In teaching and homeschool circles, the word living is usually used in reference to literature. A living book is one that brings the plot, setting and characters to life, engages the reader, and encourages completion of the work because it is so well written. It doesn’t distract the reader with fluff and irrelevant details; rather it feeds the reader’s hunger for knowledge and enjoyment while providing incremental learning chapter by chapter.
A living CCD or Religious Education class tries to be engaging from start to finish and encourages attendance on its own accord. Over the years, I have had children choose to attend my CCD class rather than soccer practice or tell me face-to-face how much they enjoy coming weekly because it’s fun. Granted, some years I have been overwhelmed from issues in our family life or homeschooling and felt a bit burnt out, but I attribute my return each year to the Holy Spirit and our dedicated pastor who inspires me regularly, values the work that I and the other catechists do, and holds a retreat for us Cats annually to recharge our batteries and grow in our faith.
I am an educator by trade, and over the years have designed a layout for my living CCD class that has been quite effective. Here is a quick overview. I try to use a little mathematical formula for my 75 minute weekly class. 10-10-30-10-10. By breaking up the class into increments, the children are kept interested and engaged, and lots of different mustard seeds can be planted at once, many times with tangible activities, hopefully providing a very full harvest later in life.
10 - The First Ten Minutes of Class – Greeting, Prayer and a Liturgical Theme.This is the time to greet and welcome students, take roll, and join in prayer. Children (and parents who are joining us as well) approach the little altar in our class, bless themselves with holy water, and return to their spot. I then ask for special intentions, and we pray for them and our own personal needs with a simple prayer or two – The Lord’s Prayer, Hail Mary, or Glory Be. I transition into a liturgical theme featuring an event from the life of Christ, a particular feast that may be occurring on the liturgical calendar, or the solemnity or memorial of a particular saint. **
10 - The Second Ten Minutes of Class – A Quick Review of the Previous Week’s Lesson and Checking Homework.Most times the homework I assign is reading from the text of our class – Faith and Life 2. I will spend a few minutes for questions, and then I proceed with a review. Most times it is oral in a game form while a few other times it is a written quiz or one of my worksheets. If the previous lesson was using an F3 Folder, we take a look at it and review the pieces. We then move on to covering new material.
30 - The Thirty Minutes of New Material – The New Lesson for the WeekConsidering that the children in my class range in age from about seven to eleven years old, and we meet in the evenings after many children are tired because of school and other extracurricular activities, I try to keep my new information to within a thirty-minute span. It usually includes a visual or tangible prompt of some kind (F3 Piece or F3 Folder, a religious poster to look at, teaching prop, or a sacramental of some type,) as well as a short oral presentation. As a general rule, I will not read from the textbook or do reading as a class, as I feel that is something that can easily be done at home with a parent or other family member. Many times, I try to incorporate changing positions around the room (gather into a circle, move to another portion of the room, move your chair to get into groups of two) to help keep children alert.
If everything goes well, we end up leaving our classroom twice a meeting. The first time we leave our class is to see the lesson in action. It is my goal to meet in our big kitchen almost every week to see the lesson I have just presented in action – this means using SCIENCE! Yes, I said it; I use science to teach about the faith. You may have heard of using videos, books, games, crafts, even a magic trick or two, but I like to use science experiments. (You’d be amazed at how their little eyes light up when I present an experiment, and God ends up being the star of the show.)
10 -Ten Minutes with Our Lord – Visiting the Adoration Chapel as a ClassWe return from the kitchen clean up a bit and reorganize our tables, if need be, and then head out for the second time to visit our Lord in Adoration. We are very blessed to have perpetual adoration at our parish. We have a small, intimate and inviting adoration chapel that the children love to visit. Each of our CCD classes incorporates adoration into their class period. When this practice began, I was a bit worried at the time that I would lose too much formal teaching time doing this over the course of the entire year (10 minutes x 28 formal classes = 280 minutes or almost five hours (four whole-class periods). Even so, over time I began to see how Jesus worked in the lives of the children. Since many children are over stimulated throughout the day, Adoration provided them with a small little gift of a few minutes of peace and silence. They learn reverence, patience, how to appreciate solitude, and best of all, that Jesus is available for them whenever they need Him.
10 -Ten Minutes of Housekeeping – Reminders, Homework and SuchAfter adoration, we return to class for housekeeping details. I assign the reading homework, and they all write it in their folder. I give out any handouts or newsletters, remind the kids about attending Mass and completing an entry in their Mass Journal, as well as give a hint about the content for the next week’s class.
10 -Ten Minutes of Playing to Learn – Reviewing with GamesI reserve the final ten minutes of class for reviewing year-to-date content with games. Games are usually played in teams, and everyone is encouraged to play and participate well. Sometimes I will use a game with pieces such as putting prayers in order, reviewing the Ten Commandments, or my Tell Me About It question game; other times I will hook up my laptop to the classroom TV and play a video review game that I created. (The kids’ love this style of review game too, as many are used to computer interaction – even at such a young age.)
To close the evening class, we finish in prayer, and I wish each child a safe and healthy week.
This is just one layout for a Living Religious Education class. For younger children, you may want to use an 8+ style of timing, which changes the learning activity every eight minutes or so. Older children, who should have a longer attention span, can easily benefit from a 20, 20, 20, 10 setup.
**A Note on Liturgical Theme Resources:
If you would like to incorporate Saint study into your class and are looking for a nice intro prompt, our Saintly Symbols Coloring Sheets are perfect for this. They are fun to use to introduce the Saint and discuss his or her symbol, plus they can be colored and used to decorate the classroom. So far, I have only been able to post a few on the site, but our Faith Pack DVD has over 75 of them on it plus almost all of them have an accompanying fill-in biography notebooking sheet and fill-in biography learning card, either of which could be completed as a class. You can simply use resources you have on hand or that come from your parish library.