When it comes to Catholic religious education and faith formation, there is a lot to remember. There is also a lot to experience. Authentic faith formation means forming our children’s minds to know the doctrines of the Faith; it means forming their spirits by helping them develop a powerful prayer life, and it means forming their hearts by inspiring them to “love one another as Christ has loved us.”
That is an overwhelming task for any catechist, parent, youth minister, or teacher. We take comfort in the knowledge that the process takes time, and as long as we are faithful in planting seeds, the Holy Spirit will see to their growth. Still, those who are responsible for the faith formation of children seek out new ideas and best practices in the hopes that their sowing of spiritual seeds can be more effective.
Over the years, there have been many different trends in faith formation. For many years, catechists trusted in the Baltimore Catechism, and students learned by memory the Truths it contains. Then, as trends in education in general began to change, catechists began to see the memorization of the catechism as rote, and unable to touch the heart. While it may be true that some updating of our methods may have been in order at times, two generations of poor catechesis has awakened many to the realization that we just may have thrown the baby out with the bathwater.
As religious educators are striving to better help their students learn (yes, even memorize) the doctrines of our Faith, the question arises, “How can I do this in a way that is effective, engaging, and even fun?” This article will offer just a couple of suggestions you may want to try with your children.
The Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes, the Cardinal Virtues, the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy – all of these are groups that it is important for Catholic children to know. Of course, it is essential that they also understand them – a child can not assess whether he has broken the seventh commandment, for example, unless he understands what that commandment actually commands.
But it is also important that children memorize these lists. For example, we may teach children to use the Ten Commandments to help them examine their consciences before going to Confession, but if they can’t remember the Ten Commandments, how will that help them?
So, as we are teaching our children to understand the Commandments, the Beatitudes, and the Works of Mercy, how can we also help them to memorize them? One strategy is to develop a game. That is always sure to capture children’s interest, and adding the physical element to the practice of memorization stimulates your kinesthetic learners.
One very simple game requires nothing more than a soft, squishy ball. Students pass the ball around the room, while reciting one of the Ten Commandments, or Corporal Works of Mercy, or whatever. Once a student receives the ball, he or she has to recite one of the items on the list that the group is trying to memorize, and then pass the ball to another student. The goal is for the students to name the entire list without letting the ball hit the ground.
You can add variations to the game, such as not letting any student recite more than one item (no “pass-backs”) or splitting the class into groups and making it a competition. Perhaps there can be a prize once the class has mastered five lists that they are trying to memorize.
To get the students more involved in their learning, use the Catholic Brain Web site and have them construct the lists before working on memorizing them. For example, if you are learning the Ten Commandments, have the students look up the Ten Commandments on the site, then play the games, do the lessons, or find a printable to help them understand them. Allowing the students to explore the site will not only get them excited about learning, but will provide them familiarity with it that they can use to continue to learn at home.
Understanding and memorization – both are important, and with a little creativity, they can also both be fun!