Catechesis of the Good Shepherd

If you’ve been following my blog or know me, you know two things. Hopefully. One, we’re Catholic; two, the kids go to Montessori. We love Montessori. And being Catholic. And what’s better than just one or the other? The two combined. You read right, being Catholic Montessori styles.

That doesn’t mean we all get up and have a turn saying Mass, just in case you were wondering. That wouldn’t be very Catholic. It’s about teaching the kids (though we’ll learn plenty in the process) to know and love God. And the method? The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. Which we’re going to start at our awesome parish.

I’m not going to go into all the boring facts about where and when it started. Easy info to find on Encylogoogle. Googlepedia? I’m going to tell you what I learnt on the training course I went on and how CGS works. Cos that’s more useful.

Here are a couple of tubeyous that have a bit of an intro. Then, read on.

So, by now you might have picked up that CGS is carried out in a special room called an atrium. Atrium comes from the early Church where catechumens were prepared to enter the Church and the church – the foyerish bit out the back. It’s rather fitting.

Basically, there are 10 sections to the room – a prayer corner, a baptism area, an altar area, a Good Shepherd area, a
geography area, a practical life area, an infancy narratives area, a Paschal mysteries area, a Kingdom of God parables area, and an art area. That’s for 3-6s, though it’s similar for older children. I’ll attach a list of what would generally be in all of that for the 3-6s so you can get an idea.

As with a Montessori classroom, the atrium is a “prepared environment” – prepared so the children can work as independently as possible. There are always two adults at least in the atrium: the catechist and one or more helpers. They observe the children, gently remind them of conduct rules if required, light candles for them, and do other hopefully obvious things.

It’s the little details that will make the atrium successful – having things properly organised so the children know where to find everything, and making sure supplies of art materials, cleaning cloths, water and wine etc are replenished before their absence is noticed. If the adults aren’t having to flit about sorting those things out during the session they’re much better able to help children and keep a bit more order!

So, each atrium session is 1-2 hours long (ideally at least 1.5 hours). The children are greeted and take their place in or near the prayer corner. The catechist gives a presentation. See aforementioned list, which will actually be a link down the bottom, which I think you’ll need to download if you want to read it. I promise it’s not spam. The first couple of weeks are generally shorter sessions and the presentations are around how to behave appropriately in the atrium. Thank goodness we have a few Montessori kids who’ll hopefully be good role models…

After the presentation, the children can “do what they want”. This can be using dioramas that have been presented to them, doing practical life work (eg flower arrangement, pouring work, brass polishing), praying in the prayer corner, or doing art work. Generally in the 3-6 age group they work alone. If children are using a work in an unexpected manner, it is best to say, “I don’t remember that part – tell me about it.” If they’re just mucking around it will be a gentle reminder, but they could well have come up with something unusual but perfectly valid.

Near the end of the session, the catechist gathers the children in the prayer corner for a communal prayer and song of some sort – perhaps in thanksgiving.

In the 3-6 years programme, there’s no moral law stuff. The prodigal son, for example, is left till around 8 I think, cos the little ones totally miss the point and just want to know what happened to the pigs. In fact, sin and evil are pretty much left out altogether, and Jesus dying is only ever mentioned in conjunction with Him rising again. This is purely because 3-6 year old children generally can’t get anything useful out of this aspect of reality and it’s best to focus on the things they can really learn from, such as the relationship between the Good Shepherd and His sheep (and who these represent), the infancy of Jesus, the images used in the parables of the Kingdom of God. At this age, it’s basically about getting to know about who Jesus is and forming a relationship with Him that will hopefully last a lifetime.

I only had a very little peek into the 6-9 works so won’t comment on them other than to say that’s when the moral stuff comes in, as well as preparation for first reception of the sacraments.

Hopefully that gives you a little idea of how it all works, but I haven’t yet really covered the true magic of it, and that’s in the dioramas and other learning materials. One of the first things the trainer on the course did was to present the Parable of the Good Shepherd using its diorama. I’ve heard it so many times but it was like it was the first time. The visual and tactile elements make it so much easier to enter into the story and its meaning. I was so impressed I wanted to start using it for everyone of every age immediately!

Very roughly, this is what happens. There’s a round, green piece of wood, with a circular fence with a latchable gate. The Good Shepherd (a 2d figure) stands by the gate as the sheep (also 2d) enter, then locks it (so to speak) and keeps watch. A candle is lit and the story of the Good Shepherd is read. During the reading, the sheep are led around by the Good Shepherd, then go back into the sheepfold. It’s hard to describe, but the effect is spellbinding, allowing anyone to contemplate the scene and what it could mean. The children are invited to think about who the Good Shepherd is, and who the sheep are, then told they can use the material in the future to contemplate it more. (There are follow-on scenes around the Good Shepherd – The Lost Sheep, and The Good Shepherd and the Eucharistic Presence – which help the child more fully enter into the mystery of His relationship to us and our relationship to Him.)

The infancy narratives, the parables of the Kingdom of God, plus a bunch of other things are presented in a similar way at this level, and more episodes from the life of Christ (and, I think, some Old Testament stuff) gets introduced in the older age groups.

The children also learn all the names for liturgical objects (chalice, paten, vestments etc) by handling mini versions, plus how to prepare cruets and the chalice and various other things. Also other behind-the-scenes things in the practical life area, like the brass polishing and flower arranging. There’s plenty more but I’ll never end if I go into it all now.

It’s just… dynamic. Such a “hip” word, but it fits. When I got home, I made a very poor Good Shepherd diorama so I could show the boys. They didn’t sit spellbound like they were meant to, but they are showing interest in the concept of the Good Shepherd. I can’t wait to get everything up and running (it’s going to take a few months, at least), cos preschoolers are very difficult to teach without things to get their hands on. We have a LOT of work ahead of us to get there though.

CotGS Level One Album Coversheet


Cenacle diorama

Cenacle diorama


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