by Joseph D. White, Ph.D.
Parish-based grade-level catechesis can be made more family friendly by choosing texts that provide practical and creative ways to involve families and using the programs in a manner that is responsive to the needs today’s families.
Choose a grade-level textbook series with a strong family component, for example, a section written specifically for families as part of each lesson. At minimum, this should include information about the doctrinal material the child has learned, developmental information about how children this age understand the topic, adult-level catechesis for the parents, and practical ways families can share the message at home. These pages can and should be perforated, so they can be sent home each week if the textbooks stay at the parish. Other strong family components, such as on-line resources for families and materials to assist in family prayer, would be helpful as well.
Involve parents as volunteers, and give them plenty of options with respect to roles. Sometimes parents may be left to feel as if they can only help with the parish catechetical program if they feel called and equipped to be catechists, but parents could also volunteer as classroom assistants, helpers with special events, or “guest speakers” to discuss other areas of ministry in which they are involved. For example, parents who serve as extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion could help instruct the children preparing for First Communion on the proper way to receive. In this type of model, the director or coordinator of religious education becomes more of a coordinator and facilitator of adult volunteers, so it’s essential to have someone in this role who can work effectively with adults and offer them appropriate formation.
Where possible, order lessons so that multiple children from the same family are working on the same themes at the same times of the year. This makes it easier for families to learn together.
Provide intergenerational experiences. Many parishes have found a transition to a program of intergenerational catechesis alone to be impractical or imprudent, but a traditional grade-level program can be greatly enhanced by adding intergenerational events and experiences. Consider adding seasonal celebrations for All Saints Day, the feast day of your parish’s patron saint, and perhaps for Advent and Lent. For children preparing for the Sacraments, host day retreats that are designed for the whole family, with perhaps some time for parents and children separately and some opportunities for experiences together.