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.


    1. what strikes me about this is being reminded that even if we as catechists love something, it might not speak to the children - and it's not necessarily for us to know why.

    2. I agree Kate! Reading your comment also reminds me that its okay to let something go when it doesn't resonate with a child, and come back to it later when he or she may be more open to a material or a concept. I'm so glad to have you in the atrium!

    3. I love the work you're doing in your atrium and the way you're sharing the beauty of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd through your blog! I gave you the Me Encanta Tú Blog Award at

    4. Thanks so much Deb! I feel honored! Is there something I should do? I haven't had a blog award before!!! :)


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