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Creating a Service of the Word
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Articles:
Tips for Praying with Children
Training Catechists as Leaders of Prayer


Tips for Praying with Children

Prayer is an essential element in the religious education process. Praying with our students teaches them different skills and helps them to develop a “prayer bank” from which they can draw in any circumstance. As parish catechists and Catholic school religion teachers, we have the opportunity to introduce our students to a rich variety of prayer formats, to help them recognize different ways to pray, and to allow them to “try on” various ways of praying to discover the many ways they can invite the Lord into their hearts and minds.

Here are some tips for praying with your class.

Use Your Catechist/Teacher Guide as a Source for Prayer
Your Faith First Legacy Edition Parish or School Guide is filled with a wealth of suggestions to deepen your students’ spiritual lives and to prayerfully reinforce the content of each week’s chapter.
As you plan your lessons, study the prayer experiences that are provided for each chapter. Determine the length of time each prayer will require without being rushed and pace your lesson accordingly as you teach. Gather any supplies that you will need ahead of time and have them available when you are ready to pray with the children. For prayers involving the students as readers or characters in a Scripture play, choose the children in advance. Give them precise directions and allow them time to prepare for their role.
Pay special attention to the “Liturgy Tips” boxes at the bottom of the pages in your Catechist or Teacher Guide. Here you will find suggestions for using symbols, gestures, and music in prayer; strategies for quieting the children for prayer; ideas for involving the students as leaders of prayer; advice on praying with the Scriptures, conducting classroom processions, praying antiphonally, helping the students develop skills for praying spontaneously, and many other practical suggestions. The “Liturgy Tips” boxes are an invaluable source that will help you to enhance the children’s experience of prayer throughout the year.

Have a Prayer Plan
Make prayer an important part of every class session. Unless you include prayer in your lesson plan, it may very well become an after-thought. Parish catechists will want to prepare a simple opening prayer and a more elaborate prayer celebration to conclude the lesson. Catholic school religion teachers will want to begin and end each day’s lesson with a prayer and plan one special prayer celebration at the conclusion of the week’s learning.

Choosing an Opening Prayer
The purpose of the opening prayer is to remind the children of the sacredness of the occasion and to help them be mindful that they are in the presence of God as they gather to learn together about our faith. While some students thrive on routine, you may want to vary the types of prayers you use to begin class. For example, you might have the children pray a traditional prayer, such as the Our Father, the Hail Mary, or the Glory Be one week; the next week, you may want to make the Sign of the Cross together and then have the children listen as you read aloud a short Scriptural passage that they can repeat after you. Another effective opening prayer is a ritual: have the children gather around a bowl of blessed water placed on the prayer table and invite them to sign themselves or a partner with the Sign of the Cross as they pray the words aloud.

Provide a Prayerful Example for Students
Encourage the children to be reverent as they pray by modeling appropriate postures, movements, and gestures for the class. For example, make sure that all the students know how to make the Sign of the Cross properly and that they pray this most basic of prayers with respect. Teach younger children how to fold their hands in prayer, to bow their heads, and to genuflect. Older students may need to be reminded of how to perform these and other fundamental worshiping actions.

Teach Traditional Prayers
Work with your catechetical leader and fellow catechists to develop a Prayer Scope and Sequence for teaching traditional prayers. Determine which prayers will be introduced at different grade levels and the prayers you are responsible for helping your students master during the year. Many schools and parishes create a prayer booklet listing the grade level in which each traditional prayer is taught—along with the proper wording of the prayers—to give to every family in the program. This is a very helpful resource for parents to use in praying with their children at home. It also helps the parents to recognize the importance of praying together as a family.

Tap into Your Creativity
As community and trust builds in the classroom, your students will be more open to trying new ways of praying. Branch out by trying some of the following ideas for prayer.

Work with the students to create a prayer chain with links for individuals or groups that need God’s help and care: the sick, the poor, people who are treated unjustly, or anyone who suffers. Provide strips of construction paper for the students to write the name of someone for whom they wish the class to pray. Have them link their strips together by using a glue stick to connect the loops. Place the prayer chain on the class prayer table. Encourage the students to add to the chain throughout the year. As it grows, it can be held by the children and lifted above their heads as they offer their prayers to God.

Incorporate sacramentals into classroom prayer. Sprinkle the students with holy water during the Easter Season or after a lesson on Baptism to help students recall the new life we have received in Jesus. Sign the students’ palms with oil to reinforce their call to continue Christ’s mission in the world. Light incense grains to help the students visualize their prayers rising to the Lord. Gather the students in a circle and offer a short prayer of praise to Jesus while holding a crucifix. Have the students pass the crucifix around the circle, allowing time for each of them to offer their own verbal or silent prayer.

Pray an alphabet prayer to help the students recognize God’s goodness in all creation. Work with the students to make a list on the chalkboard of different things that begin with each letter of the alphabet. Use the list as a springboard for spontaneous prayer. As each item on the list is named, invite the children to offer a praise prayer. For example, “We praise you, Lord, for apples that help to keep us healthy” or “We thank you God for babies, who remind us that you created all people.” The alphabet prayer is a fun way for students to find a reason to praise God for everything in their world. It is not necessary to complete the entire alphabet in one prayer session. The students will enjoy spreading this prayer out over several classes.

Have students make one-decade wrist rosaries from string. Provide each student with three strings of different colors of blue. Demonstrate how to braid the string together and then direct the students to tie ten knots in the braid—one for each Hail Mary in a decade of the Rosary. When they have finished, have the children work in pairs to fit the braid to their partner’s wrist and tie it loosely. Encourage the children to use their wrist rosaries daily to think about the major events in Mary’s and Jesus’ lives and to ask Mary to help us to follow Jesus more closely.

There is no limit to the ways in which you and your class can pray together! May the words of Saint Paul inspire you and your students to pray always: “Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing” (2 Thessalonians 5:16-17).


Training Catechists as Leaders of Prayer

The National Directory for Catechesis reminds catechists that being an effective leader of prayer is one of their primary responsibilities (see NDC, 20). This is an area in which your catechists, especially newer ones, will appreciate some direction and training. The best training you can offer is to be an effective prayer leader of prayer yourself. By preparing well, attending to the prayer environment, and appearing confident and at ease in your leader’s role, you can allay many of their misgivings.

Nonetheless, newer catechists will still have some trepidation. Most catechists are comfortable participating in liturgical and personal prayer, yet offering spontaneous prayers or leading other people in prayer frequently causes anxiety. Catechists may be afraid of not doing or saying the right thing. If possible, arrange a workshop session to help them work on these skills and increase their level of confidence.

Getting Started
Begin by reminding your catechists that all have the right to lead prayer by right of their Baptism. It is not something that is only reserved for priests, religious, or other parish leaders. In fact, most people possess many of the essential gifts necessary to lead prayer effectively and others can learn these skills in a relatively short amount of time.

Explain to the catechists that when they are leading prayer in any fashion they are stepping out of a strict teaching role. The goal of leaders of prayer is not to relay new information. Although they will be teaching many things by the way in which they lead prayer, their role is primarily to gather and lift the prayers of the praying community. This may be as simple as leading a gathering prayer offered in the textbook or as challenging as leading an assembly of parents and young people in prayer. Remind newer catechists that if they have ever led a recitation of the Our Father, the Hail Mary, the Rosary, the Glory Prayer, or any other traditional prayers, they have already acted as leaders of prayer on the simplest level.

Ask the catechists to share their own personal experiences of different prayer leaders and prayer experiences. What characteristics made these experiences positive or negative? Simply by having them recall their own experiences, they will be affirming qualities that they will want to develop. Many of the prayer experiences they will be leading will not be as complex or involved as those they recall, but will provide an opportunity for them to explore the different elements of effective prayer and its leadership.

Preparation and Gathering
The most important thing that catechists can do to ensure successful prayer experiences is to prepare well. Remind them to go over the printed prayer ahead of time and to imagine the flow of the prayer. Have them assign any parts to others that are necessary, and to rehearse with the group any songs or responses. Tell them to decide how the group will gather for prayer—by walking in procession, assembling and sitting in silence, or singing. The act of gathering for prayer is different from entering a classroom, and the way in which the group gathers sets the mood for the community prayer that will follow.

Confidence in Prayer
The leader’s own confidence and assurance help the order of prayer to flow smoothly and allow the participants to experience assurance and hope as they prayerfully approach God. Two important skills for the leader of prayer in this regard are voice projection and body language. Proper voice projection exudes confidence and ensures that all present can hear easily. If you’ve ever been in a situation where you cannot hear what is being said, you understand how frustrating this can become. When working with young people, the effects of poor voice projection are even greater. Equally important is how the leader of prayer uses body language to communicate confidence. Standing straight with both feet flat on the floor with no nervous swaying or fidgeting will not only assist in voice projection, it will allow the catechist to communicate leadership and also free them to incorporate gestures into the prayer.

While your catechists may feel that these ideas are concerned only with the more technical nature of leading prayer, remind them that voice and body stance also can communicate the power of the word of God, the assurance of God’s presence among us, and our confidence that our prayer is being heard. Skills for leading prayer can be acquired with just a little practice and will have a positive impact on quality of classroom prayer experiences.

Sincerity
Perhaps the most important quality a leader of prayer can have is sincerity. It has been said that the heart of prayer is the heart of the pray-er. Effective prayer leadership comes from the comfort, familiarity, and spiritual depth that are the result of a rich personal prayer life. Catechists, therefore, should be encouraged to continue to develop their own personal prayer lives and spirituality. Make resources available for them to explore: books on prayer and spirituality, retreats and workshops at a local retreat center, prayer groups, and lists of local spiritual directors. As catechists develop their own prayer lives, they will see a positive impact on their leadership of prayer.

Create opportunities for catechists to practice the skills of leading prayer. Offer a workshop on these skills and allow catechists to actually practice leading some of the prayers they will be using in the catechetical setting. Invite people in the parish who regularly and effectively lead prayer to be present and offer their input. Use various samples of prayers offered throughout Faith First Legacy Edition and invite catechists to take turns leading these prayers for the rest of the group. Then gently provide constructive suggestions and ask for input from others on different ways they might approach the same prayer.

Training catechists as leaders of prayer is an important part of their catechist formation since it is one of their essential roles. Whether catechists are utilizing the prayers provided in Faith First Legacy Edition, beginning to develop prayer services of their own, or both, the above skills will ensure that they get started on the right foot. Taking the time to train them in these skills will ensure that the young people they are catechizing will be provided with prayer experiences that will help them begin to develop the rich prayer lives that mark true disciples of Jesus Christ.

Reflection
• What am I doing to nurture my own life of prayer?
• What is the most important skill that my community of catechists needs to develop? What can I do this year to help them develop or improve this skill?




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