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!
We created what we called “Parent Coaching” days a couple of years ago. We do them 3 times a year so parents with more than once child in our Religious Ed program can visit each classroom. I ask my catechists to prepare a lesson in their rooms that will include the parent. Some teachers do a station activity where kids visit and gather info with their parents, some have the parents read their child the scripture story for the day, some even go on a tour of the church together. most parents enjoy the activity but it seems the older the kids, the smaller the participation of parents. Hopefully we can continue to grow it.
This is another great idea for parent involvement! Thank you for offering it to us! And I hear you so loud and clear when you say that it can be more difficult to involve the parents of older children. Perhaps they might be drawn in if they were to chaperone service or social gatherings? Just a quick thought that came to mind… Does anyone have other ideas for parent involvement in the older grades?
At the beginning of this year I invite them to participate on and activity that I called ‘God created me, loves me’ and he children draw a picture if themselves. Parents came in the last 15 minutes after being on a parental meeting with the CCD office staff. They had to guess from all thr drawings on the board, which one was their kid. It was a nice experience and we also talk about expectations of the year.
I woukd definetly love to have more involvment.
Samantha, I really like your activity as well! I particularly the portion where they are asked to figure out which drawing is their own child’s. I can imagine the excitement of the children as their parents peruse the pictures…
Thank you for mentioning your idea!
I love the idea of having parents involved in the classroom, but it becomes difficult because if it happens more than a couple of times, it becomes a child protection issue and then all parents need to be registered in Shield the Vulnerable, our Archdiocesan child protection database. Not sure parents would comply with that.
Thank you, Judy, for bringing up this very important requirement. It is always one of our primary tasks to make sure that the children are safe, and this requires complying with the Archdiocesan Child Protection policies. My hope is that parents would be open to taking the steps needed to open wide the doors for their participation. But you are right…there may be some that do not. Thank you for bringing this to light!
I taught grade 1 and would do a Baptism show and tell. The children would bring in pictures, their Baptism candles, the gown they wore, etc. The week before I sent home a note asking the parents to work with the child to pick out the item(s). I also asked them to have the child find out the date of their Baptism, what church they were baptized at, and who the child’s Godparents were. This was always one of my favourite classes and I think the children really enjoyed it. I extended the invitation to parents, grandparents, and Godparents to come watch the show and tell.
Your baptism show-and-tell is a great idea, particularly for FIrst Grade. They love to find out more about themselves, and bringing their parents into the investigation provides another moment of bonding as a family. But most importantly, it is a bonding that happens in the interest of learning more about their child’s initiation into our faith! I have found that children like to mention times when they have been at other baptisms as well, such as a baby brother or sister, or a cousin. This activity would highlight that they too were so welcomed by their faith community. Thanks for sharing!