Third Graders and the Ten Commandments

Moses with Ten Commandments tablets

As we move through the school year, my students become more comfortable sharing and asking questions during religion class. I welcome this opportunity to answer questions, and I’m grateful that they can do this in a safe environment that is free of judgment. I want them always to feel that God loves them. When I can’t answer a question, I admit that and promise to get back to them with an answer. If the question is particularly sensitive, I ask them to talk with their parents about it.

Our most recent chapter focused on Jesus’ Great Commandments. (Matthew 22:34–40) Since my students are all familiar with the Golden Rule, this was an easy lesson. I took the opportunity to review the Ten Commandments, since they were also mentioned in the chapter. I began by playing a video which used hand motions to help the children remember the Ten Commandments. I always like to add movement to my lessons, and my students really enjoyed learning the hand motions. Two commandments in particular, however, turned what I thought would be a short diversion into a lengthy discussion.

The Second Commandment led to a conversation about cursing. In my classroom, words that put down or insult another person are banned. One student shared that one of her parents did use the Lord’s name in vain and was trying to stop. We thought the hand motion shown in the video might be a good way for the parent to be mindful of how to respect this commandment.

Our discussion about the Third Commandment began with a explanation of Holy Days of Obligation, which I like to call Holy Days of Opportunity, since they are opportunities to see God. Since my third graders received their First Holy Communion the year before, they feel really close to Jesus and love going to Mass. However, some of them live in homes where going to Mass on Sunday is not a priority. We talked about how they might express their desire to go to Mass with their parents. I always tell my students to be honest with their classmates, so I told them that they should be honest with their parents. I recommended that they tell their parents that they want to go to Mass as a family, and ask them politely if they can attend Mass on Sunday.

One of the students then asked a question about going to Mass when traveling. I told them that I love visiting churches on vacation, and, fortunately, there are websites that make it easy to find a church. The class then shared their own stories about going to Mass on vacation. I shared one of my favorite traditions my mother taught me and that I later passed on to my children: when visiting a church for the first time, pray for three intentions, and after each intention pray the Lord’s Prayer, a Hail Mary, and a Glory Be.

Finally, I reminded my students that our parish puts the Third Commandment into practice by not scheduling any sporting events at our school until after noon Mass. I also mentioned two national store chains that are closed on Sundays because they feel it’s important to keep Sunday special.

While the conversation strayed from my original plan, it was a worthwhile digression. Together, we were able to explore how the Ten Commandments apply to our everyday lives. I was reminded—and I hope the students began to see—that the Ten Commandments are not just something we obey; we live them.

How do you teach the Ten Commandments in your class? What stories about teaching the Ten Commandments would you like to share?

The fourth-grade program of the Christ Our Life series, God Guides Us, focuses on the
Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes as guides for living.

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.

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