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.