Last year, within these groups, I had 5th and 6th graders who had been in the atrium only for sacramental preparation (before there was even a full level 2 atrium available to them) - they returned to a full level 3 atrium along with last year's 4th graders who had been in atrium since kindergarten (these children had level 1 for K and 1st grade; level 2 for 2nd and 3rd).
It was a tough, but a great year! I wish I could have done more with the 6th graders, but I have to trust that the Holy Spirit was allowed to work where needed - and I am confident that many seeds were planted in soil that I can only trust will continue to be tilled.
This year, my incoming 4th graders, who have mostly been in atrium since age 4 (2 years in level 1, 3 years in level 2 --- 1 4th grader is "new to atrium" and 1 4th grader had only 1 year of level 1 and is now returning).
Many of the 4th graders are right where last year's 4th graders were: ready and chomping on the bit for the meat of level 3.
But a few... just aren't there. Their needs will not be met in level 2 (level 2 is no longer developmentally appropriate for them), yet their attention, their focus, their understanding of the faith given their faith formation backgrounds - the pieces just don't make sense. And I spend many hours contemplating how best to prepare the environment to meet their needs.
There are a few noted special needs - nothing I've not had before or know how to address. But somehow, there are pieces to this puzzle still missing. That only observation and love will bring out.
I have one boy is right there with anything/everything we do - as are most of the 4th graders in the other group. But the other 4th graders in this group are all over the place with attention span, understanding the nature of the atrium environment and long-term thought processes. These are not bad things - just reasons to adapt.
I have adjusted our presentations to bring in work on the Mass already, despite our typical focus on the History of the Kingdom of God this time of year. It was getting to be too much for them - I just didn't think they could handle another week of History of the Kingdom - so I presented the first Mass chart to one of the groups.... SUCCESS! They were more engaged, more connected - refreshed.
The following week, we returned to the History of the Kingdom with a modified Open Book presentation - I set it up for them beforehand. The children in that group copied out the long strips and listed the titles of the Scripture passages under the appropriate moments. Then we discussed just a bit. They really seemed to connect with some of it having had it through their hands first.
This coming week, we will go back to something with the Mass, I think. Or perhaps another topic - prayer perhaps? I might prepare 2-3 presentations and see how they are doing when they come in.
Within the second group, there tend to be enough children who are ready, that they keep the others on task. But there are a few that just can't handle staying on topic no matter how long or short the discussion is. When we move to the topic of their choosing, they are off on something else; if we hold back on changing topic, they will hang on to the ONE topic we are not discussing, until we switch to it, then they are off on something else altogether.
Some people will say this is "normal children" - but it's not. Maria Montessori talks about "normalization" - and even 90 minutes a week in the atrium brings that normalization in. "Normal" is "typical" or "average" - "normal" SHOULD mean "what is proper for the situation".
So I will observe. And respond. And observe some more.
Please pray for these children - their hearts need so much tending!
Observations thus far:
- lots of repetition --- but not all at once --- 1-2 weeks on one topic, switch gears, come back to original topic ---- we do this a bit anyway, but with other groups we can focus on Salvation History for the first month - these children can't take a whole month.
- anything written must be very specific
Results thus far:
- switching topics and returning brings out more on-topic discussion
- specific writing almost-assignments brings focus to those specific words
- the children's responses are deeper - to the question on the Gifts strip regarding the greatest gifts we have received, one girl wanted to share her top greatest gift with the group: the gift of her own life so that she could enjoy all the other gifts of God. Fantastic! Exactly how the children ordinarily respond in the atrium! SUCCESS!