The theology of the body is not just suited to high school classrooms. Even 4-year-olds should have the opportunity to learn about St. John Paul II's teaching on life, love and human sexuality -- at least in part.
Molly Meyer, a curriculum design specialist, gave a presentation July 24 on Ruah Woods Press' proprietary K-12 supplementary curriculum on the pope's teaching during the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education's four-day conference at The Catholic University of America in Washington.
The K-5 section of the curriculum teaches not about the sexual themes associated with the theology of the body, but the Catholic anthropology that must precede any understanding of human sexuality that students learn later.
"Rooted: The Theology of the Body" is the first curriculum in the world that begins to teach this theology to kindergartners. Completed last year, the K-5 material will debut in the classroom for the first time this school year.
Sean Cruess, principal at St. Benedict Catholic School in Richmond, Virginia, said that he was interested in starting to teach theology of the body earlier at his school.
"I think it's neat because it starts at such a basic level and such a young age," Cruess said. "Right now we start it in middle school, and I think that at that age, kids are more likely to see theology of the body as a chastity program, whereas if you start it in the elementary grades they see it for what it is, which is just a theology of the human person, a theology of human love."
The curriculum uses both nature and literature to introduce ideas about creation, the gift of life and man's distinctiveness from other animals. The program includes titles such as "Blueberries for Sal," "An Egg is Quiet," "The Quiltmaker's Gift," "Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters," "St. George and the Dragon" and others.
Meyer, who designed the K-5 curriculum herself, said that she modeled the curriculum's storytelling base off of both Jesus' and St. John Paul's example.
Diana Philpott, a conference attendee, lives and works in South Bend, Indiana, where she helps schools transition into a Catholic classical setting.
"This curriculum is opening my mind about how to talk about theology of the body," Philpott said. "It brings together nature, reality, our human person, and who we are as people in this beautiful woven way that I had not really thought about in such a structure."
The program for each grade comes with two pieces of literature, each which Meyer coupled with multiple themes so that teachers can revisit the same books throughout the year from different angles. The curriculum also recommends specific hands-on lesson plans and activities in conjunction with books and themes. For kindergarten and first grade, every lesson suggests a complementary nature walk.
"God became incarnate in nature. He took human flesh, nature itself, and used that to communicate who God is. So, nature is very important," Meyer said. "You have to see and love nature in order to see and love who God is."
The teacher's guide also gives examples of questions to stimulate discovery on nature walks. Meyer suggested that teachers point out symmetry and order to students to give them a foundation for beauty and an appreciation for the gift of life.
Each lesson also features an "Illuminations" section, which connects themes from the book with related aspects of Catholic culture and tradition.
Meyer added that the word curriculum comes from the Latin meaning path or way. Ultimately, this, and any, curriculum should guide students as they develop into their humanity.
"It is less about a particular goal that I might have in mind that I want them to learn and it is more about who they are becoming as a person," Meyer said. "The end goal is the sanctity of the child, not simply facts they have learned."