Word Magazine February 1978 Page 23
RELIGIOUS EDUCATION IN THE HOME
By the late Donna Bobin of blessed memory
It seems so obvious that the home is one of the most important influences in the religious development of children that I won’t try to persuade you that encouraging religious education in the home should be one of the focuses of parish renewal programs. Instead, I would like to emphasize two points that I think parishes concerned with renewal should consider.
The two points I wish to emphasize are related and are based on the following two observations: (1) that most exhortations to parents to teach religion to their children are too vague and general, and (2) that many parents have a rather shaky knowledge of the Orthodox Faith and an equally shaky confidence in themselves as teachers. These two assumptions are related because a general plea to teach religion is little help to a parent who does not know what to teach or is uncertain of how to teach. No one can teach what he/she does not know, and no one is motivated to teach when he/she is uncertain of the facts.
My first point, then, is that any attempt by a parish to encourage religious education in the home should be supported by very concrete and specific suggestions of what to and how to teach. It might be wise for the parish to appoint a committee of church-school teachers and parents to formulate such suggestions. The committee might put together a year’s program containing 12 units, one for each month, that contain cognitive, affective and behavioral goals. For example, the committee might decide that the emphasis for the year should be “The Sacraments.” (Since there are 12 months and 7 sacraments, some sacraments will take more than one unit.) What could the committee suggest for families to do in their homes?
Unit I might be a general introduction to “The Sacraments”. Cognitive goals might include: knowing what the word Sacrament means, being able to name the seven sacraments, being able to define or describe each Sacrament, etc. Affective goals might include some understanding of feelings associated with the Sacraments, such as communion with God, etc. The behavioral goal of this introductory unit might simply be to attend Liturgy every Sunday that month.
Unit II might be Baptism. Cognitive goals for this unit might be conveyed through a family “RE” birthday party celebrating the baptisms of all members of the family. (Godparents might also be invited.) If the family has pictures of family members’ baptisms, these may be used to illustrate the service of Baptism. Or, if the parish church has a filmstrip of baptism and a filmstrip projector, it might make these available to families. Younger children in the family might make placemats by pasting pictures of water on shelfing paper cut to placemat size. Decorations might include some potted green plants since baptism means life which can be illustrated with growing things. When refreshments are served, the table talk can center around baptism — what it means, what takes place in the service, why water is used, etc.
Affective goals might center around two feelings: community and commitment. Since baptism is initiation into the Church and carries with it both a sense of community and personal commitment, the family might not only discuss (again perhaps at mealtime) what community and commitment mean but also try in their living for that month to understand the many feelings associated with these two words: sharing, caring, a sense of responsibility, dedication, etc.
Behavioral goals can include a wide range of activities. Taking part in the community of the church can include everything from attending church every Sunday that month to visiting ill or elderly parish members. Personal commitment goals can be left for each person to decide: what one continuing thing can I do this month to show my commitment to the Church? For young children it might be learning about their faith through attending church school each Sunday that month. Or, for older family members, the goals might be ethically or morally directed, e.g., an extra effort to be kind and gentle that month.
Similar units can be devised for each Sacrament. It is important, however, that written suggestions be given to parents. A page in the Church Bulletin, a special letter to parents each month, a mimeographed sheet sent home with church-school students might be used for this purpose.
I said I had two points. The second point is that parents must be taught in addition to their children. It is useless to suggest to parents to teach their children the meaning of the word Sacrament if parents don’t know what it means. Parents who cannot name the seven Sacraments cannot teach their children to name them. Consequently, ways of teaching the parents must be devised (or ways of helping them remember things they have forgotten). A one-day retreat for parents on a Sunday might be the answer, e.g., one centering on the topic for home education such as “The Sacraments.” If there is an adult education class in the parish, the home education topic might be dealt with there and parents encouraged to attend. Or perhaps a discussion of the topic might be recorded on a cassette tape, and the cassette and a tape recorder made available to families (for those who say they have no time, suggest that mothers can listen to the tape while ironing, doing dishes, etc. and fathers can listen while driving to work in the morning).
Many feelings of inadequacy about teaching are dispelled once parents know what they are to teach and how they can go about it. Stressing the informal nature of home education, e.g., that it can be discussion at mealtime, etc., can also dispel parents’ feelings of inadequacy.
Encouraging religious education in the home isn’t easy. Time is required to devise programs, to get information to parents, to motivate parents to take an active part in the religious education of their children. But if one considers some of the possible results — teaching both parents and children, shaping the feelings and behavior of both, it seems worth the effort.