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
knowledge.

~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:
http://www.catholic.net/index.php?option=dedestaca&id=3541


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: http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc/p1s2c1p6.htm

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?" 

Yes. 

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)

:)



Saturday, November 17, 2012

City of Jerusalem - First and Only Making


The City of Jerusalem work is a favorite of the children. They can manipulate the walls of the city, locate all the places of Jesus' last days, touch the tomb and the cenacle and the garden - and begin to get a sense for where everything is and how it fits together. Children as young as 4 receive presentations on this material and children as young as 3 are fascinated with just LOOKING at the material!

Even adults work with it and say, "I get it!" The older children (level 2 and level 3) and the adult wants to re-create Jesus' last days and hours, but also want to re-create what happened at the Presentation in the Temple, the finding of the Child Jesus and other accounts that happened in Jerusalem. So frequently, a child reading a Scripture passage related to Jerusalem will want to go sit next to the material while reading, even if all the action takes place in one location.


The first time I wanted to present this work to my first atrium children, I ran short of time that week. partly because I was having serious issues getting the computer file right - I started with a photograph of a poster of the City of Jerusalem, turned it black and white and literally erased everything I didn't want. But it wasn't printing out right. Asked a friend for help on settings and finally got it - printed it out on multiple pieces of paper, cut out the sides of a large box (either from a child safety seat box or the box for the pack-and-play I didn't want - or something like that), and affixed the paper pages to it. Traced my son's blocks to use as walls. Added some coloring and voila:

We no longer have the blocks so I need to replace the walls.
Still have the charts though!
As simple as it comes; thrown together;
just need to white out the mistake and retrace the walls
and it will be functional for another atrium.
Essentials. 


Any of you history buffs noticing a HUGE mistake I made on the original maps????

I still had the additional WALL that was added much later! So I have parts labeled wrong! Where I have that white tower in the upper right corner? That is supposed to be on the squarish looking thing on the "inner wall" - the Tower of Antonio. Argh! It took me 2 years to figure out what the issue was - by then I'd made all the Scripture booklets a few times over, with the incorrect map as a page. Then I got it fixed, but still had the old file - which popped back up when I moved to where I am now to set up atriums here.... So if you are IN one of those atriums and reading this - please check your Scripture booklets! I fixed what I had to access to at the time, but that leaves one more parish unchecked! Sorry! That file is now totally deleted! I have the file, am happy to share - or check the closet in the office - there should be extra replacements when I printed a BUNCH of them at once and laminated them ALL in preparation for replacements.


The tomb fell apart during my presentation. So it has been glued back together with wood glue. In preparation for use in the new atrium, everything is to be wrapped in a layer of plaster cloth. It is presently styrofoam or small cardboard pieces shaped and wrapped in Crayola Model Magic. The garden trees are plastic ferny-tree-like things from my son's animal scenery.

The crucifix is broken off a plastic broken rosary.

And the original candle holder was/is (I still HAVE IT!!!!) a square of cardboard wrapped in masking tape, with a birthday candle inserted and the tape wrapped around that, loosely. I then removed the candle and dipped in my son's sandbox sand (very fine) to make the tape not just too sticky anymore.



Who said the materials need to be fancy?

This is the ESSENTIALS!


;)




For the record, I have never made a City of Jerusalem since. I am routinely asked if I will make walls, but I haven't yet done it. Maybe because I know how basic and cheap it can be (the model magic was soon to dry up anyway - my daycare kids did NOT like to use it; paper and ink and tape were fresh - all else was found around the house or would have been garbage if I didn't use it here.



ESSENTIALS!




Friday, November 16, 2012

Liturgical Calendar


This post is not about the work of the child, but about the work of the catechist in preparing materials. One in particular.

I LOVE making materials. Making the materials is a meditation in itself and helps the adult to focus on what is the most essential. If you  make your own materials, you will find that you don't find the need to add little embellishments - because frankly, you don't have time, you've already put a lot of work into it and there is a main point to the work that is NOT going to be seen if you add that embellishment.

For example - I once thought, in my haughty adult mind that would impose itself on the children, that all of the international figures for the Eucharistic Presence of the Good Shepherd at level 2 should be clearly identifiable by country or region.

Um. NO.

See this recent response by the children in the atrium - look for their identification of the international figures:
The Good Shepherd will always find me


Yes, I make materials for sale, but I try to price them in such a way that the catechist is still encouraged to make them for him/herself. And I don't make them the same way a volunteer might.

My first chasubles had the edges folded over and stitched - they were not double folded, so the raw edge is still exposed. Most chasubles are made in such a fashion because it WORKS. Those first chasubles of mine are still present and used in a level 2 atrium (having been in 3 atrium spaces prior to that before being replaced by a local volunteer) - and are 8 years old. They are beautiful! All of this despite the fact I would never make them like that again! The ribbon I used down the front has metal wire in it and it holds it shape when bent. ;) But it WORKS for the children.

What more is needed? Yes I make them double-folded for customers; but they may or may not be Chinese-sweat-shop-perfect - in fact, I hope they're not! Because I am homeschooling my son, running two home businesses to get myself out of school debt and be home with my son, and working in various atriums. I WANT to provide a human touch! It was a person who made these materials - not a machine! Or a copier!


There is one material though - I don't know why I keep making it - the challenge I suppose!? I do not know why I continue to do so. Someone suggested it is because I have made all the mistakes that local woodcutters don't even think of.

The liturgical calendar. I'll be honest: I hate making them.

Here is my first liturgical calendar:

Christian Liturgical Calendar - PAINTED with unpainted available - domestic shipping included
I swore I would never make one again.
At the time they could be purchased for $75. Just buy it next time I said!
The next time I needed one, the prices had gone up to $125+ for unpainted.
The prices have come down SOME since then. But not $75.
I designed this myself WITHOUT the materials manual - just photos
 of the calendar in my level 1 formation course. 
It has 52 Sundays - I only cut 52 Sundays. But I cut them. And I cut them. And I cut them. And I sanded them. And I cut them some more.

WHY!? Because once PAINTED, the paint and polyurethane (A THIN LAYER) adds half a millimeter of thickness to each side. There are 52 pieces. Multiplied by two sides comes to 5.2 mm which is 2 extra inches of space, which is the equivalent of two whole pieces.


So I started making them that way - cut 54 pieces - since it is hand-cut the pieces are slightly different widths anyway, so move the narrow ones to the shorter seasons, and the wider ones to ordinary time; paint around all but 2 and call it good.


Christian Liturgical Calendar - PAINTED with unpainted available - domestic shipping included


Then I started working on a different saw with different blades. I found that even with cutting 54 and leaving 2 out, I had to NOT paint on the sides to ensure everything fit.

Great! Fine! And I even starting making custom calendars for Godly Play and Young Children and Worship.

(are you starting to add up how many calendars I have had to spend HOURS fixing up so that they worked!? because of all the adjustments!?)

But I finally got it working for several months.


Trouble is - then I switched to using different blades again (not my fault - it's a source thing) - that take out a bit more wood. So even painting the sides of the 52 pieces didn't quite fill it in - it's "ok" but not good enough for "customers". So I set those calendars aside and was able to locate the other blades again. Re-create those particular 3 calendars for customers.

Trouble again is - one of the set-asides was accidentally sent to a customer without the sides painted at all - and now she is accusing me of telling her to paint "thick" layers of paint on the sides (I never said that - I said thin layer), she doesn't believe me that any layer of paint will indeed add up quickly to achieve thickness, she refuses to believe that cutting 54 pieces is necessary to assure proper fit in the final product, among other lack of understanding any explanations given, refunds offered, etc. She has done everything except call into question my Montessori training and my CGS formation (and recognition as a formation leader myself) - perhaps she doesn't know I have those formations. So on the one hand, I am not "offended"; on the other hand, it was an honest mistake on my part, as well as a very real aspect of making such a detailed material. I am making her a replacement (still with 54 pieces) and will use the one she sends back to me in an atrium I know of that WANTS a bit more wiggle room of the pieces because of special needs children.


So here is another scenario - a local wood-cutter made a liturgical calendar for the local level 2 atrium. It is beautiful! As is everything this particular family makes!

But it didn't work.

Why!? Because he cut 52 pieces, his wife painted them, and by the time they were brought to the atrium, one piece didn't fit in AT ALL and a second piece would only go in sideways. So there are 50 functional pieces, with one on its side! I do not blame the wood-cutter - he'd never made such a product and the CRE who commissioned the project probably didn't give him the tips that were provided me in my level 1 formation (and I still made mistakes!!!), nor did she have any experience making such a material to KNOW that there are little issues like this.

So the catechist asked me to fix it - so that no feelings would be hurt anywhere. I quietly measured out the pieces, took the widest ones with me and trimmed them down on my own saw. I brought them back and found they just barely fit (but I'd not yet repainted!), so I took them back and trimmed them down again. They now fit - but it's a year later and we've not been brave enough to re-paint the cut off sections. Problem is: holding those little pieces up to that blade that is WANTING to take off my fingers. I don't want to have to do it again if I paint those sides and find it is too thick again!

Nope. I am sticking to 54 pieces and painting them on all sides. I like my finger tips ;)






Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Good Shepherd will always find me


My level 2 and 3 atrium includes 2 kindergartners who turn 6 early in the year. These children, along with this year's first graders, and one second grader (new to the atrium) joined me for the Good Shepherd presentation this past Monday afternoon. Some had heard the parable before; others had not. One boy just heard it all with Eucharistic Presence two weeks ago, but I invited him anyway. Why? Because a group presentation is going to be different from an individual presentation - and I hoped he would grow even more from experiencing the work both ways. I think he did ;)

Responses to the Good Shepherd in no particular order:

  • There are SO MANY sheep!
  • There are hundreds!
  • No, just one hundred. (this child had heard the Found Sheep already)
  • More than that! 
  • (after hearing "there are other sheep... there will be one flock..." everyone agreed on this statement) - The whole world is full of His sheep!

They were eager for more so we moved to the Found Sheep: 
  • "So even when I disobey my mom and dad, the Good Shepherd is still calling me and looking for me!" (this was this child's first presentation with this work and we had not yet technically identified the sheep - all the children knew the Shepherd as Jesus right away)
  • "I don't know if I can hear the Shepherd's voice. Is he really calling me? how?"  (SEE NOTES BELOW)
  • he left all the other sheep because He knew they would be safe together. And if one did get lost from that group, He will go after that one too - and STILL be happy!
  • He didn't really leave them. Because He is Jesus - He left them with His Body and Blood while looking for the lost one. He fed that one at the party when He got back and called his neighbors and friends for the party. 
  • He is so happy! He LOVES us!



Notes on the question about hearing the Shepherd's voice:
  • "I don't know if I can hear the Shepherd's voice. Is he really calling me? how?" (we then explored ways that the Good Shepherd's voice is heard - not like my voice in their ears, but in their hearts, through reading the Scripture that is ALL God's Word, going to Mass, listening to the priest, receiving the sacraments, etc). Please note: this question expressed more of the "how does this work" than actual "doubt" --- it can be such fine details that cause us to provide the wrong or the right answers --- hence we explore the question rather than give a direct answer --- and help the child come to the answers he was seeking, rather than imposing our understanding of his question on the path to the answer. 


This particular group of children naturally moved into the Eucharistic Presence work on their own, while I just sat by and inserted tiny pointers here and there, such as, "Do we need the statue of the Good Shepherd? Why not? Is He still present with us? How much of Himself did He give? We have one sheep called to a special role - what does he do or say?"

The children then replaced the sheep with the international figures (this atrium does not have the local figures in place) and tried to identify their origin. Some we couldn't tell, so I asked, "Does it matter where this one is from?" The children all said, "No, because he is called too. The Good Shepherd has only one flock all over the world."

I loved sitting back with the children (behind some of them) and letting them work with the presentation on their own. While not "kosher" in this case, it was very wonderful to see - again, a few of the children already had that work, so they guided, while the other children have such rich faith lives at home - they just GOT it. :) 




Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Homework in the Atrium


I just sent this message as part of a newsletter to the parents of my Sunday/Wednesday atrium:



        HOMEWORK: Technically, there is no homework, however this is our faith, thus it will go back and forth. At this age, we are studying our Faith on a much more personal level, thus there are some works that the children may ask some questions at home in order to complete in the atrium. Or they may bring a work home that they want to finish there.

As we move into the year with more timelines of the history of God’s Kingdom (Salvation History), we will have some work that is personal research based. At this time, small groups are studying a timeline called “2000 Years” which focuses on both the changes and the continuity of time since Christ – the most striking feature being that the light of Christ remains constant. 

From this work, the children move into a personal timeline called “My Century” on which they record both world events and local/family events, including births, sacraments, and other important occurrences. In this way, the children have a very tactile experience of their own lives being part of the History. They may be coming home with questions as to these dates. 

Older children will be working on a timeline called “The History of the Kingdom of God and My Place In It” and may ask for a small baby photo. They may also draw a photo of a baby, but many children like a photo of themselves on their timeline. The space is only about 6 square inches, so very small is fine! 



So, I guess there is homework ;) 





Sunday, November 11, 2012

Creation - the second moment

Today my level 3 children began work on the first typology timeline: Creation. 

No, we do not introduce creation at level 1. It is too abstract - and too easy to focus on the cutesy and fluffy; not so easy to focus on the meat that is actually there. Do we expect that the children have some knowledge of creation when they come into the atrium? Yes. Because it can fit at home; but it just does not have a place in the atrium until level 2 and then only to identify the moment, its place in the Bible and explore it as a history of gifts. 

NOW we read it. We meditate on it. We analyze it. We make it our own. How does it apply to MY life? 


As I greeted the children, I invited them to the prayer table with a Bible and to silently re-read the First Account of Creation as a way of review. 

Once I ascertained that everyone who was coming had already arrived, we reviewed what we knew from that First Account. I intended to hit on the concept that there was a history before the first verse of Genesis, but I just now remembered that I left it out. That's ok - because it will come in at a more appropriate moment when we begin the account of Sin. 

We reviewed the presence of the Holy Trinity at the dawn of creation; how God created with His Word and how is Jesus but the Word made flesh? These are concepts that for some of the children they are thinking, "Ah. Ok. Whatever." But as I noted to our parent assistant this morning and even to the children themselves at the end of class --- this work is not about getting it all into your heads and you just accepting it. You will pick up on the connections as you go about your daily lives, as you hear familiar phrases in the liturgy - and someday it will all have meaning for them, even if not right now. I told them that in the atrium we don't just dump things in because some adult thinks they should know it; rather we look at their lives and consider "what will be most meaningful?" To the parent I presented the analogy of the seed - we are planting seeds and at the right time, when their minds and hearts are ready, the seed will already be waiting. 

We followed our review with a textual meditation on the Second Account of Creation. We noted the differences; we learned Hebrew words for man/woman and Adam/earth (this is when we had a visitor come in: our parish priest blessed our atrium - a perfect timing as we had also just touched on God's blessing of the earth and fertility). We then continued with some contemplation on those trees. What is the knowledge of good and evil but the knowledge of *everything*.  And ended with "how many rules did God give us?"
  1. Be fertile and multiply. 
  2. Subdue the earth and have dominion over it. 
  3. Do not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. 


Some of the children in this group are studying more information on Hammurabi's code - over 300 laws - talk about complicated! Then God gave us just 10 Commandments - simpler, but still more than the original 3 rules! Only later, when we are covering Moses and the giving of the 10 Commandments, as we lead back into the maxims (we introduce these each week to a few children) - will we make the connection on our timeline, that now Jesus has given us JUST ONE RULE: Love God with your whole heart and love your neighbor as yourself. 

Only then will they truly be able to contemplate the great depth of this commandment. Because at that time, they will have studied creation, sin, the flood, Abraham and finally Moses. 
Just one golden thread we could follow through these typological studies - there are many more!
  • Creation: God created us in His image. 
  • Sin: We chose to turn away from God. 
  • Flood: God re-creates and starts again. He gave us everything; He gave us everything again - and it wasn't enough, because He later gave the gift of Himself. 
  • Abraham: He calls a particular people to be His light in the world. He calls each of us to be a light in the world. 
  • Moses: He gave us His name. In many cultures, knowing a person's name gives power over that person.
  • Therefore, when we love God with our whole hearts, we DO love ourselves AND our neighbors, because each of us is made in the image of God. 


After our Scriptural meditation, I invited the children to a very quiet work period. I then called the children in small groups to begin work on the timeline. We focused on the account of creation only at this point, placing the pictures and the words, working together to read the noted Scripture passages and answer the questions. I then left them with the last two questions on the second large card: What have I learned about God? What have I learned about us humans? 

Parousia
When God will be all in all.
Corinthians 15:28
While I gave them a choice this time of working on these questions in their prayer journals or re-creating the timeline, I will start working with small groups on making a timeline in the near future. This is a new concept for 2/3 of the class and the 1/3 who have some familiarity have never studied typology - nor have they seen the entire timeline yet. SO. I think it is ok to not enforce the creation of a personal timeline YET. 

As we finish up this first timeline, I am certain that someone will want to re-create the entire strip -- and then we will have inspiration for the other children. 




Next week, we will work on the rest of the timeline in small groups and I will likely start the meditation on sin at the end of class for the 5th and 6th graders. The 4th graders will rest with creation and start on the Mass materials in the following weeks. 


Oh. and Prophets are coming soon!

I am too excited about all of this work ;) 



Saturday, November 10, 2012

Walking the Line

Well, I did it. I added walking the line to each of the atriums. I have not yet photographed anyone's feet actually on it yet, but I will.


In Monday's combined atrium and Wednesday level 3 atrium (and I anticipate Sunday's level 3), the children were all, "Oh, walking the line is SO easy! What's the big deal!?"

"Ah," I said, "but is it REALLY!?"

That got their attention ;)


As older children, I will get them going on "challenges" much more quickly than I would do with 3 year olds. But they must demonstrate certain competencies on some skills before moving on:

  • keep a stack of beanbags on the head without tipping before getting to use ONE beanbag with a small glass of water half-full
  • use that small half-full glass before one that is filled to the brim
  • walk while carrying objects before carrying a bell - aiming for silence
  • walk while carrying the bell silently before carrying one object on top of another within the hands
  • walk heel toe successfully and prove control of self/will and control of movement before walking on the line blindfolded (blindfolded is one person at a time on the line; otherwise more than one child can work with it). 

We have a green crocheted (chain stitch) yarn line for each atrium, with it being picked up by the knot (which indicates where to get on and off - children must commit to going around the whole way when they get on, and they can go around as many times as they like, but they MUST complete a circuit if they start it), hook that part into a slit on the cardboard tube, wrap it all around the tube and clip the end into another slit. Keeps it all together and flexible for the atrium spaces where a permanent line is not an option. 


In my Wednesday evening atrium, one 6th grade boy who insists he does not remember being in the atrium for sacramental preparation in 2nd grade, spoke up when someone said that walking a line on the floor was way too easy. "Oh NO it's NOT!" he said. "Ah! He remembers being in the atrium in 2nd grade with me!" to which he replied, "Yeah, I suppose I do - I didn't even know that I remembered that - but I do remember that walking on the line is NOT easy!"

One 4th grade girl, whom I had in kindergarten in a level 1 atrium (along with a boy in her school class who likely had genuine ADHD and was very well-served by the line activity) also remembered that it wasn't so easy as one would think. She had an eager look on her face because she remembered some of the challenges being very fun - and very tricky. The other 4th graders had a different catechist their kindergarten year; and the 5th graders did not get the line in their sacramental preparation. The other 6th graders remembered it and were also interested, though they did not seem just too overly exuberant ;) They didn't need it or use it as much as the one boy above. 

The girl from the level 1 atrium had a strong experience, because I heavily use it, where the other catechists in the area didn't/don't emphasize it quite so much. More this year in level 1 for sure they are, because there are more people in there that want that Montessori flavor - and there is a great Montessori co-op room (teehe - that's the room I rent for a Montessori co-op), complete with an elliptical line that they can use when the children are preparing themselves to come into the atrium. 

It will be interesting to see the differences in the children and attempt to observe how much of the normalization of the children is directly impacted by the use of this key Montessori work compared to previous years where it was under-used or totally ignored. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Communal Prayer for Level 3


Communal Prayer is such a beautiful experience for everyone involved.
Sample for level 2-3 combined

The children prepare a special prayer time for the other children in the atrium. It is supposed to set up so that children MAY come if they like but do not have to. Thus far, I've not had a child NOT come. ;)

This is not a material that is handed to us in formation; only suggestions and ideas.

The children in the local level 2 atrium have been working on a form of communal prayer for the last couple of years. The main catechist is striving to keep it simple and straight-forward, so that the children can just get right into it, without a lot of fanfare. As each level 2 trained person has come in with different ideas, and worked through different suggestions, the simple format is what the children and the main catechist keep going back to. She has a paper for them to fill out with the options - they do not have to use every blank. They fill out their paper with their selected Scripture passages, songs, and the like; and they do it. It is so beautiful to see! (I've only seen them once, but continue to hear how wonderful it went other times).


Now, last year's 3rd graders are my 4th graders; my 5th and 6th graders have never worked with it.

And I am preparing the materials for our level 3 atrium.

I LIKE that simple format, but I also like the idea that each atrium has it different - so that as the children get older, they learn more than one way to do things.

I wanted to put this material together 2 years ago, but it is has been sitting. Sitting on prayer, sitting on observation, sitting on contemplation; just sitting and waiting patiently for just the right moment.


Another sample of level 2-3 combined
The children in my combined level 2-3 atrium -- some of them have been in that atrium space before and knew the working of the materials there, so they have been planning prayer times and teaching the new children how to use the material.


This is NOT a work to be underestimated; or overcomplicated. We want it accessible.


And I have been inspired to follow the recommendation of many in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd: as much as possible to connect it with the Liturgy of the Hours - next to the Mass itself, the Liturgy of the Hours is the greatest prayer we have in our Church; and it has a LONG history, extending back to the history of the Jewish people.

What a fine connection for the level 3 children who are delving into the history of Worship in Israel, the history of the Jewish People, typology, the origin of the Liturgy of the Word and so much more.


So that is what I have done. Spent 2 long nights organizing it, writing an introductory booklet for the children; simplifying, simplifying, simplifying - to get just the right amount of essentiality and richness.

So, after many long sleepless hours, I have the format ready. I combined the various "hours" in the Liturgy of the Hours, to find the overall pattern. I have then chinked here and there in search of the essential for the children, and prepared the introductory booklet to explain what is communal prayer, what is Liturgy of the Hours, what are the parts we will use, and how to use the material, along with a one page guide for the planning itself. I want them to know the history and the connection to the church - not just that "this is something we do in the atrium" - WHY do we do it in the atrium?

Now to fill in the pieces ;) That part will go more quickly since I have the framework. I will prepare a packet of cards for each "part" that the children can select (they do NOT need to use every part; and they can add their own options to the few I will provide - in fact, I WANT them to add to the material - to enrich it - to make it their own - so it both feeds and is fed by the life of the community) - sample Psalm cards to choose from; sample Scripture passages that correspond with a couple of feast days; and lots of blank cards for them to make their own.

These cards may not have the full text; but they will also have access to larger song charts; the Bibles and hymnals in the atrium; and other resources as they see fit.

Above all else, I want this work to be THEIRS.


So all of this work - and I will place it in the atrium, give an introduction; then observe. How is it working? How is it feeding their prayer lives? How does it need to be changed?


Many times, the children will make the changes themselves ;)


THEY know what is most essential!



Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Plan of God

I have now presented the Plan of God, I don't KNOW how many times just this year alone (ok, yes I do know). And I have at least one more official first-presentation coming up in December when two children return to a level 3 atrium after a several-week hiatus.

This has been an interesting experience. In the past, I have had time to present a series to one set of children - going through various moments with them; before having the opportunity to go back and begin again. So just working with one group of children, in sequence --- then a few months later starting with another group or multiple groups.

Due to space constraints, this last month represents the first time I have actually presented the Plan of God to *children*. I have summarized the booklet for children, provided images and connections; and done all the work with adults who are trained at level 1 and 2, and spend most of their lives in the atrium ;)

The experience this time around is distinctly different: having presented the Plan of God at least 6 times over the course of the last 3 weeks has not provided the same reflection as my previous experiences would have provided. Now I am presenting to children "for the first time" several times quickly in succession. I have had two children come back for a repeat presentation when I invited "all the 5th graders and anyone who who would like the presentation again" (a 4th grader and a 6th grader came as well).

How has it been different? I have made changes, tweaks, noted the different responses and highlights in more striking comparison. I have had instant feedback on varying the presentation for the children in front of me, versus establishing a pattern that may or may not work with other children. My very first group this year were VERY interested in studying the various civilizations right away, with two children delving into research into Hammurabi's Code - other groups not so much. Another group was much more interested in exploring the timing, cause and outcomes of particular wars as they were represented on the timeline, seeming to represent particular clashes between particular civilizations.

Otherwise, it was more sub-groups within each group: instant and intense interest in the Sacraments. Well, what about this Parousia business? What more does the Bible tell us about it? (we have a work for that!)

Another group was more than ready to begin typology when they began to consider how each event or image on the timeline affected their lives TODAY and how it will be fulfilled at Parousia. We discussed that in order to understand these "clues" to delve more fully into the "mystery" of the Kingdom of God, we need to understand how things were understood in their historical context, then consider what meaning or teaching it has for us today, as well as into the future.

All the children commented on how simple and yet so complex the Plan of God really is.


Many of the children have followed up by working with the mute strip, exploring the possibilities of placements, comparing to the control and discovering that there is more than one right answer -- that just because their answer didn't match the control, there is still something more to be discovered, sometimes about one's own self. "Why did I place this particular item here, when it is so OBVIOUS it belongs in this other place? What was I thinking? (in a positive sense) What is then also revealed to me by placing it in matching spot to the control chart?"


And I have had the experience of working with two versions of the Plan of God. In the straight-level-3 atrium, the Plan of God contains year numbers starting with 3000 BC to emphasize that we don't precise dates before that. We have some evidence that makes suggestions, but the scientific understanding of these dates continues to be developed and we just don't KNOW with certainty - it is an area we can explore, but it is not an area we will give answers to in the atrium itself, because these are NOT matters of faith.

In the combined levels 2-3 atrium, we have a Plan of God material that does contain dates going back about 10,000 years I believe? I will have to double-check those dates. I still brought out the same ideas to the children about "This is an estimate and only at about 3,000 BC do we have very strong definitive evidence to more precisely pinpoint ages."

The first Plan of God has the stole for Holy Orders, while the second Plan of God has the studded cross. There are other minor differences, that make for thought-provokers in my presentations and in my own heart. I am learning (struggling) to not hold SO dear to my "one way" of doing things and embrace more than one way! I preach this, but sometimes, it is very hard to practice ;) For some reason, I find it so easy to accept the children's adaptations - to "follow the child". I can present the "keys" and allow for the child to unlock the doors and flesh out their presentations. But when it comes to using someone else's materials in someone else's space, it is so hard to adjust. I have COMPLETE RESPECT for any and all differences - it is just that almost every time, I think I have checked it for differences ahead of time so I am prepared, yet I am almost always thrown off in the middle when I realize there is something I missed ;)

The children in that atrium, I think have become very used to me saying, "Oh, look at this! This is new for me!" and "Oooh - this is interesting - let me explore it a bit more before we continue our conversation!" and "Ooh! let me take a look at this and we'll come back to it later!" --- and the most prevalent one: "Let's just explore this work together and see what is here!"

It is really fun to do it this way! It can be a bit physically and mentally draining, but spiritually I feel so enriched when I just explore WITH the children - and learn it right along with them!




But back to the order of presentations... I wonder how it will go this year. Will I be able to keep track of interest-groups as I have been able to do in the past? Typically, once I have gone through an entire sequence once or twice, I can keep everything organized in my mind; but it takes that first time or two through to get the framework in place on which to hang the interest-group tags.

I wonder. Or will I have to trust more? Trust the children. Trust the Holy Spirit.

Just trust.



Monday, November 5, 2012

Take Off Your Shoes!


General observations after 8 years of being in the atrium (at all levels), 15 years of being in Montessori classrooms (infant, toddler, primary, elementary, adolescence), and having spent many, many hours in typical public and private school classrooms....

and contemplating Fly Lady's strong recommendation to wear shoes at all times, especially at home.

and contemplating the lives of those families who wear their shoes through their houses, all the time.


Ok, what is really going on? It is actually late Saturday night and I am hearing the seeming STOMPING around of so many people in the next door apartment. Slamming of hard heels against the tile floors in the kitchen and bathroom; then people in the common area of the hall and staircase....

ALL THOSE SHOES! 


Seriously, folks. It is midnight as I type this. I can't sleep anyway; I'm banking on that extra hour to throw me off enough to wake me up in time in the morning; and I heard stomp-stomp-stomp on the stairs, clack-clack-clack from the tile floor.....


And then images come into my mind of the atrium. I just wrote about the walking on the line posts with one just posted and the second scheduled for Sunday. This post will schedule for Monday.



Here are some observations, in no particular order, regarding shoes in the atrium or not:
  • One atrium assistant I had wore funky socks to make "taking off your shoes fun!" She meant so well, I love her heart! "fun" wasn't the point. And the focus isn't on our socks - it is on our souls. She also brought in some buckets from IKEA for the children to keep their muddy shoes in, so they wouldn't get mud all over the floor. Great idea!  
  • The first Montessori environment I was ever in, I just loved that the kids felt truly "at home" - they were comfortable, relaxed, joyful, learning, and just so.... BALANCED. 
  • When we walk on the line, we even want bare feet. To feel the difference of texture between the tape of the line and the flooring. It is a sensorial experience. Knowledge comes to us through our senses, so every opportunity we have to finetune those senses, the better!
  • Children walking barefoot on the line, will sometimes close their eyes, or wear a blindfold. "I feel it!" the proclaim. "I feel it!" They are SO joyful!
  • This is a special place. Our homes are special places. I do not feel like doing household chores with my shoes on (sorry, Flylady! ain't happening in this household!) - I feel like going for a walk, or leaving. I could probably handle some sort of indoor shoe like in Montessori classrooms - but even then - no - I prefer to FEEL the tile beneath my feet. Then the carpet. If my floor is truly clean, I should WANT to walk on it ;) 
  • Over the years of having daycare in my home, I can tell you that small babies crawling around on the floor do NOT need to be sucking up the leaves that you've tracked in on your shoes. My son's godmother once didn't want to take off her shoes since she would only be there for a minute. Well, in that minute, she tracked mud through the living room and kichen into the bathroom - it's those first few minutes when everything is coming OFF your shoes! Take Off Your Shoes In My House! 
  • God told Moses to remove his shoes because he was on Holy Ground. It was a bush. On a rock in the middle of the desert. Sharp pointy things to hurt his feet, yet he took off his shoes. If we believe that God is with each one of us, and especially so in those who receive communion and are baptized, then should we not take off our shoes in one another's presence. 
  • In the atrium much of our work is on the floor. Dirty floors and heavy shoes and fingers - don't mix very well. 
  • Atriums and classrooms without shoes are more comfortable. They are quieter. They are peaceful - even when abuzz with activity, conversation and good work. It is a productive buzz. The bang-bang-bang of shoes kicking, tapping, walking, stomping..... sigh. It's just not healthy to one's internal peace. 
  • The youngest children NEED that transition time. Remove your coats and hang them up; remove your shoes and place them neatly under the hook with your coat. Pull up your socks, or remove them too. 
  • Stinky feet? Let's go into the bathroom and wash them. Another preparation for coming into the atrium or Montessori classroom. 
  • Some Montessori classrooms (especially in colder climates) will have indoor shoes - slippers of a sort but with a back piece to hold them on properly. These should stay on the feet when wanted, but can be easily slipped in and out for comfort when working or when walking on the line. 
  • Mr. Rogers switched to indoor shoes - but they were slip-ons - appearing to be a natural material to let those feet breathe!
  • Our feet were not meant to be cooped up all day - let those little toes free! 
  • Atriums I have been in that have kept on shoes are atriums with a lot more adult control. I don't think the one thing directly influences the other - but I think they are somehow related. Control. Hm. See below. I've just added a section on adults specifically. 
  • When we take off our shoes, we are more apt to pay attention to what we are walking on or around - we feel the differences in the flooring; we avoid walking on another child's work. Our other senses seem more attuned to our surroundings. We are really in this place, right now. Somehow, keeping our shoes on disconnects us from reality. And it's not just the children! 

For myself, when I take my shoes off, I am saying, "I am here with you, right now. You have my attention and my focus. This is our place, together." 

When I leave on my shoes, or my coat (I have a friend who won't take his coat off in the winter time - I turn my heat way up when I know he's coming ;) ), I am sending the message, "I am ready to run out of here without a second's notice. You do not have my full attention and I refuse to be fully present to the current situation."

How does that build healthy relationships in a world that is already full of some many disconnections? 

(spending time together outside on a cold day, requires coats - I'm not speaking of those times!)




Some interesting notes on the adults:
  • Those adults who cannot or do not remove their shoes for whatever reason what-so-ever (could be health, could be a physical problem, could be frankly that they just don't want to) - these adults seem to have no problem what-so-ever talking ACROSS the room (a large room!?) to another adult, to a child; assistants with their shoes on are less likely to subdue an antsy or talkative child during a full-group presentation (how many times I have had to stop my presentation to a group of 15-20 children to speak to ONE child when the assistant was right there and not picking up on my cues for assistance). 
  • Some adults won't take their shoes off because of a control issue. I used to be one those people - I had little control over my own life for SO long and SO intensely that I would find some excuse to keep my snow-pants on in 3rd grade; to not participate in this group activity in any grade. Not because I wanted to be different - because I had an inner need for control over SOME aspect of my life - I would grasp at straws for it. I TRY so HARD to respect this need in others and to provide another (healthier) outlet for them. But honestly, when it comes to adults, I need to put my foot down. Take off the shoes or learn to control yourself in the atrium, or just stay out. 
  • An adult so uncomfortable in the atrium, finally took her shoes off one day. Suddenly she was on the floor with the children and participating WITH them, praying WITH them - not over them, not to them - she was WITH THEM. The children didn't seem to know at the time what had happened, they only knew that she was a different person. The next week, she came in nervously; and one child said, "Well, get your shoes off so you can come work with us." Did the child know that was the cause or did the child just know this was the tradition in that atrium? 


Sunday, November 4, 2012

Walking the Line for Older Children !?



I firmly believe that children in all atrium levels should have the walking on the line.

WHY!? Haven't they outgrown it? Isn't walking the line the point of departure for normalization and the silence game the point of arrival?

Why NOT!? Do you not still do practical life for the pure joy of it in between much harder tasks? Do you as an adult not still occasionally walk on a line when no one is looking? (and if you don't, have you become a fuddy-duddy as an honest child would say? ;) ). Do you not walk in processions in the church? Do you not still need normalization from time to time? A re-centering? A refocusing? What adult who acknowledges their spirituality does not gain relaxation from walking a labyrinth? What about the Stations of the Cross? What are these but a walking of the line that Jesus walked in His final hours?

Self-control; master of one's will; do not touch others; do not pass; commit to going around one whole time (can only enter/exit at one point); do not speak or make any sound; keep moving. Most of our walking is done in silence, but we can also play music while walking, marching, or tiptoeing on the line.

Children of all ages should have access to the walking on the line activity. Not in a circle (it makes one dizzy) and not with sharp corners (it doesn't flow as well and becomes a focus on the line rather than a focus on the inner self) - an ellipse is ideal but a gently curving wandering line is beautiful too.

Set up small stepping stones in the garden and create a wandering path - a beautiful labyrinth.


I shared in my last entry about second graders walking the line before hearing the Good Shepherd - a parable that continues through all 3 levels. The Good Shepherd calls His sheep - and like sheep, we follow... in a line. Did you know that sheep walk in a line one behind the other? (there may be multiple lines, but each is independent of the one beside it). They keep moving; they do not pass; and they do not touch. Just like our walking on the line activity....


Saturday, November 3, 2012

Walking the Line

In the level 1 atrium, we have a material called the line.

Without getting into all the Montessori principles behind it, or the whys and hows and details and extensions, let me just say that this line is CRUCIAL to a child's development. Period.

What children do you know that DON'T seek out lines to walk in - balance beams, parking bump things, cracks in the sidewalks, curbs, garden edging, stone walls - you name it, kids walk it!

The line in the level 1 atrium 
Montessori observed this and utilized it to its maximum potential.


I once had a young man, kindergarten. He had a wonderfully responsive school teacher and a wonderfully set up (non-Montessori) classroom, but he just wasn't settling in. His needs were being met, yet something was still amiss - and they were considering testing for ADHD. He came with his classmates to a level 1 atrium for 45 minutes once a week.

I introduced the walking on the line and it set off a spiral of events that allowed this child to do seriously productive work in that short span of time in the atrium. His regular teacher brought in a make-shift line for use in her classroom and it worked WONDERS. If he could just whip around that line a few times, of his own accord, he could then SIT and WORK for 5 minutes at a time! (the first time he sat for 30 seconds at a time we thought a miracle had occurred!).


The line in our Montessori co-op for ages 3-10
In one of my level 2 sacramental preparations sessions, with children who were not in atrium for their regular faith formation (only for sacramental preparation - in fact, the children I am about to describe are my 6th graders this year :) ) --- I had the children come into the level 1 atrium space where we had the Good Shepherd material. I brought them into the level 1 because I also wanted them to walk on the line.

In the process of walking on the line, they centered themselves, refocusing; peace was brought to their internal selves and even Abbot and Costello found some level of quietude (more on these two another day - I have one of them now again, but I am missing the other...).

I rang the bell to pause walking and to gather around the Good Shepherd material. As I began the presentation, you could have heard a pin drop onto the carpeted floor.

I firmly believe it was a combination of the line and the presentation itself.

There are so many benefits to walking on the line - the only one that matters is inner peace.



Friday, November 2, 2012

Private vs Public Faith


"Just this week Pope Benedict said our Catholic faith is personal but not private."


And oh boy how we live that out in the atrium! The children have opportunities for private and communal prayer (in levels 2 and 3, they plan communal prayer); they explore the moral parables such as the Pharisee and Tax Collector - and the maxims such as praying in your room in secret.

In level 3 we explore the virtues and locate signs of their presence or lack thereof in Scriptural texts, readings from the lives of the saints, and in newspaper clippings. Thus fulfilling a need for role models - beginning to discern who are good role models and how to sort the wheat from the chaff in imperfect people. The first time I worked with the virtues a young gentleman was SO relieved to have been given this presentation (like a gift!) because he said, "Now I can tell what I should follow in someone I like and what is ok to not be like him!"

Yes, our faith is personal - it is our very identity. But how do you keep your identity all covered up? You can't! Therefore yes, your faith is public!

When your faith is who you are, as it should be, then your faith is public. Not like the Pharisee, like the Samaritan. You do what needs to be done, you live your life accordingly, without hesitation.