The Advent and Christmas seasons are ripe with opportunities to guide your students into encounter with the person of Jesus. Ironically, this time of year is always busy and overwhelming for students and teachers alike. It can be difficult to find the time to do “one more thing,” but there is no more important work. Borrowing from a friend, “If we get them into Harvard but not into Heaven, we have failed. So, let’s do both.” Truly, we must help them fix their eyes on the only thing that matters.
I challenge you today, plan now to CREATE TIME FOR ENCOUNTER. Their parents first planted the seed of faith. The growth comes from God, and we are assured of His faithfulness. It is our greatest work to model for them how to tend the garden of their heart and to continue to water it during our time with them.
Push aside any feelings of inadequacies or trepidation you may have because you are unsure of how to even begin. Open your heart and allow the Holy Spirit to move through you. He ALWAYS shows up! Take time alone in prayer for yourself first, ideally before the Blessed Sacrament, so that you are able to recognize when He wants to take things in a different direction. Let me be clear, we cannot give what we do not have.
Here are a few practical things you can do with your students to draw on the richness of the season.
This is a hard one, but it’s where we must begin. Before we can hear the voice of God, we must be silent and still. It’s easy and natural to want to fill that emptiness with noise, because that’s the world we live in. It can be downright uncomfortable, but although God can most certainly show up in a loud and undeniable way, He most frequently comes to us in the quiet.
If possible, there should be a designated prayer corner in your room. If that is not possible due to space limitations, create an environment of prayer by turning off the lights in favor of lamps or natural light.
This goes beyond the memorized Hail Marys, Memorares, and Divine Mercy Chaplets. We absolutely need to teach these prayers, but we also need to teach spontaneous prayer. Don’t be intimidated, just pray from your heart.
Here’s how I start my middle school science classes: “Dear Jesus, I thank you for this day. Bless our time together. Open our hearts and minds to all that You have for us. Fill us with wonder and awe as we study Your creation. Help us to do our best and to radiate Your love to all whom we meet.”
If possible, spend time together as a class family in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Even the littlest ones can do this! With my preschoolers I would start small, maybe 5 minutes once a week, but by the end of the year they could be still and reverent for 20 minutes. They are more than capable. We are hard wired for God, and they are the most pure among us.
Here’s what my adoration time with preschoolers looks like:
Sit quietly immediately in front of the monstrance. Sing a song (“Come Into My Heart” – short and easy to memorize). Take a moment of stillness/silence (1-2 minutes). Beforehand, I ask them to prepare one thing they are thankful for and one person they would like to pray for. After a brief silence, I call each one by name and ask, “What are you thankful for? Who would you like to pray for?” Often in the beginning they are shy. If they don’t respond, I simply say, “For all of the intentions in Lucy’s heart,” and move on. (You’ll be shocked how much growth you’ll see in a year by doing this consistently.) Then I offer my own intentions – again modeling how to pray. I always include praying for the holy souls in purgatory, especially those who have no one else to pray for them. We end with a memorized prayer – I use this as an opportunity to teach new prayers. We tell Jesus we love Him, blow Him a kiss, make the sign of the cross, and file out in silence.
As you increase the time with little ones, you can spread out in the chapel and they can use a “journal” (composition book), coloring sheets, etc. Check out Education in Virtue devotionals for older students.
If adoration is not possible, you can dim the lights of the classroom, project sacred art, lead them in a meditation, and play quiet music while they respond through journaling or contemplative prayer.
My favorite children’s bible: The Jesus Storybook Bible by Zonderkidz. It tells the greatest love story of all time – salvation history. OUR history. It has moved me to tears, and I have successfully used it for particular exercises even with middle schoolers. It’s funny, engaging, and beautifully written.
If you have experience with Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, you already know the value of spending time praying with the infancy narratives. There is so much to be said here, but I’ll be brief and just say, meditating on these actual historical events never gets old. There is always something new the Holy Spirit wants to teach. They are key to deepening our relationship with the Holy Family.
Here are the infancy narratives, Scripture references and a few virtues you can focus on for each:
- The Annunciation – Luke 1:26-38 (Mary’s fiat, courage, docility)
- The Visitation – Luke 1:39-49, 56 (gratitude, generosity, kindness)
- The Nativity and the Adoration of the Shepherds – Luke 2:1-20 (humility, magnanimity)
- The Presentation in the Temple – Luke 2:21-33, 36-39 (circumspection)
- The Adoration of the Magi – Matthew 2:1-12 (reverence)
- *The Flight into Egypt – Matthew 2:13-23 (obedience, prudence, wisdom)
*This is for older kids – 3rd grade and up.
Whether it’s a Jesse tree, making a manger to fill with straw as they do random acts of kindness, or making an advent wreath – do a project that they can interact with. If you have an Atrium, use it!
There are plenty of ideas on Pinterest or among colleagues. Recruit parents to help.
We cannot keep Jesus to ourselves. We must go out into the community and be His hands and His feet.
- Help box food, stock shelves or hand out food at a local pantry.
- Serve a meal.
- Make bags that kids take home to keep in the car and hand out to homeless people they see. Ask their name, look them in the eye, tell them Jesus loves them and that you will be praying for them.
- Participate in a giving tree, food drive, clothing drive.
- Let the kids share their ideas.
May God abundantly bless you and your class family as you walk together towards heaven.
Jen Thomm teaches middle school Math & Science at Spiritus Sanctus Academy, Ann Arbor.