|Not as easy as it looks.|
There is a temptation, after a particularly stressful streak of Sunday Mass experiences, to formulate ways to compromise with these tyrannical toddlers. The line of argument may start like this: "My toddler misbehaves at Mass. I want to continue bringing her to Mass because I think it is important. Perhaps if I compromise and bring some distractions to Mass, Sundays will be more bearable for all of us..."
The compromise may go further. Let's say you decide to make a "Mass goodie bag" for your toddler, with all her favorite toys. Dora dolls, Thomas trains, princess books, dinosaurs, SpongeBob, and all the other things kids like these days. You do it with your toddler to get her all excited about Mass. You designate it as "the Mass Bag" and explain that it's just for Sundays, which are special days after all.
Let's suppose this trick actually works. You never have another outburst during the Consecration. The goodie bag has the simultaneous benefits of allowing kids to be in the Lord's presence and maintaining quiet. Problem solved. In the words of Bob the Builder, "Can We Fix It???
The problem is, Bob and friends have nothing to do with the Mass. This is where we'd like to develop our previous post a bit more. It isn't just about bringing your children to Mass. The Mass is not playtime; it is an opportunity for catechesis (really!). As a commenter pointed out last time, toddlers are at an ideal age for religious instruction. They catch on to these things more than we adults might realize. The point of bringing children to Mass is not simply to teach them to behave and sit still for an extended period of time. It is to instruct them in the Faith and introduce them to Christ and His saints.
At the same time, we also feel that parents must meet their children where they are. We're not necessarily against the "Mass bag," as long as its contents are sacred and point children to Christ. At this stage, little ones learn primarily by touching and manipulating objects. Although we've seen families with 2-year-olds who can sit through Mass with no catechetical objects, our own children do best when they have a book to look through or other appropriate object. But it is important that the items we bring to Mass are a reminder of why we are there to begin with. Fun and quiet an activity as it may be, coloring a picture of the latest Disney princess does nothing to instruct our children in the Faith. It simply distracts them from their surroundings, and the Mass becomes mere background noise to their Disney fantasy world.
That being said, finding beautiful and sacred items for toddlers and preschoolers can be a challenge. We dislike the tendency to animate the truths of the Faith with cartoons and other "toddler friendly" products (although we do have a soft spot for Tomie dePaola). Why? Because toddlers really are capable of more. Beauty is a transcendental, and its universality does not exclude children in diapers.
We thought we'd share in this post some items that we've found, and would love any suggestions from our dear readers. After all, parental support is always welcome in these matters!
|Images from "The Saving Name of God the Son"|
- Board Books (for children who revel in shredding paper): The Saving Name of God the Son, My Golden Book of Saints, My First Bible Stories (dePaola), Our Guardian Angels
- Picture books with real paper: St. George and the Dragon, The Nativity (Ruth Sanderson), A is for Altar, B is for Bible, Saints: Lives and Illuminations (Sanderson), Lucia, Saint of Light (Hyde), The Monk Who Grew Prayer, The Holy Twins: Benedict and Scholastica, The Weight of a Mass, My Path to Heaven
- Prayer Books/Bibles/Saint Books: The Young People's Book of Saints, Illustrated Catechism for Little Children, Jesus, Make Me Worthy, The Cathechism In Pictures...Pretty much anything from the FSSP Publishing Company!
- Toys/Stickers/Coloring Books: We've really been impressed with these coloring books illustrated by Katherine Sotnik. There are several other options for coloring books at AquinasAndMore. Although there are Catholic lacing cards for sale on the Internet, it would be easy to make your own with sturdy cardboard and beautiful Catholic images from Christmas cards and calendars. Speaking of calendars, the Saints and Feasts Sticker Album at the FSSP's publisher also looks really beautiful. Building a collection of holy cards is another quiet way to teach your children about the Saints and give them something to do at Mass (our daughter loves sorting her holy cards into men/women/dragon slaying saints during the homily)
If you take time to look around online, you can find beautiful Catholic books and other products that are suitable for Mass. We are of the mind that beauty is the most important factor with young children. Although proper instruction is also key, we would prefer our preschooler page through a version of the Bible with beautiful illustrations to doctrinally-correct cartoon versions. We believe that exposing children to beauty at a young age is a crucial step in catechesis.
Our children are capable of sacred beauty. They are created to enjoy it in Heaven, and we parents should give them as much of a taste of it here on Earth as we can.