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What can children do while home from school?

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SAN DIEGO — With Christmas just around the corner, many children will soon find themselves with two full weeks of vacation from school.

Little ones will be taking a well-deserved break from their studies, engaging in all sorts of holiday fun, and trying to make the most of their free time.

But where does God fit in?

Lissa Hutcheson, director of catechetical ministry at Our Lady of Grace Parish in El Cajon, has the following tips for parents and grandparents looking for ways to incorporate faith into their family fun during their vacation.

1) Find ways to catechize organically
Getting your children to think about God and their Catholic faith doesn’t have to mean sitting them down for a lesson. God is everywhere, and whatever activity you’re engaged in can provide an opportunity to think about Him and His love for us.

On a family road trip, Hutcheson said, parents might consider inviting their children to take notice of the other cars on the highway and to pray that those motorists will arrive safely at their destinations. Whenever the family car crests another San Diego hill, revealing a breathtaking view of the Pacific Ocean, that presents an opportunity to point out that it was God who created this beautiful world and to express our thanks to Him.

“We lose sight in our minute-to-minute, day-to-day living,” said Hutcheson, “and so children don’t hear us say enough, ‘Oh, thanks to God,’ or ‘This is because of God,’ or ‘Let’s take a minute and think about Jesus.’ We don’t do that enough.”

2) Look for service opportunities
“I think (Christmas vacation is) the perfect time for service,” Hutcheson said.

Because of age requirements, younger children might not be able to volunteer at nonprofits. But that doesn’t mean they can’t experience the joy that comes from giving up some of their time to serve those in need.

Hutcheson suggests making an extra batch of Christmas cookies and bringing them to a nearby fire station or delivering them to the neighbors.

Other potential service projects include: preparing bags with granola bars, soap, hand sanitizer and other essentials, and keeping them in the car, ready to hand out to any homeless people the family might encounter; collecting baby supplies for mothers facing unplanned pregnancies and making arrangements to drop them off at a local crisis pregnancy center or other pro-life organization; donating supplies to the parish food pantry; writing handwritten notes to lonely seniors at the local assisted-living facility; and picking up trash at your neighborhood park.

“Service doesn’t have to be some grandiose thing,” Hutcheson said. “I think what people forget is that (it includes) how do I serve in the home? Do I make my bed? Do I pick up my toys? And, if I do, does someone have to ask me or do I see that they need to be picked up?”

3) Schedule time for togetherness
“We’re so busy and there’s so much noise in our life, especially during the holidays,” Hutcheson said, that it’s important “to just take a deep breath.”

Hutcheson recommends setting aside 10 to 15 minutes every evening throughout Christmas vacation for “just enjoying each other” as family members. This might involve taking out a favorite board game, but it would also be a good time “to pull out the Bible.”

She suggests holding a short prayer service, during which family members read the Mass readings for the day and discuss them, or perhaps praying the rosary together as a family.

4) More Masses, Please
During the typical two-week Christmas vacation, Catholics might be obligated to attend Mass four times: on two Sundays, as well as on Christmas Day (Dec. 25) and the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God (Jan. 1).

This year, both Dec. 25 and Jan. 1 fall on Sundays, reducing to just two the number of Masses that Catholic families are required to attend while on vacation. But that doesn’t mean you can’t go beyond the minimum, especially with so many days off and with Masses celebrated every day of the week.

“I think that the more we attend Mass, the more fruitful our life is in Christ,” said Hutcheson, adding that taking the children to even one additional Mass during each of the two weeks of vacation would be a good thing.

She notes that each daily Mass is the feast of a particular saint. After attending Mass, one possible activity would be to learn more about the saint of the day.

She also recommends making time during vacation to celebrate the sacrament of reconciliation.

5) Find God at the Museum
San Diego’s Balboa Park is home to almost 20 museums.

While none of them are explicitly Catholic, they can still serve as conversation-starters about matters of faith.

Hutcheson noted that exhibits in the Museum of Us, the cultural anthropology museum formerly known as the Museum of Man, can lead to conversations about the human race and how it was created in God’s image and likeness.

Meanwhile, similar opportunities are presented by the San Diego Museum of Art, where various examples of Catholic art are on display.

“Many people are visual learners,” Hutcheson said, “and art is a fantastic way to find the joy, the love of Christ in our life.”

“Just sit there with your kids. … Have them choose one piece of art and ask them to find the love, the light of life in that piece of art.”

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