Do you find yourself, as a catechist, pulling your hair out trying to get parents involved? Are you facing a group of students who seem to be getting nothing beyond the classroom?
Let me just say: I feel ya.
I am once again in front of a group of 5th graders every week, as a catechist of a parish religious education class.
And once again, I’m lauded as “knowing more” than others. I’m heralded as “being better” at this. Someone recently called me (much to my chagrin!), “brilliant.”
I can’t help but feel that some of the people who say these things so quickly and so admiringly are hiding a bit.
Because, in the years I’ve been a catechist, I’ve noticed something that I’m still trying to process:
Most parents DO NOT realize **THEY** are their children’s first catechist.
Where’s the first place children learn about anything?
It’s in their own home, and while there will be plenty of other places that they learn things, the primary source is home.
Given that, what can WE, as catechists, do to help these parents? Here are a few ideas from the trenches of catechist-hood:
1. Communicate with them. Again and again and AGAIN.
I send at least one and sometimes two emails to parents of my students. I let them know the topics we’re covering, the “trivia” (it’s not homework, it’s a hunt for the answers…and THEY are the kids are the ones doing the hunting), and other items of note.
Sometimes I mention the liturgical season, tie into the Mass readings, tap into popular events that have happened.
I also don’t hesitate to call or reach out directly to a parent when I feel like something might be up with a student. There was a student not so long ago who just had a distant look in my class; I caught Mom afterward and found out some critical facts about their home life that really transformed how I dealt with him.
Parents are busy. I get that. But…they’re bringing their kids for a reason, and I can’t help but think that, if I help them along, they’ll get excited and have more resources to do their own catechisting too!
2. Invite them in.
In the decade plus that I’ve been doing parish work and volunteering, I’ve noticed something: you can have Bible studies and committee meetings all day long, with or without food, and you may or may not have people show up.
Offer religious education for kids and suddenly people are crawling out of the woodwork.
There’s room to be cynical about this. But I’d like to see this as a sign of hope.
Parents KNOW that this is important. They KNOW that this is critical. They KNOW that it’s something they should do.
They just. don’t. know. how.
So…why not invite them in?
As a 5th grade catechist, I think I’m probably teaching at about the level most adults want. It’s low-impact, mentally, and yet when the kids get going with questions, it can really get them stimulated and thinking.
3. Engage them in their faith.
This is a buzzword in marketing, but don’t let that make you cynical. People want to be welcomed, and they want to connect.
What better connection point than their children? And what better topic than their faith?
A lot of the parents I’ve worked with over the years are insecure about their faith knowledge. They need encouraged. They need to know what tools they already have.
Maybe their own catechesis was nonexistent. Maybe they’ve forgotten what they learned in school. Maybe they didn’t care until recently.
You may think you’re there to teach kids, and you are. But really, you’re there just as much for the parents.
Help them realize their role, and help equip them in whatever small way you can.
And above all, don’t forget to pray for them!
How do you engage with parents?
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