Many Gifts, One Lord
There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit;
there are different forms of service but the same Lord.
1 Corinthians 12:4-5
But there is another way to think about learning. Learning preferences may reflect only our “comfort zones.” According to the popular theory of the well-known educator, Howard Gardner, each of us is born with at least eight different ways of processing and responding to new information that he calls “multiple intelligences.” We might think of them, as one write has done, as eight different ways of being smart. All of us possess each of these kinds of “smart” in one degree or another. The particular combination of these intelligences that we have is one of the things that make each of us unique. One or several of these intelligences is probably dominant is each of us.
Some children learn and express their ideas through words, others by thinking things out or putting them in categories, and still others learn by using their bodies. Some learn and express themselves best when things are presented in a musical or rhythmic way. Some are best at writing and quiet, self-directed activities, others at group activities or sharing. Still others learn best through their contact with nature, through field trips, or by nurturing plants and animals.
In religious formation, as in classroom education, attention to the variety of gifts among the children will help them grow in an understanding of their faith and deepen their relationship with God. Good curriculum offers you many different strategies to honor the gifts that already exist in your learners and to encourage them to express themselves in new ways. Here are some activities related to the eight intelligences that support the different ways that children can learn about their faith and express their relationship with God and one another.
Language – and Music – Related Activities
• Researching word meanings
• Word games and puzzles
• Reading and Bible search activities
• Storytelling and journal writing
• Learning hymns and Mass responses
• Writing prayers or songs
• Using background music for activities
Object – Related Activities
• Learning “how many?” of different categories: sacraments, Apostles, and so on
• Celebrating the liturgical seasons of the Church
• “You are there” activities placing oneself in the action of the Bible story
• Using maps and models
• Graphic organizers to display information visually
• Posters and “designing” activities
• Crafts and classroom dramas
• Using gestures with songs and prayers
• Expressing response through dance
• Nurturing plants and animals
• Creating gardens or nature areas on school grounds
Person –Related Activities
• Cooperative-group learning activities
• Peer tutoring and sharing
• Teaching other students
• Games and simulations
• Quiet prayer times
• Writing and drawing in journals
• Creating autobiographies
• Self-assessment activities
What kinds of activities did you enjoy most as a child?
What kinds of activities are you most comfortable leading? What is a new kind of activity you would be willing to try with the children?
The Learning Environment
Creating an inviting environment
Create an environment that is inviting but also oriented. Use pictures, posters, flowers, banners, and plants to make the room visually appealing. Arrange the room so that you can be accessible to every child. Such a setting helps to facilitate interaction.
Put chairs in a circle. A circle allows children to see one another, puts each learner on an equal footing, and helps create a sense of community. You as the catechist are part of the circle.
Arrange separate areas for specific tasks. Areas for prayer and for discovery or for show-and-tell table, as well as large group activities are desirable.
Use a variety of visual materials. Bulletin boards, posters, and paintings, engage learners. A bulletin board that has been set aside for the children’s work helps them feel that the room belongs to them and permits the sharing of their work.
Review safety and fire codes. Review building-specific plans with the children in the beginning of the year and occasionally throughout the year.
Create an emotionally positive environment
Through your example, show the children how you expect them to behave. Show reverence and respect for each child in the group. Be sensitive to the children’s feelings as well as their ideas.
Build a warm welcoming spirit. Show by your actions and expression that you are happy to be with the children. Call the children by name and welcome them warmly to each session. Let them know that you expect them to do their best and that you will do your best.
Encourage the children to praise one another. Model behavior that supports being kind and caring. Celebrate birthdays and name days. Send home special notes to children who miss a session.
Allow the children to share their concerns. Respect their need for privacy but help them to realize that, during the session, it is safe to share. Discuss events that are part of the parish community, too.
Give the children ownership. Invite them to help with tasks such as taking attendance, assisting with prayer, distributing materials, and watering plants.
Create a Safe and Disciplined Environment
Live by session rules. Begin the year by talking with the children about your expectations. Next explain that to attain these goals the group will need to follow certain rules. Together with the children, create rules based on mutual respect and personal responsibility. Write the rules on a large poster and refer to them often. Try to keep the rules general and have as few as possible. Be sure to communicate to parents the rules that you have established for the group sessions.
Make safety a priority. Be sure to arrive before the children to inspect the room. Do not leave them unattended. As you greet the children before the session, take note of any injuries or other health problems that may require special attention on your part. Do not depart the facility until all the children have been picked up by a parent or guardian.
Provide consistent routines. The ways in which you welcome the children, begin the sessions, and take attendance, as well as the other ongoing tasks, provide repetition and a safe, comfortable structure for them.
Model desired behavior. If you expect the young people to act in a certain way, model that behavior for them. Make ample use of praise. A nod or a smile can do wonders!
Expect attention. Wait until you have the attention of every learner before you speak. Don’t attempt to speak over the children’s chatter.
Do low-profile intervention. Be careful that a child is not rewarded for misbehavior by becoming the focus of attention. If possible, approach a misbehaving learner inconspicuously, giving a quiet reminder of your expectations. If disturbances continue, enlist the help of the director or coordinator of religious education and the child’s parents or guardians.
Give direct instructions. Begin by telling the children what will be happening during the session. Outline verbally and on the chalkboard what they will be doing. If you wish, explain that there will be time at the end to chat with friends.
Monitor the group. Circulate around the room, giving your attention to each learner. Observe how each one is doing and offer help as needed. Again, use a quiet voice as you give your personal attention to each child.