For those of you waiting for this story for the last several months??? I told you it would be long ;)
I used to be known for saying, "One can never have too much atrium."
It's not that I take back those words, but after 9 years, I add a caveat:
it needs to be group or individual-based - not an individual moving from one atrium group to another to another throughout the week.
Many catechists have the question of what to do with their own children if the catechist will be in an atrium several times a week. I had this question since my son was an infant, because as the mom of a nursling, he came with me everywhere - and as a single mom his entire life, he comes with me everywhere. And we homeschool.
Here is our experience:
Until age 3 1/2:
Not-yet-dubbed Legoboy was with me while transitioning a preschool/kindergarten religious education classroom into a level 1 atrium: 2 years in this atrium, with a child "not old enough." I watched him phase into all the early 3 year old work, one by one. The "light" came first; then the colors; then the infancy narratives - from there it went several directions, but I recall geography early on. He has always been notorious for doing his work in a south-north orientation. He routinely turned our globes upside down (he figured out how to remove them from their holders); he would turn the topographical map upside down. At 3 he began working with the regions maps (he wasn't talking much during this time either - which left him LOTS of time for just taking things in - so he knew the names of the regions - we could get through part 2 of the 3 period lesson on ANYTHING - he just couldn't say the words to do the 3rd period) --- so that regions map? Yep. Upside down.
(Note: to THIS DAY he still does this - he can work in any orientation - and will "check" his work using the control in a different orientation than the mutes - talk about spatial reasoning!)
We did have problems with him, at age 1, standing on a table and dropping some glass items to the carpeted floor (nothing broke). I was in a presentation and my aide refused to do anything with him (yet I had to be in charge of her two boys... hmmm.) Some rough waters there.
From 2 onward, he really honed in on the altar work, the Good Shepherd, beginnings of the liturgical calendar - he was 9-15 months "ahead" on most of the work; with some things being spot-on to the suggested ages in the album pages. Never behind.
In his case, we had so much time to just go with the flow - complete observation and respond only when needed.
During these two years, I had Sunday mornings (religious ed), Tuesday evenings (children of the RCIA parents - so infants through age 12) and a varying day homeschool session (3-12 year olds). I also had a partial atrium in my home where I ran a family daycare and rotated materials in/out as space and the liturgical time suggested. 3 sessions a week for Legoboy, plus access at home. It was GREAT! Looking back, I think it was because level 1 is about "individual construction of the human being."
3 1/2 - 4 1/4
|rolling mats at home (paper in this case)|
for the fun of it
At this atrium, he showed the catechist the "proper" way to roll mats (as learned at Montessori school ;) ), and he continued to receive both 3yo and 4yo presentations. The catechist was so wonderful of an observer, that she knew when he was ready to work with the 4 year olds and when he needed to be with the 3 year olds.
I helped out in this atrium when I could, but most of the year I was working (at his Montessori school) or had my observations and student teaching at other schools, so a generous family from church offered to transport him there/back (they didn't even have a child in atrium! they had a kindergartener in the parish school; while the times didn't perfectly line up, they went out of their way to make it happen).
4 1/4 - 5 1/4
We moved to our current area to set up two level 1 atriums, and begin on level 2. The Sunday morning level 1 atriums ran at the same time and he attended both of them at various times. No consistency in location but fantastic experiences with a variety of catechists - he also ended up being of assistance to some of them ;) I also offered a weekday session to alleviate our high Sunday morning numbers - he attended that one and I counted that as his actual atrium time for the sake of consistency.
During this year, one catechist and I worked with the 2nd graders and 2 1st graders to prepare for First Holy Communion and Reconciliation. We modified our preparation experience based on having a partial level 2 atrium, a mostly complete level 1 atrium, and children with ZERO atrium experience. Legoboy attended every one of these sessions, including the 2 retreat days. At the first retreat (in December, he was still 4 years old), the priest visited; as he prepared to leave he asked me if Legoboy would be coming to Reconciliation. Legoboy said he was not yet ready. Father said, "If he is ready before the other children do First Communion, just bring him to Reconciliation one day. He can also receive First Holy Communion with the other children, if he believes he is ready."
To be short-winded about it, Legoboy was indeed prepared, but free will and desire were able to be respected. He did not receive the sacraments that year; he was ready the following, but circumstances changed so he received what "would be" his 1st grade year.
With the sacramental preparation and my work with homeschoolers, this sometimes meant 5 or 6 times a week in an atrium for him at both levels 1 and 2.
I began level 3 formation that year, but the bit of work I did was with Legoboy playing with other younger children. So he did not start level 3 that year ;)
5 - 6
This "kindergarten year" we did atrium at home in pieces; I worked with homeschool families and mentored the local catechists. It was actually nice to step back and consider the essentials again. Get away from parish politics; besides the new DRE closed the 2 level 2 atriums I had started - she wasn't ready to be DRE over them. Since we were not part of the religious ed program at the local parish, Legoboy requested the sacraments from our parish priest who refused him - he will only give these sacraments to children who are age 7, going on 8. (we attend a parish further away than our local parishes - variety of reasons - not applicable to this blog)
6 - 7
I continued to work with homeschoolers in small groups at various times, which worked out fine for Legoboy because he could play with the younger children if I had the older children and only come for presentations at the right time. The level 2 atrium at the local parish, now with a different priest, opened back up and my request to have Legoboy attend was granted. I spoke with our parish priest again and he said Legoboy could be prepared for the sacraments at the local parish and receive the sacraments "per the plan outlined". Haha! The plan outlined included the following:
- preparation is done through CGS at the local parish
- priest family friend from the other side of the country travel to our area to hear Legoboy's confession at the local parish (with the permission of the local priest) in February; CGS retreat in March for 2nd Reconciliation; 3rd Reconciliation the morning of 1st Holy Communion
- seminarian family friend (Legoboy's Godfather) to be ordained that May - the only priest to be ordained at that ordination - to provide First Holy Communion at the ordination Mass. Second Holy Communion that evening at Father's first Mass; Third Holy Communion Sunday morning at Father's second Mass.
- We let our priest know when all is done so he doesn't "skip" him at the Communion rail.
7 - 8
Continue the above minus the sacramental preparation - some homeschoolers at various time, attend the local parish level 2 atrium. Lots of atrium, but still flexible in presentations.
8 - present
Here is where the fun begins. I opened the level 3 atrium last year at our local parish.
- I now lead the new level 3 atrium at our local parish(es)/parish (there's another post). Twice a week.
- Last year, I also taught at a Montessori school once a week; this year twice a week.
- Last year, I still worked with some homeschoolers at home; this year, I have rented the level 2 atrium at the local parish to work with level 2 and 3 children once a week. Nothing more at home.
- Half of last year I worked with a family one afternoon a week at the local parish; this year they are in the homeschool atrium.
Then we added in our Thursday family --- and the issue became VERY clear: Legoboy had atrium many times a week, lots of time for exploration, meditation and personal work - DEEP work - but the other children weren't staying up with him, because they were once a week. The homeschool families helped because of their at-home work - but it wasn't quite enough. He finally met his match with our Thursday family though, because even though they were once a week, the spiritual depth/intensity was there, matching his own - perhaps because of shared emotional history. I began giving him specific assignments on Sundays with the 6th graders to keep him fed until we could finish the year and fully re-evaluate.
This year, I did NOT want to repeat that experience. He was SO frustrated because he couldn't move forward WITH someone - he was always either alone, or constantly moving groups. This is where the Thursday family really worked out well, because here was someone he could at least move along with. I was very frustrated because my son who had been in the atrium since age 1 wasn't receiving what he needed and I couldn't pinpoint his needs right away.
That is where we can have too much atrium:
one person ready to move forward and deeper
groups of children once a week who aren't at the same depth just yet
So this year, Legoboy has the following:
- Sunday morning: personal Bible study he is doing - reading through Books of the Bible and illustrating each chapter - in the CRE's material making area
- Tuesday afternoon: assists me in the level 1 atrium or does his own work
- Wednesday evening: attends tae-kwon-do or joins atrium working on individual projects - focus on social benefits
- Thursday afternoon: attends tae-kwon-do (sometimes joins but works on art projects - again, social benefits)
- Friday afternoon: attends the homeschool atrium as a full participant
Now that we have identified the reality of "too much atrium" in the wrong combinations, we can address the issue at each atrium session and he can even attend every atrium all week and be just fine.
An interesting side benefit: experience proving that calling small groups is MUCH better than working with large groups - meet the children where they are at, worry less about grade level or age, focus on capability and NEED, and allow such children who are in different experiential places to be just where they need to be. We have mixed age classes to focus on the individuals after all!