Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Little Children

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...


Martha said...

I taught 2nd grade RE (only it's FF, for Faith Formation, here) for 4 years, for the same reasons as you. Even though I have classroom experience, and could handle the kids, I was surprised at first at how many times we had to practice receiving! By the way, Mexican groceries sell a type of candy called Obleas. They are basically colored communion wafers. (seriously, same texture, and you can buy them the same size.) They are good for practicing with. (they also come sandwiched with cajeta, a kind of caramel, in the middle. You might not want those.)

Enbrethiliel said...


I learned the same thing about the difference between teaching one or two students and teaching a big group, but in reverse. I've gone from five big classes of forty students each to a single cousin's home school. Until then, I hadn't realised how much I had relied on the quicker, more creative kids to coach or carry their classmates, through either their participation in classroom discussions or their work on group projects.

Good luck with your "big" group, Mrs. Darwin! =)

Enbrethiliel said...


PS--The Sisters who ran my elementary school didn't use anything when we practiced receiving Communion, but my cousin and I "played Mass" with the Hao flakes we bought at Chinese grocery stores at home.

mrsdarwin said...

When we were kids, we used to play Mass with Necco wafers, but I don't think anyone eats Necco wafers anymore. They didn't actually taste that great as candy.

BettyDuffy said...

I taught RE for a year, in a class with two of my own boys, a set of twin brothers, a boy with ADD, and one quiet girl. IT WAS HELL!!! My boys fall into that attention seeking category, and being brothers, they fed into each other. The twins were the same.

Obviously, my attitude probably didn't do much to reveal the pathway to Heaven to these youngsters, so I passed the baton to a husband wife team who are both in the military. They seem to have a better handle on things, but this class was and continues to be a challenge to all.

Sometimes it's just crazy chemistry.

mrsdarwin said...

Betty, I have a set of twins in my class too, but they're brother and sister, so the dynamic is different. Also, these are probably the best-behaved kids in the class -- the boy is smart and sweet, and the girl is smart but not loud. They're adorable. Also, their mother is involved, makes sure they bring back their folders each week, and brought us teacher presents at Christmas. :)

I don't think I'll teach RE class next year, but that's primarily because I'd have to bring a four-year-old, a two-year-old, and a newborn to class. It's a bit tricky right now with a three-year-old and a one-year-old, but it's doable. She colors the worksheets and he always has to sit on a hip or he's emptying out the cabinet. I just don't see how I could manage it next year, which is too bad because I'll have another one making her First Communion.

CMinor said...

I think they're calling ours FF these days, after a brief fling with PREP (Parish Religious Education Program.)

My last class a few years ago was older, but the problems don't change that much except that the girls start quietly talking among themselves in the back corners as they age. A few suggestions:

Don't hesitate to assign seating, separating kids who tend to feed off each other's energy. It's possible the mere threat of a "boy-girl-boy-girl" seating arrangement will be enough to buy you a few minute's quiet.

Put fidgety boys who can't sit still to work. Have them pass out pencils and worksheets. Having something to do helps them focus.

The teacher not occupied with the lesson can quietly move to potential trouble spots. A hand on the shoulder or even the awareness that Teacher is standing behind him tends to settle a kid down.

If you can commandeer a serious-minded teenager or two (those confirmandi need to log service time, don't they?) they can be helpful in helping to redirect behavior or assisting the boy in need of language help.

I did Cub camp with a baby in a sling, but I only ever had to take small children along to a classroom once (which was insane.) You deserve plaudits!

RL said...

Here's how we'll hold our hands.



mrsdarwin said...

RL, maybe in the days of altar rails it was different, but I don't even want to get started on teaching the kids how to stick out their tongues. Absolute chaos would ensue. :)

Baron Korf said...

At My parish, thy use the kneeler from the weddings and have the children kneel down and receive on the tongue. It's actually hard to misbehave while kneeling I find.

Meredith said...

Why, just today we received an email from the First Communion teacher which informed parents that the boys in the class have been rambunctious and disrespectful!

As the mother of one of those often-silly 2nd graders, your description made me laugh out loud.
Thanks for bringing humor to what was a dark subject in our house today.

Emily J. said...

Too familiar... A friend gave me a couple tips when I was teaching the First Communion class: One was to bring hardboiled eggs and unboiled eggs and let the kids crack them to show how we can't always see changes, and another was to get them marching around the room like a train chanting "Transubstantiation happens at the Consecration." At least it kept them from flailing on the floor.

Tony said...

Just for curiousity's sake, are you teaching the tongue option?

Tony said...

forget what I asked. :)

mrsdarwin said...


No. We've mentioned to them that some people prefer to receive communion on the tongue, but for the sake of nervous second-graders who will be receiving for the first time in front of everyone, we're sticking with the hands. I have a hard enough time getting them to be serious while practicing receiving in the hand; if we had the entire class sticking out their tongues the descent into chaos would be absolute.

I think this is a matter of prudential judgment. They're welcome and encouraged to consider receiving on the tongue when they're older and have a bit more self-discipline.

Enbrethiliel said...


I find your comment interesting, Mrs. Darwin, because in my school, it was the other way around. First communicants and other "little kids" were only allowed to receive on the tongue.

Not to argue with your judgment or anything; just making conversation! =)

Elizabeth M said...

I'm in my 5th year of teaching First Reconciliation and First Communion. (We call it "RF" -- Religious Formation.) Practicing is definitely essential! I can't imagine what the First Communion masses would be like it without practicing.

A couple things I've learned to tell them:
* We do not "take" Jesus, we receive Him as a gift. (In other words, never take the host from the priests' hands -- it hasn't happened for real, but did in practice.)
* Never walk away holding the host.
* If you remember to treat Jesus with the respect He deserves, you'll be fine!

I did start practicing on the tongue with the whole sacrament class (around 80) at retreats. I realized that they should at least know how to do it. I explain that they should know how to do it properly and that some families prefer to receive that way and also that they may visit a church where everyone receives by mouth.

But one thing that we've done is that we practice with unblessed hosts. We emphasize very clearly that it is not Jesus because it has not been consecrated. But this way they get several chances to deal with the actual taste and feel before their First Communion.

I know not every pastor would choose to allow this, but it works well for us. I explain that by the time of they actually receive the sacrament, I want them to be thinking about Jesus, not the wafer itself.