July 28, 2011
Teaching Skills, Understanding Kids
What advice would you give to someone who was about to become a catechist of primary age children (grades 1, 2, and 3)? What works? What doesn’t work? What approaches are most effective? What skills, techniques, and strategies are needed?
25 years and counting of first-grade catechesis: here’s some random thoughts that I use when training/mentoring new catechists.
–Outline your expectations for classroom behavior on the first day. You re in charge. Remember that. One unruly kid can make the class less effective for the others (and more stressful for you), and that s not okay.
–Learn their names and use them quickly. Say things like it s good to see you or I m happy you re here. It sounds hokey, but I ve seen it make a difference in someone s attitude.
–You aren’t going to hit it out of the park every week. Some weeks are just better than others. The kids can be really “on” one week and super-squirrelly the next. (When Halloween falls on a Sunday good luck!) Don’t beat yourself up. Accept that standing up there in front of them IS a good message. Assess if your lesson needs work or if was just one of those weeks.
–Having said that… prepare, prepare, prepare. If you’re planning your lesson Saturday night, you’re not going to have a very good class. Have a backup plan when something doesn’t go the way you thought it would. I have stopped something in mid-stream because it wasn’t working, the kids weren’t really getting anything out of it and no one was having any fun. On the other hand, I have sometimes let things go a different direction if the conversation was leading us there. (Example: I brought in my old, well-used, beat-up, dog-eared, marked-up study Bible one class for something and the kids started asking why I didn t take better care of it. It wasn t part of my lesson, but they started talking about how we use Bibles, different types and how we learn & pray, etc and that was a worthwhile chat.)
–Repeat, repeat, repeat. I often say things 3 different times/ways so it sticks. Then I ask questions and do a review the following week.
–Have different activities for different types of learners. All book-activities aren’t going to work for the kid who learns by doing and vice versa. Also, my kids aren’t very good readers at the beginning of 1st grade.
–My 1st graders love being read to. Bring in books that you can tie to the lesson. Also, they love to sing. Sometimes, while they re working on sometime I ll have the CD going and they ll actually start singing along while they re working. You gotta love that!
–Get down to their level physically, esp in a 1:1 situation. Bend down, squat down, sit in a chair next to them to answer their question.
–Require one parent/week to stay in class for help, crowd control, whatever. That way, they are forced to be actively involved in the catechesis of their child.
–This is a biggie for me–prayer. The fact is that Sunday in class might be the only oppty some of these kids get for a variety of reasons. Make time for it (in many forms) and make it a welcoming place and a safe place for them to bring their thoughts.
–Use your parish resources. There s probably an RE library with music or books (I m a big fan of Patricia Mathson books great activities) or people with skills you can use (crafters, musicians, liturgists, etc). We re in this together. I m not a professional teacher, so sometimes I need advice from teachers on all sorts of issues.
–And finally . Take care of yourself. Enrich yourself with books, prayer, classes, whatever moves you. I love Catechist s magazine s daily Facebook post for scriptural reflections for catechists. [And blogs of course! ]
After being a Catechist for 30 yrs , I took time off work committments just didn’t work the way it should have anymore – then after almost 10 yrs the voices in my head keep telling me it’s time to COME BACK, IF THAT WAS NOT ENOUGH – IN 3 DAYS I HAD 5 PEOPLE COME TO ME AND SAY ” YOUR TEACHING THIS YEAR” at first I was SHOCKED THEN I REALIZED & SAID ” YES LORD ” I HEAR YOU. I cried after my first class back IT FELT SO GOOD.
MY ADVICE TO YOU IF YOU ARE FIRST CALLED – DON’T BE AFRAID – YOU ARE NOT ALONE IN THIS – THE SPIRIT IS WORKING IN YOU – TAKE TIME EACH DAY PRAY – REFLECT & STUDY & I MEAN STUDY YOUR LESSON IF THEY ASK A QUESTION YOU ARE UNSURE OF – CHECK IT OUT WITH YOUR DIRECTOR , YOUR PARISH PRIEST THEN JUST ENJOY BEING WITH THE KID’S THEY WILL TEACH YOU AS WELL – THEY WILL ENRICH YOUR FAITH IN WAYS YOU CANNOT IMAGINE
GOD BLESS YOU ON YOUR FAITH JOURNEY AS YOU WALK THIS JOURNEY WITH THE LORD AND THE CHILDREN YOU ARE WITH
I agree with Kathleen’s random thoughts (7/28 above)–they are all worth keeping in mind when dealing with young children. I would add one more random thought–I have taught Level 1 (First Grade) for 4 years–Keep it simple! My aide reminded me one evening after a “challenging class” that we need to remember that we are dealing with children who are only 3 years past potty training!
For young children, I agree to keep the lesson simple. More important, keep up your enthusiasm. It is contagious! Share your love for Jesus and his love for us.
For primary students in the best that I have found is to do a craft or have the children bring home something from the class. If you use a Lectionary based curriculum then have the chldren make something based on the readings for that week.
I’ve also been a Catechist forever (almost) and I have 1st graders. I have to agree with everything Kathleen said. I also like to add a little free time or outside play time. We meet for 1 1/2 hours one evening a week and that’s long class for them. I try to add simple art projects that relate to our lesson. One of the favorites for Easter is to do Resurrection Eggs with the book Benjamen’s Box . The kids love the hands on and could hardly wait to see what was in each egg!
Pray each day before you facilitate a class. Prepare well. I like to divide the focus of the class For example: the first 15 min. Prayer and ritual; the next 1/2 hr. to focus on the Sunday Readings. The next 1/2 hr. notebooks, textbooks and faith vocabulary– make it a game. See what team has the most correct answers!or can do a Church tour. The remainder time on discussions how it applies to their life. Keep it moving–Keep it moving. That’s really the name of the game. God Bless! GB
I have been teaching first and second grade faith formation classes for the last several years and these are some of the things I try to keep in mind.
Some first graders will be needier that you can imagine and others will be more independent than you can imagine. Use that. I have my more advnaced learners help out the less advanced ones. It really works well.
Prepare, prepare, prepare. Always have more lesson planned than you will have time for. Cover your main ideas at the beginning of the class so you are sure to get the main points of your lesson in the alloted time but have way more extra planned so that you will not be sitting there with 15 minutes left of class time and be scrambling for something to do.
Set up class rules on the first day and keep them few and simple. You dont need a lot of rules but you do need just a few rules that are ironclad, such as raise your hand if you wish to speak and if one person is speaking everyone else is listening.
Enforce your rules always.
Pray, pray, pray. With your children and without them. I start and end each lesson with prayer but sometimes even in the middle of the class I will say a prayer just to remind the kids that you can pray always.
Don’t be afraid to be a fool for God. Your enthusiasm can be infectious, so sing even if you aren’t the best singer, draw even if you aren’t Picasso, be a little silly if it gets your point across to the children.
Continue to learn about the faith. I am always trying to learn by attending classes or online at this and other good websites.
We have a couple of senior sisters who are teaching Grade 1 and 2 children to do meditation. The children love it. The teachers love it. When students are having difficult moments in the day they have been known to ask their teachers if they can take a few moments to meditate to regain their peace. Of course the meditation only lasts six to seven minutes (one minute for every year of life – as suggested by gurus of Christian meditation). The teachers do it along with their students and everone is the class becomes centred and peace filled.
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First and foremost, I am a catechist! I am presently serving at a parish in Evergreen Park, just outside of Chicago. I have been involved in the catechetical ministry for over 30 years.
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