Sunday, December 20, 2015

Prophecy of Names

The children were very excited this morning. They have been waiting and waiting for Christmas to come and know that is is only a few days away. Today we ended our time in the atrium with a procession. Once we were all settled around the prayer table we lit all of our Advent candles and counted how many weeks we have been waiting. Four weeks is a long time when you are young! We relate this time of waiting to the Israelites who lived such a long time before Jesus was born. 

Today we talked about the prophet Isaiah again. We remembered that he was a man who knew how to listen for God's words. He told the Israelites that a special baby was coming. Today we heard all of the names for this baby:
Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero, Father-Forever and Prince of Peace. We talked about what these words can mean. One of our older students told us that a hero is someone who saves other people. We wondered about all of these names for a baby. We then thought about who this baby might be. 

Jesus, of course!

As you count down the days until Christmas, may you take the time to look at the world through the eyes of your children. Their simple joy will enhance your own!

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Infancy Narratives

In the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd Level 1 (ages 3-6) we limit the Bible stories to those from the life of Jesus. We do very little from the Old Testament for a few reasons. First is that our goal is to help the child fall in love with Jesus. To do that she needs to learn about Him! Second, the 3-6 year old child has a very difficult time understanding history. He is primarily self absorbed and needs to understand how Jesus relates personally to himself. Third, the Old Testament stories are more than just stories. They are imbued with typology and lead us directly to the New Testament, something many adults have a hard time grasping. The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd focuses on the Old Testament with children who are more developmentally ready to understand this history and it is focused on in the 3rd level (ages 9-12). If you ever get a chance to see how this program works in level 2 and 3 take it! Children who are able to work through all three levels of the Catechesis will be much better educated than most of us!

At this time of Advent we focus on the Infancy Narratives: The Annunciation, The Visitation, The Nativity, The visit from the Magi, The Presentation.  Because our program is part of St. Mary's religious education program, we are more limited with time than we would in a traditional CGS program. Due to that, we focus mostly on the Annunciation, the Nativity and the Magi.

Last week I presented the story of Mary and the angel Gabriel to a few students. Interestingly enough, the students were 3, 4, and 6 years old. One of the premises of the Catechesis is that we try to respect the child's interests. The Infancy Narratives are read from the Bible and can be somewhat long. Not every child is able to sit for the lesson, even with the manipulative materials. What I love about this program, however, is that while I was giving the lesson to a few children, quite a few more were sitting near by working on other projects and I could tell they were listening to the lesson.

Some children learn better by doing something else with their hands (a simple Practical Life work of spooning or pouring perhaps) which enables them to better listen to the more complicated lesson.

So, although I only presented the lesson once to a group of four children, I know that more children received that lesson!

Today I gave the lesson about the Nativity which most of the children know and enjoy. They like to talk about how the shepherds may have felt when he host of angels suddenly began singing to them. They wonder what Mary and Joseph were thinking when they were visited by these dirty, smelly shepherds and their sheep! The children always have many wise and insightful words about this story that get lost as we age.

I find that the wonder of Christmas stays alive in me because I get to hear about it from your children.


What you can do at home: Get a children's nativity that your child can play with. You will be amazed at the ideas your child will have when relating this story. Read the story from the Bible with your child. Note the names of the people involved, the cities and wonder how the different characters may have felt when these amazing things kept happening!

Sunday, December 6, 2015


This week in the atrium we celebrated the second week of Advent with a procession. What is a procession?  It reflects the procession of the priest, lector, altar servers and ministers during the entrance hymn of the Mass. The children line up on a special line taped on the floor from the door to our prayer table. Each child holds an item that will be placed on the prayer table: the prayer cloth, the Bible, the Good Shepherd statue, some flowers, a prayer card, etc. Once all the children are in line and are quiet we slowly and reverently walk to the prayer table while singing a simple song. Each child places his/her object on the prayer table and then sits around it. 
The line taped onto the atrium floor.
Processions require a few things of the children: walking carefully in a line while holding an object, refraining from speaking out, waiting for their turn as the children each place an object on the table and then waiting quietly on the carpet until everyone is seated. Of course we expect the five year olds to have more ability than the three year olds!

Processions also prepare the students for something special. Today we celebrated Advent with the purple cloth (purple is for preparation) and lit two candles in our Advent wreath. During Advent we present the children with scripture from the prophet Isaiah: 

         The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.

Before reading the scripture we talk about Advent and that we are preparing for a special feast: Christmas! We talk about how hard it is to wait for something so special. We explain that the Bible tells us that God's chosen people also had to wait. God sent them people called prophets to help the people learn how to wait and to tell them what they were waiting for. 

After reading the scripture we talked about what it is like to be in the dark. This always elicits lots of stories from the children! We wondered what light the people of Israel were waiting for. Usually they know it is Jesus. They often remember the verse from the Bible where Jesus said, "I am the light of the world." 

We also talked about what it is like to listen for God's voice like the prophets did. We talked about how God will often talk to us when we are quiet. We remembered that listening requires us to stop talking, to sit still and to keep our ears open!

What you can do at home: make an Advent wreath for the prayer table and light the candles each night. You could also put the Advent wreath on the dinner table and light the candles during your family meal. It takes a LONG time for Christmas to come for the young child. Watching the candles burn down help them understand the passage of time. Encourage your family to take 30 seconds (or 15, or 10!) to be silent and to listen. Ask what each family member heard during the silence. Make a game of silence and see if your child can increase his silent time by 5 seconds each day. Make sure you play this silence game only when your child is willing. Don't use it when your children are loud and running around, you will all be frustrated and the magic will be lost. Most of all, take time to slow down this Advent season and spend time with your loved ones listening to music, reading books and just being together.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Colors of the Church Year

It was wonderful to be back with the children in the atrium after having a week off. I am so grateful to have wonderful assistants who are willing to take the lead when I have to be away.

This week our group lesson was the Liturgical Colors. Click here to read a post from a few years ago about this lesson. In addition to the specific lesson about the colors of the Church year, we always add the current liturgical color to our prayer table. I think this is actually the best way for the children to learn why we use these colors. They enjoy setting up the prayer table so much. Certainly any learning activity that also brings joy will always be one that is best remembered.


What you can do: If you have a prayer space at home, incorporate the colors of the season and talk about them with your child. When attending Mass, ask your child to notice the color of Fr. Leo's chasuble and Deacon Manny's Stole. Talk about how the natural year goes 'round and round' through the seasons and so does the Church year!

Sunday, November 1, 2015


We had a smaller group in the atrium this morning. They were all working with purpose as they trickled in. Due to the fact that our atrium session is in between the masses, we run things a little different than is typical. Since the children come as far as 20 minutes apart from the first to the last, instead of coming in and sitting at the carpet right away, we have the children find some work to do when they arrive. Sometimes we have a group time after everyone arrives, sometimes not until the end of the day.

Today we gathered at the beginning of the morning to learn about a little girl I know who is very sick. I only told the children she is sick and can't always go to school and that we were going to make some cards for her to cheer her up. They happily went to work. In reality she has been suffering from cancer for over a year and her prognosis is grim. She used to go to the school where I work and her brother still does. They are also members at St. Mary's. Keep the Lynch family in your prayers.

At the end of the day we gathered together again to talk about silence. I asked the children what it means to be silent. They talked about being quiet with our mouths, our hands, our feet and our whole bodies. I asked if there were places we need to be silent. They came up with quite a list: the library, church, near a sleeping baby. We then practiced making silence for 10 seconds. This is not so easy for some of our friends! We also talked about listening and how it is difficult to listen when we are talking and being noisy. I asked the children to listen while they were silent and then some of them shared the things they heard: people talking, cars driving and even a heart beat!

We will continue practicing silence and will try to work on being silent for longer and longer times as the weeks progress. This lesson will directly tie in to another lesson I give during Advent when we discuss the prophet Isaiah. Stay tuned for that one!
What you can do at home: practice making silence with your child. Do it at a time that your child is calm and is not in the middle of something else. Start short (5 or 10 seconds). Talk about what it means to be silent and then discuss the things you heard while you were being silent. Practicing this lesson at home for longer and longer periods will help your child know how to be still later when it is necessary: waiting in line, sitting in church, participating in group lessons. Most importantly it is through this stillness that we can often hear the small whisper of God!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Land of Israel

This morning in the atrium I presented a 'the land of Israel' work. It is a relief map of Israel from Jesus' day. This lesson follows the lesson about the earth, that in all the whole wide world, God chose one small place for his son, Jesus, to be born. This place is Israel. The relief map shows the Mediterranean Sea, the Jordan River, the Dead Sea, the Sea of Galilee and three important cities: Nazareth, Bethlehem and Jerusalem. 

This work is part of the Biblical Geography lessons. The purpose is to help the child realize that Jesus was a real man who lived in a real place. It gives the children a sense of where the stories of Jesus' life take place.

To be honest, it has been through making and teaching about these lessons that I have received the gift of insight into the life of Jesus as a child and adult. 

The children now have a sense of the journey of Mary and Joseph when they travelled from Nazareth to Bethlehem when they hear the Christmas story. They understand where Jerusalem is in relation to the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee when they hear the stories of Jesus' life....especially when hearing about his death and resurrection.

It is amazing to me how something made from paper mache, paint and a tray can deliver such a powerful message.

What you can do at home: Continue to look at maps and globes with your child. As you read the stories out of a children's Bible with your child, look to see where Israel is located as compared to Pennsylvania. Talk about the things you love about where we live and the things that are special in other lands. Compare and contrast our culture with others. Marvel with your child about the amazing differences God created for all of us!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Land and Water Globe

What a cold, rainy weekend! What I like about these days are how cozy they make me feel indoors. There really isn't anything that can be done outside so I focus on the house: cleaning, cooking and reading. I hope you have some rainy day rituals.

This week in the atrium our group lesson was focused on the world. The above material is called the Land and Water Globe or the Sandpaper Globe. It is one of the few materials that is used in the atrium that is also used in the Montessori classroom. The way it is used is a little different, however.

In the atrium we show the children the globe, teach them how to hold it carefully by the base and allow them to feel the two textures (rough for the land, smooth for the water). We discuss the fact that a globe is a model of the earth. We know that God created the whole earth and that it is very, very large. We then take time to notice the little red dot on the globe. We tell the children that in the whole wide world that God created, he chose a very small, tiny particular place for His son to be born. 

We then talk about how wonderful it is that God chose this place for Jesus to be born, how wonderful it is that Jesus, a real person, lived on this earth and that the place God chose for him to live must be very special, very holy.

This is the first of the geography lessons. We teach geography to help the children understand that Jesus was a real person who lived in a real place that still exists today. It is often difficult for children at this level to understand history. The geography lessons set the stage for the stories of Jesus' life that we will begin to teach in the next few months. The physical materials assist in helping solidify these very difficult concepts.

What you can do at home: Use maps and photos and books of places all over the world to help your child learn that God made different types of people who live in different places but He loves us all! Children are fascinated with different cultures, their customs, holidays, dress and food. They enjoy seeing how people who look so different do many things in the same way they themselves do! 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Bible in the Prayer Corner

Happy autumn, everyone! Today in the atrium we presented a lesson called 'The Bible in the Prayer Corner.' Of course I don't call it that with the children. We had a procession to introduce this work. The children who are returning are familiar with processions but this was the first for the new children. Each child carried something to be placed on the prayer table. We lined up at the back of the classroom and slowly walked to place our items on the table one at a time. We sang a song while we walked just like Fr. Leo does at the beginning of Mass. We have been putting our green cloth on the table and seeing if anyone noticed what color Fr. Leo was wearing at Mass. We seem to always match! 

Once the prayer table was set I showed the children our beautiful Bible. We looked at what a beautiful book it is, talked about it's color, the gold outside the pages the cross and the words, 'The Holy Bible' inscribed on the front. We discussed that it is a very special book because it tells us the words of God. 

I read to the children John 8:12, "I am the light of the world." I tell them that although it is my voice they hear I am actually reading the words that Jesus spoke. I read it slowly and several times. We looked at the lit candle and I tell them that in the atrium we always light a candle when we read the Bible because it reminds us that Jesus is the light of the world.

We placed the Bible on a special stand on the prayer table and took a little time to silently gaze at the table to see how beautiful it looks. I invite the children to say something to Jesus if they like. They say things like, 'I love you Jesus'; 'Thank you for making Thomas the Train, Jesus' etc. This is how we help the children enter into prayer. To learn to be silent (we will later talk about listening to Jesus in the silence), and to talk to Jesus about our thoughts. 

What you can do at home: Make sure your children see you reading the Bible. This lets them know that the Bible is a part of family life and not just something at church. Buy a children's Bible to read to your child. I encourage you to buy one with beautiful pictures instead of cartoonish ones. Your young child is sensitive to beauty at this age, nurture it! At this age our goal is for the children to fall in love with Jesus. Hearing stories of his life and knowing that he hears us and knows our voice assists in this process. 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Importance of Practical Life

Fine Motor Shelves

Some materials for the beginning of the year

Art (gluing and coloring the world)

What exactly are Practical Life activities and why do we do them in the 3-6 Atrium? Practical Life is the name given to the area of the classroom dedicated to caring for oneself and caring for the environment. We also include movement activities and grace and courtesy lessons under the umbrella of Practical Life. Examples of Practical Life activities include spooning small beads from one bowl to another, moving lima beans, one at a time, from one half of a container to another, pouring small shells, buttoning, zipping and snapping, gluing, drawing and many other activities. We change the activities throughout the year as the children are able to fine tune their skills.

Pouring Beads
The question remains, why do these things in a religious education program?

In a classroom of children aged 3-6, the children are still developing their fine and gross motor skills, their ability to sit quietly and they are learning new language all the time. Practical Life activities speak to young children in a very special way. Children love to help around the house. How many times has your child asked, "Can I do it?" By giving them small tasks that they can be successful at on their own, we are following their lead. They can arrange the flowers for the prayer table, they can sew a card, they can make a bracelet, they can pour shells (and soon water) and they can clean up their own spills, too! Amazingly, they find joy in each of these activities. A child who finds an activity to his or her liking will sit and repeat the activity over and over and over until satisfied. The child is working - on some external task but also on some invisible internal need. Only the child will know when the need has been satisfied. 

Spooning Beads
The child's developmental need for movement, order and independence is so strong between 3-6. It is through the exercises of Practical Life that each child is able to meet these needs.

In addition, by learning to control his body, your child will be better prepared to attend and complete the more difficult lessons involved in the Atrium. After learning to use a funnel to pour water into a pitcher for flower arranging, your child will be prepared for the lesson on preparing the cruets. In this lesson your child will fill two cruets, one with water and one with wine. Once mastered, we continue by using the filled cruets to learn how to fill the chalice. So many of the lessons in the Atrium build upon prior lessons. And all lessons build upon the work of Practical Life. 

Moving Lima Beans
"Knowing how to use objects correctly, how to carry things, how to care for one's surroundings, and so forth, all share an aim that goes beyond physical functioning. Both the movement exercises and the practical life activities nurture wholeness in the child. The children carry out these activities with joy. They live a religious experience in the totality of their persons."  from Listening to God with Children by Gianna Gobbi.

How to extend the lesson at home? Be aware that your preschool and Kindergarten child is capable of more than you may realize! Next time your child says, "Can I help?" be sure to say, "Yes!" Think about the activity at hand and determine what part, if not all, your child is capable of helping with. Perhaps she can help sort the socks while you are folding laundry, he can help you set the table for dinner or have a little bucket of his own while you are washing the car. Of course your child will not do things exactly as you do and may only want to match up half the socks. Follow your child's lead. Watch carefully what she gravitates toward and help her learn when she is wanting to. Before long you'll have a terrific helper. You may find that all this work also helps your child sit still just a little longer during Mass, too!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

A New Year in the Atrium

Today we welcomed back some old friends and also some new ones to the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd at St. Mary's. We had 16 children between the ages of 3 and 6. Some were excited to enter the room and others were not so sure they wanted to leave mom and dad but I think by the end of the morning, everyone had found something they enjoyed working with.

Today was a day we introduce the new children to some of the rules of the classroom (use a small rug to work on the floor, carry a tray with two hands, walk around another person's rug, etc.) I also introduced the children to flower arranging, which is one of the most favorite activities in the classroom. Just like in church, we adorn the classroom and our prayer table with God's beauty. The only problem is that we never have enough vases!

At the end of the day I also introduced the children to our prayer table. The children can choose to set up the table any time during class or we often set it up as a group at the end of our session. Throughout the year the items we place on the table vary. We always start with a cloth in the color of the liturgical year (green today for Ordinary time), our little Good Shepherd statue, a candle, a prayer card and a lovely flower. 

We do use real candles in the Atrium (the name of our classroom) but are very careful to insure the safety of the children. We remind them to sit away from the candle and to be very still while it is lit. When the table is set up we can look at how beautiful the table looks and tell Jesus anything we'd like. Sometimes we sing a song and sometimes we practice being very quiet.

What you can do at home: Set aside a small prayer space in your home. It could be in a common area like the living room (on the coffee table or mantle) or in your child's bedroom. You could even make it from a shoe box and store the items inside. Make it an area that your child can easily reach and allow them to place things and rearrange things on the space. It should be hands-on! Cover the area with the liturgical color of the season (green, white, purple or red). Use colored construction paper if you don't have fabric. Include a small cross or crucifix, a photo of a saint or the holy family in a small frame (print them from the internet), ask if grandma and grandpa have some old statues they would donate to the cause or maybe even some old religious medals. There are electric candles that your child can use on his or her own or perhaps under your supervision you could have a lit candle during family time at the prayer table. Spend time with your child at this table talking about the items, about how Jesus loves them and how we can speak to him about anything. Make it a quiet time together.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Normalized Atrium

The children gather around a table in community.

Preparing the Cruets
Maria Montessori used the term normalization to refer to children who were calm, focused and worked in the classroom with order and purpose. I think we now have an atrium full of normalized children. Our class has gotten much smaller since the fall, but the children who attend come in and go right to work. I've been able to give lots of new lessons and the children continue to work on the lessons from the past. Now that we are in Ordinary Time, we are focusing on the Parables about the Kingdom of God. We have talked about the Parable of the Mustard Seed and the Pearl of Great Price.

We have also been working on lessons that have to do with the Mass. The children love to set up the Model Altar and this year we have added the Tabernacle. It has given these youngest ones something purposeful to look for during Mass: the chalice, the paten, the sanctuary candle. We have also been doing the work of preparing the cruets and learning about the gesture of Epiclesis (during the Consecration). So much richness to help the children take hold of the glory of the Mass. To know the role of the Holy Spirit in bringing Christ to His people. So much joy to see them work together to carefully pour the wine, to remember the steps and to create the community of the church at 3,4 and 5 years old! 

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Preparing to Return

It's been a few weeks since we've been in the atrium with the children. When they return tomorrow it will be Ordinary Time again. We aren't really in the atrium for the Christmas season at all which is a shame. I always feel we've gone from Advent right to Ordinary Time.

To make their return a little more special, I bought a new plant for leaf washing and some cut flowers for flower arranging. I also put up a few more pictures and added a few new works. 

Can you see the pictures of the articles for the altar? I found them in our Religious Education supply room. I think they are from the 1960's or 70's.

Here are two more. Excuse the beam of sunlight cutting through. Our windows let in a lot of light which is good but sometimes blinding!

It was good to have some time in the atrium to put out some new work, organize supplies, take note of needs and just be quiet and slow. Because our program runs during our religious education program, we meet in between the Sunday Masses for only an hour. It never seems to be enough time to me and I am often rushing from Mass or to Mass. So having leisurely time was glorious.

I would like to add to the loveliness of the room with more artwork while still keeping the room simple and neat. Of course when the children are in the room, they add all the loveliness that is needed!