Teaching Luther’s Small Catechism to Your Elementary Students
Oh, the joys of teaching first through fourth grade. Your students are old enough to do their own work and take their learning to a deeper level. They are becoming increasingly independent, but still try their best to please you. They are becoming more outgoing and focused on friendships, but family is still so important to them. The elementary stage is a wonderful time, and being the parent or teacher of elementary students is a very rewarding vocation.
Once students pass through this time and begin middle school, confirmation typically begins. These same elementary students will grow to learn about the catechism, about Lutheranism, and about their own sin and Savior. They will learn the ins and outs of the Six Chief Parts of the Catechism, and eventually declare their faith to their congregation.
But what do we do with Luther’s Small Catechism while these students are still in elementary levels?
Should we leave it on the shelf until our students enter confirmation class? Absolutely not! As these children develop academically, socially, emotionally, and physically; they will be developing spiritually as well. Catechizing your elementary school students is crucial to nurturing their faith development. When we use Luther’s Small Catechism to teach students about the Christian faith, we give them a sure foundation that will carry them to their confirmation classes and for the rest of their lives.
Using such a complex book with young children may seem difficult. However, there are several ways to teach your elementary students about Luther’s Small Catechism.
Teach Through Bible Narratives
For an eight-year-old student, learning about the Six Chief Parts of the Small Catechism can be overwhelming. While the Ten Commandments are pretty straight forward, Confession and Absolution are more abstract. Instead of starting by explaining the ins and outs of the Office of the Keys, teach your students first about the Prodigal Son, or King David’s repentance and forgiveness. Then explain Confession and Absolution, and your students will be more apt to understand. Teaching through Bible stories is always a good idea. If a student already knows the Bible account, this is especially helpful because they will be able to bridge their old learning with new learning.
Repetition and Meaning
You may have heard it said that something needs to be repeated seven times before you can truly memorize it. Still, others have claimed that repetition needs to occur seventeen times before it is committed to memory! While there may be some debate over this, one thing is for sure; repetition is necessary. Luckily, your elementary students are at a prime age for memorization. Rather than waiting until confirmation for your students to memorize the Catechism, starting in first or second grade is much better for memory work. If you are teaching the Lord’s Prayer, for example, have the whole class pray it together.
Memorization may have a poor reputation in schools today, but in regards to learning the Small Catechism, it is invaluable. In fact, memorizing is not the problem, but rather rote memorization that lacks meaning and explanation. This means that when you are teaching your students a new part of the Small Catechism, explain and discuss it. First through fourth grade students are developing cognitively so that they start making connections and looking for reasons behind things. It’s so important to explain what the students are learning and what it means for their lives as God’s children.
Today’s learners are increasingly visual. With the surge of social media, Youtube, virtual reality, etc., it’s hard for kids to absorb new information without seeing a visual representation. Any way that you can add in pictures or crafts is a great help for kids. There are also resources like My First Catechism from CPH that add pictures into the book. Even using TinyCards online or through your phone/tablet app is a great way to include visuals and technology as you teach your elementary students about the Catechism.
Take It Home
As effective as the Lutheran schoolteacher, children’s ministry director or Sunday School teacher can be, the primary teacher of the faith is a child’s parents or guardians. As a teacher, you can send your students home with discussion points, tips for parents, etc. If you are the parent of an elementary student, open up the Catechism with your child! Again, My First Catechism is a great resource for young children and can even be used as a family devotion. Just read through one section at a time, so that your child can really absorb what their learning. For example, read through the first petition of the Lord’s Prayer in your My First Catechism, discuss the content and pictures, and end by saying the Lord’s Prayer together.
Elementary school is a busy time for students. They are learning and developing skills, strengths and talents. The most important growth is in their faith, and you are an important part in this process! Below is an excerpt from a prayer by Carl Moser that appears in the Integrating the Faith guide for teachers. In all your teaching, remember what (or rather, Who) is the core of what we do.
“Father in heaven, You love me and have taught me to love. Help me to share Your love with my students, their families, and those who minister with me.” – from A Lutheran Teacher’s Prayer by Carl Moser