1. Summer camp or festival
It's not too late to book into a summer camp programme or come as a day visitor to a festival. There's a lot to pick from, whether it's a 72-hour continuous worship event like David's Tent or a preaching and teaching event like Keswick – or even our family favourite Le Pas Opton, the Spring Harvest site in France. There may be a chance to get in on one of Urban Saints' or Scripture Union's children's camps, too. Residential events can be a fantastic way for our children to encounter God in a new way while making friends and enjoying outdoor activities and stimulating Bible teaching.
It's great to be outdoors this time of the year enjoying God's creation on our doorstep. Why not take a trip to your local woods, beach or park? Children of all ages will enjoy a good treasure hunt. For younger children, give them a paper bag to collect things in that remind them of God's attention to detail. For older children, task them with a mission to capture an image on their phone to illustrate a Bible verse. For example: Psalm 96:11-12, 'Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad. Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them; let all trees of the forest sing for joy.' Preserve these images, or even the items collected in the bag – they may come in useful in a couple of month's time when you are preparing Christmas cards and gifts.
When my eldest daughter was baptised recently, her account of her journey to faith included the impact made on her by a book. When she was 13, she had read The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson, first published in 1962. As someone passionate about helping the Church recover a love of great Christian literature, it was amazing for me to see evidence of the inspiring power of reading so close at hand. This summer, why not encourage the children in your life to read something that may turn out to have a lifelong impact on their faith?
Here are some I would recommend for a start: Jesus Story Book Bible (5 to 9-year-olds),
Diary of a Disciple – Luke (8 to 11-year-olds), Hero Bible (8 to 11-year-olds) The Hiding Place (12 to 16-year-olds). Don't forget to invest in an audiobook that you can all listen to in the car and load up the Kindles for a long afternoon on the beach.
When the rain is coming down, a film can be a cheap and convenient way to entertain the children for a couple of hours. But why not turn it into an opportunity to help your children think about their faith? There are some great films out there, including classics such as : Joseph King of Dreams, Prince of Egypt and the Narnia films. Or for older children you could try: Exodus: Gods and Kings, Noah, Soul Surfer, Miracle from Heaven, God's Not Dead.
There are of course a myriad great family films not created by Christians but that could provoke fantastic conversations about faith and life. Just be intentional about making the most of the opportunities in the film – watch the films with your children if you can or strategically place a meal in the middle so you can have a 'half time' discussion.
Summer is often more relaxed in church; many churches run all-age services instead of sending the children out to Sunday school. I am a big believer in integrated church, so why not experiment in the summer with ways to help your children engage in the service? Teach them how to sketch something inspired from the sermon, or how to do spider diagram themes from the talk, how to follow along in the Bible, or how to jot down questions they have. There is probably a church near you running a holiday club week this summer. These are usually lots of fun, and easy to invite your children's friends along to.
There are so many challenges around regular family devotions, but during the holiday season why not experiment with some different forms of prayer with your children? Ideas could include reading through one of the gospels over the summer at bedtime. Or watching BBC Newsbeat after tea and praying for the situations it highlights. Or beginning each car journey with a one-minute prayer after the seatbelts are all on. You could keep a prayer journal for a week, or set up a prayer space in your home/holiday home. If you can't get to a church service on Sunday because you are abroad, why not find a church building open to visitors during the week, where you can take 10 minutes to pray together as a family.
Quite a few of my children are set long summer projects by school. For some it is an art project, others have to read a number of books, or begin research or revision, or keep a scrapbook of their activities. If your children have something similar, why not get involved and encourage them to be open about their faith in the project? This will not only help your child to overcome the 'sacred-secular divide,' but it will also help normalise church and faith not just for your child but for the wider school community. Use images from your summer camp, passages of the Bible, or Christian art work to inspire you
I love the summer holidays, and remember as a child those long lazy days paddling in streams, flying kites and building dens made of sticks. With six children of my own it's very tempting to fill up the time with organised activities, but I also relish the opportunity to spend extra time with them, to enable them to have those lazy days like I did and watch them interact with each other and God before the new term begins. I want them to be forcefully reminded each summer that grace matters more than grades, that hospitality is more important than homework and that spiritual curiosity is more important than SATS scores.