One day last spring, I was hanging out in the lobby of our parish center, as I often do when classes end for the day. It was 5:00 P.M., and some of the parents had spent the entire hour waiting for their children by relaxing in one of our chairs, reading a book to pass the time. Others had just arrived, having run a quick errand since dropping off their children an hour earlier. This was the calm before the storm that is unleashed when the classes are dismissed.
Chaos unfolded the moment classes let out. One parent hurried his son into the bathroom, hockey gear in tow, urging him to change quickly so that they were not late for practice. Another mom herded a flock of girls, pads on shins and cleats on feet, all of whom were heading to their soccer game. A third rushed off her child to his piano lesson. As I watched, I realized what a precious a gift time is. Yet this gift is often scarce to our families, and one that if not used wisely leaves us without chances for connecting. It occurred to me in that moment that perhaps there is an untapped opportunity hidden among the parents as they wait for their children. Is there something I could offer parents while their children are in class? How might I involve them in our program? How might I help parents connect with one another, with their children, and with God? And then I remembered a little secret: we, the Church, are really good at creating a time and space for doing just that. As I set to work to find a way to leverage this gift to benefit our families, I recalled two of my favorite memories from my childhood.
When I was young, one of my favorite things was show-and-tell. Each of us was assigned a day on which we were the “student of the day.” On that day, I was allowed to bring in and share with my classmates something that was special to me. I carefully considered and planned what I would bring in for show-and-tell weeks in advance. And when my day arrived, I couldn’t wait to go to school.
Another of my favorite memories is when my mother was chosen room mother. For that, she would help coordinate and run parties for the various holidays we celebrated as a class: Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, and the end of the year. I felt so very special when she was in the classroom.
Recalling these moments, I thought to myself: maybe I can bring these two things together in my religious education program. What if catechists invited each parent to participate in class for just one day during the year? (My secret hope was that parents would volunteer for more than one day, but one was sufficient to start.) If a parent isn’t able to make such a commitment, perhaps another relative (a grandparent, an aunt, or uncle) or a favorite family friend might volunteer instead.
To prepare for their day in the classroom, I ask parents to work with their child to find an item that expresses what God and faith means to their family and bring it to class. Maybe it is a Bible from home, or a cross that adorns their walls. Perhaps it is a prayer that they say as a family, such as the prayer before meals. It might even be a picture of their favorite moment together as a family, one that shows God’s love resting comfortably in their midst and in their smiles.
When the parent and child share what they have brought with the class, everyone is reminded that God is with them, that God loves them in a very special way. We will have created a moment wherein that child sees just how special his or her family is in the eyes of God. And they feel even closer to their loved one who has made time just for them that day. They are also special in the eyes of their classmates, who now know a little bit more about them.
We can use the time that is already set aside for these families each week as an opportunity to involve the family in the life of the Church. And in the process we are creating memories and connections within the family itself. It’s a win-win!
How do you involve parents and families in your classrooms? Please do share your thoughts. We would love to hear them!