“Before anything else, preparation is the key to success,” said Alexander Graham Bell—and so says any catechist who wants to be effective. But how do we prepare for class, especially when we might have just a few minutes before each session? I’m not talking here about planning the session in terms of what to teach and what techniques to use, but the immediate preparation on class day before the young people arrive. Here are five ideas on how to prepare for class so we can make the most of our time together with the children.
1. Get there early.
I try to get to class about 30 minutes early, but sometimes that’s not an option for catechists coming from work or when back-to-back sessions don’t allow more than about 15 minutes. But even 15 minutes can give most of us catechists adequate time to set up the classroom for the day, collect any communications from the office, check in with the catechetical leader, and take a few moments for a prayer to the Holy Spirit before the children arrive. All of that preparation makes me feel more relaxed before a session so I can enjoy my time with the young people.
2. Rearrange furniture if able and needed.
Consider the physical layout of the learning space. The physical layout tells young people something about how they will relate to each other as we invite them into a small Christian community within the classroom. I have tables set up in a U-shape so that the kids can face each other and I can wander around the middle or the outside of the U to pay attention to what’s going on in different areas of the room. Some catechists like to arrange chairs in a circle and skip the desks. Perhaps a desk or small table might be moved to create a focused prayer center. We should remember to be respectful of those with whom we share the space and return all moved furniture to its original location before leaving.
3. Put up art for the day.
Particularly for catechists who share space with another teacher, preparing the learning environment will include displaying temporary art related to the day’s lesson to appeal to visual learners. For instance, a lesson on the Ascension or Pentecost could be enhanced by displaying this printable poster Ascension to Pentecost: The First Novena. A lesson on Mary would be enhanced by displaying the appropriate chapter’s Art Print from Finding God. A lesson on any aspect of Salvation history can be helped with the visual aid of the Salvation history timeline from Christ Our Life Grade 6.
4. Check supplies.
We need to ensure we have everything we need to make class run smoothly, from scissors and crayons to samples of art projects or rosaries for praying this traditional prayer. Catechists who double-check that they have what they need before class starts will not regret this step in preparation.
5. Ready a gathering activity.
Plan something for young people to do as they gather. In a program like mine that invites the children to enter the classrooms upon arrival, a gathering activity gives early-birds something to do to prepare them for our session. I like to tell my kids that it’s time to get their brains moving after the rush to class from after-school activities and dinner. I sometimes use questions from the book, often from the review page to see what they know before we get started, or a worksheet to start introducing the concepts of the session. The activities help the young people get centered for the task at hand, which is to encounter Jesus together.
How do you prepare for class in the 15 or so minutes before a session begins? What’s your best advice for other catechists on what to do to make sure class goes smoothly?