Memorizing really can be fun, you know.
Unfortunately, the term memorize gives me flashbacks of all night cram sessions in college, which was not a very positive experience.
So what does it have to do with prayer?
There are lots and lots of ways to pray- to communicate with God. Spontaneous prayer, contemplative prayer, lectio divina, group prayer, individual prayer...etc. Somewhere in the midst fits in memorized prayer.
Now, I should preface this by acknowledging that some people really don't think that memorized prayers, like the Rosary, are valid forms of prayer. I can see where they are coming from, if memorized prayer is nothing more than that- a group of words recited from memory. However, I think that memorized prayer has a valid place in our communication with God. Without getting too lengthy, here are a few reasons why:
1. It is Scriptural. The Apostles asked Jesus how to pray, and he gave them the Our Father. If Jesus gives me the perfect prayer, I am going to memorize it. Ever notice how repetitive the Psalms are? They are meant to be memorized. Also, many key prayers from different people in the Bible echo one another- showing that they had to have memorized the words of earlier believers.
2. We should want to commit words to God on our hearts so that they roll easily off our tongues. When I wake up in the morning, I might not want to be praising, but I can easily say "This is the day the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it." Where my words go, my thoughts and actions follow.
3. And finally, there are times when we cannot know how or what to pray. While the Holy Spirit can teach us to pray, and certainly understands the inner groanings of our hearts, there is something to be said for having a prayer to fall back on when all other words fail you. After all, prayer is not about changing God's mind, but aligning our heart to do His will. If I have no words, then I can use those of others to bring me back to His presence. And sometimes those words can free up my mind so that my heart can reflect on the meaning beyond them.
OK, bringing it back to religious education now-
So, how do you help little ones memorize prayers?
Here is one technique that I have used that could grow with kids:
It is very simple, and you could make them yourself with no trouble. (I made up documents for the Our Father and the Hail Mary just as examples, and the links are at the bottom of this page.- you could do this yourself for any other prayer or scripture verse.) Print two of each of these pages on different colors. Cut one apart into individual cards and tape the other together to make a master sheet.
Here is the Hail Mary, for example:
Here are some suggestions, generally going from easier to harder.
1. For pre-readers, give them the master sheet and one or two words. Have them see if they can visually match the word card to its spot on the master sheet using general shape or letters that they already know. Read the word together. Work up to more and more cards until their word recognition allows them to read some of the prayer themselves.
2. For early readers, print a white copy of the master sheet and let the child color in each box as they can read a word, starting with easy sight words like the and be first and working up to harder words. When the whole sheet is filled in, read the whole prayer.
3. Cut a master sheet into horizontal strips, mix them up, and help the child arrange them until the whole prayer is in order.
4. With the whole sheet cut into cards, give the child only the words needed for a particular sentence or phrase. Let them arrange those into the correct order, and read the sentence out loud. Then give them the next few words, put them in order, and read it all together. Continue until the whole prayer is finished.
5. Give the child only the cards with no master sheet. Mix them up, and challenge them to put all of the words in order. This could be a quiet time activity just for personal challenge, or could be used with older kids with a timer or in a competition.
So there you go- there are lots more ways to use this concept, so be creative!
Here are the links to the Hail Mary and Our Father documents to get you started. Happy memorizing!