Saturday, November 30, 2013

Liturgical Colors

Above you can see the work we use to teach the colors of the church year. The four chasubles are in the four colors of the church: white, purple, green and red. We present the colors fairly simply at this time. White is for the feasts of the Church. The two great feasts are Christmas and Easter. Purple is before the feast. Advent and Lent are two times when we are preparing for the great feasts of Christmas and Easter. Green is after the feast. It is a growing time when we learn more about Jesus. Red we present only as for the feast of Pentecost, for the Holy Spirit. 

The poster is on the wall and is a control chart for this work. I've been a bit surprised at how much the children look and refer to these charts (we have one for the altar work,too). It just goes to show how important the environment and order is for the children of this age (those sensitive periods!). 

I happened to present this lesson to the group on the Feast of Christ the King. One of my four-year-olds remarked to me in passing (quite a while after this presentation) "Father Leo was wearing white today." Because I was working with another child I could not talk to him about why Fr. Leo was wearing white (it not being Easter or Christmas). I love how much these young children notice! It's one reason I always sat towards the front of the church when my own children were young and encourage others to do the same. Especially as we continue to learn about the Mass, sitting with the children in a place where they can see what is happening on the altar will help them incorporate what they are learning in class and feel more a part of the larger Church.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Work in the Atrium

The Bible in the Prayer Corner
Altar 1 Work
We have finally begun working with some of our Mass works in the Atrium. It has been so hard for me to wait on these beautiful materials! I think it has been a little hard for the children as well. We have been focusing on practical life in the Atrium to help the children learn order, concentration, coordination and independence. It is by working on these skills that the children are more prepared to absorb the religious lessons. They are more capable of sitting and listening, of moving more deliberately, of carrying things one at a time, of sitting and looking at the beauty of the altar or of walking slowly for a procession.

This week we began class with a procession on the line to set up the prayer table with a new element: The Holy Bible. In this whole group presentation we talked about the Bible as the most precious book in the whole world. We showed the Bible and how beautiful it is and I read Jesus' words from the gospel of John, "I am the light of the world." We remember that although we are hearing Ms. Beth's words, the words are the words of Jesus. We remembered that these words are the reason we light a candle. Over and over we repeated the words of Jesus, "I am the light of the world."

During our free work time, I showed a few children the Altar 1 work. In this work we begin naming the articles used during the Mass: The altar cloth, the chalice, the paten, the candles and the crucifix.  I explain that the chalice is used to hold the blood of Christ, the wine and the paten holds the body of Christ, the bread. After the lesson, the children are able to use these materials themselves. If they want the candles lit they must ask an adult who then sits with them until they extinguish the flames. 

I purposely showed two 4 year olds this work. A three year old joined the lesson. All three children were enchanted by the work. It was the three year old, however, who set up the table (which you see above) and then asked for the lighted candles and sat silently for a very long time admiring the work until she was interrupted by one of the 4 year olds coming back to do the work again. ("Darn" he said when he saw the work was being used!)

We have only two weeks left in the atrium until Advent. Come Advent there are some beautiful works to present. Each week I am left wishing I could have more days and more hours with the children! What a blessing this work is to me and to them.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Importance of Movement

Above you can see the 'walking line' that graces our atrium. We use the line to practice movement exercises such as walking, walking while carrying an item and to enter the classroom during a procession. Yes, I know, technically this tape isn't a line. It isn't perfectly straight and it doesn't go on forever! In Montessori nomenclature any tape on the floor (no matter the shape) is called the line. It took me a few weeks to get used to this.

In this post I talked about the sensitive periods for the young child. Movement is one of those sensitive periods that we take very seriously in the atrium. The children may practice walking on the line at any time (and many of them LOVE entering and leaving the classroom by the line), but all of the work in the atrium is filled with movement. 

Any person who has had the most limited time with young children know their penchant for movement. Many never stop moving from morning to night. I can remember my youngest hopping, jumping, climbing and scaling everything. I don't think her really ever walked or sat still. Even while I read him books he was active, he did not sit quietly at my side. Yet, when I asked him about the story, he could always tell me.

Knowing that the child has a need for movement, everything in the atrium is geared toward this movement. Each child has the freedom to move from one area of the room to another at will. He or she can take out any work he or she has been given a lesson on. Each lesson consists of some type of movement (pouring, spooning, walking, etc.). Although we do not hop or jump or run in the classroom, we work on controlled movement. 

These controlled movements transfer to the church. We will work on the sign of the cross, genuflection, the gestures of the mass (moment of Epiclesis or Consecration and the Offering this year). All of this movement also does something unexpected for the children: It helps them to sit still. The movement exercises in all of the other works assist the child to learn to control his body. As he gains control, we can present the more time consuming lesson that include Bible readings. It it will also assist the child in sitting through the Mass.

So the next time your young son or daughter wants to run, run, run......know why he or she NEEDS to!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Thoughts about the Land of Israel

The Land of Israel relief map. This is not ours but from another atrium.
I get so much joy from the children in the Atrium. It is especially wonderful to see their interest in the materials and the thoughts that they share with us.

On Sunday, at the end of our time in the Atrium, the children were putting away their work and gathering around the prayer table. One child walked by our relief map of the land of Israel. I haven't presented this work yet. She asked, "What's that?" I responded, "That is the land of Israel. It is the place Jesus lived." A three year old looked at me with eyes wide open and asked, "Is he still there?" I told her he was not. She then asked, "Why not?" 

Well.....we'll be learning all of that soon but I just told her he lived there a long time ago and that we'll soon be learning all about his life and family and where he lived.

What a wonderful way for the children to begin to anticipate the work we have in the next few weeks! I will be presenting the historical background of Jesus (where he was from, that it was a real place) and then in Advent will begin to present the Infancy Narratives. The children are so looking forward to using those materials that they see on the shelf but have not been presented to them yet!

And so am I!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Golden Age of Catechesis

Painting of the Good Shepherd from the Catacombs of Rome, 3rd Century.
To become certified in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd takes two years of training. I took the first half of the training last summer in an intensive course so that we could start our Atrium at St. Mary's. I will complete the training next summer. In addition to the training (which incorporates theory and philosophy of the Catechesis, the doctrinal foundations for each material, as well as learning the atrium materials and time for prayer and reflection) we are required to visit a Montessori classroom. Since I work in a Montessori classroom I am instead required to visit another Atrium which I hope to do this winter sometime. 

I am fortunate to be able to attend any other session of the training given by my trainer at no additional cost. I was able to attend a session yesterday and wanted to share some of the information we covered with you.

The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd work is based on the philosophy of Maria Montessori regarding the child. Dr. Montessori broke up development into what she called 'planes.' The children in our Atrium are in the first plane of development which continues until about age 6. At each phase of development, the child is focused on different aspects of his growth in the world. Dr. Montessori called these 'sensitive periods.' A sensitive period is a particular period in a child's life in which he or she has a particular need and ability to learn something. The child will learn these things more quickly and easily than at any other time of her development. For the children in our Atrium they are attuned to the following:

  • Movement 
  • Language  
  • Order
  • Sensory preparation
  • Social Graces
The young child is in 'the Golden Age of Catechesis.' It is a perfect time for the child to fall in love with Jesus and the Church due to her unique developmental abilities at this time. I feel blessed that St. Mary's has allowed us to take on this beautiful work for the children in this first plane of development.

In the next few posts I will talk about how we use these sensitive periods in the work of the Atrium to assist the child who says, "help me to help myself."