Saturday, October 31, 2015

Notes from our October 25 session; what's happening this week

Hi everyone,

What a blessing it is to spend an hour each Sunday with your children!  Things are progressing nicely as we adjust to the routine and become comfortable with the "grace and courtesy" atmosphere in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd atrium! 

Last week, the children learned about the communion of saints, using little wood peg doll saints and our wooden liturgical calendar.  This week, we will continue to reinforce the idea of saints, especially since it is All Saints Day on Sunday. Each child will have the opportunity to wear a paper "saints shield" and carry a battery operated candle as we do our "walking on the line" exercise and then process from our narthex into our atrium (prayer room).  We're learning the song "Christ is Light," which we are beginning to sing as we process into our prayer room.

We are also moving into some of my favorite presentations of the year.  For the next two weeks, we'll be learning Biblical geography.  This week, we look at a globe, which helps us relate to where the Holy Land is versus where we live.  We also talk about the fact that Bethlehem, where Jesus was born, was a tiny place, and how amazing it is that God selected this tiny place to come into the world. (After all, God is king of the universe!  He could have come into the world in a grand, large city.  Instead, He chose a tiny village!)  Then I'll show them a topographical map of Israel.  This textural map allows the children to touch the mountains where Jesus walked, run their finger along the Jordan River where Jesus was baptized, and learn about the "Sea of Salt" (Dead Sea.) 

We identify three key cities in Israel:

1)  Nazareth, where the Angel Gabriel told Mary that she would have a baby and name him Jesus
2) Bethlehem, where Jesus was born
3) Jerusalem, where Jesus died and rose

In addition to the topographical map, I show them paintings of these places during Jesus' time (since we obviously don't have photos from 2,015 years ago!) and present-day photos of these places.  The goal is to help them realize that Jesus was a real person who walked on this earth, just like we do today.  He's not a fictional character in books or the Bible.

Happy All Saints Day to you and your families!


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Recapping our October 18 session in the CGS atrium; What's coming up this Sunday

Hi everyone,

First of all, want to welcome a new catechist to the atrium!  Alyce Sosnowski has kindly volunteered to help us on Sunday mornings, and I'm especially thrilled because she has worked in a Montessori environment for many years. She will be an invaluable asset as we teach the children the "grace and courtesy" and practical life lessons. Thank you Alyce for stepping up to help!

I am so grateful for the the teens and adults who assist me in the atrium and at the check-in/check-out table! We are truly blessed with abundant talent and a sincere desire to help your children develop a personal relationship with Jesus.  Catechists, adult and junior helpers, you are in my prayers each and every day!

We've been meeting for five weeks now, and I love the rhythm and harmony that is beginning to develop in the atrium! This is most apparent with the children who are coming every week.  Children develop an inner peace and comfort when they have a familiar routine.  That's why it is so important to ensure that your child is at every session.   I know that there are days when the baby has been up all night or it would be easier to attend another Mass, but the little sacrifice of getting them to the atrium will reap big benefits for you and your family in the long run.  You will begin to see it in their calmer demeanor when they step out of our atrium sessions and the inner joy that develops within them.  I really can't emphasize it enough, that this is only achieved by regular, consistent participation in the CGS atrium.  Thank you for this little sacrifice on those days when it is especially difficult to get the children up and going!


Last week, we continued our work on the seasons and colors of the church year.  The children were given time to work individually on a variety of practical activities.  Here are a few photos:

At first glance, you may wonder why many of these materials aren't overtly religious.  You may ask "how can  pom poms help them learn about the Catholic faith?" or "how are they learning more about their Catholic faith by working with pipe cleaners?"   Like many activities in the CGS atrium, they are learning more than meets the eye:

1) We worked only with materials that were the colors of the liturgical year -- purple, white, green and red.  No matter what they were doing, we kept repeating over and over again the significance of the color they were working with and how it relates to the church year (purple--preparing for the feast; white--the feast; green--growing time; red--the feast of the Holy Spirit.)  "Oh, you have a green pom pom?  That's for growing time, isn't it?"  "You want to put that purple pipe cleaner in this area?  Do you remember what purple stands for?  That's right--it's the color the priest wears when we are preparing for the feast." 

2) By working with these simple materials, they are also developing small motor skills that will help them not only in the CGS atrium, but in their everyday lives. 

3) We also encourage them to work slowly and carefully with the materials.  We are using these materials to help them calm themselves and move away from the frantic pace of the everyday world.  Placing those pipe cleaners in tiny holes, and using chopsticks to lift and sort pom poms, requires intense concentration and deliberate movements for young children.  These simple materials, and the way they manipulate them, help them develop an inner calm in their body and soul. 

Working slowly and carefully will also be important later, when we begin working with materials that are more fragile and must be handled with care.

We started doing a couple of other new things in the atrium this week:

1) We began processing to our prayer corner with our processional cross!  Each week, we will reinforce how the cross should be held, and one child will have a chance to carry it to our prayer corner.  I'll start with the older ones first, but each child will eventually have an opportunity to carry the processional cross.  This week, Noel carried it.

2) Three children were chosen to help me set up our prayer corner:  Ella, Noel and Jocelyn.  Because of some of the fragile items on the prayer table (especially the Good Shepherd statue, which comes from Italy), I'll start with the oldest children on this task too, but eventually all the children will have the opportunity to help me set up the prayer table.  While we do that, I reinforce the vocabulary of the various items:  the prayer table, the prayer cloth, the crucifix (and I remind them of the difference between a cross and crucifix), the Holy Bible, the candles, the Good Shepherd statue.  They also have the option of selecting a painting or another item that would be appropriate for the season.  Right now, they can select from one of four paintings of the Good Shepherd.  There will be other artwork later to match the season and/or what we are learning in the atrium. 

3) Two children (Calder and Joshua)  were selected to snuff out our two candles at the end of our prayer time.  The children know that this little reward goes to two children who are especially attentive and have "quiet bodies" during prayer time.   (However, all of the children will have a chance to do this throughout the year.)  For safety reasons, we use candles that are contained within a plastic holder (less likely to have accidents), but the children were taught that once the candles are lit, we need to keep our bodies still.   As each child is invited to snuff out a candle, I show them how to properly use a candle snuffer. (We never blow out candles in the atrium.  Sometime later I'll explain the significance of this!)

As you can tell, your children are learning and experiencing quite a bit while you are at Mass!    Later on, after the routine and harmony are well established, I will start inviting one or two  parents per session to join us and experience all this first hand! 

Coming up this Sunday:  we're learning about the saints! I originally planned to do a Saints party but decided that I will save that for next year, when the children are much more familiar with the environment of the atrium.  We're just starting to build the quiet harmony, so I don't want to disrupt that or confuse them .  However, I still have some fun things planned for them:

1) They will each pick out a shield with a saints image on it; and wear it during our procession to the prayer corner.   They will also get to carry battery powered candles during our procession.

2) We're learning about the communion of saints using some wooden peg dolls (I'm busy painting 28 of them this week, so each child can hold a saint throughout the session!)  We will also use a special wooden puzzle that represents the seasons of the  liturgical year.

3) We'll break up into small groups and hear a short, gentle story about a saint (appropriate to their young age).  

4) Optional:  if your child dresses up as a saint, or brings a prop that represents a saint, s/he will have time to tell us about his/her saint!   

I sent some costume suggestions a few weeks ago.  You can also get more ideas on Pinterest, using the search phrase "Easy Saints Costumes."  I saw some great no-sew items on a recent search.

It will be another FULfilling Sunday! 

I plan to hold a parent session in early November, with hints on how you can incorporate what we're learning in the atrium at home, plus ideas for celebrating Advent and some of the special advent feast days like St. Nicholas Day, St. Juan Diego's feast day, and St. Lucia's Day!   My teens absolutely LOVE these feast days, because of the simple traditions we established when they were preschoolers.    Information coming soon!



P.S.  A few of you have asked if there is anything I need for the atrium.  Right now, I would appreciate some small donations of these items:

1) Goldfish crackers--the large boxes.  With 28 kids, we go through a large box about every two weeks!

2) Empty plastic frosting containers.  Pillsbury or Betty Crocker ready-to-spread frosting come in these containers.  We use them to sort and store our colored pencils.  We would like the plastic lids too, please

3) Thick barrel, hexagonal shaped colored pencils like Crayola's "Write Start" colored pencils, like the ones here:   ThickPencils   I have thinner colored pencils (Roseart brand, box of 12), but for our smallest children, these pencils can be a bit difficult to use. Teacher's Chalkboard, on Finley Avenue in Downers Grove, sells a box of 8 of these pencils for about $4.25.   Because of our emphasis on liturgical colors, it is especially important that the set of pencils includes green, purple and red!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Notes from our September 27 and October 4 sessions

Hi everyone!

My internet access was down the last few days, so I wasn't able to blog about our session on September 27.  So today's update will cover the last two weeks.

September 27 session
We're continuing with our grace and courtesy lessons, and also some activities to build our coordination and calm ourselves.  One of the things we've been doing is "walking on the line."  There is a blue painter's tape line on the floor in our narthex/gathering room.   Right now it is in the shape of a rectangle.  Later on, we may change it to other shapes.  One of our activities is to walk on it  while we sign a little song:

"We are walking on the line, walking, walking on the line."   

This is a basic activity developed by Maria Montessori to help children develop not only their coordination and balance, but also help them focus.  This article briefly explains Dr. Montessori's reasoning behind the activity and how it is done.

The children really seem to love this simple activity.  As they get more advanced in it, we may change the shape of the line (right now it is in a rectangle), we may carry things, skip or jump, etc.

We also use this activity to teach them how to walk in a processional line from our gathering room to our prayer room. Children love duplicating what they see happening at church (i.e., the processional when the priest, the deacon, the servers, the lectors and the Extraordinary Eucharistic Ministers process into church at the beginning and end of Mass). Next week, we will have them carry wooden crosses while walking the line.  In a few weeks, they will begin taking turns carrying a miniature version of the processional cross while we walk the line and process into our prayer space.

In the prayer corner, we were introduced to the Holy Bible and talked about how special and sacred it is.   It now has a special place on our prayer table. 

We also learned a new goodbye song, which we will now use every week.  After our time in the prayer room we had back to the gathering room and sing the "Shalom" song while walking on the line in a circle:

"Shalom, All My Friends; Shalom, Shalom.  Until we meet again, till we meet again, shalom, shalom."

Last week I shared with the children that the word "Shalom" is Hebrew and means "peace." I told them that this is a traditional Hebrew song.   Here is a Youtube video of the song:

October 4 session

"Purple and green, red and white...are the colors of the year. 
Purple and green, red and white...remind us of the light
 Purple's for preparation...White is for celebration
Green is for growing time....Red is for Pentecost." 

Your child may be humming this new song, which we learned today!  Today we talked about how there are four seasons in the year (fall, winter, spring and summer) and how the church also has four "seasons" or times of the year:  preparation, celebration, growing time, and time of the Holy Spirit.  

I showed them a mini chasuble, and we talked about how this is a small version of a garment that the priest wears when he says Mass.  We learned the word "chasuble."     Then we talked about how he wears a purple chasuble when  we are preparing for the feast (like during Advent, when we prepare for Christmas; and during Lent, when we prepare for Easter.)   We then looked at the white chasuble, and talked about how it is worn during the "feast" like during Christmas and Easter.  Next we looked at the green chasuble, and discussed how it is worn during "growing time."  And finally, the red chasuble, worn during the feast of the Holy Spirit.

Purple = preparing for the feast
White =  the feast
Green = growing time
Red = feast of the Holy Spirit

Mrs. Sharafinski snapped some quick photos during this presentation. 

Then we learned the Liturgical Colors song, which is the song listed above ("Purple and green, red and white...")   Here is a Youtube recording of the song that you can play for your children:


At our next session in two weeks,  I will begin giving them individual work time.  But before I could do that, I needed to show them the rugs and how to use them (how to get a rug, how to carry a rug, how to unroll a rug, and how to roll up a rug when finished.)  The rugs are used by the children to define their individual work spaces.  The children learned that we always walk around a rug (rather than stepping on it), when it is on the floor and a child is using it as a work space.    So after demonstrating the use of rugs, each of the children had a chance to practice their rug rolling and unrolling skills.  

We're now all set to begin offering individual work times.   In two weeks, when we meet again, they will have a chance to work on a number of different activities that reinforce the concepts of the colors and times of the church year. 

Up to this point, our gathering room has looked rather plain, with just a couple of rugs to sit on and a table that holds our snacks and hand wipes.  This was done intentionally so we didn't overstimulate them with too many new things at one time.  (New catechists, new friends, new room, new schedule, etc.)  I can tell that most of them are  becoming more comfortable with the room and the people (they are getting more talkative!) so now I can begin gradually itntroducing new materials that they can use individually.  I will start bringing in some small shelves from which they can select their work. Materials are gradually unrolled after I have presented them to the majority of the class.  

This is why it is important to attend every week!  Occasionally missing a class isn't a big deal; the children will easily fall back into the routine.  But when a child misses more than one week in a row, it will be harder for him/her to adjust to everything s/he missed.  It is easy for him/her to become overwhelmed.  We learn many new things every week!     I and the other catechists will try to present missed material and presentations individually to a child, but even this will be hard if a child misses too many weeks in a row. 

Also, the children are starting to form bonds and friendships with each other; those bonds are strengthened by regular attendance. 

Looking Forward

Our next session - October 18
Just a reminder that we WON'T have atrium next Sunday, October 11, because of the Columbus Day holiday weekend.   We will meet again on Sunday, October 18.  We will be working on how to make the Sign of the Cross and how to genuflect.   And, we will have individual time to work on activities relating to the colors of the church year.   

The following week's session - October 25:   Celebrating All Saints Day
I originally planned to do this the following week, November 2, but decided it would be more beneficial to the children if we talk about All Saints Day before Halloween.  

For this day, the children are invited to work with you to choose a saint, then come dressed as their saint, or bring a prop that represents their chosen saint.  Here are some resources for inexpensive costume and prop ideas:

Dressing up is totally optional, but it is a fun activity for the children, and the saints costumes can often be used "as is" for Halloween.  (Those scary costumes are too frightening for many young children anyway!)  Also, I believe the parish is again holding an All Saints Celebration where your children could wear the costume, play saint themed games, etc.   (I'll check with Ms. Brochmann to verify whether they are planning this event again this year, and whether we can attend.) 

For our Sunday session, I'm thinking about having some free time where the children can play some saint-themed games, and maybe have a saint themed snack instead of our usual Goldfish.  A few of you offered to help with this; I'll be contacting you soon for your ideas and input. 

Our November 2 and November 8 sessions
During our early November sessions, we will be working with globes, topographical maps and a puzzle to learn a bit of Biblical geography.  This will prepare us for Advent season, by helping the children realize that Jesus was a real person who was born in a real place on Earth.  

So many exciting things, and I love sharing it with your children!  Each of them are so special and unique!