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New Faith Formation Curriculum

Friday, Sep. 13, 2013
The moment has come in the Mass for the readings.  You look down the row as the reader begins a passage from Malachi or Thessalonians or Luke.  Are the children listening raptly to the word of God? More likely they are squirming in the pew, poking a younger sibling, whispering, or daydreaming.  The biblical language and concepts have left them behind.
 
But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Steve Johnson, director of character education at Santa Clara University’s Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, says these ancient texts can speak very directly to kids—with the help of the Center’s new faith formation program, Build. Plant. Grow. 
 
The curriculum pairs the Sunday readings with a classic children’s book and uses both to highlight a virtue that anyone can practice.
 
Build. Plant. Grow. takes its title from a passage in Jeremiah:
 
Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce...multiply there and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare, you will find your welfare.
 
According to Johnson, the curriculum “is a faith formation program for people of any age who build, plant, and grow the word in their lives. It’s especially for use in schools and parishes as children break open the word each week.”  The online curriculum provides weekly lesson plans that suggest how people can, as Johnson puts it, “live our daily lives as Christians at our best.” 
 
An illustration:  The lesson plan for the third Sunday in September looks at the value of compassion in Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss and a passage from the Gospel of St. Luke, which includes the story of the good shepherd who goes in search of one lost sheep.  Participants—both young and old—are encouraged to care for every each individual regardless of their status—as Horton puts it, “A person’s a person no matter how small.” The curriculum then asks how caring and compassion can be put into action by, for example, providing items for distribution to the needy at the St. Vincent de Paul Society.
 
Anthony Mancuso, S.J., chaplain at St. Francis High School in Mountain View, Calif., wrote many of the lesson plans for Build. Plant. Grow.  “I took the readings for each Sunday and pulled out a connection between them, often a word related to a virtue, such as justice or courage,” he said.  Mancuso tied that idea to a children’s book dealing with the same theme, which “allows the ethics to come alive for a younger mind.”  The lesson plans also offer hands-on activities, with different approaches sensitive to the different ways children learn.  Another section, called “What can I do today?” asks children to take concrete actions based on the virtue they’re learning about.  Finally, the lesson concludes with a prayer.
 

Build. Plant. Grow. is intended for use by Catholic school and parish religion teachers and by parents who want to engage young people in the Gospel message in a way that is relevant and vital.