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:
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.