As Jesus began his public ministry, he gathered together a diverse group of disciples. He spent time with the disciples, traveling with them and sharing meals together, teaching them to pray, and more fully explaining his teachings so that, with the help of the Holy Spirit, they could continue his work in the world after he returned to the Father. In short, he formed the disciples into a community of believers, ready to share with others the Good News he shared with them.
You, too, have a diverse group of “disciples” who have been entrusted to you for this catechetical year. Your goal goes well beyond merely finishing your textbook. In addition to sharing the truths of the Catholic faith with the children and helping them to apply what they learn to their daily lives, you are called to create a classroom community that in a sense is a microcosm of the Church—the Body of Christ and the new People of God called together in Jesus’ name.
Building community begins with helping the children get to know one another and, hopefully, eventually leading them to respect one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. This doesn’t happen overnight. Try a few of the ideas below to begin forming your class into a community of disciples.
• Prepare an information sheet for each child to complete during the first few weeks of class. If you work with primary-aged children, create a form that can be taken home and completed with a parent’s help. Older children can fill in the information on their own. In addition to biographical data, provide space for the children to indicate their interests and opinions, such as what they like to do on a day off from school; something they are proud of; two things they want their classmates to know about them, what they want to be when they grow up, and a lists of favorites—foods, movies, TV shows, and so forth. Over the next several weeks, take time to discuss different items on the questionnaire. It will help the children begin to recognize all they have in common and to learn a bit about one another.
• Have the children work in small groups frequently throughout the year. Working with three to five peers on a common goal helps the learners to recognize the many gifts and talents they each have to offer to the community.
• Begin class with ice-breakers for the first several sessions. A perennial favorite is “Ball of Yarn.” Before class, roll a long skein of yarn into a ball and also prepare a list of “quick response” questions (places I have visited, favorite holiday, most cherished possession, family pet and name, favorite hobby, etc.). Gather the class into a large circle and, holding the end of the yarn string, call out one of the questions, toss the yarn ball to one of the children. The child should catch the ball, respond, and toss it to another classmate, while still holding on to the string. Repeat this procedure several times until the yarn ball has been tossed around the group, several times. At this point, the children will be holding several different parts of the string ball. Have the group look at the design they’ve created with the string and identify what it says about your class. The ideal answer would be “We’re all connected!” However, accept any answer that helps the children recognize they are a group with a common purpose. This game often gets a bit rowdy, so make sure you play it in a large, uncluttered area.
• Honor a different “child of the week” throughout the year. Create a poster displaying the child’s name and picture and invite the learners to affirm their classmate by naming qualities that make the person special. Have one of the children write the qualities the group suggests on the poster. Conclude this activity working with the group to use the qualities they named to write a petition about the child. For example: “Lord, we thank you for Makenna, who tries to be a friend to everyone.” After each child has been honored, assemble the petitions into a class litany. Have the children respond, “We are the Body of Christ, Lord, called to love and serve one another” to each petition.” Pray your class litany aloud together often.
Keep in mind that building community is an ongoing endeavor. Continue to find creative ways to help the children interact with one another throughout the entire year and to provide them with opportunities to live their faith by demonstrating caring and respect for one another.