Why and How I Teach My Toddler the Catechism

 


Catechism is a slightly archaic word within the Christian community, especially for those who are not part of a liturgical church community or Catholic. As a teen, I took catechism classes before I was baptized to more fully understand the doctrines of the Christian faith. Years later, as a young adult, I  heard about the Westminster Catechism, but never really looked into it. Only in the last year have I heard about teaching young children catechism statements as a way to lay the foundation for their understanding of the Christian faith. It has been a sweet journey with my son, so I thought I would share a bit about it!


WAIT... WHY WOULD TEACHING THE CATECHISM EVEN BE ON MY RADAR?

Why am I glad I am introducing my toddler to a catechism? It has been a great way to systematically teach, in the simplest of terms, certain basic (yet important) tenets of the Christian faith. As he grows, my descriptions and his answers to the catechism questions will increase in complexity. But for now, the exposure to the goodness and truth of God is what I want to introduce my child to. I try to do this through Bible storybooks, music, fun activities relating to a Bible story or theme, and yes, by utilizing a tool that initially sounds dry and only fit for Bible scholars. The catechism question and answers we work through are daily recited, so they often come up in our conversations throughout the day.  Several times, we have talked about the beautiful world God has made while walking to the park and I'll casually mention, "Oh, it's just like we learned this week: God made everything! What else do you see that God made?" The catechism statements, even if you only get through a handful out of the total 150, help set up a framework for how they understand Christian doctrines, the Bible, and our own need for Jesus and His saving work on the Cross. It's a great way to start Christian apologetics with young children since it is helping them recognize the truth of God's Word. 

Catechism statements can be started for children as soon as they're able to string a few words together and can be continued throughout childhood and adolescence. Starting off with one-to-two word answers for toddlers but graduating to lengthier answers for older children, this can be woven into the fabric of a Christian household. 

I am currently about two-thirds of the way through The Gentle and Classical Preschool curriculum with my 2.5 year old toddler. One of the areas covered in this Christian-based curriculum (that leans heavily on Charlotte Mason and Classical Education philosophies) is memorizing certain parts of the Westminster Shorter Catechism for Young Children. This is primarily how I became acquainted with the idea of teaching my child the catechism. To aid in memorizing and meditating on these statements, the author of the curriculum recommended listening to the catechism albums Dana Dirksen (of Songs for Saplings) called Questions and Answers. We are on the first volume, God and Creation, and I am so surprised and overjoyed at how much Elliot is remembering and even understanding at such a tender age. 

WHAT ARE THE CATECHISM STATEMENTS?

There are different catechisms out there depending on denomination. The one I am using is called the Westminster Shorter Catechism for Young Children. It is non-denominational and includes question and answer format of statements that are basic tenets to the Christian faith. Someone from the Gospel Coalition put together THIS helpful free resource with the catechism statements from all of the Song for Saplings catechism music volumes in one place, coupled with Scripture.  HERE is another version that has shorter answers. The Questions and Answers music albums by Dana Dirksen/Songs for Saplings use the same catechism. It is pretty comprehensive and can look overwhelming, but start with a few and see how your child responds to them! I started with the first volume, called God and Creation, and have only used the ones that I feel my son is capable of understanding and reciting.  Here is the list of the catechism statements from this first volume that we have worked on since August, and how Elliot has been memorizing thus far:

1. Who made you? God made me (Elliot only says: "God!") [God & Creation Vol. 1, Track 12]
2. What else did God make? God made everything (Elliot: "All things") [Track 14]
3. Why did God make you? For His own glory [Elliot: "Glory!") [Track 15]
4. How can you glorify God? I can glorify God by loving Him and doing what He commands (Elliot: "love and obey") [Track 16]
5. Why should you glorify God? I should glorify God because He made me and takes care of me (Elliot: "made and take care" [Track 17]
6. Are there more Gods than one? No, there is only one true God (Elliot: "One true God") [Track 5]
7. Where is God? God is everywhere (Elliot: Everywhere") [Track 8]


I have a few more we will try to work on in the next two months, then we will likely restart and try to memorize them in full sentences next fall, depending on his ability. I may add a few new ones as well, again, depending on where he is at.

HOW TO TEACH THE CATECHISM

First off, let me be clear that you don't have to buy anything to teach catechism statements to your child. I love the preschool curriculum I am using, but it is not necessary to buy it if all you want to focus on right now is introducing your child to catechism statements. I would recommend just using a few index cards and access to a music platform like Youtube, Spotify, or Amazon Prime Music to access the Questions and Answers music albums.

Second, let me give the disclaimer that I have only been doing this for about eight months and it is limited to one age group, a toddler. So I can only speak from my own experience. But I think the tips below can be accommodated for older children as well.

1. GET READY, SET... 
Choose which statements you want to start with. Either listen to the first volume of Dana Dirksen/Song for Sapling's Questions and Answer Series, which is God and Creation, and choose which you like, or open the links I mentioned earlier to see the full list and choose a few to start with. Write the ones you choose onto blank index cards. Decide how you'll use them: You can display them in an area where you'll see them and remember to recite them (I use a memory board that includes our catechism card). Or use a small photo album to slip your cards into and flip through as you learn a few of them. Or laminate,  hole-punch one corner, and slide a ring through the stack to easily flip through. Whatever your style is, go with it and stay consistent. Create a playlist on your preferred music platform. I use Amazon Prime Music, but this is not a free option. YouTube works too! HERE is the album on YouTube. You can right-click to add specific to a playlist that you create.

Below are the cards that I have used so far from my Gentle and Classical Preschool Curriculum. They're beautiful and ready to go once they are printed out. BUT you don't need a curriculum. Create your own on index cards with colorful Sharpie markers. Or have your older kids help out with the artwork and writing! Or if you like graphic design, design your own and print them off. This can be an absolutely free thing to do. If you would rather pay a few bucks to have a set that is ready-to-go, I found THIS printable set under $4 on Etsy for young children or THIS beautiful set with the first 50 questions for older kids who will likely get through them faster than young kids. I think having something visual (rather than you just reading off your own list) is a great way for children to learn, even if they cannot read. This is especially true if there is an illustration or symbol on the card to help jog their memory. I will say, "it's time for our catechism..." and point to the card, which is both a visual and auditory cue that helps him. If your child is very tactile, maybe having a few small tokens or objects to symbolize each catechism statement can help as they hold onto the object? Think about how your child learns best and try out what you think may work, but don't stress about it looking perfect. It should be low-stress and enjoyable for BOTH of you!

2. GO!
Then, start reading them together daily (or at least a few times a week). The first few days, I read the question and answer without expecting him to say anything. Then after a few days, I will try to be silly and say something like, "I can't remember the rest... will you help me?" Rather than drilling him, I try to keep it light and fun. Some days he wants me to say the question and answer, while other days he likes to shout out the answer. I don't spend a lot of time with it each day because I don't want it to feel boring or like a lecture. Honestly, it takes a few seconds some days. Other days I will try to explain what the card means. For example, this week we are learning that God is everywhere. Elliot loves hide and seek, so I asked him if he thinks God can see him when he hides under the table. What if Elliot is sad, can God see him? Well, what if Elliot is disobeying Mommy? Can God see that too? And I try to say why it's a good thing God is everywhere: We can trust that He knows us, takes care of us, and loves us. We can know that He is more powerful than anything, so we don't have to be afraid or feel alone because He is with us. Again, I keep it at his comprehension level, try to add some kind of personal application to it, and try to keep it fun. This is not about racing through a list of catechism statements, but rather, introducing our children to foundational truths of the Christian faith.  I have my cards hanging on a statement board with other statements we are memorizing using the preschool curriculum I mentioned above. The board hangs right by Elliot's little table where we eat breakfast, so we see it every morning while we eat breakfast and work through different memory statements. This easy access makes it simple to remember to recite the card. 

    
Play your playlist a few times a week. I like to play it in the morning while I am preparing breakfast. Other times I will play it while in the car or while he is playing. You don't want to repeat it multiple times a day where it just becomes background noise. It'll be hard NOT to start singing along once you start memorizing the sweet melodies. Thankfully, the songs are actually well-done and not too childish, so I don't mind hearing these songs so often! 

Here is a video of the first catechism statement Elliot learned back in August a few weeks before he turned two, using the song from the God and Creation album (Track 12)




3. KEEP GOING!
Add a new question and answer couplet once you feel your child is ready. They may still need occasional assistance, but if you feel they can memorize and understand it at their age level, feel free to move on. We usually take 2-3 weeks on a card at a time, depending on how complex the question and answer are.

It may help to have a few resources available to keep you and your child motivated to press on. I have not yet read this with Elliot since it's geared for slightly older children (preschool and up), but I have heard great things about Big Truths for Little Kids by Susan and Richie Hunt, which uses a pair of siblings' everyday stories to show how the catechism applies to their lives.  HERE is a blog post that reviews the book in detail. It may be a useful resource for kids to better understand what each catechism statement means as they learn new ones. The same blogger (Reformed Mama) has activities and crafts for different catechism questions, for those who want to incorporate some artwork and deeper study with the questions! I have only skimmed over a few of them and they look like a great resource for older children as well as preschoolers! She has found more music albums that have the catechism statements, so that is a great option if your child responds well to music and you want to add more music to your playlist for the catechism!

4. REVIEW
Once you have several statements/cards memorized, review them all in one sitting to make sure your child is still remembering ones they haven't practiced in a few weeks or months. This shouldn't feel like a test. You can make it feel like a game ("Let's see how many we can remember!") or make it part of a sweet treat (ice cream or some other yummy snack while you recite them). If your child likes to show family members what he knows, you can tell your child you want to record them answering all your questions to show Nana/Auntie/etc what they are learning. 

You can hang the cards on a string during the review day (or permanently) to help with visual cues or make up a game. Whatever is fun and helpful, try it out.

Here is a video from last month with us reviewing the catechism while enjoying some Italian shaved ice at a nearby ice cream shop.




I hope this is helpful if you are thinking about adding catechism statements to your child's day. I would love to know if you have experience with any kind of catechism and if it has been helpful to you! 


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