A Catechist's S.O.S.

Here is an e-mail I received from a catechist who is seeking support in the midst of a difficult situation. I’ve responded to her personally with my suggestions. With her permission, I’m posting it here with the hope that catechists more familiar than I am with teaching pre-school, K, and primary ages might respond. I’ve also changed her name…we’ll call her Natalie.

To respond to Natalie, just click on “Add a Comment” at the end of this post. Thanks for reaching out to help!

I have started to teach catechism lessons to 5 year old kids four months ago. I have never had any previous experience in this field, in fact I did not want to accept at first but our parish priest kept on insisting and I accepted. To tell you the truth sometimes I feel confused and I am suffering from lots of stress because I am feeling inadequate for this post.  I do not have any material or any form of syllabus which gives me any form of guidance.  It is true that the children love me (by the way I have a class of seventeen) but I feel that this is not enough. When I try to speak about my difficulties the person in charge always ends up telling me that catechism is about experience not about how much information we pass to the kids. He assures me by telling me that the children love so much because they are experiencing love in my class. 

Sometimes I agree with this but at certain times I feel that I am not doing enough. Catechism lessons are held three times a week just one hour after school finishes.  School starts at 8.30am and finishes at 2.30pm.  First we have a half an hour lesson and then followed by mass which usually takes about 35 minutes.  During class the children are often restless and all they seem to want is play and talk. During mass they tell me that they do not want to stay.  I think that mass for 5 year olds is too much; what do you think?  When I speak about this to the priest he tells me that it is good to introduce them to mass from a young age because otherwise it would be more difficult.  I find all this ridiculous because I feel that first I have to try to explain to them what mass is all about and then introduce them to it. First I feel that I have to help them learn about Jesus and build a relationship with him and then introduce them to mass when they are seven years old when they are being prepared for their first holy communion. 

I taught them some prayers but now I am trying to concentrate more on personal dialogue with Jesus.  Even if I try to tell them stories they seem to find it hard to concentrate.  They really love to draw and now I ended up making a lesson through drawing.  For example if I want to speak about loving everybody I print a picture of Jesus with different people and give it to them to draw then while they are drawing I would pass on my message and ask them questions to see whether the message was delivered.  This way I manage to grab their attention and concentration.  They seem to like it very much but deep in my heart I keep questioning myself am doing the right thing? 

It is the first time that I came across your website and decided to contact you in the hope that maybe I will find someone who understands my doubts and fears.  I will really be grateful if you can find the time to give me your opinion about all this and maybe any suggestions about how to teach and what to teach to 5 year olds. 

Thanks, “Natalie” 

About Joe Paprocki 2746 Articles
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press, where, in addition to his traveling/speaking responsibilities, he works on the development team for faith formation curriculum resources including Finding God: Our Response to God’s Gifts and God’s Gift: Reconciliation and Eucharist. Joe has more than 35 years of experience in ministry and has presented keynotes, presentations, and workshops in more than 100 dioceses in North America. Joe is a frequent presenter at national conferences including the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the Mid-Atlantic Congress, and the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. He is the author of numerous books, including the best seller The Catechist’s Toolbox, A Church on the Move, Under the Influence of Jesus, and Called to Be Catholic—a bilingual, foundational supplemental program that helps young people know their faith and grow in their relationship with God. Joe is also the series editor for the Effective Catechetical Leader and blogs about his experiences in faith formation at www.catechistsjourney.com.

18 Comments on A Catechist's S.O.S.

  1. Natalie,

    I am a priest and I certainly wouldn’t recommend Mass in the middle of a catechism class. Do they have to attend three times a week, besides Sunday? I think I would point out to Father that, while it is indeed good to introduce children to the Mass, if the children don’t want to be there, it is likely that “forcing” their attendance will result in more harm than good.

    Just my 2 cents worth…


  2. Wow, that seems like an awful lot for little people. Am I understanding you have three sessions a week, 30 minutes each, followed by Mass, about one hour after school? When do they get to play??

    I have pre-k and kindy combined. Our class is of 6 littles ages 4 to 6. Our class is 75 minutes Sunday morning before Mass.

    To begin, I would insist of some assistance from the DRE. Get them to order you some curriculum materials. With your relative inexperience, it will be a life ring (I’m new, too, and having my book is very helpful!). Also, see if it’s possible to have a teen teacher’s helper.

    If it were me, I would offer a snack like goldfish or some other non-sugary treat while you teach. Start with a song that has movements to it, then move onto craft that ties in with the lesson, if possible.

    I would do very little expecting them to sit in their seats quietly. It’s a fine line, though, between allowing activity and all out chaos of 17 five year olds. LOL! That’s where a helper would come in handy.

    Could you take a tour of the church and talk about the Mass? My kids *love* doing that. I get the key, and we walk over and talk about the windows, statues, etc. I even let them sit in Father’s chair, shhhhh, don’t tell 😉

    If you’d like to email me, I can be reached at alison . butts @ gmail dot com It’s sort of hard to suggest more without knowing more.

    All my best,

  3. I’m sure you love these kids. I have no doubt. Otherwise you would not have these concerns. I feel so bad for you and these precious children!
    I am so surprised that your priest or director expects so much from a beginner in faith formation! No curriculum? No guidance?
    Second,and even more of a concern to me, am I understanding you correctly? What you are describing here, class right after school followed with mass for 3times a week(?!!) In my opinion, this is borderline child abuse. Five year olds need to play. They can’t concentrate for that long and especially after a long school day. What are their parents feeling about this? If I were you, I would stop asap! Suggest to your pastor that for this age group something like a “story hour” take place for about 45 mins, once a week. Sunday morning would be best and then their parents can take them to mass. Read from children’s books about Jesus and bible stories. Have music, do a craft etc. Have fun with them!! THIS is how you show them love! Not by forcing them to do things that they don’t want to do! Continuing down this road can only make for resentful little Catholics, IMO. Also, as a result these kids will most likely be among the non-practicing Catholics in the future. Does your pastor want that to happen?

  4. Lauretta, thanks for your input. We’ll have to clarify about the 3 days a week. I too am confused as to whether she has class with these kids 3 days a week (that, I’ve never heard of) or if the parish has class 3 days a week of which one day is hers. Natalie, please clarify for us.

  5. Hope she can clarify. Let’s hope it is once a week. Yet, even if it so, this kind of “program?) right after school for a five year old is just not a good thing. or for anyone , any age for that matter.

  6. Here’s a response from “Natalie”

    Dear Joe
    Thank you for your introductory comments to my letter. I really appreciate it. I would also like to thank Fr. Paul, Ali and Lauretta for their comments. I cannot find enough words to describe the sense of relief I felt on reading their opinions. It is true that when I spoke about my difficulties to our parish priest and the person in charge of our centre they tried to encourage me but all along deep in my heart I felt that something is wrong with the way we are handling things in our community. Since it seems that everybody; catechists and parents are used to this system I found it really hard to continue to press my point as I started to feel that I was some sort of trouble maker who sort of complains on everything. But an inner voice kept on insisting that I must do something about all this and that is why I contacted you so as to have other people’s
    opinions. So you can imagine how I felt when I read Fr. Paul’s comments. That is precisely how I feel too and I was happy to have such comments from a priest because obviously he is more an authority than I am in this field.

    I fully agree with Lauretta that, by going to Mass 3 times a week, these kids will end up resentful little Christians and that is why I am having all this stress right now because others who are in charge do not see things this way and are happy with the present situation.

    I would also like to thank Ali for her suggestions. In our community we are not used to the idea of teaching catechism through play. Deep down in my heart I feel that this is how it should be but then I start worrying whether I am passing the wrong message to the children; that catechism is all about fun, songs and crafts. So I really appreciated Ali’s opinion since she teaches catechism to young children too.

    By the way, yes I have class with the kids three days a week, every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. In our centre we cater for children aged 5 to 11 and all of them have classes on these days (30 mins per day) obviously each age group with it’s own catechist and then all of them gather together for mass which usually takes another 35 minutes. I thank you a lot for answering me because now I am feeling understood and in contact with people with experience in this field from whom I can learn a lot. God bless you all.

  7. Here’s another reply from “Natalie”

    Dear Joe
    I would really like to thank Kathy for her words of encouragement, prayers and practical advice. Her input about practical advice was great. I spoke to them about creation but never crossed my mind to encourage them to make animal sounds etc. I think that this is a very good idea. I feel that what I need right now is help to develop similar ideas because at times I feel short of ideas.

    Last week for example I spent the whole lesson playing with them and then asked them whether they liked it or not and whether they appreciated the fact that I played with everyone of them without leaving anybody out. You should see their faces how happy they were and their look of love made my heart cry with joy. Then I told them that I did so because I love Jesus and he told us to love everybody so when they are at school or anywhere they should remember what we did together and do the same thing themselves with other children. The message was always include everybody. It really was a rewarding experience because now I am feeling more confident about myself and my ideas thanks to your contributions.

    I am not feeling that scared anymore when I play and have fun with them as I used to be before. I was afraid that maybe I was passing the wrong message that catechism is all fun and play. I would really appreciate it if Kathy can find the time to forward to me more specific games, stories and ways to help me pass on the message to these kids.

    Another problem that I am facing right now is how to talk about Jesus’ love for us when you have a child in your class who is passing through the trauma of seeing his parents’ separation. My heart cries for him because he seems to be so hurt and confused. He cries quite often, the look on his face is such a sad one and he told me several times that he is sad but never mentioned why. I found out about his family’s situation from a friend of mine. I always make it a point to welcome him with a big smile and he seems to love this but then I sort of get blocked on how to speak about love in front of him. Personally thank God I have never experienced this trauma in my family and I really want to do my utmost not to hurt his feelings. On the other hand I feel that the other kids have the right to hear someone speak about the fact that our family is a precious gift from God. I was hoping that maybe out there, there is someone who already faced this situation and maybe shares with me how he/she dealt with it.

  8. Hi Kathy
    Thanks for your help. I managed to log on the ‘we believe’ website and I think it is really helpful. Infact I already printed some material to start using it immediately.
    Our parish does not offer the ‘Rainbow’ program or anything similar but I will make it a point to speak to our parish priest to see whether something could be done. I do not want to be involved between the parents because I am not qualified and right now I feel that I already have more than I can handle. I wish to learn more about how to handle kids passing through these difficult times so that I could be of more help to them, at least for the time they are left under my care.
    Thanks once again.

  9. Wow Natalie. My heart is bursting for you. I am the owner of a daycare with 24 children, 3-5 years of age, plus I teach Grade 3 Catachism at our Church one evening a week. (In Canada. I feel I have lots of experience with all ages). We have the Catachism children for 1.25 hours. Sometimes, I feel that is too much!! They are tired after school. I can’t believe you have a class of 17 all by yourself. Anyways, because of my ECE and Catachist training, my suggestion to you is: Have a centering craft activity ready for the children when they arrive. (plus your church needs to get you a curriculum manual, with lesson plans.) We have them! I thought all parishes used them) There are lots of great ideas at the Finding God web-site. I use it all the time. While they are making their craft that relates to your lesson, use this time to teach the lesson. Don’t talk too long. Then I would have what we call a circle time where you read a story, maybe with puppets or felt pieces and you can teach them songs. You could end the class with a short time around a prayer table. You could ask them to each bring something special from home to share that reminds them of their relationship with Jesus. This will easily cover your time. Make it simple. If you have any other questions or need more help, e-mail me. I would love to help you

  10. Hi Diane
    Thanks for your help. Yesterday I talked to our parish priest about all my difficulties and he agreed that catechism classes for 5 year olds will be held twice a week instead of three times. He did not agree that they are still too young for mass but at least we reached a compromise. I am going to take them for mass only once a week. A young priest who I met last week seemed to better understand my cry for help and he offered to help me formulate a syllabus suitable for my kids. He himself was a catechist for three years and I was very happy when I realized that he understood the need of a syllabus because in our parish none is available. I am also downloading several lesson plans from various sites suggested by yourself and Kathy and I am finding all this very helpful.

    Once again I would like to thank Joe, and all of you who offered your advice and suggestions. I am feeling more serene and in a better position to plan and concentrate on my work.

    God bless you all for your kindness

  11. Natalie, I am so pleased that the catechetical community has responded to your plea for help. Thanks to all who have reached out to help! Let’s keep in touch.

  12. Natalie,
    I have a first grade glass to teach and am the mother of two young children. You received excellent advice in the other replies. Age appropriate teaching is the key. Reading child friendly stories about the mass, Jesus, Mary, etc. can be found at your local Catholic book store. Also, I have found coloring pages online as well as inexpensive craft ideas to facilitate the message. Simple games to keep them moving may also be incorporated using a theme you would like to address.
    Keep them interested for short periods of time, then change activities as others have mentioned.

  13. Laurie, as a first grade catechist, your advice and support to Natalie is very valuable! Thanks for participating in the discussion.

  14. Have you ever heard of Good Shepherd Catechesis? I am wondering if this might be something you would want to look into for this age group. It’s geared to this age level in the Level I age group. It is hand’s on, liturgically based, and not a school model. You can check out their website and see what you think. http://www.cgsusa.org
    In Christ, man na

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