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.