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!

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