Teaching religion to children requires that programmes be regularly updated and books renewed. Elaine Mahon was one of the people involved in the new primary religion programme and she outlines some of the main elements in it:
Grow in Love is a new Religious Education series for Catholic primary schools in Ireland. It is being introduced on a phased basis and will eventually replace the Alive-O series, which has been in use schools on the island of Ireland since 1996. Veritas Publications have been working on the planning and development of the new series for the last number of years, and have consulted widely with teachers, priests, children, parents, Diocesan Advisers and lecturers in colleges of education about what they would like to see in a new religious education series. Veritas have already produced Junior Infants and Senior Infants in September 2015 and First Class and Second Class in September 2016. The rest will be phased out in the coming years.
What’s new in this programme?
Firstly, Grow in Love is based on a brand new curriculum for Religious Education, the Catholic Preschool and Primary Religious Education Curriculum for Ireland. This curriculum has been approved by the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference for use in the twenty-six dioceses in Ireland. The content of new curriculum is based on four strands:
- Christian Faith
- Word of God
- Liturgy and Prayer
- Christian Morality
In addition, it is intended that children who engage with the curriculum will also develop the following skills of religious literacy:
- Developing Spiritual Literacy
- Developing Interreligious Literacy
The content of Grow in Love will therefore be different to the content in Alive-O. I think this is especially true at infant level, where teachers will see many more Bible stories than were in Alive-O.
A second difference between Grow in Love and Alive-O is the way in which the content for each lesson is structured. Alive-O lessons were based on a five day/four moment format. Grow in Love is based on three movements – Let’s Look, Let’s Learn and Let’s Live. These three sections of each week-long lesson will begin by inviting the children to look their own life experience (Let’s Look)before introducing them to some of the Christian Tradition (Let’s Learn). At the end of the week, the children will be invited to see how what they have learned might have meaning for their lives (Let’s Live).
A third difference between Alive-O and Grow in Love is that the content in Grow in Love is divided into themes, enabling teachers to take a thematic, cross-curricular approach to the material. This differs from the Term/Lesson layout in Alive-O.
Many schools have been involved in the piloting the materials for Grow in Love so far, and the feedback has been both helpful and constructively critical. One key issue for many teachers is their concern that they should not the only people teaching children about faith. We know that faith formation is the responsibility of home, school and parish working together, in partnership. Any new religious education programme intended for Catholic primary schools today needs to honour this.
A core principle of the Grow in Love series is therefore that children understand that they belong to a parish community, the community of the Church, the family of God. The Grow in Love series employs a number of strategies to help children to become aware of their place in the parish family. These strategies rely on both teachers and on the supports of priest and parishes if they are to actually bear fruit.
- End of theme prayer services: The content in Grow in Love is divided into about ten themes, depending on the class level. At the end of each theme, a prayer service is provided. This prayer service will take no more than 30 minutes, including preparation. Teachers are encouraged to invite family members/childminders/guardians – in short, whoever collects a child from school – to attend these prayer services, which will occur approximately every three weeks. The presence of priests/parish workers/school chaplains at these prayer services would send a powerful message to all about the cooperation necessary between home, school and parish. Parish personnel should therefore tell the classroom teacher, as early as possible in the school year, that they would like to attend these services, and to ask to be invited when they take place.
- Visits to the church building: About once a term, teachers are invited to bring their class to the church building to see, for example, how the season of Advent is celebrated, or to learn more about the objects in the church building. Teachers are advised to contact their school chaplain or parish office to give notice of such a visit. Where possible, the presence of the priest or of an appointed a member of the parish community to welcome the children to the church will greatly enhance this experience. Anything this person can do to help the teacher, in terms of pointing out the key features of the church etc., would also be very much appreciated.
- Classroom visitations: Survey after survey confirms that teachers welcome and want school chaplains and parish personnel to visit their classrooms. This practice is not only for the sake of the children – it also affirms the work of the teacher, principal and school staff. Regular, informal visits to the staffroom also go a long way in seeking to make real the place that the Catholic school has in the parish community. Veritas will provide resources for those visiting classrooms based on material for the Grow in Love series in the near future. These will be available online initially, and will be published in book format when more of the series is rolled out into classrooms.
The Grow in Love series provides opportunities for home, school and parish to take their rightful role in the religious education of children, and the possibilities provided in the series are, in my opinion, both realistic and achievable. However, they do require each of the three partners to take up the opportunity, and to take on the responsibility, of implementing them to their fullest.
Elaine Mahon was involved in the early writing of Junior Infants to Second Class. She is a primary school teacher who holds a Masters in Religious Education. She was formerly Advisor for Primary Religious Education in the Archdiocese of Dublin and has produced several resources for religious education in primary schools.