Like many catechists, I found myself in a strange, new place this spring when the coronavirus closed our parish and required us to suspend all activities. I was determined to find ways to stay connected with my first-grade class. I knew the parents were already feeling overwhelmed, so I wanted to create easy and engaging activities that would make them want to participate with their children. I also wanted to create something that had a definite learning component, building on lessons we had already learned before the shutdown.
Scrolling through my favorite Catholic Twitter accounts one evening, I happened to see a post from Barb Gilman that mentioned a “flat teacher” idea. I decided to create flat-teacher characters of me and my co-catechist from clip art and invite the students to take us on some faith adventures.
In further social-media collaboration with Barb, she suggested that I create a bingo game. I created a nine-square bingo card and added activities for Flat Mrs. Butler, such as praying the Rosary or reading a Bible story. One of our last in-person sessions had been a lesson on the Great Commandment, and we were coming up with ways to show love for God or for others during Lent. To bring that lesson to the activity, I added squares with suggestions for helping around the house or taking care of a pet. I have been recording short videos for my students, so one of the activities for Flat Mrs. Butler was to watch one of the class videos. I also asked the parents to take photos of the flat teachers doing some of the activities, so my co-catechist and I could see all the activities we’d done in the homes. The invitation to share photos, in addition to being fun, promoted a little bit of accountability for doing religious activities, without actually calling the completion of cards an assignment.
It’s my hope that Flat Mrs. Butler and the bingo game format will help my students remember some of the things we talked about in class. While full group lessons are not possible right now, encouraging the children and their parents to do these activities together can be a wonderful lesson in itself. Having the parents help their children interact with sacramental objects like a rosary or a crucifix can help them understand how an outward symbol relates to their Catholic faith and leads them to an inward grace. And completing simple actions of service reminds families that service can take place anywhere.
We’ll all continue to be challenged to engage in new ways with the children we serve. Collaborating on social media is one way to help us find support in each other and meet the challenges. And keeping in touch with families reminds us that the Church is not constrained by walls.
How are you reaching out to families during this time? What ideas have you used for encouraging faith activities at home? Share your ideas in the comments below or in Loyola Press’ Catholic Faith Formation group on Facebook.