Mary Clover Moran has worked with squirmy 5-year-olds at Queen of Apostles Church in Alexandria for more than four decades.
Moran, 79, has been married for 58 years to husband, Pat, raised seven children and has 19 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, with one more on the way.
She has taught religious education classes, mostly to kindergarteners, for 43 years at Queen of Apostles. She's had as few as three pupils and as many as 15. And 15 is a lot of pent-up energy to keep focused for an hour.
In that time, she's also self-published books on miracles and Catholic faith practices for middle-schoolers, and a coloring book, “Mommy, Where's Our Baby?” designed to comfort young children whose mothers have suffered a miscarriage.
As fall classes start, Moran wants to share what she's learned.
“You have to make it varied,” she said. “Every class I have … they have a theme for the day, and then they read about the saint, and then we have our circle time in which we talk about the lesson that's in the lesson book, and I augment that if there's a special day coming up like Thanksgiving or Christmas or something else that we want to emphasize. And they do some kind of small craft that will remind them of what they are doing.”
One of the keys to Moran's success is her ability to plan ahead of time. On most days she can be found preparing for class at her dining room table amid a mountain of craft samples and neatly organized homework sheets, one for each class.
“The parents are supposed to help the child with that one sheet and bring it back, so that I can see that the parents are helping out and are involved in what the child's learning,” Moran said.
“You have to keep them moving, and mostly I haven't had any problem with that. Mostly they're very enthusiastic. You can tell when it's not a good subject if they get very bored, if they start getting restless. Then you go on to something else, and you find another way to get to them.”
Moran said that in circle time, “you have to have something for them to put their hands on. If you have a story about seeds growing and turning into wonderful things, then you give them cutouts, pictures that I've drawn that I give them to hold, with numbers on the back. And I'll read the story about the seed, and each child has to hold up their picture as I call their number. So that keeps them involved.
“You can't just sit there and talk to them, because that doesn't work,” she said.
Moran doesn't think that children have changed that much over the years. “They still have the same kind of desire to learn about things around them,” she said. “And sometimes you have kids who are really into whatever you're doing and are happy with each thing. Occasionally you'll have a child who is difficult, or can't sit still, then you just have to find something for them to do. That's what I expect my aide to help with. (The crafts material) has to be ready so they can do it easily within 10 or 15 minutes, because they can't last much longer than that. Then you have to teach the prayers, since it's important to practice prayers.”
Moran said that each year she learns a little bit more about what works and what doesn't work. “The Holy Spirit lesson goes well, because I make fans out of the paper with them. And they like to blow the air, and I try to explain that the Holy Spirit is like air that's coming into you for your soul. Baptism I like. They love doing that. We take a doll in, and I 'baptize' the doll, and they really love doing that.”