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Can You Teach a Preschooler About the Summa? A Review of Tiny Thomists

March 30, AD 2017 4 Comments

There’s a struggle that I experience when trying to teach young children about the Catholic faith. I want to teach little kids about God’s love, but I would like to take lessons beyond “God made the flowers and the birds and he made you!” This isn’t a bad lesson (it’s actually very important), but I think it is beneficial to get a little deeper. Young children have a capacity to encounter God, the saints, and the truths of the Catholic faith that we often do not give them credit for. How can deep truths be presented in kid-friendly ways? Figuring out how to bring substantial teachings to young children can be a daunting task, with many factors to consider.

Even though my baby is a little young to begin formal religious instruction, I still like to keep my eyes open for good resources and programs that may come in handy in a year or two. When I heard about TJ Burdick’s program, Tiny Thomists, I was very intrigued. As I communicated with Burdick about his program and looked through the materials, I became very excited. According to Burdick, the primary goal of this program is “to provide a free and focused Thomistic formation for parents who want salvation of their kiddos.” As I examined the program, I saw just how excellently Burdick is fulfilling his goal so far. Tiny Thomists is an adaptable, approachable, thorough resource for parents to use with their young children, and it’s free—what could be better?

Photo courtesy of the Dominican Institute. Used with permission.

This program is extremely adaptable. Burdick recommends Tiny Thomists for children three years old and up, and the materials are directed towards emerging readers and children in the pre–First Communion phase. However, after going through the materials and thinking about the wide range in understanding that different children have, I think that parents can easily use Tiny Thomists for older children—or perhaps even use some sections with younger children!

Tiny Thomists is very approachable. Even if you have no background in theology or philosophy, you can use Tiny Thomists to teach your child about the Catholic faith. Each lesson plan includes a variety of ways to teach Catholic doctrine to your child, and the two of you can learn together as you dive into Scripture, stories of the saints, and the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas.

The materials are very thorough. Biweekly, each household receives a two-week lesson plan that includes many different stories and activities. My favorite feature is the “Simplified Summa,” a section that features a sentence from the Summa Theologica to discuss. This is a great way to make St. Thomas Aquinas’s writings palatable to the mind of a four-year-old! The lesson plans also include games, stories, and ideas for craft projects to reinforce the lessons that are being taught. Also, every Thursday, parents will receive “The Gospel in Kid Speak,” so that they can discuss the upcoming Sunday’s Gospel reading with their children prior to attending Mass.

I was really impressed with the amount of resources packed into this program, and I appreciate this wide range of activities. Every child is different and has various needs and levels of understanding, and this program is so flexible. Tiny Thomists is a fantastic program, and I think it has wonderful potential for more development and growth in the future. Personally, since I love to cook and bake, I think it would be neat if a simple recipe would be regularly included in each issue that relates to the saint or Scripture. Already, though, this is a resource packed with great faith-building activities. I am very excited to see how it continues to develop and grow!

To download the most recent issue of Tiny Thomists, learn more about the program, and sign up for the emails, you can visit: https://dominicaninstitute.com/tinythomists/

About the Author:

AnneMarie Miller is a quirky, spontaneous woman who loves the excitement and adventure that each day brings. She also greatly enjoys making weird analogies that intertwine the Catholic Faith and everyday life. A recent college graduate, she currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, where she spends her days blogging, avoiding housework, freelance writing, and reading good books. You can hear about her adventures and contact AnneMarie through her blog, Sacrifice of Love (http://marianninja.blogspot.com).
  • DougP1

    Aquinas is considered a great intellect and writer, but he was also a scholastic which makes him, in the original, inaccessible to children and many adults, as you note.
    One reference that is easier to find and read is the Bible, in many modern, understandable translations. Here’s a suggestion for using it with children which has proven to work for adults as well.
    Our Lord gave us a model prayer that serves as an outline of the things that were most important to him. The first clause tells us to pray that his “name be held holy”. Q. What is the first thing we do when we meet someone whom we want to befriend? A. We ask their name. Q. Can we be friends with God? A. Yes. “Abraham put his faith in God, and this was considered as making him upright; and he received the name ‘friend of God’.” Q. Then, what is God’s name? A. “I am Yahweh, that is my name!”
    The rest of the prayer can be taught in the same way: What God’s kingdom is, where we can find it now, where we can find it when the prayer has been answered, what is God’s will for us today.
    What do you think?
    All quotes are from the Catholic New Jerusalem Bible. Mt 6:8,10; James 2:23; Isa 42:8.

    • Doug, thanks for mentioning that-the Q&A format to discuss prayer and spirituality with a child (or adult) seems like such a good method!

      • DougP1

        Thanks for your kind reply. You wrote “(or adult)”; I understand the syntax.
        But on another level, “AND adults” applies. Many would have trouble answering those questions, as I once did. The prayer is too short, and the parts too simple, to appeal to our modern, “highly-educated” selves. Recall that the writers, Matthew and Paul excepted, were working stiffs like me. Yet their teaching has reached millions over the centuries. (And Paul didn’t have even a smart phone!) But, Acts 4:13.
        One question that puzzled me is about conditions when the prayer is answered. (It must be answered, or Jesus was a liar or a practical joker; of course he was neither.) What sort of earth would we have, do you think, if God’s kingdom that ruled it,?

  • douglas kraeger

    I read once (I do not remember where) that St. Thomas Aquinas wrote the SUMMA as a catechism for children. That might seem doubtful, but, on the other hand, when people did not have so many distractions, and had to think logically in order to survive, their thinking could be far more focused and therefore a simple, straightforward progression from the basic knowable starting points could lead most people a long way to the whole TRUTH, as long as they continued to ask (and answer correctly) the simple question:

    Should I ( and do I continue to) pray for the graces to want to know all the truths that God wants everyone to want to know, what ever they are?

    How many parents today, appear to demonstrate that they are asking (and answering correctly) this question and have not grown complacent (the first step towards presumption) in the faith they have?

    How could the world change (by God’s infinite grace) if all ministers, of all faiths, publicly joined in advocating that all peoples should honestly ask and seek God’s answer to that question?

    Do the laity have a moral obligation to publicly encourage their ministers to encourage parents to offer this question OFTEN to their children so as to build the virtuous habit of always seeking (by God’s grace) to know whatever (and all) truths that God wants everyone to want to know?

    IS it possible that God could convert the whole world to the ONE Faith that He wants everyone to accept If only a few ministers publicly joined in encouraging all laity to offer this question to their children, and the ministers then publicly challenged all other ministers, of all faiths, to either join with them or publicly explain to their followers, and to the public, why they would not join? What minister could publicly oppose joining in such a simple, essential project? Is the fact that it needs the first few (one?) minister(s) with God’s grace to publicly support this idea, the only thing stopping this idea? Should laity of all faiths work together to encourage all ministers to publicly support this idea? If not, why not?
    Should everyone pray that all be given (and accept and use) the graces to want to know all the truths that God wants everyone to want to know? Can we be certain that Jesus is eternally interceding with the Father, offering His suffering and death for the reconciliation of all sinners (2 Cor. 5:19), and therefore we should resolutely unite our prayer with the infinitely perfect prayer of Jesus that all be given the graces to want to believe whatever God wants everyone to want to believe?

    If someone does not have the mindset of wanting to believe everything that God wants everyone to want to believe, can they say they are building on solid rock, or are they building on sand? Is that not one of the most essential starting points that all parents should strive to demonstrate so as to help their children acquire it and that ministers should encourage parents to demonstrate?