I need unique ways to teach 2nd graders the difference between mortal and venial sin


Do you have any clever ideas on how to teach children the difference between mortal and venial sins?

One I’ve thought of comes from a children’s book I read years ago. Now, it isn’t really the most literal scenario, however I think it would be a good guideline to go by.

Scenario 1: Venial
A child (or name one of your students as an example) goes to the fruit section of the store, and sees grapes. He (or Her) looked for his Mom to see if it would be alright, but can’t find her. He has seen them before in the fridge at home, so he figures it would be alright to eat one, because he doesn’t know. When his Mom comes around the corner and sees him, she tell him that it’s wrong to do that, because he didn’t know, so it isn’t too big of a deal. There’s no real fault here, as he wasn’t aware, which is why it would be considered venial.

Scenario 2: Mortal
This same child goes through the same first step, but now, he knows better. However, even though he knows it’s wrong to do, he still does it anyway. This time, his Mom tells him that they are going to find the nearest employee to explain what he did, and that he was very sorry. This explains that when they commit a mortal sin, they would need to be truly sorry for their sin, and that they would need to apologize and be fully repentful. I don’t know how advanced they are and how much they know about Confession, but it might be a good idea to mention that, as well.

I hope I could help you out! And thank you for taking the time to ask this question, because there are some religious education teachers who simply don’t care, and just give random information out. Thank you. :slight_smile:

I know that spanking is out of fashion now-a-days, but perhaps you could draw an analogy the children could understand, that a Venial sin is something that your mother yells at you for and a Mortal sin is something that gets you a spanking.

Have you tried demonstrating them both? Haha! Just kidding! That would be bad, really bad.

I wound not use that. For then they will think they have committed a mortal sin necessarily if they get spanked…

I do not know how to teach 2nd graders but here is a nice summary:

  1. When does one commit a mortal sin?


One commits a mortal sin when there are simultaneously present: grave matter, full knowledge, and deliberate consent. This sin destroys charity in us, deprives us of sanctifying grace, and, if unrepented, leads us to the eternal death of hell. It can be forgiven in the ordinary way by means of the sacraments of Baptism and of Penance or Reconciliation.

  1. When does one commit a venial sin?


One commits a venial sin, which is essentially different from a mortal sin, when the matter involved is less serious or, even if it is grave, when full knowledge or complete consent are absent. Venial sin does not break the covenant with God but it weakens charity and manifests a disordered affection for created goods. It impedes the progress of a soul in the exercise of the virtues and in the practice of moral good. It merits temporal punishment which purifies.


Compendium issued by Pope Benedict XVI

Thank you for your quick replies and great ideas!

I am hoping to find some sort of an activity that will demonstrate the two sins. For example, I demonstrate with a cup of water and a drop of food coloring that when we receive the Eucharist, we become one with Jesus. Or, when I introduce the Ten Commandments, I like to divide the class into two teams so we can “play a game”. Right after they are situated into teams, I say,“Ready? Set? Go!” And tell them to start playing the game. They get all mixed up and confused because they don’t know what to do, because I didn’t explain the rules or object of the game to them. Then I take their reaction and tie it into how we would be without God’s rules, God’s Ten Commandments that teach us how to get to heaven.

I do the $20 bill activity when I teach them that all life is precious. I take a new, crisp bill and ask them how much this is worth. They say, $20. I wrinkle it up, roll it in a ball, and open it again and ask them how much the bill is worth now. It is still worth $20. Then I might stomp on it, call it a name, or pretend I am getting it all dirty, blah blah blah, and then ask them how much the bill is worth now? Despite all that, it is still worth $20. Then I tie that in to how God loves each and every one of us, no matter who we are or how others treat us. We are always worth that full $20, whether we are old and wrinkled, dirty, fresh and crisp, ect. He always loves us fully and completely, no matter what!

Does anyone have an attention-getter demonstration or activity that will help teach them about the two types of sins? Right now I’m thinking that they could act out the grape eating at the grocery store situation that one of you mentioned. Can anyone top that? I wouldn’t mind having several demo’s to use with them.

Thank you for your help!

I was at a retreat this weekend in which Father Jerome Neyrey provided us retreatants with guidance on a number of items, including Mortal and Venial sins. One of the ways that he explained Mortal and Venial Sins was that they can be compared to injuries and illnesses. Mortal sins require someone to be taken to an ER, to pros. Venial sins are everyday hurts that can be treated in your medicine cabinet.


In your case, I think if you tell him that he needs to confess everytime he disobeys you, that might work. :slight_smile:

Other than that, I don’t myself know how much you can steal, lie, cheat, shout, swear, etc. and still remain in sanctifying grace. Only God knows that so I will confess them all just to be on the safe side. At least this is what I was taught in the U.K. schools.

Stealing a single grape is mortal sin?

Potential Church wine. :slight_smile:

I would advise you to carefully consider how prudent it is to broach this subject with second graders. One of the very important dictums of Thomistic philosophy and theology is his famous saying, “Quidquid recipitur, recipitur modum recipientis,” which, translated, means, “Whatever is received is received according to the mode of the receiver.” In other words, their mental capacity is not developed to the point where they can grasp this concept without being led to scrupulosity or learning more than they need to know, so to speak.

Simply because something is true does not mean that we need to catechize on it immediately. I think you would be hard-pressed to find a spiritual director or confessor who would say that it is a good idea to distinguish the two in the mind of a second grader.

My suggestion is this. Simply help them understand that God wants us to be happy and free. Help them understand things that make them happy. For instance, watching television, playing a game, being with their family and friends. Then, get them to think of things that make them sad. For instance, when a friend moves away, or when they are sick. Then help them realize that sin is like moving away from God. Just like they are sad when their friend moves away, God is sad when we move away from him. Just like they enjoy playing with their friends, God enjoys it when we spend time with Him.

We have to be very careful to not instill in young minds a legalistic sense of morality. Namely, that morality only consists in following the rules. It would be akin to playing basketball and simply standing at half-court dribbling the ball. Someone who was doing this could rightly say that he is following all of the rules. He’s not traveling, he’s not going out of bounds, he’s not fouling anyone, but he’s just standing there. The moral life is not simply about DOING good and following all of the rules. It’s actually much more. It’s about BEING good and becoming the best version of ourself.

Please don’t take this as a personal insult. But, I’ll reiterate my original point…I would be VERY hesitant about catechizing second graders on the difference between venial and mortal sin.

Sorry…just realized a typo and it’s too late to edit my post. Aquinas’ quote should read, “Quidquid recipitur, recipitur secundum modem recipients.”

I think you mean “Quidquid recipitur per modum recipientis recipitur.”


Very good principle, I might add.

I am not a catechist …and do not know the way in which such ought to be taught.

But while I certainly agree with the principle from St. Thomas …I am not so sure he would think that one ought not teach the difference between venial and mortal sin to second graders.

I looked up the age range it it seems it is around 7 --which is basically the age of reason. The age when first confessions take place…so I would think there would need to be some teaching on mortal sin and venial sin …even in teaching regarding the sacrament. Yes one needs to avoid not good approaches …and yes one needs to avoid any scrupulosity -but such is avoided via right means to the end. Not by avoiding the end.

So I suggest to the person to look at say Ignatius Press’s offering for that age -see what they do? Or other good faithful sources.

Yes one is to be formed in virtue -towards excellence. And especially to focus on the encounter with Jesus and relationship with him…following him…and within this one still needs to know the reality of sin and the commandments etc…and of his mercy and love. And that venial sins are not mortal but very different -though one ought to work against them…and live more and more the good life.

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