Monday, October 29, 2012

Tracking Children's Work

I have seen a variety of combinations of methods for tracking children's work, presentations, mastery, etc. Some just seem too over-done; others work better in some situations than others.

  • Every child has a page in a binder with a list of all possible presentations for that atrium level. The date is noted when the child receives each presentation or moment. 
  • Similar idea with more space for observation notes. 
  • Separate page for every session, with every child's name listed, with space for writing in presentations and work choices. 
  • Basic attendance and that is it. 
  • A chart of presentations down the side and every child's name across the top - a page for each age level within the atrium. Catechist fills in a variety of symbols based on presentation, mastery, repetition, etc. 
  • Same idea as above, but a simple X for the catechist presented or an O for another child presenting it (in the case of a previous absence). 
  • Any combination of the above. 

My personal preference: the last one listed. I have tried them all. Everything else is just too many pages or doesn't provide "enough." When required to, I am happy to keep an attendance sheet (one sheet that covers the whole year). Otherwise, I like to see all "year one" presentations on a chart listed down the side, with the children's names across the top. I place a simple X or O as needed. 

I usually include a 4th chart for "all children likely to receive" - and I am NEVER opposed to adding in a child who is ready for something sooner; or waiting to present something to a child who is just not ready. 

For the first few weeks of this year, I did not have these charts ready for my combination 2/3 atrium. The following reasons made that (not having the charts ready) a very bad idea: 
  • Some of the children are new; some children have varying levels of experiences at various times. 
  • All of the children are new to me. 
  • This combination is brand new. 
  • The WIDE age range (grades K/1, 3/4, 6)
  • Being in an atrium not my own. 

Today I was in the atrium, with charts in hand, filled out with what I already knew (I don't know everything the children have done) --- and the whole atmosphere was totally different. 

Within the atrium, we want to be "matchmakers" - match the child with a material that will help him respond to the gifts of God. We as catechists are to be humble servants to the workings of the Holy Spirit. 

One would think that would mean "wing it" - but it doesn't. Winging it does NOT work. 

Coming in with a plan, knowing that the plan might not work out (and likely won't), instills a confidence level that allows for that gift of humility. 

I came in today ready to give the Blue Unity to the 3rd graders and older. They'd all had it. I was able, because I had my little charts, to *quickly* (not scanning a variety of pages) look at, "Ok, what else has this child already had, and what are the next possibilities?" Yes, I still had some questions for the children (with the Blue Unity, I wanted to know what they remember, what work they have done with it - to ascertain, is there anything more they will receive if I have them do it again, or is it best to just move on to something else?). 

And now I can say, "ok, next week I will present the Plan of God to the level 3 children and follow their interests from there. But for all the children, for the next 2-3 weeks we are going to look at geography of Israel appropriate to each child's level; and we are going to pull together the pieces we have of the Mass so that the older children are ready to work with the level 3 Mass charts if interest directs them there right away (otherwise we'll get to it later in the year) and the younger children can come together for the Synthesis of the Mass." Do I know precisely what I am going to show each child on each day? Not a chance! They might be sick or otherwise absent; or so in deep with another work that I won't take them away from it. So I will work with the children who are present at the time, inviting them to spend their work time selecting previously presented materials that meet their current needs. And over the course of the month all will be accomplished. :) 

We will be well-prepared then to enter into prophecy and infancy narratives in December, with the older children going into Prophet Studies and the level 2 children exploring the Messianic prophecies. 

Having a plan of some sort - just to see the connections and the patterns - is such a balm to the soul. The charts of my choice provide me such a quick glance to ascertain appropriate work choices for the children, and options for where I can present if they are ready for something new. 
Planning = freedom! 

One last thought. I do not personally need to note every single follow-up a child has had. That is the work of the Holy Spirit - that is NOT MY PLACE. It is my place and it is necessary for me to note that a child has a received a presentation, therefore has the option of working with it again. By seeing on my chart, "this child had this work already" - I know that I can call over a small group of children who have all had something and have a new meditation on it. OR I know that a child has already seen something when I see him working with it inappropriately; if I know he has seen it, I know he needs a re-presentation and probably something deeper with it; conversely if I know he has not received a presentation or received the presentation from another child, that gives me another clue as to WHAT needs to be said, HOW to address the situation and WHERE to take the meditation. 

I am good knowing THAT a child has received something already; I can then gauge responses to see what to do next. No more paperwork details than that! 



A quote attributed to Pythagoras:

Be silent; or say something better than silence. 

Can someone help me identify the source of this quote:

Only in the silence can the voice of God be heard.  

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Connections and Differences Between CGS Levels

The last couple of years, I have been so focused on helping others understand how CGS builds from level 1 to level 3, so that they become comfortable with the children NOT memorizing the 10 Commandments in levels 1 or 2; become comfortable with their children learning in the earlier ages what we didn't learn until much older (if at all); become aware of the "golden thread" patterns throughout the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, that encourages parents to continue bringing their children to atrium when a "book-based religious ed" program may have a more convenient schedule. (Some of my explanation of connections are here.)

But in that time, I have lost track of emphasizing the *differences* in each level, especially in level 3. To the point that the adults don't understand that these are not level 1 children anymore, with level 1 needs, or in need of level 1 interactions.

But the children know!

I asked the 4th grade children today what they remember from level 1 or what any of them know from their siblings; the 5th and 6th graders have a few memories from their sacramental preparation time in level 2 and the 4th graders just spent 3 years in that level.

And then they shared what they have found to be different thus far in level 3 - the differences that make it their OWN atrium. That make level 1 and level 2 NOT an appropriate place for them; that make the teaching style of the level 1 catechist and the teaching style of the level 2 catechist no longer an appropriate match for these level 3 children.

Some of their answers:

  • Respect: While they felt respected in all the other atriums, now the respect is that they have a lot more input, they have a lot more to say. The teacher says less and the children think more. 
  • Right/wrong answers: There a lot fewer materials thus far that have matching answers. Even the Plan of God mute does not have to perfectly match the control, as long as they explain why they placed something where they did; then explain why it has meaning at its location on the control. BOTH of those meanings are accurate and have value. 
  • Exploring questions with no or few solid answers: Adults don't have all the answers, but it is obvious that some adults are better at guiding the children towards finding their own answers. They feel more respected by the adults who are able to guide them, than the adults who come in and just tell them what to do. 
  • Pertinent adults: A small group of children had many questions on this matter and asked, "Which adults do we ask for help for what things?" We had a brief conversation about the differences in the types and scopes of the materials used in the atrium and how certain adults had certain pieces that would be of help; other adults could observe and participate with the children. Most adults would just be observing. At this parish there is one trained level 3 catechist, with two adults who have had about half the formation in level 3. These names were identified for the children as sources of assistance. 
  • Time for exploration: All of the children agreed that they appreciated having materials to explore; a brief introduction; then let them go with it; knowing that they need to get ME or other specifically-named adults for a follow-up chat. (UPDATE 10/2013: I no longer have "assistants" but I do prep the other adults to be of specific guidance on specific materials)
Very interesting revelations! And how interestingly they tie into the needs and tendencies of human beings as represented by this age group. 

I introduced to the children today a "suggested work choices list", emphasizing that not only was it not complete, it never would be complete and they were only to use it as a back-up to their own ideas. Every child was invited to enter, quiet themselves either at the prayer table or sitting alone for a moment, then select work. 4 children consulted the list, with 2 of them asking what a material was (for clarification). The assistant got two girls started on exploring a maxim, which led them off into their own study. 

Another group of children studied a timeline book I brought in that ties together various events of Biblical history with what was going on in the secular world. While this is not an atrium material precisely, I allowed them the length of time they desired for this work, because of its direct connection to the Plan of God and other salvation history work, direct tie-in to their school studies, it provided much research fodder for discussions and it will help the oldest ones especially move into the study of the prophets and of typology. 

Another group of children worked with our shorter Fettuccia to get a better feel for it; while yet another group of children spent time with the Plan of God mute. They needed some assistance with this work since about half of the children had not been officially presented with the control. This should NOT have been a problem with this particular group of children, but it seems that they were not sure who to ask for help at key moments and confusion set in when the adults who offered assistance did not get a trained catechist soon enough. I have to admit, it made it very difficult for me to come in and attempt to pinpoint (without boring the children to tears, as well as without making them never want to work with the Plan of God again) where the original point of question lay, because by that point it had been over-laid by so many layers. 

Thus, we had two conclusions that threw my "plans" out the window: 
  1. instead of presenting the Mystery of Faith to small groups, and a prayer table meditation on Creation (to prepare for typology next week); I allowed the children to JUST work. It was intense and wonderful! (by the by, I am happy to throw out my plans for just such a reason!)
  2. And we had a "housekeeping" conversation to answer prevalent questions: 
  • where is the tracing paper hiding? 
  • really, we can move the tables around? really? you mean like this? and like this? (they were testing their boundaries by asking me - I loved that!)
  • and really, we can't sit on the heaters? ;) (in the overly hot room, two boys thought they'd sit on the heaters and block the heat from suffocating everyone!)
  • confirmation for the children that they have been making excellent work choices
  • Most importantly, the discussion points raised above about what kind of atrium is this, what is expected of the children and what is expected of the adults. 

I really got a sense from the children that they left "relieved" - that their needs are going to be met, that their opinions respectfully stated are going to be heard and even addressed, that there was a good reason for some of their discomfort and when properly addressed discomfort can lead to a greater level of being. One girl was even quietly clapping her hands with a look on her face, that said, "YES! Thank you! Thank you for being so honest!" While this was not a deeply theological conversation, it was certainly a meaningful one, a necessary one, and led them to be comfortable in a room that is designed for THEM. 

These children, at this age, can spot a fake a mile away; when they hit 13+, they will spot those fakes 10 miles away. The atrium, for them, is REAL. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Sharing Their Work

They laid out the timeline,
discussing it;
then pulled out the booklet
and read through it,
discussing some more as they went. 
It always deeply impresses me, without fail both in the deed and in the impressing, that there is always at least one child in the atrium who is not only willing but truly seeking to provide a presentation for another child.

When we have absences, I always have children who want to show the returning children a presentation that was missed, whether a huge timeline or small gesture. The children seem to crave these moments of sharing with one another.

The girls in question this evening were only half done with the Plan of God when we had to close it up for the evening. I listened to their conversation and sharing as I worked with other children, just so I could hear the voice of the Holy Spirit through them. And He did. The message this evening was, as it always is, "Have faith. Just remain in Me."

I know the girls look forward to working with the mute strip next week. Two other girls had it out this evening and made some interesting placements:

Discussing placement

They were so neat in their placements. 

Adding the inventions to the blank page.
Why this choice?
Because we still use those gifts today,
on our own blank pages. 

When the girls were done discussing and laying out the pieces on the mute strip, the rolled out the control strip above it and compared. They kept saying, "How different we did it!" One time, they said, "We were so wrong!" but I cut in to ask, "Were you wrong? Really? Or what is it that caused you to place these items in these places?"

They placed the cultivation of the wheat and the vine at the start of the first two civilizations - because they knew the start of civilizations and agriculture went together - what they had not done was think one step further to discern that agriculture came before the great civilizations; that agriculture must have been the basis for the start of the great civilizations, but first mankind had many experiments to make both in biology and in civil law before civilizations could become great. 

It was in the comparison that they discovered more about themselves and about the Plan of God itself. 

Closing prayer with the Mystery of Faith

Hard at personal work. 

starting "My Century"

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Three Period Lessons in the Atrium

I have always been a bit thrown-off by the 3 period lesson. Not because I don't "get" it, but because I had Montessori experience first, then Catechesis formation for levels 1 and 2, then Montessori training at primary and elementary, with level 3 interspersed with elementary training.

Now, we do not utilize the 3 period lesson as much in levels 2 and 3 - just when we are working with a brand new child at age 6 or 7.

Three period lessons are used to provide vocabulary in a very focused manner. Starting with 3 objects, providing the names (and functions for the older child); play little games with the objects, utilize them, manipulate them - the child knows them by you saying the name; finally the child can label the objects himself. As the child learns the names, more objects can be added.

Within both CGS and Montessori, there is an over-arching concept, beyond the three period lesson, that the child will have EXPERIENCE first. We don't just toss some items at the child and say "here are their names, now let's learn them" - no, it is all done in context of experience.
At elementary we can give experience and language at the same time; at primary we want experience first, then language so it becomes meaningful.

The conundrum?

My Montessori experience is that the three period lesson is done in one sitting. If a child is truly stuck in one of the periods, then we say, "Thank you for joining me in this work today; we'll have more another time!" and we come back to it when the child is ready and refreshed. But for the most part, if a child "gets it", we move on and we might add additional objects at that sitting, if they are ready. This applies to names of objects, comparative qualities and superlative qualities.

CGS seems pretty adamant that the three-period lesson for one set of items is to potentially be dragged out over 2-3 years. I LOVE CGS. My concern here is that going too slow violates the child's dignity and intelligence. We are telling them, "You can't possibly learn these names in one fun little presentation."  Again, some children DO need more time and we should honor that; but over and over again I see catechists who have a 3rd year child who still has not "completed" the 3-period-lesson for the basic articles of the Mass. By slowing down too much, we actually bring the child to a stand-still. Ouch!

In the first period, we provide the names while laying out the items. We then use the names several times ourselves as we re-name the items, replace them, etc. Many times the catechist will then invite the children to do a portion of the 2nd period, asking them to put away or take out particular items by name. But never in that first sitting have I seen a non-Montessori trained catechist even attempt a 3rd period in the first sitting, even for children who are eager-eager-eager to say those words! I'm not saying it doesn't happen - just sharing my own experience.

Perhaps it is that CGS is trying to give that experience first, since the children do not normally get to handle the objects of the Mass. Also, CGS is not about tests and quizzes; it is about being in relationship and developing that relationship; allowing the Holy Spirit to guide. This does not explain the extreme slowness of the process when this is nourishing food for the children. It happens with the geography work, other liturgical work and other areas as well. The three period lesson is not a test - it is a tool for the child to recognize what he already knows, to be able to verbalize what he already knows, to honor his development and intelligence, and thereby the dignity of his inner soul.

The other day, I had a conversation with a highly intelligent young lady (9 years old; has had a good deal of previous atrium experience) who was laying out the articles of the Mass and meditating upon the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. She had a green stole over one shoulder that a much younger child had placed there. During our conversation, I asked her about the item on her shoulder. She said, "This is after the feast." "Ah, I said - and what is it exactly?" "It is after the feast. Oh, it is Ordinary Time." She was saying the two phrases as if they were the name of the object, rather than what the object represented. That would be like saying a statue of Jesus IS Jesus. It is not that the mis-labeled stole leads directly to idolatry, but I am quite concerned that the mentality is set up towards that line of thinking, if we do not provide nomenclature in a timely and appropriate fashion for the young child.

Later, I gathered a group of 3rd and 4th graders and we did the 3 period naming lessons on the vestments of the priest. At this age, I could give a lot more detail on function. And we ended with the 3rd period, which was a bit of a stumbling block but they got it.

One boy reflected, "No one has ever asked me to actually SAY the names of these items myself without telling me the name right before. I like that. I actually know it now."

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Fettuccia in the Level 3 Atrium

This year, I have two atrium spaces (3 weekly sessions) with children who are new to the atrium altogether.

Officially, it is not deemed necessary to introduce these children to the Fettuccia, the Blue Unity or the Level 2 History of the Gifts. Yet, my observations have led to the response of providing these presentations.

For the Fettuccia, I combine all the moments and we have an hour long visit with the Fettuccia - we hit all the doctrinal content, then go where the children go with it. They are invited to read through the booklet of their own accord on a follow-up day - to get it out one more time before moving to the Fettuccina. I asked one

We do the same with the Blue Unity and the History of the Gifts.


Level 2/3 in an atrium that has all three levels of materials present:
When asked their thoughts this past week, two 6th graders and a 4th grader in the level 2/3 atrium, all new to the atrium, having just reached the Level 3 History of the Gifts, responded, "I really appreciate seeing the big presentation - I have this image in my mind that I keeping seeing now of the Kingdom. I know there is room for me in it! The little ones have helped me think about my own response." When asked if they would have preferred not to have the level 2 presentations, knowing it was level 2 work intended for younger children, they responded, "NO! I needed that image! I don't think I would have understood the small strips as well. It would not have meant as much to me."

In this atrium, they can get out the Fettuccia any time since it is ever-present in the atrium.

Level 3 atrium with only level 3 materials:
In the other atrium, solely level 3, my Wednesday evening session has had only one boy (6th grade) in attendance the first few weeks. In this atrium, the 4th graders have been in atrium since kindergarten; the 5th/6th graders had sacramental preparation in a modified atrium, but have otherwise been in the regular religious education program. We had borrowed the Fettuccia from Level 2 and worked with it in the church. The children begged to work with it some more. I brought in a crocheted "ribbon" that I had used for my first Blue Unity set (crocheted yarn stitched to blue felt) - thus it was the length of the Blue Unity, done in yarn, with cardstock Bibles and arrows and texts. The children have taken it to the hallway, read the booklet, told the story in their own words and otherwise reviewed it with one another.

Then our second boy (also 6th grade) finally joined (he'd had other commitments the first few weeks of class). The first boy was SO EAGER, so shaky in his eagerness to do the Fettuccia with the new boy. I was so excited to see this joy and this excitement, because he was one I was concerned about connecting to the atrium. The boys worked in the hallway for about half an hour; they laid it all out, discussed the events, what it all means - it was true sharing of the faith - one child to another. I almost cried! It was so wonderful!

Mini- Fettuccia from one direction
Mini Fettuccia from the other direction

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Introducing Level 3

The level 3 atrium is not complete, but a good deal is ready and much has been re-made. I have Mass materials for the Traditional Latin Mass (Extraordinary Form) and only this past summer had to adjust them to the Novus Ordo (Ordinary Form). It has been much more of a task than I expected! With the recent translation changes, my limited attendance at this form of the Mass, combined with having the level 3 materials manual pre-translation and a "translation kit" for level 3 which only tells you what to change, doesn't give you everything.... Well, it turned out easier to create everything with the original materials manual - then go back and apply the changes. It will be SO NICE for new level 3 atriums when CGS-NA comes out with an integrated level 3 materials manual.

I digress.

It is so wonderful to start a new atrium - hard work but soul-enriching - especially when one has the full support of everyone in the community. If I want doors removed, chalkboards covered, tables removed, different shelving - it happens. And to know that more children will be served in this experience -- I should have been nervous perhaps, but honestly I just trusted in the Holy Spirit. After all these years in the atrium, I can honestly say that I am comfortable just 'being'. Being with the children; being in the atrium. Being that "matchmaker" between the child and the material - knowing that I do NOT have to have all the answers. That the Liturgy and the Scriptures speak for themselves - that I can match-make and step back. Decrease; increase.

Here is our beautiful level 3 atrium:
(apparently some photos are missing... hmmm.... will have to take new ones :) )

It was a classroom for the regular religious education program. Inspiring, no?


Prayer Area
Bibles on the right
Mass Charts on table to the left

Prayer table supplies on lower two shelves
Booklets from level 2 on top shelf for reference

Typology timelines in cabinet on top
Kingdom Parables
(Commandment tablets to the right, on a "lift")

Supply closet with Good Shepherd to the left;
work folders
Moral Formation
10 Commandments on stands
prayer table supplies
optional work table

Mass Cabinet (table of charts to right)

History of the Kingdom of God
Large timelines rolled in basket to right
Includes Prophets, History of Worship in Israel

Saturday, October 20, 2012

My first atrium

Our prayer area.
Prayer table low down, against the side of a dresser.
Behind the dresser: rocking chair, tabernacle, alternating artwork
(quiet prayer area)
The dresser drawers held additional supplies
(prayer table cloths, candles, etc)
We had a small closet - for storing large items and
items used less often. 

The year I finally made it into level 1 formation was an interesting year to say the least.

I had recently switched parishes away from the local college chapel to the actual city parish. For many reasons, I needed a new dynamic.

I offered my services to the then-new DRE as catechist and I was placed as an assistant in an 8th grade class. Not counting the years I subbed for all levels, I had assisted 1st grade, taught 5th grade, 3rd grade, then preschool for several years. So it was good to get back to working with middle schoolers (I had done scouting work with adolescents previously, not church related).

My son, then age 1, was invited to "join" the preschool class. The preschool and kindergarten classes both met in what used to be the nursery - the largest room in the old school building, with built-in shelving - all the toys were still present, as well as storage bins of items that belonged to an old MOPS group that no longer met there. So lots of toys and two classes meeting in the same room. The DRE figured that my son could play with the toys while two teachers (about age 18-19) taught Kindergarten and one lady (a mom) taught the 3 and 4 year old preschoolers.

Our original altar (left) and Good Shepherd (right)
I later made an altar of appropriate height; adding boxes
for a sacristy cabinet to the bottom side of the old
changing table (far left edge)
Well, at the end of the first class, the preschool teacher said it just wasn't going to work. It was her first time, she was doing it because noone else had stepped forward; her husband taught the 1st grade class and she figured she could swing it. She had two sons in the class.

Did I mention all the nursery toys and TWO classes of young wiggly children in the same room at the same time? With two teaching styles? And singing when one class is praying quietly, vice-versa???? Yeah.

The DRE asked me if I would co-teach, based on my past experience. Sure. The 8th grade teacher could get by without an aid.

What became the parables shelf. Small areas for the materials.
Narrow areas for tracing packets
(NOTE: tracking packets should now be placed in ART)
(mini-Legoboy is 1 in this photo and stood in that
spot for about 20 minutes - at one of the infancy narratives)
Somewhere in those first few weeks, I did a fresh search for CGS formation and found one IN my own state! It would be one Saturday per month for the entire school year. I could send my son with my mother for the day and it would be a lot of driving, but it was accessible! Well, I'd missed the first session already :( But I called anyway - and the very lovely Sr. Nancy welcomed me whole-heartedly. I set up a time to meet with her before the second session so she could go over with me what I had missed and I could see her atrium. I was able to observe one session with older children (level 2 I *think* - at the time it was so all new, I don't even KNOW what I saw!!). For that session, I think I left my son with friends at home and made the 3 hour drive myself. I think. I really don't remember! I just remember being there and thinking, "This is SO RIGHT!"

Backing up from the prayer area view.
The changing table became our sacristy. I later added
pegboard and screwed on priority mail boxes to create
a sacristy for the articles of the Mass. The slats
hung the chasubles and all folders were placed inside
at first - later moved to a work table with all altar extensions.
See the chairs facing the chalkboard?
Those were the first chasuble stands!
You can see the extension work on the chalk board sill. 
So each month I made the trek from south-east of the state to the middle of the state for a day and a half, my mother picked up my son after work on Friday evening and took him to the northern part of the state; I stayed with my grandma overnight and went to the east side of the state myself for the course; then drove northwest to my son; spent time nursing and reconnecting; then time in the basement wood-working room to make materials; and drive back home Sunday morning. I usually did not teach that Sunday, coordinating with my co-teacher what she should do on those days. A couple of times I did come back in time to teach. And then slept all day Sunday!

I slowly introduced CGS presentations in those first months, presenting as I received presentations and made materials from that month's session, but mostly I was working with my daycare children at home.

My first city of Jerusalem.
It now resides (sans walls) in a brand-new level 3 atrium.
8 years later. Notice the HUGE error I made in that first map?
Yep. No wonder I was confused as I made it ;) 
Altar extension work and pasting boxes.
We later picked up "shoe shelves" at Wal-Mart to hold such items.
Now (years later) these items should be found in the art area,
per latest recommendations. 
Then things really came to a head with the kindergarten teachers; they arrived 20-30 minutes AFTER class started ROUTINELY. We had their children joining us, so that they weren't playing with the toys and distracting us. Since I was adding in CGS, it worked out great for the k-ers anyway. They usually ignored their teachers when they were there anyway and craned their little necks around to find out what we were doing on our side of the room! They remembered our lessons even when they were on their own side of the room, and the Kindergarten teachers would get angry with them (inappropriately angry). It was a nightmare. Then the day came in mid-December when the two girls didn't show up at all. The DRE called them and said that he was not expecting them to come back. He asked me to officially transition into atrium and asked my co-teacher if she would mind being the assistant in the atrium. The girls did show up in January, arriving late and acting as if they did not know they were not supposed to be there; they made some comments about the changes in the room (not the most friendly or appropriate) and we let them know they needed to chat with the DRE. We never saw them again. I pray for them regularly.

My first chasubles and stoles!
(now in local parish's level 2 atrium)
Hanging on cardboard stands (now defunct)
You can see the shoe shelves added to the altar work
in the background (these photos were taken at many
different times)
But. I was given carte-blanche on the room. I cleared it OUT. We re-purposed items; were able to use a small budget to purchase items (Mass articles mostly); I cleaned and got the children to help in re-decorating (practical life!). It was a year of observing, responding and observing some more.

My co-teacher stayed for the rest of the year, but decided it wasn't for her after all. She was uncomfortable with the lit candles despite having additional helpers in the room specifically for the candles; and we had an authority issue with her two boys and my son. So the following year I had a different assistant who took over when I left.

The children had so many amazing responses. I will share them on this blog here and there.
Our original art supply area. 
And the 1st grade catechist commented on the difference of the incoming children who were k-ers the previous year. Half a year in an incomplete atrium, with some atrium presentations for the first half. It was truly a wonderful experience in so many ways.

My first atrium. So incomplete - and so perfect. Oh to go back to such simplicity - and a fair amount of innocence and naivete. It was pure observe and response. So beautiful.

Opposite (better) view of the sacristy,
before it got it's boxes/shelving on the right side of it. 
I do not remember the date of the enclosed photos. I know that we added an art section in the middle (behind the altar area) providing a hanging space on the back to place a hanging cross and the like. I know we had a baptism area, but I see no photos of it. It was a movable area - we were trying to find just the right place for it.

We also had coat-hooks along the front wall; and a couch with a small reading selection for free reading. There are another 2 built-in shelf sections that are not shown here either. These photos show about 1/3 of our available space. It was big and beautiful!

Infancy Narratives (see the parables to the right and
second practical life section to the far left)
Tracing packets above right.
Sorting art images of the Narratives above left.
My son is intently working on SOMETHING with the Nativity. 

At 2 1/2, he set it up all on his own - with our first homemade
altar - wrapped in marbled contact paper to match that
parish's altar. You can now see the art shelves behind it.
We eventually added a hung crucifix.
(and we had the wall chart there - it should NOT be so obvious)

So proud of his work

Sample extensions given by a nearby atrium to get us started. 

I still have this chart somewhere.
Not as pretty as the ones I make now!
But all handmade - no photocopying!
No printing.
Those were the days.... 

The beginnings of practical life.
There was no practical place for this work, so the
corner of the room sufficed - we laid out a clear vinyl
mat during class for the children to work with water. 

For some reason, the geography area was the best developed
area right from the beginning. The children just loved this area.
Control maps to the far left on the narrow shelving; working
maps on the regular shelving, with paper work below.
The globes are on the top shelf kind of hidden in this photo.
I have not idea what else is along that shelf.
The stained glass window the children helped
decorate with torn tissue paper on clear contact paper.
A box of natural materials of the earth are above the world map
(this was a child's choice of placement).

The original cardboard vestments stands. They held up the
light-weight fabric used. When I tried to duplicate at another
atrium, until the woodworkers were freed up to make them,
they didn't work- the priest had asked to have his leftover
vestment material used - a bit heavier than my original fabric!  

Friday, October 19, 2012

Holy Orders, Eucharist and the Child

At a dear friend's ordination as a priest.
Spending time with his godfather and
another man special in his life.
I often wonder what he is pondering
in this moment of silence. 

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Humility in the Atrium

At risk of sounding prideful in the beginning of the this post... please keep reading ;)

It is not often that I have the opportunity to be the lead catechist in an atrium I did not have a creationist hand in.

Even when I had atriums with shared space - various catechists using the atrium throughout the week and tweaking to meet their personal needs - the general layout and location of supplies were "mine". Each of the atriums in my local geographical area has materials that I made; trays and other supplies/materials that I pounced on at Goodwill or finally found just the perfect online source; photos that I took and mounted; artwork that I located or that was donated to the program and I matched with a frame or chose to place in a particular atrium. I commissioned shelving and furniture, wood-cutting and sewing. I hung curtains, whether mine or donated or already there but needed washing. I've repaired, glued, re-created, "faked", and otherwise took care of items at the last minute.

History: In my local geographical area, I was hired to establish the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd at two local Catholic parishes. In my one year of employment, we (the local catechists and the very supportive parish communities) set up a level 1 atrium space at each parish and the beginnings of a level 2 atrium at each parish. The following year, the 1 and 2 spaces at the one parish were merged (removing a wall in the building) to form a larger level 1 space; everything remained the same at the other parish. For the following 2 years, the situations remained thus. This year, I was invited to open a level 3 atrium at the parish that has both level 1 and level 2.
SO. I have had a hand in 4 of these atrium spaces (2 level 1; 1 level 2; 1 level 3).

This year, there is a new atrium in my local geographical area. I have not visited it, I have not seen it. But my hand is there too. The catechist setting it up takes ideas from the other 4 atrium spaces, asks questions, purchases many of the same supplies, sets up many of the same lay-outs; but she has her own style too. So it will be very different. Though I bet I recognize my influence when I visit!

My son has attended a beautiful atrium in Minnesota where I had a hand in nothing - but I was only able to be there for a limited time during our one year living there and only as an aide (although the catechist there insisted I was co-catechist when I present :) ). And I have visited a PLETHORA of atrium spaces - some that are beautiful and some... well... CGS is an experiment in progress! ;)

This year brings my first experience as the lead catechist in an atrium I have visited many times, but I didn't touch in its setup. It is good for me - if painful at times :)

The atrium is set up in a Catholic Montessori school and is designed for both level 2 and 3, with level 1 built in as well! It is a beautiful and large space, with large windows to let in SO much natural light. I just love that room!

But I don't know where anything is. I have a feel for the materials now because there is a certain intuitive sense to the materials, when you have had all 3 levels and all 3 levels are present ;) But storage items such as first aid kits and extra paper for the pasting folders and how does the calligraphy sequence work (every atrium will set this up according to their own style).

So I have to be humble before the child and say honestly and openly, "I don't know where that is - let's look together." And, "You have been in this atrium before - what do you remember about this sequence? Let's explore it together." I encourage this kind of thinking and meditation on the materials with the children anyway - rather than worrying about following an album page to a T - my level 2 formation leader calls it "praying the materials" and it WORKS. Now, we are praying the environment too!

On the one hand, it is hard to let go of knowing just where everything is. On the other hand, it is been nice to sit back and observe the responses of the children and explore *together* what to do next. And to be honest with the children in saying, "I am a different catechist and this is not my usual atrium, so let's work through this together and come up with what works best for THIS situation, this group of children, and this catechist - rather than making us to try fit the materials." Nothing is imposed on us from the outside - not even myself!

So perhaps this is my next step in my ever-deepening journey towards truly understanding what it means to
Follow the Child. 

Practical Life area in one local atrium
Pouring (dry and wet); eyedropper transfer
glass, metal, wood polish - replenishing materials (some items missing when photo taken)
folding cloths, stringing beads, cutting practice - rotated out as needed
Left: work folders
Right: child-size vacuum (aprons are hanging out of sight)
This set-up is not ideal (metal and wood trays could be bigger, to hold the oilcloths; the upper shelf is a tad too high for the very smallest children) - but is so pretty in its simplicity! I have seen some *complicated* atriums!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Our Father Prayer

Today, the homeschool atrium (level 2 and 3 together) had a great and busy atrium :) 

We started with the Our Father introduction with all the children.  I welcomed the children as they came in, inviting them to get a Bible and meet me at the prayer table. We opened to Matthew 6:9-13, lit our candle and read the way that Jesus taught us to pray. I just read it aloud since some of the children can read, some can't, and I wanted the focus to be on the prayer itself. 

I then distributed the strips with each line of the Our Father prayer and we pondered the prayer line by line. For some children, it was too much but they have time to come back to it again and again in the years to come in their own lives; for my oldest children it was not quite enough - but we have time in the atrium to come back to it in the middle of the year and reflect on it again. 

For some children, this particular pondering was brand-new, but I also have many atrium-experienced children who are "old hats" ;) 

I have found that not all atriums have this meditation. This is the meditation I received in Level 2 formation and it introduces each line one at a time, with some discussion and explanation of words and such. Then I have a presentation in my level 3 albums for the end of level 3 with the very large strips where the children bring related atrium materials; although I have also now seen this style done at the end of level 2 as well; where I have seen the "culmination presentation" I have not seen the introduction --- so I am still pondering the placement of that one. I personally think the introduction is appropriate for level 2 each year going deeper, with the "culmination" version as the end of level 3 - or at least IN level 3. But I am open to input! 

My assistant commented that the children seemed wiggly; but I do think they were very engaged. I have had wigglier children for sure - and I have had very, very wiggly children who were the very ones to soak in the presentation the deepest! So, we just roll with the punches in the atrium! 

Afterwards, the children went to work. I gave permission for children who have been in the atrium before to work with anything they remember from before. Also, in my absence last week, the principal of the school filled in and he did a fantastic job filling in some of the "basics" for the new children such as the altar work, Good Shepherd, and the like - so they had a lot of work options already. I extended some of that work today with the colors and the children not receiving the presentation kept looking around to catch the action. 

I have the children working on a prayer journal where they add one page each session. As the year goes on, this requirement will fade out - they will have more work choices, and their prayer will be more in the materials and meditations; but the prayer journals will always be available. 

The 4th and 6th graders worked on the Fettuccina and I reviewed the Books of the Bible with the 3rd and 4th graders. Two siblings worked with the material themselves just to test themselves to see what they knew about each book and its placement. I think they enjoyed that!

Next week, I do need to give some small group presentations on some of the practical life. I showed the polishing work several times today and some of the children really want to get into the flower and plant care; I even had two older girls wanting to spoon beans! (this atrium also has materials for level 1... no, 4th graders should not need to spoon beans in the atrium... perhaps I can create a sand labyrinth for them if they need an easy activity for meditation purposes).

I get so nervous coming into that atrium space. It is a beautiful space, but it is not mine; I had no hand in setting it up. So I feel a tad clumsy working in it. Perhaps this a good experience - because I know what the children feel like. But as the adult, I should know immediately where the calligraphy supplies are, how to use them, how to clean up after them; etc. But my supplies in "my" atrium are different.... So, it is a very humbling experience for me :) Hm.... another blog post topic is percolating!

God bless!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Nearing the end of the week...

As I near the end of my time at this formation leaders course, I have to admit: I am FULL. In a good way, but definitely FULL. The nice thing about doing all day things like this at home, is that that I can spend my lunch break or my evenings applying some of the principles learned throughout the day -- particularly if it means re-organizing an album page or an area of the environment, whether atrium or Montessori (home or co-op). 

But I am not at home, so I organize my notes, send off e-mails and write these posts here. 
And when I get home, I have some orders to get out right away and my son has already planned our whole day (90% of which consists of nothing but snuggling - I can't wait!).

Right now, I feel like this moth - I am getting what I need but I also know there is MORE to do, but I can't yet get out to get to it!


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Mysteries of our Faith

As we worked through the Paschal Mystery and the Mystery of the Kingdom of God, one essentiality kept standing out:

the wonder of just *exploring* with the children.

Can you or I truly plumb the depths of these mysteries? There is a *reason* they are called mysteries! We can look at the clues, and we can learn, and we can learn grow. But until we are face to face with God, we can never fully KNOW.

Just explore. Don't have all the right answers. I tell this to catechists time and time again - do not GIVE to the children! The children have far more to give to us, than we ever could give to them! ESPECIALLY within the richness of our faith!

If you give them an answer, you destroy the joy of discovery and the developing process of discovery.

Wonder with them. Explore with them. Enjoy with them.

And they will reveal to you a deep wealth of riches!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Practical Life in the Atrium - Level I

I struggle with the Exercises of Practical Life in the atrium. Not because I want to go overboard with it and definitely not because I undervalue it.

After intense involvement working towards getting people in various Montessori-related arenas to focus on the "keys" (at the primary level keys to the world, and elementary is keys to the universe) --- it seems that the necessary keys in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd have simply not yet been agreed upon.

I respect the work of EVERYONE who has been involved in CGS since the beginning and continues to work in it now.

I have spent the last several hours re-evaluating my stance, my choices, my perceptions, and attempting to integrate these new perceptions. Praying, meditating, evaluating where my personal hang-ups are and what aspects are truly the philosophy of keys (essentiality) I value so highly. What will best serve the children? 

And I am struggling. I feel like a failure. I just can't do it. I just can't find peace with the current recommendations.

I start with my AMI primary album for the exercises of practical life. AMI provides a keys-based album, with the idea that you add in what you *need* but you better have clearly definable and state-able reasons for making an addition. Be SURE it is a benefit to the child, and not to the adult.

I then look at the typical atrium and the "typical" church to find what items from that album to KEEP as well as what could be "added". These then became my "typical suggestions."

I also added more "sensorial" type items such as "sorting natural items" and "sorting church items"(shells, rocks, crosses vs crucifixes, etc - typical of items found in the atrium or the church). I once found sets of matching sheep, about 1 inch tall, that were in different poses. The children matched them up on a card that had small circles drawn in two columns on which to place the matched pairs. This was a preliminary work choice until they had enough other options. Once in a while I have even added an activity on grading - grading smoothness of fabrics for example - for very sensorially-needy or emotionally-needy children (special needs children in particular).

I then say: Now look at YOUR atrium. If you are Episcopal and roll your fine linen - have a rolling preliminary work; if you are Catholic and fold it, then have the folding cloths (also have the folding cloths if you fold anything in the atrium!). Do you have a carpet? then have a small vacuum of some sort; no carpet? then don't have a vacuum - have a broom! How will you keep your items clean from the snuffers? etc. Does your church have images in the stained glass windows? Then an intro to stained glass art activity is in order. Otherwise, leave it out for now.

The point is to orient the child to THEIR atrium and THEIR church, fulfilling their needs and tendencies in a way that allows them to fully participate in the atrium. The point is NOT to keep them so busy with practical life that they never get their hands on the rest of the material in the atrium!

Some of the items I am ALL FOR - that my experience and the experience of others has shown to be true:
  • Preliminary activities (that are removed when the last child has mastered them) such as "how to use a paintbrush", "how to glue small bits of paper", "opening and closing containers" and a few others. Some of these are found in the AMI primary album in a different format and that is ok; most of these are additions. The point is to look at what skills the children need in order to do other work. Pull these prelim when no-one needs them anymore. 
  • Plant care, seed planting, folding cloths, dusting --- care of the environment. Buckets, water sources, cleaning windows (if your atrium has a window), polishing. GREAT!
  • Walking the line and the Silence Activity. Great!
  • Grace and Courtesy
  • Care of self - the buttoning, zipping, etc. these are great additions that I have rarely had in the atrium, but are very good to have if you have to deal with dressing during atrium time, as well as to help fulfill the psychological needs of the child so that you can reach them spiritually. 
  • Having a Montessori style bell or a few of the bells in the atrium - wonderful! (even if expensive -- perhaps if a Montessori school is replacing theirs, the better ones from the set could be purchased cheaply for the atrium)
  • I can even work with only have a wandering line and NO ellipse. Because new catechists do unfortunately want to then use the line for "gathering" or "containing" which is NOT its purpose at all. The line is never used for sitting or containing. It is a material and has a precise purpose. So I am ok with not having the ellipse so that the catechists don't make a mistake with it. 
  • Some sewing activities - based on the local culture. These skills can lead into a prayer/meditation and are part of our Christian heritage (needlework, weaving, etc). 

But some things - I just struggle. My heart wants to find a reason, but nothing is yet satisfactory. I want to be focused on the keys - the essentials. My experience does not validate the suggestions, yet I respect and value the experience of others. 
  • I have ONE water pouring album page in my practical life album. Just ONE. It has a pitcher and 3 glasses, a sponge or cloth to catch the drip. And that is IT. We teach the children how to pour. Period. I have done this work with 2 1/2 year olds in a once a week atrium or co-op session - SUCCESSFULLY. My heart cannot find a good reason to add 1) pouring from a pitcher to a pitcher and back again; 2) pouring into just one glass; 3) pouring into a variety of containers. Now I *can* see showing the child how to use the funnel - but that could be a modification of the pitcher into 3 cups - returning the water to the pitcher (cruet) via a funnel.  This will help them with preparation of the cruets later. Two or more (in this case FOUR) wet-pouring options - is TOO MUCH. 
  • I want to keep the left-right orientation on the polishing trays because it is in the order of use - not particularly because it is in order of reading/writing (as we would focus on in the academic Montessori). Because a basket of items in no particular order is down-right confusing and messy to all the 3 year olds I have worked with. Maybe it's just my crowd (across 3 states of widely diverse population?) in a once a week atrium session - they like to have things in the same order each time. Yet, the desired focus of CGS is to pull away from this practice of left-right, citing that it is a need for the adult, not the child (opposed to the words in my primary album - 'order is a need of the child'). I should think that dumping it all in a basket is not good practice for the child. 
    The tray on the left should be glass

    or hard plastic; I was using it elsewhere
    the day this photo was taken. 
    See the order of use though: 
    polish, dish to hold the ONE SQUIRT of polish at a time, 
    cotton ball, q-tip for crevices, buffing cloth
    (out of order on the wood one!)
  • Polishing 2: I do not personally see the need to separate out brass and silver polish when I have easy and inexpensive access to an all-purpose non-toxic metal polish. 
  • Polishing 3: I do see the the need for the children to have things clearly indicated to them. Wood polish is on a wood tray, with a wood dish, and a wood oilcloth ring. 3 and 4 year olds who are not yet reading appreciate this level of independence, of "figuring it out on their own" and having success (anyone ever put wood polish on metal or vice-versa?). The children are process-oriented, not product-oriented, but they sure do like their independence and confidence-building. Not to mention I can present just one polishing and they have access to 3 polishing options from there on out (wood, metal, glass), since the trays are set up identically. 
  • Those are the main ones - and perhaps the only ones really. But they are strong in my heart.


I will just keep praying. And asking. And observing. 

Keys. Essentials. 

Always looking for what is essential here? What are the keys?

What will best serve the child? 

Silence of the Adult

The adult should use the fewest words possible. It is ok to stop talking and just be silent to force yourself to re-center, re-focus, for your previous words to sink in - and now you can re-direct your next words. Or choose to not say any at all. Just do some actions or just read from Scripture.

The silence of the adult is necessary if the sound of God is to be heard. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Interesting Tidbits

(this post is more for the catechists in my home town :) )

Some interesting differences or little bits of information for those back home :)

Good use for the blue water jug and the green bucket -
a water source IN the level 1 atrium without leaving for the bathroom
or the catechist constantly refilling.
Gets the children involved and doing real work. 

The set up of the cruets (see the wine in the back).
Then these cruets (in the middle) are used for the
preparation of the chalice.  

I've not seen the liturgical calendar arcs and arrows painted white....
Godly Play leaves theirs plain (see below)

(not from the formation course where I am right now)
I made this calendar for a Godly Play customer
Notice that Easter and Pentecost are fixed into place
(I could cut these the same as the CGS calendar - with the grooves)
And Christmas is "movable" with no groove.

This allows for the changing date of Easter each year..... 

Tracing packets are ALL in the art area!
If we use artwork to match the boxes, keep the tracing in the art area and the children will be inspired to more appropriate atrium art work.... perhaps even in level 2 !?
It's a thought.... !

I have more, but those are the highlights for the evening ;)