MED-I-TATE, MED-I-TATE . . . Reflective Prayer in the Classroom

I never thought I’d see a religious education class end with half a dozen 10-year-old boys pounding fists on their table, feet stomping rhythmically, chanting their demand for . . . meditative prayer. You can blame Loyola Press.

The backstory: In 2007 our parish and several others in the area adopted the Finding God textbook series.  Loyola Press sent down presenters for our deanery’s catechist formation day that year, and for several years after.  One of the highlights of the morning keynote presentation was always time spent in meditative prayer.

The prayer leader walked us through the process of settling down and connecting with God, proposed some prayer conversation-starters, then gave us time to silently speak with Jesus and to listen to Him. Loyola Press’s 3-Minute-Retreat Page teaches you how it works.  Go give one a try — we learn to pray by praying!

What is meditative prayer? You might be getting nervous now — this isn’t one of those woozy new-age things, is it?  Absolutely not.  What we’re talking about here is quiet time spent in personal reflection, connecting with God one-on-one.  The Rosary is a classic example of a guided reflection: We can take each mystery, put ourselves into the scene, and just look and see what God has to show us there.  Lectio Divina is meditative prayer focused on the words of scripture.

In our fifth grade class, we’ve done meditations built around the words of the Apostle’s Creed, the Way of the Cross, the words of a prayer on CD (I use Hide Me In Your Wounds by John C. Hathaway), or time spent listening to a prayerful hymn.  Our text book includes a prayer service at the end of each chapter, and sometimes I’ve used that, either verbatim or as a jumping-off point.

How does it work in the classroom?  We start the class with short opening prayers, and then teach a regular lesson.  At the end of class, we clean-up.  Then the kids each pick a spot to sit down, relax, and pray.  We light candles and turn off the overhead lights.  And then we pray.

We had to work through a few glitches.  At the start of the year, we had to be both solemn and reassuring — many students had never prayed this way, and were worried, skeptical, or inclined to make fun of the whole thing. I’ve had background-music CD’s that inspired more giggles than prayers.   I discovered there’s a real knack for reading the body-language of the class, and closing the prayer before anyone gets restless and ends the session of their own initiative.

I’ve used meditative prayer with all ages, but not with all students.  We’ve incorporated reflective prayer into our vacation Bible school programs, where classes are mixed-ages from kindergarten to teens.  Even the littlest children can enjoy and appreciate time to close the eyes, turn on the imagination, and spend time with Jesus.

But I’ve also had groups of students that didn’t seem ready for settled-down, silent prayer.  A physically-active meditation, such as saying a decade of the Rosary or Chaplet of Divine Mercy worked well for those students.

How about you?  What kind of prayer do you use in the classroom?  Is there something you’d like to try in the coming year?  What resources have you found helpful?  I’d love to hear from you.

  • Jared Dees

    Thanks for sharing this Jennifer! I am always amazed by the power of turning down/off the lights and inviting students to journal or pray. I have found that it takes a lot of modelling to help students to really understand and practice prayer effectively. In my opinion, there is no better tool that we can give to students as they move one than to equip them with prayer practices that work for them.

  • Jennifer Fitz

    I agree completely. The other week I spent five or ten minutes boring students with an explanation, probably incomprehensible, of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. And then we prayed a decade. Done. Now they really know. What a difference practice makes.

  • Christian

    Uh-oh. In my class we have 1 of 4 opening prayers: Our Father/ Hail Mary/ Glory Be/ Act of Contrition. [Sometimes I may sing a prayer, but not often] Whichever one we pray is followed by maybe a minute of discussion or analysis of a bit of the prayer, e.g., Mother of God. Sometimes something from the prayer will be connected to the lesson plan, e.g. Act of Contrition > Prodigal Son. If all 5th graders did the Meditative Prayer, then they could get rounded out in 6th grade with Analytical Prayer.

    There’s no point in doing the same thing every year.

  • Jennifer Fitz

    “There’s no point in doing the same thing every year.”
    I agree with this 100%.

    Our opening prayers are usually Our Father + Hail Mary + GloryBe + Me doing that evangelical free-form thing to close it all out. Sometimes I shorten that if we’re running late. (Yeah, I know — skimping on prayer is one of my frequent failings, groovy posts about it not withstanding). With seasonal variations, ie an Act of Contrition throughout Lent, stuff like that.

    This past year, my class was waaaay to active to do the meditative thing. I never even dared — though we did get in a decade of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, and the future I’m going to pull out that big gun sooner in the year if the situation repeats. We finished almost every class with a round of quiz-game on Catholic essentials this year, and, well, you just have to do what the class seems to need, ya know?

  • Lisa Mladinich

    This is a wonderful post, Jennifer! Thank you. It’s a real struggle knowing how and when to pray with children, but worth every ounce of effort. If we don’t try, they may not ever do it on their own.

  • Sarah Reinhard

    We did a decade of the rosary at the close of every class this year for my 5th graders, and we will be doing that for our Confirmation boot camp sessions this summer, too. Love these tips and will be using them!

  • William O’Leary

    Good post Jennifer. Something I think that makes a big difference is trying to see opening prayer not only as a way to offer your class time to God but also as a way for the students to become docile to the lesson the catechist is about to present. This is a way to help them be open to the Good News that will be covered during a given class. Prayer is a key way of drawing students into the mystery of Christ. :-)

    • Jennifer Fitz

      Everyone – Thanks for the feedback! There are so many different ways to handle prayer in the classroom . . . the big thing is to just do it.