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Asking the clergy: How can kids use summer vacation to grow spiritually?

The start of summer break for school kids doesn't necessarily mean that spirituality also takes a 10-week vacation. This week's clergy discuss how traditional vacation activities such as camp, gardening and playing outdoors can have a positive influence on your child's faith.

Deacon Gail Kertland, Christ Episcopal Church, Brentwood:

Among the things that Christ Church has done to help children grow spiritually is that, last year, we planted a children's summer garden. We brought in chefs and taught the kids about food, and how to eat a healthier diet. We also taught the children that they can grow their own food and save money at the grocery store. This year, we've taken the same garden and have given families a section, so that each family can grow and tend it. The spiritual message we attempt to convey is that through stewardship, we are taking care of God's environment, and thus the children have been very involved with maintaining the yard, realizing that this is God's church, both literally and figuratively. We have also been teaching them about the environment. They have planted flowers, some of which have been used on the church altar. It all goes back to Adam and Eve, who were told to take care of the garden and the animals. We are teaching the children that we also need to take on this responsibility to maintain our church for the next generation. Our church has been here almost 150 years, and so we have to appreciate everything that has been done prior to us being here, and see what we can do to help the church be here another 150 years. We also have a ministry in which teens learn to crochet so that they can make prayer shawls and prayer blankets for those that are sick or injured.

Rabbi Eli Goodman, BACH Jewish Center, Long Beach:

Summer is a relaxed time for children, with a focus on fun and the outdoors. Therefore, some educators feel that there is less time for spirituality and teaching. From a Jewish perspective, however, the warmth and the more intense heat of the sun during the summer months signifies that there is more godliness and spirituality to be realized during those months. Schools and religious programs often feel that the most efficient time to educate our youngsters is during the winter months, as we have our children's attention for many hours on a daily basis. However, children often see that as more of a chore and an obligation, rather than a wonderful opportunity to grow and learn spiritually. Summer turns that on its head. It's a unique opportunity to educate a child in the relaxed and fun atmosphere of a camp or summer program. And, spiritual education that begins in the summer doesn't end in the summer. I've heard countless stories, especially about teenagers, who might have a rebellious streak and struggled for an entire year at school or in religious instruction. They were inspired by a dedicated counselor during camp activities, and were able to thrive the following year at school because their summer experience was life-changing in a profound way. Finally, while many children and teens spend a limited amount of time each day at school, at summer camp they have a 24-hour experience that is conducive to growing spiritually. So, indeed, summer vacation can be transformative for youngsters, and bring their spirituality to a new level.

G. Earl Knight, D.Min., president, Greater New York Conference of Seventh Day Adventists, Manhasset:

Within our church and our organization, we provide children with recreational activities throughout the summer. We have what we call Vacation Bible School, where children from both the church and the community are invited to come and engage in outdoor and indoor activities. Outdoor activities involve several types of games that children normally would play, but they also are involved with Bible study that children would be able to understand, including various lessons as taught by Jesus in particular and of course Old Testament personalities as well. Children use games to build relationships, and one part of spirituality and the growth in spirituality is the growth of relationships. If we don't know how to live with one another, how can we talk about living together in God's kingdom? Good relationships foster a healthier home environment and a better school environment, and of course learning to live together in an earthly context prepares us to live together in a heavenly context. We also have field trips that take children to the park or to nature, and we can learn a lot of spiritual lessons from nature. Since we believe that God is the creator, our children can learn how nature is interconnected, and those are spiritual lessons as well. At the end of the summer, they reflect on the experience and it gives them a better perspective going into a new school year. They can make a greater contribution to learning and have a healthier relationship with people and with God.

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