Thursday, September 23, 2010

Everybody seems to know what to do...

One of my favorite atrium memories happened in our first year.  The Bishop was visiting our Church and was planning to stop by and see our new atrium in action.  I was working in the 3-6 year old atrium at the time.  Just before I planned to slip out to get the Bishop, our other catechist received an emergency phone call and had to leave Church immediately. I was very suddenly alone with ten 3-6 year olds and I needed to leave the room!  (This is a safe-church nightmare, and one I didn't handle as well then as I hope I would now!).  Just then, I looked out of my door and saw a familiar face - the father of a child in our Nursery - passing by.  I quickly asked this gentleman into the room to supervise, so I could find another helper and meet the Bishop.  As I came up the stairs ten minutes later with the Bishop beside me, I felt sick at the thought of what might be happening in our atrium.  The scene that greeted us was something I'll never forget.  Ten little children contentedly working - some sitting at tables with materials in front of them, others moving quietly around the atrium returning materials to shelves and choosing something new.  And one full grown man sprawled across a tiny chair looking baffled.  "Everybody seems to know what to do," he said with a grin on his face.

When the atrium is running smoothly, everybody does seem to know what do! This is no small feat, considering we spend two hours with the children each session, with most of the time set aside for the children to choose their own work, and work independently or in small groups. This is possible because of many factors but it really boils down to two:  a carefully prepared room and our preparation with the children.  I'll write more about the room later, but wanted to say a few things about our work with the children, which begins this Sunday at 9:15 am!

At the start of the year, we spend time teaching the children the things they need to know to be independent in the atrium.  Here are a few first day presentations we show the children:

  • what do do when you arrive
  • how to carry a chair
  • how to unroll and re-roll a rug to work with materials on the floor
  • how to get the catechist's attention without interrupting
  • how to move quietly and speak quietly in the room
  • how to take a material off the shelf and return it ready for the next person to use

This probably seems excessive, but it is with these lessons that we begin to create the culture of the atrium.  Understanding how to function in the room allows the children to move about freely and choose their own work to explore, as the Spirit moves them.  Knowing how to work independently with materials gives them time to meditate on what they are hearing, seeing, and doing.  With this kind of freedom, children don't have to be directed and entertained at every turn - instead real growth and discovery can happen in the quiet moments of reflection after the catechist and child have finished speaking. This also makes the catechist available to spend time with individual children or small groups - showing them new presentations or meditating with them on the work they have chosen.  Creating an atmosphere of quiet and reflection, where children can direct themselves and be directed by God is a big job for the catechists.  We begin this Sunday!  See you then!

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful story. I feel blessed my children have gone through each level of Atrium and am sad they no longer have this purposeful quiet reflective time.

    Your comments about setting the proper culture really resonate with me.

    I hope the start of this year is equally exciting as the first year!


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