This year, I started volunteering as a faith formation teacher for Grade 2, which is preparation for first confession. I always had it in my head that I’d like to do it someday, and that I ought to. Then suddenly it occurred to me that now would work, so I signed up before I could change my mind.
I only have a little bit of experience teaching a group, but I do love kids this age (seven and eight). They are extremely sincere and funny, eager to please, and ravenous for information about how the world works, and most of them haven’t developed a fear of asking questions that might sound foolish. They are also very silly, very immature, and some of them are in constant need of redirection. My hat is off to full-time teachers who manage kids for many hours every day! I don’t think I could do it.
I think it’s going well so far. Here is what I have discovered about teaching kids this age:
They love body movement. When I want them to remember something, I try to come up with a bodily motion or gesture to help it stick in their heads, and they love getting up and doing something.
One especially popular one is when I shout, “Who made you?” and they shout, “God!” I shout, “Why did God make you?” And they shout, “To know him [stamp left foot], to love him [stamp right foot] and to serve him [stamp left foot] in this world [point to the ground dramatically like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever], and to be happy with him forever IN THE NEXT [point to the sky dramatically like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever].
We also learned the American Sign Language sign for Trinity when we did our first lesson on the Trinity: Three fingers of your dominant hand are showing behind your non-dominant hand, then the dominant hand goes under and comes up in front with one finger. Three persons, one God. We shall see if they remember next week. I bet some of them will.
They still love to colour at this age. I was afraid they might possibly be too old for colouring, but they see it as a treat I let them do at the end of class, so I go with it; or I will let them colour when I read from the Bible. There are countless free Catholic colouring pages online.
Occasionally we do a craft, which they adore, even if it’s something simple. But we have so little time, I don’t want to waste it on useless, frivolous things like word searches or crafts that don’t directly teach something important.
They absolutely love being read to, even the wise guys and the trouble makers. I just ordered a replacement copy of Tomie De Paola’s Lady of Guadalupe that I expect to be a tremendous hit. Another book that kept them spellbound was Miracle Man: The Story of Jesus by John Hendrix.
I plan for one solid idea I want them to remember at the end of each class. Just one. It’s very easy to get carried away and pile on all sorts of information; and there’s nothing wrong with seizing the moment and elaborating on an idea that they’re interested in. But I don’t expect them to remember much of anything. If they remember one idea, then that is wonderful.
I try to answer as many of their questions as I can, even if they’re only tangentially related. If I tell them something true and important that they don’t care about, I’ve wasted my time and theirs; but if they really want to know something and I can give them the answer, then it’s likely to stay with them. And if one kid asks a question, chances are good several other kids also wanted to know.
Answering their questions also makes them understand that I take them seriously and I think they are important. If I’m right in the middle of something else, I make sure I make eye contact and say, “I will answer your question, but not right this minute.” When I do answer, I always finish by asking, “Does that answer your question?” because sometimes it takes a few tries to narrow in on what they really want to know.
I smile a LOT. They really, really want to know that I like them, I think, even the naughty boys rolling around on the carpet and drawing butts on their colouring pages. None of the kids are bad. Some of them are a lot of work. Not all of them want to be there. But all of them need to know that the person telling them about Jesus is happy to be with them. I try to remember to praise them a lot. It is a privilege to be the one who gets to tell them the Good News! Some of them never heard such a thing before!
It’s okay to be funny when we’re talking about God — up to a point. The story of salvation IS strange, and sometimes it makes me laugh. Also, it’s important for them to see that Jesus and the saints and the angels and the sacraments an all are part of their everyday life, and therefore we don’t have to behave abnormally stiff and solemn. But they are not allowed to be disrespectful when we pray or make the Sign of the Cross or when we use the Holy Name, and they’re not allowed to be disruptive. I find that if I give them some time to be silly, they give me some time to be serious and focused.
Most importantly of all: This is the Holy Spirit’s work. Not mine. It’s not about being a superstar, and it’s not about dazzling anybody or setting up a lesson just right so it delivers the perfect results. It’s about putting myself in God’s hands and doing my best, and then moving along.
Kind of like everything else in life, but with more colouring pages.