Curriculum on Catholic Social Teaching
    Using Children's Literature, for ages 4-8

All Catholics are called to reach out to others in ways reflected in the principles of Catholic Social Teaching. Catholic children need to be introduced to and nurtured in the ways of social justice so it will become second nature to them. The following is a short curriculum to help you with this. It can easily be used at home or as part of a religious education program. (Source: Christian Beginnings, vol. 3)

Each principle below, written first for adults and then in language for young children, is accompanied by a picture book recommendation. You may choose to simply read the book and let it speak of the principle on its own. For greater depth, discussion starters are provided. An ongoing art project, the Big Book, reinforces the concepts.

For the Big Book, you will need:
  • Poster board in various colors, nine sheets
  • Paper punch
  • Three book rings, purchased at office-supply stores
  • Scissors
  • Glue sticks
  • Markers, crayons
  • Drawing paper
  • Magazines with people pictures: especially helpful are mission magazines, publications and calendars from organizations such as Heifer International, Catholic Relief Services, and UNICEF, children’s magazines, and any publication that focuses on a variety of countries, cultures and climates.
For each principle, provide a sheet of poster board for a page in the book. If any materials in addition to the ones listed above are needed, they will be mentioned with the principle.

Make the page suggested. With a paper punch, make holes to bind the pages together, and connect with three book rings. Create a front and back cover. After choosing and placing a title on the front over, write the names of everyone who worked on it.

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Principle: The Dignity of the Human Person
(Adults’ definition) We are made in God’s image, so each of us has dignity. The world’s standards for measuring a person’s worth do not come into play here. All people have dignity. There are no standards set by racial, gender, ethnic, religious, cultural, intellectual or physical boundaries.

(Children’s definition) God made each of us, which means each of us is special. No matter who we are, how tall or small, how happy or sad, each of us is special. And we must treat others as special because we know they are made by God too.

Book Recommendation: Hope by Isabell Monk, illus. by Janice Lee Porter

Hope is a little girl who looks forward to her annual visit with her beloved aunt. When a stranger disturbs Hope by commenting that she must be ‘mixed’ racially, Hope is confused and shamed. Then her aunt tells her the story of how she was given the name Hope. She learns of the great dignity of her great-grandparents and grandparents on both sides of her family, of the work they did to better the world, and of her parents’ hope for an even better future for themselves and their daughter. She is, says her aunt, generations of faith ‘mixed’ with lots of love, which is hope!

Discussion Starters: Did Hope feel special during the whole book? What happened to make her confused? How did her aunt help her see once again that she was special because God made her?

Big Book Ideas: For this page, have children choose and cut out pictures of people in a wide variety of ages, ethnic groups and cultures. Using a marker, write in large letters, “We are all made by God.” Have the children place the pictures on the page with a glue stick.

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Principle: Called to Live in Family and Community
(Adults’ definition) Humans are social beings. It is only through community experiences that we come to know ourselves. It is through the community that we understand our dignity and exercise our rights. For most people, community begins with family. Gradually, we move further into the greater community. Within these levels of community, we have both rights and responsibilities regarding the community, just as the community has rights and responsibilities regarding individuals.

(Children’s definition) Jesus knew that people need other people. We all need our family, friends, and neighbors. He tells us it is right that in our lives we should have these important people who help us. And, Jesus says, we must work to help them, too.

Book recommendation: Chicken Sunday written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco
This is an autobiographical picture book showing the unfolding of love and happiness as people reach out to one another. When young Patricia makes friends with two neighbor children, they appear to have little in common: Winston and Stewart are boys, African-American and Baptist, and Patricia, who is a white girl, comes from an Eastern Church tradition. But after Patricia’s beloved babuska dies, the boys’ grandmother, Miss Eula May, takes Patricia into her heart. In their affection for Miss Eula, her three “baby dears” hatch a plan to buy her an Easter bonnet. But a series of events lead them to confronting their fears and other’s hatred, sharing the folk art tradition of Patricia’s family, and bringing joy to a Jewish man—all before they acquire the hat. This story clearly shows the process of giving dignity and respect within the family and community circles.

Discussion starters: Have children name some of important people in their lives who are family members, friends, or neighbors. Explain that ‘neighbor’ does not just imply people who live next door, but a great many others, too. Then name the family, friends and neighbors in Chicken Sunday. How did they need and help one another?

Big Book ideas: You will need family photos, and if this is a school project, take pictures of the children in the classroom. Parishioners that children know, or other people, such as school staff, can be included in this also. Place these pictures on a page, along with the words, “We have a right to love, with family, friends and neighbors. We have a responsibility to love them too.”

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Principle: Rights and Responsibilities
(Adults’ definition) Jesus knew that people need other people. We all need our family, friends, and neighbors. He tells us it is right that in our lives we should have these important people who help us. And, Jesus says, we must work to help them, too.Adults’ definition: Every person has rights and responsibilities. We are entitled to food, education, work, clothing, shelter, and health care. We also have freedom of conscience, religious liberty, and the right to raise a family and to be free of unfair discrimination. With rights, of course, come responsibilities, and we are responsible to see that others always receive these same rights. This is working for the common good.

(Children’s definition) Children’s definition: All of God’s people should have food, work, clothes, a home, a school, and a doctor when they are sick. This means every single person on earth. We say we have a ‘right’ to these. But many people don’t have these things that they need. Jesus wants the people who already have what they need to help these others. We call this a ‘responsibility.’

Book recommendation: Thank you, Mr. Falker, written and illustrated 
by Patricia Polacco
Despite her family’s great enthusiasm for books and reading, Patricia cannot read. She tries hard, but the letters get all mixed up on the page. As she proceeds through the early grades, she is soon tormented by other children who call her names and shame her. It becomes so intolerable that she hides under a stairwell each day at recess. Then along comes Mr. Falker, a perceptive teacher who takes her rights and his responsibilities very seriously. Working intensely with Patricia, he unlocks the door to her learning disability. This autobiographical story is a great example of a person’ right to learn in safety and with assistance, and of the miracles that happen when someone takes the responsibility to do what is right. What better example than the child in this story who became the adult who wrote the book, as well as many other books for children!

Discussion starters: Patricia had food and a home, and she even had a school, but she was missing something very important that she needed. What was it? What was Mr. Falker’s responsibility? What happened because Mr. Falker acted on his responsibility?

Big Book ideas: Discuss with children the differences between needs and wants. Help them understand that needs are something we cannot live without. List some needs. Help them find pictures of those needs: healthy food and drink, adequate housing, schools (or of children in schools), and hospitals or medical staff. Place these on a page in your book with the words, “We all have needs.”

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Principle: Stewardship of the Earth
(Adults’ definition) God gave us the earth and all life as our gift, and calls upon us to care for them. Because the earth supports us, a troubled environment will lead to issues of injustice.

(Children’s definition) Children’s definition: God made the earth and the sky, as well as all the people, animals, and plants. And God tell us we must take good care of them.

Book recommendation: Someday a Tree by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Ronald Himler
Alice is a little girl blessed with a huge, ancient oak tree in her yard. Frequently she and her mother picnic under it and read stories, or her mother tells her tales of her family: how they acquired the land because of the tree, how Alice was christened under it, etc. Others stop by and enjoy a picnic under the tree and Alice understands the tree is to be shared. But when someone dumps a chemical poison under the tree, the tree begins to die. As Alice and her parents struggle to save the tree, their neighbors and friends arrive to help. Their battle is heroic, but the leaves continue to dry up, and squirrels, birds and deer leave the area. Alice must accept the fact that her tree is dying, and whoever killed it probably did not even intend to do so. Then she finds a bit of hope: her acorn collection. Someday, she hopes, there will be more oak trees. This story shows the longevity and yet the fragility of some aspects of nature. It shows the serious implications of carelessness with God’s creation. It shows the comfort of caring people working together. And it shows that we must keep working together to be good stewards of the earth.

Discussion starters: Talk briefly about the beauty of a tree. If possible, examine some twigs with buds, and consider placing them in water. Talk about a tree being a gift from God, and that God has entrusted it in our care. Do an experiment: plant bean seeds in potting soil in three paper cups and place them into a sunny window. In cup No. 1, water the soil, keeping it evenly moist but not too wet. In cup No. 2, water the soil with lemon juice, explaining to the children that while lemon juice might not hurt people, it might hurt plants, like the tree in the story. In cup No. 3, do not water the soil at all. Watch the cups for growth. Talk about the differences between giving the seeds something they need, giving them something that may be harmful, and not giving them what they need. Pray together that you all learn how best to take care of God’s creation.

Big Book ideas: To a new page in the book, add many pictures of creation: flowers, trees, the sky, animals, water, people, and so on. Children may also want to draw pictures. Add the words, “We take care of God’s creation.”

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Principle: Option for the Poor and Vulnerable
(Adults’ definition) As Catholics, we are called to give preferential treat to those who are poor and vulnerable. This is not referring to acts of mercy, valuable as they are, but beyond mercy to acts of justice. Those of us who are wealthy (that is, those who have more than what is needed) owe a share of our wealth to those of us who are poor (that is, those who do not have their needs met). The sharing is a requirement that is made clear in the Gospel.

(Children’s definition) Jesus teaches that people who have less than others must be helped and given what they need. It is very important that this be done. Jesus wants us to do this.

Book recommendation: The Quiltmaker’s Gift by Jeff Brumbeau, illustrated by Gail de Marcken
This is a wonderfully symbolic story to introduce this concept. The quiltmaker is a talented woman of magical talents. Her quilts are made of the colors of the bluest seas, the purplest wild flowers, and the orangest sunsets. Many wealthy people come to her mountaintop home, pockets and purses bulging, in hopes of purchasing one of her exquisite quilts. But on this, the quiltmaker remains firm: her quilts are never purchased. They are always given away, and only to those shivering in the streets. Now in this same country there is a greedy king. Though he is the wealthiest person in the country, he is not happy and decides he must have a quilt. He rages with frustration when he is told he can only have a quilt if he gives everything else away. Grudgingly at first, then with greater and greater joy, he gives everything away. And when he receives a most spectacular quilt, he is happy, not only with its beauty, but also with himself.

Discussion Starters: How does the quiltmaker get the king to see that he must help others who have less than he does? What happenes to the poor people when the king gave them his things? What happens to the king?

Big Book ideas: Add to the book by brainstorming ideas with children about people helping one another. If possible, find pictures of people helping others, and after adding them to the poster board page, write words describing how we can help one another. If you cannot find appropriate photos, you and the children can draw pictures depicting their ideas on helping. Consider adding quilt-like borders on this page.

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Principle: Dignity and Rights of Workers
(Adults’ definition) Catholic social teaching views work as an expression of our dignity and our work in God’s ongoing creation. It proclaims that people have a right to do safe and productive work for fair wages.

(Children’s definition) All people work. There are many kinds of work, and people deserve to have good and safe work. By our work, we help ourselves, others, and show love to God.

Book recommendation: Beatrice’s Goat by Page McBrier, illustrated by Lori Lohstoeter
Meaningful and productive work is not an issue young children are acquainted with, but this book introduces the concept by showing a child’s work which enables her to live with dignity and hope. It is based on the true story of a family whose lives are greatly enhanced when they receive training and the gift of a goat from Heifer International. Beatrice is a child living in a village amid the rolling hills and banana groves of western Uganda. The oldest of six children, Beatrice must help by tending the fields and animals, as well as cooking and caring for siblings. What she longs for is an opportunity to go to school, but that seems impossible. Then the goat arrives. Readers will see the results of Beatrice’s new work: building a shed, planting a pasture, feeding and caring for the goat and its two kids, the improvement in the family’s nutrition with the goat’s milk, Beatrice becoming a young business woman when she sells extra milk, and the chance now to attend school. Because Beatrice is a real child in real circumstances, young children can see the importance of Beatrice’s work for her life and that of her family.

Discussion Starters: Try to convey the dignity of work. Use examples of adults the children know who enjoy their work, or your own. Then explain that some children must work more than others. Like Beatrice, they must help their families, or else they will not have enough to eat. Point out that Beatrice found joy in working with the goat. And because of her work, she could go to school. As them to think of work they might like to do now and as adults.

Big Book ideas: For this page, have the children draw scenes from the story of Beatrice or have them draw pictures of different kinds of work. Add the words, “Work must have dignity.” If the word ‘dignity’ is too difficult for the children to understand, use words such as honor, respect and importance.

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Principle: Solidarity
(Adults’ definition) The previous principles of Catholic social teaching culminate, in a sense, in this one. Jesus calls us to love one another. And because our Earth is limited, we all are interconnected. When one group of people suffers, all the world’s people are hurt in some way. We must work for justice on a global dimension.

(Children’s definition) We all are God’s children. And we all are connected to one another. Even though we can be very different from one another, and live in different places, we are still one family—God’s family.

Book recommendation: Children Just Like Me by Barnabas and Anabel Kindersley, in association with UNICEF
This popular book offers children and adults ample opportunities to learn about the many peoples of the world. But its title states simply what the book is all about: solidarity. The Kindersleys traveled to many parts of the world to meet, interview and photograph more than 28 children from the Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia, Southeast Asia, and Australia. What they created, however, was not merely a book but a testament to the wonder and joy of all children, and how much the world’s young people have in common, even while their circumstances create great differences. This book is a feast for all readers. And, it teaches unequivocally that we must care about, and care for, one another.

Discussion Starters: Choose one of the children from the book, such as Celina from Brazil. Look for a few interesting differences in her life from that of your children (for example, days and nights are always the same length for Celina because she lives near the equator.) Then find similarities. Talk about the fact that we are connected to Celina and her family because we are all of the human family.

Big Book ideas: Have each child do a self-portrait of his or whole body, about 4 inches high. Cut these out. Then have each child choose one child from the book and draw that child too. Cut these out also. While they are doing this, draw a circle in the center of the page to represent the Earth. You can put in continents, or just make it blues, greens, browns and whites. Have each child’s people drawings encircle the Earth, radiating out from it. Make certain you have enough drawings to circle the world. Write the words, “We all belong to one another.” Attach the front and back covers and the book is complete.