Why Kids Like Sports Better than Religious Ed

I used to be one of those catechists with no patience for kids’ sports.  I believed in the value of athletics, I really did, but disapproved of the modern sports industry’s drain on society.  People who organized their lives around their kids’ games and practices were wrong-headed, period.

Then I had a kid who begged for three years straight to please be allowed to try a team sport — any sport at all, she just really, really wanted to be on a team.  That gateway drug of athletics, free summer practice, fell in our laps.  We committed to two months and no more.  And now I can explain to you why you are wrong-headed when you pit Church vs. Athletics.

Kids Want to Do Hard Things

Do you know another thing my junior athlete did? She co-founded a parish ministry.  At the end of fifth grade she sat on the church playground talking a mom of younger children in the parish, coming up with an idea for having parish families meet once a week for faith formation, academics, Adoration, Mass, and social time, faithfully Catholic but open to all-comers.

If the parents had to work the bureaucracy, it was the elementary schoolers who gave shape to the nuts and bolts of the ministry.

And for this they had to fight.  Over and over and over again my daughter saw how adults at every level of the church administration wanted to shut down a ministry that was operating under the complete supervision of the pastor, was explicitly open to every member of the parish (and got some great inter-generational participation as a result), and was in no way undermining any other parish or diocesan ministry.

Year after year my daughter tried different avenues for getting involved in parish life doing hard things.  Year after year, roadblocks came up.  Eventually she got the message: Kids who are serious about the faith aren’t welcome in the Catholic Church.

In contrast, over in the sports world, hard work and dedication was consistently welcomed and rewarded.  So that’s where she wants to be.

Kids Want to Be Themselves

When pastors and parish staff grumble about “sports,” something they overlook is that “sports” isn’t one single thing.  There are sports for every interest, body type, and personality, and leagues at every level of competitiveness.  You can be an elite ballerina or a rec bowler, and it’s all generic “sports” to the naysayers if it gets in the way of their plans for you.

Year after year my kids have listened to adults in authority tell them how beneficial it will be for them to commit two hours a week to sitting in classes they could literally teach themselves — as one honest catechist used to say with admiration to a child of mine.  These adults do not sit in the classes they so merrily foist on children whose names they can’t keep straight.  Staff time is valuable.  Children’s time is not.

The kids aren’t lazy.  They are choosing to spend their time on activities that are intellectually and physically demanding, often having to skip a friend’s birthday party or go without luxuries other kids enjoy because the family budget will only allow so much.  Trust me: If the only sport on offer was 2nd grade kickball, very few kids would be sacrificing for it.  Kids sacrifice for sports because athletics are one of the few venues where kids can take control of their formation and push themselves to make the most of their own personal talents and abilities and gifts.

Kids Want Competence

Coaches aren’t getting rich in children’s athletics.  Most are volunteers, and even those at higher levels who are getting a stipend have to support themselves with a full-time day job.  The question athletes ask isn’t, “What kind of degrees do you have in this field?” They just want proof you are a good coach.

When a team has a lousy coach, players vote with their feet.  A lousy club or league doesn’t hold onto athletes.

This is exactly like catechesis.  The difference is that because Church culture opposes personal growth and initiative (witness the resistance my daughter faced when she tried to meet with her friends to study the faith outside of the mandated religious-ed program), there aren’t “other teams” to turn to if a given program or instructor doesn’t work out for you.

Sadly, the monopoly of the local parish program’s age-mandated classing system creates incompetence.  It does this because no one teacher can be the best at meeting every child’s needs.  Just like some coaches are better at preparing future Olympic gymnasts and others are better at getting a pile of nervous t-baller’s to look at the ball, every catechist has strengths and weaknesses.  If you were told you had to meet the spiritual needs of every child in your neighborhood who was born in a certain 12-month span, you’d fail too.  It’s an impossible job.

Children Have Bodies

Do you know who is jealous of the human body?  Satan.

Humans use our bodies to express our souls.  We are unlike any other creature, having both a rational immortal soul and a physical body that will be resurrected and endure for all eternity in its glorified form.   What we do with our bodies matters, so learning to use our bodies well is important.  To hate the body is to hate the person.

This doesn’t mean the body is more important than the soul.  It isn’t.  Parishes need to up their game significantly when it comes to caring for children’s souls.  But sports isn’t competition.  We live in a society which offers few options for helping children develop physically.  The era when children grew in strength and endurance and agility by helping out with farm chores or physically-demanding skilled manual labor has largely passed.

As a teacher, I beg my restless students to go out for a sport every season, just so they can get the hours of running-around time they need so they are calm enough to sit still in class.  Kids (and adults) need physical activity in order to function well because we are made for it.

Kids Have Souls

What is the proper response of the Church to “competition” from sports?  The Church needs to do her own job.  Kids and parents don’t take faith formation seriously because parishes don’t take it seriously.

Unfortunately, at every level the credibility of church leaders has been lost.  After enough years of being told they should want to live on a diet of spiritual pablum, children quit believing their pastors.

Teenagers accuse “You don’t trust me!” and parents rightly observe that trust is earned.  Pastors must hold themselves to the same standard.  If your parish has only offered twaddle, kids and parents aren’t going to jump every time you announce a hot new thing is going to be great.  The American youth sports edifice wasn’t born in six months, and the rebuilding of evangelization won’t happen instantly either.

As good as sports are, we should be gravely concerned when parents and children neglect their souls in favor of their bodies.  It is a profound and shameful problem.

But the solution isn’t for parish staff to take children’s bodies less seriously.  The solution is to take children’s souls more seriously.

Related: Are Sports Sabotaging or Strengthening Your Family’s Faith?

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Photo courtesy of Wikimedia [Public Domain]

Manliness and a Perfect Funeral

Hathaway’s funeral was perfect.  Chanted Extraordinary Form Requiem Mass at the old but not old-old St. Mary’s church in Aiken, then procession to the graveside for a Melkite burial.  Nothing says “four last things” like a Dies Irae in the hands of a good cantor.

As our line of cars, lights on, hazards flashing, police escort, ambled down US 1 towards the cemetery, traffic of course made way.  But this is a land where funerals are still taken seriously, and even on the four-lane highway where there was no practical need to do so, most vehicles coming the other direction pulled to the side, stopped, and put on their lights, paying their respects.  You have no idea of it, I thought as I passed driver after driver putting life on hold for two minutes of stillness in honor of a complete stranger, but you are witness to the funeral of one of the world’s great men.

***

John’s daughter asked (shortly after his death) if I could speak at the funeral meal.  After the perfection of the funeral homily and the solemnity of the mass and burial, what I had prepared seemed woefully inadequate.  It also was not very gentle, but fortunately there was a line-up of nice friendly people to follow, including a dear friend with the gift for coming across as a big, chummy teddy bear while he reminded the audience of the value of redemptive suffering and the need for masses and holy hours of reparation.

I’m sure most people did not like what I had to say, but the one person it was written for thanked me for saying it.  Below is the text, with most of the typos removed.

***

When we try to explain the difference between men and women, we tend to resort to stereotypes.  We know that men possess, on average, more physical strength than women, so we use examples of large, muscular men performing heavy manual labor.  We know that men have an inborn, undeniable vocation as providers and protectors, so we reach for clear examples of those.  When we think of providers, we might give the example of a successful business owner, or an accomplished professional; or we might think of an ordinary workman or farmer putting in long hours at physically grueling labor in order to provide a simple but decent living for even a very large family.  We know that men are created to be protectors of the family and community, and thus we look to the sacrificial life of men who have careers in the military or as law enforcement officers.  These are not bad examples.  But they don’t get to the heart of what it means to be a man.

John Hathaway had the rare and excruciating vocation of showing the world what it means to be a man.

You could not look at John and think “typical big strong muscular man.”  (Though at times he astonished me at how strong he was.)  But what is a man’s strength for?  It is for serving God and serving his family.  John Hathaway used every ounce of his physical strength in fulfilling his vocation as husband, father, and Christian.  I remember him telling me the story of literally crawling to Holy Communion one time, so determined he was to receive Our Lord despite whatever parish he was visiting not noticing he needed the sacrament brought to him in the pew.  John was a wealth of medical knowledge – if I had a difficult medical question, he was on the short list of people I’d go to with such questions – because he was utterly focused on husbanding his strength, as the expression goes, so that he would be as strong as he possibly could be in order to serve his wife, his children, and God.

As a provider, John fell in the terrible predicament of those who are extremely talented but not in financially lucrative ways.  He was an English professor in a nation where adjunct professors sometimes literally live out of their cars because they cannot afford rent.   Many men find themselves in this position, willing to do whatever it takes to provide for their families, but thrust into overwhelming circumstances beyond their control.  The despair this can cause men is at times deadly.

John Hathaway deployed extraordinary determination and perseverance and ingenuity in figuring out, day after day, year after year, how to provide for his family.  And he did provide.  He absolutely embodied what it means for a husband and father to be a provider.

As a protector I want to talk about John’s role in defending his children’s very lives.

We live in a time when it is legally and politically and socially acceptable to say that John and Allie and Gianna and Josef and Clara should simply be killed.  They should never have been allowed to be conceived, for fear they not measure up to some ideal standard of human health.   Allie, the same Allie who has been a pillar of strength and a fount of practical help to Mary over this past harrowing week; the same Allie who is delightfully talented and devoted to sharing her talents with the community . . . is someone that even Christians will sometimes say, “it would have been better if she’d never been born.”

I would say John’s life work was one steady, undying protest against that evil.  He tirelessly spoke and wrote and worked to persuade the world that his children deserve to live.

This vocation of his was painful.  It was physically and spiritually exhausting. He deployed every spiritual and physical weapon at his disposal against the constant and at times overpowering despair and darkness that descended on his life.

I can recall at times literally thanking John for still being alive.  I thanked him for the depths of the agony he endured by dint of continuing to pursue medical care in order that he might, for as long as possible, be present in this life to his family.  I thanked him selfishly: I knew that death would be easier and more pleasant for him, and I knew that when that time came I would feel his absence profoundly.  John was a delightful person to know and to talk to and to be with.

In closing I want to commend Mary for her choice of a husband.  She has faithfully withstood no end of criticism for marrying a man who lacked the superficial traits that are idolized by our society.  But she has known what others don’t see: That she married a man who truly embodied manliness to its fullness.  He cherished her, he sacrificed daily for her and the children, and gave his life and every ounce of his strength to providing for and protecting his family.  He made his own and by extension their relationship with Jesus Christ his number one priority.  He was everything any man could ever aspire to be.

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The pale and fleeting beauty of the Shadowlands, as seen in the Jesuit church in Quito, Ecuador. Photo by Diego Delso, delso.photo, License CC-BY-SA.

Minecraft for Adults!

The 14-year-old, she of recent heart-surgery fame, got to talking about wanting to be the one to design the rooms for a much-wanted minor renovation of our living space.  (Tip: When your children double in size, they need slightly more bedroom space than back in the glory days when you could squeeze them all into bunks like pint-sized sailors.)

The girl likes to design and decorate.  She keeps begging to design my classroom for this fall (yes, me with a regular teaching job — whoa!).  She has built whole neighborhoods in Minecraft, year after year of new communities.  She went through a phase where she played World of Tanks with the prime object of driving around looking at the houses.  And of course there have been countless 3-D models built — wood block, plastic block, cardboard doll houses, you name it.

So I told her if she wanted to design her brother’s new bedroom, she needed to get on Google SketchUp and do it there.

She grabbed the good computer (smart kid — knows when she can get away with claiming the parents’ computer) and started searching around.  Periodically she’d call out with a question from the other room, but after enough times of me calling back, “Look up a tutorial on YouTube and watch that,” she quit asking for help and just figured it all out.  Which was necessary, since I have never actually used SketchUp.  I just knew it existed.

Five or six hours in, she declared,”This is addictive. It’s like Minecraft for adults.”

Which is when I quick started googling architecture schools.  I kinda like the look of Benedictine’s program — nice balance of real art and real engineering courses (you have to dig up the student handbook-catalog to see the whole program laid out — wish they’d stick the course of study up on the website directly).  By nightfall her father was already giving her the talk about how if she wanted to be an architect she’d need to spend a summer framing houses.  It is possible the parents can be a little intense at times.  But he’s right, of course.  I pointed out she’d end up wickedly fit, and SuperHusband added she’d end up with a killer tan.  The latter seemed to pique her interest.

We’re on day two of the SketchUp marathon, and if nothing else, she’s found a way to pass a long and uneventful post-op recovery.  Whether it turns into a profession or not, it’s good for a teen to discover she can teach herself genuine adult professional skills.

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Sample of some SketchUp art by BennedettaG, courtesy of Wikimedia, CC 3.0.  L.’s drawings contain more water features.  We are not building water features, FYI.  Nor arches.  

In other news: The boy made it to his apartment in France despite getting delayed and re-routed.  I was pretty proud when I learned he’d managed to get himself and two other beleaguered travelers across Paris to catch the last TGV of the night to their destination city — complete with standing his ground with the evasive SNCF employee who was reluctant to let foreigners know national secrets about catching trains.  (Eventually a supervisor showed up and insisted the minion answer questions because it was obvious the boy wasn’t going to leave until he was assisted, and the supervisor wanted to go home for the night.  Mr. Boy reports all the other Parisians were quite helpful, there was just that one throwback from the days before the French discovered that “customer service” is a thing that can help draw customers to your tourist-centered economy.)

Is it nerve-wracking wondering if your sweet little baby whom you swear was only born five minutes ago is going to have to find a place to sleep in a strange city late at night?  Sure.  But sooner or later, a kid has to learn these arts.  And he had the sense to know that if you arrive at your destination at midnight, you scrap the plan to walk to your apartment and hail a cab instead.   When you let your kids practice the adult skills, they start developing the adult instincts.  It is good.

How To Have Competent Young Adults

So Saturday the internet went out, and here’s what happened next:  Mr. Boy, now officially all graduated and legal and I guess technically Mr. Young Man, says to my husband, “Would you like me to clean the house, or would you like me to get on the phone with AT&T and get our service fixed?”

Now he does not have superhuman powers, so it still took until Tuesday for AT&T to actually show up.  But they did, and the friendly service guy, who is not at fault for AT&T’s corporate lapses, worked with Mr. Young Man to figure out what had happened and get it fixed.  (It was them not us . . . my IT Boy Man would have fixed it if it were us.)

Here is another thing that happened on Saturday: My 16-year-old and I got into a huge fight about the state of our front yard, eventually came to a truce-type-moment, and she proceeded to carry out a massive landscaping renovation.  First thing Monday she phone around to mulch dealers, got the best price on pinestraw, calculated how much she’d need, drove the truck (and I drove the other truck) out to pick it up, loaded the truck with a bazillion bales of pinestraw, and came home and made our yard look 10,000 times better . . . and then pressured-washed the driveway.

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Our yard Before & After, as visualized by Wikimedia.  [Public Domain and CC 3.0  Daderot at en.wikipedia respectively.]

 

So how do you get yourself some teenagers who are able to take the initiative and do responsible things?

By letting them take the initiative and learn to do responsible things.

For the boy, I’d say the turning point was letting him unschool 7th grade science.  Every day he was required to read or do some kind of science thing, and make a note of what that was.   I knew I could count on him to educate himself in that area, and indeed he did. Mostly he read technology websites that year.  In later years we bought him computer pieces for his birthday or Christmas when he wanted to build or re-build a computer.  By spring of 12th grade he’d landed his first regular IT job.  He’s 18 and pretty much already has a profession, because we let him do the thing he was interested in.  We didn’t send him to lessons or anything complicated.  We let him experiment and take risks and just do the thing.  There was a lot of trial-and-error involved, but it was his trial, not ours, and now he knows how to avoid the errors.

I’ve already documented some of E.’s artful adventures.  Note that nearly all the things from this beautiful backyard patio area have now been moved around for other decorating needs.   Having a child who can paint means never knowing where your paintbrushes are (except when they are left sitting by the kitchen sink).  The reason the girl is confident she can take on a front-yard renovation is because she’s been let loose with the weed-whacker and the leaf-blower and the pressure-washer many times before, even though she doesn’t always do it the way I wish she would.  (See: Bitter Argument Saturday Morning, Why Did You Chop Down That Oak Sapling?)

Now notice here that my IT guy did not help with the lawn.  Note that my lawn girl did not lift a finger to fix the internet (shout-out to the grandparents who pay for her data plan . . . she had internet while I didn’t, ha.)  There will come a time when they are older and they’ll have to take on a certain number of big projects that they don’t particularly care to do.  At 16 & 18, a realistic expectation is that your kids will go big and deep on the things that are most important to them.

But that’s a good start.  If they learn in their teens that they can take an interest in something, master all the skills, and be turning out professional-grade work as a result?  I think that’s about where they need to be.

So parents,  if you are terrified of the mess your kids are going to make, or you are tempted to over-program and over-schedule their lives, or you worry that your kids aren’t “well-rounded” because they tend to focus mostly on one or two types of interests and not ALL THE THINGS, relax.

Set a few boundaries, sure.  But mostly: Just let your kids do things.

 

Why We Homeschooled So Long

At The Washington Post: The decline of play in preschoolers — and the rise in sensory issues.  Reading this article was a moment of revelation for me.  Way back when #2 was about seven or so, I can remember walking down to the corner elementary school to play on the playground after hours, and we looked into one of the classrooms.  It looked ideal.  It practically called her name.  There was a wooden play kitchen, and child-sized tables, and loads of art supplies, and of course the wonderful playground just outside the big windows that filled the classroom with natural light.  For my little extrovert, this classroom was her people.

And I thought to myself: Maybe I should not be homeschooling this child.  Maybe I should send her to school.

Then I came to my senses: This was was the kindergarten classroom.  By the time you are seven, it’s rows of desks and standardized tests for you.  Not to mention we’d had dealings with one of the neighbor-kindergartners, and so we were acquainted with the long list of “reading words” that five-year-olds at the corner school were somehow expected to memorize and supposedly “read,” at an age when, developmentally, not all children are even capable of learning to read.  All four of my kids went on to become fluent, competent readers who read for both pleasure and information, but none of them would have been able to read that list of words at age five.  They were physically unable.  Since they were at home, instead of being embarrassed by their supposed stupidity, they received the kinds of pre-reading instruction that educational research shows actually helps.

Some of things that help are language-based — read-alouds and rhyming games and stuff like that.  Something else that helps kids learn to read is learning about the world.  This is important because you can’t make sense of words on a page if you have no idea what those words are referring to.  You won’t understand a scene taking place in a grocery store if you’ve never been to a grocery store.  You won’t understand a nature scene if you’ve never been out in nature.  Playing teaches some important reading skills. It teaches you about the physical world, because you are physically doing stuff. It teaches you about human interactions, because you are creating scenarios and living them out.  Playing teaches you to think, because all play requires imagination and initiative and problem-solving.

***

(If you want to understand the great Maria Montessori vs. Charlotte Mason wrestling match, the missing piece is this: Charlotte Mason’s audience had access to the real world; Maria Montessori’s students were kids who would otherwise have spent their day alone in a tiny working-class flat while their parents put in 14-hour shifts at the local factory.  Much of Montessori is about providing Mason when Mason can’t be had.  At The Register I’ve got up a piece that is an example of that kind of adaptation, in this case for teens.)

***

I’m still a big believer in homeschooling.  I agree with Ella Frech’s philosophy of education.  For various reasons, though, my kids at the moment like school.  As a homeschooler I always involved my kids in decisions about their education. I’d propose some possibilities for the year ahead, and the kids would give me feedback on what they wanted to learn or which approach they preferred of the choices I put on the table.  I was open to suggestions if they had ideas different than what I was planning.  When I held firm on a curriculum choice, I had solid reasons that I could explain to everyone, kids and spouse alike, and they could see why that particular choice was the one we needed to pursue.

So each of the kids, at various points and for various reasons, deciding to go to school has been a natural extension of that philosophy: If I was open to you choosing a different science book, why would I not also be open to you choosing a different science teacher?

The WaPo article, though, underscores for me why the youngest any child of mine has gone to school was fifth grade — and at that point, she happened to choose our local parish school where the early-grades teachers seem to have a pretty strong grasp of what early-grades learners need.  When you are little, you needs hands-on and interactive experiences.  Homeschooling let us do that.  Inasmuch as I’m happy with the school decisions we have in place right now, it is because the schools are, in their various ways, providing the bigger-kid versions of that for our children.

Anyhow, all this to say: Let your kids play.

 

Related: On the Forming of Young Christians

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Not my children, but mine play this game too.  Photo by Abi Blu, courtesy of Wikimedia, CC 4.0.

Snowpersons for Life

What do you when the interstate becomes impassable on your route to the March for Life?  Pull over and make Phyllis, the snowperson.  Why yes, the pro-life movement is young — and happy to be alive.

FYI if you didn’t see it over at the Register, this is what happened at our state March for Life, when a non-denominational Christian tried to talk my son and his friends out of being Catholic.

When You Need Christmas Carols

This afternoon we’re going caroling with our friends (and you can too)!  The way I buy out of the obligation to bring something good for the potluck is to bring the music instead.

The booklets I put together back in 1998 for our first caroling party are starting to get a bit ragged.  This is our year to refresh, and I suspected CCWatershed could help, since they were my source for Advent music a few weeks ago for the dread homeschool music-minutes.*  For those who were in on the Advent Music brainstorming session on Facebook, the answer is that I went with “Creator of the Stars of Night.”  Some people I live with were skeptical that young children could be counted on to quickly learn such a thing, but my class of monkeys had the hang of it by the third verse.  So I maintain that one is a great choice for kids who can read words — simple tune, easy range, repeat repeat repeat.

But for the neighbors, we need Christmas Carols.  CCWatershed did not disappoint.  I searched around and found their link to ACollectionofChristmasCarols.com.  If you go to that site you can choose the format that works best for you.  If you’re going out caroling on short notice, what you want to do is download the free PDF and print out just the pages you plan to sing from to make your booklets.  If you want the whole shebang, you are way better off to purchase the book version from whichever of the several options best meets your needs.

So You Want to Go Caroling, You Said?

Let me give you a couple tips on how to organize your music.

When you ring on someone’s doorbell, you don’t want to make them stand there forever.  You also want them to have a vague idea of what it is you are singing, so your ragtag bunch needs to choose wisely.  Here’s the formula:

(1) Pick out six or seven carols that everyone and their brother is likely to know, and which are easy to sing. If your neighborhood has many people who do not celebrate Christmas, include some generic winter-season festive music in your line-up.  You do not win hearts to the Gospel by irritating and offending people.

(2) Choose two or three verses to sing for each song or carol.  For slow songs like “Silent Night,” make it two verses. For quick, peppy songs you can do three.  Decide ahead of time and make a note.

DO NOT TRY TO SING MORE THAN ONE VERSE OF “THE FIRST NOEL.”  Why yes, I am shouting at you.  Trust me: Nobody in your group knows how to match the words to the melody in the subsequent verses.  It will be a disaster.  Don’t do this.  “The First Noel” is a great song to not ever ever ever sing with your friendly neighborhood carolers.  Just never.  Leave that one at home.

For “We Three Kings,” sing the first and last verse.  You may sing all five verses at home with your friends.  The police will be right to issue you a citation if you pressure your neighbors into standing there listening to the entire saga king by king.  First and last and no one’s gonna hunt you down and egg your house.

(3) Make yourself sets of three-song combinations.  #3 is always “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”  #1 will be something lively, and #2 is where you can put “Silent Night” or any song that drags out a little.  As you go from house to house, rotate through the combinations.    If someone asks you for more than three songs, you can always throw in another one.

(4) Use common sense when assessing whether to ring the doorbell and what to sing.  If lights are off, don’t ring.  If there are Christmas decorations up, it’s reasonable to assume the residents celebrate Christmas.  FYI,  the full lyrics of “Let it Snow” plus one verse and refrain of “Jingle Bells” is about the right amount for your non-Christmas houses.  And my apologies gentle reader, I live in the Bible Belt, I don’t have a second secular-set to propose, because we don’t usually need even the first set.  I’m sure your kid’s school Winter Concert playlist includes some suggestions.

(5) If you are clever you’ll order your music packets so that the carols are in order and you can just keep cycling through the packet and inserting “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” from memory.   (Stick it on the last page in case the Chinese exchange student shows up and needs the words. You can separate out your “Christmas” rotation from your “Secular” rotation as well.  A post-it note in the packet could help.)

(6) The We-Wish-You finale (or “Jingle Bells” for non-Christmasers) is important not just because it works well for signaling to the neighbors that their time of redemption is at hand, but also it means that your toddlers will always have something they can sing at each house.  Little kids do pretty well just dragging along and humming about Harold Angel, as long as they can belt out We-Wish-You with gusto for each song.   “Away in a Manger” is good for little ones who’ve been made to learn it at Sunday School, and “Angels We Have Heard on High” works well because the pre-literate crowd can join in on the In Excelsis Deo.

(7) Pack flashlights.

 

Enjoy!

 

Artwork Courtesy of acollectionofchristmascarols.com.

 

*Dreaded no longer.  That class is going great ever since we switched formats.  It turns out some of the wild monkeys are shockingly happy studying Tantum Ergo.  And speaking of CCWatershed: I noticed the Cathedral in Charleston is using the Saint Isaac Jogue Pew Lectionary and the Pope Francis Hymn Book.  Both of them look great.  Recommended.

 

Advent, Christmas, and Your Child’s Vocation

It’s time for the Advent Wars to flare up again here at the Fitz castle.  I think I’ve found my solution, and it’s related to my latest at the Register and a new book out by Suzan & Eric Sammons.

Let’s start over at NCR: 11 Ways to Prepare Your Boy to Be a Great Priest.  I’m pretty sure that post is now officially the most popular thing I’ve ever written.*  To clarify and provide related links, at the blorg I put together a compendium: Evangelization and Discipleship for the Boys & Girls Who Live At Your House. With that as a preface, here’s how my solution to the Advent Wars fits into my approach to fostering vocations in my kids.

There are 12 Days of Christmas, and They Don’t Start Until December 25th

The annual battle concerns when to put up the Christmas tree and how to decorate it.  The mother resides in the Advent Austerity camp.  The more closely we imitate the lodgings of St. John the Baptist the better, right?  The children, led by the Eldest Daughter, would be perfectly happy to have Rudolph on the Roof beginning November 1.  In years past children have literally sneaked the fake Christmas tree out of the attic while I was sleeping and set it up in the living room in total silence.  This might be the one thing they manage to accomplish without any bickering whatsoever, so I count my blessings and offer it up.

But this year things will be different.

This year, Suzan Sammons put into my hands a review copy of her new book The Jesse Tree: An Advent Devotion.  I like it.  There’s a chart that shows you how to get all your ornaments up during Advent, no matter how weird of a liturgical year we’re having.  The sample ornaments in the book are crazy simple.  The daily suggested reflection and prayer hits the spot without overwhelming.  It’s like this book was written by a couple Christian parents with a pile of kids.   I recommend this book.

The Jesse Tree

Also you longtime readers know me: I’m not doing no Jesse Tree.  Sheesh.  Who are we kidding?

But you know who can do a Jesse Tree?  My crafty Christmas-crazy kids, that’s who.  So the new deal is this:

  • IF children want to do the Jesse Tree . . .
  • AND the teenagers who now have drivers licenses agree to do all the craft supply shopping . . .
  • AND the teenager who tends to hog craft projects solemnly promises to let her little sisters have a fair share of the ornament-making work . . .
  • AND the 11-year-old who best succeeds at daily routines and pestering us all into responsible family behavior and who happens to be a great Junior Lector agrees to host the Jesse Tree prayer time each evening . . .

THEN parents will fund the ornament budget and let children put the tree up before Advent begins, FOR ADVENT ORNAMENTS ONLY.

That’s my solution.

How does this fit in with my vocations post at the Register?  I’m so glad you asked.

Kids need to own their faith.

There are a bazillion ways to be Catholic, and kids need to figure out for themselves which devotions and prayers and disciplines are made for the type of people that they are.  If God fills you with a passion for Pinterest projects, you should run with it.  My eldest daughter has long been certain she has a vocation to marriage, and I don’t disagree.  The homemaking side of holy day observances is part of such a vocation.  So why shouldn’t she practice it?

If I do everything for my kids, they’ll never learn how to do things themselves. That’s true of laundry, cooking, homework — and it’s true of their faith.  You have to give kids chances to practice being Catholic, all on their own.  Now that two of my kids can drive?  I totally let the kids go to whatever Sunday Mass they want, regardless of when the parents are attending.

It is really important that kids know down to their bones that the faith is something they do, not something they only do with their parents.  They have to practice showing up at church alone so that it feels normal and natural for them to wake up on a Sunday and get in the car and drive to Mass someplace.   I don’t mean you’re a bad parent if your whole family gets in the car and goes to Mass together every week.  I mean that we parents need to look for ways — and this Jesse Tree thing is an example — that happen to be good ways, given your own family life, for your kids to practice taking charge of their faith.

You’re still the parent.  They aren’t totally spun off on their own yet.  But if you see some good opportunity for a kid in your family to do a thing he or she naturally wants to do and that provides that chance to take the lead on the faith, let the kid have at it.

Related Links, Starting with Crafts:

  1. My friend Sandra pointed me towards Ginger Snap Crafts, where you can find instructions for wood slice ornaments and for snowflake ornaments among many others.  You could switch out the snowflakes for Jesse Tree symbols. The wood grain nativity set was what originally caught her eye – don’t use treated lumber if you want your preschooler to be able to build Bethlelem with it.
  2. You do know about Catholic Icing, right?

From Advents Past:

5 Ways to Give Your Family a Peaceful Advent

Well Hello, Advent.  We Meet Again.

5 Reasons Slacker Catholics Do Advent Best – #2 Will Shock You

5 Ways We Keep Christ in Christmas at Our House

I don’t know why all the lists come in fives.

Two New Holiday Movies & a Grammar Lesson:

Dickens, Scrooge, and the Road to Redemption: A Review of “The Man Who Invented Christmas” – Reviewed by Tony Rossi

“The Star”: Hijinks and Holiness Make a Fun Christmas Story for the Family.  The handful of Catholic writers I’ve talked to who’ve seen the preview have loved it — and some of them are quite prickly about Hollywood getting hold of Bible stories.  So scout around for reviews if you’re not certain.

How to Make Your Last Name Plural This Holiday Season Because you love America and Tiny Tim and don’t want a reindeer to have to die each time you abuse an apostrophe.

Who is that Eric Sammons Guy?

It turns out he writes good books.

And did you notice how beautifully edited those two books were? I did.  It was Suzan Sammons we have to thank for that, in case you’re ever looking for a good copy-editor.

And finish to the round up . . .

The Top Three Things I’m Most Glad I Added to My Holiday Season

These have stood the test of time.  They are my go-to holiday things.  Now you look around and find your holiday things.  Happy Advent Wars!

 

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Image by Xavier Romero-Frias (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

 

 

*Correction: As of mid-morning, How to Avoid Becoming a Bitter Catholic still had the lead in total shares.  Look at them both and vote with your sharing buttons!

When Wild Monkeys Take Over Your Classroom

Allow me to tell you a story about this woman who foolishly volunteered to help at church, and wild monkeys came and pelted all the splash bombs at each other.

One of my kids is in classes once a week at St. Optimist’s, and a couple weeks into the new school year the director identifies a problem: Students are dropped off at class early (a good thing), and therefore teachers are having a hard time getting their classrooms set up in the half-hour before the program begins.  Due to assorted logistical constraints, it is not possible to set up earlier.

The director assess the situation, looks at our available resources, and proposes: Since we have an empty classroom and a number of background-checked, fully-trained classroom assistants who are free during that crucial half-hour, how about all the kids who arrive early report to the spare room, where volunteers can do music with the kids.

“Music with the kids” is a time-honored way of occupying children during downtime, and the parents are all in favor of extra minutes of music education.  Somehow I am that music person.

–> Mostly likely because I am foolish enough to think: I have long years of experience with keeping children occupied and educated.  I have written my own VBS program from scratch and pulled it off (with the help of a good team), including the part about music-with-kids.  I wrote the lyrics to a VBS song and made up hand motions and everything.  I can totally do this.  Not a problem.

So I say to myself: Some people complain that Mrs. Fitz can be a little dry when she teaches.  These children are about to go into ninety minutes of class time, some of them are quite young, and we don’t want to push their sitting-still skills too far.  Also, Mrs. Fitz isn’t exactly a trained musician, to put it politely. But she has written a VBS program before.  Mrs. Fitz is usually pretty popular when she thinks up games for the kids, indeed she keeps both Wiffle balls (red and blue for sorting by team) and a bag of splash bombs on hand, because you never know when you’ll need them.

This could be why Mrs. Fitz’s classes get a little carried away sometimes.  <<– That reality was not something I was thinking about when I wrote up plans for the first go-round.  Indeed we could describe the first attempt at planning the “Music Games” half-hour as “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

It was not a good idea.

It may well have been my most spectacular teaching failure ever.

***

Setting aside all the minor infractions against good classroom management skills that did not help: The game thing just wasn’t a good idea.

About half the children were enthusiastic about games and eager to do interesting activities oriented towards developing an awareness of rhythm, tempo, and communication skills (like paying attention to what your singing partners are doing). The other half of the children were clearly hard-wired to receive the sensory input of “there is a foam ball in my hand” and immediately activate the DODGE BALL IS ON centers of the brain.

No one got hurt, and that’s about the only positive to report on the post-incident review.

I felt compelled to speak to the other volunteers afterwards and say: “It is very important that you know that I know that our class this morning was an absolute disaster.”  –> There are few things more painful than having to return in a week to “co-teach” with someone who thinks that Lord of Flies, Foam Dodge Ball Edition is a desirable classroom experience.

None of the other parents immediately quit the program and moved dioceses, so the frank apology maybe kinda worked.

***

But of course I didn’t get fired either, which meant that I had to come back a week later with a much better plan.

The new plan had three prongs to it:

  1. Plan ahead to prevent those minor infractions (of mine) against good classroom management skills.
  2. Plan ahead to be ready for the wild monkeys and know what you are going to do when they enter the room formerly known as Dodge Ball Free-For-All and are tempted to act up again.
  3. Ditch the games and go with a super-calm approach to music time instead.

We can always re-introduce games another time.

And it worked.  Some of those kids who were primed for Total Nerf War made superb music students when I gave them a format that didn’t involve anything remotely resembling PE class.   Teachers reported that the kids arrived to class calmer than they’d been all month, and overall behavior the rest of the morning was better as a result.

***

Lessons learned:

  • No, I am not making it up when I say at the outset of my book Classroom Management for Catechists that yes, in fact I’m horrible at this stuff.  It was a madhouse.  Total insanity.
  • That’s pretty embarrassing, but the following week I proved my other assertion: You don’t have to be naturally good at classroom management in order to learn how to teach well.  It’s a skill.  You can learn it, and you can review and improve as-needed over time.

I also maintain that there’s a time and place for every kind of class. Some groups of kids do really well with active, even boisterous, learning activities, and some kids do phenomenally well with the exact opposite.  What are you, omniscient?  I’m not.  If you plan wrong, change your plans until you get them right.

 

Classroom Management for Catechists by Jennifer Fitz

Ordering notes if you are so inclined: For bulk orders, phone or e-mail Liguori and find out what the best deal is.  It may be worth while to combine orders with a neighboring parish in order to get a volume discount.  There’s also a Spanish edition, Manual del manejo de clase para catequistas.  The book is useful for anyone who has to manage groups of children.  You can read my summary of what it’s about over at my books page.

 

 

 

 

New App Simplifies Trafficking, Incest & Statutory Rape

CHARLOTTE, NC — A new App called Nurx ensures sex traffickers, abusive relatives and overbearing boyfriends are not burdened by complicated encounters with health care professionals, while ensuring that the girls who service them never, ever, meet a physician, nurse, or clinic work who might intervene and contact the authorities.

“If a teenage girl is engaging in a behavior that has potentially life-threatening consequences, that’s not something her parents need to know about,” the health care provider explained.  “It’s better just to give her a medication with known fatal side effects without ever consulting a physician in person.”

Critics have questioned whether teenagers are able to reliably choose their own prescription medications, but teachers and school administrators all agreed in an industry consensus statement, “If there’s one thing we can say about teenagers, it’s that they are reliable, diligent, and filled with a deep sense of personal responsibility.”

The document went on to say, “No teenager would ever lie on a form on the internet.  Sexual predators don’t ever use fake identities on the internet either. So this is completely not a public health concern.”

“We care about girls’ reproductive health and freedom,” a public health official observed.  “Many girls have said they’d ‘rather die’ then let their parents know what they’re doing. Nurx is here to make that possible for them.”

 

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Need a prescription?  Internet doctors can help you with that.  Photo courtesy of Wikimedia [CC 3.0]