This year’s back to school plans are looking very different for teachers, students and families all over the country, and while the plan at my school is to go back face to face in a few weeks, many schools are looking at beginning the year online. Catholic schools are scrambling to make plans to remain viable in this new normal, and after weeks of worrying about my job for next year and the future of my Catholic school community, I decided to set my sights on the things I can do to continue to offer the best religious education I can for my students, no matter where they are learning. Here are five ideas I came up with for ways to help families build their families’ faith in their homes.
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- Create a Build a Prayer Table Kit to send to families.
If students are coming in to pick up books etc, you could build these kits ahead of time and have them set up with religion textbooks for students to take home. If life will be completely digital, you could mail them. (Maybe the school or local parish could help with shipping.) The idea behind this is that with a few pieces of religious art and sacramentals, students can create a small space in their homes for prayer and reflection during the week. My family’s prayer table is right in our living room and usually features some religious books and saint prints.
Here are some ideas for what to include in the kit:
~ A picture of Mary. I often have people donate old calendars with religious art, and this would be a great place to source these for free.
~ Two to three holy cards.* I love this set of cards from Amazon. There are 54 cards a variety of saints and prayers for only 6 dollars. There’s another set * available which is specifically saints, which could be nice for older students preparing for confirmation.
~Rosaries*, medals*, small statues. I’ve also been able to source rosaries and small religious articles from local friends and parishioners, but I also love sending my students home with the St. Benedict Medal* because I love the symbolism in it. It would also make a great mini lesson.
~Coloring sheets. (Age depending, but I’ve found that older students enjoy coloring as well.) There are many great websites that have these for free online. A few of my favorites are Catholic Family Crate and Tiny Saints
- Have students give a tour of the prayer area they set up.
Some of my favorite distance learning moments in the spring were when we met students’ little siblings and pets. We also had one class meeting where students shared their musical abilities on guitar and piano. Once students set up a small family prayer area, it would be really fun to have them give their classmates a tour. I would probably start by showing them my family’s prayer table and giving ideas of things they might have at home to use. (Candles, pretty cloths etc.)
- Start each digital class with a prayer.
This was an area I really failed last year. The transition into distance learning was so abrupt that a lot of my procedural set up was haphazard at best. If we are learning digitally this year, my plan is to start with a prayer of the week, then transition into having students lead the class prayer for a week at a time. They can choose whatever kind of prayer they want.
- Create regular opportunities for prayer journaling and reflection.
One of the biggest downsides to not being in school in person will be the lack of the sacraments. Depending on where your school and students are, some of these children have not had access to the sacraments for months. While I am super impressed with the ways parishes have embraced the challenges of outdoor and live streamed masses, the truth is that these options have not worked for my family with a small child and one on the way. I would assume that many of my students are in the same boat. Because of this, my plan for digital learning is to build in time for personal prayer and group sharing each week. In my Teachers Pay Teachers store I have many resources for this, including these prayer journal templates. My plan is to set aside at least twenty minutes a week for students to reflect on scriptures and share in small groups. Even if we are face to face, we still won’t have our weekly masses, so this will be crucial for keeping us connected to the liturgical life of the Church.
- Go on a virtual tour of some of the world’s most beautiful churches.
I’ve always wanted to do this in my religion class and never quite made the time, but our new religion curriculum includes Church history and architecture, so this is the year for me! Thankfully this idea will work just as well in person or over a digital meeting. The National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is one of my favorite churches to visit in person, and the Marian Chapels in the basement would tie in nicely with an Advent or Rosary unit. You can also see The Sistine Chapel on the Vatican website. A quick Google search will give you lots of great options.
These are just a few ways to build the faith of your students when you can’t be with them in person. All of these would also easily adapt to hybrid or in person models too. I would love to hear ideas and questions you have about starting the year in person or online. Let me know your brilliant ideas!
*Links followed by an asterisk are affiliate links. This means that if you click through and purchase the item I receive a small commission at no cost to you.