Vicki Burbach is a Catholic wife and homeschooling mother of six who spends much of her time doing laundry and cleaning the kitchen, when she’s not reading classics aloud to her kids. A passionate convert to the Faith, Vicki has read, studied and written articles on heaven, hell, and just about everything in between. Vicki moderates an international online Catholic book club and writes for Catholic Spiritual Direction.
Schools Out — or at least winding down — and families everywhere are bracing themselves for the frenetic pace of summer activities. But while you’re filling out the family calendar, make sure to offer your children opportunities to spend quiet time with God. One great way to do that is to develop a spiritual reading program. That’s right! Spiritual reading is not just for adults. There are plenty of resources out there for kids — so why not keep them properly grounded amidst all the comings and goings of summer?
You may be thinking — sure, my eight-year old might be open to the idea, but my sixteen-year-old is another story altogether! No matter the age, all children (particularly teens) can benefit from a great spiritual book or story. It may take a little finesse, but with all the distractions kids have in their lives, we’ve found that it pays to encourage spiritual reading.
Last summer, we implemented a program for our — not particularly enthusiastic — high schooler. Although he attends a Catholic school, there had been no spiritual reading assigned throughout his freshman year. So in effort to help bolster his ability to know, love and serve God, I created a summer reading program for him. He read everything from Rome Sweet Home by Scott Hahn to Seven Story Mountain by Thomas Merton.
Before you argue that your child would never agree to such reading, let me share that I wasn’t sure mine would either. So I laid some ground rules. I allowed him to choose books from a large selection I pulled together. Then, to ensure that he found time before his hectic activities began, he was asked to read each morning after his shower but before he retrieved his phone from our room (key incentive). And to encourage his cooperation, I gave him my word that, should he find himself too busy to read, I would be happy to hold his phone for him so that he could more easily focus on his relationship with God. Of course, he was so enthusiastic about the program that he never once asked me to hold his phone.
In my case, I had read the books I asked my teen to read, so we were able to have discussions about them here and there throughout the week. Some books he read more fervently than others; but overall, I think he had a good experience.
With our younger kids we’ve encouraged brief reading times in the morning, before the day gets too chaotic. Often I read aloud to them so we can discuss the material. It needn’t be overwhelming. One story or chapter provides ample opportunity to contemplate our Lord throughout the day.
Regardless of how your family goes about it, spiritual reading offers young people meaty food for thought. Once tasted, good spiritual reading will make the empty promises of the material world pale by comparison. Introducing your child to spiritual reading helps them to develop a lifelong habit of spending time God. And it allows you to introduce His truth in a compelling way while you still can.
Below are some ideas for spiritual reading by age group:
Elementary & Middle School
Treasure Chest Books - Great for children ages 4-9. Twenty books reprinted from the 1950s. Beautiful pictures, fun stories, poems and games, wonderful moral lessons & rock-solid doctrine.
The King of the Golden City by Mother Mary of Loyola - Makes the connection between the head and the heart. The Faith is not about rules, it is about love.
Faith and Freedom Readers reprinted by Seton Press - Great reading for kids in Grades 1-8. There are three books per grade, and they reinforce Catholic values. My kids love them. Originally published mid-century.
In the Footsteps of the Saints Series reprinted by Mary’s Books - Wonderful, engaging stories about Catholic heroes written for readers of various levels.
Any books by Mary Fabyan Windeatt - Well-written and enjoyable biographies of the saints.
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis - All seven books (read aloud and talk about the symbolism)
Vision Books - Saint Series
The Truth is Out There: Brendan and Erc in Exile by Amadeus - Like a graphic novel but way better - popular philosophy & gripping theology
The Gospels & Letters of St. Paul (one chapter per day)
The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
Seven Story Mountain by Thomas Merton
Imitation of Christ by Thomas A. Kempis
Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis
A Man for All Seasons (play) by Robert Bolt
The Lamb’s Supper by Scott Hahn
For a lighter read: Anything by Mark Hart - he speaks to teens at their level