Family Formation Fall 2019

Our parish is on year 3 of Family formation. Still a lot of mixed results. Number of students has dropped slightly, but mostly have remained consistent. Still a lot of kids being dropped off & parents not attending the (supposedly required) speaker session. Parents who did attend seemed to enjoy the speakers. Lot of parent packets never picked up. Less than half of the students reported doing anything from the home packet. As for the content - sequence/topic - I made an outline using the salvation history timeline in Faith & Life & over the 3 year period, we will have covered the same sequence.

I will have 4th grade this year - moved up with my granddaughter. I’m still not thrilled with the catechist packets - too wide of an age range (K-3) or (4-6) and they don’t work well as a lesson plan, especially at the lower end of the range. We were not given much guidance on how to modify it for our grade level. I came to the conclusion that the packet was to fortify my knowledge of the topic & that I was free to use materials & methods that worked with my teaching style & the age level of my students. About halfway through last year, I had found my rhythm.

The parents were not given much guidance on how to use the home packets. Those are even more wide age range than the teacher packets (K-6). There was so much content that parents were overwhelmed - took one look at all of the materials & said “no way I can do all of this”, and did nothing. I reviewed one of the parent packets (picked up for my daughter when she could not attend). I came to the same conclusion about the parent packet - it was meant to fortify the parent’s knowledge, it was not a lesson plan to be completed & the activities were not one size fits all. The parent should read it themselves & choose activities suited to the developmental/educational level of their child(ren). The main point was to do something faith related as a family on a regular basis. Because faith is more caught than taught.

We have a new person in charge of Religious Ed this year & some changes/tweaks to the program are coming. We will still have the monthly ME time session where children go to the classroom & parents listen to a speaker, but we’re adding an additional (voluntary) co-op session in between - having a space dedicated for parents to work together in small groups with their children to complete some of the parent packet activities. The parents will lead - teachers are invited, but as support, not as leaders. I see this as a very positive move. I expect it to be small at first, but hopefully, it will grow.

If your parish has adopted a “family faith” format for Religious Ed, how long have you done it? What works well & what could be improved? Are you seeing any fruits?

Diane Z

Our parish has a “family faith” format. I would say the success depends a lot on the leadership. When I first joined the church and was asked to get involved, it was being led by a member of the clergy who did an outstanding job. Really committed to reaching out to families, making adjustments as need be, listening to people, etc.

That person has since moved on and the ministry given to a lay person who’s motto seems to be “Well, that’s how we’ve always done it and we are NOT changing it.” People who were pushing for a more active, involved program have been slowly shunted out of their role. Feels more like everyone just going through the motions than trying to really accomplish something meaningful.

I don’t know what the answer is, but I just thought I would let you know that I got exhausted just reading your post. No wonder families are all over the page on this sort of thing.

Again, don’t know what the answer is, but good for you for trying.

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I’ve never seen the model work, and I’ve been involved with parish programs for almost two decades.

What works best is when there is an engaging adult group meeting at the same time as the kids are in class, something that is so good the parents do not want to drop of their kids at RE then go to the store (aka the “babysitting model”)

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QwertyGirl has a good point. She’s not even Catholic and can recognize what a challenge it is to reach out to families and involve them in learning the faith along with their children. But the word she used - that she was exhausted by reading the post, is accurate. I can relate.

This will be my third year teaching R.E., and each year now we’ve used a different texbook / program. Granted, the new R.E. director took over the year I began teaching, having replaced someone who had been doing it for 20 years or so. So the new R.E. is probably still figuring out what works best. But it always seems like panic mode, switching to new fads, trying to lay down rules for parents to follow, threatening to hold children back whose parents don’t attend, etc. Then there is a disconnect, as our priest is a very nice man…but he’s the “God is love” all the time type who really would make a poorly informed / catechized Catholic perhaps not take the faith seriously or accept the concept of needing salvation.

Our program is large enough, I think, for the small town we live in, with over 400 kids signed up for R.E. on average each year. The percentage of parents who take the faith seriously or are interested in learning the faith is anyone’s guess. I suppose they deserve some credit for signing their kids up, but I’m not sure how many of them know how to teach at home or lead by example. Thus, the “family faith” formation change, I suppose. But this is truly one of those “who am I to judge?” type situations, as I don’t want to cast suspicion upon these poor parents.

For the most, part, I give the kids credit. Considering R.E. begins (it’s one night a week for a little over an hour) about an hour after the school day ends, attendance and focus are pretty good. You get the occasional distracted kids, the obligatory class clown or troublemaker, etc. But the questions the kids ask are pretty good, they’re pretty funny and sometimes surprising in their knowledge. You need to reach out to them, relate, let them look up Catholic stuff on their phones, etc. so they can access the faith at their level.

In any case, I think the plan is to give the parents the schedule well ahead of time so they know what days they’ll be required to attend. It should be important to them, after all it is a teaching of the Church that parents are the foremost examples and teachers of the faith to their children. But they also need a type of, for lack of better phrase, “scared stiff” talk about how important catechesis is. And what it comes down to is who they want catechezing their children - the “culture” or themselves and the Church? They need to be shown the statistics of the amount of kids who fall away when they’re not properly taught. The world as a Catholic is different much now than it was even for many of the younger parents when they were growing up.

I will check back in, or start a new post as the R.E. year progresses to provide an update on how it’s working out for us.

I started out as a catechist assistant in 2012, then became the lead catechist when this change was implemented 2 years ago. I liked the previous weekly program (Faith & Life) and I still use the materials as a reference.

I’ve been told that more & more parishes are moving toward the family model. I expected to see more publishers offer a family format, but there is still very little out there. We use www.familyformation.net. Sophia Press offers A Family of Faith & there is another called Growing Up Catholic. Loyola Press offers guidelines for setting up large group intergenerational activities. There are so many variables with families today and the family formation model is flexible.

FamilyFormation.net is a home-grown program developed by a parish in Michigan. It is geared toward grades K-6 & there is an additional PK 3-4 program called Little Lambs. We used a video based program for Grade 7 & 8. I think the method of delivery is sound - kind of a hybrid that sets the role of primary educator with the parent, but doesn’t completely cut out the catechist. At the monthly session, the parents have a speaker while the children are in class. It is held on Sunday morning & ends in time to go to Mass as a family. It is the materials I’m not thrilled with. The content is good & the teaching is sound, but not professional or age appropriate. We get photocopied wide-age range packets that we have to adapt. I think it takes a very strong teacher to adapt materials to fit the age/grade level of the students.

My son’s parish uses the Sophia Press program - A Family of Faith, which cut out the classroom completely. They have a parent meeting, 2 home lessons & a monthly large group activity. My daughter in law said that materials are professionally done, age appropriate & easy to use, but if you haven’t done the home lessons, you are very unprepared for the large group activity. She home schools, so teaching her own kids is not out of the ordinary.

My guess is part of the reason is that it is more and more difficult to recruit volunteers and fewer people enroll their kids every year.

Exactly, this model works great with families who are already teaching the Faith at home, homeschoolers, etc.

Sadly, Joe and Jane Pewsitter are likely super intimidated by the thought.

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Sounds like it works great! We do not have a family model but the DRE and I are always thinking of ways to get parents more involved, getting them to buy into the idea that RE & YM are not just for sacramental years.

We do have parent meetings in both programs (I’m the DYM) encouraging parents to take part. We do offer catechesis for parents who may be missing one or more sacraments.

I think the previous directors tried many things to get/keep the parents involved, but had little success. We had orientation meetings & sacrament prep meetings that were mandatory. We offered speaker sessions a few times for the parents while the kids were in RE class, but they were not well attended. We attempted to have a few large group family activities, but they were not well attended.

It was not so much a lack of volunteer catechists (we always seemed to have enough - even a few reserves for substitutes), but a steady decline in numbers of students over the years. We had a “rule” that the child must be enrolled 1 year prior to sacrament prep. That got them in for 1st & 2nd grade, then the numbers would decline until 8th grade - parents got them back in so they could be confirmed in 9th. There were a lot of “drop offs” - parents may or may not have attended Mass while the children were in class, & the children rarely got to Mass at all - except when we had “Class Mass” four times during the RE year. No matter how good the curriculum, methods & materials from previous programs were, the majority of the kids were not retaining it. What they were learning was not connecting with the rest of their lives. The YM, who led Confirmation prep - practically had to re-teach the basics.

There are certainly some problems in the family formation model, but there were just as many problems in the traditional classroom model. Many of the parents are attending the speaker meetings & I think we’re reaching them in a way we never have before. Some of them are at least trying to do the home activities. And the new ideas proposed for this year are meant to empower the parents - give them a jump start for doing the home activities.

Some of the catechists are still struggling with implementing the classroom lesson. I muddled through the first year, but finally found my rhythm the 2nd year. My experience with family formation has made me a better teacher.

Somehow God always provides enough Catechists for us also.

I hear you on this. I’m working on getting away from “teaching” classes and more toward an experiential, hands on, discussion based learning method. We break out into small groups but in the past it was the catechists asking a set of questions, going around the circle, then spending most of the time talking about what their answers are. Zone out time for kids :expressionless: I’m working on getting them to let the kids do the talking, discussing it among themselves and the catechist just facilitate the time and not get into their own story telling. It’s still a work in progress.

This will be year 3.

So far…IMHO…nothing. When we had the classroom based program there was over 120 kids enrolled in the program. After the switch the first parent meeting of the first year (they use Sophia as well) my wife said there was well over 100 parents there, first family day Mass it was standing room only. By the last meeting of the year, I counted in the neighborhood of 30. This year the year started with maybe 40-50 and the last meeting I was at I think I counted 20-25. Family Mass attendance dropped to that of a “regular” Mass where you could show up just before it started and grab a seat pretty much anywhere.

To be honest, the family program is really killing off any family feel the parish had. We used to have a meal together as the K-6 kids finished and the 7-10 came in. It was great and actually a reason we switched parishes. Now, everything feels forced…like we’re “forced to fellowship”. Parents just want to get out of there on parents night, and families on family day. I don’t think we did any of the monthly lessons after maybe November or December…January at best.

A return to the classroom model they had… I don’t know, they added way more days to it this year. Sunday school stuff, parent workshops, family workshops and family Mass for the month. I guess it was due to feedback from the parents…I think they’re adding days to “help” teach the monthly lessons. At that point, just return to the program the parents want. TBH, the priest more than once has put down parents who want the classroom program back which had driven families away.

Part II the price. It’s really expensive. Last year we only signed up one kid (1st communion year) and it was $175, if we would have signed up both it would have been $300. Top it off, the parish changed the pricing this year. If you sign up all your kids it costs $200…if you only sign up one elidgible kid (when you have multiple)…it’s $200. Parents have asked why the program is so expensive when “we” have to do the work, never been answered.

IMHO, no. I personally have seen participation plummet. I know that the priest has even said that the program is “bearing fruits” because ONE parent was thinking of converting (which is one of the points of the program)…but the parish lost so many families I’m not sure how adding one parent is bearing fruit.

It’s kind of funny…I was actually texting with another parent tonight asking if they were going to sign their kids up this year. They said no…I concurred. We both figured that if we sign up, we’ll be one of only a few (if not the only) families in the program who don’t have 2nd graders. That’s pretty much how last year went.

A lot of our parents don’t even pick up the packets. My daughter does not do the activities with my granddaughter. I have offered to help, but she doesn’t make time for it

Some of our parents & catechists have also expressed the desire to return to the weekly classroom model. We’ve generally held RE on Sunday. When past DREs tried moving it to a weeknight - enrollment dropped significantly. Familyformation did not cut out the classroom completely - we still have classroom once a month. They added one optional co-op day this year. Held in conjunction with Fellowship Sunday - in between the 8 & 10 am Masses- so the parents can have coffee & donuts while checking out the co-op tables. We have also been told - not specifically by the priest, but by the former & current DRE - that we’ll never go back to the traditional classroom/textbook model.

That is really high. Ours is $75 for one - not sure what the cost is for Sacrament Prep or for multiple children. I know of at least one parent who said “if I have to teach it myself, catechismclass.com is only $29/year”

This is true here too. There’s many parent meetings where folders aren’t picked up. We’ve tried to “make time” for it…just isn’t working for us. I know that we’re not the only ones either. I know that they’ve offered nights before to come use the church and they would help with the lesson and this year they’re adding family workshops. At this point we wonder why not just go back to classes.

We didn’t have it on a weeknight per se. K-6th was bused over from their respective school and had classroom from 4-5. 5-6 we ate and at 6 pm the 7th -10th started. It was a really good program, actually the reason my wife decided to switch to this parish.

Ditto…but we’ve been told by the priest. He actually has a way of putting down parents for even suggesting it (we all really want the old model back).

That’s been a huge thing here too. If “I” have to do all the work…why is it so expensive. The old way the kids were bused over from school…got to play a little…have a snack and then we had a meal (with free will offering). They made the switch to the family program and the price stayed the same…over $100 per kid (we actually paid $175 last year…sacrament year). I know families that started to sign up just one kid to save money…they figured that out…and put steps in place to end that. I think because of the cost and how it costs the same as the old model where we got so much more ---- it rubbed a lot of parents the wrong way, once they saw the program they had no idea what we’re paying for and people left in droves.

We’ve lost a few of them since changing to Family Formation

Not sure how to facilitate discussion based learning with the younger grades - I can see it with grade 7-8, though. I struggled with the Q&A format in the teacher packets - it was clunky & the kids would zone out. I plan to use games with 4th grade this year - there are lots of them on Catholic Toolbox

I only have middle school and high school so a different approach for the little ones may be better. Outside of doing snacks for VBS I have no experience with the younger ones :smile:

I have a few catechists who are older 60+ who want to spend small group time talking about what it was like for them, telling their own stories. I’ve heard those stories…several times…and they’re not that interesting and teach the youth nothing really. It’s a large ship to turn but I’m making headway.

I have not heard any specific mention from our priest or our DRE that “converting the non-Catholic parent” is a primary goal of the program. Encouraging Catholic practices in the home & doing “something” faith related as a family is the primary goal - more about getting the “non-practicing” Catholic to practice again. That is what we mean by the “New Evangelization”. I would say “increasing understanding” of the Catholic faith would be the goal for the non-Catholic parent, but conversion is in God’s timing, not ours. It can’t be forced.

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I would need yo go back to the website, but I believe I did read one goal of the program is for (in the case of mixed-marriges) the non-Catholic parent comes around and converts. It was a few years ago since I viewed the website.

Sounds like a total flop. Was it the material itself or, to put it bluntly, just the false expectation that anyone would really care to do it?

FYI, I give it mixed results - not a total flop, but a difficult change for some - both teachers & parents. My POV is from a teacher’s perspective. On the positive side, we are reaching the parents in a way we never have before. And using the program for 2 years has made me a better teacher. But I do think it is important to listen, because some are struggling with it.

My son’s parish is using the program from Sophia Press (same one as TC3033) https://sophiainstituteforteachers.org/shop/family-of-faith which is similar approach but a different program. I have browsed their website & viewed their materials - it is a 4 year sequence, based on the CCC. (Nowhere did the website suggest that conversion of the non-Catholic parent was a goal). A Family of Faith can also be delivered as a hybrid - like we do - where the students have 1 classroom session a month held in conjunction with the parent meeting, 2 home lessons (we have a home packet with 3-4 lessons) & a large group activity (we don’t have the large-group activity).

ME Time (familyformation) uses a 3-year sequence based on the liturgical cycle. All of the topic/lessons are connected with the readings/teachings from Sunday liturgies. I suspect that the reason my parish chose this program was twofold - experience & cost. The Church of St. Paul, who developed it, has been using this approach for 30 years & instead of textbooks, it uses simple PDF files & a yearly packet for the classrooms. Though we do waste a lot of paper with photocopying the materials for teachers & parents.

The goal of all children’s and youth’s religious education is to do exactly that. Educate children and youth in the faith. I am a DYM and have reviewed more programs than I can count. None of them spoke about converting a non Catholic parent.

As Catholics we believe we do not have the power to convert anyone. It is only through the Holy Spirit one is converted. As Catholics we can model the behavior of good Catholics, we can speak of our love of God, we can demonstrate the graces we receive, but we can’t make anyone convert.

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