Friday, September 7, 2018

Homeschool Highlights: Teaching Toddlers and Preschoolers About Our Catholic Faith

One of the many reasons we will homeschool our children is that we want to incorporate our Catholic faith into every aspect of their lives, including their academic studies. Unlike other homeschool subjects, only a few of which we have even begun to explore with Little Miss Muffet (age 4.5), Catechism is something we have introduced almost from birth. In the Catholic communities I belong to on Facebook, I see a fair number of questions from new moms about how to start introducing the faith to their very young children. Today I want to share what's working for us so far with our three daughters under five.

Mass Attendance

Our kids attend Mass pretty much from birth, and unless they are horrendously loud, we keep them in the pew for the duration. (No cry room, no children's liturgy, etc.) I really feel that the best way for kids to learn how to sit through Mass quietly and attentively, is to sit in the congregation, observe others, and practice doing it. (This is how I was raised, and it worked for me!) We do take screaming children to the vestibule to calm down, and we take potty training toddlers to the restroom, but we typically come back to the pew in time for Communion. We also don't allow toys or food during Mass. The girls are allowed to look at the hymnals and missalettes, but we don't bring anything to entertain them, as we want to send the message that the Mass is exciting and interesting all by itself.


Praying is a part of our daily routine, mainly at mealtimes and bedtime. (I plan to become more organized about morning prayer now that we are getting into more of a homeschool routine.) At meals, we pray the Sign of the Cross in English, say the Grace Before Meals, and then pray the Sign of the Cross again in Latin. For a few years, at bedtime, we said a variety of prayers, repeating them again and again so they would become familiar. To date, my oldest has memorized Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, Memorare, Hail Holy Queen, the St. Michael prayer, and a good portion of the Apostle's Creed. (Our second daughter has mostly memorized these just by imitating her sister.) We have also used a set of board books by Maite Roche to model more spontaneous types of prayer that reflect on the events of the day. Lately, we have started lighting a candle and praying Night Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours using the iBreviary app, which we follow up with a sung "Salve Regina," and a few other prayers. Sometimes we give each of the girls a chance to ask God to bless five people of her choosing and we ask our patron saints, or the saint of the day, to pray for us. During Lent, I also try to have the girls join me in praying the Rosary (using their Chews Life mini decades) and/or the Stations of the Cross (either at home or in the church).

Gregorian Chant

We have been attending Mass in the extraordinary form several times a year for several years now, and it has really made me want to learn more chant. Currently, I am working on learning the Marian antiphons for each season of the Liturgical Year, and the girls are picking it up as I go. We mastered Regina Caeli during Easter, and now we're working on Salve Regina for ordinary time. Next, I plan to learn the Credo and the Pater Noster that is sung at the Latin Mass.

Liturgical Year Activities

A great thing about homeschooling is how easily you can conform your school year to the rhythm of the liturgical year. With help from the wonderful monthly saints coloring books created by Angie from Real Life at Home, we are able to keep track of saint days easily. We also encourage the girls to pay attention to vestment colors on Sundays, and even if we don't do anything in particular to celebrate, we try to point out different important feast days as they occur. During Advent we have a Jesse tree, we "bury" (really hide in a bookcase) the Alleluia during Lent, pray for the dead on All Souls Day, and put treats in shoes on St. Nicholas day. When I have the time and inclination to be more crafty, we also occasionally do some projects from Catholic Icing. I do keep a calendar that lists all of the occasions I want to remember, but we don't always get to them all, and that's okay. Even celebrating one or two things a month helps the girls start to understand how the church year flows.

Shining Light Dolls

We received our first Shining Light Doll - Our Lady of Fatima - from my second daughter's godparents on her first Easter. Now, my non-Catholic mom has started collecting these dolls for us and we receive them as birthday and Christmas gifts. In addition to Our Lady of Fatima, our current collection includes: St. Nicholas, St. Patrick, Our Lady of Knock, Our Lady of Lourdes,  St. Michael the Archangel, St. Gabriel the Archangel, and St. Raphael the Archangel. The girls absolutely love these, and they enjoy lining them up, pretending to fight Satan, and in the case of the baby, chewing on their heads. I was taught as a kid that it was sacrilegious to "play" anything church-related, but I find that playing with these toys makes the girls feel comfortable with the idea of Heaven and with the concept of Jesus as someone they can love and trust.

Catechism Memorization

My oldest child has always been very advanced verbally. She talked early, read early (at 3.5) and has a great memory for facts, poems, etc. Because of her oddly advanced abilities in this area, we started having her memorize the The New St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism. After a little less than two years of working on this on and off, she is about 8 lessons into the book, but she can answer all the questions in those lessons with probably 95% accuracy. She also recognizes many words and phrases from the Catechism when they come up in the readings at Mass. We do plan to have all three girls memorize this version of the catechism before First Communion, but when the next two will start will depend on their own verbal capabilities. In general, though, it seems to be wise to start young because their little brains just soak it all up and then they can make more and more connections as they grow older.

Illustrated Children's Bibles

Finally, what has been great for our girls is having access to children's Bibles with good pictures. They especially love to study the New Testament, looking for Mary and Jesus, but they also enjoy picking out Old Testament figures like Jeremiah, Noah, Moses, and Job, to ask their names and learn a little bit about them. Inevitably, when they hear the names in the readings at Mass, their faces light up. The Bible we like best for pictures (but not for the text, because there are some strange spellings and such) is The Catholic Children's Bible by Mary Theola, with illustrations by J. Verleye. We also have a Baptism bible that retells some of the more kid-friendly Bible stories in a simple way that is good for really little kids, as well as The Golden Children's Bible, which is the one I plan to read aloud in our homeschool starting this fall.

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