Colleen Pressprich is the author of Marian Consecration for Families with Young Children and a former Montessori teacher. She and her husband live in Michigan with their four children and beloved Gram. In between writing and homeschooling, Colleen can usually be found looking for her cup of (cold) coffee or reading, which she does any chance she can get. You can read more of her work at elevatortoheaven.com.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that parents are meant to be the primary educators of their children in the faith. This can be an overwhelming task and one that we may not feel ready for.
We didn’t all grow up in Catholic homes, and while some of us were blessed to have solid catechesis and quality faith witnesses in our younger lives, many of us (myself included) didn’t.
This can make parenting children in faith feel especially overwhelming. When our eldest was born, I wasn’t sure I would be able to do it because I didn’t know how.
But I’ll tell you a secret: you are the parents God gave your children. He chose you for them. He knew you were capable of leading these precious individuals that he created closer and closer to his heart.
And it’s easier than it sounds. I promise.
When we talk about educating our kids in the faith, we are talking about catechesis. There are two ways to think of catechesis of transmitting the faith: explicit and implicit.
Explicit catechesis happens when you sit down with a religious curriculum or a lesson you have prepared and set about teaching your child something about God directly. Explicit catechesis is valuable and should be happening for all of our children one way or another, whether during the homeschool day, in the classroom or during religious education at the parish.
For this family challenge though, I am going to focus on implicit catechesis. Implicit catechesis happens when we show, rather than tell, our children about our faith. These are the lessons we teach our children in the everyday activities of life, and they can be even more powerful than the recitation of Church doctrine.
So how do we “do” implicit catechesis?
There are a lot of ways! Here are six of my favorites.
The first and easiest way to teach our kids is to model learning ourselves.
By reading books by Catholic saints and theologians, listening to Catholic podcasts and studying Scripture, we can make sure that we are well-prepared as primary educators. This will also model to our children a habit of lifetime learning and growth in faith, helping them to internalize the truth that education doesn’t stop at the school doors and that we can and should always be growing as Catholics.
Whatever way you learn best, by choosing Catholic sources at least some of the time, you can show your child that you find the Catholic faith interesting and engaging. The implicit lesson here is that they should too.
Liturgical living for beginners
“Liturgical living” is a popular phrase right now in Catholic circles. It sounds good — fancy even. But it’s really quite simple and within the reach of even the busiest family.
It means that you take to heart the liturgical seasons of the Church, the rhythms of feasting and fasting, and find ways to live them out in your everyday life. There are a million different ways to do this, and they can be tweaked to fit your individual family’s needs and personalities.
When we first started trying to incorporate more of our Catholic faith into our family life, this is where we began. We started small. The first step was looking at the calendar and choosing one feast day a month that we were going to celebrate. Some families do this by cooking a meal from that saint’s home country or completing a craft project having to do with their life. But it can also be as low-key as mentioning to your kids that it’s a particular feast day, sharing a few facts and asking that saint to pray for you.
Another way that I love to incorporate the liturgy into our life is by praying the Liturgy of the Hours. These prayers of the Church are prayed by priests, religious orders and laypeople all over the world. I try to pray morning and evening prayer each day, each of which only takes about 20 minutes. Now that I’m a busy mom, I retain the habit by praying along with the Sing the Hours podcast while I make breakfast and dinner. (You can find it at singthehours.org or download from Apple, Spotify or YouTube).
Turn ordinary activities into opportunities for extraordinary conversations
One of my very favorite ways to teach topics of faith to my kids is by using ordinary activities. My younger kids, like most, love to color. So instead of using traditional coloring books, I choose Catholic ones. As the kids color I ask simple questions to draw out their thoughts:
What do you notice in this picture?
What do you think ______ is feeling here?
I encourage their questions too. Oftentimes they’ll ask questions about the objects they see a saint holding, which is the perfect chance for me to tell them about that person. Or they’ll notice something in a facial expression that makes them curious.
These quiet moments have sparked some of the deepest conversations I’ve had with my children, all because I made a simple tweak to an ordinary activity.
Catholic color books
Choose great books
Reading is another area where a small tweak can make a big difference. Most of us have a collection of children’s books in our homes. In our home, we read to our kids all of the time, and we try to make sure that faith-based books are always in the mix. As an added benefit, reading is a snuggly activity and we get to tie those warm, cozy emotions to faith when we read Catholic books. Some of our favorites include: God the Father and the Best Day Ever by Gracie Jagla, The Teeny Tiny Theology series by Michael Heinlein, The Weight of a Mass by Josephine Nobisso and Saints Around the World by Meg Hunter Kilmer.
Pray out loud
For many of us, this can be a stretch, but for children, hearing their parents pray regularly can be life-changing. One of the ways my husband and I have gotten into this habit is by making sure we stop and say a prayer when we pass by a cemetery, when we hear sirens or when we drive past a homeless person by the side of the road. We say a quick, verbal Hail Mary or “Jesus pray for them.”
Having set prayer times can also be helpful. I put an alarm on my phone for noon and 3 p.m. The beeping reminder is just what I need to pause and pray, and it lets my kids know that I’m going to pause my day and make time for God. It’s wonderful to see them getting into the same habit and joining me in prayer.
We also make sure that we acknowledge Jesus when we pass by a Catholic church. We make the sign of the cross and say, “Hello Jesus! We love you!” It’s quick and easy, but it shows our children how much the real presence matters to us.
Learn to tell your witness story
If you’ve mastered (or are trying to) the art of praying out loud in front of your children, I would encourage you to take the next step and share moments from your own faith life with your kids. Often called a witness story, this sharing of your personal relationship with the Lord is one of the most powerful tools you have as you seek to teach your kids about Catholicism and why practicing their faith is important. The more you can do this, the more your children will understand just why faith is so crucial and why it’s worth investing their time and effort in.
As we work toward raising faithful, Catholic children (and hopefully future saints), these six, simple ways to teach our children have been hugely helpful to my husband and me. I hope that you will give them a try, even the ones that feel outside of your comfort zone. And know of my prayers for you as you do!