When I pray with my first-grade students, I often tell them they have to listen for Jesus’ voice not with their ears but with their hearts. Granted, it’s an abstract concept for young ones to understand. This year, when I taught a lesson on the Good Shepherd, I decided to try something new.
Before class, I slyly arranged for two of the fathers to wait in the hall and asked them not to tell their children they were still out there. I explained to the children how sheep know their shepherd’s voice, and when the shepherd calls, the sheep follow the voice. Drawing parallels to our desire to hear and follow Jesus’ voice, I told them we were going to try an experiment.
I explained to the class that there was a dad in the hall and they were going to have to listen carefully to see if they knew the voice. I asked the children to put their heads down and close their eyes. (I know my class well enough to know that they are notorious peekers, so bringing the dad into the classroom would have ruined the surprise.)
The first dad leaned his head into the classroom and called out, “Little sheep, little sheep, do you know my voice?” I asked the kids to raise their hand if they thought this was their dad. Nearly every hand went up. I asked the dad to repeat the call, and about half as many children raised their hands. I invited the shepherd-dad into the room. His daughter (who had been one of the hand-raisers) ran into his arms and said, “I knew it was you from the very first word!” It was so sweet that I had to hold back the tears I could feel forming.
We did the same thing with the second dad. He called out, “Little sheep, little sheep, do you know my voice?” Most of the children thought it was the same dad as before. One boy disagreed. The dad repeated himself. The class still wasn’t convinced there was a second person in the hall. My student persisted: “I know that’s my dad,” he said. He was right, of course.
The rest of the lesson was a breeze to teach. The children could understand how each of us knows a familiar voice. With parents, it’s a voice they hear with their ears. With Jesus, it’s the voice in their hearts. The dads loved playing the role of “hallway shepherd,” and I heard them telling other parents about it when they came in for prayer time that day. Obviously, you could do this with mothers, but on this day, it just happened that two dads were free.
Depending on your classroom set-up, you could do this any number of ways. You could hold up a sheet or a big sheet of paper for the parent to stand behind. You could even record the parent ahead of time and play the voice on your phone.
This was a wonderful way to involve parents as well, and the connection to their voices and Jesus’ voice made it very easy to talk about the importance of praying with their children at home.
Loyola Kids Book of Bible Stories by Amy Welborn includes 60 Scripture stories every Catholic child should know.