After taking a little break, I’m back to teaching 2nd grade family formation in our parish this year. Elle is in the class, so I’m particularly interested in making the year meaningful and special. I love me some sacraments, and my heart is in fostering that same love in the 2nd graders.
This year I was introduced to the new program published by Dynamic Catholic. Since it’s brand spanking new, I thought I’d offer a review.
Upon first glance, Blessed is adorable. Bright, cheerful colors make up the modern illustrations. Just look at it. Doesn’t it make you feel warm and fuzzy?
As far as content goes, it’s solid and hits all the important topics in preparation for Reconciliation. The six sessions could be done in a traditional CCD/Religious Education setting, or broken up into daily lessons a devotional for personal family or Catholic school use.
My only criticism of the content is the frequency of the catchphrase “best-version-of-yourself.” It’s sort of like an introductory lesson on pronouns where you give an example story: “Steve woke up. Steve had breakfast. Steve got in the car, and Steve went to work. Steve’s boss gave Steve a new project.” Can we get a “he” in there somewhere?!?! Please can you figure out another way to say “best-version-of-yourself” so it sounds less forced? Steve will thank you.
Accompanying videos are available on DVD or on the website (for free!) that coordinate with the themes of the six sessions.
Perhaps the most enticing feature of the program is its price tag. The entire Blessed program is available for only the cost of shipping due to generosity of Dynamic Catholic’s donors. For those with limited funds, that’s a huge gift.
The structure of the curriculum is 100% traditional CCD. It’s a workbook and leader’s guide with the aforementioned videos. The entire lesson is reading aloud and answering questions. The teacher’s guide isn’t all that critical, as the notes in the margins just provide direction on which questions to ask and reminders to start lessons with a prayer. In flipping through the leader’s guide, the only extension activities include things like hide and seek of a note card (?) and musical chairs. Not super important to reinforcing the lesson.
From an educational standpoint, this isn’t a curriculum that would appeal to the range of multiple intelligences at all, and for students who have already been sitting in school for 7 hours, it wouldn’t be all that engaging, even with the pretty colors.
However, I’ve been going through the student book one-on-one with Elle. For that purpose, it’s fine. We cuddle up on the couch together, or I read a couple pages to all the kids during breakfast.
According to Dynamic Catholic, the reason for launching this new program is to “engage children’s sense of wonder and take them on an unforgettable adventure into the story of Jesus and the life-giving truths of His Church.” It’s a beautiful mission, and with topics like “God will always love you,” this curriculum has the power to achieve it.
Who could benefit from this program:
Parishes who have no budget for materials.
Teachers who don’t have the time to do any preparation beforehand.
Parents who feel negatively toward or uninformed about Reconciliation and want an easy devotional to complete with their 2nd grader.
Any parent or parochial school teacher looking for an open-and-go way to teach about Reconciliation.
Unfortunately, as a teacher— both in traditional and family formation settings— I wouldn’t choose to use this for whole class instruction.
Buuuuuuuut— I’m biased. In my previous years teaching Sacramental Prep, we’ve used Family Formation.
In many ways, it’s the opposite of Blessed. See this logo?
Not a warm and fuzzy image. It’s serviceable, but not cutesy.
The lessons taught in the classroom require almost no student reading, as the curriculum is largely activity and project based. The topics covered mirror the topics covered by Blessed, but with reinforcing activities.
(I have to throw in a disclaimer: You can read more about the concept of Family Formation on their website, but the gist is that families meet at the parish the first week for religious education (for parents AND children) and are sent home with lessons to complete at home for the remaining weeks of the month. Since the whole curriculum hinges on that 1 week at church, 3 weeks at home format, it would be difficult to use Family Formation in a traditional drop-off CCD program.)
I don’t want to give away trade secrets by listing all the ah-mazing lesson in the Family Formation program, but I’ll try to give some insight into how the teaching methods differ from Blessed.
One of my favorite Family Formation Reconciliation lessons involves a dot-to-dot. I pass out a dot-to-dot to each of the kids, and they immediately hop to it, confident in their own abilities. After a minute or two, there are cries of frustration. The kids who rush through it are irritated to find that their picture looks like…nothing. Scribbles. A mess.
This isn’t a regular dot-to-dot. We talk about how we need to follow God’s rules and listen for God’s will for our life, and sometimes that doesn’t match up with what we think is best. I have them flip over their messy pages to an identical dot-to-dot. Then I list the numbers in the right order (not the numerical order) to create an actual picture. And we go through the list slowly, all together as a class. 8…42…21…1…5…12…you get the idea. Then we talk about how they felt and how that applies to our faith journey.
That, my friends, is educational gold. I looooove seeing those kids get mad at their paper. Because that means they are going to really internalize the big idea of the lesson. Whereas in the Blessed curriculum we would read aloud as a class, “…we are happiest when we are trying to do God’s will” (page 180), with Family Formation we discuss that after they are emotionally invested in the topic.
There is a downside to Family Formation. It takes prep time for me as a teacher. I can’t just show up with my DVD and leader’s guide. There are things to copy, things to cut, and supplies to gather. (And if you’re like me, sometimes that means I’m scrambling the day of to track down potting soil.) My first year teaching, it was intimidating. But after several years of figuring out which activities are just so-so (we skip Ten Commandment BINGO whenever there’s a time crunch) and which are gems (I’m looking at you, examination of conscience hearts), I wouldn’t want to teach anything else.
I’ll continue going through the lovely, theologically sound, Blessed program with Elle at home. I recommend it to any families with 2nd graders, and anyone with kids can benefit from watching the free videos on the website. However, for any situation not falling into the categories above, Family Formation has my vote for classroom instruction.
What are your favorite materials for Sacramental Prep?