I can remember a saint picture book or two with images and short paragraph biographies existing in my home growing up, but besides picking out a name for Confirmation, saints were not part of my life. Sound like you, too? Learning the lives of the saints, leaning on them for inspiration, motivation, and intercession, looking to them as having accomplished the mission we are in the midst of...incorporating the saints into our daily lives has been a game changer for my husband and I. We want this for our children, too. We love finding ways that we can bring the saints to life in our home, and I want to share a few that have made the biggest impact for our family.
An Atmosphere of Saints
Creating an atmosphere for our family where talking about the saints is just second nature has been boosted by prayer, decor, and devotions. We finish our family morning prayers asking our special saints for intercession, and the children love getting to hear or say the name of their favorite saints. My choleric six year old loves to say the names of everyone else's saints faster than my husband. :-P We chose what goes on our walls and what fills our homes, and this can go far for atmosphere! I've done the trendy Hobby Lobby decor for periods, and I always tire of it. Meaningless artwork and decor doesn't last in our home, and has been replaced over time with intentional pieces that help us bring the saints into our family! I've jokingly mentioned to friends that I only decorate with plants and religious artwork, and it's true! Having images of the saints, even if it's just holy cards on the fridge and posters in the kids' rooms, has made a big impact for us. We have also incorporated more relics and blessed saint medals...I'll have to share about my husband's treasured Saint Michael stones another time! The priests at our parish bless items for parishoners once a month, so letting the children watch their saint medals get blessed has been awesome too.
Lead by Example
Our current reads - A Family of Saints for me, and The Life and Glories of Saint Joseph for Daniel. Children absorb life more than they learn it by direction. What they see you doing is what speaks volumes, regardless of what you tell them is important. My daughter pulled open my nightstand drawer and asked a few questions about the books, one of the questions being "Are they all holy books?" We have a shelf in our book closet under the stairs that is "holy books" - books they are allowed to bring to Mass! My drawer was filled with a prayer book and three other spiritual reading books that I've finished or am still reading, so I was able to answer her with a "yes." I love fiction, but her little question just drove home for me that need to be modeling the behaviors we want to see in our children. I want to be a saint, I want to raise saints - how could I miss the chance to read the wildly varied lives of the saints who've walked that path themselves? You can't teach what you don't know yourself, and a shallow knowledge of the saints was leading to an even shallower knowledge for our children. Reading deeper into the lives of the saints has changed the way we talk about the saints with our children dramatically. Instead of a quick repeat of a factoid learned from an internet search, we are able to share specific stories, truly bringing the life of that saint into our children's memories. One of my favorite things to remind them is that the saints we love will be our treasured friends in Heaven!
We have a big collection of saint peg dolls, a few from a swap, and most from Emmaus Road's subscription service. We use them to play with the dollhouse my father made, and to pray a hands on Litany of Saints! This is especially great for ages 4 and under, as they can begin to recognize the saints and you can talk simply about them. Culturally our toys are total trash, based on media characters you don't actually want your children to imitate. Why not put toys that edify into their hands?
Read Deeper with Your Children
If you are like me, the handful of volumes of saint encyclopedias was all that you knew of for learning about the lives of the saints. We often think small of and for our children, giving them overly simplified, annotated information (about everything) that leaves them bored and unlikely to even retain any of the information they read and hear. After attending a Charlotte Mason Institute conference this past summer, I was inspired to raise the bar when it comes to reading depth for my children! While my son can read any book he wants to, I was keeping our saint study overly simple for my littler ones. Over two months with just 10-20 minutes a day, we read Saint Martin de Porres by Mary Fabyan Windeatt and now my children have a significantly deeper understanding of Saint Martin than I could have ever given them - I didn't know more than a handful of lifeless facts about him before reading either! We can now talk about a number of amazing things that happened to Brother Martin, as the "living book" qualities are abundant in Windeatt's stories. The children absorb the stories and make connections they never could with a list of facts. One evening after the Rosary my six year old asked about the Presentation, and interrupted me when I mentioned Anna. She asked, "Ana, like Saint Martin's mother?" I was in awe that she remembered her name from our read aloud, and refueled into loving this way of sharing the saints with the kids in a deeper way! Currently we are reading a chapter book on Saint Kateri, as we are studying Native Americans for History. Their eyes lit up when we read that she grew up in a wikiup, which they had recently learned about! The art of these connections is impossible with shallow fact paragraphs, and the richness of the knowledge gained is so worth the 10 minutes of reading each day!
Our new Fishing for Saints game has been wonderful, letting the children play with the saints independently! It's a precious game of "go fish," saint-style. They can play the classic game and love it, and you can use the cards in other fun ways too! The game includes a little book and a set of cards with a simple description on the back, which is *perfect* for playing Guess the Saint! Just like you'd play Guess Who or Headbanz, asking yes or know questions, you try to figure out who your saint is! With the description cards handy, the kids can narrow down which saint they have. My older two have had a blast with this, especially. Games are a fun way to bring the saints into daily living, reminding the children that they are simply part of our lives.
"If they, why not I? If these men and women could become saints, why cannot I with the help of Him who is all powerful?" - Saint Augustine of Hippo
What favorite ways have you found to bring the saints to life in your home?