Four Reconciliation Questions on the Mind of Every Third-Grader

Sacrament of Reconciliation

Twice a year my students celebrate the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation with the other classes in the school—once during Advent and once during Lent. Since I teach third graders, I review the sacrament and the steps necessary to make a good confession. While every class is different, I have found some similarities over the years in their concerns, and they often have the same questions:

  • What do I say at the beginning?
  • What sins should I confess?
  • How many sins should I confess?
  • What happens if I forget the words to the Act of Contrition?

What do I say at the beginning?

I answer the first question by telling them to first greet the priest by saying “hi” or “hello.” Many years ago, our wise pastor shared with my principal that our students were coming into confession just blurting out their opening lines, “Bless me Father for I have sinned. My last confession was this many months ago and these are my sins.” He asked her to pass on to the teachers a reminder that our students should say “Hi, Father!” as they begin. That simple greeting gets the sacrament off to a great start. A cheerful hello can be a beautiful reminder of the joy of having our relationships and consciences healed by God’s loving grace.

What sins should I confess?

To answer the second question, I lead the children in an examination of conscience. I ask them to prayerfully look in their hearts and ask them to identify times when they hurt their relationship with God and their relationship with others.

How many sins should I confess?

The third question usually comes up during the examination of conscience. Ever practical, the children want to know how many sins they should list. Since they are so young, I review the definition of a sin and explain the difference between a sin and an accident. At this point a student will usually shout, “I think you should just tell two or three sins!” I tend to agree that this is a reasonable number, considering their age and the fact that their classmates are waiting their turn to celebrate the sacrament.

What happens if I forget the words to the Act of Contrition?

The final question my third graders have is about remembering the words to the Act of Contrition. When I mention that we have an opening prayer service and we will say the Act of Contrition together, they are relieved. But I do tell them that if they are celebrating the sacrament at another time, the priest will be happy to help them with the words if they forget. Plus, many confessionals may have the Act of Contrition written on a piece of paper for them. Of course, being the techie that I am, I tell them there is an app for that!

After answering their questions, I like to remind the children that Reconciliation is a special time to receive God’s mercy and healing. After reviewing the sacrament with them and answering any additional questions they might have, we are ready to celebrate Reconciliation with the rest of the school. The time we spent reviewing and preparing has a wonderful reward: the many young and happy faces I see upon their return from the confessional.

How do you help your classes prepare for the Sacrament of Reconciliation? What questions do your students have?

About Barb Gilman 50 Articles
Barb Gilman is a wife, mother, and third-grade Catholic school teacher. She is the winner of the 2014 NCEA Distinguished Teacher Award for the Plains States. Active on social media, @BarbinNebraska is the co-organizer of the #CatholicEdChat on Twitter.


  1. Great idea!!! I teach 7th and I need to reteach all of the
    Steps to make them confident for a successful

  2. This is my first year teaching 2nd grade, and I need to prepare my students for their first Reconciliation. Does anyone have any helpful hints or advice that I can use in my class?

    • We prepare the parents to take their children and lead the way showing them what a beautiful experience the sacrament of reconciliation is. We also have a trial run a week or two before the actual day with the parents and the children, it is a two year program so we are having the children practice the act of contrition every class session and by the second year it is not a problem. As for the parents reminding them that as they take their annual physical they can also take advantage of the sacrament and also show their children what distinction the sacrament is and how by sinning we are not in the state of grace and through the sacrament to reconciliation we are. In closing showing them the contrast between going to the doctor for body and taking advantage of the sacrament of reconciliation for our soul

  3. I am a 2nd grade catechist-so I am preparing the children for their First Reconciliation. I assure them over and over that the priest will help them and not to worry if they forget anything because the priest will help them. Also, we tell them they can bring the form for confession with them (which includes the Act of Contrition) and the priests have copies of the same form for confession. Every week we end our session (all classes) praying the Act of Contrition and a Hail Mary….this really helps the children all to learn that prayer.

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