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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.

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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

Advent

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!

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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.