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Catholic Homeschool Articles, Advice & Resources

Put Some Spark In Your Summer!


Add some spark to the summer! Encourage your children in their interests so they can refine their gifts, bless the world, and lead more souls to heaven.

This January, my youngest son turned twelve. As his gift, my husband and I gave him a guitar. We had long suspected he had the musical ability (as does his older sister, who is a gifted musician) but he had not really expressed a desire for an instrument or lessons. We decided to make the rather expensive purchase and see if he responded with enthusiasm. When he unwrapped the gift, the look in his eyes told me we had done well. It was the spark.

When people think of their children having a gift, often it is academic excellence or some great talent such as art and music that comes to mind. And yes, those are gifts and should be cultivated; however, your child does not necessarily have to be a scholar to have a gift. The traditional definition of a “gifted child” has been linked to high test scores and academic excellence, which is certainly important, but there are many other ways a child can be gifted.

An Abundance of Talent

“Today’s intelligence researchers emphasize that nearly all children—not just the celebrated 5 percent—have special talents,” says David G. Myers, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. Studies at Harvard University bear this out, suggesting that kids can display intelligence in many different ways—through words, numbers, music, pictures, athletic or “hands-on” abilities, and social or emotional development.”

The school year can be hectic between schoolwork and other obligations. It can be hard to muster the enthusiasm for outside interests but during the summer, when the load is lighter it can be fun to see where enthusiasm takes your child. It may lead to an absorbing hobby or possibly a career. At the very least it could lead to some family fun and relaxation and that is a laudable goal.

So how does a parent help their child find that spark? Here are a few suggestions to make your summer of spark happen.

Free Time Sparks the Imagination

In the beginning, it may be as simple as not scheduling anything for a week or so and letting the children explore how to occupy their time. I am an advocate of turning off the screens to allow imaginations to develop, but in this case, some screen time might be helpful. My son (the newly minted guitar player) loves to fish. He will spend all his computer time researching fishing areas in our area and what kinds of bait attract what kind of fish. His library stack always includes fish books and nature guides, but he finds a lot of good information from some excellent websites. He also enjoys watching videos of fisherman tying flies and waxing poetic about lures.

Unscheduled time might find your child building forts, coding in Minecraft, watching videos of robotics projects, puttering around in the garden, biking, playing card games, or redecorating their room. All these activities could spark enthusiasm for a hobby or profession. Pay close attention to how they spend their free time both onscreen and off. If too much time is being spent onscreen in a useless way, turn it all off and this is when you will generally find them picking up a sketch pad or shooting hoops in the driveway.

It also bears mentioning that if your child perseveres in building a skill or working on a project, even after a failed attempt or two, this is an indicator that there is a spark for that endeavor. Lend a hand, without taking over, suggest an idea or resource, and back away and let the project unfold.

Varied Experiences Spark Interest

With life starting to return to normal in many areas, it is time to consider providing a variety of experiences for the children to pique interest or expose them to new opportunities. With community activities opening, you might be able to find a local summer program in theater or dance, a summer sports team, or swim lessons. This is where community Facebook pages and local newspapers come in handy; they generally list new activities in a timely manner.

Try hiking in an area unfamiliar to you all, bring field guides, a magnifying glass, and some sketch pads. My friend’s oldest son became fascinated with fish as a young boy during their many visits to a local lake. They encouraged his desire to know all about fish by getting him an aquarium for Christmas, visiting aquariums in every place they visited, buying him copious amounts of books about marine life, and signing him up for classes whenever they could. He is now in a marine biology program with a full scholarship, so these many efforts certainly paid off.

A Wealth of Information

The library is also an excellent resource for experiences. In addition to books about different places to visit and things to do, there are usually resources such as museum and aquarium passes and information about volunteering opportunities in the area.

Speaking of volunteering, many people find their vocations/careers/hobbies through volunteer work. In both the religious and secular worlds, volunteering is a great way to get your feet wet in meaningful work that can change the world and provide a great experience, as well as looking great on a college or job application.

Checking with your diocese might find you a position in a Bible camp this summer or reading to the elderly (maybe via Zoom) in a nursing home. In your community, there are likely many places where you can serve, collecting food for food pantries, tutoring younger children, beautification efforts in your town, and many others. Your child may discover a passion for teaching or a desire to become a nurse or social worker. A future landscape designer might find their gifts planting spring flowers in town flower beds.

Shared Knowledge Sparks Curiosity

When I was young my father, a New York City detective, was only at the dinner table two or three times a week because he often worked nights. When he was there, he would ask my brother and me about our studies and then quiz us about his favorite subject, history— American military history in particular, but general history on. He would ask all kinds of probing questions and quiz us on facts and dates.

His enthusiasm for sharing his knowledge went largely unappreciated for years by my brother and myself but it did, eventually, impart a great love of history (as well as an ability to beat anyone in the history questions in Trivial Pursuit and Jeopardy) to us. In my case, it resulted in a lifelong love of all things ancient. I follow archeologists on social media, subscribe to a few journals, and watch all the documentaries. I wish I had been encouraged to pursue that field of study when I was younger, but I do love it now as a hobby. My brother majored in history in college and, although he did not homeschool his children, he similarly quizzed them and imparted his love of it to them.

The point of this is that we should never stop learning and we should encourage our children to learn alongside us. Our hobbies and interests may not end up being theirs, but the modeling of a learning, curious parent is so unbelievably valuable when trying to raise up children with a lifelong love of learning and a fearless desire to explore everything about which they are curious.

Plenty for All

All your children have gifts.

Regardless of academic success or test scores, God sees your child as a gift to the world with much to give. That world is rife with opportunity not only to shine personally but also to bring the Gospel to all we encounter. Faithful Catholics are needed in every field, competition, hobby group, and community. To encourage our children in their interests not only allows them to use the gifts a loving God bestowed upon them but also blesses that world and could, eventually, bring more souls to heaven. The world needs your children, their gifts, talents, and enthusiasm, and that is all the reason you need to add some spark to the summer!

About Mary Ellen Barrett

Mother of seven children and two in heaven, Mary is wife to David and a lifelong New Yorker. She has homeschooled her children for eleven years using Seton and an enormous amount of books. She is a columnist for The Long Island Catholic and blogs here . Meet Mary Ellen.
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