Sunday, November 13, 2016

Catechesis of the Good Shepherd is cancelled today (Sunday, December 18)

Hi everyone,

Due to unsafe temperatures and slick roads, I'm cancelling Catechesis of the Good Shepherd today.  Please stay safe and warm!

When we return on Sunday, January 8, 2017, I'll give the presentation I had planned for today:  the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth. If you have time today, could you read the Bible passage about this and discuss it with your children?  You can find it in the passage in Luke 1:29-45 (NAB with Revised Psalms and Revised New Testament) which is linked here on the U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) website.  (Full URL:

When I give the presentation to the children, I light a candle, read the presentation, and then sit quietly for a few minutes.  Then, I bring out the materials:  a mini diorama of Elizabeth's house, a figure of Mary and another of Elizabeth.  Then I read the passage again, moving the figures into the diorama while I read the passage.  Afterwards, I ask the children a number of "wondering" questions, like:

"I wonder how Elizabeth felt when she saw Mary?" or
"I wonder how Elizabeth felt when she heard Mary's voice?"
 "I wonder how Mary felt when Elizabeth greeted her?"
"What do you think Elizabeth was "filled" with?
"What did Elizabeth know about Mary?"
"Do you remember the name Elizabeth used for Mary's baby?"
"What did Elizabeth's baby do when she heard Mary's voice?"

 I will then look at the diorama quietly for a few minutes, then ask the children if they have anything they would want to say to Mary, if they were there.

We might sing a song (like a simplified version of O Come, O Come Emmanuel), then I'll have a child extinguish the candle with the snuffer.  Then I'll invite them to use the materials whenever they would like.

I might also invite them to draw or write something in their journal about Mary's visit to Elizabeth, or I'll have some tracing sheets they can use on our light table. Some of them want to color a picture, so sometimes I'll have coloring sheets like this and this available to them.

Soon I'll post a photo of our Visitation diorama!  I purchased a plain wooden building from a woodworker. A wonderful parishioner, Terri Cascarano, stained it for me, and even made a little cushion for the mattress on the small bed.  Thank you so much, Terri!

Keep an eye on the Facebook page.  In the church, we are now celebrating the "Golden Nights" by praying one of the "O'Antiphons" every night from December 17 to December 23.  There are some wonderful ways that you can share this beautiful tradition with your children.  I'll share those ideas in a series of posts on our "Seeking the Shepherd" Facebook page.

May your last week of Advent be filled with "waiting in joyful hope!"


Recap 11/13/16: Learning the Colors of the Church Season

Hi everyone!

Great day in the atrium today!

We began learning about the colors of the church "seasons" or year.  Some of the children heard this last year, but it is always good to review.  So, when you take them to Mass on Thanksgiving, and on the Sunday after Thanksgiving (we don't have atrium the weekend after Thanksgiving), ask them to watch and see what color chasuble the priest is wearing.  (Yes, the learned the name of the outer garment the priest wears.)  Do the same whenever we don't have atrium, so they will see that the colors do change, just like the seasons in nature change!

Here is what they learned:

white = "the feast"  (Christmas, Easter, etc.)
purple = "before the feast" and "preparing for the feast" (Advent, Lent)
green = "growing time" and "after the feast"
red = "feast of the Holy Spirit"

We also revisited a favorite song from last year, "The Liturgical Colors Song."  It is a catchy tune; once your child learns it you may hear him/her singing it a lot!

Here are the lyrics to the song:

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 the growing time,

Red is for Pentecost.

Purple and green, red and white are the colors of the year.

Purple and green, red and white remind us of the light.

If you would like to hear the tune, check out this Youtube video (or here:)

We will be singing this song every week now, at least until before our Christmas break.

During individual work time, we had a variety of works that help them retain the "purple, green, red and white" concept while helping them work on their small motor skills.  For example, works that encouraged them to use chopsticks to move colored pom poms from one area to the area.  These works were very popular last year!  We will have them out for a couple of weeks.  I usually replace them with "purple" work once we move into Advent.  Again, to reinforce that we are in the "purple season; the season of preparation for the feast."  

Here are some photos from the individual work time today.

Ms. Christy working with the children on placing the color chasubles on the stand.

Junior helper Marlo helping one of the children with the colored pom-pom work

Move children working with other colored pom pom work.  There are only four colors, to reinforce the fact that the four main colors of the church year are purple, green, red and white.

Junior helper Calista showing one of the children how to "spoon" the colored pom poms

'Lots of productive work today during individual work time! In general, notice their intense concentration. It is usually relatively quiet during these times, although we do have days when the children are more talkative, too!

 Next Thursday will be our last session before the one-week break for Thanksgiving.  Then we will be moving on to the lessons of Advent, my favorite time of the year, both in the atrium and at home.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Looking forrward: What's coming up in the atrium over the next few weeks

Hi everyone,

Here are the topics we will be covering in the next few weeks, along with a reminder of the days we will NOT have sessions because of the holidays:

Nov 13 - Review liturgical colors using the chasubles

Some of the materials we have been working with will be put away, and we will start working with new items that reinforce the colors of the church's liturgical seasons.  (Purple="preparing for the feast"=Advent and Lent; White="the feast"=Christmas, Epiphany and Easter; Red="feast of the Holy Spirit"=Pentecost; Green="growing season"=ordinary time.) 

 (For your info, in the atrium with the young children, we call it "preparing for the feast" instead of Advent and Lent, although we still use the words "Advent" and "Lent."  But using phrases like "preparing for the feast" and "growing season" are more tangible to them, so they remember them better.  When the children get older, we just call them the common names used in the church, like Advent, Lent, etc.)

Nov 20 - Liturgical calendar.  

This is a big work that I may present to the oldest children this year, since it involves sitting still for quite a while and putting together a wooden puzzle with many pieces.  The younger children, and the children in the first year in this program, may have a difficult time staying focused with this work.  I may give the younger children a work day so they can spend more time working with the new liturgical color material that was presented on November 13.  If your child is younger, don't worry--they will see this presentation eventually!   

Nov 27 - No class; Thanksgiving holiday

Dec 4 - St. Nicholas Presentation.

I have a wonderful presentation that helps the children learn more about the "first Santa Claus" or St. Nicholas. They will learn that St. Nicholas was a real person who lived long ago in a country far away, and that he did many things to help other people.  I use a miter-shaped piece of fabric and lay out various pieces that represent aspects of St. Nicholas' life -- like a small crosier made out of a pipe cleaner, gold coins, a ship, etc.
When my children were younger, I would give this presentation to them on St. Nicholas Day (December 6).  They always loved it; I'm sure your children will too!

After atrium and 9:30 Mass, you can continue the celebration by attending the SJA Mom's Donut Feast.  The theme of the December feast is St. Nicholas and they will have a game or activity to do while you are at the feast.

Dec 11 - Prophecy:  The Names
This presentation helps the children learn how to meditate over a Bible passage.  In this case, the Bible passage is Isaiah 9:4 (9:5 in some Bibles):

For a child is born to us.

A Son given us.

Upon his shoulder dominion rests.

They name him




Prince of Peace

I have some wonderful individual work that goes with this -- purple plastic ornaments with the various names of Jesus written on them, and the children match them to a chart. 

If you are looking for a fun family project, you could replicate this at home.  Just purchase some inexpensive plastic ornaments, and use a gold paint marker to write the various names of Jesus on each ornament (such as "Father-Forever," "Prince of Peace," etc.)  Then talk about those names while you hang the ornaments on your tree.  If you do a search online for keywords like "Names of Jesus ornaments" you will get some great ideas and inspiration.  This page has some coloring sheets that can be printed out, colored, cut out and then hung on your Christmas tree.

Dec 18 - Infancy Narratives:  The Visitation

I'll use a small diorama and figures of Mary and Elizabeth to "re-enact" the story of when Mary went to visit her cousin Elizabeth.

December 25 & January 1 - No atrium; Christmas Holiday
 Dec 18 - Infancy Narratives: Visit and Adoration of the Magi (Wisemen)   
After Christmas, I'll use a diorama to- re-enact the story of how the Magi visited Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus. 

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Continuing to learn about the things we see at Mass - CGS 11/6/16 Session

Hi everyone,

Today was our third session to learn about the items we see in the sanctuary (front of the church) at Mass. Today we focused on the "credence table," which is the table at the side of the altar platform that holds some of the materials used at Mass.  At St. Joan of Arc, this table is placed near where the altar servers sit.

I asked two of our altar servers to tell the children about the items on the credence table, since it is the altar servers who bring these things up to the altar during Mass.  They learn the correct names for these items in their altar server training.  I thought it would also give them an opportunity to tell the children about being an altar server, and perhaps encourage our little ones to volunteer as altar servers when they are old enough!

Here are a few photos of the junior helpers helping the children learn the names of the various items on the credence table:

Here is a photo of Ms.Christy leading us during prayer time (right after we learned about the items we see in Mass).

Here we are processing with our processional cross. (We do this as we are walking from Rooms 1 & 2 to our prayer room.)

And finally, a few shots of our "free work" time, where the children can select which work they would like to do:

Next week, we'll start to learn about the "liturgical colors" (colors of the church seasons).  This will be a review for some of the children; I know they will help the new children know these colors too!

Cheryl, the catechists and the junior helpers of SJA's CGS atrium

Celebrating All Saints Day in the CGS Atrium - 10/30/16

Hi everyone,

A bit behind on posting--sorry! 

We had a wonderful and memorable day in the atrium last Sunday (October 30, 2016).  As you know, we were celebrating All Saints Day.  Several of the children came dressed up as their favorite saints; we had a couple of Marys, St. Clare, St. Joseph, St. George and a Guardian Angel.  Other children brought small props to represent their favorite saints, like a flower for St. Therese, the Little Flower, a chalice type cup to represent Jesus, a stuffed animal to represent St. Francis.  The children had a chance to come to the front of the room and talk about their costume, and we would describe why each person was God's special friend, and how we are all working to be saints someday.

We also sang our own "Litany of the Saints."  This is such a beautiful prayer/chant.  I've been contemplating for years how I could present it to the children in a memorable, interactive way.  Ask, and the Lord gives the answer, right?  I took drawings of many different saints and put them on stake to make a sign.  Each child was given one of the "saint signs" to carry during our procession into the prayer room.  Then the Junior Helpers led us in the Litany of the Saints prayer, and when a saint's name was sung, the person who was holding the sign brought it up to the front of the room and placed in the stand in front of our miniature altar.

The children were amazingly quiet and attentive during the whole time!  Considering it was a long work for them, I knew the Holy Spirit was at work!

Sharing some photos, provided to us by Ms. Christy.  (Thank you!)

Here is a sample of the signs that the children carried

Two of our junior helpers display the Saints signs  
The junior leaders are reading the Litany of the Saints; the children are waiting for their turn

Snack time with the Saints!

What a great day it was!

Friday, October 28, 2016

Recap - 10/23/16 in the atrium -- learning about the articles of the Mass

Hi everyone,

Last Sunday, we continued learning about the various items that one finds in the sanctuary during Mass.  This was part II of the presentation; the final presentation on this topic, part III, will be this Sunday.

Before the children arrived, I set up our miniature sanctuary scene in our prayer room.  The sun shines so brightly beautiful in this room, that is difficult to capture a good photo, but this will give you an idea of the setup the children saw when they came into the room:  

Miniature Altar table, Ambo, Tabernacle

Close up of miniature altar table. We used the green altar cloth to begin a discussion on the colors of the church year.  I explained that in some churches, it is the custom to use different color altar cloths to match the church year, but that  here at St. Joan of Arc, we use a white cloth throughout the year.


Closeup of miniature Ambo, complete with a miniature Lectionary

Closeup of miniature Tabernacle. We talked about how the tabernacle is gold in many churches, like ours, although we are using a wooden box for our tabernacle.  (They all urged me to paint it gold!)  We talked about the sanctuary lamp, and how it is always lit when Jesus is present in the Tabernacle.  We are using a red votive cup for our sanctuary lamp, but I told them that in our church, the sanctuary lamp has clear glass and hangs right next to the Tabernacle.  (By the way, yes, there is a miniature Ciborium in that Tabernacle, but no consecrated hosts!)

A couple of photos from the actual presentation:

We did things a bit differently this week -- went to our prayer room first for the presentation and then prayer time, then back to rooms 1 & 2 for individual work time.  Both Ms. Alyce and I agreed that this seemed to work much more smoothly, so we will continue to follow this pattern from now on. In the past, prayer time was the last thing we did before snack.  But by putting prayer time first, we set the stage for quiet, meditative work during the individual work time. 

Here are a few photos of the children working with materials during the individual work time:

Cutting work to help the children develop patience and their small motor skills

Another shot of cutting work. Our junior helper Mairi is overseeing this activity.

One of the children is working with a puzzle that shows the various items we find in the sanctuary (the altar table, candles, paten, chalice.)  The other child is matching lids to various size containers.  This work helps children develop concentration as they try to figure out which lids match with which containers.  Such a simple thing for us adults, but a fascinating work for young children!

Ms. Alyce continues to work with small groups to teach them how to care for our environment by polishing our brass items, like the ciborium in this photo.

Junior helpers Lizzie and Maria help a group of children with a pasting work. They are creating a picture of a sanctuary, complete with altar table, candles, paten, chalice and crucifix.                     

This upcoming Sunday, we'll see our final presentation about the items we see on the altar during Mass.

Don't forget-- we'll also spend a bit of time talking about our favorite saints!  If your child would like to dress up as a saint, or bring a prop to represent his/her favorite saint, we will give him/her time to share with us.

There is also a Donut Feast after the 9:30 a.m. Mass, sponsored by the SJA Moms Group.  Enjoy donuts and juice for a small donation, and play a game of Saints Bingo with your children and other SJA families!

See you Sunday!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Recap - 10/16/16 CGS Session

Hi everyone!

Last Sunday we learned "the articles of the Mass", or the items that we see when we look at the sanctuary area of the church.   We learned that the special table that the priest stands by during Mass is called an altar (or altar table), and the cloth on it is called an altar cloth.  We learned that in some parishes, the color of the altar cloth might change when the "church season" changes.  We also focused on the beautiful items we often see on the altar table itself:  candles, chalice and paten.  Then the children had an opportunity to set up the altar table by themselves during individual work time. 
We're starting to learn how to care for our materials and the CGS environment in general.  Here, Ms. Alyce is showing one of our young friends how to polish the brass miniature chalice.


Here are more photos shared by Ms. Christy.  (Thank you, Ms. Christy!)

During the presentation:  learning to identify the beautiful things we see on the altar:

Some shots during individual work time:

and Prayer Corner:

See you all on Sunday!


Recap from our 10/9/16 CGS session

Hi everyone,

Wow--I just realized that I did not post an update to the blog on Sunday.  Wish I could say it was because my family spent Sunday afternoon at a pumpkin farm, weaving our way through a corn maze, or doing something else as a family.  No, my husband was home from his field assignment for the weekend, so we spent the afternoon working on taxes.  (Yes, we are way behind on submitting this year's taxes, thanks to my surgery last spring.) 

We had a small group last week; not too surprising since it was a three-day weekend (and for some school districts, a four-day weekend).  I predicted that it might be a smaller group, which is why I designated it as "work day" on the presentation schedule.  Whenever you see "work day" on the schedule, it means that I generally do not give any new faith formation presentations to the children.  Instead, we give them a day to work with the various materials we have already showed them.  

This is important to do occasionally, because our individual work time never seems to be long enough for the children in the short time we have for our sessions.  So I try to offer "work days" every few weeks.  This is the true purpose of the CGS atrium--to give them time to build a personal, deep relationship with Christ by working with the materials in a quiet environment.

We did try a couple of new things. The children practiced learning how to carry the processional cross.  They also received their journals and learned how to place them in their folders in our work file.  (The rest of the children will get them this week.) We also began selecting children to help set up the prayer table, carry the processional cross and ring the bell.

We had a bit of time for individual work, and the catechists and I set out a variety of practical works for them to use.

I thought it would be fun to share this video of the children singing at the beginning of the session.  The singing was led by Ms. Kathy, our new catechist this year.  She is teaching them hand motions for
"The Butterfly Song," with help from Ms. Alyce and our junior helpers. 

The children learned how to do some of the various practical works that are available to them.  These are not "faith formation" works, but they are works that help the children develop small motor skills, and increase their concentration and ability to focus on work for longer periods of time.   They are integral to helping the children learn to focus during the faith formation work.  

Here are a few photos of the catechists and junior helpers demonstrating to the children on how to use the various practical works:

Ms. Alyce shows the children how to do pin-pushing (also called pin punching).  A very popular work with the children!

Junior helper Calista demonstrates how to do the cloth folding work. This is a precursor to "care of the environment" works, where they learn to take care of their atrium, the prayer cloths and the various materials we use.

Junior helper Maria shows the children how to weave with ribbons. .

Junior helper Mairi shows the children how to match lids to various sizes of containers.
They also learned how to use the light table for tracing.  (I just realized that I did not capture a photo of this!) We also had a few Biblical-themed puzzles with which they could work.

Here are a few photos of the children during individual work time:

This week, we will begin learning about the items on the altar that Father uses at Mass--specifically, the chalice, paten, altar table, altar cloth, candles and crucifix.  For last year's children, this week's lesson will be a review.  But we will extend that learning in the next two weeks, and the children will learn about more items on the altar/in front of the church, like the tabernacle, sanctuary light (and why it is always lit), the ambo/lectern, etc.  So many exciting things!

UPCOMING:  On October 30, we will be celebrating All Saints Day.  The children are invited to dress as a saint, or to bring a prop that represents a saint.  (For example,  shield to represent St. Joan of Arc, gold chocolate coins to represent St. Nicholas, a stuffed animal to represent St. Francis.)  They will have an opportunity to model their costume and/or show and tell us about their props.  This is optional, but the children really get a "kick" out of doing this.  So, please ask your child if s/he has a favorite saint, and then brainstorm some simple ways to dress up or a prop that you can bring.  If you do a search on the internet for "simple saints costumes" you will find many wonderful ideas.  Here are a couple of links to get you started:

See you tomorrow morning!