“Under the heading of formal catecheties I treated the methods and means of teaching catechism. Here attention must be called first of all to the division into classes. In the nature of the case this division must first and chiefly figure with the different ages of the catechumens. These ages are readily divided into three, namely: the age of children from six to twelve years; the age of early adolescence, from thirteen to sixteen; and the age of later adolescence or of young people of sixteen years and older.
“The chief characteristic of the child in the first period is undoubtedly that of receptivity. The soul of the child is easily receptive for impressions. What his teacher tells him is usually accepted by the child without question. His attitude is not critical: he easily accepts what is taught him. Moreover, in this period memory is usually strongest; just because things are new for him they easily attract his attention, and hence they are retained in memory. And finally, in this period the child usually has a lively imagination. It is only toward the close of this period that independent judgment is being developed in the child. The catechete therefore uses this period according to the best of his ability. He must not proceed from the false notion that he doesn’t have to prepare himself for these earlier catechism classes. Much tact and discernment are demanded to adapt himself to the psychological life of the child. And because the child easily accepts what is taught him and does not assume a critical attitude, the catechete must be very careful and must be conscious of his great responsibility. This is true not only in respect to the contents of his instruction but also for his entire appearance, for the child imitates easily,—especially the smaller child. What the teacher does he will want to do also. His mien, his bearing and gestures, and the entire appearance of the teacher make an impression on him; and he copies his instructor in every respect. All the more he must be careful and must not proceed from the supposition that his instruction and bearing do not matter so much in the class of small children. He must also attempt to think himself into the life of the child and to adapt himself to it. He must therefore be simple in his instruction and not make a great show of wisdom; the child does not understand great things. Not only must he refrain from giving a dogmatical exposition of the Trinity for a child of six years old, but he also must not speak of hundreds of miles in the discussion of a narrative of Scripture, for the child does not know what a mile is and also has no conception of the number 100. He therefore must connect himself by the apperceptions of the child. He also may make use of the imagination of a child and render his instruction as concrete as possible. It is also of the greatest importance that he gain the confidence of the child: this will encourage the pupil to open his childish heart for him; and when the child does that, the teacher must be careful that he does not leave the impression of considering the childish problems of no account. He must much rather take into consideration that these childish questions are very serious to the child. He must also be honest in relation to the child, for the latter feels very keenly. When he makes a mistake in the treatment of the lesson and the mistake is noticed by the child, the teacher must not try to save his face by all kinds of subterfuges, but rather acknowledge his mistake freely.
“The age of the child is easily divided into three periods, and this division is also to be recommended as a basis for division into classes, if, namely, the number of pupils permits. In that case the first class includes the ages of six to eight; the second class the ages of nine and ten; and the third class the ages of eleven to thirteen. In these different classes there ought to be a gradual ascent from the simple narrative, without mention of time or place, in the first period to the connected narrative, mentioning time and place, in the second period, and finally to the treatment of Biblical History from a somewhat ideal point of view, with the explanation of the significance of persons, historical events, types, etc., in the third period.
The period covering the ages of thirteen to fifteen, inclusive, is called the period of early adolescence. It is a period of transition both from a physical and from a psychological viewpoint. This is true first of all because this period is the age of puberty. In this period the body of the child grows almost visibly. The arms and legs of the boy and girl in this period sometimes become so long that he does not know what to do with them. Besides, this period is characterized by a certain instability. On the one hand, there is often a certain inclination to act very independently; but on the other hand, there is as yet no stability. The boy and girl in this period are exposed to all kinds of influences. Besides, they are becoming critical. The period of early childhood, in which one accepts everything on authority, is past. The age of reflection has set in, and the boy or girl begins to judge somewhat independently. The catechete therefore must in this period especially be discrete and wise, sympathetic, kind, longsuffering, and steadfast. He must attempt to gain the confidence of these early adolescents and be not only their instructor but also their friend and their guide. He must exercise patience also, if from the midst of a class of catechumens of this age all kinds of questions arise that probably have seemingly nothing to do with the lesson that is being taught. In the meantime in this period a serious beginning must be made with the instruction in the fundamental dogmatical truths. It is possible that in the first part of this period the truths are still viewed from a historical point of view; but nevertheless, the emphasis must no longer fall on the history but on the doctrine. The catechete must insist in this period that the lesson be committed to memory. It is also commendable that the catechumens of this age be assigned to do some work at home in connection with the lesson. The catechete, however, must be careful that he does not demand too much in this respect, lest some of the catechumens be discouraged.
“The last period is that of later adolescence, or young people of the age of sixteen until the time of making confession of faith. This period is characterized by more stability than the former. In every sphere the young people confront the necessity of making a choice, also in respect to the covenant. The words of Scripture, “Choose you this day whom ye will serve” are impressed more deeply upon their consciousness. The instruction of this period must take this into account. It must be indeed chiefly doctrinal instruction, but with a more thorough discussion of the various doctrinal problems and with application to practical spiritual life. This period is, of course, closed by the making of confession of faith.
“However, it is strongly to be recommended to continue catechism even after confession of faith has been made, in order that those especially who have a desire to learn may have an opportunity for further development. Various questions and subjects that cannot be treated in the common catechism class can be discussed in such a special class. Problems that are related to the church political side of ecclesiastical life, to the task of officebearers, to liturgical questions, as well as our confessions, the Netherland Confession and the Canons, and the forms—especially of Baptism and the form for the Lord’s Supper—offer abundant material that is worthy of being treated.
“In catechism it is undoubtedly the best rule to divide the classes according to the ages of the catechumens. These ages will have to be changed, no doubt, according as the classes are larger or smaller; but as a rule the ages must determine the size of the classes. This is undoubtedly not ideal, and it has been attempted to let the advancement of the catechumens determine this matter; but in actual practice this is very difficult to be realized. The young people of the same age in the midst of the congregation feel that they belong together and will not easily let themselves be put in a class in which they do not belong according to their age. And therefore practice must dominate the ideal in this respect.”
Thus far the quotation from my Catecheties.
And this quotation may serve at the same time as an answer to the Rev. Gritters, both in regard to my system of catechetical instruction and in regard to my method of instruction the youth in the knowledge of our confessions.
According to this system I have given catechetical instruction for over thirty years, and I found it very satisfactory. We have no need of a new system at all. My young people I instructed in almost everything of any importance in the line of Reformed truth, as the reader may judge from the following list of subjects.
1. Three, times I went with them very carefully and thoroughly through the Canons of Dordrecht, once in question and answer form.
2. For the third time I was teaching, the Netherland Confession when I took sick.
3. More than once I went through the Baptism Form.
4. Besides, I went through the form for the administration of the Lord’s Supper, the form for excommunication, and the form for re-admitting excommunicated persons.
5. For two years I studied with them the entire book of Revelation.
6. Twice I went through the book of Daniel,
7. The first three chapters of Genesis we studied forr two or three years.
8. I gave them a popular course in the history of doctrine.
9. Besides, I studied with them the Three Points.
10. And one year I explained to them the recent controversy in the Netherlands. Always I prepared a mimeographed lesson which they might study and save.
But let me emphasize once more in conclusion that it is very essential that our children start with Biblical History, and to ignore or discard this is a fundamental error.