One of the main aspects of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd programme is learning through the senses. Small children learn best by doing; they are experimental learners.
This is also true of learning about the sacraments in the atrium. A sacrament can be defined as an outward sign of an inward grace. Tangible objects, actions, and words, are used to transform interiorly. We cannot see the transformation, but through the eyes of faith we can recognise it.
Of the seven sacraments, Baptism and the Eucharist are those which a small child will come most often into contact with and they are the two which are focussed on in the 3-6 atrium.
Obviously the children can’t go around baptising people or joining in with the words of Consecration, so how can small children learn about these sacraments through doing?
The answer is through replicas of the real thing, with which the children can ponder the mystery behind the outward sign by “going through the motions”, at their own pace.
Each atrium has an altar corner or area with all the articles required for Mass – mini altar, mini tabernacle, mini lectern, a sacristy cabinet to hold the chalice, paten, candles etc, and a set of vestments.
We were blessed to have a very generous carpenter build the wooden articles for us.
This is the altar, on a base, with the tabernacle hiding behind it and the sacristy cabinet behind that. To the right are the lectern and the baptismal font. For scale, a curious 5yo on the left.
Inside the sacristy cabinet. There is a spot assigned for each article used in the Mass and a drawer to hold chasubles.
This is the tabernacle. It was the only article we didn’t have instructions for and I think the carpenter did an excellent job designing it.
There is also a corner assigned to the Sacrament of Baptism.
We will place a bowl in the hole. When the work is being used, the bowl will be filled with water and emptied afterwards.
As well as the font, there will be a Paschal Candle (child sized) and all the other articles required for a baptism. On the wall will be a chart with all the articles and their names, and the children will be introduced to them and then be able to use them to ponder what Baptism is all about.
There will be a similar chart for the altar area, and the children will be introduced to those articles also before being able to use them independently.
Tracing and collage activities and free drawing will also be available as another way the children can engage with the subject matter.
These items will be present in the atrium very soon. As they are not toys and must be handled with care, and ideally only used by those involved with the atrium, you are welcome to admire them but we asked that they are not touched.