As warm, summer days grow a bit shorter and we approach the season’s middle, I attempt to tap into what’s on your minds and hearts. Besides more lesson planning, decorating VBS tees and, most importantly, spending time with my own children, here’s what I explore in July:
- Decorating (and we aren’t talking Home Decor)
- Faith formation teaching
- Planning for the fall
DECORATING FOR FAITH FORMATION
We field questions about how to decorate for VBS themes from God is Good VBS, every week. I try to provide a mix of decoration ideas that will help parishes throughout the summer AND school year.
For all faith formation scenarios, it is important to begin with classroom expectations. I call these “Images of God Expectations,” and suggest posting them in faith formation classrooms and your VBS spaces. I have used them for decades and they include:
- Love God
- Love one Another
- Do your Best
- Raise your Hand to Talk
- Hands to yourself
Posting pictures of saints is also a great way to remind children that saints are simply people who have sinned but keep trying, just as we all sin and keep trying. Saints are ideal for praying with, discussing, emulating, and teaching Catholics that we are all one happy family. Mother Theresa is featured here, because she’s awfully cute, and I loved that, in her fiery way, she admonished political leaders who were “pro-choice.” But, I mix many older heroes with younger saints, too, so that children relate easily to posters and images.
Specifically, for our VBS programs, I suggest an assembly banner for the theme you choose. We boast our favorite Gospel writer for St. Luke VBS, the Garden of Eden for Amazing Apostles’ Creed VBS, a Jesse Tree for Jesse Tree Journey VBS and an old-fashioned ship for our Discovery Mission Vocation Bible School.
Because Discovery Mission Vocation Bible School is our most popular, this summer, we feature the photo below. You might also borrow an old-fashioned canoe to remind children of missionaries, trunks that boast vocation necesseties (bridal veils . . . patens . . . Bibles . . .), and our adorable, popular stand-up cut outs. The trunks also help leaders play fun games with children.
WE ARE TEACHERS
Teachers, now more than ever, must consider strategies for managing children’s behavior. This may sound clinical, but families are busier than ever and they are looking to faith formation leaders and classroom teachers to help them raise their children. I could lament about this sad, new dynamic in faith formation and education for hours. HOWEVER, I serve others better by embracing today’s world and trying to help. The following tips will help you . . . help families.
We are not called to be children’s friends. As formerly mentioned, families are too busy. Children are craving routine, structure and steady discipline from adults. Discipline sounds strict, but in reality it means to teach. In the faith formation world, we should think, “teaching to be Christ-like.”
Our little ones are lonely for parents’ attention and we are called to slow down and notice their needs. Most often, children who misbehave are screaming for attention and are likely exhausted from their busy lives.
Young adults need discipline too. These students crave friendship with their youth ministers, but parents who have raised children, KNOW that teenagers also require guidance from trusted Christian role models. Sixteen year old “social media experts,” need face to face relationships with adults who care about them. Telling young adults that God loves them as their Father, is an incredibly important message to deliver, as you require the best from them.
Provide positive attention, help your students feel loved and avoid power struggles. As long as children are safe, then approaching misbehavior in a careful, concise, matter of fact manner, without arguing, is the best way to handle misbehavior. \
Take time to plan. Lesson plans are important. Whether you are using older faith formation curricula, trying something new or adding a bit of creativity, it is critical that faith formation curricula is studied!
You may be surprised how long we take to develop plans, for all ages. After the objectives, materials, anticipatory set (attention getter), procedure, evaluation and enrichment skills have been completed we test our lessons on children and teens. There are more adjustments made, we place the curricula in God’s care and we PRAY that you use the plans accordingly. Nothing is perfect, but after decades of educating, I assure you lesson plans are there to help you and your students. Use them.
HERE COMES FALL
Keep it positive. Because I work with people just like you and I am a teacher by trade, I empathize with how you feel the day after Labor Day. Gone are the days of lazier times. Some of you may be sad to send your own children or grandchildren off to school and, let’s face it, registration and the faith formation kick-offs evoke a little anxiety.
I often tell my children, “fake it until you make it.” This advice is easier spoken than taken, but if we pretend to be enthusiastic about hard, worthwhile work, we find ourselves becoming enthusiastic. We all know leaders who pass those “good feelings” onto their volunteers and employees and the results are amazing. Pizza parties and an occasional shared bottle of wine, with co-educators, doesn’t hurt either, as you plan, together, for the fall.
Consider variety. As formerly mentioned, curricula is important. Plans and lesson suggestions should be followed, for the most part. And, we cannot emphasize enough, that we teach according the Magisterium. Content, Teachings and Tradition must be adhered to when instructing our children. But the value of creative educators who are gifted with cleverness to get children excited about our Catholic faith cannot be understated.
Curricula doesn’t have to be strictly from textbooks, either. Reflect on adding a variety of lesson plans. Imprimatur approved faith formation magazines, Day Vacation Bible Schools for during the school year, “Formed Videos” for youth ministry, field trips and games are ideas to inspire. Don’t forget a sense of humor, enthusiasm and having fun are ways educators can encourage children to love their faith. For the quieter Catechist, you will discover that teaching students the beauty of contemplative prayer comes easily embraced by young and old: adore Him by His Holy cross.
As we reflect on our surroundings, classroom management and the future, imagine a world where children say, “My favorite subject is Faith Formation.”