Monday, 31 March 2008

Toddler Prayers and Prayer Books

 My daughter, Isabella, is 22 months old. In the past year she's consistently surprised me by her love for saying prayers, going to church, of statues and holy cards and crucifixes. On my blog I've been chronicling her developing prayer life. This is my most recent update; not a complete picture of everything we do but a snapshot of the most recent developments.

Bella now says "Amen" at the end of prayers and regularly (though not always) folds her hands during the blessing before meals. Or at least during the first part, discipline often breaks down and she reaches for food before we get to the end of the prayer.

She has started to make some attempts to make the sign of the cross on her own. She either gets the horizontal movement or she manages to touch her forehead and belly. She frequently touches her chest and says "Son" (or is it "sign"?).

I see her moving her lips and listening intently during prayers. She's trying to get the words down. She refers to the Hail Mary as "Grace" and can fill in the blank when I drop a word in the first lines. If I say "Hail" she says "full of grace". I say "The Lord is" she replies "with you" and then says "Blessed". She repeats the words "fruit" and "womb" after I say them.

Dom has now taken over putting Bella to bed after bedtime prayers since (post c-section) I can't yet lift her into her crib. He says that most nights she wants prayers now rather than stories. She says "grace" to request a prayer. We have a prayer book that was given to us that neither Dom nor I like much. It's a Protestant prayer book, mostly treacly poems with "Amen" thrown on at the end. But Bella loves it. So Dom started flipping the pages while reciting Catholic prayers he wants Bella to learn. He says the Hail Mary in English, French and Latin, the Magnificat, the Memorare, Hail Holy Queen, Our Father, Glory Be, etc. He later found a book about Mary that he "reads" in the same way. It's become Bella's usual nightly request. At least for this week.

That's only a temporary solution, though. What we'd really like is a nice Catholic prayer book with beautiful Catholic art. I haven't seen anything in the stores or online that's exactly what I'm looking for. However, I think we have the answer: we're going to make our own prayer book, using pictures downloaded from the web and free book editing software, Book Smart from

We spent Saturday afternoon putting together the prayers and trawling the net looking for good art in a usable format. I'm quite proud of the result and wish I had a way to share it. Dom has done a great job with the layout and design. it isn't cheap; but it isn't really any more than I'd be willing to spend if I found this same book in the store. And this book is titled The Bettinelli Family Prayer Book , dedicated to our children, has hand-picked content, and even includes a photo of us from our honeymoon on the copyright page. What an age we live in when you can design and print your own book from the comfort of your own living room!

Prayers included: The Apostles' Creed, Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be (we did these three most common prayers in both English and Latin), Hail Holy Queen, Memorare, Act of Contrition, Anima Christi, Angelus, Magnificat, Psalm 23, St Michael Prayer, Alma Redemptoris Mater, Divine Praises, Act of Faith, Act of Hope, Act of Love.

Pictures included works by Raphael, Durer, Botticelli, Dali, Rublev, Rembrandt, Fra Angelico, Millet, George de la Tour, Giotto, as well as mosaic, icons, and manuscript illuminations by unknown artists.

I'll be sure to write about it's reception when we finally get it printed and start reading it with Bella. I am sure it will be a treasured family keepsake for years to come.

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Liturgical Year Boxes

Since Ash Wednesday my 21 month old Little Cherub has been having a wonderful time with liturgical year boxes. We started with a Stations of the Cross Box, and have now moved on to the Way of Light (Stations of the Resurrection) for Easter. Each box contains fourteen laminated picture cards and fourteen matching items. To give an idea of how we use the boxes, here is a description I posted on my blog ...

I mentioned at the beginning of Lent that I had put together a Stations of the Cross box for Little Cherub, using a set of laminated cards of the Stations that I made and the items listed here. It has been an enormous success. Cherub adores it! At least once or twice every day she rushes over to the drawer where the box lives pointing and repeating insistently "bo'! bo'!" Today it was three times.

We sit down with her "box", tip out the contents and set out the cards one by one, matching the items as we go.

The first station ... "look, Jesus is having his hands tied with rope. What do we need?" ... "ro'!" She finds the piece of string and puts it carefully on the picture.

The second station ... "look, Jesus had to carry a heavy cross. Can you find a cross?" ... some dithering between the small crucifix (The Twelfth Station) and the little wooden cross, then she puts the cross on the picture.

And so on. Every station now has its own point of interest to her. The fourth station ... "Ma'!" (Mary) as she points at the picture of Our Lady. The eighth ... "Baby!" ("Yes, that is the women of Jerusalem with their babies. They are sad. They are crying because Jesus is going to die"). The tenth ... tugs at her dress to show me that Jesus' clothes were taken away. The eleventh ... much demonstration with a plastic nail (useful find in a magic set belonging to her older sister!) poked at her hands and feet, my hands and feet, and any other hands and feet in the vicinity.

The pictures on their own would never have held her interest in the way these little objects do. They make the story real and tangible for her. Many thanks to Irene and her husband for sharing their idea. It has made one little girl (and her Mum) very happy.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

From their tenderest years

Are children ever too young to start learning about the faith? Not according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This is what it has to say about the duty of parents ...

Through the grace of the sacrament of marriage, parents receive the responsibility and privilege of evangelizing their children. Parents should initiate their children at an early age into the mysteries of the faith of which they are the "first heralds" for their children. They should associate them from their tenderest years with the life of the Church.34 A wholesome family life can foster interior dispositions that are a genuine preparation for a living faith and remain a support for it throughout one's life.

Education in the faith by the parents should begin in the child's earliest years. This already happens when family members help one another to grow in faith by the witness of a Christian life in keeping with the Gospel. Family catechesis precedes, accompanies, and enriches other forms of instruction in the faith. Parents have the mission of teaching their children to pray and to discover their vocation as children of God. (CCC, 2225-6)
The aim of this blog is to help you to be the "first heralds" for your toddlers and preschoolers. The contributors are all Catholic mothers with young children of their own, and we will be sharing ideas and experiences from our own families. We hope you will enjoy the journey with us.