Sunday, September 7, 2014

Oh What a Beautiful Morning...

Today was our first session of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd for the current school year. We have all of our students returning from last year and quite a number of new students attending this year. It is quite exciting! The first day is always somewhat chaotic as we have some paperwork to attend to by parents, a few tears from children not sure if they want to leave mom and dad and so many new and exciting things to look at!

This year we moved the atrium to a slightly smaller classroom with some storage space and better sink areas. This means I don't have to wander throughout the school building (which is quite large) every time I need to change the materials in the atrium. All of our materials can be stored out of sight in the classroom. Joy!

We spend quite a long time at circle during the first day to help the children learn each other's names and to learn about the procedures in the classroom. One of the first things we do is to set up the prayer table. Every child had the opportunity to put something on the table. For those who did not want to help, we learned how to say 'no thank you.' Of course lighting the candle is always an exciting experience for this age group. We discuss safety and how important it is for them to sit quietly while the candle is lit. I do not leave the candle at any time while it is lit.
After singing a few songs we dismissed for a short work time where my helpers and I work to teach the students lessons in the classroom. We concentrate on practical life and art before anything else. In the atrium, each child is able to find his or her own work. The challenge for new children is to learn that we only take out one work at a time. Each work has it's own tray and is not to be mixed with other works. This is a very new concept for most children but they catch on after a few weeks. You can see from the above photo that we had a bit of mixed up work this morning! It made me chuckle when I saw our little flower vase filled with water, pom poms and chick peas! One of the hallmarks of the Montessori and Catechesis classrooms is to observe and make changes as needed. We will continue to help the children learn the proper ways to work with the materials so they will get the most out of their time. (For information about practical life in the atrium click here.)

Next week will be more of the same: A little extra time at the prayer table singing songs, learning names and showing lessons (how to unroll and roll a rug, how to carry a tray, how to walk around a rug, etc.) and then a slightly longer work period. Once the children get in the habit of taking work off the shelf, using it properly and returning it to it's place we can slowly move into the catechetical works of Biblical Geography and the Altar. All in good time!

Have a blessed week everyone.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Cenacle

Palm Sunday. This is our last day of Lent in the atrium. Today we explored the mysteries present in the reading about the Last Supper. Cenacle is a French word taken from the Latin, a word that means upper room. This material is referred to by that name. To be honest, it is the first I've ever heard it referred to by that name. Since the children are in a sensitive period for language, they will have what I had not, a better understanding of the words and the mysteries in this reading. 

The reading is taken from Mark. We do not read about the betrayal of Judas with the children. At this tender age the lesson is in the words that Jesus spoke: "This is my body, this is my blood." This is the first time Jesus spoke these words that we hear each and every Sunday during our special meal, the Mass. During the Cenacle presentation we draw attention to the special meal Jesus was sharing with his disciples, the Passover Meal. 
As the children work with this material, we hope they begin to realize that the table is set in the same way as the altar work they so love. That what they are seeing is the same as they see each week during Mass. 

We do not comment on this sameness. We allow the children to come to these realizations on their own as they are prepared to receive the gift of this special sight. All in the time of the Holy Spirit.

What I found interesting today were some comments and actions of the children. To begin with, class started late due to the length of the Palm Sunday Mass. I brought the children into the atrium in a silent procession which means they waited outside the classroom until everyone was gathered. For some it was a lengthy wait. 

For some of our children, sitting and listening is a difficult task. It was a somewhat noisy presentation. We talked about the three cities that were important in Jesus' life (Nazareth, Bethlehem and Jerusalem) and that this story took place in Jerusalem. I explained about the special meal of the Passover quickly and asked them to listen for the words Jesus spoke to his special friends, the disciples. We remembered other words Jesus spoke (I am the light, I am the Good Shepherd). 

Reading the words directly from the Bible is a challenge for many of the children. However, when I brought out the materials you see above, and began moving the disciples slowly into the upper room, the children became entranced. 

After reading the part that states Jesus and the disciples sang a hymn and then went into the garden I slowly move each of the 13 figures out of the Cenacle and onto a piece of green paper to represent the garden.

It was at this point that one child whispered, "Why is Jesus gong first?" A friend replied (in a whisper), "Because he is Jesus. He can do what he wants." Yet another child responded by saying, "Jesus always leads his friends."

From the mouths of babes. 

May we all be childlike in our responses this Easter. May your Easter be a blessed one.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

The City of Jerusalem

After the lesson the children can move the pieces of the city from one map to the other.
So far this year in the atrium we have talked about the places Jesus lived while He was on this earth. One of the first presentations to the children was the land and water globe in which we looked at our whole world and saw the small red dot that pointed out Israel, the little country that God chose to have His son live.

A little while later we learned about the land of Israel by touching a relief map and placing symbols on three cities: Nazareth, Bethlehem and Jerusalem. We talk about those three cities often as we learned more about Jesus' life and teaching. 

This weekend in the atrium we will continue this study of Jesus' life by sharing the city of Jerusalem material. I will talk about the walls that surrounded the city of Jerusalem, the temple where Jesus went often, the Cenacle where Jesus shared the Last Supper, the Mount of Olives where he was arrested, the buildings that he was shifted to and from during his trial, Calvary where he died and the tomb from which he rose from the dead. We finish the presentation by lighting a candle because Jesus is alive and we sing a song.

For children at this young age we keep this presentation very matter of fact. It is mostly a naming lesson. This material is used again in the level II atrium and, like many of the materials, will be expanded upon as the children are developmentally ready to build upon their prior knowledge and spiritual experience. 

As an adult in the atrium experiencing the Bible narrative for the first time using materials, I am often struck by some aspect of the story that I had never before considered. Tonight as I practiced the lesson, it occurred to me that Jesus had to walk around the city quite a bit during his trial. In his compromised physical and emotional state this must have added to the grief of this experience. I had not ever thought much about how many places he was dragged between Holy Thursday evening and Good Friday. 

So often I find my own spiritual walk deepened by the work I do with the children in the atrium. It has been such a blessing to make and work with these materials and also the children this year. 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Practical Life during Lent

Practical Life exercises are a vital part of the atrium. For more information about why we have Practical Life in the CGS program follow this link.

I've refreshed our Practical Life area for Lent. One of the responsibilities of the catechist in the atrium is to observe the children at work. It is through this observation that we learn where things need to change, how the children are growing, etc. Through my observations, I've been seeing that the children need to slow down, to take more time with their work and to be more purposeful. This is not unusual, especially in a first year class. 

I decided to change our practical life exercises to use the hand on it's own a little more. I've also tried to keep to more natural or natural looking items with muted colors to reflect the solemn and contemplative nature of Lent even though we don't necessarily talk about it that way in the atrium. 

Placing small shells into each small suction cup of this little soap dish that reminds me of stones.

Pouring small beads from one cup to another.

Moving large varied shells from one bowl to another by hand.

Spooning shells and small stones and into separate sides of the small dish.

Pouring from a larger mouthed container into a smaller one using a funnel. This work is especially important as we will do this with water and wine when we learn to prepare the cruets toward the end of the year.

Pouring water from one container to another. I took the photo after I emptied the water for the day.

Pouring small beads into a bowl and then using the small tongs to replace them into the pitcher.

I hope that these materials will help the children slow down, to watch their work more closely and thus delve more deeply into concentration during our weeks in the atrium of Lent.

Sunday, March 9, 2014


The Prayer Table as set up by the children during out Lenten procession.
 Today we began a new season in the atrium: Lent. We always begin a new season of the Church year with a procession. We gather outside the atrium until all of our friends have arrived. Today I used that time to teach the children the song, The Lord is My Shepherd. Once everyone has arrived, each child is given one item to carry into the prayer table. We always sing a song and walk on the line to the prayer table. The children have gotten so good at this! They remember to walk slowly, to carry with two hands and to wait until the child ahead of them finishes putting his or her item on the table. 

Today we introduced Lent with the color purple. We have been learning all year about the significance of the Liturgical colors. Many of the children remembered that purple is a sign of preparation. We are preparing for Easter! We also read the first line of the 23rd psalm: The Lord is my shepherd. We talked about David and how he was a shepherd so he knew a lot about how well the shepherd takes care of his sheep. We also talked about what the sheep need (grass, water) and then that David meant that God was his shepherd. This led to a small discussion about what we need (food, water, love) and how God provides these things for us through our parents.

The Parable of the Good Shepherd
During Lent we will focus more on the life of Jesus. I have been giving lessons on the parable of the Good Shepherd. This parable is introduced by telling the children that when Jesus walked all over the land of Israel, people followed him and asked him lots of questions. One of the questions they asked was, "Who are you?" Jesus told this parable to help explain that he was the Good Shepherd. We do not read the parable in it's entirety at this level. We read the section that says that the Shepherd calls his sheep by name and that the sheep know the shepherd's voice. They will not follow a stranger because they do not know his voice. We also read the verse that says a shepherd will lay down his life for his sheep.

We continue asking wondering questions as the children's attention allows. I wonder how the sheep know the shepherd's voice? I wonder how the shepherd takes care of his sheep. How does he know which sheep is which? He must spend a lot of time with him sheep, etc. 

What we do NOT tell the children is who the sheep are. We let them work that out over time. It is always interesting to hear what draws the children, what they think of as I'm slowly (ever so slowly) moving the shepherd and then one sheep at a time out of the sheep fold and around it. I'm looking forward to working with this more during Lent.

Along with the Good Shepherd parable, I will introduce two other new works: The city of Jerusalem and the Cenacle (Last Supper). We do not focus on Lent in the same way as older children would. Our goal in the level one CGS (ages 3-6) is to help the child fall in love with Jesus. Our focus is on his life, on who he is and how he cares for us. Thus the parable of the Good Shepherd is one of the most important to the children. In it they learn that Jesus knows them each by name. That they are each so special to Jesus. We want them to know his voice and to follow him because he is love.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Pearl of Great Price

I've been thankful for the long season of Ordinary Time before Lent this year. As a beginning atrium it is challenging to get everything done, prepare the materials, learn and teach the lessons and help the children become "normalized." Normalization is the word Maria Montessori used to describe children who are able to find work, concentrate and end with a deep sense of satisfaction. We have varying degrees of this in the atrium and I've seen growth in even the children who don't come very often or have some behavioral challenges. I remind myself every week that the Holy Spirit works slowly and I must remember that it is through Him, not me that this work progresses.

We have been working with two more parables. You remember we first introduced the parable of the Mustard Seed at the beginning of ordinary time. A few weeks later I showed some of the children the parable of the Pearl of Great Price. Both parables were ways Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God. When presenting the Pearl, we read the scripture verses from Matthew 13: 45-46, "The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price he goes and sells all he has and buys it."

What has impacted the children with this lesson is when the merchant, after gathering several baskets of pearls, sees the pearl in the oyster shell. We then move him (slowly, slowly) and he takes each basket (one at a time) out of his house and finally his furniture out so he can "buy" and bring in the precious pearl. 

The children are very surprised when the merchant takes out his furniture. One child was indignant! He wouldn't do that! Why would he do that?

We then ask our wondering questions: "I wonder why he would sell even his furniture to buy the pearl?" "I wonder how he knew the pearl was so precious?" "I wonder what Jesus is trying to tell us when he says the Kingdom of God is like a merchant looking for fine pearls who sells everything so he could buy the beautiful pearl?" "Is the Kingdom of Heaven valuable?" and on and on as the children have the attention and ask questions or comment.

Like all the works in the atrium, we do not tell the children the "answers." We lead them with questions over the weeks while they work with the materials, allowing them to enter into the mystery. It is a contemplative work.

We will be entering into the Lenten season this coming Sunday in the atrium. I am looking forward to sharing more about the life of Jesus with the children in the coming weeks.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Mustard Seed

We are now in the season of Ordinary time. Ordinary time is associated with the color green. In the atrium, we say it is a time of growing. During Advent and Christmas we focused on Jesus as a small baby. During Ordinary time we talk about Jesus as a man. We concentrate on the parables of Jesus. Today in the atrium I presented the parable of the mustard seed. The scripture is from Matthew 13:31-32.

"The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the 'birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.'"

What do we take from this lesson?

Children from 3-6 are interested in the world at large. They are global thinkers. They see the 'whole picture' in a way that they will lose as they age. In presenting the parables of the kingdom of God, we are taking their love of the world and helping them to see that God has provided the 'least of these' with the greatest love. 

We present the parable of the mustard seed by presenting the children with real mustard seeds and a photograph of a mustard tree. We help them see the disparity between the beginning (tiny seed) and the end (large plant). We ask wondering questions: I wonder what the seed needs to grow into a huge plant? I wonder why Jesus told us this story? I wonder how a mustard seed is like the kingdom of God? And on and on with our wondering questions.

I never provide the answers. 

It is through our wonderings that the children begin their journey of contemplation of the scriptures. Their answers to our wondering questions often provide me, the adult and 'catechist' with insight I never would have had otherwise. It is often in the simplicity of the young child that the complexity of the Gospels is understood.

I'm looking forward to presenting two more parables this year: The parable of the pearl of great price and the parable of the good shepherd.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Infancy Narratives

The Birth of Jesus and the Adoration of the Shepherds.
How time flies! My hopes for this blog are to help educate the parents of my Atrium students about the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program in which their children are enrolled. It is also my desire to help spread the word about this wonderful catechesis. I have to remember that the Spirit moves in mysterious ways and not always quickly.

This is a good thing.

I find myself not able to give as much time to this blog-endeavor as I would like. That being said, I'd like to share a little of what we've been doing since Advent.

The main focus of Advent and Christmas are the Infancy Narratives. Over the three years a child is in the Atrium these presentations will be given: The Annunciation, The Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth, The Birth of Jesus and Adoration of the Shepherds, The Adoration of the Magi and the Presentation in the Temple. 

I'm giddy and exhausted just thinking about it all.

I am so thrilled to be able to jump start the CGS program at St. Mary's. We provide the catechesis during our regular religious education program on Sunday mornings. This is a blessing and a curse all together. The blessing is the coming together of families between our 8:30 and 11:00 Masses. The curse is the hour time constraint. The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program should really be a two-hour program. Condensing it into one hour is difficult. I find each week that the children want to continue working and that I am always left with more to present. 

Oh my.

This is where I must trust in the Holy Spirit to work in His Mysterious Ways. Just as He did in the early life of Jesus. 

This, the first year of the program, we present the Annunciation, the Birth of Jesus and the Adoration of the Magi. The children love these materials and have them on and off the shelf constantly. 

The Infancy Narratives coordinate so perfectly with the Geography lessons that have been presented in Ordinary time. We refer back to the three cities of Nazareth (where the angel visited Mary and the Holy Spirit overshadowed her), Bethlehem (where Jesus was born) and Jerusalem (where Jesus died and rose from the dead). We talk about how Mary and Joseph walked the long, long way from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

I have one little three year old who tells me every Sunday, "We live far away and had to drive a long, long way to get to St. Mary's." He tells me it's too far for me to come to his house. It makes me wonder (something we do often with the children) if he is thinking of the long journey taken by Mary and Joseph. Of course, he also tells me he lives in America. America is VERY far away. I always encourage him to go look at the globe so we can talk more about it! What a blessing to have such amazing materials to work with the child and meet him wherever he is!

We continue to move through the Liturgical Year with the Church. This journey is always amazing in the life of the Catholic Church and more amazing when lived with the young ones of our community!