Teaching Children to Pray the Rosary in Small Steps

(photo: Register Files)

I am not a teacher. Let me rephrase that: I am a terrible teacher. Ask any poor undergraduate who suffered under my lame attempts to impart knowledge. Indeed, my end-of-semester teacher evaluations were so poor I didn’t keep them, as they could only prevent me from ever teaching in the future. Mercifully, my future didn’t include teaching.

But as a father I am, by default and design, a teacher to our twins. And one thing I have to teach the twins is how to pray. In particular, how to pray the Rosary. This is not easy. Or maybe it is and I’m just as bad at teaching “How To Pray the Rosary” as I was at teaching “Introduction To Poetry” and “English Composition 101”.

That said, I think I’ve hit on a formula that is, if not exactly successful, at least not a total failure (yet). It’s based on small steps and starts when your kids are able to speak and begins right at your front door.

For years now, before we come in the house I stop and tell the twins: “We must say a ‘Hail Mary’ here: this is the ‘Hail Mary’ door, and it’s what monks do before they walk in their cell.” I started this practice some time ago, so by now it’s second nature to the kids. They had the “Hail Mary” down in no time. And they learned that in a Carthusian Charterhouse, the monks pray an “Ave Maria” before entering.

Next, we always said the Angelus en route to school in the morning, and again after dinner. I could only pray, literally, that the kids said it at noon at their school too, but apparently that’s too much to ask of a Catholic school. Sigh.

Once we had the “Ave Maria” at the door down, and the Angelus, I introduced the kids to the Seven Sorrows (Dolors) of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This was actually easier than I thought it would be. My son takes the opening “Our Father”—which isn’t actually part of the Seven Sorrows, but I added it, figuring it would make learning the Rosary easier, and for once I guessed correctly. Next, we took turns with the Seven Dolors, and I tried to mix up who said which ones. Now that they know all seven by heart—the Prophecy of Simeon in the Temple, the Flight into Egypt, the Loss of the Child Jesus in the Temple, Jesus and Mary meeting on the Way of the Cross, the Crucifixion, the Pieta— they get a chance to say a “new” sorrow and not the same one every day.

Once we had the Dolors of Mary down, so to speak, I added a “Glory Be” to finish it off, and, after scratching my head added three more Hail Marys for the Holy Father, and the Fatima Prayer, which we said at Night Prayer. So over the course of the months leading to their First Holy Communion, the twins could do a decade of the Rosary without even knowing it.

We take a lot of car trips, and in New Jersey that’s basically like saying we sit in traffic more than the average American family. My parents first taught my siblings and me the Holy Rosary on long vacation car trips and, since every car trip in Jersey is by default, I began by saying, “Who thinks papa can say a whole Rosary before we get to school?” Naturally the kids wisely bet against me, but since gridlock is endemic here, I had time on my side and always keeping some extra rosaries in the minivan, and had them follow along.

I think the revelation for me in all this is that second-graders have no real sense of time. (I know I didn’t.) When I was young and my dad would announce we were going to say the Rosary I could have sworn it took at least an hour (or longer) to do so. But those were long, boring car rides to very distant destinations. My kids know their route to school, they know it’s about “as long as an episode of ‘Jessie’ or ‘Kickin’ It’ or ‘Dog With A Blog’” so I think—think—they are way ahead of where I was as a kid in terms of the Rosary. It’s not a huge black hole of time. In twenty-five minutes you can pray St. John Paul the Great’s favorite prayer, the Holy Rosary.

So when the kids received their rosaries the past year as part of the First Holy Communion presents, it was not with a sense of “what do I do with this?” but “Wow! Now I have my own rosary!”

“But what about ‘The Apostles’ Creed’?” I can hear someone asking. Good question. And it had me stumped for a while, too. However, when I realized at Mass the kids liked to follow along with their own missals, I was able to show them that the Nicene Creed is “simply” a longer version of the Apostles’ Creed—and let’s look at what is in the Apostle’s Creed. In essence, we made a bit of a game out of it.

Finally, there’s habit. Although my twins are adopted, they somehow both wound up insomniacs like me. Whenever I hear, “Papa, I can’t sleep!” My first question is: “Where is your rosary?” It’s usually under their pillow, so I kneel beside them and say, “Now how does the Apostle’s Creed begin?” I was amazed at how quickly they had learned it.

Again, I am a terrible teacher. And perhaps what I’ve shared won’t help you teach your children the Rosary. But so far it has worked for us, and I hope it does for you as well.

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