23 Sep Starting a Family Catechism Program
Setting Up A
FAMILY CATECHISM PROGRAM
Parents are the primary educators of their children in the faith. Sometimes it is possible to gather like-minded families together to share in deepening the faith of those who attend. A family catechism program is one such initiative to support the parental responsibility.
BEFORE SETTING UP THE PROGRAM:
It is important to have a base of interested parents who are willing to sacrifice their time and energy to put this program into place. These parents form the core of the program and should all have a good base of knowledge and have children who are keen to partake in this program.
A mutually agreed upon time is important. No matter what time you pick, it conflicts with family obligations. The core group must be willing to make the sacrifice. It is important then not to meet too frequently. We found that the optimum time period was 2 hours on a Saturday morning twice a month from the end of September till the end of April. That would permit some free Saturdays and a good span of time without obligations to Family Catechism. It also permitted the instruction of the whole program or close to it, for each grade.
It is better to start off small with a select, very interested group of committed families than to immediately aim big. This allows for growth pains, creates a firmer identity of the program and is more manageable.
A location must be chosen that allows for an adult group, child care group, and classes. If the group is small enough, it may begin in someone’s home. As it grows though it may be better to use a school or other facility with many rooms. Consider the of use the local elementary school. If classes are unavailable for use, you may teach in guidance rooms, library, staff room, gym, stage, change rooms and hallways. We have always presented the staff with a gift at Christmas (ie. Cheese/cracker basket, baked goods etc.) and at the end of the year to express our gratitude for use of the school. It is very important to have someone in charge of all dealings with the school to make sure that the relationship always remains positive.
We decided to use the Faith and Life series books for grades 1 through 8. We found that it was only necessary that the teachers have the full set (i.e. Textbook, Teacher’s Manual and Activity Book). Although initially we obliged each student to purchase an activity book and textbook, we found this an unnecessary expense. Children forgot or lost books and it was costly to parents with more than one child in the program.
As a result, the teachers come prepared and deliver the class in the manner appropriate to the age group. Parents also desired formative activities for their kindergarten children. A Children’s Bible can be used, as well as many children’s prayer books.
We asked that a parent always be in attendance so that the effort would be seen as a family affair and not a child’s class. It permitted us to either incorporate the parents as teachers or allow them the opportunity to improve their formation. Once involved, parents were very co-operative and supportive of the program. They could see first hand the positive effects for themselves and their children.
We also asked for a registration fee per family. From this money additional books are bought for the teachers and donations are made to the school. Initially though a base of books were contributed by parents already using them.
We have found it very effective to have two people act as coordinators of the whole program. It makes it a lot easier to oversee possible problems, cover absent teachers and tend to immediate concerns. It is good to think of someone who would co-ordinate babysitting, another to set up the snack schedule, and someone else to handle registrations. This frees up the two lead coordinators for more important things.
We have found it necessary to have a start and finish time that does not conflict with meals. As a result, we have opted for our program to run from 9:30 a.m. till 11:30 a.m.
RUNNING THE PROGRAM:
Once the location, people, time, etc. are decided upon, it is important to look at the prospective teachers and students to determine number and size of classes. The more teachers you have, the more grades you can teach, even if the class size is just 2. It is worth while for those students and teachers to really go deeper in friendship and faith in that way. Parents learn a tremendous amount through running these programs and its to their advantage to be involved firsthand in giving classes. If, however, you have very few students or teachers, it would be better to have grades combined and class sizes a bit larger. Every parent at the start of the year is assigned a responsibility, whether to teach, take care of snack schedule, help clean up, supervise etc.
An example of a schedule used at one program is as follows:
9:40 Opening Prayer
9:45 Class 1 begins – all students go to appropriate spot for instruction, parents not teaching go to parents session
10:20 Break begins – adults go to staff room for coffee and dessert and to socialize
children receive a light snack (carrots, muffins, cheese and crackers etc.) and then go to gym to play. Three parents supervise. A structured game for older children is run on half the gym, while the other half are for children just wanting to do whatever.
10:40 Break ends – a second set of teachers go to the class and carry on the next chapter in the book. Adults not teaching now go back for the second adult session.
11:15 Class ends – All children go to gym for a 15 minute break. Three dads supervise.
All teachers go to staff room and do a short 1 minute summary of what they taught at each grade level so that all parents would know what is going on. New parents find this very attractive – they are impressed with the caliber of knowledge. They also grow in more confidence of the program and the need to sacrifice the time to be there. Even the adult sessions are summarized so that those not able to attend know what they missed. Any announcements are also made at this time.
11:30 Closing Prayer
Teachers and coordinators check all rooms to make sure they are tidy, as they were found and properly locked.
Parents sign up at the beginning of the year to provide an adult snack and the children’s snack during the year. Cheick if the facility requires all items to be peanut free. We also ask parents upon registering if there are any food allergies in their family that we should be aware of. The person who co-ordinates this schedule then calls the family responsible just before their day to remind them.
No drinks are given to the children because of the potential for accidents, but coffee and tea are provided for adults.
We have tried to always work it that two parents teach each grade. That means one parent per session. We arranged this so that each parent would be able to participate in one adult session and gain some personal formation. We also try to make sure that if both spouses are teaching, they do not teach the same session. This allows them to hear the whole adult session between them.
We encourage older students to attend one class of instruction and then to actually teach a much lower grade in the second session. They greatly enjoy this responsibility. They are given books and materials to help them, as well as a training session. Teaching helps them integrate their faith, role model to younger children and gain experience in leadership.
We have found that 2 sessions of instruction allow the teachers to cover almost the whole book in a given year. Sometimes they may double up their chapters to make sure all the info is covered. We encourage the teachers very much to use it as a base and feel free to make it interesting and alive to the children. Teachers can incorporate home made games, flash cards, skits, songs, storytelling, book reading, youtube videos etc.
There are two adult sessions. The first one addresses our faith and the second one deals with strengthening marriage or parenting. DVDs, articles, resources, books have been used . Sometimes it has been just a discussion on simple practical issues such as:
List all the reasons family meals benefit the family. / List all the things that can be done to make family meals more enjoyable.
What traditions do you celebrate during Advent, Christmas, Lent and other times? / Why are family traditions so important to family life?
How can you develop a prayer life in your children? List what you would do with pre-schooler, school age and high school children.
The groups were given 15 minutes to come up with their answers, 5 minutes each to present to the rest of the group, and then a short summary by the leader to help them see how important this virtue is. People greatly enjoyed talking to each other, sharing, discussing. It also allowed us to see very clearly where people were at, their concerns etc.
Whatever you choose to do, the parents’ sessions should be uplifting, formative and helpful to their daily lives.
These are just some ideas about the basics of setting up a family catechism program. It’s great to begin one and families reap the benefits over the years by deepening faith and developing friendships with like-minded families, thereby creating a supportive community.