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As a 2nd grade catechist I have found that it is so important to be prepared and have everything ready for each lesson. I have also found that it is equally important, maybe more so, to sometimes deviate from the plan that I worked so hard to prepare. Being flexible and allowing the Holy Spirit to work in your classroom, is when the best lessons occur. For example, one time we were reading the story of when Jesus wept when Lazarus died. (John 11:35) We talked about the fact that just like us, Jesus was sad sometimes. One shy little girl raised her hand to tell me that she was feeling very sad. Instead of continuing with my planned lesson, I took the time to allow this little girl, and other students to talk about the things that made them sad. We then prayed together and asked God to comfort all of us. There is no doubt in my mind that this was the lesson that needed to be taught, not the one that I had planned!
– Suzy W., catechist, Lexington, KY
LEARN!! Talk to other catechists and exchange ideas. Don’t limit yourself to your own classroom.
Attend local catechetical gatherings or religious education conferences. There’s a difference between meeting and exchanging ideas and experiences in person, rather than searching the internet for a lesson plan. Nothing compares with meeting others and finding inspiration. Remember, you might also be a source of inspiration to another catechist!
– Donna R., Wood-Ridge, New Jersey
When acting out bible stories, or other things, like demonstrations of the sacraments, keep a supply of hats in the class to use as easy costume props. These costumes help the children to get into their roles more, and when they do, the acting becomes more realistic. (It also helps them remember who is who in the scenario.)
–Faye, J. catechist, Port Tobacco, Maryland.
Before your students arrive, place a task on the tables that relates to the theme of the day.
It will immediately attract their interest and help them transition from the noisy world outside to your lesson. It also gives you breathing room to take attendance. Word searches, Catholic trivia quizzes, mazes, and crossword puzzles are good icebreakers … and can be created free online.
Read through the lesson ahead of time and let it “marinate.” Give thought to how the lesson can be presented in a way meaningful to your students. Live each moment as if God is living it with you ... because he is.
–Kristi L., catechist, St. Charles, Illinois
Never hesitate to draw from your personal stories. It makes your faith real to others.
—Barbara F. Thibodaux, LA
To prepare children for their first holy Communion — make a little book to use at home like St. Therese’s older sister had her do before her first holy Communion. The book’s pages could be in many colors and decorated with flower stickers. Each day St. Therese offered Jesus the flowers of her sacrifices.
— Pauline M., catechist, Oakbrook Terrace, Illinois
Try to relate lessons to your students’ daily lives. Tailor lessons to the age group you are teaching, and try to make it as interesting as possible for them whether it is with games or skits or even just group discussions.
— Ryan B., catechist, Evansville, Indiana
No matter what the age level you are teaching, get down to the level of the students. Young children are not going to learn from a teacher who acts like they are going to teach a lecture series. Get on their level and make it fun but make it relate to their lives as well. Our religion should be a way of life and it’s our responsibility to show them that way of life. I would like to add that if you asked my youth what tip I should share, they would probably say my end-of-the-year survey I have my youth complete. My survey has only a few questions.
The question are:
What did you like best about this year?
What did you like least about this year?
What did you learn that you didn’t know before?
How do you feel about the teacher?
It is amazing what you learn and I use this information to help me plan the next year to try and make each year even more successful.
— Maureen W., catechist, Oswego, N.Y.
Preschool-age children are very visual and learn from what is around them as well as participating in activities. Whatever the lesson of the week is, I set up a display on the table so it is the first thing they see when they walk in. For example, one week I had masks and beads for discussion of Fat Tuesday / Mardi Gras and the next week I introduced the color purple for discussion of the season of Lent. Activities for learning will be centered around art projects and music. The attention span for 4-year-olds is short so we keep the class moving from one activity to the next in blocks of 10-15 minutes.
— Judy S., catechist, Boone, N.C.
Each year, our youth group creates a “Cardboard City” in which the members sleep outside through the night in a box to experience what it is like to be homeless. We have guest speakers who were previously homeless speak about their experiences. We also have various exercises throughout the night to learn about the poor throughout the world. During one such exercise, we provide each member a new identity and ask him or her to imagine what it is like to be a refugee from a country that is in the midst of a civil war. They had to learn to live with only what they could carry on their backs and decide what was really necessary for their survival. After that experience, the members reflected on the things that they take for granted living in the United States. They now have an expanded world vision of how others live.
— MaryBeth L., parish catechetical leader, Alpha, N.J.
Arrange the room you are teaching in so that it is not a classroom type setting — gather around a long table or arrange desks in a circle. Children spend enough time in school. To engage them more, make them feel that their lessons are discussions rather than have their noses stuck in a book. Engage them to share their opinions and experiences. For the younger ones, break up the lessons with a craft that relates to that day’s teaching.
— Erica P., catechist (grade 7), Wood Ridge, N.J.
Find the Jesus in all the children even when it does not show.
— Carol S., catechist, Wayzata, MN
One teaching tip is to use the Pflaum Gospel Weeklies and have the children read the parts aloud. By doing this, it reinforces the Gospel to the children and it makes the Gospel story come alive. Almost as if they are acting it out.
— Catherine S., catechist (grades 4 and 5), Hampton Bays, N.Y.
Keeping elementary-aged kids engaged during an entire class can be challenging. I like to prepare a craft or simple activity for each lesson that relates back to the theme we are learning. Sometimes it can be as simple as having them draw a picture and then writing a short prayer saying what they are thankful for. This portion of the class gives them a chance to be creative while reflecting on what they have learned. As a bonus -- at the end of class -- they have something to show their parents and they feel proud of what they have accomplished.
— Waleska S., catechist (grade 4), Phoenix, AZ
August 2015 CATECHIST Tip of the Month
During Lent, it is often difficult for young people to remember the three spiritual practices they choose of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. I take purple foam found in a craft store and cut it into the shape of a door hanger like the “Do Not Disturb” signs hung on hotel room doors. I have the students write out their fasting practices around the hole for the door knob. In the middle, they write their form of prayer and finally near the bottom, what type of almsgiving for the poor they choose to participate in. They decorate them with markers and religious symbols of Lent. Students take them home to hang on the doors of their bedrooms for a quick reminder of their Lenten practices.
— Julie W., catechist (grades 6, 7, 8), Glen Ellyn, IL
July 2015 CATECHIST Tip of the Month
In an effort to remind my students to look for Jesus in their lives, each session I hide a small crucifix somewhere in the room before students arrive. As the students enter, they immediately begin looking for Jesus. When they find the crucifix, I challenge them to discover why Jesus would be in that location. What message is he sending them? Responses vary. For example, when the crucifix was at the computer, students suggested that Jesus was reminding them to be careful when using the Internet.
— Mariann A., catechist (grade 7), Haworth, N.J.
June 2015 CATECHIST Tip of the Month
I believe the most important tip I can offer is to really love the children you teach. Then, everything else will fall into place.
— Dianne P., catechist (ages 4, 5, and 6), first reconciliation and first Communion (ages 7 and 8), Andover, KS
October 2014 CATECHIST Tip of the Month
My fifth-graders and I meet only once a week, and so during the first class time in October, I set the scene—literally—for the celebration of All Saints and the Communion of Saints. When the kids get to class that first class time in October, they will see that our prayer table has been replaced by a long table covered in white (butcher) paper. On the paper, I will have drawn plain placements (plain rectangles about 12” tall and 18” wide—enough for each child in the class to have his or her own “placement;” the placemats might be larger is space permits) all around the edge of the table, as if the table were getting read to be “set” for a meal. My lesson for that first class time in October is about the saints and the Communion of Saints. Before the end of that class time, the kids will go to the table and “pick” a placemat that they will decorate, just a little at a time, at each class time during October. They can draw and color anything they want on their placemats—names, symbols, words, pictures—that has to do with the saints and the Communion of Saints. At the last class time in October, I remind the kids of All Saints Day on November 1 and All Souls Day on November 2, and we pull chairs up to the table and have a feast (wholesome snacks) in honor of the saints and the Communion of Saints.
—Barbara S. Fifth-grade catechist
September 2014 CATECHIST Tip of the Month
I teach fourth-graders. I know how important it is to set the tone for the coming year, so right at the beginning of class at the first class of the year, I do my “First Day Commercial” to capture the kids’ interest and generate enthusiasm right off the bat. I ask: “What is the date we celebrate Jesus’ birth?” Of course, everyone knows: December 25—and they all call it out. Then I ask: “What is the name of the prayer we pray in honor of Mary?” Of course, everyone knows: the Hail Mary—and they all call it out, too. Then I ask: “On what date do we celebrate Jesus being conceived in Mary’s womb?” The room is totally silent; no one ever knows that answer. Then I ask in quick sequence, not waiting for answers: “What is the date we celebrate Mary’s birthday? What feast do we celebrate on New Year’s Day? What is the Triduum? Why do we genuflect in church? What is the liturgical year? What are the names of the archangels? When did you last go to confession?” And then I catch a breath and, of course, the room is still total quiet. Then I slowly say, “Well, that just goes to show that there is a lot to learn about our wonderful Catholic faith, doesn’t it. We are going to learn the answers to those questions and so much more this year! And you will learn more about how Jesus is your BFF. So let’s get started!” And then I move right into my lesson plan, from the first section of the textbook. I don’t even do all the housekeeping details that have to be taken care of on that first day until the end of class..
—Ellory L., Fourth-grade catechist
August 2014 CATECHIST Tip of the Month
I did something during the third class I taught—that’s been 10 years—and I continue to do it. I included a “Picture This” component to the lesson plan. This involves a group of students working to draw a picture or a symbol that represents a key point in the lesson. They draw on a large piece of poster board that fits perfectly on top of a large framed print that I bought at a second-hand store the first year my husband and I were married (nearly 25 years ago). I use some hanging putty to hold the poster board in place on top of the old print inside the frame. The kids take such pains to make their artistic expression presentable because I leave it up for several weeks. The kids often ask, “Can we do ‘Picture This’ today?” This year, I’m going to use my “Picture This” frame to present a WELCOME TO A NEW YEAR greeting for the first day of class.
July 2014 CATECHIST Tip of the Month
During our VBS program last year, I introduced Love Links—and the activity was great. I’m going to do Love Links again this year. This is how it works: On the first day of VBS, each child gets a packet of Love Links. It’s a small booklet of six slips of paper (about the size of a dollar bill) stapled together at one of the short ends. Each piece of paper in the packet is designed like a miniature certificate with these words: “To ________ for showing others the love of Jesus in the way you ____________. Thank you for helping me learn about Jesus and our Catholic faith. From ___.” (I make sure the blanks are long.) Throughout the week, each child eventually completes (and delivers) every Love Link in his or her booklet to another child. The child will have thanked six different people for showing others the love of Jesus in specific ways. Each time a child receives a Love Link, he or she gives it to our VBS Captain who adds it to a paper chain of Love Links that is draped across the front of the altar in church. The Chain of Love grows longer and longer throughout the week so that it makes for a beautiful visual and symbolic trimming of the altar at our closing Mass on the last day.
—Julie T., VBS Coordinator
June 2014 CATECHIST Tip of the Month
I’ve been a DRE for 17 years. I’ve seen a lot of changes during that time. The main change: in me! The years have taught me to be more open and collaborative. It’s not MY PROGRAM and they are not MY CATECHISTS! One of the ways I keep myself open and collaborative is to send an email to every catechist in the program at the end of the year and ask him/her to answer three questions:
What can I do to improve our faith formation program for the good of everyone involved?
What can you do to improve our faith formation program for the good of everyone involved?
What can we do together to improve our faith formation program for the good of everyone involved?
The ideas that surface are insightful and creative, and they have improved the program immeasurably over the years. Plus…most important…the sense of unity that is built in this exercise could not happen in any other way.
—Always Learning DRE
May 2014 CATECHIST Tip of the Month
As our parish DRE, I make a point to visit each learning space to observe my catechists in action and to get to learn the children’s names. During those visits, I find the most innovative ideas for sharing the faith. I keep wishing that there were some way to share these great things with others. So this year, I have asked each catechist to reflect back on their most successful and creative efforts and to submit them to this very Tip of the Month site. I have enjoyed seeing the catechists’ reflective and quite humble submissions.
—Lori Crawford, Ft. Myers, FL .
April 2014 CATECHIST Tip of the Month
This is not a tip about something I did. Rather, it’s about what I plan to do during April this year, praying that it works. Blessed Pope John XXIII and Blessed Pope John Paul II will be canonized on April 27. My eighth-graders are old enough to remember Pope John Paul II and, as part of their Church history, they need to appreciate the important role that Pope John XXIII played in the Second Vatican Council. And so each time our group meets during the month of April, every student needs to present three facts: one fact about Blessed Pope John XXIII; one fact about Blessed Pope John Paul II; and one fact about the canonization process, in general or this particular canonization celebration in particular. Students can get their facts from books, the diocesan paper, or the net. Even if there are duplicate facts, we still will gather a lot of information about the canonization and so be better prepared to understand and appreciate the faith of these beautiful saints and the historic meaning of their canonizations.
March 2014 CATECHIST Tip of the Month
Each March, I plan a lesson and a project around St. Joseph, whose feast day is celebrated on March 19. I teach sixth-graders and so we talk about the reference to Jesus as the son of the carpenter…and that would be Jesus (Matthew 13:53-5). We talk about some of the things that Joseph might have made and the carpenter services that Joseph could offer others. Then I divide the class into three groups. One group comes up with lyrics to a song they write about Joseph, using the tune of a popular song that each person in the group agrees on. A second group writes a prayer to St. Joseph. The third group writes a very simple story presenting the life of St. Joseph. Then we “practice” each of these things (the song, the prayer, and the story) and when we feel good about each part, I arrange for my sixth-graders to make a presentation on St. Joseph to a group of younger students. We start with the story, then my students teach the younger kids the song, and we close with the prayer. It’s a great learning experience for everyone—and it’s great fun!
February 2014 CATECHIST Tip of the Month
The feast of Our Lady of Lourdes is February 11. Each year I do research to come up with something to share with my fourth-graders about Our Lady of Lourdes or St. Bernadette Soubirous. I think it’s especially important for kids today to know about St. Bernadette because her family struggled financially, she was a teenager when Mary appeared to her, and she had to face people who wouldn’t believe that she had seen Mary. I’ve been a catechist for seven years; I teach fourth grade. The kids find the story of Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Bernadette Soubirous really interesting so the week of February 11, I give the kids titles of books, websites, prayers, and images that encourage their interest..
January 2014 CATECHIST Tip of the Month
Children of all ages do not know what we celebrate on January 1. It’s one of our holy days of obligation, yet few children, no matter how old they are, cannot offer even a simple explanation of the name of the holy day and who we honor in a special way on that day and why. So before my students (fifth-graders) return to class in January, I arrange a Mary table in our prayer space. I drape the table with a real pretty blue cloth. I put a statue of Mary on the table, along with an electric candle, a small nosegay (from a dollar store), and a rosary. Each of the remaining weeks during January, I extend the time of our closing prayer (by five minutes) to allow for some brief catechetical comments about Mary and to pray a decade of the Rosary.
—Elmyra S., catechist for eight years
December 2013 CATECHIST Tip of the Month
It’s a very simple thing to do…make hand-made greeting cards for your students. Oh, yes. I know. It’s time-consuming. But keep it as simple as you can and you’ll find that it’s so worth the time and effort that it takes. I just buy a box of religious Christmas cards at one of those everything-is-a-dollar kind of stores. I cut off the front of each card and then glue the inside greeting to the back of the front. Then I write a short personal message to the student at the bottom of the printed greeting. Then I cover the whole thing—back and front—with clear contact paper. I punch a hole in the top of it and slip a decorative ribbon through the hole and tie a knot so the child can hang the greeting on his/her Christmas tree. I’ve been doing this for seven years with my fourth-graders and very few of the children come back from Christmas break without a huge “Thank you for your Christmas card.”
—T. D., San Antonio, TX
November 2013 CATECHIST Tip of the Month
This project is meant for November to celebrate the Feast of All Saints. The week before the Feast of All Saints, we have the children in the religious education program at Holy Spirit Catholic Church work on a saint project. We give each child a cutout gingerbread-style person, and we also assign them the name of a saint (giving them biographies of the saints along with pictures). The children then color their gingerbread-style persons to look like the saints they have been assigned. The children get really creative. When the gingerbread-style persons/saints are complete, the students glue the figures onto sheets of construction paper and put the names of the saints on the pieces of construction paper. Then we collect all the “saints” and place them along the corridor which makes up the hallway of our religious education department. We call it the Hallway of Saints. The figures stay up for the entire month of November as a reminder of our heavenly Communion of Saints.
Very little is needed for this project: gingerbread-style cutout figures, crayons, glue, construction paper, and saint biographies with pictures. The kids look forward to this project every year.
—Tomas Tafolla, DRE, Holy Spirit Catholic Church, Fresno, CA
October 2013 CATECHIST Tip of the Month
Because we celebrate the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary in October, I use a part of every class time (90 minutes each class) during the month of October to help my seventh-graders learn about and pray the Rosary. After the lesson I’ve planned from the chapter we cover that week, and right before our prayer at the end of each class, I present three or four facts about the Rosary, including a review of the Mysteries of the Rosary. Then we pray the Hail Mary as our closing prayer. I ask for one volunteer to say “Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee.” I ask another volunteer to read the Scripture reference that is the origin of that part of the prayer (Luke 1:26-28). I ask a third volunteer to say “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.” And I ask another volunteer to read the Scripture reference that is the origin of that part of the prayer (Luke 1:41-42). Then the whole class prays the last part of the prayer together: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.” The students learn about Mary, the Rosary, and its roots in Scripture.
—Catechist, San Diego, CA
September 2013 CATECHIST Tip of the Month
At the beginning of each year, I use this trick to learn the names of all my students: I have students write their names on the board and I take their pictures with them standing next to their names. I make a poster for myself that says “Pray for me” and I put their pictures on it. Even though I only teach them for 75 minutes a week, I see their pictures and pray for them often, so that by the second class, I know all their names. I was browsing through past files and came across a picture of a fifth-grade student from years ago who is now a deacon, studying for the priesthood at the Pontifical College in Rome. As the commercial says, “Priceless.”
—Sharon Egan, Camp Hill, PA
August 2013 CATECHIST Tip of the Month
Several years ago, I went to a workshop about music in education. I gained a huge appreciation for how music affects the brain and how important music is in our culture today—especially to young people. So I set up a small CD player in my classroom that year and made sure that I had music (usually instrumental) softly playing in the background every time my students came into the learning space. It’s just background music but it makes a big difference. I’ve done that the past three years and I have noticed how quickly the children (I teach fifth grade) are ready to settle down and focus for opening prayer.
—C. A., Detroit, MI
July 2013 CATECHIST Tip of the Month
To build a sense of community and connection, and to supplement the budget for our PSR program each year, the pastor has allowed me to designate a Sunday in July as “PSR Cupboard Sunday.” For two weeks before that Sunday, I put a “Call for Supplies” in the bulletin, asking people in the parish to come to my office on “PSR Cupboard Sunday” with any kind of item or items (new or used) that I can place in our PSR supply cupboard for the catechists to use in their classrooms. I stress the need for craft supplies (markers, paper, glue, scissors, craft sticks, religious stickers, old Christmas cards, fabric, old magazines, yarn and other kinds of thread, empty boxes, empty paper towel tubes, etc.) and books appropriate for the PSR reference library. This gives the whole parish a chance to own the program, support the children and catechists, and enjoy conversation—because I make sure to have on hand plenty of coffee, juice, donuts, and fruit.
—L. B., DRE
June 2013 CATECHIST Tip of the Month
At the beginning of the learning year, I inform all catechists in the program that at the end of the year—right about now—I will ask them to submit to me one lesson plan that they used during the year that was especially successful. The lesson plans don’t need to be extensive; catechists can simply type up the basics of the idea on a single sheet of paper, if that is enough to convey the idea. I explain to the catechists that I will add their lesson plan to the resource library that I’ve been building over the last 12 years. (I explained the availability of the resource library to the catechists at the beginning of the year, and many of them use a lot of the ideas in it. So they are more than willing to add to the resource library at this time of year.) The entire program benefits with this kind of collaborative contribution each year.
—V. W., DRE
May 2013 CATECHIST Tip of the Month
To support our students’ family and home as the domestic church, every child in our program gets a May Prayer Table Kit the last class in April, before the first of May. The catechists in the programs help me assemble the kits…which consist of small paper bags (lunch bags) that contain a small strip of blue cloth, a holy card of Mary with The Memorare on the back, and a small artificial rose pedal (from flowers I buy at a dollar store). At the end of that last class in April, every catechist takes time to offer brief comments about May being a month that the Church devotes especially to Mary as the Mother of our Savior. Catechists share with their students some of the stories about Mary from the Bible (reading them or paraphrasing them), and then they hand out the May Prayer Table Kits, encouraging youngsters to take the kit home and create a small prayer area devoted to Mary during the month of May.
—A. T., Minneapolis, MN
April 2013 CATECHIST Tip of the Month
I teach sixth grade. At the beginning of the semester, I saw how much the children struggled using their Bibles. Many claimed to have never opened a Bible before. With that knowledge, I came up with a fun way to prepare the children for the coming Sunday Mass readings and strengthen their ability to locate Scripture using chapter and verse citations. As we all know, welcoming children into the classroom and trying to settle and prepare them for the start of class can be a challenge. Prior to the children entering class, I write a Scripture chapter and some verses from the Sunday Gospel on the board. The children know that they are to find the chapter and read those verses. Then I have an activity that goes with the reading. It might be a quick find-the-missing-word activity or we may act out the Scripture or we may play Scripture jeopardy. Parents have complimented their children’s ability to pay better attention at Sunday Mass and their deeper knowledge of the readings. Additionally, the children have improved their ability to find the Gospel Scriptures. Next I will add readings from the Old Testament! This takes about 5-15 minutes out of our weekly class time, but it goes a long way to prepare the children for Mass and beyond!
—Jennifer Washburn, Benton, KY
March 2013 CATECHIST Tip of the Month
I put up an Easter tree in my learning space the week after Easter. (During a fall sale at a craft store several years ago, I bought a fake dogwood tree with pink blossoms on it. I intended to put it on my front porch during spring, but then thought of the idea of an Easter tree to help my students celebrate the Easter Season; so I changed my mind.) I put it in the classroom and draped it with a string of small white lights. It’s so bright and festive. I put it in our prayer space and that’s where it stays all through the Easter Season. I take it down the first week in Ordinary Time. (I drape it with a large sheet and store it in my garage and it’s ready to go right after Easter the next year.)
—Dorothy. D., fourth-grade catechist
February 2013 CATECHIST Tip of the Month
Here is an idea for creating Valentine’ Day cards for parishioners honoring all the married couples in the parish on their first, fifth, tenth, fifteenth, twentieth, twenty-fifth year (and so on) of marriage. The cards are given to the couples after a Mass in February.
In our diocese every year in February, close to the Sunday near Valentine’s Day, our churches hold a Mass honoring the married couples and renewing their vows. My religious education classes create cards for our married parishioners who will be celebrating an anniversary this year, marking a milestone of a first year, a fifth year, a tenth year, and so on.
From the parish secretary, I receive the names of the couples who signed up to be at Mass, including the years that they have been married. Then I give the names and their years of marriage to the classrooms to create cards honoring the couples’ commitment of marriage. My sacramental classes enjoy creating the cards and wishing the couples well on the anniversaries of their marriage. Since the class is learning about the Sacrament, they explain in a short note to the couples what they learned about the Sacrament and enclose it in the card. They pray for the couples at their prayer tables in the classrooms, and then decorate envelopes to hold the cards for safe-keeping. At the social after Mass, I present the cards to the married couples. Many of the parishioners write back to the students in the classrooms telling them what their cards meant to them. The students enjoy receiving mail, and keeping in contact with parishioners is an evangelizing moment for all.
Depending on the age of the students, here is what we use to create the cards:
* old covers of Valentine cards
* self-adhesive (and fun) heart stickers
* crayons and markers
* psalms and other passages from the Bible speaking on marriage and love:
John 15:12: This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
1 Corinthians 13:4-5: Love is patient and kind, love is not jealously or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude.
Genesis 2:22-24: Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
Proverbs 5:18: Have joy in the wife of your youth.
Matthew 19:4-5: “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother …. and the two shall become one flesh?’”
The students base their creations of cards on these or other passages from the Bible
—Donna Stachulski, DRE, St. Linus Parish, Dearborn Heights, MI
January 2013 CATECHIST Tip of the Month
So many times kids (and adults) are very nervous when preparing for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. The kids comment that they are afraid they will forget what to do once they are in the confessional. Also I observed many kids messing with their hands as they waited in line to enter the confessional. Several years ago, I began teaching my students the steps for Reconciliation by using their hands to help them remember the basic steps of what to do when they are in the confessional. Take your right hand (because we want to make things "right" again). Your thumb is away from the other fingers; it helps us to remember what to do before we enter the confessional. Our thumb reminds us to think about our sins and say a prayer to the Holy Spirit before confession. Now the other fingers are together and they help us to remember what to do in the confessional. The pointer finger points us in the right direction as we make the sign of the cross and tell Father how long it has been since our last confession. The middle finger reminds us to tell our sins. People used to tie a string on their finger to remind them of a task, so the ring finger helps us remember to say we are sorry as we pray the Act of Contrition. It also helps remind us to do our penance. The pinky finger is when we receive absolution. Just as we started with the sign of the cross on the pointer finger, we also end with the sign of the cross on our pinky finger. When we finish our penance we can give ourselves a high-five or a pat on the back for trying to make things "right" again!
—Kathy Hotop-Raines, Jackson, MO
December 2012 CATECHIST Tip of the Month
I've used this Advent idea with children kindergarten through fifth grade. Because we meet for class only two or three times during Advent (depending on the liturgical calendar), I don't have much time to help the children focus on the days of Advent and how they are paying attention to anticipating what we celebrate at Christmas. So before the last class before Advent begins, I take a large piece of dark-blue construction paper and place craft-foam, self-sticking stars all over the upper half of the paper—creating a "night sky" look. Then I put the night sky on the bulletin board behind our prayer table and place a large bowl of cotton balls and a glue stick on the prayer table. At the beginning of that last class before Advent, I tell the children that we will soon begin the Season of Advent, and we talk about the things we can do to prepare to welcome Jesus. Then I tell them that each time we meet, they are to think about what they've done through the week to prepare their hearts to welcome Jesus—and to stick as many cotton balls on the "ground" below the night sky as they would like. Each cotton ball doesn't have to represent a specific action; they just think about how good a week it's been in celebrating the days of Advent. If they feel they've done only a few things, then they glue only two or three cotton balls to the ground. If they've done a lot, then they should put up more. If they forgot all about Jesus and focused on getting presents and decorating and shopping, then perhaps they shouldn't put up any cotton balls. The idea is to fill the ground with cotton balls so that it appears to be covered with a pure blanket of snow. Before the children return for the first class in the new year, I'll place the figures of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus in the manger (all made of construction paper) at the top of the snow, where the ground appears to "meet" the sky. Then we'll gather around the image and share our Christmas stories of how Jesus was welcomed into our hearts and homes on Christmas. This gives me the setting for the Epiphany as well, when I'll put construction-paper "kings" in the image.
—E. L., Boston, MA
November 2012 CATECHIST Tip of the Month
I've been a third-grade catechist for four years. Each Thanksgiving, I like to have the kids make something the last class time before Thanksgiving that they can take home with them and place on their Thanksgiving tables. This year I am going to do something they can take home and put at each place setting. I bought packages of small paper doilies at the dollar store and am having students write in the middle of each one the name of someone who will be at their Thanksgiving meal, and a "thank-you, God" message about that person. Maybe something like, "Mom, I thank God for you. You are patient." Or "Grandpa, I thank God for you. You help me with my homework." Or "Aunt Betty, I thank God for you. You come to my soccer games." This helps the kids think carefully about the people they love. I'll give as many doilies to each child as he or she needs.
—D. C., Memphis, TN
October 2012 CATECHIST Tip of the Month
I am the catechist for the kindergarten class. At our end-of-year closing ceremony for religious education, we hand out one Christ Like Award per grade level to the child who has exhibited outstanding service to fellow classmates. So during the school year, we not only lead by example but also offer a Kindness Award at the end of class each week to a child who gets caught doing a kind deed. I am excited about this opportunity to let them shine!
—Shannon Clune, St. Jude the Apostle Parish, Lewes, DE
September 2012 CATECHIST Tip of the Month
I am the DRE of a large urban parish. We do not have a catholic school. Our RE program is very active. We have 14 classrooms/learning areas.
To help the families in this wonderful parish celebrate and honor the Year of Faith, I am going to invite the catechist and students in each classroom/learning area to come up with one idea for how households can celebrate the Year of Faith in the home. I'll then publish in the bulletin one idea each month during the 14 months of the Year of Faith…with an identifying tagline that gives the catechist's name and learners' names. Sure, the tagline might be longer than the idea, but catechists and learners will be thrilled—so will parents and grandparents, etc. Such a simple idea gets everyone involved in one way or another and goes a long way to build a sense of community.
—M. C., DRE, Tampa, FL
Share your experience with other catechists. Send your TIP to firstname.lastname@example.org