As catechists, we always need to evaluate the way we present lessons to our classes. An approach that may work for one group may not work for another.
For example, I was teaching a frisky group of second graders about the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. However, all of the old tricks that had been effective with my other classes seemed to fall flat with this group. I was being challenged as a catechist in a way I hadn’t experienced in the past. This group of children needed to be challenged and stimulated in a way that focused and engaged them. If I could present the lesson within a challenging and fun framework, I could help the kids absorb the material. I decided that they would participate in a game I called “God’s Family Feud.”
For this game, I would divide the class into two teams, and each team would need a bell. I went to the local store to find a simple, old-fashioned bell, the kind you would ring on a counter if you needed assistance.
As I scanned the shelves, I began to have some doubts. How could I think of making a game out of the Real Presence? A pang of guilt jabbed me.
As catechists, we constantly have to adapt our teaching styles to meet the needs of the children we serve so they can learn the truths of our Catholic faith. We have to rely on our training, our fellow catechists, and above all, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to lead us in evangelizing. That pang of guilt gradually subsided—I wasn’t making a game out of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist; I was simply presenting to children the truth of our faith in a manner they could understand, appreciate, and absorb. I asked an employee for help, and found two bells that were exactly what I had been looking for. I drove away from the store, excited about the upcoming game of “God’s Family Feud.”
I split the class into two groups: Angels (girls) versus Saints (boys). The team names were a cute concept that I borrowed from another catechist. Those names offered a great opportunity for me to explain who the saints were and why they are important to the Church (as well as the fact that girls are saints too), and that angels were spiritual beings who serve God’s plan as messengers. Using questions from the test at the end of the chapter of our books, I had one child from each team step up to a bell. My aide was the referee; she determined who hit their bell first after I read the question. If the child answered correctly, his or her team scored a point. If not, the other team could work together and attempt to answer the question correctly, “stealing” the point.
The children loved competing against each other, and they loved smashing the bell and giving the answer. This class, which was usually hard to manage, became focused and engaged in their learning. They worked beautifully in their groups and learned the value of teamwork. It also taught them the value of paying attention: they had to listen to the other team’s answers and look for an opportunity to steal the question to win the round. The class talked about this activity for weeks after our game. Most importantly, the truth of the Real Presence was becoming as clear as a bell for them.
As catechists, we must be attentive to the children entrusted to our care. We must observe when they are learning and absorbing the material we present and, more importantly, when they’re not. We must not be afraid to try new techniques in engaging our classes, trusting that the Holy Spirit will guide us.
When have you tried a new approach in reaching the children in your faith formation classes? What was their response?