Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Celebrating Advent in the Atrium

Last Sunday (Nov.28th) was the beginning of the season of advent, the time the Church sets aside for us to prepare for the great feast of Christmas. Each season of the Church year is represented by a color, and the liturgical color for advent is blue. You will see blue in Church on Rev. Peter's chasuble, hanging from the pulpit and lectern, and behind the altar on the dossal curtain.

TRY THIS: This Sunday in Church, mention the change in liturgical color to your children and give them a chance to share what they know.  Notice the places where you see blue together, and take a look at our beautiful advent wreath.

In the atrium, we have a handful of seasonal celebrations throughout the year and we really enjoy them. Last Sunday in the two lower atria, we celebrated the beginning of advent with a procession and changed the cloth on our prayer tables from green to blue.  We also set up our advent wreaths and lit the first blue candle for the the first Sunday of advent.  Here are some pictures from the True Vine Atrium celebration for you to enjoy!

The procession. Each person carries something we will need for our celebration.

Placing the wreath.
Placing the candles into the wreath.
Each person adds some greenery to the wreath.
Adding the greenery.
Each week we sing a special advent song before lighting the candles.
Our first candle is lit!

Have you checked out our new Church webpage?  Click here to take a look!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Try This! Advent

Advent begins this Sunday!  Did you know that Advent is the beginning of our Church year?  If you aren't familiar with the seasons of the Church year I have to tell you, they have been a tremendous gift to me!  The seasons help us to live our entire year with Jesus, moving through the low and high points of his life, with plenty of time for preparation and reflection throughout.

This is what I like about Advent:  When everything around you is saying "Hurry up!" "Buy this!" "Make that!" the Church invites us to slow down, light a candle or two (or four!), and contemplate one of the great mysteries of our faith.  God loves us!  God loves us so much, in fact, that God was humble enough to become human!  In the next couple of weeks, I'll share some of the work we do with the children during the season of Advent.  But I wanted to take a few moments to encourage you to observe Advent at home.

There are many resources available for observing Advent, in stores and on the web.  If you haven't already, go to Church and check out the table in the Great Hall - there are some wonderful meditation and activity booklets for adults, children and families.  We also have frames and candles available so that you can create an Advent wreath for your home.

Our Advent wreath at Church.
In my house, we have observed Advent in many different ways. The one thing we always do (and usually the best thing, really!) is lighting our Advent wreath at dinner. Each evening we offer a special prayer (often from a booklet like the ones at Church). Sometimes we spend the first few minutes of dinner answering a simple question (such as "How did you share the light of Jesus with someone today?"). The wreath becomes a touchstone through our busy days to remind us that we are preparing our hearts and minds for the birth of Jesus.  

There are two handouts on the table at Church with suggestions and prayers for using an Advent wreath if you need some direction or inspiration.  Take a little time this Advent to think through your Christmas priorities - check out this thought provoking video from Advent Conspiracy.  Also, explore these great links from Sharon Ely Pearson, Christian Formation Specialist at Church Publishing Incorporated:  Resources for Advent and Christmas offers lots of of ideas for planning Advent at home and Online Advent Meditations lists great sites  to use for prayer during this Holy season.

Peace and blessings to you this Advent!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Essential Lessons

After my last post, I wanted to share something about the theology that the children have lifted up for us in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. There is so much that could be said!  But for now, I'll just say this:

It is so easy to underestimate children, expecting them to like the "cute" stories from the Bible, and wanting to make the stories "fun" to catch their interest.  For me, one of the most significant revelations from the children is their desire for the the most essential understandings of our Christian faith. Awe and wonder at God becoming a tiny baby, joy at the gift of the light of Christ given at Baptism, deep love for Jesus the Good Shepherd of the sheep, and gratefulness for the gift of Jesus in the bread and wine -- these are just a few of the central themes of the Christian message that catechists discovered over and over again in their observations of children.

As a result, in the Good Shepherd Atrium (for 3-6 year olds) we present the heart of our Christian theology to the children.  As they grow we have no need to "go deeper."  Instead we continually draw the circle wider to bring in more for the children to ponder.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Materials

In my last post, I talked about some of the ways that the atrium environment meets the developmental needs of the children, and fosters independence. Here, I want to look a bit more closely at the materials, and how they were chosen for inclusion in the atrium. I think this is one of the best things about the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd -- the materials at each level have essentially been chosen by the children themselves.  

Just like Dr. Montessori, we catechists are scientists at heart and we are charged with the job of observation. Each week, we make an effort to sit and watch the children as they interact with the materials and each other. Our desire is to learn about their spiritual lives. We watch to see which materials children are repeatedly drawn to and which materials bring them joy. We listen carefully to their comments and questions and prayers, and we study their drawings for insight.  

This practice has been in use by catechists for over fifty years!  Our founders, Sofia Cavalletti and Gianna Gobbi, and their colleagues began by making materials - small figures for meditating upon scripture passages, model altars and altar pieces, maps of the land of Israel -- all for 3-6 year olds. Then they carefully observed the children's responses. Pieces that the children were drawn to again and again found a permanent place on the shelves.  Materials that appeared in drawings and brought the children contentment were kept.  But legend tells of many amazing materials - beautifully handcrafted items that catechists LOVED - that were put away because they just didn't speak to the children.  Some of our presentations were actually developed by the children themselves, when they brought together materials and concepts in their meditation and catechists observed their connections!

Over many years, patterns began to emerge. Specific presentations were treasured by the children at specific ages, and the decisions about what materials would be presented, when, and to whom, were made.   This process of observation and refinement has been practiced with all three levels of the Catechesis, and is still at work in atria around the world today.

This is the thing that I love -- the materials really do speak to the developmental needs and spiritual yearnings of the children.  And I am so grateful to the wise and faithful children and catechists, across continents and years, who have made it so.

    Tuesday, November 9, 2010

    The Atrium Environment

    In one of my first posts, I promised to write about the way that the atrium environment supports the independence of the children. The atrium is a prepared space – meaning that adults carefully put each room together according to the children’s needs. 
    • Everything in the space is scaled to the children who use it.  The furnishings and the materials were all chosen to allow them to be used successfully and independently by the children.  For example, the chairs in each atrium are always small enough for children to carry on their own, everything is within reach on the shelves, trays of materials are light enough to be carefully carried to tables etc.
    • We strive to have every part of every work ready and available for use in the atrium.  This way, children can use the materials freely without having to look for missing pieces or ask for adult help.  (I’ll admit it - this is the reason Catechists sometimes get grumpy when other people innocently rifle through the shelves!)
    • We have all the necessary cleaning supplies and replacement pieces available in the atrium, so that the children can clean spills and dirty items, replace used items, and always return the materials to the shelves ready for use by the next person.

    All of these factors make it possible for children to follow their own interests and the promptings of the Holy Spirit during the two hour work period in the atrium, often with little help from the catechists. 

    Check back soon to learn how the materials themselves meet the vital needs of the children…