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Sunday, December 4, 2016

Advent


It was good to be back in the atrium after two weeks away. We had a very small class this morning but, as always, everyone was very busy! I was able to give a lesson on our wooden Liturgical Calendar. The change of a liturgical season is always a great time for this lesson and I was glad to have time to sit with several of the children to learn about it.

At circle the children noticed we had four extra candles on the prayer table. We talked about the change from a green cloth to a purple one and that we are now in the season of Advent. Of course the children are super excited for Christmas to come! We talked about the three purple candles and one rose candle as a way to count down the Sundays until Christmas. We also talked about just how hard it is to wait for something you are excited about.

We then introduced the first prophecy (which you can see above). I told the children that God's chosen people who lived in the land of Israel (which we have been learning about since the beginning of the year) also had to wait a long time. They had people who were great listeners called prophets to tell them about God's plan. One such man is Isaiah. At this point all the children with a friend named Isaiah had to tell us about it! 

We listened carefully to the Bible verse to hear what the people were waiting for: A great light! Of course the children know that this light is Jesus! 

As the weeks progress towards Christmas the children will become more and more excited about the big day! There are generally more lessons to give than I have time for including a few other prophecies and all the Infancy Narratives. As always, I will listen to the still small voice of the Holy Spirit and the needs of your children each Sunday to determine what lessons to present. All is joy!

Happy 2nd Sunday of Advent.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Music in the Atruim

A painting of the Good Shepherd from the Roman catacombs.
In the atrium we have a few songs that we sing often. Some of them are songs that we sing together at circle, some are songs that relate to a particular work. Here are the lyrics to a few of them. Many of them also include hand motions. Perhaps your child will show you.

Our Circle Song:

I see the love of God in you.
The light of Christ come shining through.
And I am blessed to be with you.
O, holy child of God.

The Liturgical Color Song:

Purple and green and red and white
Are the colors of the year.
Purple and green and red and white
Remind us of the Light.
Purple's for preparation, white is for celebration
Green is for a growing time,
Red is for Pentecost
Purple and green and red and white
Are the colors of the year.
Purple and green and red and white
Remind us of the light.

Holy Ground (when we talk about the Land of Israel and the three cities of Nazareth, Jerusalem and Bethlehem):

This is holy ground.
God's given us holy ground.
God is in this place
And so this ground is holy. (2x)


Sunday, October 30, 2016

The Liturgical Colors and other Tales from the Atrium


Many of our students have worked with the Liturgical Colors this year. The top picture shows the work the children can do with the small chasubles and the the bottom work shows an art work that you may have seen your children bring home. Click here for more information about this beautiful work. 

This year our class does such an amazing job at working that I don't want to interrupt them to have circle. The 3-6 year old child is in a period of building him/herself as an individual. They often aren't ready for group lessons and so we do most of our work individually. I do my best to touch base with each child throughout the morning and to show them new things they may not have worked on before.

Today I worked individually with children on the Liturgical Colors lesson and and extension that adds the clothing the priest wears under his chasuble, the altar work, preparing the cruets and the chalice, lavabo (the hand washing of the priest), an altar gluing work, flower arranging, the nativity story and many more.

The joy of our work in this program is that we can see what draws the children and focus on their interests. Although they are often working individually, there is so much talking and caring for one another. They never cease to amaze me.

I hope you all enjoy this lovely, warm Sunday.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Ongoing Work


I continue to be amazed at the level of concentration and purposeful work that we have each week in the atrium. It is such a joy to be there with your children!

This week we talked about the Sign of Peace and practiced shaking hands while saying, "Peace be with you."  We also practiced saying "And with your Spirit" after the priest says, "The peace of the Lord be with you always." That one was a little harder to remember. Of course we know that everything we do with children at this age is in small steps. We shape knowledge and behavior slowly, one lesson or activity at a time. Often children learn things when we least expect it! They are always listening and watching, even when we don't think they are.

Thus by repeated lessons they slowly get the knowledge or skill that once eluded them. It is what I love about the Montessori environment. The children are free to choose their own work and work with joy and concentration. However, they are also hearing and seeing the lessons going on all around them. It is through this kind of meaningful activity and indirect learning that they learn so much! I could never teach them so much if I tried to do it directly during group lessons.

Although I do try to do one group lesson every week, there are lots of lessons that the children work on individually. The children use the materials shown in the above picture to learn about the gestures the priest uses during Mass to change the bread and wine into Jesus' body and blood. We show them how to make their hands to come down over the vessels (while another friend rings the bell). We make sure they know it isn't the priest who changes the bread and wine but the Holy Spirit. They then take the paper Host and chalice and lift it up in thanksgiving.

The children also enjoy learning how to prepare the cruets with wine and water and eventually how to add the wine and a drop of water into the chalice. They can also practice Lavabo (which is the washing of the priest's hands during Mass.) All of these lessons will enhance your child's understanding of the Mass as he or she grows up. 

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What you can do: Sit up front during Mass so your child has more opportunity to see what is happening. Point out the moments they have been learning about and the vessels used during Mass. Make sure they know where the Tabernacle and Sanctuary Candle are located in the church. Ask your child what color Fr. Leo's vestments are and see if they know what the color means (green/growing time; purple/preparation; white/celebration; red/Holy Spirit). Don't expect them to know all the answers or necessarily want to tell them if they do but give them the opportunity to see all the amazing things we have in our church that bring us closer to God.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Biblical Geography

Notice the small red dot.
I am writing this post on Saturday night as I prepare for tomorrow's CGS class. Tomorrow, in addition to the lessons I give throughout the day with individual children across the curriculum, I will talk to the whole group about a Biblical Geography lesson about the world. We use what is called 'The Montessori Land and Water Globe' to show the children a model of our great big earth. We let them find the very small red dot that shows where God chose His son, Jesus, to be born. The children often get lost in their own wonderings as they look at the globe (Where do I live? Where is Hawaii? etc.) which I find delightful. It is by following their lead that I often bring in the lesson.

The reason I am writing on Saturday night instead of Sunday afternoon after our class is that tomorrow I will be taking my youngest son back to college, in western PA. I will be on the road for seven and a half hours to get him there and return home, a trip I just took yesterday! Of course, what we won't do to see our children. It makes me think of the love God had for Jesus, His son. Of course He chose a special, important place for his son to be born. We will continue to learn about how God chose not just special places, but special people to care for His son on this earth.

We will also sing a song that some of the children will have learned last year called This is Holy Ground. Here are the words:
This is holy ground
God's given us holy ground
God is in this place and so this ground is holy
This is holy ground
God's given us holy ground
God is in the place and so this ground is holy

We also have some hand movements to help us with the words. The children usually love this song. Ask them about it when they get home tomorrow.

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What you can do at home: Talk about places - where you were born, where your children were born, etc. If you've been to far away places, show pictures and tell stories about the places you've been. I love the book (available in the public library) called Children Just Like Me. In it are photos and information about children from around the world. It is so important to show our children that not everyone is the same as we are. Other children wear different clothes, live in different houses, eat different foods and may go to different kinds of schools but deep down we are mostly the same. God made us that way. The more we can teach our children about those who are different yet the same the more peaceful our world will be.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

A New Year

Ready and waiting for the children
Some of the flowers that were put in vases and scattered around the classroom by the children.
It's hard for me to believe that this is my fourth year teaching the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd at St. Mary's! It feels like just yesterday that I found out about the program. We had our smoothest first day ever today! We have lots of returning students who stepped up and helped the new students know what to do. Between them and my two wonderful high school assistants (Ms. Ava and Ms. Gabby) I hardly had to do anything! Well....ok, I was pretty busy.

At the beginning of the year we get re-acclimated with the classroom and the few rules that we follow. We help the new students learn about all the different work that is available. We remind everyone to ask for a lesson if something is new to them, we try to remember to use a work rug if we want to do work on the floor and we work on putting our work away just like we found it so it is ready for the next friend.

It was really a joy filled morning. Everyone was so happy to be in the classroom. Flower arranging and making bracelets as well as setting up the model altar were favorites. We closed our day with a group circle time where we learned each others' names and sang a few songs.

If your child is a new three year old you may wonder just what he/she may be doing. One thing we try to get the three year olds to focus on at the beginning of the year is Practical Life. This is an area of the classroom that is in regular Montessori classrooms, too. It is an area to practice fine motor skills (pouring water, spooning small beads, etc.), taking care of the classroom (flower arranging, leaf polishing, sweeping), and taking care of ourselves (hand washing, using the bathroom). It might seem strange to have these things in a religious education classroom. However, this area is so important for many reasons. It helps teach the children order, concentration, coordination and independence. These are all things that are necessary to work with the more complicated works (like preparing the cruets and chalice) later in the year. Click here for more information about the practical life area of the classroom. 

All in all it was such a wonderful start to our year. It always brings a smile to my face when I see new friendships forming in the classroom and then see the children in other areas of the church talking with each other. 

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What you can do at home: The 3-6 year old child is so eager to be independent! They want to do everything themselves. This is a great time to help them learn to do lots of things. Let them help set the table for dinner, help sort socks in the laundry, give them a little sponge and let them help wash the car or the kitchen floor. Help them learn to button and snap their coats and be sure they have shoes that they can put on and take off independently. Let them help when they want to but know that they will be slow and inaccurate! Of course never force your child but keep it light and fun and let them walk away when they are finished (which might be before you are). You will be giving them a tremendous gift and it will pay off in spades when they are older. What does this have to do with growing their faith? Look around the church. It takes lots of hands doing many little tasks to keep the church going. It is also in these little tasks and in giving confidence to our children that they learn to be patient and to slow down. We all know that God is often found in the small, in the insignificant and in the quiet moments. In doing these types of activities with your child you will be helping him/her to slow down and to pay attention, two things that are necessary to build a life of faith.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Baptism

This is a photo of from my training. It is an example of what the baptism area can look like. I forgot to take a photo today!
The children seem to have spring fever! With the crazy snow and cold weather we've been having I can't blame them. Despite their extra enthusiasm this morning they really did a lot of work with the materials they've been learning about all year. At the end of the morning we gathered in the baptism area to begin talking about baptism. There are several lessons to help the children understand more about their baptism. 

Today's lesson began by reviewing some things we've been learning all year. We remembered our lesson from Advent when the prophet Isaiah said, "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light." The children know that the light is Jesus. We remembered hat he was born and his light came into the world (at that point I lit the Paschal candle). We know he walked all over the land of Israel and talked to his friends and all the people about God. We remembered that Jesus said, "I am the light of the world." We then recalled that Jesus was arrested, put on a cross and died. At this point, I snuffed out the candle.

We knew, however, that Jesus' light didn't stay out for long. The children could tell me that on Easter Sunday Jesus' body was no longer in the tomb but that he was alive again! I relit the candle. We then discussed the fact that Jesus shares his light with us. When we were baptized we received the light of Christ (I lit a little light from the Pascal candle). We carry that light with us always and share it with everyone we meet. We ended by singing 'This Little Light of Mine.'

I love this lesson for many reasons. One of the reasons is because it takes so many of the lessons that we have been learning all year and pulls them together to help the children understand the great mysteries of our faith in a beautiful way.

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What you can do: Get out photos from your child's baptism and look at them together. If you have their baptismal clothes or the candle they received, get those out, too and talk about the special day. Every year on your child's baptism anniversary have a celebration. Some people light their candle each year. This will help them remember just how special that day was.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Liturgy of Light


It was glorious to be back in the atrium with the children. They adjusted to our new room and were really interested in getting water from our new water dispenser now that we don't have a sink in the room. One of our three year olds stood guard by the spigot to help anyone who needed water!

It was hard to stop them from their work today but I was excited to share with them the Liturgy of Light. I told them we would be doing some of the same things that Fr. Leo does at the Easter Vigil. First I showed them our Paschal candle and asked what things they could see on it. They were eager to share everything! I explained that our candle is wonderful but that the one at church is really something to see. They loved hearing that it is taller than me!

Once we talked about the symbolism on the candle, I said a few prayers while touching the candle, just like is done outside at the Vigil Mass. We then gathered at the rear of the classroom, made the room very dark and I gave each child an unlit candle to carry. I then lit the Paschal candle and we processed to the Baptism area, stopping three times. Each time I said, "The Light of Christ" and the children responded, "Thanks be to God." When we settled at the table, I invited each child to come have his/her candle lit from the Paschal candle. I let each child hold the lit candle briefly (and safely) while I again said, "The Light of Christ" and they responded, "Thanks be to God." They then carefully placed their candle on the table around the Paschal candle. When each person had a turn our table was bright with light! We remembered the verse we learned at the beginning of the year, "Jesus said, I am the light of the world." 

Each child then had a turn to use the candle snuffer to snuff out one candle. It was quite an exciting day. 

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What you can do: When you are at Mass with your family, be sure to show your child the Paschal Candle!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Empty Tomb




This year I decided to talk about Jesus and the Empty Tomb before Easter. I felt it would be a culmination of the lessons we've been having about Jesus' life and would prepare the children for Easter. For this lesson we read from the book of Mark, chapter 16 vs. 1-7. Before reading the story I ask the children to listen to the names they hear and what problem the women were talking about. These questions give the children something to listen for and help them pay attention. I read the account before showing the children the Empty Tomb work. We talked about the characters in the story including the man in the tomb and that the women were worried about rolling away the stone.

Once I uncovered the work the children jumped up to see closer! They were so excited to learn more about everything. It was hard for them to wait while I showed the work but I promised they would have lots of weeks to work with it after Easter! While I retold the story, I moved the three women and the man and showed the children how the stone could be rolled away. There was also a white cloth on the left side of the tomb where Jesus was laid. He wasn't there anymore, He is alive!

The children were quite amazed at this whole lesson and many could retell all the parts of the story. I hope this lesson helps your children remember a little better the reason we celebrate Easter amid all the egg hunts and family gatherings. I hope you all have a blessed Easter. I'll see you in two weeks!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Lord is My Shepherd.

Working on the Land of Israel relief map.

Sweeping and using a dust pan and brush. Cooperation at its finest.

Handwashing 
Checking out Mary in the Annunciation work.
Today was our first day in the atrium during Lent. The first question of the day was, "Why aren't there any flowers?" I explained that we try to keep things more simple and plain during Lent so we do not have flowers in the atrium. We talked about how excited we will be to have them back again at Easter time. This is just one little way we help the young children understand the difference between Lent and Easter. To learn the joy of the celebration by holding off on something.

I hope you enjoy the photos above. I spent most of the morning watching the children choose work. Part of my role as a catechist is to observe. Through observation I can see how the children work together and as individuals, how they resolve problems and who needs a lesson on something. I challenge you to take time every day to just watch your children. Take an extra minute or two to observe their interactions before you step in to help or to "solve" a problem. Chances are if you give them a little space they will come up with a solution all on their own. What a gift you will give them.

As always when there is a change of liturgical season, we note that change with a procession and a new color on our prayer table. We talked about the season of Lent and how it is a time to prepare or get ready for the celebration of Easter. The children have LOTS to say about Easter and the traditions you have already instilled in them. We also learned about songs in the Bible called Psalms. They thought the word psalm was kind of funny. Most of the children know who David is but didn't know he wrote songs. I read from Psalm 23. We just read, "The Lord is my shepherd."

We talked about what a shepherd is and how he takes care of his sheep. We wondered how God is like a shepherd and how he cares for us. We remembered that Jesus said, "I am the good shepherd."

I love how our lessons come together throughout the year and how the children remember them and take little bits away with them. They are such a joy!

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What you can do at home: Take time to observe your child. See what s/he gravitates toward. See how s/he plays and solves problems. Watching quietly often gives us a little better clue about our children's personalities. Do something special as a family for Lent. If you haven't set up a prayer table or space in your home, do so for this season. Let your children help decide what should go on the table. Go out into nature and see what is outside (not much right now!). Maybe take a nature walk each week of Lent to see how the world is waking up as we get closer and  closer to Easter. Let them lead the way. Remember that children at this age will often see the smallest thing. Give them the time and freedom to show you the world as they see it. This is one of the biggest gifts you can give!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Parable of the Mustard Seed




Jesus said, “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.'”

During Ordinary Time we talk about the life of Jesus when he was a man. During Advent and Christmas we learned the stories about him as a baby. Today I told the children that Jesus walked all over the land of Israel. He walked and talked with his friends. He often talked about the Kingdom of God. 

I asked the children if they had any idea what this kingdom was. One student said heaven. Another said a kingdom is for royalty like princes and princesses. 

I told the children that Jesus told a story to help us understand the Kingdom of Heaven. I then read the passage from Matthew about the mustard seed. After this I handed each child a tiny mustard seed (or two, or three....it's hard to get just one!). They noticed just how tiny they were! I then showed them a photograph of a mustard bush and told them that if you plant a mustard bush it will take over your yard!

We wondered why Jesus said the Kingdom of God was like this. How something so small can become so large.

This is a lesson that has many parts that I will share over time with the children. They love to look and see the small mustard seeds. I love this lesson because not only are the mustard seeds small but so are the children! It never ceases to grow my faith when I can see first hand how something so small (a child) is part of something so big (the Kingdom of God)!

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What you can do: nurture your child's love of small things. Children notice the minutia that we often miss in our hurried lives. Take the time to look at the small things with them. Talk about how God created everything, even the smallest seed or plant or animal and how amazing it is to watch it grow. Look at the night sky and observe the moon as it changes each month or how small the stars look. Taking the time to slow down and draw yourself and your child into the natural world helps to remind us what a gift God has given.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Visit of the Magi


Today is the last Sunday of the Christmas Season. The children were somewhat surprised that it was still Christmas! The last time we were together it was Advent. During Advent we begin the lessons about Jesus' conception and birth which we call the Infancy Narratives. The last of the lessons of the Infancy Narratives is the Visit of the Magi. I decided to present this lesson today to the whole group once everyone had arrived. I read a very shortened version of the story, focusing on their travel by following the star, their joy at finding Jesus and Mary and their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

We noticed that the Bible tells us Jesus is no longer in the stable but that he and Mary were found in a house. We also talked about the gifts the Magi, or kings, brought. We thought Mary and Joseph were probably glad to get the gold to help  them live since they were so far away from home.

I asked the children if kings ever came to their houses and how they would feel if they had such a visit. Most of the children said they would be really happy. One of our three year olds said he would be very happy if the king came to visit and brought him chocolate! The other children seriously agreed. 

Oh the honesty of children! I love it.

It was so good to be back with the children today. They each came into the atrium and went strait to work. I'm always amazed at how January brings some new developmental leaps for children. I see this in my regular classroom and also saw it today in the atrium. They bring such joy to the Church year.

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What you can do at home: Enjoy the slowness of the seasons, both the seasons of the Church and also of nature. Notice with your child the things you see outside each day: squirrels and birds looking for food, how dark it is in the morning and at night but how this slowly changes to light, the change in the temperature and what our weather brings (snow, hopefully sometime!).

Today we celebrated with a white cloth on our prayer table. Next week we will have a different color. See if your child can guess what it will be.