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:
- 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!)
- 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.