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Catholic Activity: Why teach at home?

Parents are the first teachers, and as such they must instruct and form their children in religious truths.

DIRECTIONS

Religion must be taught to children at home during the pre-school years, deliberately, carefully, lovingly. The reasons for this are obvious and not new. Parents are the first and most important teachers, have an obligation under God to teach, and so forth. Then why is it that so many who might teach do not; that so much that might be taught is not taught?

The answer, in part, seems to be that even when parents recognize their obligation to teach religion in the home from the cradle on, they do not see how unique is their position between the child and God, nor know how to take the best advantage of it. God has not simply assigned parents certain duties in the matter of the religious education of their children. He has made them the key to the religious education of their children.

If one were to say the word God for the first time to a small child, it would mean nothing to him. A small child learns about God first in terms of the love and care and good which he receives from his parents. Their words are not his first teaching, but their godlikeness in his life. The mother feeding her child, washing him, comforting him, holding him, caressing him, the father providing, teaching, protecting, guiding, are the types of Himself God uses to prepare the child for the knowledge of Himself. Our Lord pointed this out in the lesson about asking. "But if one of you asks his father for a loaf, will he hand him a stone? . . . Therefore, if you, evil as you are, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Good Spirit to those who ask him!" (Luke 11:11, 13)

When either parent, in his way, says one day: "God made you, dear. He loves you even more than mother and daddy love you," the child forms his first concrete idea of the protective tenderness of God's love from his experience with the love of his parents — or, lacking parents, those who take their place.

One marvels at the wisdom that has made the human baby, the only earthly creature with an immortal soul, so dependent on his parents. Unlike most of the other creatures, he cannot "shift for himself" for a long time. During the first months of life, he cannot even crawl away from them. Growing, he adventures a little but quickly hurries back to the ones whose love and concern and protection are his security. Even at his most daring and rebellious, he is not long content without his parents. They are the all in all, the source of his well-being. They are in every way a type of God. It is a divinely wise plan that makes it all but impossible for him to get away from them since, trusting them, believing all they say, he is meant to learn from them to believe in God. How determinedly, how reverently, his parents must use their great advantage.

What truths will they teach? How? How do they know he will believe them?

First we must remember that a baptized child is already a temple of God whose soul is indwelt by the Trinity, to whom the theological virtue of faith has been given as a baptismal gift. Faith "makes us believe truths revealed by God Himself," truths which are now meant to be revealed by parents. Faith disposes of objections to "teaching children mysteries they cannot understand." Understanding is precisely what faith does not demand. Faith accounts for the way small children accept without argument truths taught them in the simplest words. How marvelous! Would that all teachers of doctrine had pupils as well disposed.

To the young student who asked how one could possibly convince a four-year-old that God always existed, the answer "He does not doubt it," was a stunning surprise. "Oh — of course. I never thought of that."

It is this faith which makes teaching religion to small children, not a difficulty, but a joy, being simply the disclosing of the most exciting of all truths to little ones already prepared to hear them.

Activity Source: Teaching Religion at Home by Mary Reed Newland, B. Herder Book Co., St. Louis, Missouri, 1963

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