(Everything is designed for little hands. Small vases, small brushes, small utensils.)
I copied the following excerpts to best describe this beautiful program that reaches into the hearts of children.
Taken from this site:
The premise behind the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd Christian Formation Process is that children desire to draw closer to God, but they need the sensitive guidance of the adult as well as the inner guidance of the Holy Spirit to nurture this relationship. The child is already in relationship with God. The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is a way of journeying with children toward God. At Light of the World, the program seeks to involve children, pre-school and kindergarten age, and adults in a common religious experience through which all can form an authentic faith relationship with God and allow the mystery to penetrate their hearts.
Through Maria Montessori’s observations of the child, she discovered that if a child is given a “prepared environment”, the child will choose those things, which satisfy their essential needs.
The atrium is the prepared environment for the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. It is a place of quiet retreat for the children. It is a place that, in Gianna Gobbi’s words, “creates the conditions for silence and reverence and helps the children focus on and listen to God.” In the atrium’s prayer corner, children are helped to enrich their personal prayer language and learn how God comes to us in silence and how silence helps us receive God’s presence.
(Oh, the value of the cassock. So powerful and so often seen around our diocese. Thank you to our good and holy priests.)
The Message and Themes of the Atrium
This specially prepared space contains many materials with which the children work. For example, there is an area in the room set aside for work with the articles of the Mass: a smaller than child-size model altar, chalice, paten, lectionary, sacramentary, tabernacle, chasubles, among other articles. Another area is dedicated to the sacrament of Baptism, another has dioramas depicting key events in the life of Jesus (the Annunciation, Visitation, Nativity, the Presentation in the Temple, the visit of the magi, and the Last Supper), yet another for a few select parable materials, and a prayer table set up where the children gather to pray.
The Good News is proclaimed to children in a direct and simple way using Scripture and simple materials and maps to help illustrate the proclamation. Literally, the Word of God is placed in the hands of the children in a way they can easily understand and absorb.
Rose practices pouring and sponging. The classroom is intended to be very quiet so the children can do their work.
The Essential Spiritual Needs of the Child
The parable of the Good Shepherd is the central parable presented to the younger children- age 4-6. The most essential need for a child is to be loved and protected. Through this parable they come to know Jesus as their Good Shepherd who loves and cares for them. Younger children respond primarily in the peaceful enjoyment of God's presence, as called forth by the image of Christ, the Good Shepherd. It engages every aspect of the child's being and orients the child in a trusting and joyful way. In the words of Dr. Sofia Cavaletti, who developed the program, "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 children themselves will be our teachers if we know how to observe them."
Zellie's favorite is flower arranging. She loves to snip, clip and arrange a bouquet for me every week.
The materials are simple, yet beautiful and attractive to the children. Upon working with the materials repeatedly, the message is absorbed at a deeper level. As mentioned above in the Message and Theme of the Atrium, the children use models, dioramas, figures, geography materials, etc to absorb the content of the presentation. The parish community makes these materials. With this involvement, the Word of God or Liturgical moment provides spiritual formation for the catechist, child and the community.
There is a cycle of presentations given to the children in the atrium. A small group of children are gathered around a rug, a Bible and a candle. For example, the catechist will begin with a Scripture passage in their own words and a brief explanation. A dialogue follows with the children and an explanation of necessary concepts. A solemn reading of the Scripture passage will follow and a candle is lit to show reverence to the Word of God. The materials will then be presented to the children. The presentation ends with a prayer or song. Once material is presented, the child can work with that material whenever they want. Follow up activities (tracing packets, drawings, etc.) are encouraged.
The work of the catechist is to be spiritually prepared. Training for the catechesis is a rich personal journey that involves a considerable amount of commitment. Most catechists that receive the training are transformed. In the atrium, the primary teacher is Christ, not the catechist. Adults are asked to provide for the child's needs and, most importantly, "Become as little children." The catechist and the child listen and ponder together as they immerse themselves in the Mystery of God.
A child’s heart is very open. This program strives to serve the child who asks, "Help me to come closer to God by myself." Catechesis is led by the child, thus reaches all children no matter what their background or culture. The image of the Good Shepherd resonates deeply in their hearts and they respond and receive the proclamation of the Good News with interior satisfaction.
If this wonderful program is offered in your diocese, I highly recommend getting your little ones involved in it.