For kids, the transition from summer vacation to a new school-year can be both a time of excitement and anticipation AND a time of fear and anxiety. Readying kids for school involves practical and physical preparations. Checking out wardrobes, replacing outgrown shoes, buying school supplies, and visiting the dentist or doctor can fill the weeks before school starts. But how do we help children prepare emotionally and spiritually for a new year at school? Younger children might be willing to say what’s on their mind, but middle-school and high-school kids can be as tightly-bound as a new textbook. Sharing their hopes and their fears with their parents or even with their friends is not always easy.
Thinking about the preparation of both students and parents for a new school-year reminded me of a template I created several years ago for “to-do-list” prayers. Whether your “to-do list” for the day is bouncing around in your brain or written on a piece of paper, prayers for daily tasks can make them seem less overwhelming. Some tasks might not seem worthy of prayer—doing the laundry, going to the grocery store, calling your internet provider. But any item on the “to-do list,” no matter how small, can be an opportunity for frustration: The kids didn’t turn their dirty socks right-side out again. The prices at the grocery store have gone up again this week. The representative on the phone doesn’t understand the problem I am having with my internet or my phone. These seemingly simple situations can turn me into an inner and outer grouch. I resent doing the laundry, I snarl at the expense and poor quality of the produce, and I want to yell at the person on the phone. Praying ahead of time can at least warn me of a potential snarky response that could ruin my day and the day of someone just trying to do their job. My menial to-dos, doused with a little prayer, become invitations into kindness.
Below is the blank template I use and an example of a “to-do list” prayer in progress.You can write those seemingly “little” tasks in small spaces on the template and reserve the bigger spaces for the more serious things on the to-do list: a presentation at work, jury duty for a serious trial, playgroup for five wild toddlers at your house, an interview for the job you really want and need, a trip to the doctor for the cough your parent has had for months…. As you write your tasks in the spaces, add doodles and color. Let God permeate your daily to-do list.
In the same way that we can pray a daily or weekly “to-do” list, we can also offer children and teenagers the opportunity to create a back-to-school prayer list. What are the things they are excited about? What are their hopes and dreams? What are they worried or anxious about? What are they afraid of or dreading? Give them a template and ask them to spend some time with those dreams and concerns that mush around in their heads. Invite them to write these thoughts in the spaces on the template. Suggest that they draw or doodle around each idea and add color.
Getting those thoughts on paper and out of their heads can be an opportunity for students to really look at what is on their minds and in their hearts. Author Anne La Mott talks about having a “God-Box.” She writes the concerns she has on a piece of paper and then sticks them in a box to release them and give them to God. Think of this template as a kind of visual “God-Box,” a way for kids to share both their excitement and fears with God. “Will I have new friends?” “Am I taking too many difficult classes?” “Do I have the right clothes?” “I’m really looking forward to my last year on the basketball team.” “Will I get the scholarship I need.” Give kids permission to write whatever they want—being honest is more important than being nice. Writing and praying their anticipations and anxieties is a private experience and not for sharing with anyone unless by their initiation. (Parents and grandparents can do their own versions–their hopes and fears for their children and grandchildren–and maybe, even better, for themselves). This new-school-year prayer can be added onto throughout the first few weeks of school and even spill over onto several templates. Offer some suggestions for scripture passages to include on the template if that seems appropriate.
Here is an example from a soon-to-be eighth-grader. (Used with permission)