Book Review: Catholic Family Fun

catholic-family-funCatholic Family Fun by Sarah Reinhard is a great book—a great book. Two thoughts kept coming to me as I read it, the first was: Wow! My kids would love this! The second was: Hey! I could totally do this! And having field tested a bunch of things from the book, I’m glad to report that both thoughts were true!

It’s a very real world, practical, can-do book written by a Mom with some serious kid-sense. These things really work, and there are tons of ideas your kids will love—that you can actually do (without going crazy).

To give you an idea of how good this book is: it got me through a Minnesota winter with four kids aged five and under, in a tiny house, with no TV (we did have a DVD player, but thanks to Catholic Family Fun it wasn’t on very often).

My favorite ideas from Catholic Family Fun were the ones that sparked my kids own creativity, and set them off and running — usually with me trying to catch up (or sometimes just sitting down with a cup of coffee and enjoying the spectacle, eager to see where their imaginations would lead them). Like an idea I got from the book for a puppet show. It took just a little help on my part to get them started, and suddenly the kids were developing their own stories and making their own puppets. I was amazed at how much they were capable of creating on their own.

After the winter was over, we kept right along with ideas from Catholic Family Fun for activities throughout spring and summer. Now we’re moving into autumn making a Mary Garden with inspiration and suggestions from the book. And we’ve still only scratched the surface of Catholic Family Fun.

It’s a slim book, but lean: no chaff, lots of wheat. Which also means that it respects your time. You’ll get a lot of value quickly in this book, and there is a lot to get out of it. It’s a great resource, one you’ll want to go back to again and again, for the encouragement as well as the ideas. There is more here than you can exhaust in a year—or many years.

Reinhard’s also taken the practicalities of a busy home into account, organizing activities in a number of different ways that makes them easy to find and use when you need them. The Table of Contents presents activities thematically, and then there are a set of indexes at the back which organize them by required prep time, activity duration, and cost (along with an “at a glance” index that combines all these things at once). That way you can find something now if the kids are bouncing around like basketballs in a bowling alley and you need an idea like five minutes ago. But if you’re looking ahead to a coming season and hunting for ideas, you can use the thematic organization to find a fit for what you have in mind.

The activities are also presented in a layered approach, with different levels of complexity. So if an activity is new to your family, or you have younger kids, you can do a simpler, more scaled back version. But if it’s an area your family already loves and has a lot of experience with, or if your kids are older, you can cut a bigger slice of the cake. And as I said, all of the ideas are solid, kid-tested, and eminently “do-able.”

With each idea Reinhard includes a “Faith Angle” so you can incorporate elements of the Faith in your family fun activities. I love this, because it sometimes seems challenging to find ways to engage the kids with the Faith, and here are scores of ideas for weaving different aspects of faith into your family life without lecturing or hectoring.

As Reinhard says, “As with other suggestions in this book, you don’t’ have to have a perfect time. In fact, perfection isn’t necessarily the goal. (I’m reminding myself of that, too!) The goal is to enjoy being family together, to build your domestic church into a haven and a place where God is as natural as the air you breathe.” This book will be a great aid in helping you do that.

From that quote you can also get a little flavor of the book itself. It’s just fun to read. It’s full of encouragement, and Reinhard has an upbeat, engaging style and a wry wit that makes it a pleasure to thumb the pages and be inspired.

Plus, you’ll pick-up a lot of practical tips along the way. Such as: if you’re going to the library, tell the kids how many items they can check-out before you go—believe me, this one little tip will transform your library experience; or another great suggestion was for when you’re bringing meals to someone, say a family that just had a baby: label your dishes so that it’s easy for the recipient to return them—simple, but genius!

I also learned a lot of interesting tidbits about our Catholic traditions in these pages. Such as: I never knew that blue was Mary’s color because it symbolizes how “her love is as all-encompassing as the sky above us.” Catholic Family Fun is full of intriguing finds awaiting discovery!

But I think what might be the best thing about Catholic Family Fun is the way it can change the way you look at family fun time, transforming the thought of planning and executing family activities from daunting to do-able. Reading Catholic Family Fun got me excited and ready to get started!

As Reinhard says, sometimes we forget “how little it takes to have a good time as a family.” And for those times when planning and possible pitfalls start making the hill seem steeper and steeper, Reinhard reminds us: “The point, after all, is to spend time together, having fun.”

So, Reinhard says: “Go ahead, take a chance. If it helps, keep a rosary in your pocket and picture Mama Mary walking right beside you as you struggle to look past the domestic imperfections and embrace the smiles and pleasure that await you.”

She suggests: “Start gradually . . . work toward your ideal.” And along the way, she says in one of her best gems of wisdom, “live in the moment and remember it later (perhaps with embellishments!).”

Jake Frost is the author of Catholic Dad, (Mostly) Funny Stories of Faith, Family and Fatherhood to Encourage and Inspire , also available as a $0.99 e-book on Amazon.  He is a lawyer in hiatus, having temporarily traded depositions for diapers and court rooms for kitchens to care for his pre-school aged children.  He comes from a large family in a small town of the Midwest, and lives near the Mississippi River with his wife and kids.