Catholics and the rosary. They go together like ham and cheese, love and marriage, salvation and redemption. Ok, so that was a little off-beat but then, so are a lot of rosaries.
Every Friday night will find my family here at my house or at the home of one of four other families consuming pizza and praying the rosary. This rosary group has existed for about fifteen years and my family has been a member for about nine. We gather in the evening and the hosting family provides pizza while the other families contribute soda, juice, wine and, when not in Lent, desserts. We eat and then settle down to pray together.
This is absolutely, positively not a meditative rosary. There are children ranging in ages from 18 months (my twins) to college age. Our devotions could be considered more athletic than contemplative.
"Hail Mary, full of grace (sit down) the Lord is with (stop swinging the beads) thee. Blessed art thou (ssshh) among women (please leave your sister alone) and blessed is the fruit (get the baby off the table) of thy womb Jesus."
You get the idea.
There are virtues to be gained in this rosary, patience being the main one. One of the many upsides of this monumental effort is that the children learn the prayers of the rosary, generally, by the time they are three and this devotion seamlessly becomes a part of their lives. On the occasion when we miss a Friday there is a hole in our week, a void that can't be filled by just praying the rosary alone. This kind of public prayer brings us together as the Body of Christ and reaps untold spiritual graces.
My own version of the rosary, my private devotion, is more of a rosarius rapidus. Prayed at 5:00 a.m. in about twenty minutes with a nod to the mysteries of the day. A busy mom's rosary. Later, before their school day begins I pray another rosary with the children. I take the time to read the meditation before each decade and try, try, try to instill some contemplation into their young lives. The virtue is in the trying.
When I taught CCD in my parish I would often hear parents say that they had difficulty with teaching their children the prayers required to receive First Holy Communion. Often they felt it a burden for their children to learn the Hail Mary, Our Father and Act of Contrition. This astonishes me since most children that age can recite entire episodes of SpongeBob Square Pants verbatim. Obviously memorization is not an issue. Any child who can recite to you the five hundred Pokemon characters or the Mets starting line-up is not lacking in skills to memorize. What is takes is a little more effort on the part of parents.
By far the easiest way to teach children to pray is to actually pray with them, every day. Say the blessing before meals every time you eat. It becomes a habit and your children will expect it and make it part of your mealtime ritual. Once it becomes part of their day, well, heaven help you if you forget. Then every evening before bed say a Hail Mary with them. It will take twenty seconds. Everyone has an extra twenty seconds. Within two weeks most children will have the prayer down pat. Much the same way they learned to sing "Twinkle Twinkle" they will learn their prayers from mom and dad. This nightly ritual will expand as they get older and include more prayers and special intentions. Teach them to pray for the Holy Souls in purgatory, the protection of the unborn, the poor, the ill and those steeped in sin. Teach them to pray for specific intentions, their friends, their teachers, their grandparents and you. Teach them to keep company with the Saints and read saint stories to them as often as possible.
As they grow older they will develop their own prayer life and a fondness for devotions outside of the ones you favor. My son Ryan has a great devotion to the Divine Mercy Chaplet. He takes out his beads and prays it faithfully each day. Katie always has a novena to St. Therese going, cultivating a beautiful relationship with this great saint. Erin remains a rosary girl, like her mother. The younger children enjoy laying roses at their Heavenly Mother's feet with each Hail Mary and singing praise and worship songs.
When you teach your children to pray faithfully and make family prayer a part of your daily lives together you bind them to their faith and to their family. You create opportunity for them to develop a close relationship with Our Heavenly Father, Our Blessed Mother and the communion of saints.
That will come in a lot more handy than a relationship with SpongeBob. I promise.
Resources for praying with children
Rev. Lawrence L. Lovasik has written many books of devotions for children. They are all available from The Catholic Company for $1.50 each. They are lively, well written and beautifully illustrated. They make lovely additions to Easter Baskets. http://www.catholiccompany.com/catholic-catalog/983/Rev-L-Lovasik-SVD/?aid=117
Tomie dePaola an awarding winning author and illustrator of children's books has written many saint biographies and books with Catholic themes. Many are available at Adoremus Books. http://www.adoremusbooks.com/ and http://www.amazon.com/
A guide to praying the rosary – http://www.rosary-center.org/howto.htm
EWTN has an exhaustive listing of Catholic devotions and prayers. http://www.ewtn.com/Devotionals/prayer_saint.htm