Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv visits the Catholic Early Learning Centre at Blacktown South. Image: Diocese of Parramatta
At five early learning centres in our Diocese, children aged three to five start their learning journey in a Catholic environment. For many children, it is the start of their faith journey as well.
Donna Harding, Director of the Catholic Early Learning Centre (CELC) at Mary, Queen of the Family, Blacktown, saw how her pre-schoolers flourished during the restrictions around COVID. “Parents couldn’t come in, so the children had to come in and unpack their bags themselves,” she says. “They loved the independence.”
The CELCs foster this sense of independence and exploration. The centres prepare the children for the Catholic school environment, and the early learning educators are working with Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta to extend the Religious Education Curriculum to the pre-school level. The pre-schoolers also visit the primary school around special events such as Ash Wednesday and Harmony Day to join in the activities.
“This gives continuity to the children’s faith and values development,” says Donna. It also becomes apparent in how kindly and caringly the children interact with each other. She gives an example of a child who was very shy and had some developmental challenges. He had been to five centres previously, but the other children had avoided interacting with him. He was upset and lonely and his mother was very worried he would never find friends. “I didn’t know if making friends was even close to possible for him,” she told Donna. At Mary, Queen of the Family CELC, another young boy sat down and played ‘beading’ with her son. Being accepted like this had a profound impact.
“Who would have known he would become the boy that says ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ to every single child, let alone having children actually do it back!” his mother said gratefully. “I just want to acknowledge you have all had a part in developing his beautiful little soul, always making him feel safe and loved, and being one of his biggest encouragers, his rock and support.”
Donna gives her tips for teaching young children about faith:
- Talk to your children about the Catholic traditions of love, kindness to others and sharing.
- Young children love learning and singing about what they see in nature. Sing songs such as I Wish I Were a Butterfly with your children and talk about its meaning with your children.
- Scripture stories like Noah’s Ark can be simplified to be age appropriate. See what your children’s interests are and find stories from the Bible they can relate to.
- Encourage children to talk to God, such as saying thank you for good things.