Last year, when I was feeling free and easy about my future as my youngest was only growing older, my good friend J and I decided to teach a First Communion class at our parish. There was a slightly self-serving aspect to this: we wanted to make sure that our own second-graders had a solid class. More importantly, however, it's become more and more clear to me how important it is to work within the framework of our parish family. Do you know why pastors sometimes find homeschoolers hard to deal with? Because they often ask for exceptions.
So we became RE teachers (RE standing for Religious Education, of course; apparently the term CCD is no longer in vogue). And it's been an education for me. I've never done classroom teaching before, and it seems that the methods that are quite successful for homeschooling one or two children at a time are not that efficient for instructing 17 children at a time -- who'da thunk? But we manage, though some weeks are more difficult than others.
Let's talk a bit about boys -- seven-to-eight-year-old boys, specifically. Darwin has told me that he was always a great favorite with his CCD teachers back in the day, and he never knew why, because he found class boring and said so every now and then. I can tell him why now. Many of the young guys in my class (I have eight) are loud, slightly hyperactive, a little rude, and inclined to be silly. I can't blame them -- they're boys, after all, and class is at 4:30. They're hungry, they're tired of school, they want to go home. But there are a few boys in class who are bright, polite, focused, and can turn off the goofiness. These boys are the joy of my classroom time. They're willing to give answers, but they're not know-it-alls like the girls. They're fun, but they're not rambunctious, and they don't always have to draw attention to themselves. Some of them are quiet and some are more talkative, but I can tell they're giving me their attention. I've fallen in love with those boys.
Studies have shown that males fall across a wider spectrum of abilities and quirkiness than girls, and I can believe it. My girls are in basically two categories: either they know everything and need to tell you about it, or they're quiet. (I'm sorry to say that my own seven-year-old is in the know-it-all category, compounded by her inexperience with classroom ettiquette, such as raising one's hand and being called on before one shouts out the answer.) All my girls are basically competent at reading and writing and listening. The boys vary from rapt attention to la-la land -- not including the native Spanish speaker who can barely read English. I read all instructions to him.
The books we use in our class are mediocre at best, though they do seem tailored to a second-grade level. We find the most success in hands-on activities: looking at a Mass kit, passing around a book with pictures, coloring pages. One of the biggest hits in the classroom is practicing for receiving communion. It goes something like this:
"Okay kids, listen up: this is very important. We're going to get in a line and practice how we'll walk up to receive Jesus. Everyone stand up straight! Would you slouch like that in church? ("NOOO!") Here's how we'll hold our hands. We make a throne for Jesus with our left hand on top and our right hand underneath. This is the left hand, see? No, cup your hands, like a bowl. Otherwise, the host will fall on the floor. Wouldn't that be awful? "(YESSS!") Carlos, cup your hands. John, go to the back of the line. Next time you'll have to sit at the table.
"Okay. We're going to practice with small crackers. Listen, this is important: this is NOT Jesus. We're just practicing. I want you to pretend that you're in church. Make a sign of respect when the person in front of you is receiving. Bow your head. When the host is held up, the priest will say, 'The Body of Christ'. You answer, 'Amen.' What do you answer? ("Amen!") When the host is placed in your hand, you IMMEDIATELY pick it up gently with your right hand and put it in your mouth. Alexa, do not walk off with the cracker -- eat it right away. Come back and we'll try it again. Kyra, I said consume it IMMEDIATELY. Austin, you don't just shove the host into your mouth -- pick it up with your right hand. Don't forget to make the sign of the cross afterward..."
Good thing we're practicing for this -- I can't imagine what would have happened if the first time they had to try this was on the day of their First Communion...