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Back-to-School Traditions for Your Catholic Family

back to school2

Family traditions give our kids a little lifejacket in the often unsteady waters of childhood. As we approach the beginning of a new school year, it’s a great time to think of ways to honor our child’s big step in starting a new grade and offer a nod to the enormous blessings and graces of education – of books, numbers, maps, bugs, play dough, or whatever else may occupy our minds this year.

As some of you know, my family homeschools. The very first year we homeschooled, my oldest child, Aidan, was entering kindergarten. Our family was embarking on a life-changing adventure and Aidan was very proud that he was officially starting school. So, in recognition of the momentous occasion, our first day of school began not with practicing writing the letter “A” or learning about birds; it started with a celebration. We had balloons, games, and a pretty tablecloth, and we baked a cake together. Then we cracked open our perfect, crisp, new books, imagined together what the year would bring us, and talked about our hopes and fears.  

That first day of our first year of homeschooling was many years ago. This year Aidan is a high school senior, and I have three more “students” in the 8th, 4th, and 1st grades.  I’ve added a few things to our annual back-to-school celebration, but to this day we still bake a cake, play games, look at our books, and we preview and talk about our year. 

As I look back on those celebrations, I can see clearly that we weren’t just making a party, which bored and wayward frat boys do regularly. We also weren’t engaging in mere routine, like brushing our teeth or putting our shoes in the closet, as important as those habits are for my kids to learn. Our annual back-to-school tradition grounds my children, gives them a sense of shared history and identity, and perhaps alleviates some of their anxiety about facing new challenges in the coming year. Because we give it “A Moment,” my kids know that the start of the school year is no ordinary day and that no matter what the year brings, we are in it together.

Whether your kids attend traditional school or home school, starting some kind of back-to-school tradition is a great way to signal the transition from summer days to school time. Your tradition won’t look like mine. Perhaps your family will enjoy dinner out at a favorite restaurant, make a trip to a bowling alley, or stargaze on the evening before school starts. Your traditions should reflect your family’s unique identity and interests. 

If baking cakes and having parties aren’t your thing, here’s a super easy idea that might work for you, and your kids will love it. This year I’m planning to surprise my kids on our first day of school with a traditional German “Schultute” – a school cone filled with school supplies, treats, and trinkets.  This is a tradition dating back to the 1800s, and it continues to this day in Germany and Austria.  

As Lydia is entering the first grade, this is an especially significant school year because, traditionally, only children entering first grade received a Schultute in Germany, though nowadays siblings are included, too.  I’m glad I didn’t miss Lydia’s first grade Schultute and I plan to make her feel extra special on Monday morning when our new school year begins and she officially becomes a first grader. But I will definitely make cones for her siblings, too, including the high school senior! I’m sure these fun cones will become part of our annual ritual.  

Barbara at Praying for Grace has a super easy tutorial for making a Schultute out of poster board and tissue paper. 

barbara's schultute

Image courtesy of Praying for Grace

You can also just let your kids decorate the poster board like Becky did here. As we are Catholic, along with the school supplies and sweets, I’ll fill our Schultute with patron saint cards, some religious stickers for the younger kids, and a prayer book for the two older kids. You could also follow Becky’s example and make the Schultute for your child’s teacher as an act of love. Your child can practice the virtues on her very first day of school!

Whatever we choose to do to honor the Big Day, as a family we can pray for our students as they rise to a new grade and for their teachers (even if that means mom and dad). In this spirit, this weekend I will make a printable of this prayer for the beginning of the school year and I will tuck it into the Schultute:

Prayer to Begin the School Year

Blessed are you Lord God, Creator of body and mind and heart; you have sent the Spirit of wisdom and knowledge to guide your people in all their ways.

At the beginning of this new school year, we implore your mercy: bless the students, teachers and staff of [NAME OF SCHOOL], that together we may grow in faith, hope, and love as we learn from you and each other how to follow your Son Jesus.

Expand the horizons of our minds, that we grow in wisdom, understanding, and knowledge; deepen our commitment to see the truth of your ways; and enliven our faith to reach out to those in need. 

Glory and praise to you, Lord God, in the Church in in Christ Jesus forever and ever. Amen.

3 Reasons Dads Are Important

dads important

My husband Philip and I were talking recently about fatherhood, not only because we just celebrated Fathers Day, but because we are on a long family road trip and I am witnessing the strength of my husband’s fatherliness every day in close quarters for many hours at a time! Philip easily outlined three specific ways dads benefit their kids and this led to fascinating discussions that I want to share with you!

1. Dads Are Not Moms Without Breasts

While our culture is barreling at breakneck speed toward neutralizing the significance of what it means to be a man and a women, copious research confirms the unique benefits that fathers bring to their kids lives. Dads are not auxiliary parents or just like a mom but with a deeper voice.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics “studies have found that older kids with involved fathers tend to have fewer depression symptoms and behavioral problems, and lower rates of teen pregnancy. When it comes to young children, fathers can have effects on language development and mental health, according to the academy. Research has shown that dads are more likely to use new words when they talk to their babies and preschoolers, for example.”

Here’s how the Witherspoon Institute puts it in their report “Marriage and the Public Good: 10 Principles“:

Fathers excel when it comes to providing discipline, ensuring safety, and challenging their children to embrace life’s opportunities and confront life’s difficulties. The greater physical size and strength of most fathers, along with the pitch and inflection of their voice and the directive character of their speaking, give them an advantage when it comes to discipline, an advantage that is particularly evident with boys, who are more likely to comply with their fathers’ than their mothers’ discipline.

Likewise, fathers are more likely than mothers to encourage their children to tackle difficult tasks, endure hardship without yielding, and seek out novel experiences. These paternal strengths also have deep biological underpinnings: Fathers typically have higher levels of testosterone—a hormone associated with dominance and assertiveness—than do mothers. Although the link between nature, nurture, and sex-specific parenting talents is undoubtedly complex, one cannot ignore the overwhelming evidence of sex differences in parenting —differences that marriage builds on to the advantage of children.

Dads also play differently with their kids than moms. They tend to rough house and wrestle more, and this is very good for kids! Roughhousing stimulates neuron growth within parts of the brain that are responsible for memory, learning, language, and logic. Roughhousing also helps kids learn their limits and how to self-regulate; basically because they’re learning how to play without hurting somebody. Here’s a whole book on the developmental benefits of roughhousing.

2. Two Parents Are Almost Always Better Than One

Aside from the obvious differences between men and women, just having two parents around instead of one benefits kids in many ways.

According to this report, children raised in intact married families are more likely to attend college, are physically and emotionally healthier, are less likely to be physically or sexually abused, less likely to use drugs or alcohol and to commit delinquent behaviors, have a decreased risk of divorcing when they get married, are less likely to become pregnant/impregnate someone as a teenager, and are less likely to be raised in poverty.

Professor Paul Amato from Pennsylvania State University examined several studies that considered the outcomes for children living two-parent v. one-parent households. He found that children who grow up in households with two continuously married parents are less likely to experience a wide range of problems, and that children from single parent families have “more behavioral problems, more emotional problems, and lower levels of school engagement (that is, caring about school and doing homework).”

My husband made an intriguing point: when a child has two parents, he will have two models to draw from when making choices that shape his personality. When a child has only parent, the child has only one model in their minds for how to do things or how to respond to challenges. While teachers and extended family certainly play an important role in this maturing process, parents influence their child’s perceptions and  personality more than any other person. With two parents to experience life with, the child may sub-consciously choose the personality and character traits that the child finds most important and useful. I think this dynamic is very complex and nuanced, but there is certainly some truth to it. Our oldest child, who will be 18 in September, clearly exhibits character traits from both his parents. Aidan is very spiritual and philosophical like me, but when in a crisis or when in engaged with somebody who is combative, he is very calm and rational like my husband. Of course, kids pick up bad personality traits from their parents, too, and sometimes a parent’s wounded personality can seriously affect his or her children on many levels. Nonetheless, I do think my husband is right: two parents give kids more to draw from when figuring out what to do in life and how to react to situations.

3. Dads Help Moms Become Their Best (or at least better) Selves

I am imagining how this road trip of ours would have gone without Philip along. It would have been much shorter and I would certainly be a lot more tired! Having him around really helps me be a better mom not just while we are traveling, but every, single day. Because of him, I’m a more calm, focused, and confident mom. When he travels on business, I find by about the third day I’m fatigued and a little cranky. I know we send women to the battle field and into the board room. No doubt, women can be fierce. They are very capable leaders, soldiers, and business owners. But thank goodness I don’t have to be everything to my children 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Children need 100 percent from their parents, but we are human and limited. My 100 percent fades pretty quickly. The gifts Philip brings to our family are inseparable from his masculinity. Because he’s confident in his role as a father and husband, I’m freed to explore and enjoy my role as a mom and wife. And that is really great for my kids.

Intentional Links: I Remember When . . . Sharing Your Family History with Your Kids

fireplaceDo your kids love to hear you talk about your childhood? Do they ask you to repeat the tale of the moment you met your spouse? Here are a few links that explain why!

What Kids Learn from Family Stories:  Great points about why kids benefit from well-told detailed family stories: children actually learn to tell their own story, they understand other people’s thoughts and emotions better, and teenagers who know a lot about their family history have a “more robust identity.” Links to research.

What Kids Should Know about Their Family History: Consider this list of things every kid should know about their family history. Do your kids know where you and your spouse met? Where you were married? Any illnesses or injuries when you were little?

Moms and Personal Story Telling:  Compared to dad, this study finds that mom tells better, more emotional stories about her life and this helps kids develop their own emotional skills.

Traditions: A Pleasant Tie that Binds: This is an essay over on CAPC written by a mom who is very serious about recording family history for future generations. She focuses here on explaining to kids why we have the traditions we have in our families! With Thanksgiving next week, this might be a great time to share with your children where some family recipes came from or why we do certain things every year.

Wednesday Links: PLAY

Some links about the importance of play for a child’s well-being and development:

Early Academic Training Produces Long-Term Harm:  this author cautions parents about academic pressure in preschool and kindergarten.

The effects of play on the learning brain: If you agree with the above author that children should not be pushed into academics too early, you will appreciate this article about the benefits of play on the learning brain. “Playful behavior appears to have positive effects on the brain and on a child’s ability to learn. In fact, play may function as an important, if not crucial, mode for learning.”

Will You Play with Me: a clear explanation of benefits of parents playing with their children, and in particular allowing their child to initiate play encounters.

“Mommy, You Are the Princess”: A new study published in the Journal of Infant and Child Development looked at the complexity of play in preschoolers when children play with their parents.  The most complex play occurs when the child initiates the play.

Children May Be Playing, but Their Brains Are Working:  types of play and what they do for kids’ cognitive development.

Wednesday Links

It’s been too long since I offered Wednesday Links!  Here are some great links for encouraging us to live with generous love in our families:

Love:

Raising a Baby Well Is Like Climbing Mount Everest:  Just like mountain climbing, wise parenting takes preparation, focus, and practice.

Tiger Moms and Her Critics Are Both Right:  Fascinating.  This article looks at research which suggests that whether or not “tiger mothering” (pushing, pressuring, even nagging a child in order to get her to succeed) is beneficial is dependent upon the child’s culture.  Children raised in an Asian culture where community-identity is valued do okay while Western kids where individuality is valued do poorly.  Note:  in neither Asian nor Western cultures did children do well in critical, authoritarian households.

Empathy:

Play Ball:  A young mother questions her own inclination to sign up her son for sports.  “While most of us engage in activities with an end goal in mind (a competition, a recital, a game), my son and my niece wanted to engage in something for the sheer love of doing it.  After that realization, I began to look at this rush to put our kids in organized activities in a whole new light. I wondered if, perhaps, we as parents might do our children a disservice by taking them out of the yard and putting them on the field too soon. Or by placing them in organized activities where they interact with peers and other adults instead of nurturing their love for an activity with us, their parents, the people they really want to share their love with the most.”

Gentle Discipline:

Raising a Moral Child:  If you want to raise a kind, helpful, compassionate child, this NY Times article argues that a parent should 1) avoid making the child feel like a bad person through shaming and 2) focus on the child’s good character rather than her actions.

Kids with Strong Bond to Parents Make Better Friends:  When kids enjoy a warm, loving relationship with their parents, they are more responsive and caring in their childhood friendships.

Play:

Outdoor Play More Important than Indoor Play for a Child’s Development:  In this article, Darcia Narvaez looks at research which suggests that outdoor play is imperative to a child’s mental and physical well-being — even more critical than indoor play.  I would be cautious about the suggestion that indoor play is “detrimental” for children.  Indoor play is very different from outdoor play.  The article cites the dangers of video games on a child’s development, but there are so many more ways our kids play inside.  Indoors a child can build wooden block castles, make forts with his siblings, and play board games with his parents.  This are wonderful play experiences. It’s the balance of these experiences that matter:  kids need both outdoor play and indoor play; they need both self-directed free play, and family play which might be more organized.

Why Play with Your Child?:  A superb overview of the benefits of parent-child shared play.

Radiant Faith

How to Be a Prayer Warrior While Fighting the Battle of Parenthood:  Great practical tips from Charisse Tierney for getting into a habit of daily prayer no  matter how busy you are with parenting little ones.

A Strong Marriage

The Spirituality of Sex:  A great article from Dr. Greg Popcak about the true Catholic view of sexuality.

Wednesday Links

Links to resources and articles for living out the 7 Building Blocks to a Joyful Catholic Home.  Here are some links for this week:

Love

The Importance of Friendship for School-Age Children:  How our love and affection can shape our child’s ability to form close friendships which is important for social thriving.  “Parents play a crucial role in their child’s social development. A child is not born with social skills. He needs parents who take an active role in preparing him to interact successfully with his peers. The most important thing parents can do for their child is to develop a loving, accepting, and respectful relationship with him.”

Play

The Disturbing Transformation of Kindergarten:   “One of the most distressing characteristics of education reformers is that they are hyper-focused on how students perform, but they ignore how students learn. Nowhere is this misplaced emphasis more apparent, and more damaging, than in kindergarten.”

Gentle Discipline

2 great links about teens!

Jobs:  Why Teenagers Don’t Do Chores and How to Use Follow-Through:  4 steps to effective follow-through with teenagers!

Teens Don’t Need to Rebel:  A great commentary from Dr. Greg Popcak on why it’s actually a recent cultural phenomenon for teenagers to rebel and 5 tips for preventing teen rebellion.

Radiant Faith

St. Joseph Altar:  I had never heard of this tradition which started in Sicily.  This article gives a great background and simple ways to make your own St. Joseph altar.

Wednesday Links

123172048Each week (or so) I will publish links to resources and news stories that are relevant to one of our 7 Building Blocks.

Love

Positive parenting protects your child from brain shrinking stress

Play

Cooperative and Listening:  Here’s a link to a short video by Tina Bryson, co-author of The Whole-Brained Child.  She offers parents practical tips on developing a playful attitude with our kids in order to avoid power struggles.

Radiant Faith

Thankful heart art project:  A cute paper craft to help your kids think about what they are grateful for as Thanksgiving approaches.

A Strong Marriage

Co-Habitation, Student Debt Threaten Marriage:  Cardinal O’Malley comments on cultural trends that are undermining the Sacrament of Marriage, especially co-habitation.

Welcome to Intentional Catholic Parenting

kimlydiaWelcome to our new website devoted to exploring the concept of “intentional Catholic parenting,” especially through “The 7 Building Blocks to a Joyful Catholic Home” parenting model.  This site will offer articles and links to relevant resources and research on how we can live intentionally with our children.

Here’s a description of “intentional Catholic parenting.”