Whether it’s a weekly catechetical class or catechesis delivered within a daily Catholic education environment, it can be a challenge to know what new students know and what they don’t. Knowing their status is crucial before covering new material. The common approach for older kids is to offer a beginning of the year quiz, trivia game, or oral questioning. What can be done to assess, whether it is the beginning of the year or the end of the year, small children? The answer: Sacred Art and Word Association.
In an ideal world, baptized students would enroll in our classes and have a firm catechetical foundation from home as the Church calls parents to be the “first” teachers of the faith and the “best” teachers of the faith (see the Rite of Infant Baptism). Yet, this is not always the case. We cannot take for granted that the kids entering our classroom have a firm grasp of the major figures and events within the grand story of our salvation.
Small children are often shy and quiet when they feel they are being assessed. A direct line of questioning may damage the bridge building that the opening class sessions are meant to finalize. Yet, Sacred Art provides an easy path to building the bridge of trust with small children and assessing their current knowledge of the figures and events of Salvation History and the Sacraments.
Displaying a Holy Icon or a reprint of a painting can provide small children, or individuals of any age, a sense of awe and wonder as they take their seats. Allow them the opportunity to enjoy the Sacred Art. Allow them to get close. Encourage silence during this process. Then ask the students questions about the image. Let us use two examples. The Crucifixion Icon of Meister der Schule von Nowgorod (Wikimedia commons).
- Who is the central figure in this image? (Jesus)
- What is He on? (a Cross)
- Is he alive or dead? (answers may differ)
- How many figures have a Halo? (3)
- Who is the woman with a halo? (Virgin Mary)
- Who is the man with a halo? (John the Apostle)
- Why did Jesus die on the Cross? (for our sins)
If a child struggles with this, you can choose to ask them to point at Jesus, find the golden halos, find the Cross, etc. This is not as effective since the child can guess and get it right. The seven questions above are more like a child version of short answers, while the “point and find” method is more like a multiple-choice question. This next example comes from Adoration of the Child by Sebastiano di Bartolo Mainardi (Wikimedia commons).
- What is this an image of? (Christmas/Nativity)
- How many animals are in this picture? (2)
- What animals do you see? (donkey and ox)
- Who is the child? (Jesus)
- Who is the woman? (Mary)
- Who is the man? (Saint Joseph)
- Why are they with animals? (There was no room for them in the Inn).
This may seem like simple stuff, but most of us catechists have had the heartache of having a kid that knew nearly nothing about the faith and we found out too late in the year. This Sacred Art assessment is simple, fun, and nearly exact in its ability to assess their basic knowledge of the faith. Feel free to use other images or use more. You can then choose new images at the end of the year and see if they can improve their ability to recognize the individuals and events depicted in the Sacred Art.
To make sure the class is not merely an assessment, have the kid’s work on a corresponding coloring picture while they wait for their turn to sit with the Amazing Catechist. If the image you are assessing them with is on the Crucifixion, have them color a crucifixion page. After the children have been assessed, discuss the image as a class. Then end the class by inviting students to draw and color on a blank page while trying to imitate/copy the image used for the assessment by matching colors and figures the best they can given their age. This too will allow you a better window into the abilities that fall under the category of developmental skills.