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Young children and the Good Shepherd

As a young mother, I often worried about how to teach my children the faith in addition to attending Mass. We prayed at home as a family and read faith-based books, but I felt I could do more. How could I help them become interested in the faith and in having a relationship with Jesus?

As a catechist for the religious education program known as the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, I decided to incorporate some of the ideas from this Montessori-based method for Catholic faith formation for children for use in our home. 

What is the basis of this method? Very simply, that children can build a relationship with Jesus, the Good Shepherd, from a very young age. They learn by doing, not by being taught.

Even older toddlers and young children can listen to the story of the Good Shepherd from Scripture (Gospel of John chapter 10) and ponder its message.

Gather around a family prayer table with a Bible and a lit candle, and explain to the child that the words they will hear are special. Slowly read the passage, then ponder the words together, with questions such as: “What did you hear in these words? What does the shepherd do for his sheep? Who is this Good Shepherd?” 

Letting children hear the words of Scripture and prayerfully meditate on them is a key way to lay a foundation for a child’s spiritual development. Perhaps younger siblings could play with a small lamb toy or stuffed animal if they are too young to listen. Older children could reflect on the passage after the reading by drawing a picture of a shepherd and his sheep.

Forming our children in the faith is the most important job we have as parents. So in addition to teaching children the prayers of our Church, encourage them to come to know the Good Shepherd in ways appropriate to their age. When they want to be close to the Good Shepherd, their desire to participate in Mass, prayer time and other religious activities will follow.

Maria Servold is a wife, mother, journalism professor at Hillsdale College, and catechist in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program. She lives in rural Michigan.

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