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Back to school: it's not just about the backpack

Students Praying

Back to school! ‘Tis the season for endless reminders about setting your student up for lasting success by getting the right backpack, the right shoes, or maybe the right set of gel pens (still a thing?).

But if you’re a parent reading this website, you’re probably a Catholic parent. So you know that thriving during the school year isn’t about any of that. It’s about supporting your child as they put Jesus Christ at the center of their life as a student.

It sounds big. That’s because it is. But it’s also simple, if you focus on practical plans for a well-rounded year. Here are four doable steps you can get started on today!

1) Work with your student to write out a daily schedule. Emphasize the consistent moments of every day when they can pause and become aware of the Lord’s presence.

  • Can your child say a simple morning prayer right after they wake up?
  • Recite a daily Angelus at noon?
  • Or thank the Holy Spirit for His guidance as you drive home from school?
  • Is there a weekday morning the two of you could attend Mass together?

2) Do a goal-setting exercise with your student focusing on their academic, spiritual, emotional, and physical health. Ask questions like:

  • How do you plan to be a better student than last year?
  • Is there a tangible aspect of your academic life where you plan to show progress (for example, better grades than last year)?
  • Then ask the same questions about prayer life, emotional health, and physical fitness. You’ll be surprised what you and your child come up with.

3) Brainstorm some ideas together about how your student can be a witness of God’s love and mercy to their classmates and friends.

  • For younger children, this might mean practicing sharing and saying kind words.
  • If you have middle- or high-school students, you might focus on avoiding gossip and slanderous talk, identifying and avoiding risky behaviors, or using social media more responsibly.
  • There are other ways of witnessing and evangelizing that are easier than you might think. Consider a Catholic Woodworker (yes, we had to mention it) or other devotional sticker on your student’s notebook or laptop.

4) Last but not least, spend some time talking with your child about the role that visible, tangible touchstones play in keeping us grounded in our faith.

Catholicism is rich in things you can touch, hold, and bring with you—rosaries, pocket crosses, medals, scapulars, crucifixes, and so on. This isn’t an accident of history. It’s a method we’ve developed, inspired by the Holy Spirit, to remember who we really are and what we are actually supposed to be doing. And it’s lasted two millennia because it works. Is there something your student can wear or bring with them to school every morning, something that speaks to them personally?

So yes, keeping your priorities straight during the school year is a big topic. But it’s not complicated—in fact, it’s very achievable. Try these suggestions and see just how different (and how much happier) this year can be!

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