Children’s storybooks can be highly effective tools for catechesis. Well-told stories engage the imagination and are remembered long after they are heard. In preschool catechesis, stories can be used to reinforce the faith theme of your preschool lesson and help the children apply Christian principles to their lives.
Many storybooks can also be used to invite children to pray. Here is a suggestion for how to adapt this model for use in your lesson.
Choose a book for the lesson and review it in advance. As you read the book, decide how it connects with the faith theme of the lesson. For preschoolers, look for a single, simple idea that shows the connection to your lesson. Some storybooks will lend themselves more easily to prayer.
Next, determine how best to incorporate the story and prayer time into your lesson plan. Storybooks can be used effectively at several places within the lesson. At the beginning of the lesson, it can serve to introduce the faith theme. Near the end of the lesson, the story and prayer offer a time for reflection. The storybook and prayer might be used at a transition point within the lesson. Whatever you choose, be sure to allow sufficient time to establish an environment that sets this time apart as unique and different from the regular classroom routine.
The process for leading storybook prayer is as follows:
1. Set the Environment
Invite the children to sit on a rug or carpet squares, arranged so each child can see the pictures as you read the book, but with sufficient space around them to minimize distractions. Since the story will lead to prayer, the children might be invited to sit near a Prayer Center arranged with items related to the faith theme. The environment should help the children be attentive to the story and also prepare for a time of quiet prayer. A helpful rule to establish when beginning storybook prayer is, “Everyone listens to the story and allows others time for quiet.”
2. Introduce and Read the Book
Introduce the storybook and relate the story to the lesson. The introduction can be very simple, as in this example using the popular storybook, The Rainbow Fish, by Marcus Pfister:
God wants us to share with others. This story, The Rainbow Fish, is about a fish that shares something very special with others.
Invite the children to listen carefully as you read the story. You might hint at the kind of reflection that will follow by indicating something that the children should listen for as you read. For example, “Listen carefully to the story to see what the Rainbow Fish learns about sharing.”
Then read aloud the story, taking your time and using full expression as you read. Show the pictures and be sure that all the children have an opportunity to see each one. You might call attention to certain features in the pictures as you show them.
3. Encourage the Children to Reflect and Respond
When you have finished reading the story, invite the children to reflect on the connection between the faith theme and the story. You need only ask one or two questions to guide the reflection. For example, “What did the Rainbow Fish share?” or “How did the Rainbow Fish feel after he learned to share?” You might invite the children to reflect on their own life experiences. For example, “Think about a time when you shared with others as the Rainbow Fish did. How did you feel?”
Prepare these questions before the lesson and keep them focused on the connection between the storybook and the faith theme. When asking questions, be sure to allow enough time for the children to arrive at well-considered responses. Encourage all of the children to answer each question quietly to themselves before inviting one or two children to respond.
4. Invite the Children to Pray
Conclude by inviting the children to take a few moments to pray. Prepare the children for prayer by encouraging them to become as quiet and still as possible. Give directions such as, “Be sure you have space around you to be comfortable and not distracted by anyone. Place your hands quietly in your lap. Try to keep your feet very still. Listen for the sound of your breathing.”
You might suggest that the children close their eyes for prayer. For very young children, sitting quietly can be a challenge, and many will prefer to keep their eyes open. However, if there is enough space among the children, a few wiggles now and then will not be disruptive. Over time, as the children become more familiar with this routine, it will be easier for them to quiet themselves for prayer.
Wait until everyone is quiet, and then lead a simple prayer. Begin by making a simple suggestion that connects the faith theme and the prayer. For example, “As we pray, let’s ask God to help us learn to share with others.” Allow a moment for the children to reflect on the prayer suggestion, then pray aloud a simple prayer. For example, “God, thank you for the many gifts you have shared with us. Help us to learn to share with others. Amen.”
Bring the time of prayer to a close with a simple prayer gesture, such as inviting the children to place their hands together as they say, “Amen.”
This prayer model can be incorporated into your lessons regularly throughout the year. Time may not permit this style of prayer each week, but perhaps it can be included once each month as a special time of prayer. You may find that the children look forward to and ask about when you will next read a storybook and take an opportunity for quiet prayer.