Grade 1 Focus: Jesus Christ. Because this is the beginning of formal religious education for many children, and because the aim of catechesis is “communion and intimacy, with Jesus Christ” (General Directory of Catechesis, 80), first grade focuses on helping the children to know and love Jesus. First graders are just beginning to move beyond the developmental self-focus of the preschool years, so an introduction to a relationship with Jesus and the Church community is appropriate. First graders are beginning to move into a cognitive stage of rule-based thinking, so this is a great opportunity to provide them with the basic teachings of the faith. At some point in the year, a member of the pastoral staff will treat the children to an educational tour of the church that includes an explanation of basic parts of the Mass. The students are helped to see that they belong to and are a part of the Church and that St. Paul is their parish family.
Grade 2 Focus: The Sacraments of Penance and Eucharist. Children of this age are in the cognitive stage of “concrete operations.” They understand cause and effect in terms of how the world works. Therefore, this is a great time to introduce God’s guidelines for living. They learn about God’s love and mercy as they prepare to receive the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist. Because they have reached the age of reason, second graders are better able to understand that the Eucharist is not ordinary bread and wine, because Jesus said it is his Body and Blood. Second graders are concrete thinkers and need many hands-on activities and practical explanations. Some of the highlights of the year for the second graders include a beautiful Candle Mass celebrated with their families, a Tasting Celebration shared with their parents and a teaching on the Liturgy of the Eucharist. The most significant occasions are, of course, their first celebrations of the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Communion. At Home the second graders will work with their parents on a special set of books for both First Reconciliation and First Eucharist so that the whole family can be part of the preparation for these very special sacraments.
Grade 3 Focus: The Church. Children this age have entered what social/developmental theorist Harry Stack Sullivan called the “chumship stage,” when same-age peers become very important, and children often have “best friends.” For this reason, it is an ideal time to focus on the parish community. The students learn about the characteristics of the Catholic Church from its earliest beginnings and what it means to be a member. They study the four marks of the Church: that it is one, holy, catholic and apostolic. After they have learned about the individual parts of the Mass in the classroom, a terrific teaching about the Mass is facilitated by one of the priests just for these students. As part of their deepening understanding of church, they are introduced to the idea that involvement is not limited to Sunday worship. Our Church has a mission to the world and each of us is called to serve and to be a witness for justice and peace.
Grade 4 Focus: The Moral Life. Fourth graders are beginning to internalize standards of behaviors. Their consciences are growing quickly, and they are gaining a sense of right and wrong that goes beyond what might bring them punishments or rewards. Fourth graders are good at using their reasoning skills, but they still don’t have a firm grasp on hypothetical reasoning. This means they have difficulty imagining things or situations they have not yet experienced. We examine our foundations in morality, the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes. Basic concepts of living a moral life will be introduced.
Grade 5 Focus: The Seven Sacraments. Fifth graders are growing in their ability to understand symbols and signs. This makes fifth grade an ideal time to take an in-depth look at the sacraments and rites of the Church. They learn how the sacraments strengthen our faith and renew us as a community. In the course of the year, one of our priests will present a special lesson about Holy Orders and share his personal experience of being ordained. Within the classroom, the catechist usually does a “re-enactment” of Baptism after having invited the children to bring in mementos of their own Baptism to share with the group. Fifth graders are also in a stage of identity development when they begin to seriously consider who they will be when they are older. This makes 5th grade an important time for learning about vocation and the Sacraments of service.
Grade 6 Focus: The Old Testament. Children in sixth grade are growing in their abstract-thinking ability and have made great strides in reading and writing ability. This makes sixth grade an excellent time to study Sacred Scripture and begin to connect the events of salvation history. The children’s exploration begins with the story of Creation. It continues with the stories of Noah, Abraham and Sarah, the Exodus, the history of the kingdom of Israel, the prophets, and the period before the coming of Jesus Christ. A special highlight of this year is a Seder Meal presented by a member of the Jewish community with a discussion on the shared roots of Judaism and Christianity. The sixth grade children will be resented with their own copy of The Catholic Youth Bible to use in class and at home.
Grades 7 and 8: Confirmation Preparation. Experts tell us that sometime around the ages of 12-14, children experience a spiritual awakening. It is a point in their development when they begin to ask the “big” questions and to wonder about the faith of their childhood. It is important for parents and educators to be aware of this. It is helpful to allow a young person to think things through and to be prepared to discuss and explore these themes.
In so many areas of learning we impart knowledge and expect our children to simply accept what we say. Our new program for Confirmation does not shy away from questions, doubt and discussion. Chosen for Confirmation addresses the questions head-on and seeks to remove any obstacles that make it difficult for a teen or an adult to believe. Rather than focusing on our choosing God and the Catholic faith, it shows how God has chosen us. It takes participants through three phases.
Our teens are “invited first to hear, then to respond with faith to the voice of God who has called us to become his sons and daughters – simply because ‘he first loved us’ (1 John 4:19).” The second stage includes a lively exploration of who Jesus is and how we are called to follow him. The final phase adds more intense, interior formation for a life of discipleship. Specific preparation for the Sacrament of Confirmation is included towards the end of the program. Students at both grade levels will experience special Masses, retreats, liturgical training and participation in several youth ministry style segments as part of their preparation for Confirmation.
Additionally, we have woven teaching from Theology of the Body (for Teens) throughout Grades 7-8. This is St. Pope John Paul II’s beautiful theology of God’s plan for life and love. The goal is to help your child become an integrated, loving, healthy person.
Parents of children in grades 7 and 8 are strongly encouraged to participate in Chosen for adults. The class schedule will be posted in the Reporter. In the words of Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia,
“[Those] who experience Chosen will find themselves drawn deeply into the beauty of Catholicism and the love of Jesus Christ. In a world searching for meaning, Chosen speaks to the hearts and minds of our youth [and adults] through comprehensive materials and engaging videos taught by an impressive array of presenters.”