Catechism for any age needs to deliver food for the soul. For youth to be open to receiving God’s nourishing grace in their catechetical experiences, they must not be opposed to attending sessions. Notice that I didn’t say that they must want to attend. I believe that the majority of youth never have a natural desire to attend catechism classes no matter what their home life is like. They attend because their parents, grandparents, or guardians say they must. I remember that being the case for myself. If I surveyed a group of adult Christians who attended faith formation classes as a child I bet that the majority never said to their parents “Please, please can I go to catechism classes tonight?” In general, kids will not fight their parents about showing up to catechism sessions as long as they don’t feel extremely adverse about attending.
3 Key Elements of Successful Class Sessions
To enable children not to have a negative attitude toward catechism classes, we must focus on including these 3 elements:
1. Presenting a few core Scripture-based concepts at each session that can be directly integrated into their lives through the use of real life examples
The Bible needs to be the heart and sole of any catechism lesson. In the Catholic Church, we often experience catechism lessons that are often driven by learning about Sacraments, Saints, and Mass. Well this is all fine but our foundation needs to be God and Jesus as learned through sacred Scripture. When we take Scripture and apply it to our lives, the students and parents see value in the catechetical sessions. Gone will be the attitude that class is a waste of time. As students learn something new from the Bible and are intrigued by it then they will be inspired to keep attending. The end result is the ultimate goal as Christians–learning how to truly live the gospel.
2. Making sure the students have opportunities to interact with each other.
Students must have no anxiety about classroom dynamics. If they are worried about not knowing anyone, not fitting in, or feeling left out, they will be opposed to catechism attendance. Comfort level increases when lessons provide chances for the students to work interactively with each other. Common approaches incorporated into lessons are starting with an ice breaker, partnering up to answer a prompt or moral situation, performing a dramatization of a Bible story, dividing into teams to compete in a knowledge test, or playing a game in small groups. I do not believe in letting the youth pick their own partners or teams, however. Always assign them in a random manner to minimize the chance of anyone feeling that they are the odd man out. Within a few weeks, each child will have worked with the majority of his/her classmates. The end result is that a community will built in your faith formation classroom. Very powerful!
3. Finishing class with an engaging activity
If students experience something they like or enjoy at the end of class, they will leave with a good attitude. That attitude will hopefully carry on to their wanting to come back. Of course, group games are some of the most engaging activities to do. But not just any game will do. In my lesson plans, you will not find fluffy games. Games need to reinforce the key concept that you are focusing on learning. I have taken the time to create games with reusable manipulatives that can be reused year to year.
Communication with parents is essential. I recommend sending out an email the day before the session. For our faith formation classes, we meet on Wednesdays. so I send the email out on Tuesday evening. In the email I include a couple sentences about the upcoming topic and some “questions for the car ride home”. Not only does the email serve as a reminder of the upcoming session so parents don’t forget but it also lets parents know that you are covering something essential like a Bible story their children have never heard or the learning of a key Sacramental topic.
The “questions for the car ride home” help in several vital ways. First, the parents will hopefully use them to review and reinforce what is ore has been taught. Second, they give the parents an opportunity to have expanded family conversations to include their own thoughts about their own faith. Third, the questions help avoid what happens if parents have no clue about the lesson’s topic. A typical scenario is that the parents ask their child, “What did you learn at class?”. This is often followed with them receiving the automatic default response of “Nothing.”
I include in my lesson plans sample text of an email communication catechists could possibly send out to parents. I don’t think it is fair to have them start from scratch. The email content can be tweaked per the needs or goals of individual catechists and adjusted as necessary from year to year. The little extra effort by the catechist to send a regular email pays off. Parents are more prone to feel that the catechist cares and that the programming is of tremendous value.