The 7 Strands of a Great Religion Curriculum

Let everything take second place to our care of our children, our bringing them up to the discipline and instruction of the Lord. If from the beginning we teach them to love true wisdom, they will have greater wealth and glory than riches can provide – St. John Chrysostom

Sometimes in the busy-ness of a homeschool day, I am tempted to procrastinate teaching religion or to hurry it along. Afterall, from a wordly point of view, it does not matter how much or how little religion you cover. There are no state standards for religion, and memorizing the Baltimore Catechism  will not matter on a college application.  So when we are in a crunch, it is easy for me to shove religion to the side and make math or writing more important.

On really busy days, it takes extra work to keep my eyes looking Heavenward and to make religion our most important subject. Making religion our most important subject does not mean we need to spend the most time on it. But it does mean we need to dedicate our best teaching to it. We need to be thorough, but we also need to make religion interesting and inspiring. And if we want to be realistic, we need to keep our curriculum simple and straightforward.

According to the Baltimore Catechism,  to gain the happiness of heaven we must know, love, and serve God in this world. Over the years, I have planned my children’s religion curriculum around these three things: to know, love, and serve God. I have also come to realize that there are 7 strands that make for a well-rounded and thorough curriculum. They are as follows:

To Know God: 1. Bible Study,  2. Catechesis,  3. Apologetics

To Love God: 4. Frequent reception of the sacraments,  5. Spirituality and the Saints, 6. Church traditions and the Liturgical Year

To Serve God: 7. The Corporal and Spiritual Acts of Mercy

Each year, I try to incorporate all of these strands into my children’s religion curriculum, except for apologetics, which my children begin in middle school. Here is a list of our favorite resources for each strand.

1. Bible Study

For a list of books we use for Bible Study, see Books for Bible Study.

2. Catechesis

Gr. 1 – 2St. Joseph 1st Holy Communion Catechism and My First Holy Communion (This one is a gem. The lessons are short and sweet, and the illustrations are great.) If your child is preparing for his/her first Holy Communion, I highly recommend  Preparing to Recieve Jesus. I have yet to see a program that inspires a love for Jesus in the Eucharist as much as this one.

Gr. 3-8: I have to admit that I am partial to the  St. Joseph Baltimore Catechisms. The New St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism No. 1  is appropriate for grades 3-5. The New Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism No. 2 is written for children in grades 6-8. The lessons are generally short and clear, and I particulary like the discussion questions at the end of each chapter. As the kids get older, our discussions become increasingly interesting and lively. It takes us about 2 years to get through each catechism, so I also mix it up with books from the Faith and Life SeriesReligion 6 for Young Catholics by Seton Homeschool is a great choice for a highly independent middle schooler.

Finally every morning, my kids memorize parts of the catechism. Because she is my first born, Big-Sis memorized every question in the St. Joseph Catechisms. Perhaps that is why she now has the memory of a steel trap. I’ve mellowed since. Now the boys memorize the catechism points in the Catholic Schoolhouse Tour Guides. Here’s what it looks like inside the tour guide. They memorize one catechism point per week. But I make the memory work cumulative. Once they memorize a point, they have to keep it memorized for the rest of the year. By the end of the year, they can rattle off all the points in the book. Kids have amazing memories.

3. Apologetics

Gr. 6-8: Around the age of 12, children begin to enter the analytic stage. This is a great time to begin the study of apologetics, where they learn how to defend the teachings of the Church.  For this we use The Friendly Defenders Flash Cards. On one side of each card, there is a question such as, If the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit, why is it so full of scandals?  A clear and succinct answer is supplied on the other side. In this case, the answer is: The Church is made up of both saints and sinners. Remember that Jesus himself had to deal with the scandal among his own apostles – Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial. The answer is always supported with a bible quote and extra information. Big-Sis has been memorizing both the answers and the bible quotes.

4. Frequent Reception of the Sacraments

Nothing ignites a love for Our Lord more than recieving Holy Communion frequently and going to confession regularly.

Ask Jesus to make you a saint. After all, only He can do that. Go to confession regularly and to Communion as often as you can. – St. Dominic Savio

Holy Communion is the shortest and safest way to heaven. -Pope St. Pius X

When you approach the confessional, know this, that I Myself am waiting there for you. I am only hidden by the priest, but I myself act in your soul. Here the misery of the soul meets the God of mercy. Tell souls that from this fount of mercy souls draw graces solely with the vessel of trust. If their trust is great, there is no limit to My generosity. The torrents of grace inundate humble souls. –St. Faustina, Divine Mercy in My Soul

If you can’t get to Holy Mass during the week, read the readings and Gospel of the day from a Daily Missal with your children and make a Spiritual Communion.

In the Eucharist, “unlike any other sacrament, the mystery [of communion] is so perfect that it brings us to the heights of every good thing: Here is the ultimate goal of every human desire, because here we attain God and God joins himself to us in the most perfect union.”

Precisely for this reason it is good to cultivate in our hearts a constant desire for the sacrament of the Eucharist. This was the origin of the practice of “spiritual communion,” which has happily been established in the Church for centuries and recommended by saints who were masters of the spiritual life. St. Teresa of Jesus wrote: “When you do not receive communion and you do not attend Mass, you can make a spiritual communion, which is a most beneficial practice; by it the love of God will be greatly impressed on you” [The Way of Perfection, Ch. 35.] – St. Pope John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia

5. Spirituality and the Saints

We should also nurture a deep love for Our Lord at home.  We can do this by encouraging devotion and piety and by inspiring our children with the lives of the saints, models of faith and courage.

To begin with, we pray as a family every evening.

Have confidence in prayer. It is the unfailing power which God has given us. By means of it you will obtain the salvation of the dear souls whom God has given you and all your loved ones.-Saint Peter Julian Eymard

Then during the school week, we read something to enkindle devotion, sort of like spiritual reading for kids. Here is a list of resources my children enjoy:

Gr. 1-2: Leading the Little Ones to MaryDevotional Stories for Little FolksDevotional Stories for Little Folks, Too (even the bigger kids enjoy these),   In the Footsteps of the Saints series

Gr. 3-4: Claire’s Costly CookieMy Path to Heaven,  Encounter the Saints series. 57 Stories of Saints is a book of short saint stories written in an engaging manner. The Saints Stained Glass Coloring Book is a big hit at my house.

Gr. 5-6 : King of the Golden City is a beautiful allegory. My children find it very moving. Catholic Heritage Curricula offers a study guide, which helps your children to understand the rich symbolism in the book. My daughter loved  Olivia and the Little Way. For saint stories, we find Heroes of God’s Church and  the Saint biographies by Vision Books to be very inspiring. Stories of the Saints I and Stories of the Saints II are reading comprehension workbooks.

 Gr. 7-8: Fabiola – This is a wonderful account of the early Christian martyrs. The first three chapters might be a litte dull, but if you can get past them, you will be swept into an exciting story that will fill you with admiration for these young and courageous Christians.  My daughter was so taken by this book that she wrote a children’s version as a gift for her cousin on his First Holy Communion: The Dauntless Christian. I have to mention Dominic Savio, Teenage Saint. This gem is out of print, but it is totally worthwhile finding used. Uber-inspiring. And of course there are the wonderful Saint biographies by Vision Books.

For short stories of saints, I recommend Golden Legend of Young Saints and The Young People’s Book of Saints.

Your more mature students will may enjoy St. Therese’s Story of a Soul and  C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters.

6. Church Traditions and the Liturgical Year

How we love church traditions and all the feasts and seasons of the liturgical year!  There is always something to look forward to.

Art 1 for Young Catholics is full of paper crafts for all of the major feast days. Best for the little ones but my older children still ask to do them.

Around the Year Once Upon a Time Saints – a wonderful collection of saint stories that follow the liturgical year.

Catholic Icing – this website is wayyy too fun! So many great ideas that go far beyond the Advent wreath and Easter eggs.

Catholic Inspired – if your kids love crafts, this is the place to go.

7. The Corporal and Spiritual Acts of Mercy

What Can You Do is an easy reader that tells stories of young children living out the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy. It will give you and your little ones ideas on how they can practice the works of mercy.

Chapter 15 of The New Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism No. 2 has practical suggestions on how your older children can practice each of the works of mercy.

For more practical ideas, check out this great blog post: The Year of Mercy Challenge.

And here’s the golden strand that ties it all together:

Pray the rosary for your children and with your children. This is not just a grandma thing. It’s the most powerful weapon we have to protect our children from the snares of the devil.

The Rosary is THE weapon. –Saint Pio of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio)

Never will anyone who says his Rosary every day be led astray. This is a statement that I would gladly sign with my blood. –Saint Louis de Montfort

If you say the Rosary faithfully unto death, I do assure you that, in spite of the gravity of your sins, ‘you will receive a never-fading crown of glory’ (1 St. Peter 5:4). –Saint Louis de Montfort

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