Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Prayer Tables and Communal Prayer - October

This was our only October table in this atrium -
not sure where the time went!
We did a lot of singing instead of communal prayer this month ;) 

Turned off lights and closed blinds - full darkness
so they could read about the Creation of Light

All those candles! They love light! 

by himself

leading prayer
these ladies have it down pat -
time for their new communal prayer adventure ;) 
These ladies as well as are ready for the next step in
Communal Prayer
(post to come about our Communal Prayer evolving adventures!)

Monday, October 28, 2013

Continued Observation - Level 3

I was able to spend some more time observing this evening - I love when I get these moments! They are so revealing! 

This group (in the photo below) needs more direction than typical children of their age and atrium experience. But they are definitely moving in the right direction. This evening they re-created the second Mass chart, showing the Propers of the Mass face up (but not yet labeled). For the time being, it seems that if they can all be doing the same thing or something similar to one another, they are able to maintain self-control for longer periods of time. 

Definitely need to get out walking on the line next time. Normalization at its very foundation. 

In the following photo: I thought this would be a good-size group for this work, given the responsible, atrium-experienced, self-directed young ladies involved, with our CRE to assist them as needed. No. It didn't work. Keep it to 2-3 children at a time - more discussion participation from each person, easier to reach decisions about titles for the clues about the Parousia, and the work becomes more personal. It doesn't seem to take as long in smaller groups either.... Hm. SO the work is both quicker and goes deeper with small groups !? I should SO know that by now! ;)

Saturday, October 26, 2013

New 2000 Years Timeline - and Memorial images

Going back to an April post on the images for the 2000 Years and the Memorial:

I have created my own 2000 Years timeline and have edited the images for the Memorial to be put together this coming week. They are SO beautiful!

For the 1900s, I am adding a photo of local parishioners; I have left a blank space for the 21st century, not just for the blank page, but so that each year we will have a photo of the current atrium children - to show that they are writers of the blank page right now, and that they are part of this timeline. I think it will more smoothly lead into their work on "My Century".

The images turned out so fantastic! Just a few things to hand-write on, to keep that personal touch.

I removed the binding from the book from which I obtained these images and placed the pages into sheet protectors in a binder, affixing the cover of the book to the cover of the binder. This binder can be used for the children's reference if they want to look at weapons, vehicles, tools, furniture and other artifacts of the people at various times in history.

An extension of this work that the children suggested to me - after the initial presentation, the children use blank index cards to write the name of a person (a saint, a famous person, someone in their ancestry) on the front of the card and the date of their life on the back. They can then place those cards in the appropriate sections of the timeline, utilizing the cards created by others as well - see if they can remember when certain people lived (flip the card over to check the date). The hope is that this work will also lead into saint studies; and the child-suggested extension seems to be moving in just that direction! I previously found the timeline too vague to connect with saint history - it's there, just fuzzy ;) But, follow the child, and see what we discover about the richness of our Faith: the beauty, the Truth, the holiness that comes with God's Light.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Small atrium or large atrium?

Legoboy, age 9, assisting the work of the level 1 children
youngest child wondering which pieces he is allowed to handle
he's getting it ;) 
A Montessori classroom has the greatest experience at 30-35 children for the primary level (ages 3-6) and 35-40 for the elementary level (ages 6-12 - and yes, that is genuinely ages 6-12 in one group; if 6-9 and 9-12 are split out than 35 is ideal).

Really!? That many in one group with one trained teacher? Isn't that what we keep complaining about in the public schools? That one teacher has too many children when s/he has more than 25!?

Reality is, multi-age groupings, following the child, providing the keys, promoting a balance of freedom and responsibility, respecting all aspects of the child's development as well as all human needs and tendencies - all of these things lead to an environment in which the children function best with only one trained and perhaps one "non-teaching" adult.

Reviewing last year's presentations during their work time
What are the ideal numbers for an atrium that does not run on a 3-hour work cycle? I'm not sure. There are suggestions of around 15 and that seems about right most of the time. The children tend to hit their "breaking point" at 90 minutes in - reality is, the ideal that most atriums can achieve is 90 minutes, due to time constraints, parental concerns, lack of Montessori understanding and a slight limitation on the subject matter (it is one subject (Faith) in sub-categories with materials that simply do not add up to a full Montessori classroom - however we also only meet once a week).

Baptism pasting became an intense focus!
after an impromptu full Baptism presentation on
Light, White Garment, Water, Oils
We'll review the rest with the oldest children next week
But I wonder what would happen, even with 3-6 year olds, if we had a full 3-hour work cycle. In a Montessori environment, there is a false fatigue 60-90 minutes into the cycle, just before the children settle into their deepest work yet - as long as the adult knows how to let things be during this transition time.
He worked with the sheep for a few moments, then wanted to trace. 

Last week and today I caught myself thinking, "These children are done for today - good thing we only meet for 90 minutes." Then I realized what I was thinking! Oops! But 90 minutes is what I have with my level 1 children and that is all I am going to get (ok, so the parents tend to know now to pick up until 95 minutes have passed because I always run over ;) ). I would love the opportunity to experiment with a routine 180 minute atrium for the little ones. We would certainly bring in a snack option, additional practical life particularly in the art area, likely expand out the music... but these are conjectures. I simply wonder.
Waiting for the catechist

We have had a very small group both last week and this week. I would prefer to have more children.

Benefits to larger groups:

  • the adult is not able (therefore tempted) to jump in on every single situation - much more observation has to be made from a distance, allowing the child to work things out for himself
  • the adult *must* lay a strong foundation of respect and boundaries straight from the beginning; somehow having a smaller group allows the adult to be more lax in areas that need to be quite firm
  • with the multi-age setting, the older children are typically experienced, having been in the atrium for 2 years - they have that strong foundation that they can pass on to the younger/newer children - as well as they know they are being watched and copied, so they feel that sense of responsibility to "be" the "big kid". 
  • to reiterate and say another way in order to catch all the ramifications: the children model after each other - if the adult is prepared and the environment (physical and spiritual) is prepared, then the children will have fewer stumbling blocks and many more successes.
  • there is a wider variety of work going on, so the children gain different inspiration from one another; they also more readily choose for themselves if they will work alone, work with someone else or observe another child(ren). The children also review previous presentations simply by seeing the other children work with it. Such options are much more limited with smaller numbers. 

So joyful!
He then spent a good deal of time coloring in his tracing
adding a sun, sky, and grass
Hanging the chasubles
across the room from their usual location
LOTS of movement needed by these littlest ones!

helping with the hanger

Such concentration on making such beautiful music! 

Singing "Alleluia" -
apparently we have a goal to sing as many versions as possible ;)
not all children were at the prayer table,
but this was our smallest class yet this year.  

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Local Level 3 Blues

Just some random musings as I work through my own continued preparation as a level 3 catechist.

Recently, there was an announcement of continued openings at the level 3 formation leaders course offered by the National Association. I had previously not considered it, because I am not quite ready to be a level 3 formation leader - I had hoped they would offer the level 2 version of this course this year as they did level 1 last year, but they are alternating the alternate years I think is the plan?

The announcement got me thinking and praying. One session of that course would be in on special needs in the level 3 atrium and another on applying to the level 3 atrium Montessori principles from the academic Montessori environment. I have AMI Montessori training and would *love* to collaborate on the Montessori principles at the elementary level - which practices to bring in, which am I perhaps going over-board on. It would be so great to collaborate with others.

And I do have a group of children I have not yet ever had to address in an upper level atrium; thus a collaboration with others with Montessori background and/or CGS formation at all levels would be ideal.


I did inquire if I could attend based on not intending to be a level 3 formation leader in the near future (by the time the next one is offered I will likely be looking to do level 3 already, so the current timing is actually quite ideal). I was not told, "No," but I was given a list of reasons not to attend; the following morning I received a message asking me for my contributions to the above two topics.

It is not that I don't want to contribute... It is that I want to *collaborate.* I love working with level 3 children, I love applying my Montessori background to fully enrich the atrium - but in many ways I am working in a void - and I am sensing there is some missing point of balance. I sense that the point of balance missing is another adult in my local area with whom to collaborate. Perhaps I have been spoiled in recent years though:
  • I was alone when I started level 1, but my formation was such that it was fully balanced and I had the support I needed for the first 2 years. 
  • After that I have only been in atriums with pretty much full support from the priest, other catechists, parents and other parishioners. 
  • When I started the local level 2 atriums, there was already a catechist who, when I met her upon my move to this area (and she was in the level 1 formation already) said, "I am here to learn this so that I can take it back to my sacramental preparation children." Thus, there was already a catechist for that level, ready, willing and intending! Along with another catechist who intended to see it all the way through, we were able to set up a partial level 2 in our first year of having level 1. 
  • From there, mostly without my involvement, the local program took a small step back, then moved forward again. I spent those years inviting homeschool families to my home for very small atrium sessions. 
  • Finally, the local program was ready for level 3 - and they paid for half of my level 3 formation. I am the only level 3 catechist in the local area. This is not to puff myself up - I am lonely. 
  • Last year, I worked with a partially trained catechist in our newly established level 3. I was able to discuss things with her - modifications of the work expectations, the materials, how to create the materials. I knew I appreciated her presence and her assistance and sometimes her guidance - and now I miss her dearly. 
  • I love the other adults I have in there now: a mom who was in level 3 with me last year, but has no official CGS formation - she is a middle school teacher so her interactions with the children are great; another mom who has level 1 formation and has been in all three levels as a catechist or assistant - she has so much exuberance for the atrium that the children feed off that positivity; another mom on occasion who is just great for stepping in and exploring the work with the children - she is great at keeping them on track - no official formation, but has been in all 3 levels at one time or another; a dad who was in a mix of all levels last year with his children - this year is with me for 1 level 3 atrium and 1 multi-level atrium - there is a bit more collaboration there ---- but all of them take my word on almost everything and question very little, if anything at all. I appreciate their confidence in me! Really! I need collaboration too. 
  • The CRE is wonderful but only has formation through level 2. I can collaborate a bit with her but there are limitations. 
I have all of these benefits - and have been so blessed.

So why am I so lonely? Because it's not about me - it's about the relationship of the Child with the Holy Spirit.

I just need someone to off-set my strong ideals! Or maybe make them better. Fine-tune them. Or throw some of them out altogether.

Yes, I work in another atrium setting which is shared with other catechists trained all the way through - but I work after-school when the other adults are not there. Also, it is a Montessori school so the dynamics in a 120-150 minute atrium session with Montessori school children already at school are very different from public school children coming for a 90 minute atrium once a week. Even at level 1 within a Montessori-school-atrium, the practical life area can be stripped down, the atrium does not need to include walking on the line. At level 2, God with No Hands is done in the classroom; the timeline work will correlate with their work in the classroom. The children come in prepared and they have a longer session. It is wonderful - I receive such inspiration for all my atrium spaces by moving between them all throughout the week. But it doesn't cover the need for a local level 3 person for collaboration in our particular level 3 (public school children) atrium.

Would the formation leaders course have fully assisted me? No. But it would have provided some of the needed balance, some collaboration on the special needs concerns, and definitely helped me pinpoint the balance of academic Montessori and level 3 CGS.

So those of you reading this, please pray for me - that God will provide. That it will work out according to His plan, not mine.

(the course is going on right now as this post is scheduled to go up - and 2 particular struggles just came to a sharp point - please pray for me!)

Sunday, October 20, 2013

When does our Blank Page end?

This morning (caveat: I write this days or weeks before they are published) I had an experience with a group of 4th grade girls I will never forget.

Enjoying the fragrances from one of our parish's old oil sets:
Chrism, Oil of Catechumens, Oil of Infirm
They recalled smelling these during our discussion on the sacraments
We have been preparing to work on the Plan of God for a few weeks and the girls finally unrolled the control strip today. We discussed the portions, they jumped right on to the idea of the breakages as wars, of declining civilizations merging into others and passing their gifts along, of God speaking to Moses through the bush and beginning the line of the Hebrew people with that Revelation.

We discussed the sacraments, the time of Jesus, the spreading light of Christ - and we reached the blank page - something they have seen for 4 years now on various timelines (Fettuccia, Blue Unity, History of the Gifts, Level 3 Fettuccina, Level 3 History of the Gifts). Only now in level 3 are they finally coming to the understanding that a response is required. In level 2, the response was "to remain" on the true vine - now, in level 3, we are beginning to explore "how" to remain.
Working on the Level 3 History of the Gifts - re-creating a personal strip of their own

For our Plan of God presentation, I intended to simply review what they know about the blank page - nothing new.

But they had other plans ;)

"I have a question about the blank page," one young lady asked. "When does our blank page end? When we die? at Parousia? another time?"

I countered her question with another: "What happens when we die?"

And this led to further discussion amongst the girls - me mostly asking further questions and bringing in Church teaching and Scripture teaching only when appropriate.

  • Personal judgment: heaven, hell or purgatory - based on your state of grace and cleanliness of your soul at the moment of death (there were a lot of follow-up questions and discussions to this one, regarding specific crimes, level of repentance, and proximity to the sacrament of reconciliation)
  • children who die before the age of reason, including those who die in the womb - if they were baptized or would have been baptized - they are *saints* not angels (angels being another order of creation) - therefore, we can ask them to pray for us - to intercede for us
  • the girls asked about God sending spirits (ghosts) to earth for particular missions - yes, this is something God does (there is much documentation on this) ---- and they wanted to know if God could do it, could "he" too? (pointing downward as they asked) - yes, sadly he can too. 
  • the girls worked out that if anything spiritual leaves them uncomfortable, fearful (not the "fear of the Lord" variety of fear), or just not feeling "right", they would bless themselves immediately and get to a place of safety as quickly as possible
  • back to the blank page: so after death, others intercede for us (if we are in purgatory) and we intercede for others (when we get to heaven) - and we are all waiting for the Parousia
I wonder if these girls are ready for the 'Holy Bible & Parousia' material. Perhaps I can work with them with just a few of the verses, the ones pertinent to this particular conversation, and see how they respond. At least to show them where the ideas we discussed can be found in the Scriptures. 

And it seems they are definitely ready for '2000 Years' and perhaps moving towards 'My Century' - ready to discover what the blank page means in their own lives today, going deeper into the intricacies. 

Follow the child. 

It is amazing how different this specific group of children is from the other 4th graders I have, who all (except 2 individuals) came from the exact same level 2 atrium and previously the same level 1 atrium. Universal tendencies, individual expressions! I love the challenge :) Some children we are still planting seeds and tilling the soil. With these girls, on this topic, sprouts have sprung forth! 

Friday, October 18, 2013

3D Paper Creations in the Atrium

Children share inspiration with one another. I am so happy that my first inclination to say 'no' was overturned by my desire to 'see where the child would lead me.'

A 3rd grader in our atrium chose and created a Bible story out of paper. He asked if he could so beforehand - it is not a story we typically utilize in the atrium (Jesus and Peter walking on the water) which prompted my instinctive 'no' - but why would I say that? Because I didn't want the children distracted, I thought to myself. That is silly - distracted by a miracle? Hm. Set aside my petty little issues and let's just see what happens.

We typically have paints, colored pencils, some atriums have markers - all paper crafts, but in the second dimension only: booklets, drawings, paintings, charts, timelines, diagrams, tracings, calligraphy, illumination. This 2D limitation has inspired much creativity, but perhaps not enough in my other atriums. Some atriums bring in clay, typically that which does not dry out; I have not reached a point of adding this material to my self-organized atriums, but it is certainly a consideration in the near future. 

His work ultimately inspired two other children (1st and 2nd grades), both who made something at home, one of whom then made another creation in the atrium. While I do not have a photo of the original creation, I do have the work that was inspired by it!

The City of Jerusalem

Jesus and Peter Walking on Water (Take 2)

Inspired Other Children Re-Creating Jerusalem together
she was just getting up to collect supplies when I snapped the photo ;) 

Moses Receiving the 10 Commandments on the Mountain, while the people pray below

Lesson Affirmed: 
Follow the Child!
(and who wouldn't want to follow such a charming smile as that!?)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Rainy Morning in October

walking the line extension - walking up/down stairs

timelines, timelines, everywhere!

in and out of the hall to compare the mute to the control
I don't suppose we need that small table - they don't use it
update: remove the medium table and rearrange the small and large tables

setting up the prayer table
they all really like that silver garland
note to self: get some other colors

They enjoy being in the atrium

exploring the control again after setting up the mute

prayer time - in the dark - they read the story of Creation of Light

Monday, October 14, 2013

Pentecost 2013

This topic is a bit late in coming but is on my mind of late due to the date of Easter (hence Pentecost) this school year (upcoming in 2014).

This past school year, Easter/Pentecost 2013, we received a fantastic blessing in two of the atriums I had: TIME. We ended both the third full week of May, following Pentecost. Most parish atriums end the year in April or the 1st or 2nd week of May - almost always before Pentecost and some years (like 2014) more than a month before Pentecost.

SO - we used that time! THREE WEEKS OF IT!

I missed photographing anything in the second atrium and our work veered from the outline below because I wasn't the main catechist (we ended up overlapping and repeating a lot) - but I have wonderful memories of those moments together as well.

WEEK 1: Old Testament
First we introduced the Scripture for the gifts of the Holy Spirit - in prophet-fashion.

We set out a candle for each gift - did not light them this time. We labeled and discussed each gift - by definition and example. We then spent some time discussing these gifts, what they mean on different levels for a level 2 (ages 6-9) and a level 3 (ages 9-12) child (I also had some level 1 children in this group!). I sent them home for the week to contemplate these gifts and look at situations they are in, to ascertain which gifts are needed in particular situations.

For this group of children, we used the names of the Gifts as outlined by Isaiah in chapter 11 verses 2 and 3:

  • Wisdom
  • Understanding
  • Counsel
  • Strength
  • Knowledge
  • Fear of the Lord
  • Delight in the Fear of the Lord (Awe and Wonder)

WEEK 2: New Testament
The following week, we read and meditated upon the New Testament Scripture passages from the Acts of the Apostles (the Descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles). During our discussion, we brought in other mentionings of the Holy Spirit throughout the Gospels - the ones the children honed in on:
  • descent of the Holy Spirit upon Our Blessed Mother at the Annunciation/Incarnation
  • the Holy Spirit appearing as a dove at the Baptism of Our Lord
  • the Holy Spirit filling John the Baptist in his mother's womb - and Elizabeth's resulting Canticle
We considered each gift again - in light of our contemplation from the previous week at home and in light of the fact that we are each a child of God, called to live as Children of the Light. How shall we spread this light throughout the world? What gift do we need the most right now? 

And we each selected a gift to pray for in the coming week. 

After our group presentation, some of the children (a mix of level 2 and level 3) chose for their personal work to copy and illustrate the names of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit - 1 child wrote out the definitions as well - all of them illustrated their work.  

WEEK 3: The Celebration
Finally in our third week, we had a true Celebration - atrium-style. The children proclaimed the Scripture, proclaimed the Gifts, proclaimed the Church teaching. We set a beautiful prayer table designed by the children and we sang songs selected by the children.

The children selected their Gifts - some different than the previous week, some the same.

always tip the unlit candle into the lit one

Prayerfully considering
Calling the children by name to place their candles onto the table
Liturgy of Light style

All of the candles returned according to the gift prayed for
Our beautiful Spirit-filled children! 
They were each invited to snuff a candle
(I forget now who snuffed the remaining ones, since we had 7 extra than the number of children)

With so much time spent on a presentation and celebration that is usually squeezed in and rushed, I gained so much from the meditation, the experience, the focus on these Gifts of the Holy Spirit, wanting to work through us today. I look forward to future years when we can do it like this again. For 2014, I am looking at the reality of presenting Pentecost rather early for the level 2 and 3 children - perhaps during winter Ordinary Time so we have some time for contemplation and prayer - all atriums will end this year well before Pentecost, because Easter is so late. We can then pick up the topic again at the start of the coming school year - the Gifts are always needed!