Monday, December 31, 2012

Exploration of the Mass during Advent

During Advent, we also explored dimensions of the Mass. Why that combination? At first, I couldn't pinpoint it as I was just doing what naturally seemed to flow with the children, but here are a few reasons I came up with after the fact: 
  • Indeed it was a natural flow of the children. After spending the first few weeks acclimating to the atrium and working SO heavily with the history of the Kingdom of God (Fettuccina, Fetuccia, History of the Gifts, Plan of God, Blue Unity....) - the children just needed something more tangible. 
  • In the meantime, in both atriums, I was finding more and more opportunities to explore what it means to prepare for the coming of Jesus NOW. Yes, the memorial of the first Christmas and how we enter back into that moment in time; but how we are truly preparing for the second Coming. 
  • My level 2 children (some with no level 1 experience) in the combined atrium had a fascination with the City of Jerusalem and I didn't want to keep holding them off from working with it. So we did it - during Advent instead of Lent ;) Then we went back to the Last Supper and with some of them extended it out into the Origins of the Eucharist. The end of the booklet revealed to me why we were doing these things during Advent: the final words are "Come Lord Jesus". 
  • We could then sing that song "Come Lord Jesus" using the various names given to us by the prophets. And we could invite one another to explore the various names and titles for Jesus and begin compilation of a list of these names. The only-level-3 atrium has several takers on this challenge! 
  • Propers of the Mass - introduction
    Some of the children re-created this chart
     on their own paper, so the tiles are messy
    White indicates a "proper" - prayers that
    change according to the day/season.
    The colored tiles represent all unchanging prayers.

Thus the work of the level 3 children followed: 
  • In the just-level-3 atrium, I had a group of children who enjoyed getting out the Mass articles; reading the booklet that corresponds with the articles. These were 5th/6th graders who knew their younger brothers and sisters had been doing something with this material for the last 4 years, but they had not seen this material since their own sacramental preparation time. Now, we do not have a model altar in level 3 - we do have some of the articles and a booklet that describes these articles at an older child level - specifically for these older children. Unfortunately, it was quickly disintegrating into "let's play Mass" - a BIG no-no! And some of these children are altar servers!!!
  • So their work became more directed - they were given the materials and the booklet for the Origins of the Eucharist (going from the Last Supper to today's Mass). 
  • I then provided them with the Structure of the Mass - a chart with all colored tiles, colors coordinating to the 4 parts of the Mass, labels for the two main divisions of the Mass (Liturgy of the Word; Liturgy of the Eucharst --- Eucharist than has "Preparation of the Gifts", "Eucharistic Prayer", and "Communion.").
  • Within the just-level-3 atrium, the children also extended their work into the Propers of the Mass. We have just begun, so they have only yet worked with the large chart and tiles; most of the children also re-created the chart on their own papers. This will later extend into work with card material that defines each proper; an exploration of specific propers and their prayer choices; and finally into the "Colored Base" or "Second Missal" - a work with cards and charts that looks at every single prayer of the Mass in relative detail. I am anxious to start this work, but I don't have all the materials ready! Translation changes.... (I attend the TLM so didn't experience any translation changes, thus this work is a bit more tedious for me ;) ). 

And the level 2 children? 

They have plenty of time to explore the infancy narratives when we come back in January - we start early in the month which is fantastic! And I really feel that their needs have been met. 

During all of this time, we have also explored the Liturgical Calendar, celebrated Communal Prayer, explored the gestures of the Mass, worked with the Books of the Bible, continued to explore the typology of Creation and so much more. 

These children continue to reveal so much to me and I wish I could put more of it into words. 

For those of you parents following along: 

All atriums: Our first class in January, regardless of the date, will be an Advent/Christmas/Epiphany celebration - we will read through the prophecies one more time, share the currently discovered names of Jesus, meditate on key moments of the infancy narratives and share a King's Cake. 

Combined 2/3: the level 3 children in the combined atrium will be exploring the typology of Creation in January. We will likely follow that up with typology of Sin in February. Throughout, we will also review what they already know about the Mass. 

Combined 2/3: the level 2 children will have time to spend with the infancy narratives; some of the children will also receive the Flight into Egypt (the other narratives are the same as level 1 with different meditative points). We will look at the Kingdom of God towards the end of the month. As the children are ready and wanting, we will also look at dimensions of the Mass. 

Just-level-3: In January, we will continue work on the Mass, look at those Kingdom parables again, and I hope to start the Typology of Sin with very small groups, overlapping into February with this work. 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Prophets of the Lord

In the weeks leading up to Christmas break, the level 3 children began work on the prophet studies.

In level 1, we focus on 5 particular Messianic prophecies - prophecies pointing to the first coming of the Messiah.

  • The People who walked in darkness... 
  • And you Bethlehem of Ephrathah...
  • The Lord shall give you a sign! A maiden...
  • For a Child was given us, a Son born to us; upon His shoulders...
  • A Star shall come forth out....
(we include the Scripture passages when we read aloud from the Scripture, to emphasize where each of the passages is found - I invite you to find these passages (all within the prophets) and to find the end of each passage we actually use ;) )

Each of these prophecies reveal something particular about the coming Messiah - not just the Messiah who was born in the stable, died on the cross and rose from the tomb; but the Messiah who is coming again, for whom we daily prepare but most particularly prepare during the weeks leading up to the celebration of Christmas. 

In level 2, these prophecies are reviewed again, going deeper. Emphasizing to the children that every time we come back to God's Word there is something more for us if only we will keep our eyes and hearts open. Thus, in level 2, we discuss some of the actual Old Testament history - just a bit. 

And we add a few more specific prophecies: 
  • A shoot shall spring from the stump of Jesse....
  • Then the wolf shall be the guest of the lamb...
  • A voice cries out: "In the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord!"...
And we expand the Star and Sceptre to include "I see Him, though not now; I behold Him, though not near...."

For the most part, the meditation on these prophecies flows with the particular group of children - what are their insights? What words stand out for you? What do these words mean? Share any intellectual knowledge I have about a word, a phrase, a point in history that is pertinent to the discussion. Hold back any insights that the children are not pointing to yet - there is time in the future to come back to these prophecies again and again. 

Level 3 continues the same prophecies and adds a study on what used to be several prophets and now focuses mostly on Isaiah. The children aren't going for it - and want to study more!

This year, in the level 2 & 3 atrium, I gathered all the children to meditate upon the first set of 5 - for many it was review, and a couple of children sat back as if to say, "I've got this, so I'll just sit quietly and let the conversation flow for the younger children." They sat up a bit straighter when I started mentioning things they didn't know yet ;) Who was Jesse? how does he fit in? But I thought Jesus would be a descendant of Jacob? Who are all these people? How do they connect? Frankly, the 6-7 year olds really weren't there for that part of it, but they were meditating on the words in their hearts (if their faces revealed anything!) during parts of the conversation they didn't connect with. 

We read the words several times during our meditation. 

The beauty of these prophecies, is that I honestly don't remember all that was discussed, all that was explored, all that was discovered - but the children do - it is in their hearts - what stood out for them in that moment is now stored within their hearts - a seed that will sprout later, or nourishment for an already growing seed. What stands out for me are the revelations made in my own heart. 

Thus allowing that ebb and flow of private meditation with outward reflection as the conversation continued to cycle through the younger and the older children was very beautiful to experience in the atrium. 

What stood out for me from the children's responses? In one of my atriums (the specifically level 3), the children revealed that the real desert in one's own heart. Sometimes we really do need to go somewhere barren in order to discover the truth of God, but many times that desert is within ourselves; as well as among people who have not yet found God's love and mercy. 

I did very specifically point out to the children that it is NOT "The voice cries in the desert, "Prepare the way of the Lord!" but instead: "The voice cries, "In the desert, prepare the way of the Lord!" Hm. A BIG difference! Too bad our lectors don't quite get that nuance all the time ;)
(update: it seems that some of the New Testament translations of this Old Testament passage have the punctuation marked in the wrong place - not the fault of the lectors - the fault of the translators... how sad :( )

A continual reminder in the atrium - WHO is a prophet? A prophet is someone who truly hears the word of God (in some cases eats it!) and then shares that Word with the world. Perhaps a particular individual, perhaps a particular group, but always the message contains Truth that is for everyone - all peoples of all times.

A listening ear - and a listening heart.

Eventually I did dismiss the youngest ones, inviting each of them to take a prophecy card of choice for tracing with the calligraphy markers and/or pens. This was fantastic for getting the older children to show the youngers (when the olders became available). (the rest of this description is for both the oldest in the level 2/3 and all of the children in the level 3) I kept the 3rd through 6th graders for further meditation; going a bit more into the history of the Israel. We've not yet pulled out this timeline, but I felt some more facts of the history were in order. So we walked through some of that history in broad overview - giving light to how these prophets connect to each other and to whom they were speaking. 

How do these prophecies truly apply to our lives today? 

How do they guide us today? 

How do they help us understand the Parousia? 

What more prophecies could there be? Isn't this enough? It is... and it isn't. 

Afterwards, the 4th-6th graders in each atrium were invited (can I say "required"?) to explore the Prophet Studies binder. This is a material with some recent updates, thus my set of prophet booklets for the just-level-3 is different from the set of prophet booklets in the combined 2/3 atrium. The booklets have been minimized in content to really focus on the most key points. However, I am personally disappointed to find that the focus is almost entirely on Isaiah only. Despite their being 18 prophecy books... Hm. 

But I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the materials in the combined atrium had not yet been updated. So I took some photos of the Scripture chart (seen below in one of the photos), as well as the question cards. I re-created these materials for the just-level-3 atrium, but left the booklets alone. 
Scripture chart shown here
level 2 child tracing in calligraphy
level 3 children doing a prophet study
I then have the children in the just-level-3 atrium read the introduction booklet. Then select a green card with questions. Read the booklet that it tells them to read; but then, in order to answer the remaining questions, also pull out that Scripture chart in order to find the remaining answers directly in the Bible. 

This works fine in the level 2/3 atrium - these children are mostly homeschooled or unschooled; the ones who do attend school are very responsible as well - so this atrium, despite several new-to-the-atrium children has readily adjusted to the freedom of movement within the atrium. 

In my only-level-3 atrium, my other catechist usually sits with these children while they are working to help keep them on task and support them as they make their work choices. My 5th and 6th graders are all-new to the atrium (having an excellent but only part-time atrium experience for sacramental preparation in 1st or 2nd grade) and they attend a traditional school - so they are still exploring what this atrium environment is all about. The 4th graders have been in the atrium since Kindergarten, so they're old pros at it ;) 

The level 3 prophet study looks at the calling, the vocation, the struggles and the messages of the prophets. My hope is that the set-up we now have, requiring the use of the Bible, will pull the children into the lives and messages of the prophets, encouraging them to read and discover more than the "work-required" portions. This introductory work really has the possibility of opening wide many doors into Biblical exegesis.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Not Quite Christmas

It is not quite Christmas and I have a hard time believing it.

Advent slipped away. Amidst what? Not the shopping (I've bought groceries once this past month and all gifts this year are home-made or already purchased); not the parties (we really minimize those - just one thus far - all others will be during the Christmas season); not the decorating (we decorate on Christmas eve).

Amidst the vitriolic words directly towards others, including myself. Amidst reading and hearing about the evil attitudes of people in the stores. Amidst the job losses. Amidst hearing stories of consumerism. Amidst the stories of mental illness and the sufferings of families.

It doesn't feel like Christmas. Perhaps this was what the first Christmas felt like: a world in need of a Savior.

A world filled with bitterness. Filled with accusations against another's morality. A world filled with lack of understanding; lack of trying to understand. A world devoid of peace and goodwill towards one's neighbor.

And today these things coming from Christians.

If that is how non-Christians see Christians, no wonder they would rather stay away. Far away. I don't blame them.

No wonder they laugh at us for saying "Jesus is the reason for the season" as they put up signs saying, "Use reason for the season!" implying that Jesus could not be what we claim Him to be.

Because we can't even get His teachings right - His teaching on morality and accusing one's neighbor and planks and splinters. Therefore, how could we possibly get right an understanding of His birth? And death? and resurrection?

Something to ponder next time one is tempted to call into question a stranger's 'Christianity'. Are we judging splinters through our planks?

So yes. Perhaps it does feel like Christmas. That first Christmas. A world filled with disbelief. And vitriolic hatred - because that is what it is when Christians behave with such malice, with such worldly consumerism. The world was full of it that first Christmas. Then, just a few months after that first Christmas, innocent children were slaughtered in the name of murdering a newborn King - by a man with a mental illness.

Sound familiar yet?

The truly faithful were begging for Him to come then; the truly faithful are begging now. Search your heart - are you begging for Him to come now? Or are you hoping for another day, another year, another lifetime?

Perhaps it is time to prepare for the coming of Jesus into our own hearts. Our own stony, cold hearts. That is what Advent was supposed to be about. Is supposed to be about. Preparation for His coming - not the first time; but the second time - the Parousia. When God will be all in all.

Prepare our hearts to receive Him - all of Him, in all of us.

It begins NOW.

It is not quite Christmas - there is not peace in our hearts. But doesn't that mean it IS quite Christmas?

It is not quite Christmas. Christ is not quite present.

Can we make it happen? Can we be ready for Him?

Only then, can it truly be Christmas. As He intended it.

It begins NOW.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Power of Doing Good

I was perusing ancient e-mails to see if I could find any more details about the artwork I shared yesterday - I only found the messages sent to everyone who could have entered the atrium and possibly accidentally removed that drawing - but I did find the following message sent to my assistant my first year of atrium - towards the end of the school year. This would have been a year before the shared artwork from yesterday.

It was a hard time in my life. And I so desperately needed the spiritual support of those around me. I am ever so thankful for those people who took me in and embraced me despite the porcupine quills I put up around me!

In the last three weeks, the belt on my van "mysteriously" shredded (in an unnatural manner), my hair has been partially burned, my son has fallen one inch and needed an ER trip for 4 staples to the head, my van has been broken into with my cell phone stolen, odd chunks of something found burning in my oven, two particular children have cried for hours for no reason whatsoever quieting only when beginning to pray the Rosary, money "mysteriously" disappearing....the list goes on - it all has to do with my work with two particular apostolates: the atrium and the society of St. Margaret of Cortona. The more I am involved in these two pursuits, the stranger and more numerous the unexplainable occurrences. 

Interestingly enough - looking back - and sometimes even now - it is entering the atrium that those things stop happening. It is praying the rosary that those things stop happening. It is connecting myself with the Holy Spirit that those things stop occurring.

Monday, December 10, 2012

When a Child Just Isn't Listening

Or are they?

A Montessori principle to which CGS adheres is movement separated from words. We read a passage from the Scriptures, then we move the corresponding figures; we make the gesture from the Mass, then we read discuss, make the gesture, read the prayer, make the gesture, and meditate on it. Only with older children do we bring the words and the movements together - in the case of the gestures, the child might be 5, but usually it is someone else saying the words while a child does the gesture.

I have a video of my son and two of my daycare children - all around age 2 - processing around our apartment with statues held over their heads, chanting, "Ah - la - la - la." It was SO beautiful! They were imitating what they saw at Mass. Then they went up and down a half-flight of stairs: "Ah - la - pause - la - pause - l - pause - a." Their little bodies had to focus on the stair stepping, then they continued to chant.

Didn't bother them any! As far as they heard in their minds it was a continuous chant.

Around this time, in the level 1 atrium, I was leading a presentation on the Last Supper. This was our second year, and we had had sessions through the summer, so some of the children involved had already seen the Empty Tomb. One young lady in particular, age 3 1/2 was attending atrium with me twice a week due to the timing of RCIA for her parents and another commitment on Sundays. On this particular morning, she sat next to me, with 4 other children in a semi-circle around the Cenacle. All of the children were entranced - and fixed onto every single word. This young lady COULD NOT HOLD STILL.

I kept quietly asking her, "Do you need to use the bathroom?"

"No - no." She kept saying.

But I thought for SURE. Yet she was so insistent and I couldn't get the attention of my assistant to come get her.

So I continued. But I thought something was wrong because her head started flopping around and her hands were bouncing on her lap - I was thinking seizure, tourette's, autism.... but it wasn't LIKE that. I placed my hand on her knee while continuing the presentation with the children and trying desperately to get my assistant's attention - to no avail.

When it came time to light the candles, she was absolutely still - gazing at the candles with a smile on her face.

I do not now recall how we ended the meditation and dismissed the children, but I do recall her dashing off to the art area. Ok, I thought - she just really wanted to do artwork and was impatient with me!

She was fine!

About 20 minutes later, she was STILL working on one piece of artwork. I observed her work from behind and I heard her talking under her breath. What I heard was astounding! She was reciting the Scripture passages from the Empty Tomb (heard 5 days earlier) and the Last Supper.

After a few minutes, she adjusted position in her seat and saw me; she started to speaking to me (and I cringed - thinking I had just ruined the moment!), narrating what was going on her picture.

Before I go on - I have to say that sadly the picture came up missing. At the end of atrium, I asked her mom if she would give me permission to send a copy to CGS NA. She said yes, but I didn't have a form on hand. We placed the picture on top of one of our shelves so I could get the permission form and copy the picture on Tuesday.

When we came back - it was GONE.

I am so thankful for the notes I DID take while she was speaking.

She drew a semi-circle with a straight line at the bottom for the tomb. It was colored mostly in black with yellow clearly trying to cover the center of the tomb.

Extending from the tomb she had what appeared to be a "speech bubble" and on it were two small shapes.

She had a crude drawing a figure in the middle of the page, all in yellow. There were two figures to the right and another just below them.

She had other bright colors. And while she speaking she added lines for the candles, with crude orange-yellow flames, but I get ahead of myself.

As I said, she was reciting the Scriptures to herself, over and over and over.

When she spoke to me it was with the following, spoken while continuing to draw and color and add - and occasionally look over at me while pointing to something:

  • this is Jesus' tomb. He was buried here but He sure didn't stay. See Jesus in the cloth (pointing to a scribbled set of circles in the middle of the yellow section - she goes over it again) - this is Jesus with the cloth on. But it didn't stay. 
  • THIS is the cloth (pointing to the "speech bubble"). And it has Jesus' Body and Bluuhd (I love how she pronounced it!). We use this cloth in church. On the altar. 
  • It looks like bread and wine. 
  • Someone is drinking the Bluuhd. Jesus life. 
  • (added the lines pale yellow lines and orange-yellow squiggles for flames) We have the lights on the altar because Jesus is with us. The light was there too. 
  • It wasn't really dark in the tomb because Jesus was there (said mostly to herself). 
  • (pointing to the figures on the side) - The women going to the tomb. 
  • (scrunches her face and pauses) No it's not. Well, it is. But - it's you and me.
  • Jesus loves us so much. 
  • He wants us to be with Him. 
  • (adds some markings all around the Jesus figure in the middle)
  • we belong to Him. He knows us. (recalling the Good Shepherd? were those shapes sheep?)
  • (pointing to the two figures again) These are my sisters. Here's me (pointing to the figure in the corner. 
  • I help them.
  • (She pauses, looks at her picture for a moment. And adds the cross with a squiggle on it - above and to the left of the tomb)
  • Jesus on the cross. 
  • (Draws a figure below it.)  That's the girl. 
  • (she continues to add colors in various places, filling the cross in brown). I quietly asked, not expecting an answer, "I wonder who the girl is."
  • "She loves Him."

Tell me that child wasn't listening! She was listening so intensely, her body just shut down.

Those children who were outwardly listening and transfixed? They worked with other materials. But it didn't hit them as intensely as it did this young lady.

Food for thought.

Further food for thought: 
Almost all of what she said, I did not say in the presentation. I never said, "Jesus Body and Blood look like bread and wine." We didn't really "explain" the Scriptures too  much. We spoke beforehand about what it feels like when we are sick - we don't want to eat. But as we get better we get really hungry, because we are full of life again and we need food for our bodies to have life. One night, Jesus gave us a special gift that would become food for our souls." A *child* responded, "So our souls would be full of life!!!"
Yes! I said. Let's read what happened!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Early in the Morning My Song Shall Rise to Thee

Psalm 92:1-2 “It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night.”

Hm. See - a morning person I am NOT. Unless you count going to bed just before dawn giving love in the morning ;) And at that point I have been faithful all night! 

This image is far later in the day than it is as I write this! 
Our home schedules are shifted later in the day - our scheduled activities are typically mid-afternoon and later, with one online class late Tuesday morning for my son. We arrive back home from evening activities around 8 p.m. and I do NOT want to ship my son off to bed already. We both need our down-time, re-settle time, story-time, prayer-time, prepare for the next day, some quiet time before going to bed and sleeping restfully. So it is much closer to 10:00 for him. By then, my night-owl-ness has firmly kicked in and I work for several more hours - the number varies throughout any given month depending on many factors - but it can be assumed that I am most productive while burning the night candles ;) 

When I rise, usually about 6 hours later, I rise with the sun, and am well-rested and ready for a full, productive day layered in our built-in prayer times. 

So what does this have to do with the atrium? 

There are two things that get me out of bed in the pre-dawn hours of late. One of them is occasional enough to be only a minor nuisance (tae-kwon-do belt tests and tournaments) - but what could POSSIBLY get me out of bed so early in the morning that the birds haven't yet spoken - one day a week every. single. week. ???? 

As I type this, the rain is pouring down heavy, the clouds are so thick, I think the sun should be peeking around about now, but it is still just about pitch-black outside. And I am awake. And I'm ok with it, although that bed is still calling my name! 

The level 3 atrium starts at 9:00 this morning (the morning I type this - though I schedule it later) and I like to be there at least an hour early so that I can be collected and ready - and typically there is someone (a parent, a catechist, an early student) who wants my attention for something - and I want to be available for that and still have my own needs met. 

But I am so tired, I can't even eat, which means I likely won't eat until after atrium. So Sunday mornings are days of fasting for me. 

But what makes it all worth it? The children! Yes! Sharing with the other adults! Yes! 

But more than that? 

Stepping away. To a different place. A place out of time (just ask the children who are routinely dismissed at least 5 minutes late!). A place where the worries of the outside world have slipped away and I have no commitments except to BE. To BE with the children. To BE with the adults. To BE in the presence of God and simply serve Him in the immediate needs and relationships of those people around me. 

When I go back home, it is back to e-mails and orders and deadlines and post office issues (don't get me started! as I type this another early bird is sending me a message that her package appears delayed at the post office) and neighbor noise and traffic and bills and debt and clutter I just want gone and homeschooling and all those typical worries of the average American. We don't NEED all these worries - we just need to be present to people. Yet, I pile it all on myself. 

I pray, this Advent, that the spirit of the atrium will be allowed (by me!) to pour out into the rest of my life. That I can peacefully work through the issues at hand and truly BE PRESENT to those around me. 

That is the lesson I receive from the atrium every time I sacrifice my morning sleep hours. And it is so worth it. 

Thus on these mornings, I can truly sing, "Early in the morning, my song shall rise to Thee!"

Just as soon as I get the frog out of my throat ;) 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Blue Unity - versions

Several years ago, my catechists and I created this Blue Unity strip for the start-up of a new level 2 atrium:

At the time these photos were taken, the space photos were missing :( They've been found in the meantime!

Over the last 2 years, this material has been updated to include actual boxes of actual objects, and the photos have been substantially cut back - to the point that the material looks more like the suggestions in the materials manual.

Yes, I said "suggestions" ;) Because in an exploratory work like this, it is more important to offer "keys" in general than it is to offer the children a material you just don't have easy access to, thus choosing to NOT present, or to present but have the sense of the material not being authentic. The children pick up on anything that is not authentic - and they respond!  It is much less important to have a "perfect material" than it is to have a perfect heart-sense that you are presenting keys of exploration. If you have a photo of a piece of iron ore but no object of iron, you must still LOVE this material enough to present it in a genuine fashion.

Today, I reviewed this presentation with someone and we worked through updating just a few more of the materials - so it makes sense to everyone who uses it and it is easily utilized by the children. Frankly, the original organization was perfect ;) It is attempting to match a perfection that doesn't exist that causes problems, which are slowly being resolved.

I am looking forward to reports of wonderful success with this material again!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Parousia: Clues to the Mystery Found in the Bible

Two weeks ago, in our combined level 2 and level 3 atrium, some of the 3rd, 4th and 6th graders were with me doing a review of the gestures of the Mass and their significance. We made some connections between the gestures and what we pray for in the Our Father when we pray, "Your Kingdom Come."

The children then said, "This reminds us of the Parousia - that we are praying for Parousia to come now."

WELL. Our emphasis has always been that this history is a mystery - and any real mystery has clues to guide us. The clues for THIS mystery are found in the Holy Bible.

A small group of the children were really intent on studying Parousia. They asked so many questions and one of the children asked, "What other clues do we have about the Parousia?" AH! I have a material to answer just that question - I, as catechist, do not need all the answers - I just need to connect a child with a material and get out of the way of the Holy Spirit!

So, for those 4 children, a work called "The Holy Bible and Parousia" was pulled off the shelf and they explored it. This material is a set of Scripture verses from various books of the Bible, both prophets and apostles. The children are to match the Scripture passage with a title that seems to fit it. They can read them all from the Bible or all from the cards; there is one card that requires going to the Bible because it is quite a bit longer than the paper holds. The children chose to read them all from the Bible.

The prophets have no hair, the apostles do.
Why? Just to keep the symbols different. 
This work was not complete by the end of atrium, so they pulled it out again the following week. One boy made this chart as they worked:

He differentiated between the prophets and the apostles and he just wrote the titles. So as soon as I take back to the children photocopies of this chart, they will have a chart showing what topics the prophets and apostles spoke on when it comes to Parousia.

There are MANY more passages in the Scripture as clues to the Parousia - these are the twelve most prevalent.

I wonder how many more there are!

Sample of the material in another atrium - same idea:

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

History of the Gifts of God: A Twist

Last school year, we had a set of 3rd graders who had spent 3-4 years in the atrium (K and 1st grade in level 1 and 2nd/3rd grades in level 3). Due to a variety of circumstances, they were struggling a bit to work deeply. They wanted to do so, so very much.

One of the things the catechist introduced just for the oldest children was the use of communal prayer - the children ate it up!

Another insertion were command cards correlating with the Books of the Bible work, but that required them to pull out the full Bible, read and copy passages, and truly begin to analyze various components of the Bible and how they fit together. This was a work they took very seriously and the laminated cards with which they received instruction showed a beating by the end of the year!

And two girls in the after-school atrium planned a special treat for the atrium children towards the end of the school year. They took each card from the History of the Gifts and selected a food item corresponding with that particular gift.

They prepared note cards to tell the story and place the food items in place of the usual boxes and trinkets. When all was said and done, instead of a figurative "it was like a banquet prepared for the people", it was a literal "banquet prepared for the people!"

Parousia muffins - corn muffins with a cross drawn
with a sharp knife dipped in turmeric. 

star cookies, candy hearts

Had to have the French fries! see below!

Each of the children wrote a prayer
or an offering they could make on their own blank page

The funny thing is... it all started with the OLD History of the Gifts material. This is the original Gifts strip, made by myself and two catechists almost 5 years ago. But at the time, we put together just laminated images for each of the gifts, with very few objects. It's what we had readily accessible at the time. One of the photos, showing plant life that we use for food (vegetables) was yellow string beans.

The after-school atrium children usually arrived right after school, with many hours between themselves and lunch - and several were just plain hungry! One girl, who usually came a bit early and visited with me in my Montessori co-op room across the hall from her atrium commented that she "liked to get this work out because of the French fries." They made her less hungry somehow ;) Well, I didn't know WHAT she was talking about. I had to laugh when she showed me the photo - it could truly look like French fries to a hungry child! I did explain they were actually beans and much healthier than French fries. She didn't care, she just thought we should have a "French Fry-day" (instead of "Friday" since class was on Thursday at the time). Well, one thing led to another and soon enough she and her friend were planning a new History of the Gifts presentation complete with real foods, of which my son and I were privileged to help make some!

It was funny - but it was also very reverent! And it got the children thinking about the gifts of God in their own day to day lives - on a new level from just this grand presentation we give that DOES lead them to think in terms of their own lives - but somehow, this food thing made it that much more immediate. They were hungry! Physically! And, on this one day, they were nourished!

EDITING 9/12/13 - the girls who initially planned this presentation are 2 of my current 5th graders. They want to do it again! I am going to suggest real grapes with the crucifix - and maybe something bitter too - Death (bitter) and Life (grapes to symbolize the wine that becomes His Blood).

Monday, December 3, 2012

Creation Ramblings of My Own

Totally random thoughts expressed on Facebook to a friend:

We've been studying the work of creation - and its ensuing typology with the 9-12 year olds - it is all prompting a study into the Hebrew language - and I just found a resource to share with the children at the next couple of classes about the Hebrew language's use of the SAME word for "thing" and "word" - so what comes out of one's mouth is a something - God breathed into Adam (who came from "adamah") and He "said" (spoke) and creation came into being - and things were done (waters separated, etc) at this "Word" ----- short story to say - from the MIND of God, comes His WORD and BREATH that became ALL of creation.

So I wonder - if we come to truly know ourselves, would we then know the mind of God? Therefore, we will never truly-truly know ourselves until we are with Him in eternity?

I didn't even get into "bara" - the Hebrew word for God's power of creation, used only in reference to creation found in Genesis.

For reference, one site I found that I really like so far is here: Learn Hebrew - Words Matter

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Atrium as Prepared Environment

The atrium is a prepared environment in the Montessori sense - an environment with everything a child needs for this plane of development - everything there is corresponds to his needs and nothing present that he does not need at one point or another in that plane.

In considering the various atrium spaces in which I "reside" at various times throughout the week and month, and those which I frequently visit - I hope to observe more carefully and intentionally the outcomes of the prepared environment. I found this in editing my primary Montessori album, and want to apply it to the atriums.

What about you, readers? Your homes? Your atriums? Your Montessori spaces? Do you see these outcomes? Not just in the children, but in the adults as well? If so, what a blessing! If not, what could be improved? What needs and tendencies of the children are not being met, that are blocking these outcomes?
Human Needs
Human Tendencies

Results of the Prepared Environment
                The results of the prepared environment are many and varied and are not limited to the following:
  • functional independence
  • acquisition of skills
  • community and social cohesion
  • care of the environment
  • confidence
  • competency-based self-esteem
-      not the 'I am special, You are special' false outer self-esteem
  • respect
-      for other children
-      materials
-      other life
  • peacefulness
  • concentration[1]
  • keen sense of developed order –
-      carries over into other areas of life
  • feeling of security
  • sense of belonging –
                to something outside themselves
  • refined, graceful movements
  • love for learning
  • strong academic foundation
-      language, math
-      how the world operates (through sensorial)
  • strong connection to reality
  • able to follow-through – complete task
  • responsible
  • keen observers
  • appropriate risk takers –
-      not afraid to make mistakes
-      secure and safe environment
  • appreciation for nature
  • appreciation of other cultures
-      and for other types of differences
  • refined senses
  • joy
  • adaptability to new situations later

[1]  (“all learning depends on the ability to attend”)

Thursday, November 29, 2012

It's NOT 30 feet long!

One evening in the level 2 atrium, a revelation took place:

It is possible to create timelines within a reasonable amount of space. Wow. Really!

Previously when the children re-created timelines, they recreated the e.n.t.i.r.e. strip - its entire length. The Fettuccia the catechists were able to convince the children to substantially shorten, but it still took a LOT of paper and it just didn't seem to be truly fulfilling the children as much as filling their *time*. My son loves timelines and even he came home with some of what seemed more to be "busywork", although he genuinely does get a lot out of making scrolls and timelines.

And genuine artwork has been an ongoing struggle to find and maintain a good balance of creativity and keeping it atrium appropriate - a balance between catechist control and child expression - a balance between meaningful work and "I get to draw and I don't know what else to do, so I know I can draw."

I myself am still seeing the most appropriate approach from the beginning of the year - the best I have found thus far is:

  • This time is a gift for you - use it wisely - as we wisely use all gifts we have received. Or should. 
  • Your artwork is a prayer - keep it thus. 
Along that second point, I found a neat book that I would like to introduce to the level 3 children soon - about prayer through art: 

Brother Joseph: The Painter of Icons (Golden Key Books)

And the children LOVE art! And timelines!

Well, the catechist was so excited when I came in to return something to her. Not because I was returning something (I am forever borrowing items!) but because of this beautiful piece of art!

"It's NOT THIRTY FEET LONG!" She proclaimed.

And it was BEAUTIFUL! It showed true work on the part of the child, true connections - all the important stuff is there - the child had to think about how to place each item in a way that it would "fit" and still be "proportionate" (though I am guessing the child was not conscious of that thought-process while working, which is the true beauty of true Montessori work).

So I asked if I could take photos (see side photo - like it could be missed! ;) )

And then I did a poor job of cropping it together ;) I forgot my camera has a panoramic setting! Oops. Maybe next time.

Isn't it beautiful though?

The shooting star looks like a fish - and that is a symbol for Jesus too - so it works ;)

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

St. John Chrysostom on Learning the Bible

Let everything take second place to our care of our children, our bringing them
up to the discipline and instruction of the Lord. If from the beginning we
teach them to love true wisdom, they will have great wealth and glory than
riches can provide. If a child learns a trade, or is highly educated for a
lucrative profession, all this is nothing compared to the art of detachment
from riches; if you want to make your child rich, teach him this. He is truly
rich who does not desire great possessions, or surround himself with wealth,
but who requires nothing…Don’t think that only monks need to learn the Bible;
Children about to go our into the world stand in greater need of Scriptural

~John Chrysostom, Homilies on Ephesians, Homily 21~

On Marriage and Family Life

Children in our atriums are handed the Bible on their very first day - it is holy and precious - yet it is accessible at all times.

At home, the Bible should have an equally accessible but special place of reverence:

He was praying.
Then he slept in the presence of the Lord. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Montessori and Original Sin

This blog gets an astonishing number of Google search hits for "Montessori original sin", so as I typed something up for another blog, I thought I would also post it here. It won't post there until Friday, so I find it amusing that the re-print will show here first ;)

One day, I gathered all my notes to write something about Montessori and Catholicism - specifically Original Sin, since this seems to be a huge sticking point - if Montessori sees only the good in a child, what about Original Sin? And what about "breaking the will"? And how could we dare just "follow the child" because their errant ways will only lead to more errant ways if they have complete freedom!

Well, besides issues of the balance of freedom and responsibility which is inherent in all properly Montessori environments, and the fact that we follow the child only within a prepared environment full of only good choices, I might mention that Montessori emphasizes time and again that when once a negative action or behavior shows itself we nip in the bud - no warnings, no 1-2-3-Magic, no "reasoning" with the 3 year old. But no strict harsh punishments either - we simply stop the behavior and move on. Don't LET those bad habits develop! As the child ages, more reasoning can occur, but by then, the child has been formed in many good habits and the negative things that come up can be dealt with as they happen. Anyone who says that a young child cannot then possibly reveal anything beautiful and holy to us adults, is not obeying the Lord's words, "Let the little children come to me, for heaven belongs to such as them." Hm. Original Sin. Yet heaven belongs to the children, not to adults.

But someone else has said all of this so much better than I could! In googling to find more information and supportive documentation, I found the following site (please visit to read the full article) and I LOVE this paragraph in particular:

Montessori held and applied the Catholic teaching that man was not completely corrupt with the Fall. She said that "in spite of the moral disorder brought about by original sin, there still remains in human nature a great potentiality for goodness." Montessori used the analogy of wheat in the field to make a point about the natural goodness latent in all children. (51) Inferior wheat plant can grow in the fields without cultivation. Destroying them does not guarantee a good harvest. If the good wheat is to grow it must be cultivated and if it is, the inferior wheat seed will not be able to grow. Montessori says: "The key to the problem is, therefore, not to destroy evil but to cultivate good." (53) Thus allowing the roots of good to sprout in the child´s soul.

And there are all of her own writings - if you read them in full context, they explain themselves! Be sure to look for older publications as somewhere in the 60s, many of her books were re-printed with huge religious sections removed. So newer printings have been heavily secularized. 


And then I found these: 

To ignore the child’s spiritual nature is to ignore the very essence and purpose of education.
It is important, in this light, to make Dr. Montessori’s understanding of the nature of the child clear.  She considered the child to be good, but broken.  The child is good in that he is created to be good, and broken in that he is subject to the effects of Original Sin – as St. Paul lamented in his own behavior - not doing the things he wants to do and doing the things he does not want to do.  Her method, she believed, removed many of the obstacles that result in frustration which causes children to lose focus on learning and therefore display ‘broken’ behavior.  By freeing the child from these frustrating obstacles, the child becomes able to develop naturally and normally as God had planned.  This process she called ‘normalization’.
 “Experience has shown that normalization causes the disappearance of many childish traits, not only those which are considered to be defects but also others which are generally thought to be virtues...  The disappearance of these childish characteristics shows that the true nature of a child has hitherto not been understood.  The universality of this fact is striking, but not entirely new since from the earliest times a twofold nature has been recognized in man.  The first was given him at the time of his creation.  The second came as a consequence of his first sin, a violation of God’s law.  Because of the fall, man was deprived of the blessings of his earlier state and left to the mercy of his surroundings and the illusions of his own mind.  This doctrine of original sin can help us understand what happens to a child.”(3)

(an article about the development of her spirituality)
Montessori in 1948 is reported to have lectured in London where she stated:
I see it-this Original Sin-who would not see a thing so evident? In the depths of the human soul is the possibility of continuous decadence…In fact, there are innate tendencies in man's soul which lead to maladies of the spirit sometimes even unknown to ourselves, just as the germs of disease may work silently, and unknown. This is the death of the spirit which brings insensibility with it. These tendencies come from the soul itself and not from the environment

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Poetry in Creation

These past couple of week's my Sunday and Wednesday atrium groups have been studying the account of Creation and beginning work on the Typology of Creation timeline.

As we explored the reading together that first part of the timeline ("Creation: the Account"), and reading how God created man:
God created man in His image,
in the divine image He created him;
male and female He created them.
~Genesis 1:27~
The repetition here struck me.

Some background:

  • In our original reading, we share different spots we noted repetition - the children usually focus on words or phrases. We discuss what these repetitions reveal. 
  • Is there anything we hear just once? What could that mean? (in this case, the Hebrew word for "create" is used ONLY in this section of the Bible - specifically to God's power of creation - so this is powerful for the children to begin exploring the original language)
  • About a year ago, at home, my son and I did a middle school level Psalms study, with a beautiful booklet from a very non-Catholic publisher - but this booklet was RICH and Catholic companies should take notice! Anyway, we learned the basics of Hebrew poetry and how to apply it to understanding the meaning of various Psalms, but also other passages of the Bible. This study prompted my son on a personal in-depth study of the Psalms - but that is another post on a different blog ;)
  • Hebrew poetry has lines that "rhyme" by repeating - repeating phrases or repeating *ideas* - that is the key one here. There are many more aspects to Hebrew poetry, but that is the crucial one right now. 
  • These meditations are not just about the children delving into it, but also about the adult exploring with the children. At level 3, we don't have all the answers and the children appreciate when we explore with them, acknowledge their ideas, share our experience and expertise where appropriate and guide the children's mind towards proper conclusions, without just spoon-feeding them. 
So as I read that passage for the umpteenth time in 2 weeks, it suddenly struck me! I pointed out to the children what I had learned about Hebrew poetry - and I asked them - what is repeated here? 
  • created is on each line
  • image is used twice
  • it says the same thing 3 times, but He didn't make man three times. That's odd they said. 
"Ah!" I said, "but each line says the same thing!" They didn't get it, but were very curious. I had some raised eyebrows like I'd just sprouted another head. Yep, they were curious but skeptical - I loved it! 

Look at each line. Look for the actual repetition from one line to the next - and what does that reveal about God? 

AH - SIGH! I love it!

Have I lost you yet?

Have you ever noticed that man and woman are not complete without one another? That to bring new life into the world and to support that life they need each other? And who is the only one who can actually create that new life? Everything comes from God, and man and woman are so different, yet their perfections are only found in God the creator. See this section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church for more to ponder:

Ok, so right now is not the time for me to get into the adult level portion of this study - let's just look at what I experienced with the children. 

First we broke down the phrase in each line to see where the parts where - we found 4 parts in each phrase. 
  • God -------- created -------- man -------- in His image, 
  • in the divine image -------- He -------- created -------- him; 
  • male and female -------- He -------- created -------- them. 
Then I asked - what parts are easy to see are repeated? And what is left? This was a verbal discussion, but for the sake of us here, let's physically re-arrange just to align the parts that "rhyme" (by Hebrew poetry definition):
  • God -------- created -------- man -------- in His image, 
  • He  -------- created -------- him  -------- in the divine image; 
  • He -------- created -------- them  -------- male and female. 

Part 1: HE

God is considered "He" - an interesting symbolism here (not shared with the children) is that fathers control the gender of their children - only they have the two different chromosomes to offer (x, y) where women have just one variety in duplicate (x x). Interesting that ancient languages match modern science. Hm. ;) 

For the children: we call God Father because of his protection, His discipline, His headship. 

Part 2: created

We already spoke about the fact that the Hebrew word for create is only used here and it refers directly to God's power. This word, used in repetition within this verse indicates that the human race did not come about by any power of its own, but through the direct power of God Himself. The children spoke of adam  and adamah because we had already discussed these words. 
(ok, I've got to say it just ONCE - I won't discuss it in the atrium - or let the children discuss it --- but anyone who has seen Battlestar: Galactica knows that the commander's name is William Adama - now some of the children knew that right off - and I am so grateful I knew right away what made their eyes light up, because I could just nod and say, "You've heard this name before and we can discuss it separately" (add understanding smile) - and I just say to them later - think about the nature of that tv series - what could that name chosen by the screenwriter reveal about the storyline, the meaning, etc. One of the 3 boys involved said, "Wow. I thought it was just a good show. Now I have something to think about." He liked that! I won't ask why children this age were watching this show.)

Part 3: man/him/them

(all the information in this paragraph came from the children, including the questions asked)
man, then him, then them. "Man" must be referring to mankind - humans in general, but also to Adam because he came first - did God know that He would be creating Eve? Yes, because it then refers to "them" meaning both of them - and maybe even to all of us because He is still creating people today. 

Part 4: in His image/in the Divine image/male and female

I did feed a bit more information to the children - that man and woman are referring to physical bodies, while male and female are referring to the very being - so what could this refer to? Their souls the children responded right off. 
Ah! I said. That's interesting. Let's look at the first two phrases here. If we are created in His image, in the Divine image, does that mean God has eyes, mouths, hands, heads, feet, etc.? Well, responded some of the more astute children, He has our eyes, mouths, etc to do His work here on earth. Yes, that is wonderful, I said - is there something more to learn here? Each of us look a bit different; some people don't have some body parts for one reason or another - are they less human? Less worthy of serving God? ABSOLUTELY NOT! the children responded. So this image of Him - is it in our physical bodies? 
NO! It is in our souls. 
Oh. I said. And the essence of our being - male and female - is in our souls. 
They all got quiet, clearly pondering. 
What does this mean? 
We've already said when things are repeated many times in the Scriptures, they are critically important. And this is repeated three times right here, in one verse alone. What does it mean? 
One child ventured to say, "It means that our very being who we are, as male or female, is actually the same being as God - that we come from Him directly, when He breathed the breath of Life into us, it was HIS life, HIS being - like, when we read "My body is a temple of the Holy Spirit" - this is saying the same thing. I am a temple because God made me to hold His own being. And that is me. It is like we all have a bit of God in us. Because we have His image."

While stumbling and perhaps not 100% how an academic theologian would phrase it, this child brought me to tears. 

"Do you believe that?" I asked. "That you are truly made to be God's temple?" 


I just smiled. 

(I was trying SO hard not to cry!)

In other news, has anyone else noticed, besides my children in these two atrium sessions that Adam's name is NOT mentioned anywhere until after the expulsion from the garden, the naming of Cain and Abel, the murder... he was a grandfather several generations down and it was only in fathering Seth that Adam was finally named? The Scripture keeps saying "man" ("ish") until that point - BUT if we were reading in the original language, Adam would have been named in verse 2:7 and it would be presumed you know his name from there, despite the use of ish. Eve isn't named at all until after the expulsion (except from reference of "ishah" - she is named in verse 3:20. My children found this fascinating.

(and yes, there was a group of them off in the corner reading ahead until they found his name - they found a few other interesting points too - like Adam being a grandfather to many generations before having Seth - not missing a beat)