We live in such a highly-stimulated world, and no one experiences this more than our children. Their TV shows, movies, commercials, and even their school days are packed with flashes of images, sounds, and movement. This may create a sense that quiet and stillness is the worst possible environment. We know, however, that it is precisely in quiet and stillness that we are able to hear God whispering to our hearts. Only in quiet and stillness can we empty ourselves for God to fill us. Adults can often find this space on retreats. But children don’t have many of the same opportunities. What if we offered our children a mini-retreat every week in our classrooms? Here are three ways to help you make your classroom into a mini-retreat.
1. Set the Mood.
Most children come to our classes directly from church, from school, or from another activity, buzzing with energy. From the moment they walk into your room they should know that they have entered a different time and space. Create a routine in which students know exactly what to do when they enter the room. This routine should help them slow down and focus as soon as they put their coats and book bags away. For younger students, have meditative music playing and a simple coloring sheet. For older students, you could invite them to write in a journal, or you could use the 3-Minute Retreat offered by Loyola Press. Keep in mind that this is not a time to accomplish something. Rather, it is a time for them to step back from their day and enter into God’s presence.
2. Dig Deep.
We can feel overwhelmed by the amount of material we need to cover with the children. We are tempted to cram too much into one hour, adding to the overload of stimuli the children experience. Keep lessons simple and focused on the objective of the chapter. It is better for children to learn one thing really well than it is for them to learn everything in the book on a surface level and forget it as soon as they walk out the door. Give children time to sit with the objective, ponder it, experience it, and take it with them. While it is certainly important to give them a variety of experiences within the lesson, it is more important that they have taken the objective to heart.
Prayer is always a response to an invitation from God. Since we give the children God’s Word in our lessons, we should give them time to respond to God in prayer. Plan to end your lesson several minutes before the end of class instead of teaching up to the last minute and shouting reminders and goodbyes at the children as they run out the door. Depending on the lesson and the mood of the children, they may want to thank God for the gift he has given them, pray for others who are in need, or ask for forgiveness for falling short and the strength to begin again. Try a variety of prayer forms with your class. You may want to lead the class in a group prayer, or you may want to give options for individual prayer such as silent meditation, journaling, or praying a decade of the Rosary.
How do you use your class time to give the students an opportunity for stillness and quiet?