Catechizing my 4 year old


#1

I'm struggling with the catechesis of my children; and I'm hoping for some insite.

I've a 4 year old and a 2 year old. We read from her childrens bible, and I try to both A) go through the bible from front to back, B), let her choose a story at random, and C) during the course of the week pick the stories from the upcoming mass (if applicable).

My hope is that I can give her background into the OT, Jesus, and something to participate with in Mass.

We also pray at night, and I try to explain prayer and why its important.

The problem is I just don't seem to be getting through. At one point my wife asked her to pray with her and she kind of airily said 'I don't know how' and this is after praying every night and talking about how to pray! Also, she can sometimes get really squirrely during Mass, and night prayers. I try to not get upset, but at the same time its hard to explain how serious it is and shouldn't be a play time.

Finally, I REALLY struggle with the mysteries of the Church. Explaining the Eucharist to a four year old really pushes me to my limits. I end up saying 'Jesus is the host and the wine after Father does the prayers at the altar.' and when she asks more beyond that I just say I can't explain the details, its a mystery to everyone.

I worry that I'm not doing a good enough job and because of that not giving her the grounding she needs. That said, I've also had friend sho tell me not to worry too much because she's four. Does anyone have any ideas that have resonated with their young kids? Any input?

She loves the bible stories. She loves talking about Jesus. She's not so much a fan of Mass or prayer time.


#2

Okay, first, a disclaimer:

I have no kids of my own, but I did do CCD for this age group.:)

I wonder if you're panicking just a bit. She's only four, and as such, reading the bible stories to her and teaching her morals should be top priority IMO. Try to teach her how to pray, but she still may be squirmy, especially at hour long masses. Not unusual for her age, and again, it may just be my opinion, but she may be too young to understand the eucharist and since it is not necessairy to until first communion, I wouldn't push it now.

I'm sure you're a fine parent. You care, and the very fact that you posted this shows that.

I have no children of my own so please feel free to disregard my opinion if you like.


#3

"Finally, I REALLY struggle with the mysteries of the Church. Explaining the Eucharist to a four year old really pushes me to my limits. I end up saying 'Jesus is the host and the wine after Father does the prayers at the altar.'"

I don't have children, but I "babysat" and took my non practicing Catholic & divorced employee's 4-year-old son to Saturday evening Mass (the regular time that my Dad and I go). It was at Christmas, the Church was "decked out" and he was incredibly interested in Jesus and Church.

I should have expected it beforehand when he said, "But, where is Jesus, I want to see Jesus?" "Why isn't He here?"

I said, "Well, some people weren't nice to Him the last time He was here." "But, He told us that He would be with us always through the Holy Spirit and through the bread and the wine that we eat."

He seemed to accept that. I know he remembered what I said because the next time I saw him, he told me his (nonpracticing protestant denomination) Mother told him that the Eucharist was "gross".

:(


#4

I think each child is going to be a bit different, so of course generalities can only go so far. But I will offer what I can.

Is your DD a young 4 or an old 4? That can make a big difference. I once heard that the average 4 year old asks 100 questions a day. :) 4 is a really important age for questioning. I heard of one young boy who, at the age of 4 asked his mother who God was. The answer he got was so unsatisfying that he went on to study and eventually write the most influential theology book in history. His name: St. Thomas Aquinas. :)

My DD is almost 4, so I think I can understand a bit where you're coming from. I am looking forward to being pushed to articulate the faith in terms that a young child can grasp. Right now, I feel ill-equiped for such a task. I'd be much more comfortable trying to explain Aquinas' writings on transubstantiation than to explain the Mystery of the Eucharist in a way a child could grasp. :o

First, I would say, don't push her or yourself too hard. You don't want her to think of prayer as something that leads to tension. It sounds like you are already doing a great job of laying the groundwork by reading her stories from the Bible, talking to her about Jesus, taking her to Mass, and praying with her every day. That doesn't mean she'll "get it" all the time (and young children are certainly prone to being squirmy!), but you are certainly laying the foundation upon which everything will be built.

My best advice (in addition to simply doing what you're already doing) would be to take a look at some pre-K/K catechetical texts. Ignatius Press' "Image of God" series has some Pre-School texts. Pick one up and browse through it to see some ways to articulate the great Mysteries of the Faith at the most basic level.

I will pray for you. Pray for me, too. I'm in the same boat with a (almost) 4 year old and an (almost) 2 year old. :o


#5

[quote="Whalljim, post:1, topic:219974"]
I'm struggling with the catechesis of my children; and I'm hoping for some insite.

I've a 4 year old and a 2 year old. We read from her childrens bible, and I try to both A) go through the bible from front to back, B), let her choose a story at random, and C) during the course of the week pick the stories from the upcoming mass (if applicable).

My hope is that I can give her background into the OT, Jesus, and something to participate with in Mass.

We also pray at night, and I try to explain prayer and why its important.

The problem is I just don't seem to be getting through. At one point my wife asked her to pray with her and she kind of airily said 'I don't know how' and this is after praying every night and talking about how to pray! Also, she can sometimes get really squirrely during Mass, and night prayers. I try to not get upset, but at the same time its hard to explain how serious it is and shouldn't be a play time.

Finally, I REALLY struggle with the mysteries of the Church. Explaining the Eucharist to a four year old really pushes me to my limits. I end up saying 'Jesus is the host and the wine after Father does the prayers at the altar.' and when she asks more beyond that I just say I can't explain the details, its a mystery to everyone.

I worry that I'm not doing a good enough job and because of that not giving her the grounding she needs. That said, I've also had friend sho tell me not to worry too much because she's four. Does anyone have any ideas that have resonated with their young kids? Any input?

She loves the bible stories. She loves talking about Jesus. She's not so much a fan of Mass or prayer time.

[/quote]

She will get it, but the best way to teach her to get it is to lead by example. I think you are expecting too much because you are a bit worried that if she can't get it now that you have failed as a Catholic parent. Do you approach teaching her other skills and lessons with the same intensity, or is it just trying to teach her about our faith? If you are this intense all the time, it can back fire and you could actually end up alienating her more than giving her a true love or firm foundation of the faith.

She sounds typical for her age. Just keep talking to her, showing her, lead by example. But don't expect her to give you more than what you would expect her to show you she knows about any other area of her life, such as reading, being able to know math, or the other milestones in her development. If she's in any kind of preschool program, ask the teacher how much she is on pace for her age and then expect similar results when teaching her about the Catholic faith.

In kindergarten, my daughter's class was expected to behave at mass by the end of the school year. Just to give you some perspective. They didn't really "learn" their prayers until the end of 1st grade. The Eucharist wasn't a full lesson until second grade when they begin to prepare for their first communion.


#6

I would relax and not push too hard. The fact that she loves the Bible stories is wonderful! Just focus on that for now. The last thing you want to do is make her feel bad for not understanding the Eucharist (who REALLY understands it anyway?) and for her to start hating church because she's always getting in trouble or chastised when she's there. It's perfectly normal for a girl her age to both not understand the Eucharist and to be bored or squirmy during prayer time and church.

Maybe you can get her a statue of Mary or Jesus to direct her prayers to so that she has something concrete to pray to. Also, just tell her that when we pray we do it to thank God for family and friends and to ask Him to help and protect them every day. Songs "Jesus loves me" "Jesus loves the little children", etc. are also a great way to teach children about the faith in a fun and engaging manner that they really enjoy. Religious coloring books with Bible scenes are great too. Maybe get one of those and read the stories that go along with a particular picture and then color and talk about it together. I would make sure to focus on Bible stories that she can understand and that teach good moral lessons rather than focusing on reading the whole Bible cover to cover. Stories like the parting of the Red Sea and the Flood, Daniel in the lions' den, the prodigal son, the Nativity, Samson, the miracles of Jesus, etc. are all childhood favorites that help children to begin to gain an understanding of God, Jesus and morality in general. Make it fun!


#7

[quote="Whalljim, post:1, topic:219974"]
She loves the bible stories. She loves talking about Jesus. She's not so much a fan of Mass or prayer time.

[/quote]

She sounds great! Gee, I don't even always enjoy Mass and prayer time, of course a 4yo won't. Well, I'm sure some 4yo's do enjoy it, but it is perfectly normal for her to not like anything that requires her to sit still, be quiet, etc... But she loves Bible stories and loves Jesus - PERFECT! What we really want for our children is for them to love God, and it sounds like you're doing well on that. Relax about the other stuff. As another poster said, if you are too intense, or show too much disappointment, you could turn the teaching of the faith into something negative, and that is the last thing you want to do at this age.

That doesn't mean that you shouldn't expect her to behave in Mass, but I wouldn't expect her to also LIKE it. My dd just turned 5. When she was 4, we would had 3 major expectations:
1-be quiet. No extra talking or singing
2-don't move around in the pew. Stay in your own place, no lying down etc...
3-face forward.
(Now that she's 5, I am working on her standing, sitting, and kneeling along with the rest of us, folding her hands during the Our Father, and I still remind her of the above 3 rules)
When we get to Mass we kneel, and I help her pray "Dear Jesus, thank you for bringing me to Mass today. Help me to be good during Mass. Help me to love you more and more." We do something similar after Mass. We bribe, er I mean reward good behavior with a donut after Mass.

As for the theology of the Eucharist - my explanations contain lines like this:
*Do you see that bread, and that cup that's full of wine? Do you know what the priest says? (this is my body, this is my blood) Well when the priest does that, God makes a miracle happen, and the bread and wine turn into Jesus!

*It sure doesn't look like Jesus does it? But it is really Jesus.

*I don't know how God does it. God can do anything because he's God.

*I read/tell the story of the Last Supper, and point out the same thing. When Jesus said those words, a miracle happened and the bread turned into his body. We don't know how he did it, but he did it because he loves us. Then he told those men at the Last Supper to keep turning the bread and wine into Jesus, and ever since then, whenever a priest says those words at Mass, God makes that very same miracle happen, right there in front of us!

As you can see, you can't really give too much information, because it is a mystery. I like to emphasize the wonder and excitement and the fact that it is a miracle.


#8

I have two kids of my own and we are a Catholic homeschooling family.
Kids that age want simple answers to what they consider to be simple questions!
Get the Baltimore Catechism (first grade). It is the best source you can use! It has the answers the kids are looking for in as simple of terms as possible with the added benefit of being absolutely correct! As the children grow, the answers to the question become more involved, so start with the first grade level.
You can get this various places, One is
catholicity.com/baltimore-catechism/
search.catholiccompany.com/search?w=baltimore+catechism&method=and&cnt=36&aid=117&gclid=CIWvgtbvqqUCFUhY2godWTSCZQ


#9

I have a 4yr old as well and I read an excellent book on incorporating the Catholic faith into daily living for toddlers and preschoolers Guiding your Catholic Preschooler Its an excellent book to read and a great way to start.
Most teaching at this age level is by example, going to Mass,celebrating the holy days , reading Bible Stories, etc.

I can't see my 4yr old understanding the Eucharist. If you make praying an everyday thing then she will learn to understand it. My 4yr old attends Catholic preschool and the first thing they learned was to bless themselves.Then they've learned prayers such as the Hail Mary, Table Blessing, Guardian Angel,. etc. They start their day with two prayers, before lunch say the Table Blessing and end their day with two prayers. My 4yr old may not know all of the words to them yet but its so cute to watch her really try along with everyone else. Trust me your 4 yr old will eventually get it. Its been about 3 months into school and my daughter is just now coming home and out of the blue will say a prayer, or even half of one. LOL
For her religion class during school they learn about God , who has made all things, listen to Bible Stories and that's about the extent of it at that age level.
PreK and K go to Mass on Fridays and some days they do really well and some get squirly or last week most of them were a bit squirely but you would to in a two hour Children's Mass. :D if you were four. By K though they are expected to listen and they even participate in the readings.

As for being flighty most 4yr old girls are. LOL. Sorry but I have four girls and they all seemed flighty at this age. My 4yr old knows her letters and sounds yet she has her teacher convinced she doesn't know them. Sigh. So with that, she can't go into the reading group but keeps herself in the abc group. Some kids are just flighty in general. My 11 yr old has and always will be flighty. Sometimes I look at her like " Are you serious?" and you know what? She is!
So if she tells you she doesn't know how to pray you can say something like " I bet you do know how to pray. Let me show you." Most times they will be like " Ohhhhhh. Your right I do." LOL. Just keep doing it, try not to put to much emphasis with what she remembers at this age. I bet you don't remember much of anything that you learned at the age of 4. I know I don't.

Just make it the things that you do right now and wait for deep instruction until about 1st or 2nd grade.


#10

I taught CCD to high school aged students and I believe you are doing a very good job.

If your 4 year old raises questions you can not answer, this is a beautiful challenge for you. Take this as an opportunity to grow in your knowledge of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and to demonstrate to the child your formation.

Also, children are aware that we can not always answer all of their questions. They do not fault us for this. We should encourage their inquiry and, often inspiring, questions.

If you do not know the answer to the child's question, my personal suggestion would be to explain that you do not know. If you want to take it a step further, walk your child through the steps you take, personally, to find RELIABLE answers to questions about God and the Church. Your teaching by example may provide the framework for learning about God, independent research and finding answers based on Church teaching. What a wonderful gift!

Be prepared, however, to know that a child at 4 can easily be misled by others. It is always important to help the child to discern the difference between God's wisdom and other things that are not God's wisdom. Also, help your child to understand what to do, how to pray and call upon God's help and the help of the saints if he/she takes the wrong path or follows wrong advise, with or without good intent. Finding God's wisdom is not always easy, indeed, even for adults. It's a journey and, I believe, our duty as good Catholic Christians.

When I was a child I read the story about King Solomon and asked for God's wisdom. At that time, with my childlike understanding, I made a decision to ask for God's wisdom, not material wealth and personal pleasures. The result, I find, is that more I understand the things of God, the more I realize I know nothing. This is a Godly paradox. I believe it is a good one, a step in our journey. Do I believe I have the wisdome of God? No, of course not. But the end result of seeking God's answers to our questions is to draw nearer to God in love. In my personal experience, God provides guidance to me, when I am open to it, in His own time and in His own way, not my own. Often, I don't understand His direction. It's not my duty to understand, it's my duty to obey and love God. My mission is to strive to love God more, by seeking His wisdom and drawing nearer to His love and spiritual direction through the Holy Spirit and Christ, always.

So, for me, the act of searching for answers to Godly things, understanding the Catechism and finding Godly wisdom has a deeper impact on my personal formation than knowing the answers or thinking I found the answers. In the end, I find I know nothing. As we mature and seek God's understanding and Spiritual guidance, many times we don't find the answers we want or we can't see them now or God has other plans for giving us His wisdom. Does this mean we stop searching? No, never!

Important Tip:Waiting for God to respond in His own way, asking for His Grace and patience to wait for Him, is a true discipline. Mother Teresa of Calcutta teaches that silence and prayer is key factor in our spiritual relationship with God and growth.

Respectfully, I do not claim to have the "right" response to your question or the "correct" answer to your journey and the journey of your 4-year-old. However, may I suggest you lovingly show your 4-year-old the value of prayer and silence when seeking God and answers to any questions of God and our beautiful Catholic Church?

In conclusion:Understanding the Catachism and things of God is a journey, not something we accomplish. Even when we find the answer, that answer often grows and matures over time. Remember, we have an eternity to grow in the wisdom and love of our God, through our Lord Jesus Christ, according to His measure, not ours.

*God Bless you and I shall keep you in my thoughts and prayers. Ask Mary, if you will, to guide you toward Christ, she will, I assure you! *


#11

Thank you everyone for your input. I will get some of those good sources. And I will try to relax a little. I might, just might, get overly worried. :-)


#12

Also another suggestion is if your parish has a school to find out when the children of the school have Mass.
My daughters' school has Children's Mass every Friday ,or on or before holidays before the kids go out for vacation, at 8:30 am.
I know I really enjoy our Children's Mass ( a little more so sometimes than the traditional Mass). Because our priest takes the time after the Gospel is read to talk with the children, to talk about what was going on in the Gospel, and to explain things. He also gives them a question and answer time(my most favorite time) where they can ask questions and he'll answer them.They can come up with some pretty good questions and some of it can be really commical too. I know if I need a smile and and a laugh I can attend Friday Children's Mass. :D Which I do every week since my girls are one in each grade level and so each week one of my girls is always doing something.
Today he talked about the Eucharist (which means Thanksgiving by the way) to the kids.
I would honestly do that as its more enjoyable for the kids.


#13

mom of ten, here. homeschooling mom for 20 years. catechist for 20 years, DRE for 3. i'm thinking this:

she loves the stories because we love stories!

at age 4 kids can know this: everything in this book (Bible) is the TRUE story of God saving his people! and that's US!! everything we do at church, every prayer we pray, everything we believe is all part of the story of God saving his people so we could go to heaven. (by grade 2, many kids can remember this story can be called salvation history.)

at 4 she can understand this: lots of stuff we do might be hard to understand but over time you'll see how it's all part of the story!

so, for the Mass, you can say: we do 2 things. we read parts of the story! and we offer prayers to God to prepare for the most awesome part of the story-- the Eucharist that Jesus gave us at the last supper. the bread becomes jesus because he said so. wine becomes jesus because he said so.

then you can read the last supper story.

if "getting it" becomes a burden, if the pressure is on, if the goal is to please dad's sense of soccuess, then you'll fail. if the goal is to teach the awesome story of GOD LOVING US, then you'll both be happy.

later, all morality, all piety, all practice can be plugged into the appropriate place in the story.


#14

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