Our children have a fifteen-year span from the oldest to the youngest, so whenever we engaged in family activities, it was often a challenge to keep the oldest and the youngest equally involved. But we found it was well worth the effort. Shared family activities, especially those that help the children grow in faith and virtue, weave a strong fabric of family unity and create a very firm foundation to help your children face the difficulties of modern life as they head out into the world.
The Blessings of Shared Family Faith Study
As parents we know that children learn best by example. When you establish a habit of studying the faith, you show your children that God is important to you and that we grow in love of God as we grow to know him more.
Whatever you do together becomes a shared memory. Whether it’s going to a movie or attending each other’s sporting activities, you share that moment and can refer back to it in future conversations. Why not have shared memories of studying the faith? My children still remember our VHS tapes of Cardinal Arinze explaining the Catechism. That’s about all we had when the children were little! But they still fondly remember his wonderful African accent.
Studying together also helps in the practice of the virtues of patience! I’ve seen my children learn to be patient with younger siblings who were too young to really pay attention. It also gave them opportunities for kindness, as they’d have a younger siblings sit on their laps during the video. These are moments that can form lasting bonds among siblings, especially if the video is trying to teach a virtue that the child has an opportunity to quickly put into practice.
Developing the Habit of Shared Faith Study
If you’re new to studying as a family, I recommend you start with some other activities to help your children build the stamina to stay focused on a family Bible study. One thing we often did was read a chapter book at the dinner table. Sometimes it was a classic, like Treasure Island; sometimes it was a faith story, like The Little Flower by Mary Fabyan Windeatt. As the children got older, we read the entire Lord of the Rings series! We allowed the children to pick what they wanted to read and come to a consensus, but every two or three books had to be of a religious nature.
These book readings gave us an opportunity to talk to the children about issues that arose in the stories. That’s the value of good literature: it gives us opportunities to work through issues of life and find the right answers. Doing this as a family means you have the ability to guide your children in finding those answers. This kind of discussion can also be done with good movies.
Family prayer time is also important. When my oldest children were still fairly young, we began praying a family Rosary after dinner. Starting with just one decade, we gradually built our way up over months. We had nice big pictures and individual Rosary books the children could look at. (Ascension’s Holy Rosary Placemats are also a great idea for kids.) Toddlers fingered their large wooden beads or looked at religious picture books, but they stayed with us throughout.
The first time we did the whole Rosary, my son, then about seven, stood up at the end and just said, “Too long.” It made us laugh! But it was a family thing, and we had built up to it, so he quickly got used to it. If you don’t think the family can start with a Rosary, institute a shorter family prayer time.
The same principles that help children pay attention during a read-aloud or family prayers can help them remain focused and engaged during your family Bible Study.
How to Start Your Family Bible Study
Once you’re ready to begin, pick a day and time. Everyone’s family schedule is different, so pick a day and time that works for you. If your kids are very involved in sports, you may have to pick a slower season to begin your study, but let the children know ahead of time that you’re going to do it. This will help them prepare. Be excited and occasionally talk about it, as you would any other exciting event that you anticipate.
For us, we wanted to teach the children that Sunday was the Lord’s Day, and that as such, we should do more for God on Sunday than just go to Mass. So we did our studies on Sunday afternoon. We further drilled in this lesson of the importance of the Lord’s Day by not letting our teens work on Sundays. They actually liked that rule! And even as adults, they have stuck to it. Everyone needs a day off. That’s why God gave us Sunday—to rest and to spend a little more time with him.
Choose Your Study
As I mentioned, when my children were young, pickings were slim for Catholic families! We had the set of VHS tapes with Cardinal Arinze and a couple children’s Rosary videos on VHS. Parents today have many more options, and Ascension offers some studies specifically directed to different age groups, audiences, and issues.
Youth groups and churches use a lot of Ascension’s studies, but families can use them, too. I recommend choosing a video study made especially for children or teens. Visuals really help children stay attentive and learn. Ascension has some of the best studies for youth available. Pick something that’s in the middle range of your children, so it’s not too hard for younger ones to understand and not too boring for older ones.
Great Adventure Kids is a fun and creative program for helping younger children understand the Bible.
Encounter: Experiencing God in the Every Day is a really engaging eight-week Bible Study geared towards middle school students that would be equally engaging to young teens.
T3: The Teen Timeline explains the Bible to teens, touching on issues and concerns teens have in today’s world.
Altaration: The Mystery of the Mass Revealed opens up the beauty of the Mass for young people like never before.
Ascension also has a Bible storybook with a teacher’s guide, a Bible Timeline puzzle, and a book of plays based on Bible stories so you can provide more variety to the ways you teach your children the Bible.
I wish these studies and resources had been available when my children were growing up. Parents today have powerful tools to help pass on the faith to their children and keep them strong.
How to Lead a Family Study
It goes without saying, but I’ll say it: leave the smart phones and iPads in another room! That goes for both parents and children. The focus should be on the study and the shared family time together. Give small children non-technology like a religious coloring book to keep them happy.
Don’t be afraid to combine studies. If I were doing it today and I had toddlers through teens, I would probably get the Great Adventure Kids for the younger ones to work on while the older ones went through one of the other programs. I would also encourage the older ones to help teach the younger ones their Bible lessons. I did this when I homeschooled, and the older siblings felt so responsible and the younger siblings felt so special!
Go through the study with your children and ask age-appropriate questions, even of the little ones. Don’t make it go on too long; just a few questions to make sure something stuck. Then, as opportunities arise during the week, bring up the lesson again. That’s another one of the blessings of shared experience. You can reinforce it in your daily life.
Family Faith Studies Are a Tremendous Blessing
Though it may take effort to introduce studies in your family, I encourage you to take the time to create a culture of shared faith study. I have seen our shared family faith activities strengthen my children in so many ways. These shared studies knit a fabric of family unity and create a foundation in their young, impressionable minds and hearts that God is real, that Mom and Dad believe in him, and that the Catholic Church has the answers to every yearning of the human heart. This is a message young people today need desperately to hear.
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Jeannette Williams is the part-time communications coordinator of St. Jude Church and Shrine in Chalfont, Pennsylvania and a freelance writer and blogger. The mother of six, she homeschooled the first five through high school in the classical tradition, while the youngest now attends a new classical high school, Martin Saints, in Oreland, Pennsylvania. Jeannette’s greatest passion, besides her family, is to study the Catholic Faith and share it with others. When she’s not writing, Jeannette enjoys studying Spanish and Japanese, gardening, and spending time with her husband and children.