Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Why a multi-age classroom?

The prayer table as set by the children with our new Good Shepherd statue and leaves for Autumn.

The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS) has three levels. Each consists of a three-year age span. We currently are running the level one Atrium which is for children ages 3-6. Level two is ages 6-9 and level three is ages 9-12. At this time our Atrium is only made up of 3 and 4 year old children due to the number of children we had initially signed up for the program. Next year will should have the full complement of ages. 

Why does this program promote a multi-age classroom and won't the children become bored being in the same environment for three years?

In a multi-aged classroom we have a more authentic community than we would if there were only children of the same age present. In the Atrium each child works at his or her own pace. This means that the children are free to work with materials that are appropriate for their developmental levels. The Catechist takes time to observe the work of the children and to modify the classroom as is needed for their continued growth. In addition, the younger children look up to the older children in a way that far exceeds their admiration for the adult in the classroom. They can envision a time when they too will be 5 and will be able to master the work that the 5 year old is doing. In addition, the older or more experienced children are able to assist the younger children with their lessons or in cleaning up a spill or finding part of a missing work. At all ages the children are provided with opportunities to assist in their growth as individuals - all without the help of the adult!

The three-year cycle provides adequate time for the children to work through all of the lessons and to continue to slowly master the lessons they have been working through. We are given the luxury of time that is not available to a classroom that exists for only one year before the children move on. The children are free to contemplate the Gospel truths of the Nativity during Advent, the Empty Tomb at Easter and the lessons of the Mass and the Parables throughout the year. Every lesson is not given each year to each child. It is over the three years that the Biblical and Liturgical lessons are given, each in their own seasons which correspond to the seasons of the Church. 

As we grow together in the Atrium this our first year, we will continue to see the community of children develop and mature. Over the next few years this cohesiveness will increase as we have returning children who are familiar with the Atrium and it's peacefulness and will help to pass this joy onto the new children entering. 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Practical Life in the Atrium

 What is Practical Life and why do we have it in the Atrium?

If you've ever been to a Montessori Primary Classroom (ages 3-6) you will see that Practical Life is one of the areas of the classroom. All of the children, but especially the youngest, will spend much of their time in this area. The purpose of the Practical Life exercises is multi-faceted. As anyone who is in ear shot of a preschool child knows, if one is cleaning, sewing, dusting, sweeping or cooking, the preschooler says, "I want to do it, too!" In addition, that same preschooler can often be heard to say, "I can do it myself." She says it even if it isn't quite true. 

Young children have a need to work in a way that is different than an adults view of work. The adult works to accomplish a task. The child works to perfect himself. We see this when a child will do a task over and over and over again without tiring. It is in the process of this work that the young child is meeting an internal developmental need that is unknown to the adult observer. Only the child knows when he has tired of a task. He does not work to accomplish the task. It is in the doing, the moving, the focused independence that the child is creating himself. It is, in a way, a form of prayer. For who has given the child this need but our Creator?

It is through the work of Practical Life (in the Atrium we find work to do, we do not play) that the child begins to learn to control and coordinate her movements, to find inner order and to work independently. These skills are so important for every child and are the skills that the young child has an inner need to master. Each child does his own work and can work at a lesson for as long as he needs without interruption (hopefully!). As teachers, we do not teach so much as guide the child. We ask only that the child respect herself, her environment and the others in the Atrium. The children have freedom with limits. Freedom to move at will, to choose their own work, to determine when they are finished with something and even freedom to not work. All as long as they follow the three rules of respect.

In this way, it is through the work of Practical Life that the children are preparing themselves for the lessons about the Life of Jesus and the Mass which require more control of attention and movement. They should also be more prepared to sit through Mass which requires a great deal of control!

Below are some of the Practical Life exercises that were on the shelf at the beginning of the year. I have just changed most of them to reflect the season of Autumn and to add a small dimension of difficulty. When your children return after having a week off they will be excited to see new things in the Atrium!

Flower Arranging 
Pouring and Drinking Water
Spooning apples

Pouring Small Shells
Placing Apples by their stems

Tweezing Puff Balls

Polishing a Mirror
Threading a Needle
The Prayer Table as set by the children.
A word about the prayer table. You can see the many flower arrangements placed on the prayer table by the children. I think flower arranging may be one of the favorite works in the Atrium right now! Setting up the prayer table is a work the children may do although at this time no one has chosen to set it up. I think the children are still too immersed in the newness of the Atrium and the Practical Life work. At the end of the morning we gather together at the prayer table as a group. If the table is not set, we will set it together with flowers, objects (shells at this time), a picture or statue, a prayer card and a candle which I light. We sing some songs and are beginning to practice 'making silence.' It is here that we can contemplate our work in silence, we can say something to Jesus out loud or in silence if we like. We also dismiss from the prayer table. 

We have had five weeks in the Atrium so far. I am so pleased with the progress of the children. Having 20 children who have never been in this kind of classroom in the past was daunting to me. Being a new Atrium means we will have to go slowly this year and take our time presenting new lessons. Fortunately, slowing down is one of the goals of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. For in this slowness we have the time to contemplate the Goodness of God.