Catholic Herald staff
Promoting stewardship and teaching children about the natural world through art, music and literature are goals of a free vacation Bible school hosted by the St. Pius X parish cluster.
“Learning about and loving God’s creation” is the theme of the interfaith program, which takes place Aug. 3-7 at St. Mary Catholic Church, Minong, and Aug. 10-14 at St. Pius X Catholic Church, Solon Springs.
Preschool-age through fifth-grade students of all denominations are invited to attend; children in grades six through eight can come and serve as helpers. Sessions begin at 9:30 a.m. and continue until 12:30 p.m.
All snacks and materials are provided, and the programs are designed and staffed by professional educators. Students must be pre-registered by July 29 to attend.
It’s all part of Fr. Jim Kinney’s broader plan to develop stronger relationships with children in a time when local populations are graying. Youth programs are very important to the parishes, Fr. Kinney said, and Pope Francis’ recent encyclical also speaks to the necessity of good stewardship and the call “to be positively involved in this movement against climate change.”
“He (Fr. Kinney) very much wants it to be environmental, because we are all stewards of the earth,” explained Cathy Ney, a retired elementary teacher who specializes in the sciences.
Ney has taught first, second, third and fifth grade, and her post-graduate studies included topics related to math, the earth sciences and technology. She plans to instruct the older children; Maureen Hendricks, a retired elementary teacher whose undergraduate degree is in early childhood, will teach ages 3 and older.
Both Hendricks and Ney boast impressive resumes. Hendricks was a lab teacher at UW-Stout and administered the Wisconsin in Scotland program; Ney studied science education at Virginia Tech and has won a number of teaching awards and fellowships.
Ney, Hendricks and the other instructors are volunteering to teach the program. Both women hope to inspire good stewardship – the responsible management of resources – in students.
“Obviously, small children cannot do things globally,” Ney said. “What we want them to do is think globally and act locally.”
For a child, taking good care of animals, weeding the garden and recycling are just a few ways to exercise good stewardship at home, Hendricks added.
Ney worries children are becoming increasingly “citified,” and she hopes urban kids who are in the area visiting grandparents will come to learn more about nature. Local kids can also expand on their knowledge of the natural world.
“A lot of children up here are hunting or fishing,” Hendricks said. “They’re working the land or chopping wood. We’re taking some at-home interests and building on them.”
“I think there’s a whole lot of creativity and that kind of freethinking that comes from communing with nature,” said Ney. “That’s what we want to provide for these students.”
“It also teaches accountability,” added Hendricks.
Science fun in the sun
“What we’re doing is, each day, the activities are going to be structured,” Ney said. “They’re going to follow an order.”
Session topics include ocean life, plants, animals and the water cycle.
Each day, students will begin by focusing on an orienteering passage, usually from the Old Testament book of Genesis, and doing a compass-based activity. They will read stories, play a game, learn a musical verse, do an art project and end the morning in reflection.
One art project involves constructing a rain stick. Another day, students will create a gyotaku fish print.
“It’s a fascinating Japanese art,” added Ney. “The kids, they love doing this.”
Children will get lots of practice using a compass rose, a survival skill that can also help in recreational activities like geocaching and letterboxing.
“To them it’s a treasure hunt,” Ney added.
Older kids will lead the activity, while younger children follow along. Ney has taught similar lessons to children as young as 4 years old.
“All of these activities …will be interactive, outdoors,” she added. “There are a lot of environmental activities that really teach what is essential in the environment.”
Both Hendricks and Ney agree the activities will be tailored to the ages of participants. To keep the program interfaith, they are using the text shared by Christians, Jews and Muslims.
“We’re not doing anything that’s New Testament,” Ney said. “It’s God that we’re talking about.”
“I think what we’re really concentrating on … is just global appreciation of our world, and how we make that work in our little world,” Hendricks added. “Make it applicable to their family life – treasuring what God gave you.”
In the event of inclement weather, all sessions will be moved indoors.
To pre-register, call the parish cluster at 715-378-4431 or email .