Here is a slightly modified version of the proposal that I created to present the program to my parish. If you are interested in starting a similar program in your own parish, please do not hesitate to contact me! I’d love to walk you through it and answer any questions, and even swap ideas for songs, prayers, and activities.
Little Saints – by Jennifer Fabrizi
2225 Through the grace of the sacrament of marriage, parents receive the responsibility and privilege of evangelizing their children. Parents should initiate their children at an early age into the mysteries of the faith of which they are the “first heralds” for their children. They should associate them from their tenderest years with the life of the Church. 34 A wholesome family life can foster interior dispositions that are a genuine preparation for a living faith and remain a support for it throughout one’s life.
2226 Education in the faith by the parents should begin in the child’s earliest years. This already happens when family members help one another to grow in faith by the witness of a Christian life in keeping with the Gospel. Family catechesis precedes, accompanies, and enriches other forms of instruction in the faith. Parents have the mission of teaching their children to pray and to discover their vocation as children of God. The parish is the Eucharistic community and the heart of the liturgical life of Christian families; it is a privileged place for the catechesis of children and parents.
(-Catechism of the Catholic Church)
As parents, we are entrusted to be the first teachers of the faith to our children. Through our words and actions we model and teach our children what it means to live as Catholic Christians. This is a great privilege and responsibility, however many parents today may feel that they are unequipped to fulfill this duty! Parents may feel they have not received adequate catechesis in their own lives and are thus are unsure of the tenets of their faith, or perhaps did not experience an active faith life in their own upbringing and do not know where to begin.
The purpose of the proposed “Little Saints” program is to encourage and equip parents of small children as they teach their children in the faith.
The structure of the program is modelled after the successful “Mother Goose” preschool program in which facilitators teach songs and stories to parents and their children and more importantly equip parents to become story tellers and to share new songs. While the facilitators are a source of songs and stories, they ultimately are giving parents the tools they need to teach their own children. In the province of New Brunswick, for example, this program is being used in particular by the French-speaking community as a means to preserve the cultural heritage of the Acadian people through song and story.
In the “Little Saints” program facilitators and parents will share songs and prayers that can be used throughout the day to help our little saints worship the Lord. (Young children especially love song and predictable routine, so they are primed to learn through music and verse! Parents’ efforts to teach songs of praise and simple prayers will quickly be rewarded.) At the sessions parents will also learn techniques to get started in incorporating prayer and virtuous habits into their families’ daily routines. There will also be time for parents to discuss in more depth various aspects of the faith and the Church’s teachings as well as the opportunity for parents to learn how to pray for their spouses and children and also have time to pray for the needs of others in the group.
The “Little Saints” program was initially set-up as an eight-week long pilot program to be held at my parish in the fall of 2014. At the end of the eight-week session the program should be reviewed. At that time it will be decided, should the program continue, whether it should continue as a fixed-length program or become an on-going group. One option may be that after participating in an eight-week session, families “graduate” to an ongoing alumni group that meets regularly for continued support.
A sample session would be as follows**:
10:00 AM: Parents and children arrive in an undecorated room. Everyone sits in a circle on the floor.
10:05 AM: Start with the Sign of the Cross and a simple prayer that can be memorized. Repeat the prayer two more times, along with gestures, to help parents and children to learn the prayer. Next share a welcoming song such as “This is the day that the Lord has made”. Again, the facilitators will repeat this song 2 or 3 times to ensure that parents have a chance to learn the lyrics and participate. The group will continue alternating between simple prayers (such as table Graces and bedtime prayers) and songs. The songs and prayers are taught without props or instruments. While musical instruments are a beautiful accompaniment, the goal is to equip all parents to be able to sing and pray with their child in their homes. The sessions are primarily about teaching the parents, not entertaining the children directly.
10:30 AM: Snack break: parents and children share a snack and drink as a large group.
10:45 AM: Children go off to one part of the room with some volunteers to work on a craft, look at books, or play with toys. If possible, choose a craft related to the liturgical calendar. For example, we started a new session on The Solemnity of the Annunciation (March 25) and made an Annunciation craft. Meanwhile, parents gather together. The facilitator will teach the parents a story that the parent will be able to teach to their children at home. This story will be from the Bible or perhaps from the lives of the saints. Again, if there is a way to tie it into the calendar, go for it! On March 25th, we learned a simple version of the Annunciation, and this ties in to the artwork the children made. After the story is shared, parents will have a chance to discuss a topic related to Christian parenting. Perhaps there will be a guest speaker to address the parents on a particular topic; perhaps the group will read a passage on the topic and have a discussion. Before the children return there will be a chance for prayer requests to be shared and for participants to pray together for one another and their families.
11:15 AM: Children and parents are re-united and join together in a large group. Facilitators lead the group in one more concluding song and prayer following the teaching model described above.
11:30 AM: Conclusion! At the end of the session everyone will work together to tidy up the space and only at the very end parents will be given the words to any songs or prayers introduced that day.
(**Ideally, the session could be held immediately following one of the week-day masses and parents could be encouraged to attend the mass with their little saints.)
To make this program a success, we will need the support of the Church in the following ways:
- Space in which to host the program (preferable carpeted, if not, rugs or mats will be needed)
- Volunteers to help with the children for the second part of the session: the parents’ discussion and prayer time.
- Volunteers to help teach the parents!
- Simple snacks and coffee/tea
- Craft materials (at a minimum paper and crayons), books for the children to look at (perhaps on loan from the Parish Library), and a small collection of toys.
- Paper and access to the photocopier for printing out lyrics and prayers.