Why Formation?

To be a Catechist in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd requires a commitment to many hours of preparation, materials making and then working with children. May people ask why, when many “programs” for children in the church utilise volunteers and follow written and prepared programs with activities and worksheets prescribed for each week of the liturgical cycle, why do we ask for so much preparation?

There can be many ways to answer that question and I do not think this article will exhaust them all.

The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd uses an approach very different to that used in our schools at this time. It is not so much an opportunity to educate our children in the faith, but rather introduce them to the person of God in a unique relationship. To act as a matchmaker between God and the child and allow the children to fall in love with Jesus the Good Shepherd. Many people have grown up being filed with information and tested to check on their recall. All of that is useful and necessary. But consider when we have fallen in love, did it happen through knowledge or was it through relationship? Adults who become Catechists sometimes find they learn about their faith as if for the first time, seeing through the eyes of children the beauty of our traditions and the words of scripture in a new way  Through the formation experience we allow adults to discover for themselves the richest treasures God has to offer and we also help them to learn to step back and allow their children to make the same connections for themselves.

There is no lesson so well remembered or treasured than the one we discover for ourselves. Can you recall everything you have ever learned? What are the things you remember the best? Could it be those things where you made the connections, the discoveries for yourself? Like the person who discovered the treasure in the field and sold all they had to have it or the merchant who searched all his life for the most precious pearl, we want your relationship with Jesus to be a precious gift that you personally invested in.

During the formation, the participants will learn about an approach to learning discovered by Maria Montessori and also some Sacred History Theology. Interspersed with this some individual presentations will be given (the same as those given to the children) demonstrating the way we allow the children to continue to meditate on the small lessons of scripture, liturgy and practical life. There is time for prayer, sharing and also materials making. All of these will help to form the catechist, just as the time in the atrium for children helps to build the child in their personal relationship with God.

When we work with children in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, we do not follow a program. We do not have a curriculum that must be covered in a set amount of time. Some children will never work with or be given all of the presentations. We observe and follow the needs of each individual child, offering to them as gift various presentations as they grow in their understanding and relationship of God and as they grow as people in our community. As their abilities increase, they gain new skills which we provide opportunities for them to master, to help them do it by themselves. As one may imagine, it can be very difficult for some people to let go and let God be the teacher, with no measurable outcome. Sometimes we are blessed with glimpses of the work of the Holy Spirit in the response of the children, through their personal prayer and artwork. For the most part we are useless servants of God and the child and perhaps one day we may see the fruits of our labour.

About the Atrium

An Overview

The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is an approach to the religious formation of children.

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 they can use to help answer interior questions like:

“God who are you? How do you love us?”

About the Environment

“Like the environment of the Church, it is a place where the child can listen to the proclamation of the Good News, meditate on it and begin to live it according to the child’s own rhythm.

Different from the environment of the Church, the atrium is not only a place for announcement and celebration: it is also a place for work.

It is a particular environment in which work easily becomes meditation and prayer.”

Gianna Gobbi, 2000. (Listening to God with Children)

How can the atrium nourish a child’s faith development?

The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is not so much a curriculum as an environment. Through the use of the materials in the environment the children are introduced to God.

The purpose of the Catechesis isn’t to teach children about God through information about scripture or liturgy. Rather the focus is on introducing children to an experience of God through scripture and liturgy.

The atrium is a special place for children. It is a place of prayer and meditation, not a classroom for instruction. It is holy ground where Christ is encountered through word and action. It is a place of worship and community—religious life.

Every work in the atrium is either a passage to prayer or prayer itself.

The Materials

The materials used in the atrium have been designed to meet the vital needs of each age group of the children. This is based on their capabilities according to the research of Maria Montessori.

They are in a size that will comfortably fit the child and sensorially appealing; made of natural materials (such as wood, metal and clay) and as much as possible are hand made by the catechists themselves.

The room is set out in a way that conveys the centrality of the parable for each age group; the Good Shepherd for ages 3-6 and the True Vine for ages 6-12. Arranged around these are the Eucharist, the sacraments, scripture and geography works.

The 3-6 Child

The 3-6 year old child is particularly capable of receiving and enjoying the most essential elements of our faith: the announcement of God’s love in the person of the Good Shepherd who died and is risen.

Materials they work with help make the mystery of God concrete. For example, a geography work of a 3D relief map of the land of Israel, establishes Jesus as a real person in time and space.

Their sense of wonder and delight are nurtured through selected parables on the mystery of God’s kingdom: they may wonder at how something as small as a mustard seed can grow into a large tree.

Their desire for knowing the names of things and ordering things in their environment is met in work such as the altar where they learn the names and lay out items as they are arranged at Mass.

The 6-12 Child

The parable of the True Vine is the central meditation for children in this age group.

The work here responds to the need of the older child to know their place in their relationship with God, family and the wider community.

A range of moral parables provides the opportunity for meditation on God’s love and enduring forgiveness.

Their love for detail is ministered to through breaking open different parts of the Mass and exploring it, deepening their knowledge and love of the Eucharist.

Timelines focusing on salvation history from Creation to Redemption to Parousia nurture their vivid imagination and their fascination with time; the past and the future. This leads to the wonder of all the many gifts we have received from God, culminating in God’s gift of his own life through Jesus.

There is an emphasis on our response to God’s amazing generosity and the responsibility that comes with receiving these gifts.

New Year, New Start

2019 has begun in the atrium here. We open our doors to some familiar faces and some new faces on Thursday. The Catechists have been preparing the space readying the materials, buying new supplies, remaking and repairing some of the works.

We look forward with anticipation to a year of sharing the love of the Good Shepherd with the children and learning from them some new insights into the secrets God has hidden for us to discover for ourselves.

The atrium is a sacred space made especially for children to discover and grow in their relationship with Jesus. Our role as Catechists is to guide them and prepare opportunities for them to find Jesus. We allow the Holy Spirit to work in the materials and environment to awaken their hearts to God. So, our role is not as a teacher but as a servant, a matchmaker between the child and God. Like a servant we look for openings to invite the children into a deeper relationship. We observe their interests and abilities and match the work to them.

Some children arrive with a plan of what they will do, others need some time to adjust to a quieter, slower environment and may need help to make initial choices. Some children need to move, we look for work that involves movement. Some like the challenge of a puzzle, we have works that meet that need. Still others are opening up to the joys of writing and reading. All of the materials in the atrium have been chosen by children to meet their deepest needs and to encourage them in their life of prayer.

In the first few weeks after a long break, the children often need some structure to reacquaint them to the sacred space. Older children decide on what they think will be appropriate rules for their community to work peacefully together. If the atrium has been changed, we give a short tour so they can easily find the materials they know. New children are welcomed, and more experienced children help them to find what they need.

The rhythm of the atrium generally begins with work time, during which they may receive a presentation and concludes with a prayer time where they can respond to what they have experienced that day. Presentations are dictated mainly by the interest of the children and by the liturgical cycle. Not every child will receive a presentation every week, or the same presentations as the other children. Whole group presentations are rare, with most given individually or to small groups.

Children keep a record of any art or prayer responses in a prayer journal or folder, which at some later time they take home. Some children create a lot, others none or hardly any. We are privileged to bear witness to their growth in prayer and relationship with Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

Sensitive Periods and the Absorbent Mind

Have you ever heard the phrase, “this child is like a sponge” or something similar? If you have ever experienced close contact with a child from birth until the age of 6 you can see an amazing transformation. Babies born to human, unlike other animals, are quite helpless for the first few years of life. A newborn cannot control their movements, cannot crawl, sit, walk. They have no teeth and rely completely on the adult for nourishment. They cannot communicate except through making uncomfortable loud crying sounds to attract attention, then the adult must try to interpret their needs. They sleep a lot. They are totally dependent.

In the first about 1 year of life they undergo a transformation, they gain motor skills, even begin to move by crawling and walking. They can sit. They can begin to use their hands to feed themselves and explore their environment. They absorb information around them and begin to communicate though signs and words. By the time they reach the age of 3 they are quite proficient and many tasks such as feeding themselves, walking, talking. The are able to absorb culture and language from the world around them.

Maria Montessori calls the mind of the child from the time between birth and the age of six the Absorbent Mind. The child during this period absorbs much from the environment they live in. It is a period of the most intense growth of the human person. During this time Montessori observed particular areas that the child is drawn to focus their growth in, she calls these areas sensitive periods of growth. During this time period the child is more easily able to absorb knowledge and skills than at any later time in these particular areas. Later, when this time has passed, the knowledge can still be acquired but the effort and time is far greater than during the time when they are particularly sensitive.

The Sensitive Periods for a child from the age of 0-6

To identify a sensitive period, Montessori observed that the child showed intense concentration and interest in a particular activity. They tended to repeat the activity over and over again without tiring. They seemed to get great joy out of this activity. They seem driven to this task and want to continue at it as if seeking mastery or making some unseen link in their mind. They can focus on this for a long period of time. If you notice this in a child, it is recommended to just observe without intervening or interrupting. Allow them the time and space as they construct themselves and learn the skill. Don’t take over and “show” them how to do it properly, unless they ask.

Some particular areas that Montessori observed during this age range were:


This is primarily a need to understand how things relate to other things. The child needs predictable places for items, steps for tasks, routines. You may notice a child reacting negatively when their routine is disrupted, or when an item is not where “it should be”. They need to know the same things are going to be there when they come back.


Through the use of the senses, the child absorbs information about the environment around them. You will often observe a young child placing items in their mouth. Children are also often observed as touching everything. In this way they are making sense of each item. How does it feel, taste, what is it weight? This is a great opportunity for the adult to interact with the child, giving words to describe the sense. This is a ball, this is a cup, this is cold etc. Though the senses come language. Montessori says to never give more to the eye and the ear than we give to the hand.


Language does so much to develop the brain of the young child. In the first year a perceptual map of spoken sounds is established in the brain.  Montessori noted that the young child just by living absorbs the entirety of his mother tongue or as many languages as are put in the child’s environment. Not only is a child able to duplicate language but also, the language develops who the child is.


After about a year the child is able to be independent, they no longer need to be carried around. You will also notice they want to climb in or out of cots, strollers etc by themselves. Montessori recommends allowing them the space to gain skills in this area. Take them for walks where they can walk (you may need to slow your pace to theirs). Instead of removing or locking up items, show them how to interact safely within the environment. This may require some changes to the environment and to the adult’s expectations. Parents are stewards to the life of this person finding out who they are along with the child. Instead of finding the child difficult to inconvenient to our life, we need to embrace the gift they bring to change us.


Children during this period have an intese interest in minute objects, from crumbs on the floor, to tiny insects in the garden, beads on a necklace, small threads etc. Everything is wonderful and new for them. These tiny objects create an opportunity to develop fine motor skills and the pincer grasp. Allow the child to explore small things, ensuring that they are safe to handle. If they are still putting items in their mouth, close supervision may be required. They seem to be asking “what does this do and what can I do with it?”.


In this period, the child is trying to understand the relationship between people and themselves. What behaviour is acceptable, what do I want. You may hear the child say “mine” or “me” a lot. This is a time when the development of manners and how behaviour affects others begins. Over time and with guidance, the child begins to see the needs of others and are more willing to share with and comfort others. They will look to adults as models for behaviours. Adults must admit when they are wrong and explain why so that children learn why they in turn are asked to acknowledge mistakes (for example). IN reading with your children, you will also have opportunities to discuss feelings and personal interactions of the characters to help children develop appropriate social skills. Remember that behaviour is not good or bad in essence but a way to communicate. Try to peacefully interact with the child and help them to communicate in ways that are easier on them and others socially.

You may find some more information about the absorbent mind and sensitive periods from

Maria Montessori’s book “The Absorbent Mind”

And from websites such as:

The Liturgical Cycle in the Atrium

In the atrium we introduce the children to the liturgical year firstly by looking at the colours of the liturgical seasons. Children in level 1 are introduced to the colours for Preparation (purple), getting ready for a feast. The feasts of Christmas and Easter and their seasons are white. Ordinary time (green) is introduced as the growing time, a time to allow the “food of the feast” to nurture our growing relationship with God. The other colour (red) is for the Holy Spirit and the feast of Pentecost.

Children learn the liturgical cycle firstly by observing the colours used during the celebration of Mass.

As children progress through the atrium we look at a circular liturgical calendar. This highlights the cyclical nature of the liturgical year. The calendar has a small prism for each Sunday of the year (ours also includes an extra prism to represent Christmas Day as that does not always fall on a Sunday). Essentially this work is a puzzle that the children pull apart and reconstruct. However, this provides time for the children to reflect and notice different elements of our liturgical cycle. Little facts such as Easter is longer than Lent. Ordinary Time is very long, why would that be?

The liturgical calendar in the atrium

There are also things to research further such as Easter is not always on the same date so how do we know when it will happen? The numbers of the Sundays in Ordinary Time don’t match the number of prisms, why would that be? When we attend daily Mass the priest sometimes wears other colours, why?

The Liturgical Calendar acts a a catalyst to discovering more about the liturgical cycle and life in the church.

The calendar is just a starting point for discoveries about life in the church.

Many adults make observations too such as the calendar does not progress in a clockwise direction. Why would we have it going counter-clockwise? Could it be that God’s time is different to our time?

As we approach the three main feasts of our church year, Easter, Christmas and Pentecost, we celebrate with the children. These celebrations are not just parties with gifts and food. They are solemn celebrations looking at what the event is. With the children we enter into the special time that we are celebrating. At Easter, this may take the form of a re-enactment of the Last Supper and/or a Liturgy of Light celebration. Prior to that, during Lent, we bury the “Alleluia” and save the word for the special day when we proclaim the resurrection of Jesus. During Pentecost we meditate on the gift of the Holy Spirit and consider what those gifts mean for us in our lives and how we can call on those gifts to help us build God’s kingdom. During the Christmas Celebration we often have a lead up during advent culminating in recalling Jesus being incarnate and also longing for him to come again. Due to our long Summer break, this often happens a few weeks prior to Christmas Day. Our CGS friends living in the Northern Hemisphere will also celebrate the feast of Epiphany, recognising the gift given for all people.

Some ideas for prayer cards.

Parents may be able to foster a sense of the liturgical year in their homes by preparing for the children a small table for prayer. Provide cloths in each of the 4 liturgical colours that the children can place on the table according to the season. Add a candle and perhaps a small statue of the Good Shepherd, the Holy Family etc. Children enjoy spending time in quiet prayer or communal prayer, including songs and hand made prayer cards. Ideas for short phrases can be taken from words used in the Mass such as “Amen”, “Alleluia”, “Thanks be to God”, “Holy, holy, holy”, “Thy kingdom come”. Other ideas can be found in the book “The Good Shepherd and the Child a Joyful Journey”.

The Good Shepherd and the Child A Joyful Journey – this text has lots of great insight into using CGS in your home and is a core text for the CGS Catechist.

Christmas a time of waiting in joyful hope

The season of Christmas is a time to recollect, to look back and forward. For many people it reaches it climax on the 25th of December where all the rushing and planning, baking and celebrating happens with family and friends. In the shopping centres the day following Christmas is a time to purge the shop of excess goods and decorations that are no longer required. By the time we get to the 27th or 28th of December it is as if Christmas is in the distant past and we look forward to New Year’s Day Celebrations, Australia Day and then the planning starts for Easter!

However, in the Liturgical cycle of the Church Christmas continues. We savour for a few more weeks what the meaning of this tiny child could mean. God, who humbled himself to be born as someone so helpless. A baby conceived in a country town to a young woman who was unmarried. Today, would the baby even make it to birth? A baby born not in the home town of the mother but a long distance away. A baby born not in a warm home but in a place where animals were kept safe. A baby welcomed first by shepherds. A baby announced by angels. A baby welcomed by wise men from foreign nations. We can ponder what this all could mean, even as Mary did.

We can be challenged to be like Mary, like the shepherds, like the wise men and like the angels, celebrating the wonder, the miracle of Jesus birth. Or, we can just let the moment pass or become too busy in our own lives to find room for him, like the Inn Keeper. Perhaps we will reject him altogether and plan to erase him from our lives, like Herod.

Jesus, the one who saves, Emmanual, God with us, born in Bethlehem, the house of bread. Why do we celebrate him? Is it for that time so long ago that God walked into our history? Is it for that time alone? God has a plan so much bigger than we can imagine. A plan that encompasses all of time and space. A plan that reaches a high point at the birth of Jesus but a plan that has yet to be completed. This plan will come to completion when God will be all in all. We are called to work together with God to bring all people to like in his kingdom. We can make that day come quickly by how we interact with each person we encounter.

Maranatha, Come Lord Jesus.

Characteristic #3 and a Look at Practical Life in the Atrium

Characteristic #3

The atrium is a community in which children and adults live together a religious experience which facilitates participation in the wider community of the family, the church and other social spheres.

  • The atrium is a place of prayer, in which work and study spontaneously become meditation, contemplation and prayer.

  • The atrium is a place in which the only Teacher is Christ; both children and adults place themselves in a listening stance before his Word and seek to penetrate the mystery of the liturgical celebration.

Often, adults who work in an atrium environment find they have favorite works or ones they consider more important than other works. There are times when I have overheard people mention the works of practical life and care for the environment as noisy work or busy work and the real work is the scripture and liturgical work.


Maria Montessori did not see it that way. She said: “The child becomes a person through work.”

One of the reflections we give in formation of catechists is about the importance of practical life as an indirect aid to prayer. Through working with their hands in a concentrated and meaningful way the internalize the ability to listen and respond to the voice of Jesus the Good Shepherd.

The work of the child is important whether it be liturgical work, scripture or practical life. We cannot measure their work by output or how many different presentations we have managed to get through this term or year. We must with great patience and humility, observe the work of the child waiting for a sign of what they next need from us. The adult is not the teacher, we act merely as a resource a guide for the child. God is the teacher and the environment is the means through which he teaches.

Below are some quotes about practical life, one from Maria Montessori and one from Gianna Gobbi.

 “When we speak about the behaviour of men and animals, we refer to their purposeful movements. This behaviour is the centre of their practical life. It is not just the practical life in a house, cleaning rooms, watering plants, etc., that is important, but the fact that everyone in the world must move with a purpose and must work, not only for himself but also for others. It is strange that man’s work must also be work in service of others; if this were not so, his work would have no more meaning than gymnastic exercises. All work is done not only for ourselves but also for others. Even something as frivolous as dancing would be pointless without an audience. The dancers, who perfect their movements with so much trouble and fatigue, dance for others. Tailors who spend their lives sewing could not wear all the clothes they make themselves. Yet tailoring, like gymnastics, requires lots of movements.

If you have a vision of the cosmic purpose, that every life in the world is based on this movement with a purpose, you will be able to understand and better direct the children’s work. In the beginning, children are urged by nature to be active. They are happy when they are active. They begin to develop the behaviour of humanity with its limits and its possibilities.”

Montessori, Maria. The 1946 London Lectures.

“It is very important that we adults not view the practical life activities merely as the duty or personal responsibility of the child in helping to keep the environment in good order. Rather, we must understand that the practical life activities fulfill a deep need in the child (especially in the younger child) and also are directly connected to the religious life of the child.”

Gianna Gobbi. Listening to God with Children

Formation Leaders Retreat Brisbane 2018

We recently attended a formation leaders retreat in Brisbane. It was a week full of sharing and celebrating CGS as well as a time for looking forward to changes that will help the work of CGS continue throughout Australia.

We have set a date for the AGM in late August and hope to get people nominating for positions on the Board of Directors from among our many members in the association.

One of the areas we focused on was how formation has evolved and changed as we have grown in our experience with Catechesis of the Good Shepherd and working with children. If you have attended formation in the past, don’t think it is a finished package, there is always so much richness to be had and I highly recommend joining in any formation in your area as it comes up. We usually recommend that if you have previously received formation at a particular level you can attend again without paying for the course. You may consider making a donation.

There were some new presentations shared amongst the group as well as deeper ways to share these with the children and adults.

Overall it was a blessed week with lots of laughter, tears, songs, prayer and plenty of yummy food.

The Task of the Catechist Part 3

Characteristic #24 The tasks of the catechist include:

  • to go deeper into the Christian message through the knowledge of the biblical and liturgical sources and of ongoing living tradition of the church, including the theological, social and ecumenical movements which enliven the church today;
  • preparing an environment and maintaining order in that environment (the atrium) so that it fosters concentration, silence and contemplation in both the child and adult;
  • preparing the materials oneself as much as possible while collaborating with others in areas that are beyond one’s abilities.

Part 3

Our final part in looking at the 24th Characteristic of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is that of materials preparation.

A few things come to mind when thinking about preparing materials with our hands. The first is our belief in our own abilities. The second our individual skills. Thirdly our time. The fourth costs. I would like to consider each of these in this post.

Firstly our belief in our abilities. I am a person who enjoys doing things with my hands. Even when I was a child I enjoyed making things. When you make something for your own enjoyment and satisfaction, there is less pressure to “get it perfect” or for it to “work out” how you saw it in your mind. However, when you are making this for someone else or for public display, we like to get it perfect. We don’t want to let other people down or make it not fit for purpose. All admirable qualities considering these materials will be tools of the Holy Spirit!

This brings to mind the parable of the talents. It is easy to play it safe but by risking making something less than perfect we often find that God blesses us 100 fold for our effort. I think part of the challenge in having a go at making materials is our cultural belief in speaking less of our own abilities. This is somehow meant to make us appear humble. True humility is in seeing things truthfully. I think that acknowledging out gifts is as important as acknowledging our weaknesses, and for many of us both of these things are difficult.

Once we get over ourselves it is time to decide how to make materials. For most of us it is not beyond our ability to copy or trace things for the handworks. We may need to focus on our neatness in our handwriting or in getting the spacing right but overall this is one of the easier tasks. I recommend using paper and pens etc. that are of good quality or the best you can afford. This will help you to get a better result.

Woodwork is often an obstacle for people, especially when a lot of these handwork crafts have gotten lost over the years. I marvel at Sofia making all the materials by hand when she was primarily a scholar! As they say, necessity is the mother of invention! I think one of the best gifts my husband bought for me is a scroll saw. It is a little like using a sewing machine (which I have used – thanks Mum for teaching me). What it enables you to do is cut our shapes (like sheep and merchants) from pieces of wood with relative ease. Again, I suggest getting the best wood you can afford as you only want to do this once as it is time consuming and the better quality you make it the longer it will last. The cgsusa.org website has some good tips for making boxes and dioramas which I recommend you have a look at and there are also loads of youtube videos to teach yourself most skills you will need.


For some of the materials you need to sew. As mentioned I have a sewing machine and some experience. Even so, a good pattern and nice fabrics help to get a good result with this. Some of the things like vestments also need a stand. We have various stands from “T” shaped pieces of wood to papier mache busts. I suggest just take your time and let your inner engineer out and have a go as much as you can.

There are some online resources you can purchase, but I would strongly recommend to only buy ready made materials as a last resort. The children are drawn to the uniqueness of the handcrafted materials. They see so much manufactured in their world that they easily recognize the love and care that has been taken to make this just for them. It also invites them to have a go themselves. I have one level 3 child currently working on making his own raised surface map of the land of Israel.

When painting your materials recall that this material will be used for a prayerful purpose. We do not want the materials to draw the child away from the scripture (for example) that it is highlighting but rather to draw them into it. Steer clear of being too cutesy or over embellishing. This is definitely a case of less is more! However, adding elements that attract the child to the work are useful (attract not detract). It would be suitable, for example, to paint the chalice in the last supper gold, but not suitable to give characters to each of the apostles. In painting I would also recommend using a base coat to help the colours stand out from the wood and then using some clear coat to finish them off after painting in the details.

One of the costs involved in making materials is our time. We live in a time where we are used to having everything instantly. We also try to use every moment doing something and feel like we are wasting time if something takes longer than expected. I think this is one of the reasons we are encouraged to make our own materials. We get first hand experience in slowing down and being in the moment. Of pondering the works these materials help to depict. What a beautiful meditation it is to paint Mary’s house, to think of how she lived. What sort of a life did she lead? What would she have been doing in the house when the angel came to visit her? All the same questions we ponder with the children! It is the time taken to make the materials and then prepare the album pages that are the times where we prepare ourselves to proclaim the word to the children. It does take time, but like the leaven our time and work will be rewarded by growth.

The final obstacle we may have in materials preparation is that of financial cost. This is one of the biggest hurdles many catechists face. Without the backing from a larger group such as the parents or the parish, it can be extremely difficult to prepare all of the materials. Some things can be acquired relatively easily and cheaply from second hand or charity stores, such as chalices and patens and small tables (look for goblets or silver or brass liqueur glasses, small plates or lids or coasters, coffee tables and so on). Most practical life materials are easily found this way also. For the sandpaper globe, just find a small globe (you can sometimes get these at discount shops for quite cheap prices) and paint over the continents with wood glue and coat with sand. Then after that paint over the oceans in blue and the land in tan. You may want to paint a sealer on top to protect it. It is quite easy to do.

Purchasing wood can become expensive. I suggest get creative. Find someone who can donate offcuts to you. You may be able to make use of old pallets or even old furniture to cut up and make into the various dioramas. When created the 3D figures you may feel you need to buy peg dolls and they can be reasonably priced or quite expensive depending on how many you need to purchase and costs for postage etc. Consider instead buying a wooden broom handle and cutting off lengths of these to make the shape of some of the characters. You will want to round off the tops and then they should be as enticing as any peg dolls and quite a lot cheaper.

Lastly, I think you need to use the resource of your community. By asking parishioners and parents to contribute time, expertise and money into building the atrium you are also building a community who own the work as much as the catechist and will then support it as the years go on.

The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is a work not only for children but for the whole community to build a place where everyone can encounter Jesus the Good Shepherd and grow in their gifts through the Holy Spirit.

The Task of the Catechist Part 2

Characteristic #24 The tasks of the catechist include:

  • to go deeper into the Christian message through the knowledge of the biblical and liturgical sources and of ongoing living tradition of the church, including the theological, social and ecumenical movements which enliven the church today;
  • preparing an environment and maintaining order in that environment (the atrium) so that it fosters concentration, silence and contemplation in both the child and adult;
  • preparing the materials oneself as much as possible while collaborating with others in areas that are beyond one’s abilities.

Part 2

The second part of this characteristic focuses on the Catechist’s role in preparing the environment. This is the sacred space where will encounter God as they work with the materials. This requires a time commitment on the part of the catechist outside of the time you are working with the children. To help the children create order internally and externally it should start with an orderly environment in which they can work.

The atrium session is not the time to be sorting shelves, fixing materials or replacing missing or broken pieces. Of course, there will be times when things get missed and order may need to be restored on the spot. For the most part, however, the catechist should make themselves aware of what needs maintenance and plan to do this before or after the atrium time.

I have often heard catechists talking about modelling for the children cleaning or polishing so as to entice the children to join them. Each situation is unique and there may be merit in this approach, however this should not be the norm. During the atrium session our primary role is that of observer. Our second role is that of guide or presenter of materials for the child’s contemplation. The adult should become invisible to the child so that their focus is on Jesus and listening to the Holy Spirit.

The atrium environment should be one that fosters silence, concentration and contemplation in both the child and the adult. How can that occur if we are chatting with another adult or child? If the adult is unable to keep their body still and meditative, how can we expect that from a child? It is a great challenge to remain quiet and just observe in the atrium. It is a challenge that I believe will be worth trying and noting what changes it may bring to the atrium.

In an article “The Religious Experience of the Child Three to Six” (Journals of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd 1995) Gianna Gobbi remarks

“…the attitude and posture needed by the adult in our work should rather be one of humble observer. In the child, there exists a hidden, but profoundly religious nature, which the child desires to live out. For a child to reveal this true nature the adult needs to be prepared for the task of helping this revelation to occur. We need to recognize that our primary call is to be a humble and attentive observer of life.”

Maria Montessori’s guide for the preparation of the teacher gives these points, worth contemplating:

  1. Learn SILENCE
  2. Rather than teach, OBSERVE
  3. Instead of assuming self-pride that makes oneself important, one must put on the mantle of HUMILITY.
  4. We might add to this list the need for STILLNESS and
  5. Openness to LISTENING.

In her article “Action and Contemplation” (Journals of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd 2001) Sofia Cavalletti speaks of the contemplative nature of our observations:

“When one speaks of contemplation, one means, instead, an attitude that leaves aside specific activity…Contemplation is an attitude in which the searching moment has been overcome, and within which prevails a tranquil look that rests upon the known object.”

My challenge to you as an observer is to sit quietly. Set aside a minimum of 20 minutes in your atrium session to observe. While you sit take notes. These notes will be invaluable to you as you grow and develop as a catechist and as your get to know each child and their needs.