CATECHESIS OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD
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We are very proud to offer Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, a program for the religious formation of children. Our students love exploring "the atrium," a room prepared for them, filled with simple yet beautiful items to encourage spiritual development. It is a place of religious experience, community and worship. Facilitated by trained catechist, Julia Mead, our students explore Holy Scripture and the liturgy of the Church through a sequence of presentations and accompanying materials, and are given the opportunity to prayerfully respond, to wonder, and to contemplate the works of God. We encourage all of our parents to visit the Atrium; it is a beautiful and serene space for work and prayer that our children look forward to visiting.
What is the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd?
Beginning in 1954 in Rome, Italy, Sofia Cavaletti and her co-worker, Gianna Gobbi, developed an approach to the religious formation of children. It appealed to the profound religious intuition of younger and older children, but also evolved from the children themselves. It is rooted in the Bible, the liturgy of the Church, and the educational principles of Maria Montessori.
Children gather in an “atrium,” a room prepared for them, which
contains simple yet beautiful materials that they use.
How do these materials help the religious life of a child? If an adult hears a beautiful passage from the Bible, the adult might take a Bible, find the passage, and read it slowly again and again. He or she may think deeply about the words and perhaps speak to God in a thankful or hopeful prayer. But a little child, too young to read, needs another way. In an atrium, the child can ponder a biblical passage or a prayer from the liturgy by taking the material for that text and working with it —placing wood figures of sheep in a sheepfold of the Good Shepherd, setting sculpted apostles around a Last Supper table, or preparing a small altar with the furnishings used for the Eucharist. Older children who do read often copy parables from the Bible, lay in order written prayers from the rite of baptism, or label a long timeline showing the history of the kingdom of God.
“To discover the laws of the child’s development would be the same thing as to discover the Spirit and Wisdom of God operating in the child. We must respect the child’s objective needs as omething which God Himself has commanded us
to satisfy. This is the true mentality for the educator—that is, the recognition of the Divine Wisdom as a necessary element in his work as an educator.” ~ Maria Montessori
Glossary of Terms
These are some terms used regularly in CGS (Catechesis of the Good Shepherd) that may be new to you. Becoming familiar with these words will make it easier to understand the work being done in an atrium.
Catechesis—A word first used in the early Church to describe the instruction people received in preparation for Baptism. In our context, the Catechesis is the way children are prepared to participate fully in Christian community.
Catechist—The catechist is the adult who guides the children. This person is not the teacher in the traditional sense. Instead he or she prepares the space where God and the child can come together. He or she creates materials, presents them to the child, and then participates with the child in a sense of wonder about God.
Atrium—Another word from the early Church, it was the name of the room-sized entryway into the Church where people new to the faith were instructed for Baptism. In the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, the atrium is the room that is prepared for the children. It is not a classroom. Instead it is a place of religious experience, community and
Levels—CGS is a multi-age approach. Level I is for 3-6 year-old children, Level II is for 6-9 year-old children, and Level III is for 9-12 year-old children.
Materials—The materials in the atrium are carefully selected or created and are made out of wood, glass, metal and fabric. Items are made to look real and we try to avoid plastic or the look of a toy. Children are taught to handle materials with great care. The most important things about the materials is that they are closely linked to the Bible and liturgy. All materials have a specific purpose and children are invited to work with the materials to meditate on the stories of our faith or on the traditions of our liturgy. Examples of materials found in the Level I Atrium include small figures of Mary and the angel for the Annunciation, Jerusalem mustard seeds for the Parable of the Mustard Seed, and a small Baptismal font and Paschal candle to explore Holy Baptism. Leve II materials mirror those of Level I and become more involved, a response to the growing curiosity and ability of the child. Level III materials build on the foundation of Levels I & II, but are geared toward the emerging abilities and needs of the 9-12 year-old child. The central work in this atrium is “The Plan of God.”Presentation—A presentation is made by the Catechist for the children. The presentation could also be thought of as a lesson. During a presentation, the Word of God is proclaimed through a scripture reading or a description of an aspect of the liturgy and a demonstration of
how to use the associated materials.
Work—This is the term for the child’s use of the materials. We do not use the term “play;” instead we refer to what the children do as “work.” Different than play, working with the materials is the job of the child; the way that he or she delves deeply into biblical story and liturgy.
“If we want to help the child draw nearer to God, we
should with patience and courage seek to go always
closer to the vital nucleus of things. This requires study and
prayer. The child will be our teacher if we know how to
observe.” ~ Sofia Cavaletti