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Becoming Lifelong Learners
By Susan Hines-Brigger


Ongoing Faith Formation
Always Learning
Kids and Teens: Expand Your Comfort Zone

This month, students across the country will be gathering their supplies, packing their schoolbags and heading back to school. My husband, Mark, and I are painfully aware of this now that we have three of our four kids in Catholic school.

But even though their official start date may be this month, all three of my school-age kids started gearing up for it about a month earlier, thanks to summer assignments from teachers at the end of last school year. Our daughter Riley is starting kindergarten, so Mark and I have been working all summer long to help her prepare for this big step in her education.

In a lot of ways, I think my kids and all the other students are lucky. They have teachers who are guiding them along the way in their education, including—as is the case for my kids—their faith formation. Those of us who have long since graduated are on our own. And a lot of times, continuing to expand our minds and educate ourselves takes a backseat to the demands of everyday life. I was painfully reminded of that the other day when my daughter Maddie asked me for help with some of her math problems.


Ongoing Faith Formation

But it's not just math problems or historical facts that trip me up. Many times things I have learned over my 38 years of being a Catholic bring me up short. For instance, on a recent night when I was having trouble getting to sleep I attempted to fall back on the comfort I have always gotten from reciting the Rosary and found myself drawing a complete blank.

When my son, Alex, made his First Reconciliation last fall, I was once again amazed by the number of parents frantically trying to remember how to make their Confession. And, unfortunately, these situations happen more often than I'd like to admit. It's like the old saying goes: If you don't use it, you'll lose it.

Always Learning

One good thing is that I do have my kids who can serve as a constant reminder to learn new things and renew my faith. But, as I always tell them, the responsibility to do their schoolwork and learn ultimately lies with them.

Keeping our minds and faith sharp and continually growing is as important to us grown-ups as it is to all those students heading back to school right now. In fact, study after study has shown that keeping ourselves mentally acute is vitally important for preserving our mental health as we grow older.

With that in mind, here are a few ways to do just that:

Take the next step. Quite often, I find myself searching books or the Internet to find answers to my kids' questions about a wide range of subjects—from Alex's interest in dinosaurs to Maddie's love of all things science. Many times after I find the answer they're looking for, I'll delve a little deeper to try to expand my own knowledge.

Start talking. Gather some friends or members of your parish to discuss various topics, such as the changes in the Mass, the issue of immigration or the oil spill in the Gulf.

Five years ago, after I did a story on New Orleans' recovery from Hurricane Katrina, I was invited to speak to such a group about my experience and what I saw while I was in New Orleans. I was accompanied by someone from Catholic Charities who discussed that organization's efforts in the region and how local Catholics could help.

Continue your education. Do you have a passion for cooking? A desire to learn how to paint or do pottery? Search out classes in your area or stop by the library and pick up some books or videos on a subject in which you're interested. Or, if you will be traveling somewhere you've never been, seek out as much information as you can before you even get there.

Share the wealth. We all have something at which we're really good. So why not share that talent with others? If you can play an instrument, offer to teach someone else. Or share your knowledge about a certain subject that you enjoy with another person. For instance, my dad is a history buff and he loves sharing what he has learned. And recently, at a Cincinnati Reds game, I taught Alex how to keep score.

Challenge/encourage your kids. Time and time again, Mark and I have had our kids say they didn't want to do something and then later say they wish they would have participated. Allow your children to try different activities in order to find their passions.

Talk to them about their activities. Alex was ready to quit guitar lessons not long ago because he said it was boring. When we talked about it, though, he admitted that he thought he was only going to learn the notes and chords, and didn't understand that after he knew those, he would be able to start learning songs of his choosing. Now he loves entertaining family and friends with all he's learned.

But if Mark and I hadn't dug a little deeper and just let him quit, I think we all would have regretted it.


I am continually amazed—and excited—at how many more options for various classes and opportunities are available to my kids at school than when I was their age. And, trust me, I'm constantly reminding them of that.

Last school year, Mark and I encouraged Maddie to try out for the school play. At first she said she had no interest in it, but she agreed to give it a shot. To her surprise, she got a part, learned a lot, made new friends and had a really good time. She's now anxiously awaiting next year's auditions.

So when it comes to your time in school, take some chances. Seek out opportunities that will challenge you. You never know when you might find something that surprisingly piques your interest.


Do you have ideas or suggestions for topics you'd like to see addressed in this column? If so, send them to me at "Faith-filled Family," 28 W. Liberty Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202-6498, or e-mail them to

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Ask a Franciscan  |  Book Reviews  |  Eye on Entertainment  |  Editorial
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 Holy, Wholly, Healthy  |  Bible’s Supporting Cast  |  Modern Models of Holiness
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