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A child’s recognition of letters and knowledge of letter names and letter-sound correspondence is a fundamental feature of instruction in early learning environments. Studies prove that children’s knowledge of letter names and sounds is the best predictor of their later reading and spelling abilities. What is a powerful way to motivate children to identify letters? Use their names!
Names are very meaningful to children, and not coincidentally . . . they are important to God too. A fundamental part of faith instruction is teaching that God has called us into His own family through Word and Sacrament. Identifying oneself as a son or daughter of the heavenly Father is of vital importance. And since we are early childhood educators, we can combine these two fundamentals for some truly powerful “personalized” learning.
There are many things I love about my husband’s personality as a pastor. But one of my very favorites is how personalized he makes God’s gifts to us. With a spring in his step and a twinkle in his eye, he emphasizes during Absolution, the Words of Institution, and the closing blessing that God’s forgiveness and grace is “for you.” How can we do something similar in the classroom or at home?
- Use coloring pages to make a personalized storybook. At the top of a creation page, write, “I made you, [child’s name].” At the top of a picture of the crucifixion, write, “I died for you, [child’s name].” At the top of an Easter page, write, “I live for you, [child’s name].” At the top of a page showing Saul’s conversion, write, “I make [child’s name] new.” Combine the pages into one book with a cover and help the child to track the text and read that personalized message from God’s Word.
- Use a bulletin board display to add each child’s printed name to the classroom or home environment. Make a sheep nametag by printing a sheep template and writing each child’s name inside the body. Display the children’s sheep around a large figure of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Arrange the sheep according to the length of name or first letter of name. Each day, the children will be reminded that Jesus is their Good Shepherd, providing for and protecting them. “He calls His own sheep by name” (John 10:3).
- Add the children’s printed names to classroom routines. For example, write each child’s name on sentence strips, cut to size, and laminate them. Label the top of a pocket chart with the phrase “Jesus loves ______.” and let the children set their names in the pockets upon arrival, reading the sentence they’ve completed, reminding them that Jesus loves them!
- Are there other places in the classroom or home that you can display a similar message? Do you label the cubbies? Above or to the left of their name, consider adding a picture of Jesus next to His name and a heart next to the word loves, so that each time the children visit their cubby, they are reminded that Jesus loves them. Do you have a mirror in your classroom and/or bathroom? Can you use paper or vinyl lettering to add “God made ______ special.” at the top and/or bottom?
- Do you add letter recognition regularly into your learning centers? Here’s an example of integrating the faith: Challenge the children to find the letters of their names inside “grass” (real or a representation) in the sensory table. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, finds His lost sheep. Can they find their lost letters?
- Use songs that allow you to sing each child’s name. “God Made You” from the collection Little Ones Sing Praise (CD2) is a great example. Pass a mirror around the circle and give each child a turn to hold it as the child’s friends sing, or let each child have a turn to stand in the middle of the circle and make up a dance.
Just as you reinforce alphabet knowledge each day, this personalized message is what we want to teach daily: “I have called you by name, you are Mine” (Isaiah 43:1). God has made us and redeemed us. Through Baptism, we have become His child. Our heavenly Father takes care of us, welcomes us into His family, and makes us heirs of heaven! And “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).
Sure, please use books like God Makes Me His Child in Baptism and God Chose You to teach these concepts. But it’s those daily, personalized reminders of his or her identity through Christ that just might be the best predictors of a child’s quality, fundamental faith foundation. Daily teaching the children that they are special to God is a hallmark of our faith language. Children’s most basic knowledge about who they are and whose they are is also the most essential: “I am a C, I am a C-H, I am a C-H-R-I-S-T-I-A-N, and I have C-H-R-I-S-T in my H-E-A-R-T and I will L-I-V-E E-T-E-R-N-A-L-L-Y.”
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