One part of it is to prepare children a little so that they're not just doing it as a rote learned exercise. But yes, there is a value even in that. In the short time available at that point in the day I vary which one prayer we use as an offering for our petitions in order that we don't neglect the memorisation of all our basic prayers (Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be- they are only six years of age). So, there is a rote memorisation going on over time.
- However, I try to introduce a prayerful attitude to start with. This is very, very important. It's an education in sincerity. Besides why they are praying, I also try to remind them of Who they are praying to. Who's listening anyway? Who are they talking to?
'Let's try to think of God who loves us so much. That's why we are alive. He made us because He loves us so much, more than you can ever imagine. So let's pray to Him and offer Him something back for everything He gives us...'
- We then do the Morning Offering.
- Then each group in my class gets a turn at offering verbal petitions, one group per day. But others can add their own 'if it's serious and can't wait 'til it's your turn'.
This is a chance to remember those who have died and for occasional reminders that we are even more important than the animals we pray for often (because we are made in God's image and likeness). This is helpful because the children see the immediate relevance of praying. They understand why they should pray with some seriousness because someone's mum is ill or brother has an exam. All they can do to help is pray. It's real. I always add that we pray for the pupils, staff and all their families in our own school and the non-denominational school we are joined to. God is the Father and Our Lady the Mother of all of us.
- Then I choose a prayer and briefly remind them of the purpose in that particular prayer. For example 'remember that we owe everything to God, so we pray the Glory Be to offer everything back to God in return for Him giving us all we have that is good'.
Especially for the longer Our Father and Hail Mary, I try to briefly explain a part of the prayer so that they aren't 'just saying it' i.e. without understanding. I don't expect an overnight result but this is a case of chiseling away at adult language barriers for children and allowing them to enter into the prayer a little bit. For example, 'Who art in Heaven' is just an old, beautiful way of saying 'Who is in Heaven' so He sees everything and we want to go and be with Him'. Who knows, maybe one day they'll say to their own children or someone else 'my teacher used to say this meant...'
- We say the prayer, hopefully praying the prayer. If it is a new prayer then obviously they would learn it a line at a time, repeating it after me (and point 4 wouldn't make so much sense yet).
- We finish with 'Holy Mother Mary and St.Joseph' and they respond 'Pray for us'. Then 'And all the angels and saints of God' and they respond 'Pray for us'. Even this is something, like a liturgical norm, they need to be taught. It's an introduction to the Communion of Saints. Every now and then it could be explained, especially after a serious petition, 'everyone in Heaven is praying for you right now'.
There are wider educational benefits to this approach. The class forms a unity in purpose (in life), see their inter-connectedness as a family of God, and express themselves and listen to everyone else in a respectful attitude. I'm sure there are so many other benefits.
This all might take some time, but if I had to move it to a slightly later part of the day it would be fine. I would just start with the Morning Offering by itself and do the rest later, once the register is in and the pressure is off.
Of course, my register might be one of the last to go into the office, but I know I've done something that puts the heart into what a Catholic school ought to be. I've started the day as I mean to continue. Even if it might often go downhill, we started well.