Simcha Fisher, author of The Sinner’s Guide to Natural Family Planning writes for several publications and blogs daily at Aleteia. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and ten children. Without supernatural aid, she would hardly be a human being.
The first few weeks of school are accomplished. We've picked up most of the important pieces of our shattered psyches, and are looking around for ways to move forward, rather than just survive. Top of the list: what to do about catechism for nine kids? Even though the summer was technically full of free time, somehow we never managed to get any regular catechesis in. Well, better now than never. On the principle that doing something second-rate consistently is better than doing something first-rate hardly at all, here is our sustainable plan:
The toddler, who two-and-a-half, is perfecting her sign of the cross CUTE!), shouting "SAY HAIW MARY!" when we hear a siren, and learning how to quietly and reverently attend to what is going on at the altar at Mass (by which I mean she draws on her legs and dress with a marker, leers at the old ladies in the pew behind us, drops the necklace she ripped off my neck, gets wedged under the kneeler, and then my husband takes her out back to run around in circles in the foyer until the Agnus Dei). So she is set.
Kids who are in kindergarten and in first and third grades are attending Catechesis of the Good Shepherd once a week. I have nothing but praise for this gentle, joyful, Montessori-based program, which I wrote about here. Between that, evening prayers, Narnia, and a few Bible stories here and there and whatever theological discussions come up naturally, they are set.
The middle kids, in third and fifth (yes, the third grader is getting a double whammy this year) could really use a refresher for basic catechism, but after using my beloved Baltimore Catechism for so many years, I'm burnt out on that. Melanie Bettinelli, whose home school I want to go to (as a student, I mean!), recommended St. Patrick's Summer: An Adventure Catechism by Marigold Hunt. She says:
Set in 1950s England, the story follows Michael and Cecilia, two children who haven’t made their first communion, despite being older than the average first communicants. The problem is they aren’t properly catechized and their teacher is in despair because they ask too many questions she can’t answer. So she asks St Patrick for his help. And he answers her prayers by taking over the catechesis himself with help from Eve, Abraham, St Cecilia, St Michael, and a local priest who was martyred during the Elizabethan period.
They learn about the trinity, heaven and hell, sacrifice and prayer, the Mass, persecutions in the Church, and much more.
Sounds a little cutesy, but Melanie says it's not, so we're ordering it, and will welcome the younger kids to listen in. I hope the older ones will, too. They haven't outgrown their love of being read to (and neither have I!).
For the older kids, in 7th, 8th, 10th, and 11th grades, I give up. Wait, no, that's not what I meant to say out loud. What I meant to say is that we haven't found either EDGE or LifeTeen to be a good match for our family, and every time I try to read something aloud to the kids, or do a pre-packaged curriculum with them, something happens to capsize the whole endeavor. It's some combination of the kids being in three different schools, and me and my husband working four different jobs, and the kids having this dumb idea about having social lives, and me falling into a prenatal coma around 6:00 every night, that just makes it difficult to keep up with the diligent inquiry into beginner's theology that I always imagined enjoying in the soft quiet of evening with my older kids. And no, we can't do anything in the car. I don't want to explain why. We just can't.
So, we're returning to that "something is better than nothing" policy, we're trying something new: downloading audiobooks. We discussed all the various books we started and never finished (always a pleasant conversation! It's almost as good as discussing with your dentist how often you floss), and decided to return to Mere Christianity. Last time we started reading it aloud, it hit that sweet spot: not too hard, not too mooshy, and just C.S. Lewisy enough to predispose them to enjoy it. They're going to listen to it individually, and we'll discuss it together once a week.
We're still looking for one more piece of the puzzle: we need a collection of stories of saints for my daughter who's prepping for confirmation this year. I'd love to find a book that includes modern stories -- both saints from the 20th century, and stories told in a modern way, and without so much, "Even as a toddler, little Hedwelga never cried, for she kept always in mind that the Christchild was alive in her heart, and she fain would not disturb His slumber there" in it. She would like a book with lots of saints, with one or two pages for each story. Any suggestions?
What are you doing for catechism this year? What works, and what hasn't worked for your family?