this time of transition. The Irish scattered blessings throughout their day and into the night. As they made the beds in the morning, prepared food for the day, baked the bread and hung out washing on the line to dry, praises were offered to a generous and loving God.
So what can you do to help ground your children in faith during this time?
In addition to maintaining a good eating and sleeping schedule, use this opportunity to introduce new rituals for school preparation to help your children grow in faith. Here are a couple of ideas for you:
For example, if your child gets new shoes for school, consider blessing them for the coming year by making the sign of the cross on the sole of their shoes and saying, “May God guide your steps today. I bless you in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.”
If you have a child or grandchild going off to college, consider gifting them with a special religious item for their dorm room. Have the item blessed and share a note as to why you chose this particular item for them. There are also wonderful faith-based books for college students. Consider gifting them with a special CD or subscribe them to a faith-based Catholic subscription service such as the Happy Catholic box. Each month, your child will be shipped a beautiful box filled with thoughtful and interesting Catholic items such as cookies baked by the Benedictine Sisters, CDs from the best Catholic artists, interesting handmade cards and jewelry items.
Include inspirational and thoughtful notes in your child’s lunchbox occasionally. Affix a holy medal or a devotional keychain to your child’s backpack such as the ones from the Tiny Saints (www.tinysaints.com).
On the first morning of school or before leaving for college, consider having a family blessing where the family is gathered together to pray, ending with an Our Father or Hail Mary. A simple prayer such as the following could also be used:
“Loving God, bless my children and keep them safe as they begin a new school year. Guide their studies and help them grow in understanding. Open their hearts to growing experiences and new life. Help them to use their hands to serve others, especially those in need. I ask this in the name of your son Jesus. Amen.”
Driving to school or college can be an opportunity to listen to Catholic radio and to have great conversation time. The first day of school, the first day of college or even starting a new job are all opportunities for parents and grandparents to weave faith into the fabric of these new experiences. Make every moment count!
Stanz is director of the diocesan Department of New Evangelization.