Vestment Symbolism for KIDS!

+JMJ+

A few years ago, I was part of a (very (very)) small preschool co-op. The kids were three and four years old and we met twice a week for handwriting/reading, math, religion, story-time and craft.  My main duties were religion and craft, which for the sake of convenience and consistency we decided would usually go together. In the former area I happen to have a bachelor’s and master’s degree. The latter: not so much.

I haven’t done any extensive study of Maria Montessori and her method, nor am I trained in the related “Catechesis of the Good Shepherd” program, but I’ve been blessed to know enough people who are so I can parrot back some simple phrases like “whole-child education” and “learning through manipulatives.” It was this tactile, playful approach that I really wanted to explore when I incorporated craft time into our religion sessions. I wanted to give the kids foundational things like saints’ stories, sacraments, memorizing prayers and understanding the liturgical year, but let’s face it: a lot of those things are abstract even for adults! So as the weeks went by, I kept finding myself more and more challenged to find crafts that would engage the children’s minds, hearts and senses.

One of my best classes was when we “baptized” a baby doll, some time around the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Both of the kids in the co-op had baby siblings at the time and both displayed incredible parenting instincts even as toddlers, so they relished the occasion of being able to name the baby, profess the faith and yes– thrice pour water over that baby doll’s head. They talked about it for weeks afterward and kept asking if we could do it again (no, sorry. Baptism is a sacrament that can never be repeated), so when we got to Lent and everything turned purple again at church, I wanted a concrete way to get them excited about the changes we were going through at mass.

So I did what any Catholic home-preschooling mom would do: I went to Catholic Icing. If you haven’t discovered Lacy yet: you’re welcome. I found  this great post up about “Fr. Pine” and thought it was  perfect! The supply list wasn’t too complicated: fabric, ribbon, a cross, (turns out I needed to buy a base and glue them together), paint, glitter glue, hot glue.

…But the vestments in a lot of these pictures looked… sewn.
WHO HAS TIME FOR THAT?!?!
So of course I grabbed FELT and decided to limit myself to just the colorful chasubles and stoles (no albs or amices!). That way I didn’t have to sew anything and here’s how they turned out:

The complete set: Green, Red, White, Purple, Rose
Chasubles and stoles
Fancy white: Alpha/Omega, Chi Rho.
Do you see the grapes and wheat?
My color is off here– it’s definitely purple.
Jerusalem Cross.
ROSE. Not pink. Don’t you dare say pink.
Chalice and Host.
Celtic Cross, minus beautiful knotwork.
Glitter glue has its limitations.
Our “priest”

Not bad, if I may say so myself! It was actually rather fun to put them together and I think it probably took me about two hours of active work time to complete the project. As you can see, the chasubles were made simply by cutting rectangles (I rounded my edges, but not necessary!), folding in half and cutting the diamond shape for his “neck” to go through.  Gold ribbon was hot-glued on for some, and the rest of the design was simply done with glitter glue and a relatively steady hand.

The lesson  itself was very well-received by both children. During our class time we talked about the color names and some of the different symbols. Then, in order to fulfill the “manipulative” requirement I had set for myself, we played games of  “dressing up” our priest for different days/seasons in the Church Year.  Of course, my daughter’s favourites were Gaudete/Laetare Sundays. The little boy in our group like red because it stood for blood.

But the reason I’m writing about all of this is not to give you a lesson plan (although you can certainly use it that way either in the classroom or just at home!), but to tell you how great it continues to be, having our little “priest” set up at home!

For reasons completely unfathomable to me, my daughters have yet to name this priest. They simply call him “Priest” or “Father,” which I’m totally fine with. “Father” has a place of honour on top of our children’s book shelf and the kids love changing his vestments, however frequently we get around to doing that. Some times I tell them what day it is and ask them to guess the color our priest should wear. Some times I tell them the color and have them tell me what the color and symbols stand for. Other times, we just have fun dressing him for the day and as they put the garments on they say: “S-s-scarf is like a S-s-stole!”or “Chasuble is a little house!” And it always helps to prime squirmy kids before mass by getting our priest ready at home– then, when the real live priest enters, they get excited about his vestments! They pick out the colors hanging on banners or in candles or whatever else I can do to distract them. Of course, there’s always the occasional curve ball: WHY ISN’T HE WEARING ROSE?!?!?!?! I’VE BEEN WAITING EIGHT MONTHS FOR THIS!!!!! -or- “This is an optional feast, so he could have picked a few different colors. Oops.” But these, too, are great opportunities for teaching. I try to take them as they come… though we’ve already decided that we are giving our parish a set of rose vestments next year. We can’t have a repeat.

But this priest doll hasn’t just had an impact for the kids’ experience at mass. From learning about the liturgical colors, our kids have also been able to identify certain threads in religious art. They  know that saints draped in red are most often martyrs. They know that people clothed in white represent holiness, purity and grace. Purple goes with kings and people who are sorry. They’ve made a leap into the building-blocks for artistic literacy, which is something I believe many young people are sorely lacking in this day and age.

I highly encourage you to make your own, and as a supplement I offer you this little guide sheet which teaches about the colors, but also the decorative symbols that I’ve settled on in subsequent gift sets. Feel free to print and put it to good personal use!

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