When teaching preschoolers about religion, catechists are living out the scripture when Jesus says, “Let the children come to me.” As young children, they have different needs to explore God’s love than older students. It is vital that teachers use curriculum and activities that meet the needs of preschoolers during this exciting time of development. Some parishes may have a workbook that children work through step-by-step. Others may design their own curriculum.
Preschool children love stories. This is a wonderful time to introduce them to the stories of the Bible. This may include exciting stories such as Daniel and the Lion’s Den or Noah and the Ark or gentle stories like creation and the Nativity. Beyond the excitement of the story, it is vital that the presenter use each story to show how God loves each person. Point out how all of these stories go together to show God’s plan for us all. Do not be surprised if the children want to hear favorites repeatedly. This is one way that preschoolers explore the story for its full meaning. The Catholic Church also has many stories of the Saints. These special people have been singled out as models of faith. Their actions can also fire the imagination of kiddos in their faith.
Play is serious business for preschoolers. Through playing alone, children explore their feelings and understanding of new concepts. As they play with other children, they see how their own attitudes and beliefs mesh with others. The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is a program that uses child-sized models of liturgical items. Based on Montessori theory, the program allows children to play with models of the chalice, candles and altar cloths. They are encouraged to treat the objects with respect in preparation for the real items. Through this program, the children explore the order of the mass, the liturgical year, prayer and both individual and communal worship.
By the time a child is 4 or 5, he has become good at memorizing simple phrases, including prayers. It is also a good time to introduce the Sign of the Cross. This gesture is made at the beginning and end of prayers. In the gesture, the child takes his right hand, touches his forehead, stomach, left shoulder, and finishes with his right. It will take some time for the child to remember the proper hand. What is important is that the child uses the gesture before and after prayer. It helps the child recognize that prayer time is set apart from play and reading.
Singing simple songs helps children remember prayers and ideas. Sing with the preschooler about God’s love. There are a wide range of songs for children that go with Bible stories. In addition, there are always traditional tunes such as “Jesus Loves Me.” Turn to the local parish and learn the songs associated with the mass. Teach these simple tunes and words to the child so that she feels more of a part of mass. At this point, understanding the meaning of every word is not as important as the understanding that God is present and loves everyone.