Kete article – how we started

I haven’t figured out how to insert the Kete Korero (Hamilton Diocese magazine) in here, but we had an article in there last issue. Below is the text.

Catechesis of the Good Shepherd at St Pius X Parish, Hamilton

Last year while Fr Gerard was walking across Spain, a lovely Jesuit priest from Australia looked after St Pius X parish for a few weeks. I was talking to him one day after Mass, and mentioned that my boys were at a Montessori preschool. He asked if I’d ever heard about Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. I hadn’t.

Google to the rescue.

I was blown away by what I found.

Over the year my eldest son had been at Montessori, I had come to really appreciate the distinctive nature of Montessori education. I loved that it was based on years of observation by Maria Montessori of how children learn and what they are capable of. I loved that this observation continued in the classroom and each child was respectfully treated as an individual person with individual needs and capabilities. I loved that the children could work, learn, and see to their physical needs independently (yes! from age three and even younger) because the environment was set up perfectly to allow that. I loved the three year age groupings, chosen according the planes of development the children were in and allowing them to learn from and teach each other. I loved the order and serenity of the classroom. I loved that the children learnt not just maths and language and geography, but grace and courtesy and practical life skills too. Basically I loved it all and considered it to be a beautiful method of enabling the human person to flourish on (almost) all levels from a very young age.

There was, however one area of learning where it was up to my husband and me alone, with no help from the school: the Faith. This was something that was not going smoothly with our 2 and 4 year olds. They weren’t the type to like to join in things and got self conscious (or just silly) during Mass and prayer times. Picture books were some use, but limited. Trying to explain abstract concepts was futile since their brains were not yet capable of abstraction. When I discovered Catechesis of the Good Shepherd I knew I had finally found the answer to helping young children form a relationship with God and I wondered if we would ever have access to it.

I went back to google. I searched for atria in Hamilton. Unsurprisingly, nothing. I couldn’t find much else in New Zealand either (I’ve since learned of more but they were not easy to find!). Then I had a conversation with two mums who were also planning on sending their children to our Montessori preschool and they mentioned there was an atrium at St Mary’s in Tauranga, and how wonderful would it be for us to have access to one too.

At this stage we had no plans to set up an atrium, but I wanted to know more. I searched for books on the topic and found “The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd in a Parish Setting” on fishpond.co.nz for $5. In January of 2014 I went away for a week, read the book and did a lot of praying, and came home convinced we needed to start the Catechesis in our parish. I just had no idea how.

To set up an atrium, one needs to attend officially sanctioned training and get a manual with all the instructions on how to make what. It is possible to start without doing this, but it would be very difficult to implement the programme faithfully and in a way the children would get the most benefit. It seemed there was training in Australia occasionally, and plenty in the US, but those didn’t seem like options. Eventually I found out about training being run by an Anglican parish in Dunedin in June/July.

I approached Fr Gerard, who was very supportive of the idea, and once the parish council had approved it I tried to convince people to go to the training. I assumed I couldn’t, due to having a tiny baby. But no one was interested, so after lots more prayer and correspondence with the trainer, we decided I would go to Dunedin for the 3-6 age group portion of the training and the trainer would come back to Hamilton in January 2015 to train more people and give us enough to start up with the 6-9 age group also.

Fast forward to the beginning of 2015 and we have a wonderful committee of 4 (sadly one other had to leave Hamilton for work reasons) mums who have been working extremely hard to put everything together to run the training at the end of January and start atrium sessions shortly afterwards. A few other parishioners have also signed up to train as catechists and there has been some other involvement from the parish, but we’d love more. An extremely generous carpenter in Putaruru has made items proportioned to small children – an altar, a baptismal font, a sacristy cabinet, a lectern, a tabernacle, and a model of the City of Jerusalem. The atrium is very slowly taking shape and we will continue to add to it as the liturgical year progresses, and probably for several more years to come.

You can follow our progress on our website: cgsstpiusxhamilton.wordpress.com or facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/cgsstpiusx

Below is an outline of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (CGS)

The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is a formation process for children aged 3-12 years. It is grounded in scriptural and liturgical study using the Montessori principles as a tangible, yet indirect self-teaching method used for Christian developed by Dr Sofia Cavalletti and Dr Gianna Gobbi since 1954.

The Catechesis is based on the principle that the child desires to draw near to God. The process allows children to hear the Gospel through the use of sensorially rich materials. The children are free to work with these materials that represent essential proclamations of the Christian message.

The adult’s task is to prepare the sacred space for children, called ’the atrium’, so they can respond to this holy relationship, first proclaimed to them through Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Themes are offered in such a way as to develop the religious potential present in every child.

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Liturgical colours

The different seasons in the liturgical year help us relate to God in different ways and prepare for and celebrate the various great events in the history of the Church.

In Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, we have a special puzzle of the liturgical calendar, but long before we get to that, we introduce the different liturgical colours and what they represent.

(Normally this presentation would be done later on in the year, but we’re about to change seasons again and would like to highlight that. There is a special ceremony for changing from purple to white at Easter and decided that it would be useful for the children to have been introduced to the concept already. We’ve also started with quite a large group all at once and it’s tricky keeping them away from everything but the preliminary works. And plus we need to learn to observe our children and make decisions accordingly and how better to learn than to try the occasional experiment? This paragraph serves as a disclaimer that we might not know what we’re doing so don’t necessarily copy us!)

The children will probably already have noticed the colour of the prayer table cloth. The ones in our group will probably also have had the different colours of the vestments etc pointed out to them during the year by their parents, but many children wouldn’t have.

The presentation is quite short.

 

Chasubles and stoles in the four main liturgical colours are kept in a basket in the altar area.

Chasubles and stoles in the four main liturgical colours are kept in a basket in the altar area.

During the presentation, the chasubles are placed on stands and the meaning of each colour is given. The catechist can also employ the three period lesson to help the children remember which colour is for what.

During the presentation, the chasubles are placed on stands and the meaning of each colour is given. The catechist can also employ the three period lesson to help the children remember which colour is for what.

Then the chasubles are placed back in the basket, the basket is placed back on the shelf, and the stands are put away. The children are told they may use them at any time and to put everything back ready for the next person when they are done.

We’re also introducing pasting this week. The basic presentation for pasting involves cutting strips of paper into small pieces and pasting them onto paper in whatever manner pleases the child.

Once the presentations have been done (it’s so hard getting a balance of not doing too much in a session and making sure they have enough to work with!), we may introduce individual children to an extension of both pasting and the liturgical colours presentation: the liturgical colours pasting work.

Control chart, template, basket of cutouts, cutouts needed for this work. The children will be shown how to choose what they need to replicate the control chart.

Control chart, template, basket of cutouts, cutouts needed for this work. The children will be shown how to choose what they need to replicate the control chart.

Some children have also been introduced to tracing already, and a tracing and colouring work (using the same basic template) will also be available for the children to work with.

As with all the works in the atrium, once a child has been presented with one they are free to use it whenever they want to (as long as no one else is), so they can assimilate and ponder the reality it represents and the meaning it contains.

Our first session!

After a lot of work we finally got there! We’ve had our first session, and it went extremely well. A couple of the children were really shy but had mostly settled in by the end, one was not in the mood at all, one or two others had their moments, but on the whole they seemed to really enjoy it and behaved very well.

Lucia was the catechist for this session and did a wonderful job – so good at keeping a straight face too!

After being shown how to walk and talk in the atrium, the children took a seat and took turns practising walking and carrying chairs.

After being shown how to walk and talk in the atrium, the children took a seat and took turns practising walking and carrying chairs.

Then they were taken on a tour of the atrium.

Then they were taken on a tour of the atrium.

Taking a good look at the altar area.

Taking a good look at the altar area.

Then there was the introduction to the prayer table, with a consideration of some short Scripture passages.

Then there was the introduction to the prayer table, with a consideration of some short Scripture passages.

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Then the children were free to draw about what they had heard (or totally unrelated stuff...) and work with the preliminary works.

Then the children were free to draw about what they had heard (or totally unrelated stuff…) and work with the preliminary works.

One is drawing hospitals and sharks and killer whales (!?) and the other, Noah's ark.

One is drawing hospitals and sharks and killer whales (!?) and the other, Noah’s ark.

And the session ended with a short prayer. Some of the children got to take turns putting out the candle while they were waiting for the others.

And the session ended with a short prayer. Some of the children also got to take turns putting out the candle while they were waiting for everyone else to put away their work.

Latest pics 03/03/15

After over a year of dreaming, 8 months of planning, and a LOT of work, we are running our first session this Saturday. Please pray for catechists and children!

Here are the latest pictures – mostly minor changes from the last ones.

This is the view as you come up the stairs.

This is the view as you come up the stairs (when everything is covered up to keep it safe). You are looking over the art area with the baptism corner and altar areas to the left. The windows straight ahead overlook the church. The children tall enough can stand up at the prayer table and see the tabernacle inside the church if they wish.

The prayer table with the purple of waiting and preparing.

The prayer table with the purple of waiting and preparing.

The practical life area, with pouring...

The practical life area. L-R: (top) dry pouring, wet pouring, pouring with funnel; candle care, brass polishing; spare cleaning things; (bottom) watering can for watering plants, folding exercise; apron and mats for wet work; flower arranging set and vases. Basket for dirty laundry; handwashing station, water station and spare handtowels.

The beautiful stand another generous man has made for our Paschal Candle.

The beautiful stand another generous man has made for our Paschal Candle.

The Baptism corner with Paschal Candle.

The Baptism corner with Paschal Candle.

The art area.

The art area. The clipboards on the glass table and OHP are for tracing. The OHP is a makeshift light box. Technically the brush and pan is more practical life-ish but will probably be used most in the art area.

And the view from the other side of the room. We have had people up there not leaving things exactly as found so hopefully the screen will deter future such occurrences. Children's liturgy has so far been totally problem free, which we are most grateful for!

And the view from the other side of the room. We have had people up there not leaving things exactly as found so hopefully the screen will deter future such occurrences. Children’s liturgy has so far been totally problem free, which we are most grateful for!

Training highlights

We covered a lot in our training, but here are a few photos of some of the presentations.

Getting ready for the procession to the prayer table to change the cloth from the green of the time of growth to the purple of waiting. This procesion is done at the start of Advent.

Getting ready for the procession to the prayer table to change the cloth from the green of the time of growth to the purple of waiting. This procession is done at the start of Advent.

The prayer table after all the Advent items were place on it. Purple cloth, Advent wreath, prophecy card, the plant (we didn't have flowers, which is what would normally be there), plus the Good Shepherd statue, little Bible, and snuffer.

The prayer table after all the Advent items were placed on it. Purple cloth, Advent wreath, prophecy card, the plant (we didn’t have flowers, which is what would normally be there), plus the Good Shepherd statue, little Bible, and snuffer.

The Annunciation diorama - the first of the Infancy Narrative dioramas.

The Annunciation diorama – the first of the Infancy Narrative dioramas.

The set up for an Infancy Narrative presentation - the prayer table with the purple cloth and lit candles corresponding to the week in Advent.

The set up for an Infancy Narrative presentation – the prayer table with the purple cloth and lit candles corresponding to the week in Advent. Mary with an empty crib, waiting.

Adoration of the Shepherds. The three Infancy Narratives we didn't do this time are the Visitation, the Adoration of the Magi, and the Presentation in the Temple.

Adoration of the Shepherds. The three Infancy Narratives we didn’t do this time are the Visitation, the Adoration of the Magi, and the Presentation in the Temple.

The Preparation of the Chalice.

The Preparation of the Chalice.

 

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The prayer table after the Easter procession and changeover.

The prayer table after the Easter procession and changeover.

Part of the first Baptism presentation.

Part of the first Baptism presentation.

We haven't yet got a stand for our Paschal candle so a small jug stepped in for that presentation!

We haven’t yet got a stand for our Paschal candle so a small jug stepped in for that presentation!

 

 

Level I Part I training

Anniversary Day for us CGSers was no day off. Instead we attended Day 1 (of 5) of Level I Part I training. Level I means for the 3-6 age group and Part I means the first part of two parts of training for that age group.

5 catechists-to-be from St Pius attended, plus an occasional sit-in, and we had 1 from the atrium at St Mary’s School in Tauranga, 3 from Little Sweethearts Montessori preschool in Tauranga, a lecturer from Good Shepherd College, someone from the sacramental programme at the parish in Papakura, and another mum some of us know from our Montessori school who will unfortunately be returning to the US in a few weeks, but will take her new knowledge with her.

We were extremely lucky to be able to use the hall/function room at the school attached to our church, so we had airconditioning and a kitchen and a toilet, and a short walk down the driveway from the church after Mass, and back to the church to use the atrium.

It was a very full on week. Some of us had to semi take care of children while missing as little as possible, or take a tired pregnant body home for a nap at lunchtime, and the Tauranga trainees drove to Hamilton and back every day. Because there were a lot of physical presentations of works, we had to take things back and forth from the atrium, depending on where we were seeing the presentations. There were lectures too, and morning teas and lunches full of chatter (what a surprise!).

We all learnt a lot and thoroughly enjoyed getting to know each other better. And we decided that we will need in invest in a fan for the atrium because it is sweltering at this time of year, with just one tiny window that opens and a huge one that doesn’t and gets all the afternoon sun.

Carol the trainer was extremely well prepared – I think about 3/4 of her luggage was atrium stuff. She also brought us a few presents, like Good Shepherd statues and snuffers and white cloths, plus tracing packets and Scripture booklets (we were a little confused about those!), and some info on the 6-9 programme so we can also make a start with our older children.

All in all, a thoroughly satisfactory week, challenging though it was. We are, however, glad to be able to not have to worry about organising that anymore, so we can focus on getting the atrium ready in the next few weeks. We’ve realised we need to organise a few more things before we can actually start sessions, so have taken the pressure of a tiny bit, but it won’t be long! And since we all want to cater for older children too, we will be doing a group organisation of the next lot of training… so watch this space for details when we have them.

The youngest trainee, who mostly behaved appropriately, but didn't  pay all that much attention.

The youngest trainee, who mostly behaved appropriately, but didn’t pay all that much attention.