Partner with families to fill kids’ summer breaks with positive programming and experiences.
Last summer, Groupon, an online commerce marketplace that connects subscribers with local merchants, surveyed 2,000 parents and found that a majority want summer break to end after just 13 days. The stress of keeping their kids occupied is just too much for many parents.
Enter: you and your ministry.
Summertime is an amazing opportunity to fill a need, connect with families on new levels, and enrich kids’ lives with more of God’s truths. You may already host VBS, which is an awesome week for kids. But what if you could partner with parents throughout the summer? This partnership would be a different kind of ministry to families, and the good news is that it doesn’t have to be a massive or costly undertaking. Check out these three summer programming ideas to help fill kids’ time with positive experiences.
New City Kids is a nonprofit organization that seeks to break the cycle of generational poverty through a community of academic, leadership, musical, and spiritual development. A big part of this program is kid-to-kid mentorship that develops both parties. New City Kids is currently operating in only three cities, but that doesn’t mean churches can’t take the cue from their kid-to-kid mentorship example to develop a simple summer-based mentorship program for the kids in your community. No matter the demographics of your area, the development of leadership and responsibility in older kids and teenagers sets them on the right track and prepares them for a better future. And not only do older kids provide helping hands during summer break, they also have a unique ability to influence younger kids in ways adults can’t.
What and How
A kid-to-kid mentorship program can be whatever you make it—based on the needs in your community and the skills of the older kids at your church. Consider these different paths for summer break mentoring. (Ensure you follow an application and safety protocol for all mentors that fits within your church’s standards.)
Preteens and teenagers who are proficient in academic subjects can teach, refresh skills, and practice with younger kids at your church. Mentors and younger kids might take turns reading books together, learning math facts or practicing word problems, or writing letters and stories together. You can find tons of free online resources according to academic topic. Have mentors take a leadership role by offering reports about kids’ progress and talking with kids’ parents to verify that they’re getting help in the needed areas. Keep in mind that many teachers look for ways to occupy their time over the summer; you may find one or two in your church who can provide guidance and oversee tutoring sessions.
Who better to share their faith journey with a child than an older child who’s just a little bit further along on the path? Pair preteens or teenagers with younger kids. Provide a time for these mentors to sing and worship with younger kids. Provide space and time for mentors to share what worship means to them, their testimonies, and ways they create a daily relationship with God. Oversee, but let these mentors take the lead in using older curriculum or activities from current curriculum that you won’t have time to get to on Sundays. Mentors remain paired with their mentees through (and even after) summer. Guide mentors to take turns prepping and leading the games, activities, and Bible lessons. You may also let mentors work together to choose what they do with kids. Older kids can do all this with some help from you, and it’ll help develop their leadership skills and deepen their personal relationship with God.
Depending on your mentors’ skills and your mentees’ interests, you may decide to host a weekly music clinic, art clinic, outdoor skills clinic, or something else. For example, you probably have a piano or keyboard at your church, and preteens and teenagers can use their music lesson books to begin teaching the basics to younger children. Preteens and teenagers with an interest in art may want to teach skills such as shading or watercoloring to younger ones. The kids in your community have unique interests, so go with what fits your community. Teachers who are off for summer break, stay-at-home moms who want to guide the mentors with their skills, or other community leaders can volunteer to offer teaching structure, enrich kids’ minds and skills, and build relationships.
Meeting once a week or more, depending on your capacity and your church building’s availability, should provide consistency and allow kids to build relationships over the summer. Encourage your mentors to give their mentees a weekly challenge to occupy some of their time over the week, and then celebrate growth with the mentor the following week. With parents’ permission and supervision, mentors can also keep in touch with their mentees through email or text messages throughout the week.
Weekly Service Projects
1 Peter 4:8-11 says, “Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins. Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay. God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies.”
During summer break, kids have a unique opportunity to give their time through servanthood without becoming overextended. Service by kids and their families shows your community Jesus’ love, and it builds selflessness and empathy in kids. Not only that, but “people who volunteer tend to have higher self-esteem, psychological well-being, and happiness…All of these things go up as their feelings of social connectedness goes up,” according to Mark Synder, psychologist and head of the Center for the Study of Individual and Society at the University of Minnesota.
What and How
For a full or half day each week during the summer, gather families to volunteer in some capacity. If there’s a local organization that needs regular help, plan to be there each week. On the other hand, if you hope kids gain empathy for different groups, you may choose a new organization weekly. Here are ideas.
Host a food drive and have kids organize the donations.
You might also consider hosting other types of drives, such as a school-supply drive, a diaper drive for a pregnancy center, a book drive for the public library, or a churchwide garage sale in which proceeds go to a charity.
Participate in a walk or race to raise funds for a cause.
Not only can kids raise money but they can also enjoy time and exercise with your church family.
Help an elderly person with cleaning or yardwork.
Or visit homebound community members. Take a meal to enjoy with them while you visit, then play games.
Beautify a local park.
Pick up trash and fix other small problems.
Search for local needs or events to support.
There are tons of small endeavors that support smaller specific causes such as art camps, theater, women’s shelters, and more.
Host a meeting in the springtime where participating kids and families share needs they know of in your community. Then decide together where you’ll volunteer. This will grow enthusiasm as families go out in the community to serve. If a volunteer outing requires preparation or work outside of the main event, you can outsource some of these tasks to kids and families. This provides families with positive things to occupy kids’ time during the week as well.
Internet-Based Activities and Challenges
Let’s say your church has access to a building only on Sundays for services, or you don’t have the capacity to do the other activities mentioned. You can still partner with parents to help them occupy their kids’ summertime hours in positive ways. This option lets you harness kids’ time and energy over summer break whether they’re in or out of town. Using the internet allows you to stay connected to kids and families using kids’ language: technology.
What and How
Use Facebook or a similar avenue your church use, and set up a “Kids Summer Break Group” (or designated page).
Post a discussion-of-the-day topic for families to talk about during a meal.
Ask families to share something from their discussion in the group.
Post a daily challenge for kids.
Have kids do something that grows their personal relationship with God, such as praying, reading the Bible, singing worship songs, or doing an art project to show something they love about God. Or you might have them find a way to show God’s love to others. This could include making a gift to welcome a new neighbor or picking up trash on their street. Have families share their positive experiences, and encourage families to cheer one another on.
Challenge families to creatively learn the meaning of a new verse each week.
Then have them share with the group what they did to learn it. Maybe they made up a song, created an art project, or came up with a game.
Create a ticket system where kids and families get a ticket for every time they participate.
At the end of a week or summer, draw tickets for family prizes, such as snacks, games, or gift cards.
The trick to getting kids pumped is to make it into a fun, interactive challenge for them. In the month or so leading up to summer break, verbally inform parents of the activities you’re planning when they pick up their kids from kids ministry. Send home flyers to share what the online challenge is all about, why you’re doing it, and to create excitement.
Jess Goldsmith is an editor in Group’s children’s ministry department and a key leader in the preschool program at Flatirons Community Church in Lafayette, Colorado.