Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Childhood, Pure & True..

"Watering a tree is like giving a drink of water to Jesus"
-My 5 year old

I tell my husband that I've never been so busy and even frustrated at times, and yet so happy and peaceful in my life. I've been reading the book, "The Child in the Church", by Maria Montessori, E.M. Standing and others, and it is truly helping to raise my understanding of what a treasure my children really are. The book talks about creating the prepared environment in regards to "teaching" the faith. Like academic Montessori, and life really, the child absorbs all that is in his or her surroundings. By creating the prepared environment, and making carefully thought out presentations to the children, you are assisting them in absorbing the faith and helping them to discover it themselves with such an ease. Officially, there is an organization called, The Catechises of the Good Shepherd, that provides trainings for this Montessori style method and pedagogy for the faith. Oh how I wish that there was training available in my "neck of the woods"! For now, I am doing my best to absorb and put into practice the "big picture" behind CGS.
Like regular Montessori, you can have all the nice materials, but if you don't understand the philosophy behind Montessori those materials are just things and not tools for the child to discover with and grow.

From what I understand, in CGS, the children's prepared environment is called an Atrium. In the early Church, the Atrium was the place for the early Christians to prepare themselves before entering as full members of the Church. This is where Maria got the term from. In Atrium's all across the world, there are carefully placed items ranging from child sized Mass kits for learning the objects used in the Mass, to wooden figurines depicting Jesus and the Apostles at the Last Super, and even items representing parables from the Bible. All of these items are child sized and the room is laid out with shelves, work rug space, low tables and chairs, a la' Montessori style. The trained catechists present lessons to the children and then place the items from the lesson back on the shelf where the children are invited to take the materials and repeat the lesson on their own. From what I gather, much care is taken to allow the children to contemplate these words and ideas they've just been presented with. In a rushing, fast paced world I find this very soothing and wonderful for the child. They are encouraged at a young age to contemplate and have a connection with God.

Jesus says, "Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it."

These words bring an abundance of food for thought to me. Whether you've read what Maria Montessori has said about the child and the absorbent mind or not, most people have heard the term, "children are like sponges". This has launched me on a mission to provide the best environment possible for them to live, grow, love and learn. As some of you have read in an earlier post about toys, I've really been strict about what it is the children own as play things. For one, it cuts down on the chaos and provides a calmer environment, and for another, it allows them to use what they have to the fullest and allows them to explore the God given gift of creativity. Put a crayon in the hand of a child who is surrounded by loving guidance, encouraging words, simple play things, God's nature, and free from the commercialism of the world. What kind of picture do you think they will draw? What kind of words will come out of their mouths? What kind of attitude toward others will they have? I am beginning to observe my children, really truly observing and listening to what they have to say. I am just now discovering the treasure of what a pure, uncluttered childhood really is. I am even remembering what it was to be a child and have those intimate moments with God, and those moments of spontaneous creativity. What kind of world would it be if our parents had taken the care to foster our God given talents, and only surround us with good and inspirational things? What kind of world can we help to make if we foster our children's gifts and inspire them to be the best they can be? I see the fruits of my "labor of love". I see them being kind and having a spirit of sacrifice and help for others. I hear them saying beautiful and inspired words. Drawing pictures of God's love for us, and being grateful for the gift of life and nature. The more I observe them, the better I want to be. For them, for me, for the world. The more they bless me with their smiles, love, laughter and kindness, the more I want to rid my home of the physical clutter that will take my time away from them, and also make sure that I only provide them with objects, words, and attitudes that will nurture their little hearts, minds, and souls.

I haven't finished reading the "Child in the Church", but I am looking forward to finish reading it during this Lent. It will be my spiritual reading, as Maria Montessori stresses the "spiritual preparation" of the teacher. When I'm done, I hope to share more with you. I will leave you with a snippet from the book (there are much more detailed descriptions in the book), in which Maria Montessori is asked what her ideal school set up would be if money were no object:
"Dr. Montessori: I would have a little fountain in the garden with a pond containing fish. The children themselves would look after the fish, and I would have a little tablet near the pond - a replica of one of the ancient inscriptions from the catacombs showing the fish as the ancient symbol of Christianity.
Question: Where would you have your pond?
Dr. Montessori: In the cloister garden. You told me that expense was to be no object! So, adjoining the Atrium, I would have a special garden for the children. The ideal thing would be to have the school arranged like a monastery round a little cloister. The church could be on one side, the Atrium on another, and on the other two the ordinary schoolrooms. I would have statues at the end of the cloister walks to which the children could bring flowers. The children could play in the cloister garden, and I would like a tree in it with a little house up in the branches into which the children could climb, as they had in one school I visited in California. In this garden I would like the children to keep as many as possible of the Evangelical Animals and Plants.
Question: What do you mean by the "evangelical" animals and plants?
Dr. Montessori: I mean the various animals and plants that play a conspicuous part in Bible history and symbolism. For instance I would like the children to have a pet lamb to remind them of the "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world." They could have a dovecot and keep doves, because of the two turtle-doves our Lady offered up at the Temple, and the dove that was sent out of the Ark and also because the dove is the symbol of the Holy Spirit. They could keep bees, too, and have some candles made with the wax their own bees had made. These could be blessed and placed on their school altar. Nature study would form an essential element in the work of the Atrium. In my description of our work at Barcelona I have indicated the reason for this, viz., that from the observation of created things the child's mind should be raised to their Creator. As the psalmist says: "The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth His handiwork."

-The Child in the Church by Maria Montessori and others, Edited by E.M. Standing- pp. 40-41.

The Child in the Church can be purchased at

Here are a couple of recent articles written about two separate CGS atrium's: Article 1, Article 2


  1. Very interesting, thank you for this. I just started looking into the program for my 3-year-old daughter and it turns out there is one very near our home! I am still finding out more about it and your post was very helpful!


  2. There was just a discussion about this on the Preschool6 group. Just an F.Y.I. for your non-Catholic readers...there is a Protestant "version" of this called Godly Play ( It is based off of a book called "Young Children and Worship" (Berryman). Berryman studied with Cavalletti (CGS) in order to develop the program. It isn't as direct a line from Maria Montessori as CGS, but is also very good. Some consider it to be not as good as CGS and recommend that non-Catholics find a CGS program that will agree not to teach their chid the "most" Catholic of the lessons. However, if you are trying to combine your child's religious ed and your "church home" that's not a very good solution. There is also a Quaker version called "Faith & Play."

    I was able to locate six or seven different Godly Play programs in my area by finding ONE outside my area and contacting their religious ed coordinator to see "who she knew." She was also able to hook me up with training in my area.

    Good luck with your CGS program. Please keep us posted on how it goes.

    I decided not to get trained for Godly Play because it requires making MORE MATERIALS and I'm busy enough making materials for the homeschool as it is. We needed a church home anyway, and would be sending the boys to preschool anyway, so we found a program! I feel better about it than if they were using the "Veggie Tales" curriculum (most popular believe it or not).

  3. I will definitely look into CGS and

  4. Thanks for your post! I am trained in the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program and read your blog(and many others!) to learn more about the montessori aspect of the catechesis environment, and about practical life. Just a few thoughts - first Sofia Cavelletti, who began CGS has writtens several books that you might enjoy. You can find them at the national website ( The Good Shepherd and the Child (Joyful Journey)is very descriptive, and the Religious Potential of the Child is a deeper examination of the theology and practice of Catechesis. I also love Listening to God with Children by Gianna Gobbi (who was a Montessorian). Second- regarding catechesis for non-catholics - about half of the CGS atriums in the US are Episcopalian and there are many other protestant Churches that have made adaptations for their denominations. I am the Christian Formation Director at an Episcopal Church and we absolutely love Catechesis. If you have any questions feel free to email me Peace!


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