Grounded in Montessori’s pedagogy, Catechesis of the Good Shepherd perceives the child not as empty vessels ready to be instructed about God, but rather as someone who already has a deep relationship with God and who needs language and a space to help this relationship to grow. The catechesis begins with the belief that the child has been given the Holy Spirit in baptism and that the Spirit will drive the child toward what he or she most needs. As a result, the children’s questions and interests have guided the development of the curriculum, rather than what adults think children should learn.
One of the greatest gifts children bring to the church is their capacity to winnow through a vast Christian tradition and discern what is most essential and what is most important to hold on to. Sofia Cavalletti observed that children quickly become restless when they are given peripheral material, but concentrate and settle down when given what they are hungering for. Her approach seeks to remove from catechesis all that is extraneous. It seeks to use the fewest words possible, rid itself of “busy work” and introduce only themes that children, over time, have indicated meet the criteria of what is essential.
Catechesis of the Good Shepherd invites the adult to move out of the role of teacher and serve instead as a co-listener and co-learner with the child before the word of God. The adult functions in a role similar to that of a spiritual director, listening carefully to each child’s needs and questions and matching that child with resources from the faith tradition that will best serve the child’s spiritual journey at this time
Whereas traditional religious education often dedicates each year to a different theme (e.g. Year 6 to Reconciliation and Eucharist, Year 10 to the Old Testament), the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd also employs a spiral approach in which core themes are touched on every year, expanding what has been covered previously.
Level 1 (age 3-6)
The young child has 2 essential spiritual questions:
- Who is God / Jesus?
- Who am I in relationship to God / Jesus?
In the Atrium the children discover ‘God is love’ ‘Jesus is Risen’ and ‘We are His sheep’, through meditating on selected bible stories such as the birth of Jesus and the account of the Last Supper and the prayers of the church (i.e. the Mass or Holy Communion).
Through the Parable of the Good Shepherd the children enter into the mystery of our covenant relationship with God. The children work with child-friendly figures in dioramas and miniature articles used in the church (i.e. baptismal font) to help them wonder and ponder on answers to their questions. They are also given opportunities to celebrate the seasons of the church; Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter and the Liturgy of Light and Pentecost in the atrium.
Level 2 (age 6-9)
As children move into level II their questions centre more on the spiritual ‘what’ than ‘who’:
- What is God’s plan?
- What is my role in God’s plan?
In response, we study God’s Plan of Salvation as shown to us in the bible and the gifts that we have received from God through time.
A central parable at this level would be the parable of the True Vine.
The children are developing their moral intelligence, so we listen and reflect together on the stories Jesus told of mercy and justice, as well as His suggestions such as “Do to others what you would have them do to you”.
The children age 6-9 are trying to discover their role in God’s plan and their own place in the community of believers -the church - so they are given the tools to enable them to access the Word of God (Bible) and the prayers of the church in the rites of Eucharist, Baptism and Reconciliation.
Many atria offer the children a special retreat in preparation for celebrating 1st Reconciliation and Eucharist.
Level 3 (age 9-12)
These children too want to know more about God’s Plan of Salvation but their perspective has widened so they ask:
- What is God calling me to do as His co-worker in the Kingdom?
- What gifts have I been given that I should use in this work?
To help the children find answers to these questions timelines of God’s Plan of Salvation are studied, along with the great figures and events in the Bible scriptures: Creation, The Flood, Abraham, Moses, the prophets; as well as the miracles in the New Testament.
To further explore the gifts that we are given to help us on our spiritual journey, we study together the rites of Eucharist, Baptism, Reconciliation and Healing.
We reflect with the children on the teachings of Jesus to help us understand the meaning of life and our call to live as co-workers with God in the Kingdom.