Lesson Plans: Laying the Foundation

 . . . he is like a man building a house, who dug deep, and laid the foundation upon rock; and when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house, and could not shake it, because it had been well built. ~ Luke 6:48*

If you're a new catechist and you generally have the children sit and read the entire lesson directly from the book, don't be embarrassed. Lots of volunteers are at a loss for ways to make religion lessons come to life; especially if they -- like me -- were poorly catechized themselves. So, take heart! A few simple steps will have those bored, restless children sparkling and inquiring, and . . . (you'll believe me when you see it) begging for more.

So let's roll up our sleeves and look at the first three steps of solid lesson planning, which I call "laying the foundation." They support all the great activities we'll begin to talk about next week.

Step One: Prioritize Goals for the Year

Check with your director or grade-level coordinator to set priorities for the year. You may have 30 chapters in your book, but only 24 weeks in which to teach them. That number can't account for classes missed because of special grade-level events, school closings, or other unforeseen circumstances that take up your precious class time. So, find out which chapters get priority, which ones you might be able to combine, and mark your table of contents accordingly.

Step Two: Do a Little Research

Spend 30 minutes, once a year, researching developmental issues for your grade level. Honest, this is easy and quick. I recommend some good resources here.

The idea is that at every age children experience developmental leaps that cause their strengths, weaknesses, and interests to change. Knowing their issues provides fresh insight to help you communicate the lesson effectively -- and avoid stepping on their sensitivities. This is powerful stuff, so don't shirk this simple and interesting assignment.

Spiritual perk: Taking the time to gird yourself with this information strengthens you in the virtues of wisdom and charity.

Classroom perk: Armed with this knowledge, you will be a more effective teacher.

Step Three: Prayerfully Study Only This Week's Chapter

I know exactly how most of you are feeling right now. If you're anything like me, you're overwhelmed with commitments and wondering why you have taken this ministry on, and how you're going to cope from day to day. But I want to make you a promise: If you commit yourself to learning the Faith in small steps as you prepare your lessons, you and your students will be richly rewarded.

Here's how: Pray for yourself and your students as you read through just the current chapter, asking the Holy Spirit to enlighten and inspire you. As you absorb the lesson, jot down any questions you might have, and record your personal responses to the lesson; including any Bible stories, saints' lives, prayers, songs, or other elements that come to mind. Save these notes. Some of them will be useful in this week's plan, others in future ones. Use a highlighter if it helps you get a clearer sense of the goals of the lesson.

Quickly look up anything you don't understand fully, or double-check concepts you already know. (I'm often surprised by what I've forgotten over the years.) The Catechism of the Catholic Church is an invaluable resource and can be found free online at www.usccb.org. It has a rather addictive index, which I find enjoyable to browse; so make friends with the CCC and get your questions answered.

Personal perk: Once you have prayerfully reviewed the key concepts, you're better able to answer questions in class and your confidence greatly increases.

Spiritual perk: Making even the smallest effort to learn about your faith, especially in your sacrificial role as a parent or catechist, opens your life and ministry to an outpouring of God's grace. Let me say that again: An outpouring of God's grace, a share in His very life. This is the stuff that transforms our lives and makes our ministries fruitful.

Classroom perk: The CCC backs up its answers with references from Church documents, the saints, and Sacred Scripture. By reading the scriptures attached to the concept you're studying, you'll discover Bible stories and other passages that powerfully illustrate your lessons.

For those of you ready to skip ahead and start using Bible stories in creative and exciting ways, my wee booklet, Be an Amazing Catechist: Inspire the Faith of Children, has a section packed with suggestions.